Mama Shaker: Katie, From SAHM to CHO

Katie Rössler believes that just because Betty Crocker-like domesticity doesn’t come naturally to most of us, we don’t have to feel defeated by it either. In fact, she’s elevated the role of stay-at-home-mom to “Chief Household Officer” using the same resources tapped by top executives and entrepreneurs to be purpose-driven and productive.

This was music to my ears as I suddenly found myself juggling two children and what felt like a million little puzzle pieces managing my home and family, every day of my sleep-deprived maternity leave. Even with divide-and-conquer parenting and a village of helpers, it’s easy to feel like you’re falling short with every half-completed task or interrupted intention.

“We lived in a small apartment but I had the hardest time keeping it up. Like, ‘what are we having for dinner?’ ‘I don’t know,'” says Katie about that moment so many of us have faced in new or recently expanded motherhood, when you realize the passing hours of your day are in control of you instead of the other way around.

“I didn’t go to school to figure all these things out,” she remembers thinking at the time. “What is wrong with me that I can’t clean a home while I sit next to my baby who sleeps a ton?”

Now with two kids, Katie has taken the reigns and designed her daily schedule around routines and rituals that minimize decision fatigue and maximize peace. Listening to her describe a typical morning revealed wisdom in every simplified step–whether you stay home with your kids 7 days a week, 2 days a week, or somewhere in between.

“We have the same thing every morning so that there’s no fight over ‘I want this, this or that.’ It is yogurt or milk and granola, those are your options,” she says about breakfast before her 4-year-old heads off to kindergarten (which is offered between 3-6 years of age in Germany).

“I do allow her to have the option to pick what she wants for a limited time, but if it takes more than 15 minutes then I get to pick,” Katie says about getting dressed. She even builds in a 15-minute buffer for putting shoes on.

“The mornings cannot be rushed, or you’re not parenting at your best,” she says. “If you’re kids are waking up later, my biggest tip is plan everything the night before. Go ahead and pack the bag, have the outfits picked out–yours and your kids.”

“The stress first thing in the morning sets the tone for the day.”

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Katie also meal-plans her dinners, repeats the same menu on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and avoids the temptation of lengthy Pinterest recipes. (Note: I started writing out menus for the week to help me better expand my 3-year-old’s horizons. It’s actually working!)

“I try to keep meals simple because two toddler girls tugging at your legs is just not worth a hot, huge meal,” she says. “Frankly, chicken cooks fast. Salmon cooks fast. There’s a lot of meals that we think we need to add all these things to and there’s a lot of stuff that cook fast and you’re done. Saute the veggies, you got it.”

Katie took inspiration from books like The Miracle Morning: The Not-So-Obvious Secret Guaranteed to Transform Your Life (Before 8AM) and A Simplified Life: Tactical Tools for Intentional Living to master her own household and begin helping other moms do the same.

“It’s not about minimalism, but just simplifying so that I feel happy in my home, and happy with my routine, and happy with my family traditions–but in charge of them,” she says.

Katie’s currently reading up on time management with the help of Eat That Frog!: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time, and believes all these books aimed at entrepreneurs are actually more suited to moms than one might think.

“As moms we need to be reading these books,” says Katie. “These are the tips and tools we can be using.”

Women Helping Women Succeed

“I have a passion for helping people plan with purpose,” says Katie. This comes as no surprise since Katie is both a licensed counselor and grew up as a military brat. Every time her family was stationed in a new place, her mother would flip through the Yellow Pages to find kid-friendly places to go.

“I love researching things like that, probably because of her,” she says. “I know with my Masters and working with kids, the importance of routine for them. Because I didn’t used to be a routine person, I found the beauty in it.”

Katie offers a free, yet surprisingly thorough mini course with highly relatable videos to get you thinking about managing your household and family life in a different light.

And sometimes that’s all it takes: a different perspective. After talking to Katie, I picked out this goal-setting planner to manage my family’s calendar, spend a few minutes each morning and night reflecting on the day, and work towards achieving 90-day goals. I now feel like I’m accomplishing something on the most mundane days, even if it’s as simple as getting a nap or workout in while the baby is sleeping.

And while Katie’s full 45-day program is currently geared towards an international mix of full and partial stay-at-home-moms, next year she plans to expand it to moms who work full-time.

“It will take a Saturday or Sunday of sitting down for a couple of hours and really going, ‘What will our schedule look like?,’ add it to your calendar, have it printed out, and put it in your work calendar.”

