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.

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“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 Maker: Karli from Unlisted Market

Karli’s longtime dream of owning a boutique was suddenly in reach when she found out Rachel, owner of Unlisted in South Denver, was also expecting. The two mamas-to-be eventually had their boys just 2 weeks apart.

“Once you find someone in your tribe…that bond, as most moms know, is incredibly strong because you can share all of life’s trials and tribulations,” she says.

The two had first met when Karli started selling vintage goods at Unlisted, during the final 4 years of her 15-year tenure in PR & marketing.

“I just knew in my heart that it was the right time for me to make the move to step away,” says Karli, describing how she spent her pregnancy “building my brand outside of my corporate life.”

Fast forward to 2017: Karli was running a freelance PR business, selling her wares at Unlisted and raising her 10-month-old, when Rachel approached her about becoming a partner.

“As a single business owner, she was doing it all by herself. She was literally maxed out on her time,” says Karli.

“I feel like it was such a blessing,” she says. “I always dreamed of having a brick and mortar. I didn’t know I was going to be lucky enough to find something that already existed that I could just walk in as a co-owner.”

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Karli and Rachel offer fellow dreamers “the chance to step out, try retail on their own while having their overhead taken care of, and a very competent, trustworthy staff there everyday.”

“We’re constantly asking ourselves ‘what will bring in more traffic?’ and ‘how can we help our more than 100 vendors be successful?’ however they define it,” says Karli.

Recently, this meant setting up a cafe featuring locally roasted coffee and tea in a highly trafficked booth after one of their former vendors ventured out on their own.

“This to me is the dream. This is why we do what we do,” says Karli, beaming with pride that one of their vendors had become successful enough at Unlisted to open their own store.

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While the 9000+ square foot space features male and female makers alike, it works particularly well for anyone who requires a flexible schedule.

“I do think our model–in the way that doesn’t require them to work in the store–is conducive to people who are trying to balance family life and their own creative passions,” says Karli.

Among the women-led businesses featured at Unlisted are Prairie Rose and The Shabby Chandelier.

How this Mompreneur Makes it Work

Karli takes her now almost 2-year-old son to daycare while she juggles various roles at the store, including running the cash register, stocking and doing social media.

“I learned very quickly that he will thrive and I will thrive and our family will be happier,” she says, while noting that some days are easier than others.

“I think mom guilt is so real,” she says. “You try to justify all of your decisions. And you know what? We’re all doing the very best we can with what we have at that moment. I’m not going to judge anybody who does anything different.”

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Just like she found Rachel, Karli believes that finding a tribe of “like-minded moms” who support your decisions is key.

“When you find someone who’s in that same path, it feels really, really good,” says Karli.

Mama Maker: Christelle from Cooking with Kids and Wine

Christelle manages a team of business analysts at a systems integration firm, where she’s affectionately known as “mama bear.” Despite her technical role, a 90-minute commute, and the tightly packed schedule of a working mother, she’s found a way to cook dinner with her kids four nights a week.

“It’s not gourmet, it’s not something I’d serve at a restaurant, but it tastes good,” she says.

With her two sous chefs, Christelle manages to get dinner on the table between daycare pick-up at 6:00 p.m. and a bedtime routine that starts around 7:15 pm (and ends just after 8:00 pm with a glass of wine).

It was during her drive home one day that she came up with the idea to share some of her family recipes–old and new–by starting a blog, Cooking with Kids and Wine.

“Part of me is cooking. It’s definitely in my blood,” she says, describing the passion that sparked in her own childhood.

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“My grandmother and I used to love cooking together,” says Christelle. “My favorite cooking memories are with her. She was amazing at coming up with recipes and we just had so much fun together.”

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Christelle embraces the mess that comes along with bringing young children into the kitchen, and takes pride in blogging with photos that aren’t professionally styled. That doesn’t mean she shies away from complex recipes.

“My heritage is French, Irish and Mexican, so lots of different flavors.”

In fact, she recently recreated the French Financiers reminiscent of trips to patisseries in France while visiting her grandparents.

