Mama Maker: Pamelyn, Finding Gratitude in Any Situation

Pamelyn Rocco wants to remind us that no matter how busy life gets, we can still carve out moments to feel grateful.

“Instead of being annoyed at all of the driving that I have to do, we take it as a time to look outside at nature and be grateful,” she says about chauffeuring her girls between activities. “Tennessee is so beautiful right now, like the amount of colors coming off of these trees and plants, it’s just gorgeous.”

“We’ll see how many colors we can count of flowers getting from here to the soccer field.”

It’s just one of the ways Pamelyn taps into her surroundings to guide her family through the practice of gratitude without it feeling like a lesson or chore. She also published a children’s book, Gratitude the Great, to help parents and kids learn together.

“A deep soulful feeling of gratitude is what I’m trying to get out there,” she says, pointing out the difference between gratitude and good manners. “Gratitude is like a whole different beast.”

“Our job as parents is to model that behavior on a daily basis and that’s why I think rituals are so important.”

As a busy mom that stays up late to work while everyone’s asleep, Pamelyn spends her first waking moments making mental thank you notes.

“My eyes wake up and I just start with anything that comes to my head,” she says. “If there’s something special that’s about to happen that day I make sure I give gratitude for that and it just like starts me off on the right foot.”

Pamelyn uses the “gratitude train” to illustrate the interdependence of the meals we eat and gifts we receive—which we all have a new appreciation for after dealing with 18 months of strained supply chains.

“If you can backtrack and explain to your kids all of the different stages and people and effort that had to go into that one meal on your table, from the farmers, to the truck drivers, to the grocery store workers, to your mom and dad working so hard in making this beautiful meal—that makes children understand that we all depend on each other and that it’s not just about us,” she says.

Her new book highlights the tradition of giving Rea bracelets as a visual reminder and gift to the people we’re grateful for.

“I’m all about prompts because you’re so crazy during the day,” she says. “You can be sitting waiting for your doctor’s appointment, or waiting for your oil change or waiting in the car line at school and you just look down.”

Pamelyn and her daughters have been giving out Rea bracelets to first responders, frontline workers, cashiers and delivery drivers throughout the pandemic.

“Even through bad things that happen in life, COVID and all these things, it has really been the most amazing tool for me to use to get through the darkest days,” she says.

“You have space for thoughts, and thoughts are what drive gratitude.”

Mama Maker: Cameca, Savoring the Time to Refine Your Craft

Cameca Bacchus doesn’t shy away from reinvention, having toggled between corporate roles, baking and motherhood. She takes inspiration from women like Sylvia Weinstock who achieved success much later in life.

“I can crunch numbers well, but my passion really is baking,” she says.

“When the subprime crisis happened, I remember walking to my office one day and seeing people leaving with all their stuff at the time, losing their jobs left and right,” she recalls. “I said, ‘it might be a matter of time before I’m one of those people, so maybe I should figure out what I really enjoy instead of what I just do well.’”

One week later, she filled out an application for culinary school, and then nine months later left her corporate finance job, and began classes while working for a catering company. Things changed again when she started her family.

“The thing with working at bakeries, is that you start really early, like, I was working a shift from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. but not being around in the mornings is what’s tricky,” she says. “You also would work on the weekends, so that was another point of losing Saturdays and Sundays–when can we ever have a day when we’re all home together–because you just don’t get to replace that time.”

Now Cameca approaches baking as a part-time passion, one cake at a time. Her goal is to grow Creations by Cameca at a gradual pace as her kids get older and more independent. Meanwhile, she is back in a corporate role and also has time to support causes like Behind the Book as a board member, which is hosting its Book Bash fundraiser on June 19 in Washington Heights to give 3,000 books to young people in the neighborhood.

“The biggest goal I have now is to continue to just refine my craft,” she says. “I have a two year old, and I still want to be able to enjoy that season of her life, so I don’t necessarily want to sacrifice the key parts of the day for baking at this point.”

As any mother who juggles a corporate job and young kids can attest, there isn’t a lot of energy left at the end of the day. That’s precisely when Cameca heads into the kitchen.

“Baking has always been something that I find reduces my stress,” she says. “The key is just that I can take my time and really give it the deliberate, intentional devotion it needs. It’s because I enjoy it, it gives me a sense of calm, so even though I’m doing it at the end of the day, I know I’m the only one in my kitchen and I can take my time.”

Cameca encourages fellow moms to focus on the long game and not put pressure on ourselves to achieve milestones at the pace we were once accustomed to, and to be “okay with things not happening in the exact time frame that you wanted.”

