Mama Maker: Christy, Embracing Parenthood in the C-Suite

When Christy MacGregor traded her position as a law firm associate for a commute across the street to join her husband’s startup as Chief Parent Officer and General Counsel, the barriers between parenting and career came tumbling down.

“I have a lot more flexibility now and it’s really nice to be able to move back and forth more fluidly between the world of parenting and the world of my job,” she says. “I feel like it’s very integrated. So I wouldn’t necessarily say I have balance, but nothing feels in conflict, like when I was at the law firm.”

The mother of four-year-old twins and a one-year-old now clocks her hours meeting with parents at Colugo, which her husband launched as a direct-to-consumer model made popular by fellow Wharton brainchild Warby Parker, after a disappointing experience stroller-shopping at big box stores.

“It releases a lot of the anxiety of being a working parent because you don’t have to pretend you’re not a parent,” she says, now realizing the noticeable absence of stress as a result of the “lifting of that burden.”

Previously, if one of her kids was sick or she had to go to a doctor’s appointment and “something had to be rescheduled, that would never be the reason,” at the risk of being perceived as “unprofessional.”

Christy’s experience at Colugo has been a stark contrast from day one. She made the transition from advising on the sidelines to a full-time leadership role when her third child was about 6 months old.

“One of the first calls I was on with the team, I had my baby with me and he was making noise,” she says. “Our head of marketing was like, ‘oh, that’s very on brand for us.’”

At the time, she remembers thinking “wow, a whole new world I’m in, it’s such a gift.”

While Christy is the first to point out that she’s lucky to be in a position where kids are core to the company’s mission—and she has childcare and family nearby to help—feeling the urge to apologize for the sound of kids in the background is a scenario any parent who works remotely, or joins calls from home or the car, can relate to.

“Now I’m on calls with parents all the time and you hear a baby crying in the background, or someone needs to get picked up early from school, and we all get that,” she says, adding that it can be “a great way to connect with people” and it “brings you closer together faster.”

Whether or not companies are ready for the rapidly increasing blend of work and parenthood, Christy believes it’s an opportunity to bring out the best in employees, especially when they don’t have to waste energy trying to separate their dual roles.

“More workplaces should recognize that if they let parents be fully themselves at work that’s only going to make them better employees—better team members—because they’re able to be open about where they’re at,” she says, and feel motivated by being “seen at work instead of feeling like they’re having to hide this huge aspect of their identity.”

“I’m now at a company that is so parent-focused that I’m seeing what can be done when you are all in on that,” she says. “And the strength of that, and the way that parenthood can amplify the work you’re doing because you’re much more efficient and focused.”

“You want the work you’re doing to be meaningful in a different way because there are so many other things you’re juggling and you want to feel like this is worth it,” she says. “Your time just means so much more.”

It Takes a Village

Christy believes that a family-friendly, community-oriented culture is not only “hugely beneficial to Colugo,” but it’s good for customers too.

“Our entire customer service team is moms who work part time,” she says. “So they’re able to do flexible, meaningful part-time work, which is what I feel like a lot of parents want instead of having to choose one or the other—to be completely out of the workforce, or to have to work full-time.”

In return, customers get the benefit of hearing from someone who “understands what they’re really asking” when a question comes in about product features, and ultimately “feel like the brand has your back.”

Building a family and a brand has taught Christy the importance of not being too “attached to outcomes,” and instead, “confident that I’m doing my best.”

“I can focus on that instead of trying to focus and feel anxiety about the ultimate result and that has served me well,” she says. “I think that is something I have learned through parenting, that I’ve been able to then apply to my career; and it’s a strength that I don’t know that I would have had certainly thinking back to myself in school, or early on in my career, when I was very attached to the gold star.”

She now finds “peace and fulfillment through the process” of spending her time listening to parents, thinking about how to continually improve their products, and build a strong community over time.

“It’s not something you can just snap your fingers and create,” she says. “So being part of that process, and comfortable with that process, has been something I have been able to take from parenting and apply to my career.”

Christy’s evolution as a mother and Colugo’s innovation as a company go hand-in-hand, thanks in part to the seamless integration between the two.

“We’re creating the products people want, we’re improving the products people have, and we’re building an even stronger community because our mission is to give parents the confidence they need to take on the adventure of parenthood,” she says.

