ParentMap: local magazine turns 2

By Lynn Porter

If night owl Alayne Sulkin feels like chatting with her employees, she sends out e-mails -- often late in the evening when her children are asleep.

She schedules work around the activities of her kids.

Staff meetings are at her Mercer Island home.

Sulkin, 46, is editor and publisher of a 55,000-circulation newsmagazine for Seattle and Eastside readers. She also is a stay-at-home mom, as are almost all of her 17 employees.

They work for ParentMap, a publication for moms and dads.

``They're living the issues that they're we're writing about every day,'' Sulkin said.

The magazine, which turned 2 in April, offers information and tools to help moms and dads be ``the best parents they can be,'' said Sulkin, a former lawyer and mother of three.

Almost all of its employees are part time, and all work from their homes. The publication is layed out and proofed in the basement of the production manager's Seattle home. Office manager Barbara Cohen fields telephone calls to the ParentMap from her residence.

``It's like you call United Airlines and you're talking to India. Who would know?'' said Sulkin.

The magazine benefits greatly from the infusion of mom talent, said advertising manager Toddy Dyer, 34, a married mother of two boys. Staff ``dialogs'' about ``hot'' parent/marriage related issues, books, and cultural happenings often lead to story ideas, she said.

``It's the reason why this publication is becoming so successful,'' Dyer said.

The fledgling magazine was recognized earlier this year. It received four gold, four silver and two bronze medal awards from Parenting Publications of America, a national trade association of regional parenting publications. Judges received 979 entries and gave out 331 awards.

The golds were for ParentMap's Web site,, for the quality of its overall writing, and for a personal essay by never-married Michael Stusser, now engaged to a women with twins. It explored his awakening to the value of having children in his life. Stusser, a Mercer Island High School graduate, is one of only three men who regularly free-lance for the magazine; 15 women do. All photography and illustrations also are done on a free-lance basis.

The free magazine offers readers a calendar of local, family-oriented events; a column about getting children school-ready by Linda Morgan, a former Mercer Island Reporter editor; and ``Voice,'' an opinion piece covering such topics as girls wearing suggestive clothing. Its ``Out & About'' section offers an in-depth look at entertainment and events locally, such as ``Fab 5 spots for family brunch.'' ``Journey'' showcases personal essays from readers.

The ``Ages & Stages'' feature each month tells parents how they can approach such topics as sexuality, exercise, nutrition and finance, given the age of their children. For instance, finance for 0 -to-1-year-olds looked at how moms and dads can put a college plan together; for 3-to-5-year-olds it explored teaching kids at an early age to save and spend wisely. The 15-to-20-year-old section concentrated on educating children about the pitfalls of debt. The magazine also has covered grief and loss at different ages, exploring what friends and family of people who have lost children should say and do, and how to help teens cope with the loss of friends.

While some parenting publications don't write about teen-related topics, ParentMap feels it's important to explore issues such as teenage sex and teen suicide, said Managing Editor Teresa Wippel.

``We believe that that's actually an age when parents need to be even more engaged and involved, and it's actually a time when parents stop'' and tune out kids who are no longer ``cute and cuddly,'' said Wippel, a former Mercer Island Reporter editor.

ParentMap cover stories have included the impact of divorce on children and how parents can foster a lifelong bond with their offspring.

The publication also has focused on multi-racial families and will have an article about gay parenting, Morgan said.

``Sometimes we do stories that other magazines might not cover -- that are a little edgy,'' she said.

Feature stories have veered from the middle of the road, she said. Among them was a look at how to start a private school and a profile on Bellevue School District Superintendent Mike Riley, an advocate of the idea that every child can achieve at high levels.

``It's not just how to toilet train your baby. It's way more than that,'' Morgan said.

While still a toddler, ParentMap is nearing profitability, said Sulkin, who would like to provide benefits to full-time employees as the magazine grows.

Many of ParentMap's readers are concentrated in upper middle class Seattle and Bellevue neighborhoods, said Sulkin. And most of them are women -- the sex still primarily responsible for child rearing, said Morgan. The magazine has explored why this continues to be so. It also sponsors, with help from various organizations, a lecture series that focuses on parenting topics, including why some women opt out of the workplace when they become mothers.

Dyer is a woman who lives in both worlds. The mother of 1- and 4-year-old sons, she is able to devote 25 hours a week to the magazine, but only because she often can pick the hours and because other employees are available at odd times, too. Dyer, 34, has some limited in-home childcare, and she works while her children sleep or her husband is home.

But playing dual roles requires more than a little sleight of hand. For instance, on a recent deadline day her older child had his tonsils removed and his brother, who has had multiple infections, had tubes inserted in his ears as a preventative measure. She juggled by getting a lot of last-minute work tasks done the night before. She awoke before 5 to finish up.

And that's OK at ParentMap, she said.

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