“You can take your time and you can really let yourself grow in stages,” she says. “So that when you do land on the top, you can stay there.”

And for those moments when you’re feeling overwhelmed or questioning yourself and your choices?

“Remember your reason why you’re even pushing for this in the first place,” she says. “Where you might be right in that moment is not where your story’s going to end. That’s just one point where you are and your story is still being written.”

Cameca sees burnout as a sign that it’s time to reevaluate and make changes, pointing to the critical need of a support system when you’re “taking any leap.”

“Who’s going to help catch you?” she says. “You can’t have it all without support. It’s just impossible to do by yourself.”

Cameca seeks support from her husband, her mom and friends when she needs an extra set of hands or hours outside of her late night baking sessions. And her kids will pitch in, especially for a taste test.

“They definitely have an appreciation for it and so I do hope, at some point, they can see that ‘hey, mommy’s a business owner,’ like this is something that people can do,” she says. “You can own a business and run a business, so that’s important for them to know.”

“Someday, I do want to have a bakery where they can run in and be like, ‘mom, let me help you.’ That’s my goal.”

Mama Maker: Lesley, Creating the Space for Women to Feel Supported

Every day Lesley Osei answers the call to help others, beyond her five children under four and her six siblings, across fifteen acres where she and her husband are building a church in Connecticut, with the thousands of followers she motivates on Instagram, all the way to Ghana where she’s bringing basic comforts to rural mothers-to-be.

“We actually stumbled upon a village where you can’t even take a car or bus there,” she recalls. “Once a month, they have to go and fetch water–it’s like a big thing–and so what we’re doing now is we’re getting developers to go and dig a well so that it will be easier access for water for them.”

After making progress with four wells, Lesley felt compelled to do more—especially after a group of husbands expressed what it was like to watch their wives suffering through labor and delivery in the elements.

“What we are creating are maternity pods where they can actually go and at least have a midwife there coach them through, be there with them, where they can lay on the bed–because a lot of them are squatting in the middle of their houses to give birth.”

It’s not the first time that Lesley has extended her arms out to fellow mothers. While counseling couples at church, she’s discovered that education and support is needed across the full spectrum of pregnancy and postpartum, which inspired her to start Moms Algorithm as a hub for “systems and processes” to support moms.

“I realized that a lot of people didn’t know things like folic acid was something that you should be taking, even before, to make sure you get your body right,” she says.

“I truly believe the Lord gave me a lot of kids just so I can get it done and teach people how to get it done and shifting your mind is very important to me. I am the the third of seven, and so my siblings are always calling me for advice, always in some type of emergency situation.”

Lesley makes it a priority to be present with her kids through all of her endeavors, and often wakes up before dawn to put her ideas on paper. For her latest project, she’s drawing inspiration from the experiences of her 3-year-old daughter.

“She loves princesses and anytime I’m trying to find her a black princess they don’t have any,” she says. “So what the Lord laid on my heart to do is to create my own and so that’s what I’ve been doing recently—trying to get all the different things and items and products that children normally use, and get characters that are biracial, that are African American, that have white friends, that have black friends and just trying to get more mixture into what they see.”

Lesley’s aspirations to support young girls and women all around the world are fueled by the care and attention she receives from her mother and husband.

“He always maintains time for me and when he sees that I’m withdrawn or quiet, he stops whatever he’s doing,” she says. “He doesn’t care who is around—he literally stops and has a conversation with me, which I always appreciate.”

The solid foundation of their faith-based family has stemmed into a global network of giving back.

Mama Shaker: April, Finding Flow on the Other Side of Disruption

April Beach grew up tumbling around the waves of California and Hawaii long before she established the rhythm of entrepreneurial life as a mom of three boys.

“I learned how to stay calm in really scary situations,” she says, a skill which helped propel the growth of her companies while her kids were still babies.

“Frankly, then it was like survival,” April recalls. “I would literally have 20 minutes to work and then I would have to go breastfeed, and then 15 minutes to work and then break up a fight, or three minutes to work and somebody fell down the stairs.”

Fire drill scenarios are never out of the realm of possibility when managing a house of (now) teenage boys, food allergies, multiple businesses and a podcast.

“I’ve always designed my companies in a way that I could be the mom that I wanted to be,” says April. “I don’t believe anybody makes a better leader than a woman. We have the ability to see things in a different way, with a deeper purpose.”

This means embracing disruption, instead of constantly bracing for “if I was going to be interrupted,” and instead preparing for “when I was going to be interrupted, I knew exactly what I had to come back and do.”

