Mama Shaker: Rachael, Growing Closer When Things Fall Apart

In the course of a year, Rachael Cunningham and her husband were dealt with what felt like an impossible hand as they navigated job loss, the death of a parent, and their autistic daughter’s depression. The compounding stress and grief could have created an impermeable divide between them, but instead they became even stronger.

“That year was so incredibly hard,” she says. “We both stepped back and said either we can let this drive us apart or we can really lean into each other and grow together–and that’s what we did.”

In a season where everything feels increasingly hard–and no doubt even harder because of exhaustion and overwhelm–relief comes in the small actions between us that make a big impact.

“Very intentionally, every day I was like, ‘How can I support my husband through this?’” she remembers asking herself. “How can I lean on him during this difficult time?”

“Going through that myself really caused me to notice and be aware of how many marriages really need to have some encouragement and the know-how to get through the tough times in life,” she says, which inspired her to work with couples directly as a relationship coach.

“We realized when we lean into each other, not only does our marriage benefit, but our kids benefit from it, and we’re able to think more clearly,” Rachael says, noting that when her daughter is “in a low spot now I don’t feel like my whole world is falling apart.”

“Kids learn through example so much more than you teaching them with your words,” she says. “What they see lightens their burden in life as well.”

As we encounter challenges daily about how to educate and entertain our children, we don’t need to feel discouraged if we’re not naturally in sync with our partner.

“We think we have to be on the same page all the time in order to have a happy relationship,” Rachael says. “The truth is we actually need to be honoring our own self and respecting our own issues in our own way of showing up in a relationship.”

She says we can “look internally” and make the decision to “show up as a partner that listens and that empathizes and sees my partner’s point of view, even if I don’t understand it.”

“Then you’re able to really start to communicate and hopefully have some really good discussions where you can see eye to eye,” she says. “When trying so hard to change them into our viewpoint, that’s when the disconnection happens.”

It’s also why Rachael chooses to make peace with things she cannot change about her husband. Rather than getting frustrated that he doesn’t notice when the dishwasher needs to be emptied, she realized it was more effective to just ask him to unload it.

“It’s okay that I remind people to do things,” she says as an example of how we can be easier on ourselves to make our marriages more peaceful.

“It opens our mind to wisdom quicker when we accept ourselves instead of beating ourselves up,” she says. “The same goes with our spouses; if we can stop criticizing and start accepting more, our connection is going to grow.”

Acceptance creates a trickle-down effect as parents too, when we’re struggling to get our kids engaged in virtual learning or fretting about screen time.

“What worked for me was saying ‘what do you want to learn about right now?’ and really diving into it; letting them lead the way,” says Rachael. “My oldest fell in love with grammar, so I got her a grammar bible and she devoured the whole thing on her own. My middle child loved computers, so we got him a bunch of stuff and he built his own computer.”

She acknowledges that while curriculum may be limiting, we can still follow cues of what our kids take interest in. At our house, that means incorporating LEGO projects whenever we can—or alternating silly YouTube videos with read-along stories.

“Usually when we beat ourselves up as moms that turns into lashing out at our kids at some point,” she says. “If you are giving your kids extra screen time right now, give yourself some grace. Nobody has ever gone through what we’re going through right now. If your kids are in their rooms all the time; of course, try to engage them and think about things that that will pull them out and take care of their mental health.”

Whether we want to change the dynamic in our marriage or with our kids, Rachael believes we need to start with ourselves.

“Working with couples in childbirth really made me aware of the strength of a woman, and how important it is to take care of yourself–before your marriage or your children,” says the former doula. “As I was talking to people about self care, I noticed that most of the time, their relationships would start to come up and their issues in their marriages.”

“You have to really go into your own thoughts and say, ‘Why am I afraid to communicate this need?” she says. “Start there and be self aware; are you afraid that they’re going to react in a certain way or they’re not going to understand you?”

It comes back to acceptance and being “okay with whatever the outcome,” she says. “If they don’t understand me, that’s okay. It just means we need to dive a little deeper.”

And when we look back at this year that challenged all of us, we’ll feel that much more equipped for what the future holds.

“That’s one of the beautiful things of the more difficult things you get through in life,” she says. “The more free you are as your marriage goes on, because you’re like, ‘Look, we can handle this. We handled that year, we can handle this year.’”

