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The way back home

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Debbie Klett, Kristie Zamboanga and Andrea Bandle are mothers, chauffeurs, housekeepers and CHOs.

They've come up with the title, which stands for chief household officer, for themselves and their entire demographic - women who've left their careers in favor of full-time motherhood. The three Sacramento-area women have created total 180!, a magazine meant to build a sense of community for stay-at-home moms.

The quarterly is subscription-based ($15.95 a year), and the winter issue appears in CHO mailboxes across the country next week. The three women are using their own money to fund the magazine, and they're relying on mom's clubs across the country to boost subscription sales. The magazine won't debut on newsstands because, they say, full-time moms don't have the time to peruse magazine racks.

OAS_AD('Button20'); Total 180! is not riddled with experts doling out advice. Instead, its creators designed it to emulate a conversation among girlfriends, with women sharing their experiences.

"(We) don't want the focus to be on the moms and the kids at the play groups," said Bandle, the vice president of marketing and communications for Girlfriend Media Group, the company that runs total 180! "That's an important part of us, but with this magazine, we wanted to focus on the moms and what they're doing with other moms to connect.

"That's so important: stay-at-home moms connecting with other moms to keep your sanity."

It's a way of life that millions of American women are adopting. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of stay-at-home moms reached an estimated 5.6 million in 2004. Fifty-five percent of mothers worked in 2002, the first significant decline in this category since a record 59 percent in 1998.

The women behind total 180! are betting that more women will opt to stay at home over the next several years.

"The last few generations of girls have been told to go get these big, big careers," said Darla Shine, a member of total 180!'s advisory board and the author of "Happy Housewives."

"I think we've shown the world that we can do it, but we don't have to do it."

Klett believes that the growing number of stay-at-home moms will eventually translate into a substantial number of subscribers around the country, although sales for the first issue haven't yet reached what they had hoped.

Targeting a magazine at a niche market can be a challenge, says Samir Husni, who calls himself "Mr. Magazine" and has written several books on the subject. Husni, who also is the chairman of the journalism department at the University of Mississippi, says the magazine would have to ensure it does not run out of relevant things to say to stay-at-home moms, and he wonders how total 180! is going to differentiate itself from other parenting magazines.

But the creators of the publication argue that it's their conversational tone of voice that will help set them apart.

After quitting their part-time jobs at a local magazine, the women met for coffee last November and kicked around the idea of starting a magazine of their own to help stay-at-home moms deal with their new situation.

"Without a resource like this magazine, it was very isolating, lonely, for any of us that didn't just feel happy and content 24 hours a day," said Bandle, who lives in El Dorado Hills with her daughter and her husband, an electronics technician. "We didn't feel like there was anybody we could share that with, because there was this expectation that we made this choice, so we should be happy, overjoyed and loving it, and it was supposed to be easy. It wasn't easy."

The three admit the choice was a tough one.

"Growing up, I didn't have my mom and dad there, so from a very young age I said, 'I am going to be home with my kids no matter what, no matter if I have to move to Kentucky,' " said Zamboanga, the vice president of finance and creative content for Girlfriend Media Group, who lives in Rocklin with her husband and three kids. "I would work nights, whatever; I am going to be there for my kids."

Klett said the magazine is intended to validate and encourage women who've made the choice to stay at home.

"We need to be proud of the fact that we are stay-at-home moms, and society does not enable you to do that," said Klett, who is the magazine's publisher and lives in Rocklin with her two daughters and her husband.

All three women say their stay-at-home status won't change because of the magazine, even if it's a hit. Right now, total 180! takes up about four hours of each of their days.

"That's 10 minutes here, 10 minutes there when the kids go to bed," Klett said.

Although producing a magazine has been hard work, the three agree that it's nothing compared with motherhood. "Once you've achieved mom status," Bandle said, "everything else seems easy."

About the writer: The Bee's Melissa Dahl can be reached at (916) 321-1219 or - Get the whole story every day - SUBSCRIBE NOW! 

To see more of the Sacramento Bee, or to subscribe, go to Copyright 2004 Sacramento Bee. All Rights Reserved.

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