Mama Shaker: Whitnee, Fueling Parents at Work

Helping mothers thrive in the workplace is literally what gets Whitnee Hawthorne out of bed in the morning. She’s honed the art of a 4:45 a.m. wake-up call, so she can dedicate two hours before her son wakes up to The Savvy Working Mom, her coaching business and brand new podcast—all before she heads to the office.

“What inspired me was seeing this gap in support for this population that I am now part of, that I believe is ultimately the game-changing population for our country and for the world,” she says about creating a platform to help working mothers, alongside her full-time role as a technology director at JetBlue.

“Society is not set up to support us in the right way, and that kind of pulled back the curtain on the challenges,” she says. “I get a lot of head nods. I hear a lot of support and I get a lot of thank you’s for bringing this conversation forward.”

Whitnee and I share a passion for celebrating inspirational and entrepreneurial mamas despite us both being fixtures in a corporate setting. From her perspective, therein lies the opportunity.

“I know that there are a lot of groups out there supporting working moms as entrepreneurs,” she says. “But I also feel very strongly that we need to keep women in corporate. I really believe working moms are the backbone of society, and if we get supported better, our society is going to improve and our corporations are going to do better.”

Whitnee believes that taking a holistic approach to supporting caregivers in the workplace goes a long way.

“There’s a focus on providing tools to help people multitask better, and manage their time in the office, but there’s not an understanding that when you show up to the office, you show up as a full person,” she says. “And I think there’s a big gap in addressing what does someone need across the day, across the week, across their life, so that they can show up with their A-game at work.”

How This Mama Makes it Work

“Eating right and working out helps me to have the energy level that I have,” says the former personal trainer and gym owner, who incorporates yoga into her morning routine since she has another baby on the way.

While it may sound like Whitnee has endless energy, it’s passion that fuels all her pursuits and a personal definition of success. It’s a framework that she follows for her clients too.

“A huge part of that is getting to a place where you know yourself, where you accept what you want, and you believe that you deserve what you want,” she says. “And making decisions that are right for you and your family; not making your decisions based on what somebody else, some outside force—your neighbors, Instagram, your colleague, your boss—think is right for you.”

“When you have that clarity of what it is that you want and what success looks like for you, then you can align your actions to it and it makes life much more joyful.”

Now, those early morning hours, that many of the women I speak with swear by, start to make sense as a critical foundation for a happy and fulfilling work day.

“I get a lot of pleasure out of helping others, so success for me also looks like, ‘who have I helped today, whose life have I made better and have I contributed outside of myself to make the world better?’ Whitnee says. “And when I feel like I’m doing that, then I feel like I’m being successful.”

Mama Maker: Ramona, Creating Space for a Fluid Career and Family Life

When Ramona Albert arrived on U.S. soil at the age of 16 on a one-way ticket from Romania, she began constructing a life of limitless potential. With a Master’s degree in architecture from Harvard in hand, she landed in New York and began a career designing skyscrapers–until motherhood changed her perspective.

“I had a kid and before that I was literally building these humongous buildings,” she says. “I realized, okay, I can’t possibly be thinking about 100 things in the same time. I have to think about things in the present and realize that I have to do whatever I can do best right now, because I have only two minutes or five minutes or 20 minutes.”

Before motherhood, Ramona says it wasn’t unusual for her and her husband to stay up working until midnight.

“I feel like I have become more humane because of time,” she says. “I’ve become more understanding rather than” what she describes as a “crazy New Yorker.”

Ramona’s high-profile projects have appeared in Gotham, including one of her early experiments laminating the glass panels of a high-rise in Hermès.

“I was in China, stretching the fabric and we’re all looking at this, like, ‘Oh my God, how do we do this?'” she recalls.

Ramona now gravitates towards “projects that have this kind of tangible quality to them,” she says in reference to direct interaction with her clients and interiors “down to the levels of like door knobs, or things like that.”

“My work is very inspired by nature,” she says. “So it’s very fluid. It’s very organic, in a way, but very minimal, so to speak.”

It’s apparent that Ramona’s approach to workplace culture and parenting are similarly intertwined.

“I really want to keep the integrity of who we are,” she says about Ramona Albert Architecture. “I’m very careful about hiring people because it matters a lot to be trustworthy and reliable, and be able to think for yourself and be independent.”

