Mama Shaker: Rachael, Growing Closer When Things Fall Apart

In the course of a year, Rachael Cunningham and her husband were dealt with what felt like an impossible hand as they navigated job loss, the death of a parent, and their autistic daughter’s depression. The compounding stress and grief could have created an impermeable divide between them, but instead they became even stronger.

“That year was so incredibly hard,” she says. “We both stepped back and said either we can let this drive us apart or we can really lean into each other and grow together–and that’s what we did.”

In a season where everything feels increasingly hard–and no doubt even harder because of exhaustion and overwhelm–relief comes in the small actions between us that make a big impact.

“Very intentionally, every day I was like, ‘How can I support my husband through this?’” she remembers asking herself. “How can I lean on him during this difficult time?”

“Going through that myself really caused me to notice and be aware of how many marriages really need to have some encouragement and the know-how to get through the tough times in life,” she says, which inspired her to work with couples directly as a relationship coach.

“We realized when we lean into each other, not only does our marriage benefit, but our kids benefit from it, and we’re able to think more clearly,” Rachael says, noting that when her daughter is “in a low spot now I don’t feel like my whole world is falling apart.”

“Kids learn through example so much more than you teaching them with your words,” she says. “What they see lightens their burden in life as well.”

As we encounter challenges daily about how to educate and entertain our children, we don’t need to feel discouraged if we’re not naturally in sync with our partner.

“We think we have to be on the same page all the time in order to have a happy relationship,” Rachael says. “The truth is we actually need to be honoring our own self and respecting our own issues in our own way of showing up in a relationship.”

She says we can “look internally” and make the decision to “show up as a partner that listens and that empathizes and sees my partner’s point of view, even if I don’t understand it.”

“Then you’re able to really start to communicate and hopefully have some really good discussions where you can see eye to eye,” she says. “When trying so hard to change them into our viewpoint, that’s when the disconnection happens.”

It’s also why Rachael chooses to make peace with things she cannot change about her husband. Rather than getting frustrated that he doesn’t notice when the dishwasher needs to be emptied, she realized it was more effective to just ask him to unload it.

“It’s okay that I remind people to do things,” she says as an example of how we can be easier on ourselves to make our marriages more peaceful.

“It opens our mind to wisdom quicker when we accept ourselves instead of beating ourselves up,” she says. “The same goes with our spouses; if we can stop criticizing and start accepting more, our connection is going to grow.”

Acceptance creates a trickle-down effect as parents too, when we’re struggling to get our kids engaged in virtual learning or fretting about screen time.

“What worked for me was saying ‘what do you want to learn about right now?’ and really diving into it; letting them lead the way,” says Rachael. “My oldest fell in love with grammar, so I got her a grammar bible and she devoured the whole thing on her own. My middle child loved computers, so we got him a bunch of stuff and he built his own computer.”

She acknowledges that while curriculum may be limiting, we can still follow cues of what our kids take interest in. At our house, that means incorporating LEGO projects whenever we can—or alternating silly YouTube videos with read-along stories.

“Usually when we beat ourselves up as moms that turns into lashing out at our kids at some point,” she says. “If you are giving your kids extra screen time right now, give yourself some grace. Nobody has ever gone through what we’re going through right now. If your kids are in their rooms all the time; of course, try to engage them and think about things that that will pull them out and take care of their mental health.”

Whether we want to change the dynamic in our marriage or with our kids, Rachael believes we need to start with ourselves.

“Working with couples in childbirth really made me aware of the strength of a woman, and how important it is to take care of yourself–before your marriage or your children,” says the former doula. “As I was talking to people about self care, I noticed that most of the time, their relationships would start to come up and their issues in their marriages.”

“You have to really go into your own thoughts and say, ‘Why am I afraid to communicate this need?” she says. “Start there and be self aware; are you afraid that they’re going to react in a certain way or they’re not going to understand you?”