How this Mama Makes it Work

Her advice for parents who aspire to do the same?

“Introduce it as early as possible. I was giving my kids salmon and hummus when they were 10 months old.” (Much to the surprise of their daycare providers.)

Christelle counts Stuffed Squash among their staples, and often creates recipes based on what’s in the fridge.

“We don’t have hot dogs in the house,” she says. “I do have chicken nuggets in the freezer for desperate days, but they don’t think to ask for those things because it’s not offered to them.”

In her tips for bringing kids into the kitchen for the first time, Christelle recommends having all your ingredients handy and making a game out of it.

“I would have them smell the spices when I was cooking. They were always involved, and I think that’s part of why they enjoy it,” she says.

She also gives her kids the space to decide when they want to join her in the kitchen, and admits “sometimes they’re not in the mood to help.”

Christelle blogged about a recent weeknight when her daughter helped pull together Sloppy Joe-Styled Sausage and Peppers, complete with freshly picked basil, while her son opted to play with legos instead.

When I asked if she sees her kids developing their own passion for cooking, she said it’s too soon to tell. For now, she’ll enjoy creating those memories that would otherwise be elusive on busy weeknights.

“There are times when they ask to cook with me and that makes my heart happy.”

Mama Maker: Sascha from Mamava

Finding a place to pump while out in public, or at work, is something Sascha Mayer, co-founder and CEO of Mamava, doesn’t want moms to have to worry about.

Since 2013, Sascha and her co-founder Christine Dodson have equipped stadiums, airports, schools, government buildings and other workplaces all over the United States with private pods for breastfeeding mothers.

You can see for yourself by downloading the Mamava mobile app to find nearby locations, as well as other public mothers’ rooms vetted by user ratings and reviews. (From a quick search in my neighborhood, I found more than a handful of options within a 5-mile radius. I see more outings in my breastfeeding future!)

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While building their own families, the two mompreneurs incubated Mamava at a design agency in Burlington, Vt. At the time, they traveled for work frequently, which meant “pumping in restrooms, closets and even the backseats of clients’ cars.”

From the beginning, Mamava has focused on sustainability as a certified B-corporation. It’s demonstrated both in the way they design and manufacture their American-made products, as well as their outlook on the role breastfeeding plays in a cleaner planet.

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“Sustainability to us means empowering every woman with the opportunity to breastfeed if she desires to do so,” says Sascha.

“In addition to its health benefits, breastfeeding eliminates any need for packaging and shipping that formula requires. It’s a zero-waste solution, and one that can help reduce the prevalence of many illnesses and health conditions, which results in lower health care costs.”

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Inspired by this New York Times article, Sascha and Christine are working hard to remove any barriers to breastfeeding in the workplace by taking to the halls of the Nation’s Capitol, the tech-spotting Consumer Electronics Show, and everywhere in between.

“We are really focused on our mission which is about changing the culture of breastfeeding by helping make it an accessible choice for all mothers,” says Sascha.

The pop culture shift is is starting to show, with recent photos of breastfeeding celebrities and political candidates going viral.

“A major milestone for us would be to have breastfeeding rates increase from 81% of new mothers to 90% by the end of this decade,” she says.

“In the months and years ahead we are bringing other tools and products to market that will make it easier for moms to reach their breastfeeding goals, and for facilities and employees to support them,” she says.

Just last week, they officially launched the Mamava Mini, designed for workplaces that need a compact solution that retains the privacy of their original suite and adds additional productivity features, like a laptop desk.

“We also hope to be able to bring the brand and our solutions to international markets in the near future.”

How This Mompreneur Makes it Work

“My mantra is that perfection is the enemy of progress – whether at work or at home,” says Sascha. “Sometimes good enough, is good enough.”

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“I have a wonderful supportive husband who takes on more than half of the childrearing, and believes in my company’s mission as much as I do,” she says.

Now that Sascha’s kids are getting older, she values their growing independence and recommends other moms “encourage their children to take on responsibility.”

“It can be painful when they make mistakes, but eventually they learn and are empowered by their accomplishments,” she says.