As April’s kids become increasingly independent, she now structures her week to match her energy output.

“Every day is different, but it’s strategically different for a reason,” she says. “My business work, or content creation, or anything I need to do that is original thought or laying out any sort of plans or roadmaps is always Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday–what I call messy day.”

April reserves the end of the week for her clients and what she describes as “brain work,” where she can be “totally 100% focused on building their business, their offers, their marketing, all the things that they need,” followed by a weekend to recuperate.

“I am a big advocate of what I call burning the picket fence—burning what society says is right and wrong, and how we parent, and how we make money, and how we work, or how we don’t work,” she says.

In fact, April welcomed cameras into her home to provide a behind-the-scenes look at how she and her family Burn the Picket Fence. In one episode, the tears that follow a call from her son’s school about food allergy protocol in the middle of the workday hits painfully close to home.

“We are worthy of the walk that we’re supposed to walk, even when we don’t feel like it because we don’t always feel like it,” she says. “We are worthy of that walk that was only designed for us. Nobody else can take that walk but us.”

Burning the picket fence also gives us permission to surrender to what we need instead of sustaining a pace merely because we can.

“I always wanted to do ‘all the things’ and frankly I did a really great job at doing it all, and now I’m realizing that I don’t want that anymore,” she says.

“I believe I’m soul-tied to the ocean and it’s just always been a part of who I am,” she says. “The hardest and the best lessons I’ve ever learned have been taught to me from the ocean. But now getting in that same flow state, I’ve had to learn how to tap into that being in different parts of the country.”

“Right now I need the ocean,” April says, after living in Colorado for 20 years. “I definitely think I’m ready for my beach house. I have to get back to that. It’s like going home.”

Mama Shaker: Gladys, Summoning Our Superpowers

Gladys Simen is known as the “motivation whisperer” among friends and colleagues–something we could all use right now. She’s recognized her own courage to propel forward through any circumstances, whether that’s starting over in five different countries or navigating the compounding responsibilities of working motherhood.

“I came to a country that was not originally mine with no support system and it stretched me and I didn’t break,” she recalls.

For Gladys, it took a pandemic and racial tension reaching a tipping point to finally recognize her superpowers: being brave and “super acutely aware of things.”

“There’s a lot of things that changed in the world,” she says, reflecting on 2020. “It hit me hard–harder than I thought it would–because I’m parenting Black kids, so I had to start thinking about what am I leaving for them not to have the same struggle.”

“Every parent, no matter what color you are or race or creed or whatever, you want the best for your children,” she says. “I want my kids to look at me and say ‘you contributed to this being a better place.'”

Another superpower Gladys had to get comfortable with is being a role model. She’s quick to point out that it took courage to recognize her influence beyond her own children, and recalls a time when she hesitated to assert herself publicly.

“I discovered that having an edge is not a bad thing,” she says. “I realized that using my voice brings me more support than I thought. People come and say, actually I like the new Gladys better.”

Now, she’s expanding the use of her forces for good to help people define post-pandemic life on their own terms at www.mylifecouch.com.

“I won’t be shocked or surprised if people now realize maybe that life is not about racing to have a title anymore,” she says. “It could be just being present or enjoying what you’re doing. I’m trying to create that platform for other people, because that’s what fuels me.”

Gladys is particularly passionate about the intersection of career and motherhood, having been through her own transformation after her first and second experiences returning to work after having a baby. She encourages new moms to focus on everything gained in the process, especially during a particularly rough day (or year).

“You’re more powerful than you think because you have that tiny human being that you created and you have gone through a crash course of any leadership thing that people can teach you,” she says.

It’s one of the reasons that Gladys gets so frustrated when people in the workplace don’t recognize–over even go so far to discount–the superpowers that only motherhood can teach you.

“Becoming a mom is juggling so many things at once and still showing up,” she points out. “I think boards of directors or companies need more moms because you know how to make things work with very little.”

Gladys wants to flip the script on how we often react when presented with a list of qualifications in a job description or career development plan.

“You should be coming with a badge, ‘I’m a mother. I tick all those boxes.'”

She’s also learned that it takes a lot of courage to say no and stay true to what provides meaning in your current situation.

“Every single day you wake up, there’s an opportunity to do something different, better, greater, bigger,” she says. “There’s no right or wrong answer.”

Gladys gained the 20/20 vision we were all hoping for—and in some cases may need to do a double take to realize is within us.