She works from a home office upstairs in her Brooklyn townhouse, which affords her the opportunity to pop downstairs to see her 2.5-year-old son anytime she wants to grab a cup of coffee or get a quick hug.

“We just did a house in the Hamptons and literally there were times where Egon was in my lap while I was there talking to contractors trying to get things done and it was such a normal thing,” she says. “But I’m thinking like, I can’t believe I’m holding this child on a construction job talking to these guys.”

“But I wouldn’t do it any other way.”

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Ramona loves that she can work right up to 6 p.m. when the nanny leaves–which she points out is still considered early in the architectural community–and then switch into dinner prep with her son.

“One thing I don’t compromise about is my gym time in the morning,” she says about her daily self-care routine of CrossFit, Pilates or yoga, that gets her out of bed at 5 a.m.

Ramona and her husband foster a sense of self for each member of their family.

“When you have a kid you always want to be with him,” she says about one of the many contrasts in parenting. “I like his own independence. I like the fact that he does his own things. That’s how he should be, you know, have his own opinions.”

Seeing her son’s “relationship to the world outside is so precious,” she says, noting that it drives her to “make it better in a certain way” by taking on experimental projects like a solar-powered installation in the Children’s Pavilion at Design Week in May.

“I feel like my parents were very brave to send me here when I was so little,” Ramona says. “It was a lot of growing on my own–because they’re still in Romania, my parents weren’t there. It was a little bit of trying to figure things out as they go. But it was great. I learned a lot, I’ve worked with some amazing people, and I think a lot of it has been very, very fruitful.”

Although Ramona got a jump start on building a life of her own, motherhood has reinforced what she learned early on.

“There’s nobody on this planet that can tell you what to do, but you yourself, and you can figure it out,” she says.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It Takes a Village

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How this Mompreneur Makes it Work

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mama Maker: Alitzah, Planning a Future of Being Enough

Former full-time social media influencer Alitzah Stinson began to wrestle with, what looked like, a glamorous gig promoting Fortune 500 brands. Her feelings compounded when a debilitating pregnancy put the future with her daughters into perspective.

“I was on home healthcare, I couldn’t walk, I couldn’t bathe myself, I had tubes going into my chest to feed me,” she says, describing her experience with hyperemesis gravidarum.

Suddenly she couldn’t shake the sense that “when I posted a picture on Instagram, I knew there was someone else on the other side of that feeling like they weren’t good enough and I couldn’t be a part of that anymore.”

“I’m portraying this image of perfection that isn’t real…to make them think this skincare cream is going to solve their problems, or this $300 pair of jeans–that I can’t even afford but were sent to me–means something,” she says.

Alitzah also felt like she would set a better example as a mother by staying true to herself, rather than hiring stylists to come to her home under the watchful eye of her 18-month-old daughter.

“For four years there wasn’t a single day where my hair was naturally curly,” she says. “How am I supposed to tell her that her natural self, and her curly hair, is beautiful?”

“Someday she’s going to be looking at people just like me and they’re going to make her feel like she’s not enough,” she feared.

During her inevitable break from blogging, Alitzah realized she was more passionate about charting a course for her premium stationary business, Ivory Paper Co, which she had recently launched after searching for an organizer to meet the demands of her role as an influencer.

So she shifted her focus to helping people take charge of their future–rather than lust over someone else’s curated lifestyle–by providing them with tools “to make plans for everything they’re passionate about–their goals and their life.”

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How this Mompreneur Makes it Work

To say Alitzah is driven is an understatement. She wakes up every morning at 6:00, is out the door by 7:00, works straight until 3:00, spends two hours with her girls, goes back to work for another 3 hours, tucks them into bed and then does one last night shift.

Her mantra to “find planner peace” after carrying around a 15-pound bag to manage her family’s schedule led her to build a local manufacturing operation from scratch. It’s also allowed her to maintain quality control and a family-oriented culture, which includes her husband heading up marketing and her kids running around the office.

While the company is growing 10x month over month, Alitzah says she’s “the least qualified person in the entire world to be running this company.”

“But that makes me happy. I don’t have some fancy degree from Harvard Business School, and I’m an African American, 22-year-old,” she says.

“I always told my husband that I wanted to be what I wanted to see.”