It’s something to look forward to for those of us still in the infant to toddler stages!

Speaking of which, if you’re a mom-to-be trying to solve the problem of where to pump in the office when you return from maternity leave, Mamava’s team offers the following tips:

  • Create a transition plan with your employer before you head out for maternity leave
  • In the transition plan, include your plans to pump at work and that you will need access to pumping accommodations upon your return
  • Check the laws and make sure your employer knows how to comply with them
  • Rally with other women in your workplace to request a Mamava lounge, as many other moms have done!

For help choosing a pump and other accessories, check out another “Mama Maker” with similar goals for making breastfeeding more accessible: Jennifer Jordan from Aeroflow Healthcare.

Mama Shaker: Janice of Healthy Pregnancy Made Simple

With the swarm of warnings about what not to eat while you’re pregnant, Janice wants to help conscientious mamas-to-be figure out what to say yes to.

“We have this mama bear instinct to want to protect our babies, even though they’re not ‘here’ yet — because we know that they’re at their most vulnerable stage, growing every organ and every system in their body,” she says.

Janice understands firsthand that despite the desire to make thoughtful choices during pregnancy, it can feel overwhelming.

“You’re in the right to be concerned and to be on top of what you’re eating,” she says. “It doesn’t have to be really complicated, even though the internet makes it seem that way.”

Her Facebook group, Healthy Pregnancy Made Simple, is just the beginning of a new chapter for the wellness coaching business she started 4 years ago. She’s taking a holistic approach to helping women through those crucial 40 weeks.

“It’s not necessarily about what you eat. It could be what you drink, it could be what you’re breathing in,” she says. “So I go beyond the nutrition side of things so that women are feeling great during their pregnancy, hopefully reducing their symptoms, and feeling like they’re doing all they can to set the stage for a smart, healthy baby.”

How Motherhood Inspired a Business

After starting her career in the consumer packed goods industry, Janice decided to get smart about what she was putting in her body before starting a family.

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After spending years trying to increase the consumption of most of the major brands you see in the grocery store, she came to the realization that “the messages that I’m putting out there aren’t really helping anyone.”

She planned it out financially with her husband, left her marketing job, and entered the world of wellness and nutrition coaching.

Her newfound freedom has also allowed Janice and her family to spend a few months abroad in Columbia, where her husband has roots.

“We decided to try and get away from the Canadian winters,” she says. “We have the flexibility, so we figured let’s give this a try.”

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“Now that we can do everything online, it’s just amazing,” Janice says, as she describes how she’s tapped into groups of wellness experts, fellow moms, and masterminds to build her business.

“Being a mompreneur can feel very isolating, when it’s just you and the kids and the house,” she says. “So having these connections have been really helpful, because I was used to going to the office everyday and working with 40-50 people and having that social network.”

Similarly, Janice wants the moms she coaches to reap the benefits of a supportive community.

“Sometimes if you’re trying to do things differently, and you’re getting those head turns and eye rolls, having someone in your corner to say ‘yeah, it’s okay that you’re worried about that kind of stuff and trying to take action’ can really help.”

How This Mompreneur Makes it Work

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“If you’re starting a business, and you’re trying to manage being a great parent, you can’t do everything all the time,” Janice says.

She encourages entrepreneurial parents to build a support system and create daily rituals that bring them energy, while letting go of the things that don’t.

“If you can afford to have somebody to clean the house, or do the grass, or shovel the snow, you can then use that time to spend better quality time with your kids or work on your business.”

She gets up before 5 a.m. and writes for an hour and a half before her kids wake up. They have a little bit of “cuddle time” before she heads off the gym, while her husband makes breakfast for the kids.

For any parent who finds it challenging to build in time for self-care, Janice recommends keeping it simple.

“Focus on doing the things that give you joy, whether that’s talking to a friend on the phone who lifts you up, reading a great book, watching a romantic comedy, or taking a nice bath,” she says.

The highs and lows of building her business have felt similar to parenting, “80 percent of the time it’s difficult, and 20 percent of the time it’s the most amazing thing ever.”