“I’m having so much fun building amazing human beings and satisfying their curiosity,” she says. “This is the amazing age where they will never be six and three again, where they’re just exploring and seeing the world through their eyes. It’s magnificent. It’s success for me right now.”

Even though Gladys had to adjust to lockdowns and virtual school while juggling her full-time technology role, she loves that her children have so much more access to her.

“They know that I’m their best friend because we can go and jump in a mud puddle because we want to,” she says. “These are the moments that I was not able to give them before.”

“I usually say the superpower’s inside you and you don’t realize it until it is time.”

Mama Shaker: Rhonda, Adjusting Expectations of What’s Enough

Running a startup and raising twin 5th graders through a season of wildfires, literally and figuratively, requires Rhonda Collins to be more compassionate about what’s possible in a 24-hour period.

“I end up feeling the way I know a lot of working moms feel,” she says. “If I never slept, if I didn’t have a family and didn’t have anything else to do, there would still not be enough time in the day for me to do everything.”

It’s why Rhonda recently began starting her days by asking herself what the single most important thing is for her business and her family, rather than a to-do list.

“Sometimes it’s two things, or maybe it’s three things, but it’s not 137 things anymore,” she says.

“I feel like that’s all I can do,” she says, adding that she ends the day reminding herself she did her best. “These times are just super challenging.”

Rhonda’s instincts to pare things down to the essentials are what led her down an entrepreneurial path after “an incredibly satisfying career that really fed me” as a social change documentary filmmaker.

“I had my twins a little bit later in life, and so I had a long stretch of living fairly minimally,” she says, recalling the visceral reaction she had to the growing pile of brightly colored toys and baby gear that began accumulating in her living room.

“I was faced with having two small children and having to figure out, ‘I gotta sell this stuff, or I’ve got to give it away,'” she says.

Rhonda’s realization other parents shared the same challenge was the impetus to create ToyCycle, specifically as a service that places value on the time spent with our kids instead of sorting through an excess of outgrown toys and baby goods.

“I did not wait this long to have children so that I could then just work my ass off all day long, every day of the week and never see them, never actually have quality time with them,” she says.

Interestingly enough, 2020 dished up an abundance of time that would normally be limited with tweens or teenagers.

“I see them in the morning and then I go up and I check on what’s going on, and they show me an assignment they’re working on,” Rhonda says about their co-located work and school schedules. “Then we eat lunch together and they bring me down a smoothie that they just made.”

“I feel like we are much more bonded and together than we ever have been,” she says.

On Fridays they have movie nights huddled in a chair with popcorn. She also carves out one-on-one time, as challenging as it can be with twins.

“I feel best about myself and about my life when I just step out of my business self and say what I want and need to do,” Rhonda says. “Right now, it’s been time with my kids.”

“I feel connected, like life feels like it’s supposed to feel,” she says. “If I forget that for a few days, I just keep reminding myself of that.”

“Let’s just read together, let’s spend some time together, let’s hang out,” she says about her new definition of accomplishment. “That’s it.”

Mama Maker: Viola, Drawing Us Towards Happiness No Matter What Happens

Viola Sutanto found joy within the four walls of a hospital room where her 9-year-old daughter awaited a bone marrow transplant for aplastic anemia, ultimately defying the odds of a match with her 3-year-old brother.

“They had told us of course we’ll test your son, but just know that sibling matches are a 25% chance, so don’t hold your breath,” Viola recalls her doctors saying at the time. “So when we heard that he was a perfect match, we couldn’t believe it. It was such a miracle.”

Now Viola wants to pay her gratitude forward by publishing Eat Cake for Breakfast and 99 Other Small Acts of Happiness in partnership with The Collective Book Studio and will give a portion of proceeds back to the UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital. She’s been amazed at the response to her iFundWomen crowdfunding campaign, which has reached all the way to her hometown in Singapore.

“I was really very touched and overwhelmed,” she says. “In the first 24 hours of the campaign, we had raised thousands of dollars. Longtime friends of mine, people in our community and even friends I hadn’t heard from in years—suddenly I’m getting texts and messages from them saying, ‘I cannot believe you went through this’ and ‘here you go, I want 10 copies of your book.’”

Sharing Her Story

“I’ve been pretty isolated for more than a year since Maika was diagnosed, and I’m a very introverted person so I tend to hold it all in,” Viola says. “I realized, gosh, I’ve never even told most of these people what had happened.”

The inspiration for Eat Cake for Breakfast and 99 Other Small Acts of Happiness began when Viola and her daughter came up with sketchbooks as a way to keep themselves occupied during the hospital stay. The “100 days” creative movement had also recently gained popularity.