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 Maker: Shweyta, Going the Distance

After leaving New York to spend a year in Singapore and Mumbai, Shweyta Mudgal reconnected with a childhood memory that inspired her to repurpose her design skills as an airport architect into an ancient form of Indian textile printing.

“Singapore is a takeoff point for anybody to travel that side of the world,” she says, which exposed her to Asia’s maker economy and gave her the opportunity to rekindle a creative pastime from her youth.

Shweyta fondly remembers how she would “walk in to a tailor in Mumbai in this lane that I was living in and give him a piece of scrap cloth, or even fabric or material that I found somewhere,” and together they would design something completely original out of it.

“So that’s the how the idea of ‘8,000 miles’ really started after all of that travel and being inspired by the rich textile culture of Asia,” she says about the birth of her clothing brand.

It was integral to Shweyta to weave social impact into the fabric of Eight Thousand Miles from the start, so that it wasn’t merely an “afterthought.” She identified two ways to empower the local community of artisans in India who would bring to life the garments she designed.

“One was to be able to work with artisans and communities that were either disadvantaged, financially,” says Shweyta, or “were working in textile cultures which are being threatened by extinction now due to mechanized, digital printing and more modern techniques of fabric production and printing.”

She was equally clear about the other major thread of her purpose-driven model: “I wanted it to be done in a fourth generation textile printing design community based out of a village investor in India, which has been block printing for generations on fabric.”

“Both of these worlds came together” when she found a “small sewing unit, which was very, very self reliant and independent because it was set up by a woman who really just wanted to do the same, which was to give work to disadvantaged women,” she says.

This culminated in a process that requires Shweyta’s presence in two time zones (primarily through WhatsApp), now that she’s living back in New York with her husband and daughter. She designs all the prints by hand or on her computer; they’re printed out at scale and attached to two pieces of wood back in India, and then replicated for every color needed for that particular print.

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“This is in fact a very, very ancient way of printing fabric but to me it was the best way of representing drawings,” she adds.

Women Helping Women Succeed

In the six years since she launched, Shweyta has maintained the same standards for her garments and the women who craft each one by hand.

“Every unit that we’ve ever worked with has been composed or vetted to make sure that the end artisan is also someone who has undergone training, but is also very, very happy working in the unit, not being exploited,” she says. “It’s fair trade, the unit is well lit and clean; the artisans are being provided for.”

Going back to Shweyta’s original vision, she ensures the artisans are paid for each piece that they make instead of “an assembly line method because then you know they’re not sort of small cogs in the machine, but they are responsible for having created the entire garment from scratch.”

“We also invest back in their children and in their lives by doing this on a day to day basis,” she says, noting that making it to work is not without its challenges “if you’re a woman in that strata of Indian society.”

“Women are not always available to come work because they’ve had a problem at home or they just were not able to walk to work that day or had to stay home to take care of an ailing mother-in-law and things which you know come in the way of your working life,” she says.

The endurance required by all involved is not lost on Shweyta.

“We’re just happy that we’ve been able to keep the business model alive and always have social impact in every little piece that we make.”

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Shweyta has had to learn how to pace herself and stay present in her two different worlds of motherhood and entrepreneurship.

“I try not to push myself too hard,” she says reflecting on how far she’s come since the “initial years trying to set things up and establish everything.”

Shweyta admits to “mom guilt” while not feeling totally present with her daughter.

“We would read at bedtime, but I would still be thinking in my head about my next print that I should line up for the season ahead,” she says.

So she’s started treating her evenings like more of a “9-to-5” and tries “not think about work unless it’s just before a show, we’re rushing a deadline, or things like that.”

“I used to be really, really harsh on myself about trying to get a lot done and this whole philosophy that I’ve literally been brought up with of ‘if you have to do it tomorrow, you do it today; if you have to do today, you do it now,'” she says.

Shweyta cautions other entrepreneurs just starting out to temper their enthusiasm so it doesn’t snowball into martyrdom.

“I know it’s very difficult early on, especially if it’s your passion that you’re transitioning into a profession or if your business is really your baby,” she says. “In that case, ImI know it’s very difficult to draw a line between how much of yourself you want to invest in it.”

“If you’re going to do a lot of it yourself, then you really have to understand that you’re doing four or five different jobs at the same time,” she says, pointing out how long it would take that many people to work together to get a job done.