It comes back to acceptance and being “okay with whatever the outcome,” she says. “If they don’t understand me, that’s okay. It just means we need to dive a little deeper.”

And when we look back at this year that challenged all of us, we’ll feel that much more equipped for what the future holds.

“That’s one of the beautiful things of the more difficult things you get through in life,” she says. “The more free you are as your marriage goes on, because you’re like, ‘Look, we can handle this. We handled that year, we can handle this year.’”

Mama Shaker: Ari, Seeking to Understand Each Other in Business and Family

Working in close proximity to her husband is nothing new for Ari Krzyzek. The couple runs a creative agency from their home office in Chicago, while tending to the special needs of their son.

“In our early years doing business together it was definitely very hard,” she says. “I found that trying to separate our feelings and our relationship as spouses, versus us as business partners, was a little bit tricky in the very beginning.”

Ari says that setting boundaries has helped—as tempting as it may be to talk shop over dinner—and establishing a mutually beneficial relationship for all the “different scenarios building a business and in life.”

“We’re obviously not perfect, but we try our best to respect one another and try to really find our own strengths and weaknesses,” she says.

“I’m honestly just trying my best to at least set some guidelines,” she says. “There are some exceptions on different occasions and different days, but at least I have some sort of guidelines that I can follow, so it’s not 100% strict rules.”

Ari recalls the advice of her mentor who emphasized the importance of being as flexible as you can while starting a family, because “things will change very fast, especially in the first 10 years.”

Now, almost five years into parenthood, she and her husband have found a way to run Chykalophia together and be hands-on with their son.

“The main reason why I’ve built the business the way I have today is because I want to see him grow too,” she says. “If I focus way too much on work that defeats the ‘why.’”

“My son is also in the spectrum, so I have to really understand he’s trying his best,” Ari says, making her keenly aware of questions like, “how can I try to figure out what he is currently learning, the way he’s learning, or what’s the best support he needs right now?”

Women Helping Women Succeed

When Ari first came to the United States, she looked forward to meeting other entrepreneurial women.

“I feel like I didn’t have that enough as I grew up in Bali,” she says. “There’s not enough opportunity for women to come together in a professional setting and even more importantly, in a more positive impact setting.”

When Ari didn’t find the degree of connection she was looking for from traditional networking events in Chicago, she built her own.

“I thought about it over and over, and then finally did it out of a simple need to connect with other women in business,” she says. “It took off and now we’re hosting events every month so that other women entrepreneurs can also connect with one another and really learn from each other.”

Creative Women’s Co. events have expanded beyond Chicago to connect women virtually around a variety of topics. Ari also makes herself available for speaking and mentoring through AriKrzyzek.com while volunteering for design organizations.

With her sights set on writing a book about “empowering women,” Ari invites fellow entrepreneurs to get in touch with her about a “particular moment in their life that they would like to share with me,” whether good or bad.

“I’d love to hear back from them and just listen to what others have experienced in their life,” she says. “I know it’s not always rainbows and unicorns all the time because I got my fair share like other women. I just want to see what other experiences women have.”

Mama Shaker: Eirene, Reclaiming Time for Us

The world looked very different when Eirene Heidelberger and I originally spoke, but her mission to help women put the “me” back in “mommy” is more critical than ever for overwhelmed parents.

“Creating happy mommy time is finding the confidence and joy in yourself and recognizing I am a person,” she says. “I need to reignite what turns me on and what makes me happy.”

As the Get it Together Mom, she believes we unintentionally put ourselves on “Mommy Island” by doing so much for everyone else, that it becomes easy to forget about our own needs. This cycle of relentless giving can feel like “Groundhog Day.”

“When mommy gets off ‘Mommy Island,’ and she goes and fulfills her needs, she can come back to ‘Groundhog Day,'” Eirene says. “She has been renewed; she’s less beaten down because she has done something that has reignited her own self.”

