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 Maker: Elizabeth, Embracing Imperfection and Support Through Change

The new year is ripe with transition for second-time mama-to-be and clinical psychology Ph.D., Elizabeth Adams. Starting this week, she joins Y Combinator‘s winter 2020 start-up accelerator in the heart of Silicon Valley. For three months, she’ll commute hundreds of miles back and forth each week between her co-founders, and her 5-year-old daughter and husband at home in the nation’s capital.

As potentially the “first woman who’s visibly showing on Demo Day” in March, Elizabeth already feels like “a fish out of water,” in more ways than one. She’s a subject matter expert in a sea of younger start-up founders, who primarily bring tech and business chops to the table.

“Ninety percent of the time I don’t know what the people around me are talking about, which is both absolutely frightening and exciting because that hasn’t been my life for a long time,” she says.

After spending the last eight years as a clinical child psychologist at an inclusion school for children with “developmental differences,” where she was able to bring her daughter, Elizabeth is beginning a six-month transition to go all-in as Chief Clinical Officer of Trustle, an app for parents to connect with childhood development experts on-demand.

“One of the things that, luckily, I learned from wiser psychologists than me–throughout my years of training–was hearing people talk about change and saying there’s always loss associated with change,” says Elizabeth.

“The thing that makes change really difficult is that you have to lose something in order for the change to happen. Change and loss sort of travel as companions.”

Naturally, Elizabeth’s decision has roused feelings of fear and guilt; in particular, since her second baby won’t have the same experience her daughter has attending school in the same location she started working in while pregnant the first time.

“I was leaving this safe place that had been a comfort for eight years, and a program that I built and I really care about and people that I’m strongly connected to,” she says.

Elizabeth is giving herself “permission to feel that loss and to be okay and recognize that it’s hard, but also know that if there’s any change I want in life this is going to be part of it.”

During this transition, she’s also letting go of perfection and accepting that her house isn’t going to be as clean as she wants it to be, but more importantly, “being okay with that, and not having everything perfectly lined up and just trying to enjoy the process and just say ‘it’s okay.'”

“My word of 2020 is going to be ‘breathe.'”

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It Takes a Village

Elizabeth recognizes that support is critical, especially for parents during childhood transitions. She noticed this gap firsthand, when she started getting stopped in the hallway at her school by parents asking questions they assumed were out of scope for therapy. Eventually, she started hosting parenting workshops and one-on-one calls.

“I was spending my evenings on the phone talking to my friends, my friends’ friends and my friends’ friends’ cousins about whatever was going on with their kids,” she says, which led to an epiphany.

“We should just be supporting parents better; especially as, culturally, we’re moving away from networks of support and becoming more distant from that,” she says.

“How are people finding their tribes and support?”

Elizabeth decided to start an online parent-coaching business at night, but her window of time between 9-10 p.m. was consistently booking up.

It was around this time that she got introduced to her now co-founder Tom, a Google for Education alum who had reached out to his network to find a psychologist that works with kids, and can help parents.

While the two eventually added a technical co-founder who also had experience with Google–running an autism program for Glass–Elizabeth has spent the last year focused on curating Trustle’s expert coaches and clinicians.

“All of our coaches have a Masters degree or higher in early childhood education,” she says, adding that parents also have access to “a Ph.D. level clinician if they need it.”

“They’re all vetted and trained by me and they’re coming in with at least 10 years of experience working with children and families.”

A combination of credentials, and the ability to develop a personal relationship with each family, are by design.

“When you’re talking about supporting somebody with the most precious thing, their kids, on the most personal thing they can do–which is parenting–you really want to have somebody you can trust and connect with, that can give you non-judgmental but evidence-based support.”

Elizabeth believes that because the business of coaching parents is not a regulated industry, the “variability of quality of those coaches is kind of all over the place” and context is king.

“There isn’t one way to sleep train; there isn’t one way to put your child through school,” she says. “It really has to be contextualized based on the child individually and the family context.”

Over the four years since I became a parent, I’ve witnessed an explosion of resources available online for things like potty training, picky eating and tantrums.

With so many options and so little time to compare solutions that may or may not be right for our kids, Elizabeth and her team at Trustle are determined to simplify and personalize it for us.

“Figuring out how to help parents sort through all the noise that’s out there, and have a personal relationship with somebody who understands children–but is going to honor their context and them as the experts on their kids–is what high quality support is.”

You can try Trustle out for yourself, free for two weeks, with code BEST at http://trustle.com/free.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It changed me in a powerful way.”

Women Helping Women Succeed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It Takes a Village

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Mama Shaker: Ashley, On Maternal Sleep Deprivation

Ashley Olivine wants sleep-deprived moms to know they don’t have to suffer through months, years or even decades of sleepless nights.

“Clinically I’ll talk to a lot of women who will say, ‘Okay my kids just went to college and I really have not slept since they were babies,'” she says.

“It just gets to the point where they don’t really know what it’s like to feel rested anymore.”

Ashley says many moms don’t believe they deserve to get help because they’ve let it spiral out of control.

“That’s the big problem we see long term with moms,” she says. “They get in this habit of sacrificing their own sleep and their own health for everyone else.”

