Mama Shaker: Sue, Reminding Us the Kids Will Be Alright

Susan Groner became an empty nester sooner than she expected when her teenage son begged to go to boarding school an hour away. After spending 17 years as a stay-at-home mom of two, volunteer and occasional marketing consultant, she found herself pondering her next chapter.

With her emerging 20/20 hindsight, Sue began coaching parents on how to find more joy in those early years as The Parenting Mentor and went on to write Parenting: 101 Ways to Rock Your World.

“I have the benefit of the retroactive crystal ball, because now I see my kids as pretty together, functioning human beings,” she says. “All the things I worried about were worthless, and such a waste of my time and energy.”

Sue’s kids are in their twenties and thriving in college and grad school. Meanwhile, she’s relocated from Bedford to New York City, where she enjoys going to events and co-working at The Wing.

“I wish I had me 10-15 years ago,” she says. “But I didn’t and not having that was part of the impetus to start The Parenting Mentor.”

“If you could see what your four-year-old was going to be like as a young adult, and see them as a really healthy, active, functioning, kind human being, all the little things that you worry about you wouldn’t have to worry about,” she says.

It was at this point in our conversation that I got a little emotional thinking about how much pressure we put on ourselves to keep our young kids safe and healthy. To get them to eat, put their shoes on and wash their hands. And then we worry about what those battles are doing to them and what the stress is doing to us.

“Maybe just say, ‘you know what, either I accept my kid getting up and running around in between bites or they eat separately,’” she says. “Maybe dinner time just isn’t this wonderful, beautiful thing right now.”

Sue points to the example of tantrums, when our immediate impulse may be to try and stop a meltdown in its tracks. Instead, she encourages us to see our children’s outburst in a more empathetic light.

“Look what they’re going through right now,” she says. “They are so upset about something that this is what they need to do to show me how upset they are.”

It’s easy to forget that our kids need to develop coping skills and learn how to regulate their emotions, and it’s “unrealistic for us to have expectations on little kids that are unfair” she says.

Sue remembers vividly what it was like to worry that her children’s social behavior in kindergarten was indicative of their ability to make friends later in life.

“I was one of those stressed out, anxious moms thinking that how my kids were, at that particular moment in time, was a reflection of what they were going to be like as adults, which is crazy, you know.”

When you look at it objectively, or after the fact, it’s clear as day. But in the moment, it’s so easy to fall into the trap of mom guilt and feel anxiety about our role in shaping their future.

“We need to step back and look at our kids and say this is a human being,” she says. “This is a person with their own thoughts and ideas, and likes and dislikes, and feelings.”

In Sue’s case, she watched her daughter blossom from a young girl who preferred to call the shots to a young woman who now takes trips to Paris on her own.

“I wish someone had said to me, ‘it doesn’t matter—stop projecting your concerns about your child as an adult on your little child,’” she says.

“It’s not our job to make our kids happy all the time. That is a huge, huge burden that we put on ourselves.”

Sue believes that “all of that comes from a really wonderful place of love,” but “it’s the bad evolution of the maternal instinct” acting up and signaling “to protect my child from imminent, life-threatening danger.”

Trying to juggle our own emotional rollercoaster while helping our kids through theirs is a tall order. Fortunately, she says, we can work through our feelings together.

“The more that we as moms express how we’re feeling to our kids—whether it’s the frustration because you can’t find your phone in the moment, or something happened with work and it’s really bringing you down, or you were supposed to go out and the babysitter canceled—you need to be saying to your kids, ‘I’m really disappointed. I was really looking forward to going out with my girlfriends tonight.’”

She says that when they see that 15 minutes later you’ve calmed down, they learn “she felt disappointed, and then she was fine. She felt frustrated, and then she was fine. She was sad and then she was fine.”

“Then they start to see, oh yeah, these are normal feelings,” she says. “Adults have them. Kids have them.”

The other trap Sue sees parents fall into is what she describes as an “engineering project” where aspirations focus on achievement vs. skill development.

“Ultimately, what do you want for your child?” is a question she asks her clients. In response, she often hears, “I want my child to excel. I want my child to be as smart as they can. I want them to use their full potential. I want them to do well in school. I want them to value education. I want them to be physically fit and eat well,” and “the list goes on and on and on.”

“My theory is wait a minute, what if we work on raising kids who are resilient and self reliant with good problem solving skills and good coping mechanisms,” she says, “as opposed to being proficient on the piano. Those are the kids who are going to go into the world and be happy because they’re going to be able to deal with whatever comes their way. They’re going to know that no matter what happens, they have the tools to deal with it.”

Perhaps the most compelling reminder of all is that these intense years with our children are fleeting.

“I do think it’s a healthy way to look at life in terms of chapters,” she says. “As you know, 18-20 years is not that much of your life.”

“A lot of people feel their reason for being becomes their children,” she says. “And then when they’re not needed anymore—and that not needed part happens when your kids are at home, too—you feel useless. I did not want to feel that way,” she says. “And I never did.”

Sue was fortunate to take the cue to shift gears in her own life, as her children became more independent.

“Whether your kid is three, or 13, or even 23, everyone continues to grow and develop and evolve. I mean, I still am,” she says.