I decided to experiment with this myself last weekend, as the weight of the world was starting to deplete my energy. So I let my kids entertain each other, while I supervised from a comfortable spot that allowed me to relax and only referee if necessary. Taking small breaks like this gave me more fuel to get back on the Ferris Wheel, so I was less likely to implode.

For Eirene, mornings are “personal armor” to build a foundation of me time and avoid feeling “like your child is sucking the life out of you.”

Plus, she believes her three sons deserve a peaceful start too, noting “it’s important for the boys to have to wake up on their own, rather than being roused by a blaring alarm clock. It’s the same process for them.”

While our morning routines no longer lead to rushing out the door, we can take the opportunity to set the right tone for the day.

“When your children have healthy sleep habits and there’s respectful boundaries, then everyone has their own me time,” she says.

Eirene believes sleep is the basis for a harmonious family life and lays the groundwork for her next tip: a schedule can make transitions (and me time) more predictable and cut down on power struggles.

“Those two pieces of the parenting puzzle go hand in hand all day long to create really easy flow of life and that’s what I’m all about,” she says.

While attempting a detailed schedule may feel daunting, one place to start is the evening. With less pressure to squeeze time in with our kids outside of work hours, why not pull dinner and bedtime forward? Even if it’s fifteen minutes at a time, suddenly an extra hour to recover from the day makes a big difference.

“Your time together is even more impactful because your children are rested,” she says. “Mom and dad know when they can fit their needs in around their child.”

Eirene also believes that transitions are really helpful for kids, so they know what to expect throughout their day. Ultimately, that means less battles and negotiations.

“A parent who is competent, happy and starts to give their children what I call the five-to-one transition,” she says, helps kids “know exactly what is heading their way.”

Earlier bedtimes are just one way we can find time to return to the things we used to love doing. Eirene has lots of other suggestions on her podcast and soon-to-be released book.

“What do you miss from your pre-baby life? What can we do to get you back to that?”

Eirene encourages both parents to answer these questions and suddenly, “they start talking.”

“I always say to parents, you chose to have a family and now what are you going to do to have the best time raising your family?”

Even if it feels like a tough time to change routines, the whole family will benefit from parents carving out time for simple pleasures.

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: Jenn, Leading Two Careers, Kids and Marriage into the Teens

Tales of two high-powered tech careers in one household are hard to come by unless you’re Bill and Melinda Gates. In a nearby neck of the woods, Jenn McColly and her husband of 18 years are navigating the complexity of senior leadership roles that both require business travel, while actively parenting two boys in middle school.

“Our time with them is not sacrificed,” says Jenn. “Our careers are important, but we prioritize our family.”

Her story brings much-needed visibility and encouragement for those of us designing our families around the idea that dual-career parenting is not a zero sum game.

“Figure out what is best for you and what is best for your family,” she says. “You don’t need to rationalize that or defend that to anybody.”

Precision-like prioritization is key. When Jenn and her husband faced the prospect of overlapping business trips to Europe last month, she boiled her itinerary down to the essentials.

“In an ideal world, I would have gone in on Saturday so I arrived on Sunday feeling a little fresher on Monday,” she says. Instead, Jenn took a Sunday night flight after spending Saturday at lacrosse with her boys and husband who had just arrived home the day before.

“I was fully present for what I needed to be present for,” she says, about maximizing time in the office Tuesday through Thursday, before jetting back home in time for school commitments.

“I was on a 6 a.m. flight outta there Friday morning because that was going to get me there the soonest.”

“We can all do anything for a short amount of time,” adds Jenn, which any working parent who’s opted for the red-eye option can relate to.

While it’s easy as a new parent to assume that travel will get easier as kids get older, Jenn points out that life gets complicated–in a different way–when school and activities expand outside a half-mile radius.

“Your kids need you differently at different stages,” she says. “Every stage has different complexities with it.”

“I wish I had traveled more when they were younger,” says Jenn, noting that routines are simpler to share with other caregivers in the early years.