She encourages others to do the same, adding “if I can build a business, anyone can build a business.”

It’s no accident that Alitzah has carried around a planner most of her life and yet, she takes goal-setting in stride.

“I break down my plans to the most miniscule level, because that makes it feel accomplishable.”

In other words, Alitzah has realized that by taking small actions towards our larger aspirations, we are enough.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oxygen Masks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mama Shaker: Sarah, Unleashing Extreme You

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It Takes a Village

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oxygen Masks

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Mama Maker: Meghan, Using Creativity to Heal and Help Women Shine

The ebb and flow of creative expression in Meghan’s life reached a crescendo when her mother was diagnosed with cancer.

“My mom and I have always been very, very close,” she says, describing how their relationship had grown even stronger when she moved back to her hometown of Sonoma, and they starting seeing each other every day.

“To have my mom vulnerable was extremely difficult,” Meghan says.

“I used jewelry to channel my emotions,” she says. “I was able to do something that I enjoyed doing and that made me feel better about all the other craziness that was going on in my life.”

Her emerging jewelry line, Meghan Bo Designs, was starting to gain momentum while she juggled work as a part-time corporate recruiter, and two young kids.

“It was at a time when all of a sudden my business was picking up and I had to figure out–okay, I know I need to deal with my emotions and not push them away,” she says.

“It was a really tough time and having something to preoccupy my time was helpful,” Meghan says. “At least if I was sitting there crying I could make jewelry.”

“I get so emotional just thinking about anybody going through a parent being sick,” she says.

Women Helping Women

Meghan instinctively thinks about helping others, even in the midst of her own challenges. Her coworker at Google lost one of her twins to Leukemia, two days after Meghan had her first son 5-weeks premature and “was working through the emotions of having a preemie” in the NICU.

She later had to spend a week in a children’s hospital with one of her boys. And yet, it all fuels her desire to do more.

“I’ve always had empathy for other people, but when you see a parent going through having a child that’s sick, there’s nothing that I can imagine worse.”

Meghan started working with Unravel Pediatric Cancer–and makes a special necklace or bracelet each year for Unravel’s warrior moms.

The inspiration for Meghan Bo Designs stemmed from a need to make herself–and therefore other women too–feel a little better during the daily grind.

“I had two little kids, I was working from home, and I was running around all day trying to get it all done,” she says.

“I felt kind of frumpy and icky about myself,” she says about her rotation of gym clothes and dry-shampooed hair, which any mom can relate to.

“I’m going to put some jewelry on because it makes me feel better about myself,” Meghan told herself and suddenly she had a business idea that would separate her from the other Etsy shops.

“I wanted to make jewelry that you can wear with jeans and a t-shirt, or you can dress up–it can go both ways–and it’s affordable,” she says.

Her “athleisure” inspired jewelry is for any woman who “wants to elevate their look everyday” whether they work in an office, work from home, or they’re doing carpool and errands.

“They can throw on like two bracelets and instantly feel more put together than they did before,” says Meghan.

Sometimes that means glamorous Instagram influencers and oftentimes its busy moms like myself who are lucky to get a shower in.

Making jewelry satisfied a “creative craving” that was ever-present in Meghan’s life.

“I had always been into beads–I forgot–when I was younger too,” she says. “I had this huge bead collection. I used to make all sorts of things and sell them.”

“I’ve always had that creative bug,” she says. “When chalk paint first came out I literally painted every piece of furniture in my house.”

Meghan remembers living in a college apartment behind the sorority house we both belonged to at the time in Chico, and painting her room violet, when most college students were occupied by other things.

“So I have that addiction to arts and crafts,” she says. “If I find something that I like, I’ll research it, figure out how to do it, and then literally paint my whole house.”

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It Takes a Village

Meghan’s business is “a family affair” with her mom helping ship packages, and her husband and kids pitching in when she has a show or large order.

She recently hired a couple of moms to help with production, in her home studio, during nap time or whenever it’s convenient for them.

“I really like the idea of supporting other women,” Meghan says, noting the flexibility required for mothers and that things are constantly in a state of flux.

“As my kids have gotten older, and now that they’re both in elementary school, I can take more on without that guilt that every mom feels no matter what stage you’re kids are at,” Megan says.

“Every year, especially with two, there’s a new challenge.”