“It’s hard work, but at the end of the day I love what I do,” Janice says. “It’s not all rose-colored glasses, but I’d much rather being doing this than commuting 2 hours a day to work, missing my kids.”

Mama Maker: Elizabeth from Vacay Style

When I first came across Elizabeth, she was honeymooning on a 38-foot catamaran in the pre-Instagram, pre-GoPro era. My husband stumbled across the Hynes Honeymoon sailing blog, and we read all the way through their 18-month cross-Pacific sailing chronicles in a couple of nights.

Fast forward 10 years later, and back on Northern California soil, Elizabeth has raised three young boys and built an American-made apparel business inspired by her travels.

In 2015 she jumped ship from her corporate job and launched Vacay Style, a nautically inspired capsule wardrobe collection for fashionable (yet practical) seafarers. She’s been enjoying a more fluid schedule ever since.

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“Since I work for myself and do not have a commute, I can easily walk my young children to school in the morning and volunteer every so often in the classroom,” she says.

“It is a luxury that I really appreciate after working for a big corporation in the City for many years. I actually think the ‘all in’ or ‘you’re out’ mentality of today’s workplace is unfortunate and unfair.”

How Motherhood Inspired a Business

“I have always wanted to have my own business and quite frankly (for a lot of the reasons I already talked about) I got over working for a big corporation,” Elizabeth says.

“In addition, I love actually doing the design, sourcing, marketing, etc — not managing other people to do it,” she says.

Like so many of the mompreneurs I’ve met, Elizabeth rekindled her creativity by building her wardrobe collection from the ground up and staying hands on.

“As you move up the ladder, it all becomes having a team of people. I just want to be the one creating, not managing.”

Because each Vacay Style piece will be worn frequently in rotation, Elizabeth keeps the manufacturing local so she can personally ensure the quality of every garment that’s made.

“I hand select every fabric and road test every style before putting it on the site. Everything is manufactured at an ethical factory in San Francisco and made in travel-friendly fabrications.”

Elizabeth knows firsthand what women need while traveling — whether that’s from her sailing adventures, or her experience in merchandising.

“Packing is horrible and planning outfits is really difficult for some people. I love pulling together these capsule wardrobes that create 15 outfits from 5 items.”

“When I get a thank you email or a 5-star review, I know I have really helped that woman have an amazing vacation.”

How This Mompreneur Makes it Work

“I have an amazing husband and a multitasking full-time nanny. We all work together and share the load,” says Elizabeth.

“Often my nanny will do other types of household things for me so I can do the good stuff — hang out with my kids!”

She acknowledges how fortunate she is to have this support, and wants to pay it forward to her future “Dream Team” as she calls it.

“I hope one day to bring more parents on my team who have a lot to contribute but want more of a work-life balance than typical corporate America is willing to offer,” says Elizabeth.

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Her advice to aspiring mompreneurs who also have big dreams, but don’t know how to start?

“Go for it! But, don’t expect to make money right away. It takes time to build a business.”

Elizabeth takes the waves of entrepreneurship in stride — a lesson that comes pretty quickly with the constant swells of sailing and motherhood.

“I have high expectations for Vacay but it has been a roller coaster ride of ups and downs. However, if you do it for the right reasons there is no failure,” she says.

“Not trying is the failure in my mind.”

Elizabeth and her family share a spirit of adventure, and there’s plenty more to come –on both land and sea — in their future.

Mama Shaker: Lori from Mindful Return

Every mom knows what its like to find herself at the brink. For Lori Mihalich-Levin, those feelings of overwhelm multiplied after her second child was born, “at that moment of desperation where one child plus one child felt like 85 children.”

“I was sitting on the kitchen floor crying many nights because I just didn’t know how I was going to hold everything together.”

“I was a wreck. It was really at that point when I realized I needed to build in some moments of intentionality,” she says.

After discovering Abundant Mama, which helps mothers focus on abundance instead of overwhelm, Lori “came out on the other side feeling so much better.”

“I had tools for focusing on gratitude and abundance, I had a community from moms all over who understood I couldn’t get the Cheerios off the kitchen floor and that was okay,” she says.