“I’m less physically exhausted and more mentally exhausted,” she says, describing how they’ve already had to have conversations with their boys about incidences among local teens of elicit texting, drug overdose and suicide.

Every new stage presents an opportunity for Jenn and her husband to open the conversation about how to manage it all, together.

“Sometimes it’s really messy and sometimes it’s easy,” she says. “When it’s easy are those times when we’re feeling connected as a couple, and when it’s hard is when we’re not feeling connected.”

Jenn says “the move to middle school” and the addition of a new puppy to their household “has created some really good conversations.”

For example, her husband’s math prowess has come in handy, while Jenn continues to be the resident proofreader and history buff. She’ll even text pictures of schoolwork to him during business trips so they can continue to play an active role.

“School is starting to matter,” she says. “They get legit grades in middle school.”

Jenn also points out that now that communication with their boys is getting more limited as they get older, she and her husband can help each other fill in the gaps while the other one’s away.

Oxygen Masks

Jenn, her career and family have all blossomed as they’ve entered the teens. She reflected on a time when she didn’t have the same sense of priorities or awareness of her own limitations.

“I didn’t feel like I was a present mom. I didn’t feel like I was a present employee. I didn’t feel like I was a present wife.”

“I really felt like I was just spreading peanut butter and was feeling physical effects as a result of operating at that pace and I knew something needed to change,” says Jenn.

“I knew there were people around me that wanted to support me but I didn’t know any other way than just tapping out.”

So Jenn took a pause to try a different path. To her and her husband’s surprise, it ended up turning into a 6-month period of hyper-speed transition while her husband was “going full throttle into the CFO role.”

She ultimately returned to the same company (where I worked at the time), feeling a renewed sense of balance. Now looking back, I can see how this showed up in her commitment to building company culture and driving employee engagement.

“I will never regret taking that time away to figure out ‘how do I move forward in a meaningful way?”

“It gave me a lot of clarity, a better foundation of boundaries and being more intentional about tradeoffs,” says Jenn.

“We, collectively as a society, spend so much time comparing ourselves to other people and we just need to stop,” she says.

“We so often put ourselves last, and putting yourself first isn’t selfish,” she says.

Jenn recommends identifying “that thing that you do for yourself on a regular basis” even if it’s taking a short walk outside “and don’t feel guilty about it.”

“We’re all doing the best that we can. How are we giving others grace and how are we giving ourselves grace?”

For Jenn, that means focusing on seeing her “kids thriving, and being happy and healthy, and that they know that they are loved and supported.”

Plus, now that her boys are older, she and her husband find ways to spend quality time together–like they did during a recent Saturday when lacrosse practices overlapped.

“What I am most proud of is that we have always prioritized our family, our kids, and we are really coming back to prioritizing our relationship as well,” she said.

Mama Maker: Amy from Pink Stork

Military wives are warriors in their own right, and Amy Upchurch takes this to a whole new level. When she was 21 weeks pregnant, Amy’s doctor told her that she and her baby had 24 hours to live.

Amy had contracted a blood infection from a “picc” line while being hospitalized for hyperemesis gravidarum (HG)–extreme nausea, vomiting and other symptoms that can lead to severe dehydration and weight loss.

Fortunately, within 24 hours she had made a “complete turnaround” along with little John Hamilton who was later born premature, but healthy nonetheless.

Amy’s pregnancy was a miracle in itself.

“I had always been told I was not going to be able to have kids growing up,” says Amy. “It was a big surprise when I found out I was pregnant” just three weeks after marrying her Marine Corps husband and settling into Virginia.

Three “HG” ridden pregnancies later, when Amy found out she was pregnant with her fourth child, she threw up her hands.

“Out of desperation, I really started researching and working with doctors and midwives, and came up with this protocol to combat this HG that was going to come and hit me like a train,” says Amy.

“I ended up having an amazing fourth pregnancy with all this information that I had gathered, and implemented in my body,” says Amy.