She’s raising her sons to believe that when times get tough, they’ll “put their heads down” and get through it.

For Meghan, that means she’ll keep making jewelry no matter what life throws her way.

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 Maker: Katherine, Recasting Motherhood On The Double Shift

Journalist Katherine Goldstein’s migration from New York’s media mothership inspired her to launch an unconventional podcast about working moms from her basement in North Carolina.

A punk rocker aspiring to be a Rabbi, a thirty-something mother of three on the campaign trail, and Nevada brothel workers parlaying earnings into nursing school are among the first episodes of “The Double Shift.”

“I think one of the problems with journalism and resources is if you only talk to the people you know, you’re going to have a pretty limited conversation,” she says. “This show is breaking out of that.”

In fact, Katherine and her bi-coastal team intentionally seek out women outside of big cities who don’t have PR people.

“Nydia Sanchez, who runs a 24-hour daycare, she’s committing her whole life to serving mostly single mothers who need childcare and don’t have a ton of money to pay for it,” says Katherine.

“She’s not trying to get a bunch of attention and credit for all the great work she’s doing–she’s trying to run a business–but she does it with a kind of compassion that you don’t see enough for a group that doesn’t get talked about a lot.”

Listening to these intimate, previously untold stories of working motherhood summons feelings similar to watching “60 Minutes” or listening to NPR.

“The reason I decided I wanted to do it as a podcast is that I really want to create community and movement around changing the way people think about things, and bringing new perspectives in a more in-depth way,” says Katherine.

“I think there’s only so far you can go with someone who just reads an article and likes it on Facebook and moves on.”

We also talked about how podcasts are more amenable to multi-tasking moms who can tune in while commuting or taking care of kids, and discover a connection to women in other walks of life.

“I feel like I want to create a much longer and larger and more substantial conversation about changing how society sees working mothers and how we see ourselves,” she says.

How this Mama Made it Work

Moving from New York to North Carolina provided Katherine with the financial means, family support and mental energy to build a podcast from scratch.

“I joke that since I no longer have to fight the transit authority in New York, I can spend all my energy fighting the patriarchy,” she says.

“I have so many more resources because everyday life is not stressful,” she says, noting the benefit of having grandparents nearby so she can go on date nights and connect with her partner — with whom she credits for helping make “The Double Shift” possible.

“I’ve always known that I’ve had an amazingly supportive partner; but, when you’re taking a big swing in your life, it’s not just having someone in your life that says ‘yeah, good job,’ but who’s like willing to readjust their life too.”

In addition to changing location and lifestyles, the two swapped parenting shifts, trading morning and evenings with their 3.5 year old, so Katherine can take advantage of productive hours in her homegrown studio.

She goes full steam on the podcast until 5 p.m. when she goes to pick up her son at school and uses the drive there and back, and dinner as a family, to unwind.

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Women Helping Women Succeed

Katherine originally started exploring working motherhood as a journalist after struggling through health complications during her son’s first year.

“It was a very stressful time and I lost my job when he was 6 months old,” she says. “I had been a very hard-charging, high-achieving professional, and it led me to really feel like a failure.”

“I was very convinced that everyone had this working mom thing figured out, except for me and I was just personally defective.”

Once she discovered that no one had it figured out, and that many mothers internalized personal blame like she had, Katherine became emboldened to investigate family dynamics, the workplace and public policy.

“As I started to look at it through a journalistic lens, I really felt like there’s a lot of content about parenting but there’s not much about our independent identities as working mothers,” says Katherine.

“We are our own people with our own needs and ambitions and abilities to do amazing things in the world, and that’s just not being addressed in a lot of conversations.”

“There are so many ways that working mothers are revolutionary in their own lives and that’s one of the big things I’ve taken away from this show,” says Katherine.

“Probably none of the women I interviewed would ever claim the label ‘revolutionary,’ but what I think is so inspiring about them is the way they’re addressing their own challenges and the challenges of the things they see around them in new ways.”

“I just love getting those new ideas out there.”

Mama Shaker: Marlene, Growing Businesses and Babies at The Inc.

Marlene Mejia Weiss longed for a place where she could talk to other women who were also figuring out their next career move after staying home with young kids.

“While I had an amazing time being at home, and don’t regret that, it has been quite the journey back trying to rebuild what I had before,” she says.