“If you’re doing it all yourself then give yourself that kind of time,” she says.

Now, when Shweyta finds herself up against a deadline that’s pulling her mentally away from time with her daughter, she takes a different approach.

“So now what I’ll do is I just talk to her about it,” she says. “She has her own inputs. I realized that sharing it with someone is better than actually just ruminating about it in your own head and constantly being obsessed with your work.”

“If you just seek out or find a mentor, or just tell a friend or family, it gives you some sort of a break from the journey, which is really, really hard as somebody starting out,” she says.

Mama Shaker: Claudia, Encouraging Us to Believe We Can

About 15 years ahead of the curve, Claudia Reuter chose to start her own company as a return-to-work path after staying home full-time with her two young boys.

“When I stepped away, I remember feeling like I didn’t think of it so much as a choice,” she says, describing her initial decision to pause a career she was passionate about, despite the fact that she “didn’t see how I was going to make that work with a new baby.”

Without the blended approach to commingling careers and motherhood that we’re seeing more of now, Claudia felt she was forced to choose between the two.

“Everything I was reading on one hand was saying stick with your career, and on the other hand was saying the most important thing you could do is be with your baby,” she recalls. “I’m like, these two things are not adding up.”

A few years later, when financial reasons drew Claudia back to work, she was concerned that the skills she honed at home wouldn’t be recognized in the business world.

“I remember realizing that no one was going to really value the experiences I had had as a stay-at-home parent, even though I knew that they were incredibly valuable,” she says. “And I knew that other moms, too, are in the same boat.”

“You’re doing a million different things, you’re managing a million different priorities, you’re worried about the long-term outcomes for your kids,” she says, noting the parallels with a start-up.

With two young kids just 23 months apart, Claudia bootstrapped a software business, raised capital (which led to some all-too-familiar clandestine conference call scenarios that any working mom can relate to), and successfully sold her company.

“All these years later, now I can connect the dots,” she says. “But at the time, I wouldn’t have been able to predict how this would have all turned out.”

Now she’s encouraging other women to do the same by “celebrating entrepreneurship as a way to lean in” in her brand new book Yes, You Can Do This! How Women Start Up, Scale Up, and Build The Life They Want (Techstars).

“What I realized is that I think we talk a lot about celebrating female founders, but we don’t talk enough about why to become one,” says Claudia. “If you become an entrepreneur, you have an opportunity to improve your own personal outcomes and have more control over your destiny.”

“If you can either build a company that’s big enough–or if you’re acquired and you can have some influence at the new company–you have a real opportunity to think through why only 17% of companies have paid maternity leave,” she says. “Why do we spend all our time talking about bringing dogs to the office, but we don’t really talk about kids in the office?”

“I just think there’s this huge opportunity to rethink things.”

How This Mompreneur Made it Work

Claudia started laying the groundwork for her business when her boys were babies, especially when sleep was at a premium with her youngest.

“I remember thinking, well, I’m already up,” she says, identifying herself as a morning person. “I have some of my best thinking really, really early in the morning.”

Even so, it wasn’t as if she had all the answers.

“I didn’t know anything about how to start a business at that point in my journey,” Claudia says. “So I started with a lot of research, and a lot of reading, and a lot of looking at what other people had done and trying to figure it out.”

She also points out that “it wasn’t totally linear,” and she often had her boys in tow, like the time she took them to the bank to open her first business account.

“I negotiated my first term sheet from my older son’s closet,” Claudia says. “I remember thinking, that was the one area I could go where I knew it would be quiet.”

“I was starting to fundraise and I got a term sheet, which was a huge deal for me just to even get a term sheet,” she says, describing how she put the kids in front of the TV with crackers and hoped the noise wouldn’t echo too loudly in her 1920s home.

You can hear her story on her podcast, The 43 Percent, which is currently in its second season.

“Now, I’m so much more open about the blend of personal and professional lives,” says Claudia. “But at that point, I remember being so nervous about letting anyone know that I had all these other things going on. Work at home wasn’t quite as common and that was 17 years ago, give or take.”

Claudia remembers at the time noticing “the contrast between how I was in my yoga pants” and “what I assumed to be the mindset of the people on the other end of the call, who had administrative assistants and people who are making sure they could be focused on what they’re doing.”