“No more emergency room visits or ambulance rides.”

She delivered a 9-pound baby boy full term.

Soon after, Amy developed Pink Stork to “help other women who struggle during their pregnancies” beginning with a line of morning sickness products.

“It was really cool that it was starting to help other people–close friends and people in the military community,” says Amy.

Word of mouth gave Pink Stork a boost as it expanded into prenatal vitamins, nursing supplements and fertility products. (Their lactation tea smells and tastes delicious as I unwind after putting the kids to bed — a welcome alternative to suffering through other “mother’s” tea on the market.)

Women Helping Women Succeed

It’s no surprise that military wives rallied around Pink Stork at its inception. Amy says they’re not only advanced problem solvers, but also “really strong women, really smart women and really resourceful women” and they excel at forming a connection with their community, more so than the “civilian world.”

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Looking back Amy says, “it was always helping other people–that’s still what I enjoy so much today–that’s what makes everything full circle.”

She recalls a note from one customer who had a double-digit number of miscarriages before finally delivering a healthy baby.

“My heart goes out to them,” says Amy. “That’s why I do what I do.”

Helping other moms is both personal and spiritual, for Amy.

“I clearly remember laying in the hospital beds and doing nothing for months,” she says. “Minutes seemed like hours. I just remember thinking, why in the world am I laying here? Why am I so sick? How come I can’t have a normal pregnancy? Why is God putting me through all this pain?”

“I look back now and I understand exactly why I was laying there and exactly why I went through those struggles,” Amy says. “I feel very blessed to be able to go through those challenges and have those questions answered.”

She’s on a mission to continue finding answers for moms and solving problems for “this stage of life.”

“Pink Stork is going to take their hand and walk them all the way through until they get the answers and results they want,” says Amy.

“I love to see what people are looking for, what moms think, what moms need,” she says. “If any of our customers are looking for something we don’t have, let me know. We can help you, and if we can’t help you, we’ll point you in the direction of someone who can.”

How this Mompreneur Makes it Work

Running a business is truly a family affair, in Amy’s eyes. Her husband, who was deployed during some of her most difficult moments in pregnancy, now plays an active role in growing Pink Stork.

“He’s very much a part of the business,” says Amy. “He’s very supportive of helping other families because he knows what it’s like to see your partner suffer and to feel helpless.”

“I like to think of Pink Stork as not only my family but also all of our employees,” she says. “It’s a family, it really is.”

Amy wants her employees to know that she takes pride in being a woman-owned company, and that she understands and celebrates working moms.

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“We have babies that come into our office everyday,” beams Amy. “You can give a mom sitting in front of me, with a baby laying next her, seven different jobs and she will complete every single one of them just like the next person.”

“I get energized from a good challenge,” says Amy, about becoming an entrepeneur. “I knew nothing; I didn’t go to school for business. I Googled a lot of words. I sat in a lot of meetings and phone calls and learned from osmosis. I’m still learning from osmosis.”

“I would hate for someone to have looked at me when I was starting Pink Stork and had four little kids running around–which I did–and say, ‘You’re crazy.'”

“When you find something that you believe in, and you want to go for it, I encourage anyone and everyone to believe in themselves and just go for it,” says Amy. “Don’t be afraid of what other people think.”

“Keep doing your thing. Don’t worry about it. It will all fall into place.”

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: Rachel from ParentSpark

As a parenting coach and mother of three boys, Rachel Goldman Sklar is chock full of creative ways to overcome the day-to-day challenges of raising young kids.

Our conversation couldn’t have come at a better time, as my nearly 3-year-old is still adjusting to life with a sibling and we’re constantly negotiating meals, trips to the potty, and bedtime.

While we typically resort to bribery, Rachel suggests a “first, then” technique instead.

“Children are so routine oriented and appreciate the autonomy that goes along with following order,” she says, describing how you might say “first you brush your teeth, then we read a book” as a series of steps instead of dangling the story like a carrot.