Katie stays that having your “standard procedure” documented, including things you outsource as a working mom, will prevent those moments of panic when school calls saying your child is sick.

“Have you ever had that email inbox that just keeps going?” asks Katie, comparing the never ending mess that comes with raising children. “It’s just part of the job.”

As Katie points out, managing our families and our careers don’t have to be at odds. Her tips will sound surprisingly familiar to anyone who’s spent time “strategizing” for the next quarter–it’s just a matter of channeling all that professional prowess into our families and homes too.

“Why don’t we use some of the same practices we use in the workplace, like a morning meeting to get everybody together,” she says about the importance of regularly checking in as a family and as partners.

“As moms we don’t have to feel so lost,” says Katie. “We actually have all the tools and skills. We learn them in school, we learn them in the workplace–we just have to apply them differently.”

Normalizing the Moods of Motherhood with Dr. Alexandra Sacks

Newly crowned TED speaker Alexandra Sacks, M.D. wants moms to know that all those overwhelming thoughts swirling around in your head are to be expected when you’re expecting–and acclimating to motherhood.

“Am I cut out for this?” is one of the most common questions Dr. Sacks hears from moms who assume that such closed-door confessions will lead to a diagnosis of postpartum depression.

“I realized that part of what was contributing to people feeling like a lower mood, and feeling better after they spoke to me, is that they weren’t talking to each other,” she says.

That’s why Dr. Sacks recently took to the stage at TED Residency with an important message around the concept of “matrescence,” a transformative developmental stage that occurs as women become mothers.

“Shifting the focus from the baby to the mother is a pretty radical idea, globally,” she says.

“I’ve been getting letters, emails from people all over the world,” she says, including a mental health worker in Zimbabwe raising funds for a women’s health conference, and women in Pakistan, Malaysia, Australia and beyond.

“Matrescence” started to take off when Dr. Sacks penned “The Birth of Mother” in The New York Times in 2017. She was blown away by the response when the story went viral, which solidified the need for a broader public health push.

“I thought it was pretty straight forward stuff that everybody knew, so I was really surprised that it got passed around so much. Then I thought we have to keep going,” she says about the steps that led to the TED talk.

Dr. Sacks has also co-authored a book coming out in 2019, What No One Tells You: A Guide to Your Emotions from Pregnancy to Motherhood, which features “the most common psychological challenges that we’ve seen in our patient population” along with Dr. Catherine Birndorf.

“The book is really supposed to be a how-to guide to get through pregnancy and your first year of motherhood in a way that helps you really understand the terrain of the psychological transition,” she says.

It Takes a Village

There are signs the medical industry is beginning to embrace “matrescence.” In fact, Dr. Sacks says the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology is changing their guidelines to encourage postpartum moms to see their doctors before 6 weeks.

As for those whispers of postpartum depression?

“The medical community is shifting to a broader umbrella term called PMAD (postpartum mood and anxiety disorder),” she says. “Some people feel more anxiety than depression…I don’t even think of them as two separate conditions; I think of it more as a spectrum.”

Dr. Sacks believes that treating this spectrum is a “community exercise” that requires partners, friends, family and/or hired help to allow mom to get out of the house and take a break.

“Cutting off self-care will also lead to anxiety,” she says. “We need to rest. We need to be able to relax, to calm our nervous system, to have social interaction, to not work 24/7 which is essentially what the job of caring for an infant is.”

“Sometimes people just need a good night’s sleep and then they feel better,” says Dr. Sacks. “It’s really just about sleep deprivation sometimes.”

(There aren’t enough emojis for me to convey how relevant this is for me and so many moms I know.)

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Photo credit: TED/Ryan Lash

“If you stop doing the things that make you feel like you, you’re going to stop feeling like you,” she says.

Plus, the whole family benefits when mom carves out time for herself.

“When you preserve a part of your identity, you’re also leaving room for your child to develop their own,” says Dr. Sacks, in my favorite line from her TED talk.

Women Helping Women Succeed

“I want the definition of matrescence–and what will best support a woman when she’s going through matrescence–I want that conversation to be guided by mothers,” she says.

“In order for that to happen we need to reduce shame and stigma. Talking and putting your feelings into words is one of the most helpful things you can do to protect yourself against social isolation and depression.”

Dr. Sacks wants moms out there to take up this challenge. Confess something you’re struggling with to another mom. Take time out to do something that you used to do.

For more information about matrescence and Dr. Sacks, visit AlexandraSacksMD.com.

Photos courtesy of TED/Ryan Lash.