“I think that’s one of the challenges moms have, but it’s also one of the benefits,” she says. “We actually know how to juggle things and how to deal with a lot of different inputs coming at you, at once.”

In her current role as general manager of TechStars, Claudia has an eye on the next generation of startup success stories. In doing so, she sees similar traits that will help future leaders thrive.

“The Fortune 500 today is not going to be the Fortune 500 a few years from now,” she says. “Leaders know that their business can be disrupted. They’re going to rely on people who can balance both an operational mindset–to keep things rolling steady and growing–and people who are entrepreneurial–and can keep coming up with new ideas and thinking about how to incorporate those into the core business–in a way that is cost efficient and yet produces results.”

Claudia points out that the value placed on “disruption and innovation” opens the door for women who are constantly finding solutions to the challenges of motherhood and business.

“I think it’s important to own your experience, own your value and be able to talk about where you can contribute from a leadership perspective,” she says.

And perhaps most importantly, “not shy away from it.”

Mama Shaker: Jessie, Giving Back On Your Terms

Chicago-based event planner Jessie Williams could have succumbed to the school of hard knocks, but instead she pays it forward in all elements of her business and daily life with her daughter.

“I want people to realize that just because you grew up in a certain neighborhood or with a certain financial status doesn’t mean you can’t make something of yourself,” she says.

“I grew up with not a lot,” says Jessie, sharing that she traversed teen pregnancy and adoption at 17 years old. She credits her mother for pushing her to go to school and get a job. Eventually, she married a supportive partner and they started a family of their own.

“I’m super blessed right now,” she says. “I could have potentially not been; I could have been a complete statistic.”

Jessie’s resilience paved the way for her to create a business–on her terms–in response to a toxic boss.

“I woke up one morning and I was like, I can’t do this anymore,” she says. “I’m too old to have to work for somebody like that and like dread going into work, or go in crying, because he asked me if I needed to be home early so I can make my husband dinner.”

Jessie built a purpose-driven event planning business, WE Events Chicago, to help non-profits and individuals incorporate activities that give back while hosting fundraisers, parties and parents night out.

“Everything I do has a charitable component with my event planning,” she says. “This way I can do it my own way doing something I love, which is the creative side, as well as, we have a crafty side to it to like collaboration art and all that kind of stuff.”

In addition to paid client work, Jessie and her lean operation make time to support preferred charities through a pro bono program. This year, that list includes Hello Baby, The Nora Project and Shine Fertility.

“I’m exhausted,” she admits. “I wish that I could shut off after five o’clock. But it has also been fantastic because I have made some amazing connections and it’s also nice to know that I’m doing it on my own and I’m a role model now.”

Jessie tries to make it a fun work environment for her “twenty-something” employees as well as family-friendly enough for parents to bring their kids if childcare falls through.

“If it’s something that we can do and you can still hang out with your kids–we’re prepping a backdrop, whatever–I’m fine with that,” she says.

“I want it to be a better work experience more fun, open, making people feel good, too, because every part has some sort of giving back component.”

Giving Back: How This Mompreneur Makes it Work

Jessie feels the same way about building a business model that works for her, and a workplace that supports the unique needs of her employees, that she does about giving back.

“There’s no one size fits all,” she says. “Some people want to write a check. Some people want to go volunteer at their organization. Some people want to do it at home.”

When we spoke, Jessie rattled off several ways to give back that don’t require a lot of time or money, including picking up trash in your neighborhood, or using sidewalk chalk to write inspiring notes.

She encourages clients to rethink occasions where guests feel compelled to bring a gift as an opportunity to give back, like asking for board books that can be donated to a local shelter.

“It doesn’t have to cost a lot of money and just getting your kids involved early on, makes a huge difference,” she says.

Jessie’s daughter wanted to do something for babies at her birthday party, so she set out to donate 100 boxes of diapers.

“She wrote letters to everybody and she ended up getting 250 packages,” says Jessie. “She saw that impact and it was enormous.”

Even if you’re in a season of parenting puts time or money at a premium, Jessie believes that small gestures like holding the door open, or making an extra batch of cookies for a nursing home, can go a long way.

“A lot of it is just like being kind,” she says. “A smile can make a big difference, and that is a way of giving back.”

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: Lisen, Helping Moms Work, Pause and Thrive

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It changed me in a powerful way.”

Women Helping Women Succeed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It Takes a Village

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Mama Shaker: 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.”