When emotions are running high and our worries are spinning out of control, we can pause and appreciate the opportunity we have to watch what emerges for our children—and ourselves.

“It exciting to look at our kids who are little, and say, ‘well, I’ve got the privilege to watch these little human beings develop,’” she says.

“I’m going to sit back as much as I can and just be there for love, and I’m going to see how they start thinking about things, and developing what they like, what they don’t like, and how that changes. What they’re interested in, what they’re not interested in.”

“And that it’s all okay,” says Sue. “It’s all really good.”

Mama Shaker: Ashley, Getting to the Heart of the Matter

As a doctor of acupuncture and Chinese medicine toggling between practices in Malibu and Beverly Hills, Ashley Beckman knows firsthand why many women feel spread thin across business and motherhood.

“The main thing is honestly that they’re usually the last to take care of themselves and they’re so rundown,” she says about the moms she meets with in person and virtually through DrAshley.com.

It’s one of the reasons Ashley relishes the opportunity to get ahead of the inevitable exhaustion that comes with motherhood, by providing support and resources before the pregnancy journey begins.

“I really love to help patients focus on getting really healthy prior to actually getting pregnant,” she says. “Not everybody is planning and knows when they’re going to, but at the same time, often there’s a window when people know they’ll be starting to try in a year or two, and that’s the perfect opportunity to start cleaning up your system.”

Ashley applies traditional Chinese concepts of body constitution, seasons, and warming and cooling foods, to help women through infertility, conception and postpartum.

As described in The First Forty Days: The Essential Art of Nourishing the New Mother, many cultures place a strong emphasis on postpartum care for moms. However, it’s not part of modern healthcare in the U.S. where Ashley points out, many women lack “the same sense of community where there’s somebody there to also take care of the mom, and those times are crucial.”

Even if those postpartum days have become a blurred memory, she believes there’s still plenty of ways for moms to find support and get back on the road to health.

“As a mom, everyone is sort of overworked and exhausted and it can get much better,” Ashley says. “There are a lot of tools out there–and that’s the whole point is to see someone who is experienced; you don’t need to wade through all the different options.”

As caregivers, it’s easy to fall into the trap of being so consumed by the well-being of others that the thought of addressing our own lingering needs feels daunting.

“What I love to do is figure out a very targeted solution for each person that I talk to,” she says. “I like to help you come up with a plan, and then we can bring you back to balance and try to get you feeling exactly how you used to feel prior to kids.”

Even beyond motherhood, Ashley cautions against following popular trends or extreme dietary restriction, “unless warranted by their health situation,” she says.

“Ideally you work with somebody who can guide you to find out what is the best thing for you to be doing, as opposed to something you read somewhere that’s really popular,” she says. “The whole point is to really get to the root cause, as opposed to just keep removing things from your diet or adding medications or supplements to balance it temporarily.”

While most of her clients have “multiple layers of things happening,” Ashley begins with small, manageable changes while simultaneously “peeling back those layers and addressing them one at a time to really create some lasting change.”

Nutrition provides a good starting point for her clients, because “they have the control over the food they buy and what they’re putting in their body every day,” she says.

Ashley believes “just getting people to learn to read labels,” can be a simple first step. “A lot of times, even those healthy swaps have a huge impact. Some people have things they just won’t give up, so I find healthier options for them.”

“My main thing is to just help women make the choices that will help them have really great health in the long term, and especially for your little kids–we want everyone to be happy.”

She counts fellow mama Gabrielle Bernstein, author of Super Attractor: Methods for Manifesting a Life Beyond Your Wildest Dreams, among “people that I really love that talk a lot about the power of our thoughts,” she says.

“Even though we’re exhausted and overworked and tired,” says Ashley, “so much really boils down to taking care of yourself, and loving yourself, and even just telling yourself that you know everything’s okay and that you have the power to create amazing health.”

Mama Shaker: Natalie, Helping Generations of Mothers Finally Heal

Decades of dancing carried Natalie Garay through university and all the way into her seventh month of pregnancy with twin girls, before it came to an abrupt end when she was placed on bedrest and immobilized by a C-section.

“My body completely atrophied,” she says. “I could barely stand up straight. After the surgery the doctor is like, ‘okay, get up on your feet and start moving around as soon as you can.’ I could barely get my body out of bed.”

Fortunately, Natalie rediscovered movement through a friend that taught Pilates and soon realized it was something she wanted to teach to other women. Eventually, she started helping moms through post-baby rehabilitation as part of her services as The Pilates Mama.

“Nobody talks about how to rehabilitate after having children,” she says, describing the all-too familiar scenario of being sent home in excruciating pain with a newborn (or two) to take care of on little-to-no sleep.

“For a woman to have a C-section and not be prescribed physical therapy seems absolutely ridiculous to me,” says Natalie. “It’s a major abdominal surgery, and if someone was having a shoulder surgery or knee surgery they would get prescribed physical therapy right away.”

“I knew none of this when I had my girls,” says Natalie. “Back then, I probably could have advocated for myself more but we’re kind of conditioned to just go along with what the doctors say.”