She noticed that there were programs for everything from birth plans to baby massage, but not how to plan for your maternity leave and return in a way that felt empowered, “like you weren’t going to go off the rails.”

Lori was inspired to fill this gap for new moms “who are just trying to get out the door to work.”

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As a lawyer by day, Lori burned the midnight oil creating Mindful Return, a 4-week cohort-based program to help new moms plan for working motherhood, that’s flexible enough for any schedule.

“A lot of moms are in the course while they’re feeding their baby at 3 ‘o clock in the morning.”

  • Week 1 is about a mindful mindset for returning.
  • Week 2 is all about the logistics (“pumping, not pumping, putting food on your own table, negotiating flexibility, dealing with sick days, snow days and the unexpected”).
  • Week 3 is about how to view your maternity leave as a leadership opportunity (this particular topic has me intrigued!)
  • Week 4 is all about staying in a community and not isolating yourself.

“It’s so important to stay connected to other new moms and share in all the struggles.”

Lori partnered with a Mindful Return alum to create an artistic reminder of all the skills that working moms gain — something that we can never hear enough.

I spoke with another one of Lori’s students, who says she feels “more prepared, confident, and excited for this new chapter of my family’s journey.”

“As a first-time mother, the prospect of returning to work after maternity leave was both daunting and exhilarating,” says Jen. “The content of the course and the opportunity to connect with like-minded mamas going through similar experiences really helped ground me and helped me feel more prepared to re-enter the workforce.”

“I start work tomorrow and I am grateful for the community Lori created, and for the lessons learned,” she says.

Note: I’m not the only second-timer to find all this proactivity to be intriguing, after fumbling a bit the first time through.

“Some women didn’t have the best return the first time, and they want it to go better the second time.”

Mindful Return is not limited to first-time moms, or even just moms at all.

In fact, Lori recently launched a paternity leave course to help address the stigma that many dads face about asking to take time off.

“I really, truly believe that we all succeed when both men and women are engaged in the very early days of childcare and child-rearing.”

“Comparison is the thief of joy. If I’m looking around at my colleagues at 4:30 when I’m heading out of the office and thinking, ‘oh my gosh, what are they thinking of me?…”

“No, I need to worry about my plan, my life and what’s right for my family.”

Asking For It

Through the growth of Mindful Return and Lori’s family’s need for a more flexible schedule, she’s become a living example of how to create a “career portfolio” that works for you.

“I think we often have a lot more power than we think we do.”

While interviewing for a new role, Lori first presented herself as a candidate for counsel, instead of a partner (one level above), because she desired a 60 percent schedule.

“Then at some point, I said ‘no, I think I should be a partner at this law firm on a 60 percent schedule,’ and most of the firms that I was interviewing with said, ‘okay, sure, fine.'”

Her natural reaction was, “if it was going to be fine, why didn’t anyone say ‘you can be a partner’?”

“Because nobody is going to say it. If you don’t ask for something, people aren’t just going to offer it up to you,” she says.

Lori recalls another example where a mom who took her course was terrified to meet with her boss during maternity leave, to ask if she could switch to an 8-4 schedule (instead of 9-5) so she could have more time with her baby after work.

Her boss was so relieved that she wasn’t there to announce her resignation, she quickly realized she had “lost all this sleep over asking for this silly thing.”

“You never know until you ask,” says Lori.

So where to begin?

“Dare to dream about what might be possible in your world. Sit down and journal about it, exploring all your different options and trying to figure out what would be best for you,” she says.

“Then break the dream up into bite-size pieces and go after one of those pieces.”

Lori recommends starting by proposing a trial period for a flexible arrangement. In her experience, it often works out just fine.

“I attend to my legal clients’ needs whenever they happen, but I don’t have to be in one specific place at any particular, given time. So it allows for some flexibility in weaving together those two worlds,” she says.

How This Mompreneur Makes it Work

Lori builds moments into her daily routine very intentionally, along with mantras like “I am enough.”

“I think ‘enoughness’ is a huge problem in new parenthood. Because there’s never enough of anything,” she says.

