Winter-Ready Gifts for Working Mamas

‘Tis the season for baby announcements. So what do you get for the working mamas on your list?

How about something soft, warm–and most importantly–practical, from mompreneurs who’ve been in the same shoes…

The team at Bloomingdale’s helped me highlight brands created by mama makers, some of which are featured below. (Clicking on the photos takes you to Bloomingdales.com, using affiliate links, where you can shop online through Dec 21 12pm EST and choose express shipping at checkout to receive your order by Dec 25.)

San Francisco-based Ingrid & Isabel makes super soft and flattering maternity wear (in fact, I’m still wearing the mama-led brand’s cowl neck sweaters well beyond my basketball-belly pregnancy). It’s evident that founder Ingrid Carney knows what matters to busy mamas: this Maternity Nursing Wrap Cardigan ($88) does double duty and is machine washable.

What’s cuter than a baby adorned in an animal-ear hoodie? LIVLY makes this Unisex Hooded Cardigan with Bunny Ears ($58) and other dreamy baby clothes out of Stockholm. The brand was created when founder Lisa Carrol had premature twins whose delicate skin called for the softest cotton she could find, ultimately leading her to Peru for its signature Pima.

Speaking of Pima, Kissy Kissy has been in the baby business since 1996, when its Peruvian-born founder, Roxana Castillo, sought out the softest pajamas possible for her grandson. The brand is widely celebrated for its jammies, like this Unisex Moon-Print Footie ($36) — and donates clothing and fabric to six women and children’s charities.

Based in Utah, Freshly Picked was started by Shark Tank alum Susan Petersen, known for setting the baby moccasin world on fire. Working mamas can be interchangeably office- and weekend-ready with this Faux Leather Diaper Bag ($175).

I’m going to assume I’m not the only working mama that still has a long list of holiday shopping to do. For more ideas and inspiration, check out Gifts for the Tired Mama and Mama Makers from Head to Toe.

Mama Shaker: Linh, on Working Motherhood and Start-ups

Newly minted CMO Linh Ho has been through numerous acquisitions in her career. However, it’s the skills that she acquired while becoming a working mom that have helped prepare her for this new chapter.

“It is all hands on deck every day in a start-up,” she says.

Linh cites “directness” as a skill she learned from having kids–and from her kids–which she finds to be equally useful on a start-up timeline and budget.

“They’ll tell it like it is, there’s no sugar coating, no filter,” she says. “At the same time, as a mom you have to be direct and assertive with your children when it comes to their safety or establishing a routine. In the start-up world it’s like that too.”

It’s also the source of a New York Times best-selling book, Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity and podcast.

Linh says this kind of unfiltered exchange leads to mutual growth. For example, she recently spent time with her data science team which is “full of ideas” and has a “ton of energy.”

“They’re doing super cool things, so I’m learning from them as well–and equally as a mom, I’m learning from my kids. They’re so raw and I find start-up environments are raw too.”

How She Makes it Work

“In a start-up you’re on the clock,” says Linh. “And the investors are watching.”

This isn’t so different from Linh’s daily routine. Most days, she’s responsible for getting the kids up and out the door in the mornings, even if it’s after a 5 a.m. conference call or two.

img_7686

Her husband picks up the kids and makes dinner, and then does a handoff back to Linh for bath and bedtime–except when one of them is traveling.

“Evenings are packed and by 9 p.m. I’m exhausted,” she says, noting that some nights she has to turn her laptop back on if there’s a deadline. She typically gets 4-6 hours sleep.

Her weekend mornings are her “yoga time” or kickboxing.

“It’s my hour or hour and a half on both days, and I don’t give that up very easily,” she says. “My husband can attest to that.”

Women Helping Women Succeed

Linh supports the female entrepreneur community, both as a founder herself, and a mentor to other women through platforms such as the Female Founders Alliance, started in Seattle by Leslie Feinzaig.

“Leslie is basically trying to help other female founders get a leg up where traditionally it’s been a little bit harder for women to get in on funding from the venture capital world,” she says.

Linh extends this coaching and support to her personal life too.

“I would always tell my friends, ‘dream big,’ and I take that from my late father,” she says.

“He came over here as an immigrant with nothing; he was a dreamer and he just went after it. He just gave it a shot no matter what happens.”

Linh’s fearlessness and determination was evident throughout the six years she and I worked together, while both starting our families.

“There’s no limits when it comes to dreaming,” says Linh, about recently encouraging a friend to stop longing for her dream vacation to Portugal, but instead buy a property there. They’d do the research and visualize what it would be like.

“And then if you really want it, then work backwards from it and try.”

Once again, Linh’s outlook is dually relevant to entrepreneurship and parenting.

“You’ve got to give it a shot,” she says. “You’ve got to try and see what happens. Even if it doesn’t go anywhere, you learn so much from trying and it helps make you stronger.”

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.

Gifts for the Tired Mama

‘Twas the night before work, when all through the house, all the creatures were stirring — even a mouse!