That’s especially the case with Natalie’s clients in their 50s, 60s and 70s that have endured a lifetime of shame and fear associated with accidents that happen while sneezing or jumping, and are afraid to veer too far from a restroom.

“We have generations before us that put everybody else first and we are just starting to learn that we have to take care of ourselves more so, and first, before we can take care of others,” she says.

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Women Helping Women

Natalie’s noticing a generational shift in how mothers are making time to take care of ourselves and address the issues that previously lingered for decades after giving birth.

“Moms of our generation are going ‘okay I get it, I can’t do anything and everything falls apart if mom’s sick or mom’s not feeling good,” she says. “The world falls apart when mom’s not available. Nothing’s working if I’m not working.”

As a single mother, Natalie knows this firsthand. She counts on the women she’s surrounded by to help her through the ebbs and flows of motherhood–especially now that her three girls are in their teenage years.

“This is a time where you really need the village, and you really need the team and I had to call in the aunties and the village to help me navigate all of this because it’s really, really hard.”

She also carves out time in the morning to set her intentions for the day. This includes writing her “morning pages,” a practice that’s helpful for capturing all the thoughts percolating in our minds, as described in the book, The Artist’s Way.

It helps to have a little humor too. Over the holidays, Natalie’s “Calm the F*ck Down” theramist went viral after a friend posted it on Instagram.

Before reaching our boiling point, Natalie encourages moms to get educated about the options available for things like ab separation and pelvic floor rehabilitation, and advocate for ourselves.

“We can’t be as present and we can’t mother, or run our businesses, or be the community members that we want to be, when we have this constant nagging pain or lack of energy,” she says.

Mama Shaker: Nicole, Guiding the Way to a Sweet Family Life

Nicole Seawell was a high-achieving attorney when her first baby plotted his own course by arriving three weeks early. Now with three teenage boys, she’s learned how to navigate the unique personalities within her family, channel her peak productivity, and ultimately guide others to do the same.

“My professional life kind of went topsy turvy,” she says about her jolting start to motherhood. “I didn’t value the supporting role enough. Once I did, I realized I’m actually excellent at supporting others to get done what they want to, and that has taken me from a good attorney to a great one.”

Nicole found her sweet spot when she “worked one leg in the business world and one leg in the legal world,” because she liked the fast pace of business.

“Where I found my special power was being able to be in both worlds,” she says.

“I was born under a productive star,” says Nicole, adding that she’s been told by Tibetan monks and Guatemalan ancient women that “I have a way of tuning into my ancestors’ wisdom and youth energy.”

“I’m able to see the path forward in any situation.”

Today, that means weaving together her work as an attorney with her husband’s law firm and her coaching business, Sailor’s Sweet Life, which is named after her golden retriever.

“I can’t have a more supportive partner in my legal work than the father of my children and my co-creator in life,” she says.

The ability to tap into prime opportunities for creativity and productivity has also helped Nicole’s coaching clients. In fact, she’s learned it’s not about dramatic, sweeping changes.

“Really what they’re looking for is helpful tweaks,” she says. “Inherently they are them, and they want to stay that way, but they want to be a more productive, more enjoyable version of themselves.”

It Takes a Village

At the root of Nicole’s mission to help families maximize joy and decrease stress are tools like Enneagram to learn about the unique personalities that can form our families and support systems.

“Ninety percent of the time you have good intention by people,” she says. Instead, “it’s miscommunication; people speak to one another like they’re speaking to themselves” that causes tension and stress within a family.

“There’s no better way than honoring each other by speaking to that person or acting with that person the way they want to be treated,” she says.

For Nicole, learning about her sons’ different personality types has been a game-changer.

She recalls feeling frustrated, thinking at the time, “I don’t understand, I’m doing the same thing” as a parent, until she realized, “they’re three different people.”

“It was like a light shone upon our family and so much stress disappeared,” she says.

As a fellow fast-talker, I found my conversation with Nicole energizing. But with her boys she’s learned to change her cadence and count in her head to give her son 20 seconds to respond.

“So much with teenagers is letting them talk when they want to,” she says.

Even so, Nicole believes that every stage of parenting comes with its own challenges. She believes the “enjoy every minute, it goes so fast” reminder commonly dished out to parents of young children is “cruel advice.”

“It is magical, but it’s absolutely exhausting,” she recalls.

And if you don’t love every stage of parenting, Nicole doesn’t believe that mom guilt is necessary either.

“Spare yourself all of that and be your own champion by arming yourself with tools that help you get through it,” she says.

“Along that whole spectrum, if you know you and if you’re doing this with someone else and you know them, this can be so much more of an enjoyable journey.”

As an achiever married to a perfectionist, Nicole and her husband took the time to learn about each other’s personalities and communication styles.

“We conscientiously–when they were real little–figured out how we work well together and how to honor that,” she says. “I can see when I trigger him and he can see when he triggers me, and then as your kids grow you can pull them into the fold.”

She also believes this insight can be applied to other caregivers and extended members of the family.

“Our mentors, our people who teach us, are all over the place in our lives, so being open to that is really important,” she says.