“First, then” is just one example from ParentSpark — the “chat bot” Rachel built with a fellow parent, Guy Rom, who brings engineering chops from Facebook and PayPal.

In one hour of feeding my newborn with one hand and chatting with ParentSpark’s virtual host “Heather” with the other, I learned a handful of techniques–and the research behind them–to try out with our testy toddler.

While convenient, ParentSpark is also designed to be more interactive than a parenting book. It features digestible content for the 140-character generation of parents who may not have the option or interest to read a book or attend a workshop.

“Books don’t really support you in an ongoing way,” she said. “They’re not there to nag you. They’re not there to remind you. They’re not there to help you reflect on how to tweak things for your own family.”

Rachel and I discussed how parenting books can also make you feel like you’re doing something wrong if it doesn’t work or that you should have started sooner (like my experience reading the 3-day potty training book).

Helping Families Succeed

Rachel’s initial exposure to parenting wasn’t easy. Prior to coaching, she worked in social services with child abuse investigations. She left to start her own family, and then found herself needing the kind of support she now provides.

“When it came time for me to go back to work–which was kind of driven by the fact that my children were challenging and I needed a break–I went back and trained to be a parenting coach, knowing that I would get my own coaching,” she says.

Rachel figured if it went well, she would turn it into a practice.

“And that’s exactly what happened,” she says. “I began to love parenting, I went ahead and had another baby, and I started my own practice.”

Rachel draws inspiration from all of these experiences to create the content for ParentSpark, and pays close attention to what she hears back from users.

“Every morning I come in and read what people’s takeaways are…and it’s really touching,” she says.

“We really want feedback,” says Rachel. “Every mom who uses it can help the next generation of moms who use it, because we’ll improve it based on all of our user feedback.”

Ultimately, she’d like to bring ParentSpark full circle and reduce the incidence of child maltreatment, through government grants and partnerships with social workers.

How this Mompreneur Makes it Work

Rachel keeps it real, and that’s part of her appeal. She’s created mantras like “At Your Wit’s End” and “Me Time” on Rock Your Inner Mama: Guidance for Mindful Parents. She makes sure to carve out time for her and her husband too.

“We go to Burning Man every year. That’s our one week of being completely disengaged from parenting,” she says.

As for the other 358 days of the year, Rachel navigates the highs and lows of running a startup, while juggling three boys with her husband, and continuing her coaching practice.

Her mornings start off on a strong foot. She’s mastered the art of keeping everyone in bed until 8:00 a.m. during the summer, and 7:00 a.m. during the school year. And she relishes in the solitude of her commute.

But like many of us, “evenings are fraught with chaos and kids fighting and us getting frustrated with each other,” she says.

“Feeding children is the hardest part of parenting for us,” says Rachel, as she describes the limited diet of her three boys, and behavioral issues triggered by blood sugar and gluten.

In similar fashion to the suggestions Rachel shares in ParentSpark, she had an epiphany.

“I was going to hire somebody to watch the kids in the afternoon so I could cook dinner, then I realized I should hire someone to cook dinner so I can watch the kids.”

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At the end of the day, Rachel values the balance that ParentSpark has provided her.

“I have the kind of job that affords me tremendous flexibility,” she says. “I’m really, really lucky that I have a really good blend of work and parenting.”

Why Going Local Is Best for the Moment

As I write this, I’m on a plane aching to get home to my little guy, so take this travelogue with a grain (or several) of salt. 

It will be a rare thing for me to write about traveling, because we don’t take vacations very often. And when it comes to business trips, my new normal is to get in and get out as quickly as possible (for said reason above).

Either way, I find the best moments while traveling occur when we seek out local experiences without overplanning ahead of time.

When it comes to vacation, my main pre-planning involves accommodations that are as close to “home” as possible (or a step up with points!) and reducing the stress of getting there. Other than that, the best laid plans are no plans until we arrive.