Mama Shaker: Louise, Acknowledging What We Want and Daring to Make it Happen

Louise Heite had a hunch that juggling two kids under three, a job that required round-the-clock conference calls, and a husband who traveled internationally half the month wasn’t sustainable. After moving her family to New York, she began pursuing a new path that led to empowering other women to course-correct their lives too.

“There’s so much energy and so much desire that’s locked up for me to find my own path and make my own dreams come true,” she realized during a new moon meditation.

Louise had recently traded her corporate gig for full-time motherhood, which left her feeling like, “I need something that really feeds my soul.” She knew that she wasn’t alone in trying to find a happy medium as a parent that’s “present while also fulfilling my own dreams.”

“I think what a lot of us mothers these days have to deal with is, first of all, finding a balance between career and also being present with your kids,” she says, so “you don’t reflect back in like 10 or 20 years from now and think ‘they grew up so quickly.’”

Whether it’s rethinking where we live or carving out more flexibility in work hours, Louise believes what’s holding us back is speaking up. She says it can be difficult for women to look inwards, “open that jar and basically then be confident in their own ability to pursue whatever dream that’s in there.”

“Sometimes we get stuck in our own heads,” she says, acknowledging that she often has to coach herself through fear. “It’s a practice what I preach type of approach whenever something negative—or a limiting belief—is coming out.”

In her executive coaching practice, Louise channels her experience leading corporate teams to help women define their own paths to success.

“Ultimately, it’s confidence and self worth, and striking a balance,” she says. “I work with new moms and it’s a little bit of redefining their identity as a mother because often we can no longer commit to the long hours of working that we’ve been doing before kids, yet we feel like we have to do the same amount of hours because otherwise we’re not going to be good enough.”

Focusing on what we need to do our best work–and then asking for it–often leads to a win-win. Parting ways is far from being the only answer to burnout.

“As a woman having worked in corporate environments and then also working for myself, I just don’t believe anymore in the 9-to-5 concept of the world,” she says. “I don’t think this is how we function—that our optimized work is done between the hours of 9:00 and 5:00. So even just flexibility, knowing when you’re most productive and really optimizing those hours is something that I highly recommend.”

Louise points out that “we often live in a space where we think we can do it all, and if we cannot do it all, that we’re a failure,” which was exactly what I experienced as a new mother. Fortunately, it led to connecting with other moms by sharing their stories, realizing there are many different definitions of success, and then making changes so I could strike a better balance.

“It’s about knowing what you really want and thinking about that for a moment,” she says. “There are obviously different paths that we can take after kids and knowing what you want to fulfill—I think it’s a big one.”

While 2020 continues to throw us all for a loop, it’s creating endless opportunities to make peace with change and explore what really matters to our families and ourselves.

“We often go back to the normal or the comfort of what we know because that’s where our worth comes from,” says Louise, cautioning against chasing an old definition of success “only to figure out afterwards that it actually no longer works for us, or that it’s draining us.”

“If you’re not happy somewhere, or not happy with a certain situation, there’s only one person that can change,” she says.

“You can really, truly create what it is that you want to create,” she says. “But you have to dare to make the ask and be open and vulnerable.”

“It can still be a no, but at least you’ve asked.”

Mama Shaker: Jess, Building Relationships Around Experiences We Share

Jessica Gupta felt isolated as the first of her friends to get pregnant, before she knew that motherhood would bond her to women she barely knew.

“I thought that what I was going through emotionally and physically was something other people couldn’t understand completely,” she says.

And even if friends do have kids, it can be hard for them to remember all of the minutiae that occurs weekly and monthly as your body and your baby grow.

“When I was pregnant, I was connected to two women that were due at the same time as me,” she says. “We started chatting and the relationship grew. I kid you not, there were days when we would probably send over 50 text messages between the three of us.”

Jess and her new cross-country confidantes supported each other through the physical and emotional changes that carried them well into motherhood.

“I think what’s really special is they were the first people I told when I went into labor,” she says. “They were the first people I really reached out to because they had been with me through it all.”

The experience inspired Jess to create Taavi, an abbreviation of “it takes a village,” to match together moms-to-be from all walks of life.

“Getting out of the house can be tough,” she learned after the birth of her daughter. “It’s really intimidating to put on clothes and do your hair and go meet other mothers.”

“What I wanted to create for women was a support system because that’s what I had created for myself,” says Jess, noting the importance of doing so before baby, when you have the “mind space” to “focus on building strong bonds as women first.”