How this Mompreneur Makes it Work

Self-care as a goal can feel intimidating until you know yourself and “what feeds your soul,” says Nicole.

“I love being in nature and that’s one of my coaching principles to reset the heart and reset the mind, but also to open us up to creativity,” she says.

Nicole takes a “brisk walk” early each morning and in the evening with Sailor, no matter what the weather brings in her home of Colorado.

“Unbelievable solutions come and brainstorming that you didn’t think was possible,” she says about recommending afternoon walks to her clients.

She incorporates the “science of timing” in her practice and to plan out her day, based on the book When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing by Daniel H. Pink.

“On the whole, the way that the world operates and the way that the majority of humans do is that you have an uptick of analytical activities first thing in the day,” she describes.

“There’s a slump that we all kind of recognize around lunchtime.”

According to statistics, more mistakes are made in mid-day surgery, and “judges are more cantankerous, less likely to be compassionate in the afternoon,” says Nicole.

“Afternoon is good for creative, restorative activity, quiet work, collaborative work,” she says.

As a parent who experiences the daily “witching hour” with my boys, I wasn’t surprised to learn that around 4:00 or 5:00 p.m., we all get an energy uptick.

Fortunately for Nicole, she has plenty of it to go around, which she channels into “nourishing” her teenagers after school and at dinner time.

While the path through each stage of motherhood looks a little different, Nicole believes that there’s wisdom to be gained along the journey.

“This is an amazing set of skills and experiences that you’re having,” she says about parenting young children.

“It won’t be forever but put that framing on the whole ride–that you’re an amazing supporter–and you’ll have so many wonderful opportunities.”

Mama Shaker: Sarah, Unleashing Extreme You

During Sarah Robb O’Hagan’s ascent running brands like Virgin, Nike, and Gatorade, she learned there’s no time like the present to push the limits of what you’re capable of.

“Life is too short to put your potential on hold,” says Sarah. “It is for sure a lot of work to balance parenting and career — and only you can set an agenda that meets your own level of energy.”

Her message arrived at the very moment I needed to hear it. The last few weeks have served up a heaping dose of FOMO mixed with a cocktail of close calls that quickly put things in perspective.

Sarah and the fellow “Extremers” she writes about in her book, Extreme You: Step Up. Stand Out. Kick Ass. Repeat, are living proof that you can aim high, stumble, and reinvent yourself–in many cases while embracing the messiness of parenthood.

“There are times in parenting when the sheer exhaustion of it means that being your best self is just totally indulging in time with your kids,” she says. “There are other times when you have the energy to set new goals for yourself and share with your kids what you are achieving in your life.”

In her book, Sarah recounts how Laura Wolf Stein elegantly described her drive surrounding career, family, fitness goals and other passions as “cylinders” that “often fire separately, not all at once.”

By doing so, Laura allowed herself to stay fully present during maternity leave, and later to not feel guilty if one night she missed her kids’ bedtimes because she’d “get to binge on them all weekend long.”

It Takes a Village

While interviewing with Gatorade, Sarah discovered she was pregnant with her third child. To her surprise, her soon-to-be boss, PepsiCo CEO Massimo D’Amore, welcomed the mother-to-be with open arms. She eventually went into early labor, just as she was putting the finishing touches on a rebrand that would kick up again during maternity leave. Sarah ultimately saved the brand from peril through a Jerry Maguire-like maneuver chronicled in Fast Company.

The parallels between parenting, leadership and endurance training are not lost on her.

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“Parenting and families in general are a team sport,” says Sarah. “There is so much to be gained by surrounding yourself with others that can partner with you just as you support them. That’s the way to raise a great family.”

She shares the stories of Alli Webb, founder of Dry Bar, and national news correspondent Janet Shamlian, who kept their passions alive while staying home with their kids by taking incremental steps toward their goals. For Alli, it meant perfecting her craft by making house calls and taking a cue from her parents’ retail prowess. Janet started by watching and critiquing the news from her kitchen, then traveling to cover stories for days or weeks at a time, later enduring a cross-country commute, and finally landing her dream gig filming from her home base.

Whether or not your ambitions are career-related, Sarah believes every parent can tap into their potential–and in the process–inspire their kids to do the same.

“There are so many opportunities to take on responsibilities that stretch you and give you new skills,” she says. “Maybe it’s volunteering at an event at your child’s school. Maybe it’s picking up a musical instrument that you always wanted to play. Or maybe it’s getting the whole family involved in an activity you’ve never tried.”

“Just try something new. Along the way you might learn about some new aspects of yourself that you want to develop more.”

For Sarah, it meant finally venturing off on her own and building the Extreme You brand from scratch.

“My kids have really unleashed in me a desire to not be complacent, to keep learning and growing and to get out of my comfort zone — just like I ask of them!”

Oxygen Masks

“I have come to learn that the most important thing I can be is a role model for my kids,” says Sarah. “I dealt with a lot of ‘mommy guilt’ when I first became a parent. Through the mentoring of other moms, I learned that the best thing you can give your kids is the example of you just loving what you do in your life and work.”

I know I’m not the only parent of young children who mentally puts their bucket list on hold while changing diapers and making chicken nuggets on rotation. So how do we move past guilt as one of the obstacles to living up to our potential, now?