“So that’s when the drawings started happening,” she said. “We’d pick one thing to draw and it could be just the most mundane thing in the world. I think my first drawing was actually a dinner at the hospital or something silly like that— but over time it just became something fun for us to do.”

Viola started posting the drawings on Instagram and as a former book designer, she naturally began to imagine them taking shape in page form.

“What happened last year made me realize, as a family, how much resilience we have,” she says. “I’m a more optimistic person now than I ever was before, and also very mindful of being grateful for everything that we have.”

Because Maika was immunocompromised following her treatment, Viola’s family entered another year of social distancing and mask-wearing with plenty of practice and perspective.

“I think it really helps to find the silver lining in everything and every day,” she says. “Being able to see that on the upside, while stuck at home I get to spend a lot of time with my kids, which I love. I have the privilege of working from home—some people don’t. There’s just so many things to be grateful for despite everything else that’s happening.”

Viola’s perseverance has helped her carry her sustainable bag and home goods business through the abrupt changes that came earlier this year.

“Our wholesale business plummeted between March and now,” she says. “It’s still very much in recovery mode and that was a real bummer because we had started off the year strong. Every day we’d pick up the phone and get order cancellations and postponements. It was really devastating because most of our accounts are mom and pop stores, or they’re small businesses like mine. We have real relationships with these people and worked with them for years.”

She stays grounded by centering herself with meditation and journaling, before jumping into full days of distance learning and running her now booming e-commerce business. It’s a practice that helped Viola get through her darkest days.

“The only other person who was really in the thick of it with me is my husband and that’s all we talked about,” she says. “Sometimes I just don’t want to talk. I felt like my journal and my meditation practice was my own thing that I could do solo, without having to worry about how everyone else is feeling. And that felt sacred to me.”

No matter what life throws your way, Viola recommends giving yourself a break, taking it one step at a time and focusing on the small things you can start with.

“Try to find the silver lining somewhere,” she says. “There’s going to be light at the end of the tunnel, even if it’s a super long tunnel and these days of not seeing where it’s going to end. But I do believe it will be there.”

“If you just take the time to notice, there’s always something, some small joy to be found.”

Mama Maker: Sarah, Deciding How We Want to Live

Sarah Kelly’s rebound from a breast cancer diagnosis at 32 weeks pregnant to building a clean beauty brand featured by the likes of Good Morning America, exemplifies what “salty” women are capable of.

“I was up in Maine at my parents’ house and my sisters were there and it was one of those moments that you’ll never forget,” she says about the dreaded phone call that no one ever expects.

Just 72 hours earlier at a routine prenatal checkup, Sarah mentioned the lump she’d recently found to her OB-GYN, at the encouragement of her sister Leah, an oncology nurse who’s now her business partner. That Tuesday appointment led to an ultrasound on Wednesday, followed by a biopsy on Thursday and confirmation on Friday that it was indeed stage 3, triple-negative breast cancer.

“They wanted to start chemo right away, and it was too big for surgical removal,” she says. “The first cancer treatment that you do, you can receive while you’re pregnant. So I started two rounds of chemo and then they induced me at 38 weeks.”

What Sarah calls her “warrior week” started with the birth of her daughter, followed by blood transfusions two days later, and her third round of chemo two days after that.

“It’s just amazing; I always say, your body can handle so much,” she says. “You just have to have the right mindset.”

Sarah also credits the support she had during treatment, especially while she and her husband were between houses and living with her in-laws. She points out that her 14-month-old and newborn were in incredibly capable hands with her mother-in-law, a neonatal nurse.

“Cancer sucked, but it also gave me perspective on how I wanted to live,” she says.

“I think I was checking the boxes—half of them were making me happy and the other half were creating a lot of toxicity,” says Sarah about life back in Boston, which involved battling traffic to and from work, taking time away from her kids.

The idea of starting a business with her sister Leah entered the equation, inspired by the emerging interest in green beauty and a lifelong dream to build her own brand after working in sales and corporate marketing.

“Having lost my hair and everything, putting on a lipstick really empowered me to feel a little bit more feminine throughout my journey,” says Sarah. “That’s the direction we decided to go in and then it just evolved, talking about how we take care of ourselves, eliminating stress in our lives.”

Salty Girl Beauty took a minimalistic approach to cosmetics and body care, made locally in small batches using organic coastal ingredients. The name is a double entendre, honoring the resilience of women.