Every morning, evening and sometimes on the way to work, she “carves out times of pause.”

Before the kids wake up, this includes:

  • Writing in a gratitude journal
  • 10-15 minute yoga practice

Between 7:00 – 9:30 a.m it’s a typical morning:

  • Her husband makes breakfast
  • Everyone gets dressed and off to school
  • She hops on the metro to get into the office

After work:

  • At 4:30 she hops on the metro
  • She picks up her kids with her husband
  • They alternate who makes dinner
  • She has “Thomas & Friends” playtime with her kids
  • Then it’s bath and bedtime

Her evenings after the kids go to bed, include:

  • Working on Mindful Return for a couple of hours
  • Gratitude journaling
  • Meditation

“You have to be patient with yourself. Know that each incremental step matters.”

“You can really make an impact, and be a leader, and start something amazing with a lot of baby steps,” says Lori.

Mama Shaker: Jennifer Jordan, Aeroflow Healthcare

When Jennifer Jordan returned from maternity leave back to her business development role at Aeroflow Healthcare, she set a goal to continue breastfeeding for the remaining eight months of her son’s first year.

Realizing that “being a mother made me the subject matter expert,” Jennifer identified an opportunity to create a new division at Aeroflow to make it easier for women to meet their own breastfeeding goals.

“Luck, opportunity and hard work came together,” she says. And in 2013, Jennifer became director of Mom and Baby at Aeroflow Healthcare.

While pumping is a non-negotiable for any mom returning to the workplace, the Aeroflow Breastpumps team is on a mission to make it accessible — and reimbursable — for more women in all walks of life.

Only the Best for Baby

Jennifer’s team searches for quality breast pump manufacturers to partner with, like Medela whose products are manufactured in the United States, Canada and Switzerland, and packaged in the U.S.

During my first pregnancy, I chose Medela’s Pump in Style since it got the highest reviews and the bottles were BPA-free. I rigged it with a portable battery to make pumping on-the-go somewhat easier, sported a poncho or nursing cover, and carried my precious cargo around in an insulated lunch bag and cooler.

This time around, I may opt for the Sonata, Medela’s first smart pump, since it’s designed to be quieter, and comes with a portable battery and mobile app. I’m also excited to add the much more discreet Freemie hands-free pumping to the mix, and perhaps a sleeker-looking Petunia Pickle Bottom Tote too.

How This Mama Makes it Work

Jennifer believes as mothers that we’re our greatest critic, and proudly describes herself as “perfectly imperfect.”

By finding a way to channel her passion at Aeroflow, she’s also discovered the formula to being the best mom and wife she can.

“I’m a better mother because I work,” she says, encouraging moms to embrace whatever balance is right for them.

For Jennifer, that means a daily ritual with her son on the drive to school every morning. They have what she calls “our special time together” to talk and prepare for the day.

Women Helping Women Succeed

Jennifer’s advice for other entrepreneurial moms is to trust your instincts, live your truth and your passion, and surround yourself with powerful women you can learn from.

“Put 100 percent into each and every moment,” she says.

Mama Shaker: Rachele from VFit

As Rachele nears the 3rd birthday of both her virtual fitness company and her youngest child, she’s embracing the growth that comes with getting out of her comfort zone.

This includes spontaneously running a live virtual fitness class for a casting agent in a Las Vegas hotel ballroom, in front of 100 fellow entrepreneurs auditioning for the popular TV show.

“The only way to experience VFit is to do VFit,” she says, as she describes the moment where she and her fellow trainer streamed 50 class members from around the country over Zoom, much to the bewilderment of the casting agent.

“It was amazing to see all these familiar faces from outside. We had nurses logging in–in their scrubs–from their hospitals,” she recalls. “That’s the culture we have. It’s lifting each other up, being there for each other.”

“My eyes started watering, thinking, ‘This is incredible. If it doesn’t go anywhere further than this, I’ve done something special.'”

“When I left it wasn’t about what was going to be the next step. I felt so in the present and so much energy. For once, accepting that I give so much, receiving all that support and love, and feeling like I’m doing what I’m supposed to do.”