“The way to get over mom guilt is by recognizing that the best parent is the parent who is thriving in their own life,” says Sarah.

“Guilt is a wasted emotion. Most people who are in their later years have more regret for what they did not do in their lives–to assuage their guilt–than the times they chose to pursue the things they cared about.”

I recently heard this same sentiment from Ric Elias, a passenger of the “Miracle on the Hudson” flight in the moments that he thought would be his last, and again from Alison Hadden who’s championing her “No Time to Waste Project” following an advanced breast cancer diagnosis at 38 years old.

“Most importantly — you only have one life,” says Sarah. “Allowing your kids to see you thriving and living to your potential is the best thing you can do for them.”

 

 

Mama Shaker: Lisen, Helping Moms Work, Pause and Thrive

Author and workplace culture advocate Lisen Stromberg has a message for her younger self, and for all of us who feel overwhelmed as working mothers of young children.

“I remember feeling panicked all the time that I wasn’t doing what was best for my children, and I wish I was a little kinder to myself.”

She describes her memories of “being in a constant state of triage.”

“Before 8 a.m. we’ve got to get clothes on, teeth brushed, lunches packed, baby breastfed,” the mother of three recalls — and all before the work day begins.

Lisen describes this ability to juggle as “accordion-like,” where moms are capable of expanding and contracting “in a beautiful way.”

“I wish I had known that my capacity would expand and I would be able to do all those things — not always well — and the kids would live through it.”

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Since we talked in January about her book, Work PAUSE Thrive: How to Pause for Parenthood Without Killing Your Career, I took a pause of sorts from writing, while I transitioned into a new job and dealt with an intense new chapter of parenting.

In the eight months since then, I’ve found myself repeating Lisen’s mantras–and sharing them with other moms navigating career and parenting pivots of their own.

“Frankly when I was a new mother, in some ways professionally that was a productive phase of my career because I was so darn focused and so capable of getting everything that needed to happen done,” she says. “And that’s a powerful place to be.”

It helps to hear–from someone who’s lived through it–that this stage of parenting can be a “Phoenix rising” moment, as Lisen describes it. She also believes all the hormones coursing through us in early motherhood are actually a benefit.

“You’re just like on fire in this gorgeous way,” she says. “At the time it feels like hell.”

And that cocktail of physiology and limited time can lead to clarity.

“I got very clear on what I needed to do and who I was fighting for,” she says. “In my case I was fighting for my kids and my future.”

For Lisen, that meant every aspect of her life had to fit: her work, her relationships, her health, “everything.”

“It changed me in a powerful way.”

Women Helping Women Succeed

Work PAUSE Thrive is a wonderfully thorough analogy of research on working motherhood, which features stories of women who’ve successfully paused their careers–in a number of ways.

For Lisen, it meant rethinking her role as a journalist after maternity leave ended (which she wrote about in The New York Times), taking turns with her husband to amp up their careers at different times, and starting her own non-profit organizations and consultancies.

She cautions that pauses are not about getting relief from the stressors parenting.

“Being overwhelmed is the reality of parenthood,” she says. “You are now responsible for another soul.”

Instead, it’s about taking a moment to reassess what you want for yourself and your family. That can mean making adjustments in a current job, returning to work after taking time to focus on family, starting a business, or finding another passion to pursue.

“The women who I saw truly thriving were the ones who just had clarity,” says Lisen.

She describes these success stories among mothers who were “very intentional about their choices, and very empowered about their capacity as humans and what they can deliver.”

Lisen points out that these same women were willing to live with their choices even if it didn’t work out the way they planned.

“I think the women who suffered–that I interviewed with–are the ones who weren’t clear on their values and weren’t clear on what they were willing to give up and risk, and felt guilt about it.”

Lisen originally set out to interview 25 women, which then grew to 150, and then 1500 interviews later she had a comprehensive body of data to back up her instincts about the non-linear paths of working mothers.

“I wanted to be really sure that my intuitions and my beliefs and my experiences were real,” she says.

It Takes a Village

I was surprised to learn in Lisen’s book about a period in U.S. history where childcare was provided by the government so that mothers could support the economy during wartime–guilt-free.

“There seemed to be absolute clarity that this was an important thing to do for your country and to do for your community,” she says. “And it was liberating in some ways, right.”

When their husbands returned from war, the support went away, and mothers “re-claimed their roles” at home.

(And we all know what’s happened–or I should say hasn’t happened–for childcare since then.)

“With 64 million millennials right in the prime childbearing years–not having paid leave and not having affordable childcare–we’re seeing so many women pause their careers who never even envisioned they would do that,” says Lisen.

She cites the paradox of wanting to advance women in the workforce, but not having the structures in place to support them.

“We don’t honor caregiving in our country in terms of our policies and our workplace,” she says, noting the added pressure of being available 24/7.

The secret to thriving is what Lisen refers to as “time mastery” and it was shared by all the women she interviewed who stayed in the workforce. They successfully affirmed their commitment to their jobs while speaking up when they needed to make time for personal responsibilities.

“Their employers didn’t punish them for that, and that’s a distinction we need to make,” she says.