Meanwhile, Ashley believes healthcare professionals don’t take maternal sleep deprivation seriously.

“Everybody looks at first 6 weeks postpartum, and everyone focuses on postpartum depression,” she says.

“You’re a mother for life. It doesn’t stop after 6 weeks.”

For those of us with babies not yet sleeping through the night, Ashley says there’s no need to panic.

“Moms have this magical ability to condense the sleep cycle,” she says. “Especially in the first 3 months, you are made to wake up multiple times during the night.”

“Let’s say your baby wakes up at the same times every night, and it’s a lot. Your sleep cycles will shrink so that they will fit into that amount of time.”

When the fog of frequent nighttime wakings extends beyond the end of maternity leave, it can leave us feeling much less in sync.

“You’re right that you can’t go on like that forever, because babies are supposed to grow out of that,” says Ashley. “If they don’t, that’s when you need to get help.”

I mentioned how I was “spoiled” with my first born, who slept through the night by 4 months old. But now I’m 8-months-deep into the second time around, and I haven’t had a full night’s sleep since May. Apparently I’m not the only one.

“It’s not uncommon for second kids to be harder, because they’re often carted around for their older siblings’ schedule,” Ashley points out.

And then there’s the added obstacle of keeping one sibling asleep while the other is awake–which can feel especially challenging when you’re running on fumes.

“Let’s say you’re older kid doesn’t know and runs in and and wakes up the baby and you lose it,” Ashley says, describing that moment of rage many of us know all too well.

“Basically when you’re sleep-deprived and stressed, your interactions with your children and spouse are going to be more short and negative,” she says.

Ashley says early research suggests maternal sleep deprivation impacts all family dynamics–meaning divorce rates increase, children don’t hit milestones as quickly and they start having trouble in school.

“You have to eventually put your foot down and say ‘I’m going to do what it takes,’ she says.

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How This Mompreneur Makes it Work

Ashley reached her own limits as a new mom, so she learned to apply techniques from her private practice to her own daily routine.

“My career is brain work,” she says. “I’m pretty big on doing that first thing in the morning.”

Ashley says anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes of brain work can “give me so much recharge it’s like having a babysitter for 8 hours.”

(I can imagine, as I find myself choosing a workout, hot shower or solo Starbucks run over a cat nap to get a much-needed mental break and energy boost.)

“I’ll do the woo-woo meditation stuff; plus the very medically respected, scientifically proven cognitive behavioral therapy; plus some deep restructuring brain work,” she says.

“I just do kind of a mix because I feel like all of them have their own advantages and you can’t get as much benefit with just one.”

Not surprisingly, Ashley is “not someone that ever, ever skips breakfast.”

She also checks her “old-fashioned, handwritten calendar” to see what events are coming up that day.

Next, she walks her older daughter to school as “part of our bonding time” and often extends school drop-off into a stroller run by the water with her youngest.

The remainder of her weekdays are spent juggling her sleep practice and coaching fellow mompreneurs, along with after-school ballet and swim lessons.

Women Helping Women Succeed

“Women should not feel that they need coffee or wine to get through the day, and there should be other options readily available when you go to your doctor,” Ashley says.

Instead of piling on to the jokes about intravenous caffeine drips and wine o’clock, she’s determined to help the medical community better understand maternal sleep deprivation.

“It shouldn’t be laughed off as ‘oh hey welcome to being a parent, it sucks, it’s hard, get used to it’ because these are real medical conditions,” says Ashley.

“What’s really kind of scary is that there is not very much research on all of this,” she says. “Nobody knows the full extent of the impact of all of this stuff 20 years down the road.”

This is why Ashley carves out time for writing papers on maternal sleep deprivation on the weekends, while her daughters are playing.

Her goal for the sleep-deprived among us is to “reverse it, no matter how bad it is,” and ultimately to “get into this good place where you’re feeling good and everything that you’re putting out into the world has good energy behind it.”

In other words: what dreams are made of.

Mama Shaker: Katie, From SAHM to CHO

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Women Helping Women Succeed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mama Maker: Manisha of Playfully

When Manisha Shah started taking her premature baby–born at 28 weeks–to see an occupational therapist, her eyes were opened to the importance of play.

“A few minutes with her was so transformational.”

As the therapist played games with Manisha’s daughter, she would explain how one action leads to another. Early smiles pave the way for emotional expression. Hand gestures during songs matter.

“In three sentences, she had completely changed how I interpreted what my daughter was doing,” she says.

Manisha says it was then that she realized there are people out there that have this knowledge, that work with kids day in and day out, and yet “the only reason we got access to it is because we were in this special situation.”

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She began thinking about how to make it accessible to other parents. Her “aha moment” eventually led to the creation of Playfully, an app that helps parents connect the dots between playtime, milestones and development.

Inspired by apps like Headspace, Manisha tapped her software development background and assembled a team of advisors to create “little lessons in the moment that you need it.”

“We give you five activity ideas that you can play and some of them are going to be things that you’ve probably done before, or heard of before. And some of them will feel new and different,” she says.