Sharing a similar mindset with her co-founder, Renee, was also helpful in creating a partnership in the early days of Taavi.

“When I met her, we had this really natural connection of ‘hey, we want to honor women during pregnancy,’ to focus on the woman, not just the mom,” she says.

“It’s been a really awesome relationship because we’re both mothers, we both had different experiences in our pregnancy and so we can speak from different vantage points,” she says. “At the same time, we believe in this immense need for community for moms and the support that comes from that community.”

While plenty of pregnancy apps and groups provide information about every milestone and symptom, it was important to Jess and Renee to focus on building relationships between mothers.

“The goal is that we’re actually creating dialogue or creating intimate connection through nurturing friendships,” she says.

How this Mompreneur Makes it Work

Just shy of three years into motherhood, Jess has built a relationship with her daughter using a similar support structure—rooted in the routine that toddlers find comforting, which affords a few moments of solace every parent needs.

“There are some routine components that I started to put into place this year, which has been incredibly helpful,” she says. “One of the goals I had this year was to wake up before my daughter and actually shower and be ready.”

Jess also spends a few minutes in the morning alone writing in a journal about the things she’s grateful for and the things she wants to let go. So she’s refreshed and has a cup of coffee in hand by the time her daughter wakes up.

“I have to be that backbone of routine for my daughter too,” she says. “I think that makes her happy and gives her something to look forward to every day.”

“She’s a stickler for plans. I think that’s just part of their age group. They want to know what they can expect.”

Structure also helps Jess balance the less predictable path of running a startup.

“As an entrepreneur, I think the hardest part is not knowing exactly what you should be doing all the time,” she says. “One thing that I’ve been trying to achieve more of is setting weekly goals as opposed to these grandiose quarterly goals.”

Compassion is also key for Jess. When we spoke earlier this year, neither of us knew how timely her words would be, “understanding that I know shit happens, life gets in the way.”

“It’s hard because in the space of creating your own company, you don’t have a boss telling you you’re doing a great job,” she says. “You don’t have traditional reward structures.”

Jess has realized the reward for any of us achievement-oriented mothers comes in the compassion of reminding ourselves and each other “that you’re doing a killer job, even if it doesn’t feel like it.”

“I think the hardest part of motherhood is that as women we forget to take care of ourselves,” she says. “My hope is that Taavi will bring back some of the nourishment that we we don’t get to experience daily.”

Mama Shaker: Ari, Seeking to Understand Each Other in Business and Family

Working in close proximity to her husband is nothing new for Ari Krzyzek. The couple runs a creative agency from their home office in Chicago, while tending to the special needs of their son.

“In our early years doing business together it was definitely very hard,” she says. “I found that trying to separate our feelings and our relationship as spouses, versus us as business partners, was a little bit tricky in the very beginning.”

Ari says that setting boundaries has helped—as tempting as it may be to talk shop over dinner—and establishing a mutually beneficial relationship for all the “different scenarios building a business and in life.”

“We’re obviously not perfect, but we try our best to respect one another and try to really find our own strengths and weaknesses,” she says.

“I’m honestly just trying my best to at least set some guidelines,” she says. “There are some exceptions on different occasions and different days, but at least I have some sort of guidelines that I can follow, so it’s not 100% strict rules.”

Ari recalls the advice of her mentor who emphasized the importance of being as flexible as you can while starting a family, because “things will change very fast, especially in the first 10 years.”

Now, almost five years into parenthood, she and her husband have found a way to run Chykalophia together and be hands-on with their son.

“The main reason why I’ve built the business the way I have today is because I want to see him grow too,” she says. “If I focus way too much on work that defeats the ‘why.’”

“My son is also in the spectrum, so I have to really understand he’s trying his best,” Ari says, making her keenly aware of questions like, “how can I try to figure out what he is currently learning, the way he’s learning, or what’s the best support he needs right now?”

Women Helping Women Succeed

When Ari first came to the United States, she looked forward to meeting other entrepreneurial women.

“I feel like I didn’t have that enough as I grew up in Bali,” she says. “There’s not enough opportunity for women to come together in a professional setting and even more importantly, in a more positive impact setting.”

When Ari didn’t find the degree of connection she was looking for from traditional networking events in Chicago, she built her own.

