Making It Work: Social-Media Specialist
Sugar Jones carves out a supportive online community
Sugar Jones has been blogging about life, love, and the Internet since 2007. Her tweets (about absolutely everything) soon followed. With years of marketing and sales experience, she decided to take a chance and ride the wave of social media. And in the midst of carving out this creative career, she solo parented older daughter, Jasmine, 27—yes, Jones was a teen mom—as well as Ryan, 12, and Hannah, 14, from her second marriage.
When we spoke, she’d just secured a new job as a social-media specialist for a “small but mighty” agency in San Diego. Happiness ensued.
Q: What would you call yourself, career-wise?
A: “Social-media specialist and content creator.” I write, do photography, create videos, whatever is coming down the pike. I’m supposed to start “blabbing,” which is like public Skyping. I’ll do it for my site, then my new position. I test everything on myself first before taking it to the client.
Q: How did you become a Solo Mom?
A: My ex-husband and I split five years ago. I was in a codependent relationship with an alcoholic and went to a group called Celebrate Recovery. I had to undo a lot of crap. He promised to “fix things,” so we got back together, but it went back to the way it was.
I met a woman at a meeting who had a similar story, and she told me she’d been “going through this for over 15 years.” I thought, Who puts up with this crap for 15 years?! So on our 15th anniversary, I told my husband I wasn’t going to do it anymore.
Q: How did you manage when you split?
A: In the beginning, he stayed in the house because he thought we would get back together. But I had a hard-and-fast date [by which] he had to be out. I was scared—how was I going to pay for everything? Fortunately, I had a three-month contract and had enough money to take care of us until the end of the year. After a couple of months, he stopped giving me money and started harassing me. At one point I had to stay on my friend’s couch, my kids with her kids, because I was afraid to be home.
I got a restraining order, but we still haven’t resolved the custody issue. He doesn’t see the kids ever anyhow, and they are done with him. It hurts them, and I know it will affect their relationships in the future, but he has a new girlfriend and doesn’t need his kids anymore.
This sort of thing happens all the time. When I started writing about my situation, my inbox filled up with people going through the same thing. How do you create life and then walk away from it? My first husband was a jerk, but he was so good to his kids.
Q: How are you now?
A: My therapy is riding my bike. I’ve been doing 40- to 60-mile rides. I trained to be able to keep up with the bike groups. Now I’m meeting all these random guys, “Nice ride,” [wink]. It’s hilarious.
Q: How did you get into blogging?
A: I wanted to be a writer. I read a book called Writer Mama and started hearing about “web blogs.” My daughter was on LifeJournal. I ended up on WordPress. I got on because I needed to be comfortable with strangers reading my words. It was an exercise I got from Writer Mama: create a web blog, and put yourself out there. When I first started writing, it was crap. I was trying to be wordy and poetic and sentimental.
Q: How often do you blog?
A: I should be writing once a week but felt I couldn’t blog while my divorce stuff was going on, so I’ve been journaling to keep writing. Sometimes I can’t get the words on paper because my hands shake so much. Maybe one day I’ll pull these pieces out to show how hard it was and how much I was hurting. I know in a year it will be completely different.
Q: How do you decide on your blog topic?
A: Sometimes I’ll write about my experiences with a sponsored subject and how it fits into my life. I don’t take anything that doesn’t fit into what I am doing. For example, Verizon sponsored a piece on breaking up with your cell-phone company. I compared it to giving up my bartending job because my mom didn’t like me being a bartender.
Some relate to my own story, and I can get emotional writing them—like the domestic-abuse piece. I want to start writing about coming out of this dark time in my life. Cycling has been a big part of it. So I might do a piece on, “What to Get a Cyclist for Christmas,” or “The Things I’ve Learned Riding a Bike.”
Riding takes me out of my problems and occupies my brain with all the things involved in riding a bike. Everything leaves my mind for an hour and a half. There’s nothing better than having those scary thoughts shut down.