In Nashville, we lucked out staying at an AirBnB that reminded me so much of the early 1900s home that we had renovated in Midtown. The owners easily could have passed for our Nashville body doubles.


Even if we go the hotel route, neighborhoods are a great place to start. I like to stay in a walkable neighborhood whenever possible. So we can grab coffee or dinner without making reservations – especially helpful when we first get to town. 

The first day for us typically involves relaxing, attempting to unplug, and walking around to get our footing. After a day or two of doing very little, then we start making plans.

I also like exploring other neighborhoods where we’re not necessarily staying, by foot, as well. We found the downtown Nashville area to be too touristy, so we explored other neighborhoods like Germantown, Music Row and towns like Franklin and found them to be just what the doctor ordered. 


I had a blissful moment in this adorable Germantown coffee and chocolate shop, Tempered, waiting for my almond milk latte while we scouted out brunch spots nearby.

Finding great local restaurants is another activity best held until we arrive in town. Between Yelp, Instagram, recommendations from Lyft drivers and hotel/AirBnB hosts, we can usually get a sense of what the most popular  spots are with the locals.

From there, we only make reservations for the can’t-miss dinners. Otherwise it will depend on what neighborhood we end up in and what we’re hungry for.

In Nashville, the stars aligned with the following spots:



Pharmacy Burger had the most amazing farm burger with an egg on it, and local craft beer garden. We were able to avoid waiting in line because a Lyft driver told us about the No Wait app, where you essentially reserve a place in line.


After a sweaty ride on an on-off bus, we developed a craving for oysters. Through a combination of Google Maps, Open Table and Yelp, we found a quirky spot, South Street, near Music Row. Their giant Gulf oysters and bottomless fountain drinks hit the spot!


Somehow we mustered the appetite for dinner that evening, and thank goodness we did because Butcher and Bee turned out the be our favorite meal in Nashville.


No trip to the South (or any part of the globe, in my book) would be complete without mac & cheese. Our day trip to Franklin gave us an opportunity to try Puckett Grocery, which we had heard was the place to get an authentic Nashville experience.


Franklin was also home to the most adorable shop full of American made products, White’s Mercantile, perhaps named after the gorgeous white brick storefronts that lined its streets. I could have spent hours in there!


The last clandestine meal was the result of searching Google Maps for a coffee shop we could swing by on the way back from returning our rental car. Yeast Bakery came through big time, both for great coffee and amazing savory pastries, including their famous Czech kolaches.

This formula has worked for all kinds of destinations, from big cities to beaches. It also helped me stay in the moment and enjoy much-needed vacation, since homesickness crept up much more this time around.
The good news is after writing this, I’m now two hours closer to touching down!

What are some ways you find the best local spots while traveling?

How Pregnant Foodies Can Still Have Fun at Restaurants

My blogging took the back burner during my pregnancy and first 6 months of motherhood, so I will be playing a lot of catch up in the next few posts…

I never wanted my pregnancy to prevent us from enjoying one of our favorite activities: going out for dinner. But I quickly learned that most menus don’t cater to pregnant women (especially farm-to-fork). 

Here are some tips and tricks for ordering at restaurants while preggo:

  • Ask for a mocktail, even if it’s not on the menu; most bartenders will happily create something special, and seasonally inspired, for you

  
 

  • If they carry soft cheeses, ask if they’re pasteurized because in many cases they are (Humboldt Fog is one of my favorites for this reason!)

 

  • If you see a dish that’s normally served raw or rare, ask if they can cook it thoroughly or leave it out (like scrambled eggs instead of runny) 

 

  • At the deli, ask if they can heat up the sandwich (this was one of my biggest cravings, along with fruit) 

  • At the end of a meal when everyone else is a couple of wine glasses deep, treat yourself to dessert 😉 


Soon enough you will toggle between barely having time to get a full meal in and ordering takeout after baby’s bedtime, so enjoy the extra leisurely meals and pampering. Bon appetit!