The app is accompanied by personalized emails for each child. For example, this week’s message explained the significance of my nearly 3-year-old son reciting books from memory, like when he recently wowed me with all the words to Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site.

Women Helping Women Succeed

“I’m the kind of person that likes guidance before jumping in,” says Manisha. “I enjoy people explaining things to me and showing me the way.”

And she pays it forward. In fact, Manisha reached out to me to offer support after I posted in a moms group we’re both part of about having a late pre-term infant. (When I downloaded the app for the first time, it even adjusted my son’s current and upcoming milestones based on his due date, to better match his early arrival.)

It’s no surprise that Manisha pioneered a maternity leave policy at the company she worked for before starting Playfully. But what impressed me most of all, is that she continued working remotely while her daughter was in the NICU–spending mornings at the hospital two time zones ahead of her colleagues, then returning home to work at lunchtime.

“It gave me a little bit of community during that time,” she says. “Like a little bit of normalcy in what was such a crazy time. So it actually ended up being helpful.”

A similar spirit is demonstrated by the team of experts she’s assembled. As moms themselves in most cases, they even offered to help while she went back out on maternity leave again earlier this year.

“They not only bring their professional expertise to this, they’re also thinking about it from a parent lens, which makes a big difference.”

How this Mompreneur Makes it Work

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Manisha says she never imagined she would become an entrepreneur. Now that she’s a mother of two, she’s finding that the more fluid schedule suits her.

“I feel like I’ve been lucky that I’ve done this in this phase of my life, even though it is hard to be doing something on your own,” she says. “The flip side is you have so much flexibility. So I could really craft something that felt right for for me and my family.”

This includes driving her almost 4-year-old daughter to school, and then returning home to her dining room to begin working while her nanny watches her son.

A typical workday involves “juggling between coding and email and customer support, and just doing a little bit of content planning,” social media–and of course, taking breaks to play with her son.

Later in the day, Manisha carves out time for her daughter, “usually from the time that she’s leaving her school until her bedtime. It’s all about getting the family through the routine.”

Manisha wants other busy parents to know that the time they spend interacting with their kids each day has meaning, no matter how short on time they are.

“You still are putting into practice, probably, a lot of the stuff we have in Playfully.”

So next time you sing Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star or play Peekaboo after a long workday, rest assured you’re helping your child reach their next milestone.

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.”

Mama Shaker: Dr. Sharon Somekh of Raiseology

When her oldest daughter started middle school, pediatrician Sharon Somekh decided it was time to re-orient her career around what she loved most about her profession: working with parents.

In March, she left her practice and launched Raiseology, so she could build “more meaningful relationships” with parents virtually from her home office while being an “accountability partner” for her 11-year-old.

“I help anxious parents go from feeling like a deer in headlights to feeling like they can really do this… to the point where they can stop being so anxious about the day-to-day and really enjoy what they have in front of them–which is their kids.”

“We all love our kids and want what’s best for them,” she says.

Women Helping Women Succeed

As a mother of four daughters, ranging from 3 years and up, Sharon has personally navigated through multiple stages of working motherhood. For her, it was actually easier to get through 80 hour weeks as a resident when her first two were very young.

“One of my mentors said something to me that I’ve since told many, many moms,” says Sharon. “When your children are young is when you will feel better working more. A lot of moms think when their kids grow up, they’ll go back to work. You don’t realize that that’s when it’s hard to go back.”

She says feeling secure in your childcare arrangement and getting help are key to making it through the early years–I couldn’t agree more.

“Whether it’s emotional help, coaching help, physical help, outsourcing certain things you don’t enjoy doing at home–it will make your life much easier and it’s worth every investment in yourself to do that,” says Sharon.

Part of that support has come from moms who pitched in for preschool pick up and drop off. Her then 3-year-old started to notice and at one point told Sharon she wanted to be a stay-at-home mom when she grows up.

“Nothing hurts more than that,” she said. “But when she asked me ‘why do you work?’ I gave her a very honest answer. I think we underestimate what our kids understand and we need to have real conversations–that are age appropriate–with them.”

“Every mom has mom guilt,” she says. “They may have guilt about different things, but they still feel guilty.”

She says knowing your limitations benefits both you and your children.

“I think the example we set for our kids is really important. I like that they see that I’m a driven person and I value what I have to offer and think it’s important enough to put it out into the world.”

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How this Mompreneur Makes it Work

“If you’re asking how I manage four kids, I don’t,” Sharon says pointing to the independence that she’s fostered in each of her children.

She described a recent parent-teacher event where another mother she was volunteering with called her 11-year-old three times to make sure she was getting ready for school.

“I did not have a doubt in the world that my daughter was waiting for the school bus,” says Sharon.

Her 8-year-old makes her own lunch for school, and Sharon and her husband are currently training their 5-year-old to get herself dressed with the help of routines and checklists.

“It takes effort in the beginning, but it definitely has amazing payoff…and it’s great for the kids because one day they’re not going to be living in your house.”

You can learn more about Sharon’s “system of empowerment and independence” on her blog. In addition to her group program for parents of toddlers to school-age kids, she also consults parents of infants one-on-one, and she’s launching a podcast this summer.