The laundry wasn’t hung because I opted for self-care, in hopes that the weekend soon would be here

The children were nestled all snug in our bed, while visions of Paw Patrol danced in their heads

And mama with my breast pump, hoping to fill a bottle to its cap, wishing I could settle down for a long winter’s nap…

While I haven’t slept a full night since May, the gift ideas below are some of my saving graces–whether it’s a hot cup of lactation tea that actually tastes good, or a 1-minute shower facial before bed.

(Note: The links below are affiliated with products and brands I personally use and love. By shopping on the sites they’re linked to, you can support mompreneur- and women-owned businesses, and help keep Best for the Moment story-first and clutter-free.)

1. This Moba moses basket doubles as an infant “play” space while I brush my teeth or squeeze in a shower within eyesight. I love it because it’s made of medical-grade rubber polymer and both the surface and breathable cotton liner are washable.

img_9114-1

Moba is female-founded and designed, and manufactured in the UK. It’s available in pretty pastels for just under $130 at Trouva.com.

(I purchased mine at NORDSTROM.com, but they’re currently sold out. In case their supply returns, here’s FREE shipping, pick up in store and more.)

2. Now that I’ve made it to the shower–a feat in itself–it’s time to scrub my tired looking skin with Belli Fresh Start Pre-Treatment Scrub. At just under $25, it’s safe enough for pregnancy and smells delightful too. Plus, peppermint is known to help “wake up” your senses–which can’t hurt when coffee isn’t cutting it.

3. My face is now primed and ready to “glow” even if I’m not as hydrated as I’d like to be. My super-dry and sensitive skin does so much better with oil than the greasy moisturizer I used to swear by, all thanks to OSEA Essential Hydrating Oil.

img_9162-1

I first heard about the mompreneur-led brand from The Box of Style and recently upgraded to a full-size bottle from Bloomingdales.com for under $75.

Free Shipping on all orders at Bloomingdales.com! Offer valid through Dec 20.

4. Lash extensions are my tired mama’s secret weapon. So treat yourself or a fellow sleep-deprived mom to a meticulously applied lash session, which doubles as a nap. What under-eye circles?!

img_8744

5. To top off my low-maintenance beauty routine, I love 100% Pure, a woman-owned, Bay Area-based beauty brand that has gone to great lengths to use only the purest fruits, vegetables and other foods in its locally made products. (More peace of mind for pregnant and nursing mamas.)

As a reformed lip gloss-only gal, I’ve graduated to their Fruit Pigmented® Pomegranate Oil Anti Aging Lipstick in Buttercup. For the holiday season, mamas can get some much-deserved sparkle with their Red Gold and Rose Gold Pomegranate Lipsticks limited edition set for just under $40.

img_9122-1

My other hacks are putting a little Fruit Pigmented Tint on my cheeks, and if I’m feeling extra fancy, highlighting my brow bone with their Luminating Creme.

Get Free Shipping on Orders $50+ at 100PercentPure.com

8. Whether a nap, night out, or nursing session comes next, Rachel Zoe–mompreneur stylist to the stars–makes me feel glamorous while doing so. Each Box of Style seasonal shipment comes with loungewear, baubles, beauty products, handbags and other accessories. She frequently supports women-owned businesses too.

img_8829

Each seasonal box contains $400 worth of items for just under $100, and you can get $15 off a new subscription using code WINTER15AFF here.

20181008-RZBoxofStlye60628

7. If all else fails, a hot cup of tea that smells as good as it tastes is a good way to squeeze in some self-care, while “priming the pump” as it were. Before I discovered Pink Stork and it’s inspiring Mama Maker Amy Upchurch, drinking mother’s tea felt more like gulping down unsavory herbal medicine.

img_8826

At just under $12 each, Pink Stork Lactation: Herbal Mint Nursing Support Tea and Pink Stork Lactation: Smooth Vanilla Nursing Support Tea are my favorites. Or, you can opt for Pink Stork Nursing Bundle: Lactation Herbal Mint, Lactation Smooth Vanilla, Calm Blends for just under $30.

8. Audible is the only way this sleep-deprived mama can get through books–many of which can be found on my Working Moms Reading List.

You can gift yourself Two Free Audiobooks, or gift monthly subscriptions ranging from 1-month for $15 all the way up to 12 months for $150.

9. When I’ve got my hands full with my kiddos and want to listen to said Audible books, Pandora, or if I need help restocking an item from the pantry, Amazon Alexa comes to my rescue. The newer Echo is just under $100, but I’m still happily using my 1st generation Echo, which you can get for just under $60 Certified Refurbished.

10. Some of my most peaceful moments happen when both boys are strapped into their chairs at the kitchen table with me. (#realtalk) I didn’t think this would be possible with a baby until I found the Bloom Fresco Contemporary Baby High Chair, which transitions from a reclined position for infants, all the way up to 8 years old. At $550, it averages out to less than $70 per year — and the freedom for tired mamas is priceless.

img_7917

Speaking of blooming, we’ve really enjoyed filling out the Bloom Universal Snug newborn insert in a few short months!

img_8985

So there you have it. While the gift-giving season is upon us, there’s no reason to wait for someone else to bring tidings to you. Oxygen mask, mamas!

