Meanwhile, the financial squeeze was on. Annual salaries for New York–based TV anchors typically range from high six figures to $17 million (for the likes of Matt Lauer and Katie Couric); now Syler was making nothing. “My income didn’t just drop off; it careened off a cliff and into the ocean!” she says. Her husband, Buff Parham, a television sales executive who is, she says, “the right brain to my left,” picked up the slack. “The first thing he did was put us on a really serious budget.” As they switched to relying mostly on his salary, Syler hustled to get speaking gigs related to her breast-cancer experience and her parenting book. At $3,000 to $15,000 a pop, the work helped, but dinners out still had to be rationed.
Occasionally, Syler thought she might break through: She took a freelance gig with BET in January 2009 covering President Obama’s inauguration, but it failed to turn into a full-time job. She shot a pilot for a talk show, then for a reality show, but neither got picked up. Finally, a talk show that seemed a good bet came her way: a program called Mom Logic, pitched as “The View for moms.” She’d be a cohost with Paula Deen and Kate Gosselin. But it, too, failed to launch. “I kept wondering, When is this going to end?” Syler says. “I was in a deep, dark, unrelenting struggle.”
Bouts of depression and exhaustion came in waves. One day in January 2010, Syler, still dressed in her pajamas, left her house in Westchester County, New York, to drive her two kids to school, not even bothering to put on makeup or grab a jacket. She drove there and back on autopilot and buried herself under the covers in her darkened bedroom until it was time to pick up daughter Casey and son Cole (now 15 and 13). “I didn’t recognize myself,” she says. “I spent seven hours in bed that day, waiting for the phone to ring. It’s like I was waiting for someone to say, ‘We’ll save you.’ ”
Finally, Syler realized she’d have to save herself. She converted a tiny closet in her house into an office and started posting little pieces about her family on GoodEnoughMother.com, the website she’d launched to support her book. Then, with the encouragement of a friend, Syler gradually veered from mommy-blogger commentary to begin tackling current events, celebrity news and thorny social issues, striking a pragmatic, sassy, no-BS chord. She dropped the habit of neutrality she’d cultivated as a TV coanchor and began taking a stand—loudly and vehemently.
During last summer’s Casey Anthony trial,Syler sparked a rousing debate on her site about the fate of the young mother who was acquitted of murder charges. “Her partying with friends and not calling cops in the face of her toddler missing for weeks on end were head scratching,” she wrote. “Lying to police, which she was found guilty of, made her look even more suspicious. But, and this is a big one folks, there is a HUGE leap between those things and murder and that is what the state failed to prove.”
Later in the summer, Syler led an online conversation about how to talk with your children about celebrity deaths like that of singer Amy Winehouse. She writes often about her choice to stop chemically relaxing her hair, linking it to how difficult it can be for moms of color to teach their daughters to love their natural appearance and not cave in to mainstream beauty standards.