“If there’s anything I could wish for the next generation of talent,” says Lisen, “it’s that they feel empowered to be able say ‘I know I will give you 110 percent but I have to give it on my schedule.’ ”

 

Mama Shaker: Ashley, On Going Remote to Be More Present

Ashley Bernardi’s career took a couple of Goldilocks-style turns before she landed on something just right. Her story is punctuated by broadcast-worthy soundbites, which she honed after spending a decade as a network TV producer.

“I was traveling the world producing breaking news stories and I had a baby at home,” she says.

While covering events like Virginia Tech, presidential elections, and renewable energy, Ashley began to feel the tug of working motherhood.

So she traded in her passport for a 90-minute commute in the Washington, D.C. region. While Ashley loved her pivot to PR, she couldn’t help but do the math, recounting “that’s three hours I could spend with my family.”

“I am missing out on the most precious moments of my daughter’s life,” she remembers feeling at the time.

When Ashley’s second daughter was born, an “entrepreneurial fire lit inside,” and she began to dream up a way to fully integrate her career and family life.

Taking inspiration from her own mother’s journey as a “mompreneur” behind a successful dance company, Ashley took the plunge with the help of mentorship and resources from the Small Business Administration.

“I launched my company literally in my daughters’ playroom in my basement,” she says.

“Here I am four years later and loving it.”

Today, Ashley runs Nardi Media, a media relations and publicity business, with a fully remote staff, so she can be present for her three daughters.

“I want to be the first person they see when they get off the bus,” she says, describing how important it is that her daughters see her–and only her–at 3:30 p.m. every day.

While starting a company isn’t the only way to go remote, it’s what has allowed Ashley the most flexibility to meet this goal.

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Women Helping Women Succeed

“My life is really fun and I wouldn’t say balanced or the same any day,” says Ashley. “It’s all integrated: my work and my play and my children.”

She’s a big advocate for anyone looking to do the same thing–whether it’s her employees or clients she works with.

“It’s no coincidence or mistake that the majority of authors that do come to me are focused on–my interests–parenting, supporting women at work, supporting women at home, health, wellness, science and business.”

Ashley shared lessons from her journey to get to a harmonious place for her career and her family. They’re as relevant for entrepreneurs as they are for anyone looking to continue building their career remotely.

Her first tip? Timing is everything.

“I wish I hadn’t waited so long but everything in my world that has happened has been the right timing,” says Ashley.

Surround yourself with the right people, including experts and “a team that can help support you and grow with you.”

“I don’t have my MBA, I didn’t go to business school but I knew I needed people who knew what they were doing,” she says.

Finally, don’t forget self-care.

“As a mom and business owner, I learned the hard way that one of the most important things I need to take care of is my health,” she says.

Whether you’re building a business or you’re on conference calls from sunrise to sunset, it’s easy to blur the lines working from home.

“I didn’t realize the serious health implications it has when you don’t take care of yourself,” says Ashley.

“But it’s so true when they say put your oxygen mask on first.”

 

Mama Makers from Head to Toe

This holiday wishlist is inspired by five women who overcame the highs and lows of “mompreneurship” all the way to the shelves of NORDSTROM (and beyond). From 80s designer Eileen Fisher to millennial mogul Kristin Cavallari, they span decades of building brands while raising children.

Note: Click on the holiday eye candy pictured below to see each listing on NORDSTROM.com (affiliate), where you can get up to 60% off through Monday, November 26:

1. Former “Laguna Beach” reality show star Kristin Cavallari’s latest venture, Uncommon James, is the subject of Bravo’s binge-worthy “Very Cavallari.” The mom of three young kids lives with her retired NFL husband in Nashville and recently published a New York Times bestselling cookbook, True Roots: A Mindful Kitchen with More Than 100 Recipes Free of Gluten, Dairy, and Refined Sugar.

These Uncommon James Strawberry Fields Jasper Tassel Earrings come in three (very Cavallari) neutrals for $52:


2. Eileen Fisher came of age as a designer in the 1980s, forging new paths in fashion and working motherhood. She reflected on the constant pull of both worlds in her How I Built This podcast interview.

At just under $100, this Eileen Fisher Check Plaid Organic Linen Top is 50% off and emblematic of how the brand has evolved while staying true to its origins:

3. Austin-based Kendra Scott built her namesake jewelry brand while raising three boys. She writes about being a mom first on her blog, noting she built a company culture to make this possible.

This Kendra Scott Birthstone Pendant Necklace is $37.50 and might be just the thing for this emerald-seeking mama to add to my collection.

4. Orthopedic surgeon turned footwear designer Taryn Rose recaps her journey from idea to multiple buyouts, and the toll it took on her relationships (which you can listen to here). While she’s spent the last 7 years reinvesting time with her kids and focusing on her health, her brand has returned to its core mission of making women feel better about supportive footwear.

The Taryn Rose Graziella Ankle Strap Pump is currently 40% off (about $255), a significant markdown from its original price of $425.