Overcoming the Fear of Failure

It was her husband’s words that gave Rachele the push she needed to finally audition 10 days earlier.

“The reason I decided to go is because he gave me this one line, ‘If you see somebody else on that show with your same idea, and you never tried, you’re going to have that regret.’ ”

“And that got me right there. Regret. You can’t run a business with regret,” she says.

“What is failing, really? If you put something out there and it doesn’t work, you learned and you can usually get yourself out of it. It’s the fear of failing that’s so debilitating.”

“Vulnerability is my word of the year,” she says.

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How Motherhood Inspired a Business

After working in an “everyday 8-5 job at a computer, without any windows” for about 8 years, and moonlighting at a gym, Rachele had her first child.

“I went back to work part-time and it just didn’t feel right,” she says. “I felt like I was going to miss her big moments, and it was more of a hassle to get her to daycare every day.”

Rachele says she devised a plan that started with getting her personal training certificate online and building enough clientele over Skype to allow her to leave her office job.

She’s also a big believer of “being around the right people and putting yourself in situations.”

After conducting a combo workout and cooking class with her friend over Zoom (the same video conferencing app that has vastly improved working from home for me), she got inspired to scale her business, as her husband had been encouraging her to do.

“The wheels just got spinning,” she says. With the addition of MINDBODY for booking, Rachele had everything she needed to host group classes.

As an added incentive to finally give it her all, the logistics of teaching at the gym had lost its luster for the now working mom of two.

“It became stressful and I wasn’t even enjoying it anymore,” she says. “It was a three hour production to teach a one hour class. Waking up two kids from naps, finding someone to watch them, or lugging them to the gym…”

Rachele officially launched VFit by putting out a free week with 10 classes on the schedule. Immediately there were 25 sign-ups and 12 people became members.

Fast forward to today, VFit has grown to 225 members, 99 percent of which come from referrals.

“Friends bringing friends makes it more fun” and adds accountability, she says.

Women Helping Women Succeed

VFit has helped Rachele realize that she enjoys working and feels a sense of pride and self-worth by contributing to her family’s income, despite the challenges she initially faced as a new mom trying to juggle it all.

“I think it would be boring to not work hard,” she says, which she credits as a lesson she learned from her own hard-working parents, as well as the legacy she hopes to leave her own children.

“There’s no perfect balance. Even when I think I have perfect balance, day care closes, or my kids are sick, or something else comes up. You don’t have this perfect plan. You just try,” Rachele says.

“I don’t sit there worrying about the unknown. I just do what I can.”

Flexibility is an important part of the culture of her team of trainers as well.

“If you had to get a sub at a gym last minute, good luck. Everyone at VFit has stepped in –from a hair salon to a park — to cover classes for each other.”

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Rachele also values the lessons she learned with her partner in an earlier coaching business that ultimately helped prepare her for VFit.

“I don’t think I could have started this business on my own without working through it with someone else, the first time,” she says.

It Takes a Village

VFit has taken off in what Rachele describes as “these little microclimates that don’t have gyms with daycare, that have severe weather, and that are in rural areas,” very similar to where she lives in Mammoth Lakes, Calif.

Despite her loyal following in places like Kentucky, New Hampshire and Oregon, Rachele has aspirations to grow her virtual fitness studio in a way that’s manageable and keeps the “human factor” that sets VFit apart from pre-recorded alternatives.

“There are millions of people whose lives can be changed from this platform that have no idea we’re around,” she says.

Rachele isn’t discouraged going up against companies with “millions of dollars to spend” because of the connections she’s built with her team and her close-knit community of members.

“They’re the best marketers I have because they’ve stuck with it,” she says, noting the “sweaty selfies” members share with each other after class in a Facebook group.

Rachele has also found VFit’s unique voice, with the help of a copywriting coach she calls her #1 investment, helping her “dig into the truth of who you are.” She says it’s about so much more than weight loss or developing biceps:

“It’s a way of life. It makes you a better person. It’s a fun group to be around every day because they truly lift each other up.”