Marlene had previously worked in sports marketing in New York City, where she forged licensing partnerships for Major League Baseball.

When her family was transplanted to Seattle, she tried her hand at consulting for small businesses in the neighborhood, but found herself wanting more.

“Freelancing life is a bit lonely,” she says. “I’m more of a collaborative person.”

Fortuitously, Marlene found parents who were trying to get a non-profit women’s business incubator off the ground. She became a founding board member for The Inc., where she helped shape the mission, goals and even the physical space–which included co-working and part-time preschool.

“I loved that I was helping to solve a problem that I myself faced,” she says. “I know that feeling, of feeling isolated, and not knowing exactly who to connect with, where to go career-wise, or even parenting.”

It Takes a Village

The Inc. attracted mostly part-timers, consultants, students or “anyone who could work remotely and was in charge of their own schedule.”

Plus, Marlene says full-time working parents often showed up when nannies or daycare fell through.

“Which made you realize, gosh, childcare is such a big issue for so many parents, no matter what type of work or schedule,” she says.

When I asked Marlene about the complexities of setting up a preschool from scratch, she pointed out what made it possible.

“The four hour mark is the big differentiator,” she says.

Plus, they applied what Marlene describes as the “IKEA rule,” meaning parents had to stay close if there kids weren’t potty-trained.

“We were set up to have some time for parents to work on their own while still being nearby their children,” she says. “A lot of parents just need those 2-4 hours.”

“Nap time was actually our biggest competitor,” she says.

“By 12:30 or 1:00, you could feel and hear when the energy changes.”

As parents themselves, the founders brought perspectives from a variety of childcare experiences to inform their approach.

“We were focused on making sure the care was quality care,” Marlene says. “So it’s making sure the curriculum was what was needed for the kids, that the teachers were caring, nurturing people and had the right credentials.”

For the parents, it was designed to be much more than a space to pop open their laptop while their kids are cared for.

“We have a lot of small business owners just starting up, like really in the early stages,” says Marlene.

“They have this idea. They’ve incubated it for some time. They needed the confidence and the feedback to try it out, and this was really a safe space for them to do it.”

She says lots of members reached out to the community to do a workshop, or a lecture, or offer different things.

“That was the heart of it all,” she says. “It was really about the parents and what we could do to help them during this time.”

Women Helping Women Succeed

Marlene spent 2.5 years at The Inc., both as a community cultivator and executive director, all the while “trying to do it as a mom, building up yet another thing.”

With everything in good hands, she decided it was time to start thinking about her next chapter.

“My season of life has changed, and my boys are older now, and I felt like I was in a place for a new challenge,” says Marlene.

“I felt like it was in a really good place to kind of go on without me, as it should,” she says. “And it’s a non-profit, so it’s not my thing to own.”

“Just seeing it continue to help parents is really, really satisfying to me.”

Marlene says that while her experiences with The Inc. have served as a springboard for other opportunities, she’s taking time to figure out what those next steps are.

“I’m still trying to stay in touch with members of the community, because I helped to cultivate it,” she says. “I don’t want to lose touch with those relationships.”

In the meantime, she’s volunteering at her boys’ school, where her youngest started kindergarten.

“I was a little nervous for the transition but he did great.”

On the subject of transitions, Marlene and I talked about the blur of life with babies and toddlers, compared to the age of her boys now.

“It’s a little bit of a weird feeling because you come out of this crazy experience and you’re like ‘oh, that was actually really fun.’ They’re not little anymore,” she says. “It just happens and then it’s gone.”

Figuring out what’s next, professionally, has many parallels.

“I just love that creative energy in the beginning,” she says. “Not really knowing where it could go to, and when it does, it’s really awesome to see it blossom like that. Getting people really excited and energetic about it is really great too.”

“I think I just like building stuff,” she says. “I guess the Lego building of my boys really does come from me!”

Marlene encourages other moms to tap into the desire to create that comes with motherhood.

“I think a lot of moms–there’s just this inner voice–you want to do stuff but you just feel like you can’t do it,” she says. “We’re really good at making excuses.”

“It doesn’t have to be this one, big giant, enormous, great thing,” she says. “Just take the little steps because you’ll get there. But you gotta take the little steps.”