5. Rebecca Minkoff was just featured on the GirlBoss Radio podcast talking about her big break when Jenna Elfman wore one of her original pieces on The Tonight Show. Fast forward to 2018, and Rebecca is now a mother of three and just started the Female Founder Collective to support other women entrepreneurs.

At first blush, you’d never guess this piece de resistance is a diaper bag. The Rebecca Minkoff Logan Studded Nylon Baby Tote is $325.

Mama Shaker: Carly, on Sharing Household Duties

Carly was the first of a blitz of pregnancies among me and six of my colleagues this year. Mind you she was on her third baby, while the rest of us were on our second or first.

So it’s especially impressive how Carly has managed to divvy up household responsibilities with her husband, while raising a 4-year-old, a 2-year-old and a new baby.

“Mornings are me,” says Carly. “I’m fully on deck.” (As a teacher, her husband leaves for work at 6:45 a.m.)

Often that means feeding the baby while “trying to keep the boys from killing each other,” she says. “That hour is pretty manic.”

She takes a 20-minute walk to school with her oldest for “special Carter time” after the nanny arrives, unless she has an early meeting.

Carly’s in back to back meetings starting at 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. She typically arrives home to her husband making dinner, in the first of several clever partnerships.

“I do all the planning, and figuring out what we’re going to eat,” she says. “He does the execution: the grocery shopping, and the actual cooking of the meals.”

They use a whiteboard in the kitchen that, as long as her 2-year-old doesn’t erase it, features the week’s menu.

“There are no elaborate meals,” she says. “We still eat healthy.”

Recently, Carly had an “eye opening” moment when she ask her husband if there was anything she could be doing to help. In return, he asked if she could set the table.

In her mind, it was a simple task that had big impact.

“I think that’s where silent resentment can build up,” says Carly, noting what happens when couples don’t check in with each other.

The open lines of communication extend to her whole family. During dinner, they sit together at the table and talk about one thing that went well during their day, one thing they learned, or one thing that frustrated them.

“After dinner we switch who cleans up vs. who does baths,” she says, enlisting roshambo when needed.

“We usually tag team storytime,” she says, unless she’s feeding the baby.

After the last toddler standing finally goes to sleep, Carly’s very full day can finally start to wind down. (This non-stop marathon is one of the realities of parenting that no one is truly prepared for, in my opinion.)

How This Mama Makes it Work

Transitions can put a lot of pressure on relationships, so Carly and her husband have put safeguards in place.

“Going from one to two, you’re going from ‘one person can have a break,’ to man-on-man, and now we’re on full-zone defense,” says Carly. “No one’s free.”

“One thing that has really worked for us is that we’re just both in it, together,” she says. “We know that there’s not really a break.”

So they carve out “alone time” for each other. He takes the kids grocery shopping on the weekends, and she picks one night per week to attend a networking event or happy hour.

Since her husband runs a summer sports camp, Carly makes sure to set expectations around other times of the year when she gets a break for some good old-fashioned self-care.

“Over-communicating that stuff is key,” she says, both literally and figuratively. An iPad in the kitchen is dedicated to their family calendar and Google reminders.

Dedicating one-on-one time for each kid is an ongoing challenge.

“I haven’t done as much of that as I would like to,” says Carly, as we compared stories of our toddlers (hers 2, mine 3) struggling from not getting as much attention as they’re used to when another baby enters the picture.

Women Helping Women Succeed

The topic of household division of labor is the subject of endless articles, books and mom groups on Facebook.

In fact, when Carly posted this photo of her husband holding her baby girl with one hand while running the Dyson with the other, it got 349 likes and 81 comments. She reflected in this Medium post on how this wouldn’t be as big of a deal if a mom was pictured in the same scene.

img_8993If you’re feeling the weight of the world on your shoulders, there’s no time like the present. Carly recommends tackling the issue “the sooner the better.”

“The longer you let it go, and just do it, that becomes the norm,” says Carly. “And then 5 or 10 years from now, you have this load of work that you’ve always done.”

To get the ball rolling, Carly and her husband made a list of all the things they’re each responsible for, many of which were surprises to each other.

“I think it’s something that couples should do,” she says. “Set aside time when you’re not absolutely not in a fight, to discuss what you do, what you enjoy doing, and what you don’t enjoy doing, and figure out who should do what.”

Tiffany Dufu takes this to another level in her book, Drop the Ball: Achieving More by Doing Less, emphasizing the importance of identifying our “highest and best use,” noting the things that only we can do and align with our values.

Even with a divide-and-conquer approach, there will be moments that push us all to our limits–calling for a dose of “this too shall pass” perspective.

“This isn’t forever and we’re going to miss this at some point,” says Carly.

Mama Maker: Suzanne of Mompowerment

Suzanne Brown wants to empower moms to create our own personal definition of “work life balance.” She’s a living example of how to design careers and family life around what matters to us individually, in each season of motherhood.

For her latest book, The Mompowerment Guide to Work-Life Balance: Insights from Working Moms on Balancing Career and Family, Suzanne spoke to more than 100 women to answer a simple yet daunting question, “how do you create the work life balance you want?”

“A lot of times, especially for professional women, they really just look at it as very black and white: either I’m in the workforce or I’m out of the workforce,” she says. “There is this area of grey.”