“What we were going through at that time in our lives, you needed a lot of grit and sass and attitude,” she says. “I think women feel that throughout the day they need to have that armor—whether you’re going through amazing things or a really hard time in your life.”

Sarah noticed that while she was getting a lot of attention during her treatment, finding ways for her husband to feel supported too was critical. So she, Leah and their siblings started Foundation4Love as a non-profit arm of the brand to carve out quality time with caregivers.

“Making sure that we were staying connected was really important to me, and so people would come over and watch the kids while we could go out to dinner,” Sarah says. “So that’s kind of the thing we do with other people going through this. Who’s their number one, is it their family or is it a sister, a husband? We try to do something that allows them to disconnect from their cancer and connect with whatever is love in their life.”

Through the spirit of partnership they’re also funding the cold cap program at New England Cancer Specialists, running workshops with Mount Sinai, and even spun up a new kind of cancer wellness retreat called Warrior Revolution—together with Cynthia Besteman, the cancer survivor behind Violets are Blue Skincare.

“There are so many conferences around the medical side and the treatment side but we really wanted to focus on, ‘yes, you’re going through cancer, but how do you live through that?'” she says about the full-day events which covered a range of wellness, intimacy and mental health topics and ended with a pajama party.

“At the last retreat, we had about six stage IV 30-40 year-old women they didn’t know in our own community,” she says. “And now they’re best friends. Being able to create those connections has been really great.”

While 2020 brought a lot of uncertainty for Sarah, Leah and their team through the spring and summer months, things took a very exciting turn when the opportunity to be featured on Good Morning America popped up.

“Getting that national exposure has been life-saving,” she says. “It’s been literally the biggest whirlwind ever. To see how the four of us, as well our greater community, helped and pitched in so that everything came together for it was just really, really special.”

Coming together, whether it’s as “Salty Girls” or as a family has given Leah the life she reimagined for herself five years ago.

“As much as I probably work too much, it’s on my own terms and I can do it in the living room while my kids are around,” she says. “I’m very present and we’re able to do the things that they want to participate in and spend a lot more time outdoors and all of the things that I think create a happy house.”

While that often means Sarah has a six-, five- and two-and-a-half year old clinging to her while trying to put makeup on, she still believes in the importance of self-care “without it being a big production.”

“Being able to have that message to talk to women about taking care of themselves and not putting themselves last,” is what fuels her.

“Because when you’re healthy, everyone else around you can be healthy,” she says.

When Our Presence Leads to Progress

Leanne Sherred wants to reassure busy parents that the conversations we have with our children throughout the course of a day–even while negotiating meals and bedtime–are incredibly powerful for speech and language development.

“You can put language across every area of the day,” she says. “All those routines that are already going to happen in a very busy, crazy, hectic day–you’re still going to get up in the morning, eat breakfast, brush your teeth–all of those are opportunities for interacting with your kiddo, modeling language.”

It can be hard to recognize the silver lining of so much time together at home, but it’s presenting a unique opportunity for parental involvement.

“A lot of times when kids get speech therapy from school, parents barely have any idea what’s being worked on, or how it’s being addressed,” she says.

As the president and founder of Expressable, Leanne flipped the old model of speech therapy on its head. Instead of parents sitting in the waiting room while their kids meet with their therapist once a week, she and her husband launched a virtual option for families to participate together from home.

“One of my professors at Northwestern who taught early intervention made sure that if we walked away from our graduate career with anything in our minds it was that parent engagement is one of–if not the–most powerful tools that we have as clinicians,” she says.

Working directly with families is what led Leanne to choose speech therapy as a profession instead of becoming a dialect coach, after a childhood of easily picking up voices and accents.

“This realm where you’re having a huge impact on the lives of individuals and the lives of families spoke to me,” she says.

Even in this incredibly stressful season of parenthood, our children are changing and growing right before us. To the untrained eye, it can be hard to understand what’s going on behind the scenes to make all these milestones possible.

“As a therapist, I like to really think about the small wins,” she says, noting all of the skills that have to be in place before a word is even spoken. “They had to pay attention to you. They have to have memory for that. They have to have joint attention. They have to be turn-taking to an extent.”

It’s a reminder that all of this time we’re spending with our kids adds up. We may get frustrated, we may lose our patience, but the progress is there when we pause to recognize it.

“There’s nothing I love more than helping a parent use a strategy,” she says. “Then the kid says a word, or maybe for the first time ever puts two words together,” she says.

“It is really powerful for the parents to be the ones who made the success happen.”

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.’”