Q: How did you evolve into a social-media specialist?
A: When I started blogging, I tried anything to get people to come to my blog. I began following people I really liked. I got on BlogHer, which is like ESME, but for women who blog. Then people started talking about Twitter. I didn’t understand the full effect of Twitter until I went to a conference in 2008. There, I connected with people, and a lot of them became my friends. We’d all connect on Twitter.
Next thing you know, I was in the top 10 Twitter list in San Diego! So I thought, How can I be number one? I started reaching out to people on Twitter while continuing to grow my blogger community.
I was devastatingly lonely at the time. I couldn’t relate to people in my actual community who worried about clogged drains—things I didn’t care about. I wanted to discuss what makes your soul sing! Everyone I met on Twitter did. We’d have these great conversations all night long, and it grew and grew. At the time, people didn’t know me as Sugar Jones—so it didn’t matter what I was saying in public. From there, I started looking into everything else.
Q: I’m trying to learn how to use Twitter, and I don’t get it.
A: You kind of have to live in it and be on all the time. It’s like checking text messages on your phone. You grow into it. Most bloggers just post their links. But if people say more, then people will respond. And if you really want to get followers, have a couple glasses of wine before you start tweeting!
Q: I saw something on your site called Y.O.U.
A: It’s a personality test—a seven-page report about who you are physically and how you respond to your environment. It tells you where you will be best suited. My son and I are alike. We need to be in touch with nature. I need plants. My son needs his dog. These are the things that come from this test—things that you know but aren’t cognizant of. Don’t try to be something you’re not because it’s just going to drain you.
Q: Does being a Solo Mom impact your career?
A: I thought I was going to lose a client because I had to do all the court and restraining-order stuff. Another potential client passed completely. Then my ex stopped paying child support. I panicked. My friends encouraged me to do a GoFundMe campaign. I wrote it like a blog post—and before I even refreshed, I had a $25 donation. We almost raised my entire rent in one day.
I still didn’t know what I was going to do for the next month, but my client was understanding and renewed me. (I grew their Instagram account from 5,000 to 22,000 [followers].) I’ve done a great job for them.
Q: When you became a Solo Mom, was there a shift in your community?
A: When I first got back together with my ex, a lot of friends told me it was a bad idea. But I wanted to give him a chance. I lost a lot of credibility. It was a moment of weakness because I didn’t have a full-time income and just couldn’t do it on my own.
This time, I prepared myself. A year ahead, I lined up clients, made sure I had enough money to support myself, and had walk-away money. I never wanted to be in a position of feeling needy again.
Last time around when I started to lose faith, I gave in to it. Recently, I started to lose faith again. But I didn’t give in to it—and last night I got offered a job.
Q: How did you use your online community for support?
A: Honestly, I don’t know what I would have done without my online community. They were there for me in messages of encouragement, in donations to my GoFundMe [page], in sharing advice, and one gal even let my kids and me stay at her house during the scariest part of the restraining-order situation. I’d like to think that people stepped up because I’ve done the same for others. That’s how we do things in this crazy online community. We look out for each other.
Q: Was there a defining moment that drove home you were raising children alone?
A: Right now I feel confident in parenting kids alone because they are older. The hardest part for me was trying to get everyone to different locations in the afternoons. I was resentful that I didn’t have a partner. But me dealing with carpooling was worth not being with him.
Q: What are you most proud of as a Solo Mom?
A: My ability to stay true to who I am. The thing about codependence is you change yourself so that person will like you. I gave up so much of myself to be with him, and when I didn’t, we were fighting.
Q: Favorite single-parenting tip?
A: Always reach out to your friends. Ask for help. As horrible as my husband has been to the kids and me, my friends have been restorative.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Kathleen Laccinole, ESME’s Dating Resource Guide, has penned numerous films and parenting books but is best known for producing the highly lauded Greta, age 18, and William, age 14.
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