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.”

img_4078

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.

screen shot 2018-09-21 at 4.01.47 pm

“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: 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.”

Turning a New Leaf After Mat Leave

As I anticipate my return to work amidst Fall’s cooler mornings and cozy evenings, it feels like the closing of one chapter and starting of another–despite how taxing and complex the handoff may be.

I always feel a wave of nostalgia this time of year, especially since three years ago I became a mother for the first time–experiencing Matrescence firsthand–and one year ago when I learned I’d go through it for a second time.

Reflecting back on the baby and toddler milestones that whizzed past us over the course of the past four sleep-deprived months, I now feel a sense of pride of what ensued.

Here’s a typical “work week” by the numbers, as a temporary stay-at-home mom (and aspiring Chief Household Officer):

  • 14 hours of breastfeeding per week, typically every 2-3 hours around the clock
  • 45 ounces of pumped milk per week, typically while multitasking one-handed thanks to my pocket-size Spectra S9
  • About 15 bottle feedings per week from the aforementioned supply, plus more than 400 ounces of supplemental formula (until we got hit by silent reflux, nixing dairy)

img_8779

  • Nearly 1,000 diapers, from teeny-tiny Pampers Swaddlers to my favorite super-soft and sustainable Bambo Nature, where we grew up to size 3
  • Countless hours of eye contact and smiles, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, cobbled-together dinners, and bedtime stories

All together, these helped double the size of our once 7-pounder, while his older brother started preschool and became a “threenager” before our eyes.

img_8485-1

I squeezed in self-care through the help of my village, technology and conversations with a group of Mama Makers & Shakers who appeared at the most clandestine times:

And then there are the memories that don’t have a number attached to them, but are immeasurable in the way they’ve brought our family closer.

Together, the four of us have continued to ride the rollercoaster of emotions that started when life caught us by surprise on the last day of May. Both boys keep us on our toes, but when the chaos settles, the sweetest moments are revealed.

While I’m still not sleeping, I don’t have a freezer stash, and I can’t tell you what the next six months will bring, I will embrace the unpredictability.

I won’t feel like I’ve stepped away from my career, but rather enhanced it by overcoming non-stop challenges over the last four months.

This time around, I won’t strive to be super mom, but will remind myself to stay present and do my best for the moment.

Mama Shaker: Katie, From SAHM to CHO

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

cd0aa63f-ac81-491e-9ffa-2703243c3d5f.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

Women Helping Women Succeed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mama Shaker: Amy from TendLab

One week from now, Amy Henderson will open the relief valve for a group of working mothers in the heart of San Francisco’s high-pressured tech scene, during a lunchtime “Career Moms” cohort that starts up September 5.

“We ask each mom to share one of the moments they’re most ashamed about in the confluence of their journey of working and parenting,” says Amy, CEO and co-founder of TendLab.

“There’s so much that happens when you become a new mom that feels isolating and shameful,” says Amy. “When you’re in a cohort of others who have either experienced, it or are experiencing it, it de-stigmatizes it and you realize you’re not alone.”

For Amy, her boiling point came when she lost nine pounds working 20 hours a day for two weeks on the #YesWeCode initiative to increase diversity in the tech sector.

She had brought along her husband, two kids and mother-in-law to New Orleans, because her exclusively-breastfed youngest refused to eat anything else. So the four hours of sleep she was squeezing in, weren’t entirely hers.

To top it off, she found out she was pregnant again a few weeks later, which would mean she’d soon have three kids under the age of four.

“I had always been really committed to my career,” said Amy. “It’s like the wheels fell off the bus.”

Amy’s moment of panic led to an epiphany, as she dialed up dozens of high-powered working moms to find out how they managed it all.

“What happened was this organic revelation that many of these moms had: ‘I’m performing better in my career because of my kids, not in spite of them,'” she says.

Amy soon learned that there was neuroscience to back it up. (You can read more about the important role of oxytocin here along with more of the wisdom gleaned from her findings.)

In a particularly impactful conversation with the original VP of HR for Twitter, Amy learned the same skills acquired in parenting “are the skills needed in the workplace of the future.”

“The light bulbs went off, the heavens opened up, and I was like okay!”

Amy had stumbled upon the catalyst for TendLab, and the woman who would become her future co-founder.

And so their mission became “to unlock the power and potential of parenthood in the workplace.”

In addition to the “Career Moms” cohort, which Amy believes “can actually be fuel for really positive transformation in our own lives and in our collective society,” TendLab also offers workshops, consulting and special events.

To learn about scholarships available for the 4-week cohort, leave a comment below or contact me directly.

In addition, you can read more about the neuroscience and career benefits of parenting–for actively engaged mothers and fathers alike–in articles Amy’s penned for Mother Magazine, Fast Company and Slate.