Suzanne dealt firsthand with the consequences of making assumptions about motherhood, while trying to keep up business as usual as a first-time mom.

“I was horribly misguided and I thought we could just kind of ‘tuck’ our son into our lives,” Suzanne says. “We could continue to travel the same way, have the same lifestyle, travel and network.”

Her son was born 10 weeks premature, with boundless energy and determination. She describes him as “a mover and shaker since the day he was born.”

After powering through the blur of her first year of working motherhood, Suzanne recalls looking in the mirror around her son’s birthday and thinking “what happened?!”

“I was in survival mode,” she says. “That was a wake up call. I wasn’t paying attention to my own needs or my own goals.”

Nearly three years later, her second baby arrived at 36 weeks, but she was in a better position to face the challenges of juggling a newborn, a “spirited” almost 3-year-old and research for her first book, Mompowerment: Insights from Professional Part-Time Working Moms Who Balance Career and Family.

“When we had our younger son, it was making sure that didn’t happen again,” she says. “Being able to go through that once was enough for me to say, okay, what do I need to put in place so that the second time around I’m much better equipped for what’s coming my way.”

“I had to make the moments count, but I also had to embrace the good stuff and keep it rolling,” she says. “I had to keep up the momentum because if it stalled out, I was afraid of what would happen.”

Once Suzanne realized how much of a precious commodity her energy was, she put herself in the drivers seat.

“I wanted to decide where I would pull my energy from,” she says. “I had to have a very honest conversation with myself to do that.”

She asked herself the same questions that now make up the backbone of her guide, which she says can lead to “creating what we need” for a career and family life that doesn’t constantly deplete our reserves.

How this Mompreneur Makes it Work

Now as an entrepreneur with a 7-year-old and 4.5-year-old, and two businesses, Suzanne says she has to allocate her time and energy very carefully or she will “literally getting nothing done.”

“I try to be very intentional with my time,” she says, describing how she preps for her day the night before–including articles she wants to read–so the next morning she can hit the ground running instead of wasting otherwise productive moments getting her bearings.

After reading The Mother’s Guide to Self-Renewal: How to Reclaim, Rejuvenate and Re-Balance Your Life, which helps moms “fill your cup,” Suzanne was inspired to start doing a self care check-in each morning, in the moments she takes to get out of bed, before diving into her email.

Her boys start school an hour and 20 minutes apart, so she uses that gap to spend some quality time outside with her youngest. After that, it’s time to get down to business.

“Once I drop off our younger son, my power hour starts,” Suzanne says. “It’s my time of the day to get my hardest, most challenging, most strategic work done.”

“If I don’t do anything else in the course of the day, I have accomplished that goal…whatever that thing is that’s going to move the needle in my business or my client’s business.”

“Mid-day is when I start to have my lull so that’s when I start to take calls or I might do volunteer stuff for the boys’ schools,” she says. “It’s also when I might do some of my social media that needs dedicated time.”

Suzanne picks up the boys at 2:30, when she switches back to “mommy mode.”

“That first interaction can make a huge difference with my boys,” she says, noting they each have their own disposition requiring a different style and energy level. She’ll listen to music accordingly on the way to pick up.

Despite her mastery of daily rituals, Suzanne is also a realist.

“Not every day is going to be a great day,” she says. “There are days where you’re going to say ‘today sucked’ and you know what? Who cares! Stick it in a box, understand why was today so bad; that doesn’t mean tomorrow has to be bad.”

“I’ve tried to instill this in my children as well,” she says.

Suzanne often tells her oldest, “you get to decide how today starts…you can leave the bad day in your bedroom. You have the power to shift what happens in the course of your day.”

“It’s a mindset shift for any of us being able to use what it is you know, to take it in a different direction,” she says.

Women Helping Women Succeed

I can’t help but think of Matrescence, when I reflect back on the refreshingly honest note that Suzanne ended our conversation with.

“It is highly unlikely that you will enjoy every season of motherhood and that is absolutely okay,” she says.

“We definitely don’t talk about that enough.”

“For some people, toddlerhood is magical and for others it’s nails on a chalkboard,” says Suzanne. “For some that newborn phase is absolutely delicious and for others it’s like ‘I can’t wait until I get through this. From one child to the next, it might change how you enjoy those seasons.”

“Toddlerhood for me is hands down the most challenging period.”

When a friend and former family therapist gave her this piece of advice, Suzanne no longer felt alone.

“Your tribe is unbelievably important and that can be a lot of different things,” she says. “It can be literally, your family, your friends, your neighbors, your colleagues…it can also be if you have a housekeeper, a mother’s helper, or you use whatever service to buy your groceries.

“The most important thing is to make it your own story,” says Suzanne. “Create what you personally need. Because people will dish out advice left and right; that’s just the reality of–not just when you become a working mother–but as you go from one stage to the next.”

She says it’s tempting to compare yourself with your friends, coworkers, siblings, neighbors and try to maintain the façade of having it all together.

“Figure out what it is you need to deal with that season and move onto the next,” Suzanne says.

“Take what you need, leave what you don’t, and adjust whatever it is that people give you, and make it work for your situation.”