“I thought about it over and over, and then finally did it out of a simple need to connect with other women in business,” she says. “It took off and now we’re hosting events every month so that other women entrepreneurs can also connect with one another and really learn from each other.”

Creative Women’s Co. events have expanded beyond Chicago to connect women virtually around a variety of topics. Ari also makes herself available for speaking and mentoring through AriKrzyzek.com while volunteering for design organizations.

With her sights set on writing a book about “empowering women,” Ari invites fellow entrepreneurs to get in touch with her about a “particular moment in their life that they would like to share with me,” whether good or bad.

“I’d love to hear back from them and just listen to what others have experienced in their life,” she says. “I know it’s not always rainbows and unicorns all the time because I got my fair share like other women. I just want to see what other experiences women have.”

Mama Shaker: Shannon, Choosing to Be Present Instead of Perfect

Former competitive gymnast Shannon Stearn is learning how to calm her inner critic and be mindful as she and her two sons grow—while coaching others to do the same.

“For the past 40 years I’ve always talked to myself pretty negatively,” she says. “I’ve been a really hard critic. I’m very much a perfectionist, which made me really successful as an athlete; but, as a person, especially as a mom, there’s a lot to criticize.”

As a gymnast, Shannon was under extreme pressure to maintain a certain weight and constantly felt like she wasn’t good enough. The self-criticism followed her through school and even into a lighthearted form of athleticism as an acrobat in the circus.

“I didn’t want to just perform and have fun,” she recalls. “I wanted to be the best.”

“I’ve always been a really introspective person and I have had a lot of things I’ve had to work through with my own issues from parenting and the way I grew up,” she says.

When Shannon started her family, and all these memories came flooding back in the reflection of her boys, her perspective began to shift.

“I never will be the best mother or wife,” she realized. “So how do I be okay with where I am? Not just okay, but how do I thrive?”

“It just made me think there has to be a different way, especially for moms—we have so much else to take care of, how do we also take care of ourselves in a way that isn’t completely punitive?” she thought.

As founder of Savage Wellness, Shannon empowers her clients to grow stronger, both physically and mentally—no matter what their inner critics say—by helping “make it something where we get to feel proud every step of the way, and focus on every small choice that we’re making because it’s so hard to even make the small choices.”

With her two boys, Shannon now finds it liberating to release the urge to control every outcome.

“Initially it was kind of hard for me to let go of that control,” she says. “What’s kind of fun is watching how they teach me about myself now and give me these little challenges that help me grow as a person.”

Shannon is witnessing her 7-year-old “becoming his own person; he has his own thoughts and ideas, and wants and needs.” So she’s “transitioning into parent now that listens to my child and what he wants, and helps him make a decision versus just telling him what I think is the right thing to do.”

Plus, there’s an emerging dynamic when the two brothers (4 and 7 years old) are together that Shannon says requires a new parenting style for “this third child centered our lives.”

Since her older son’s disposition is so similar to hers, Shannon is working through some of the challenges she faced in childhood, while encouraging his growing independence.

“As he’s becoming more autonomous, and I have to let go, it’s really kind of freeing for me to to learn to trust him,” she says, acknowledging that it’s not easy. “I’m really focused on creating that trusting relationship and letting him feel confident as a person and not just somebody who’s being bossed around.”

Mindfulness is something that Shannon practices with her son when he’s feeling upset or being hard on himself. Together they take deep breaths and do meditation.

“My hope is that he can grow up feeling a lot more peace within himself.”

“I see this little mirror of myself,” she says. “I’m parenting myself through all these challenges that I struggled with and didn’t really come to an understanding of that I needed until I was 35.”

“Here’s my chance to really be able to nurture those things and those frustrations I’ve had with myself,” she says.

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: Sue, Reminding Us the Kids Will Be Alright

Susan Groner became an empty nester sooner than she expected when her teenage son begged to go to boarding school an hour away. After spending 17 years as a stay-at-home mom of two, volunteer and occasional marketing consultant, she found herself pondering her next chapter.

With her emerging 20/20 hindsight, Sue began coaching parents on how to find more joy in those early years as The Parenting Mentor and went on to write Parenting: 101 Ways to Rock Your World.

“I have the benefit of the retroactive crystal ball, because now I see my kids as pretty together, functioning human beings,” she says. “All the things I worried about were worthless, and such a waste of my time and energy.”

Sue’s kids are in their twenties and thriving in college and grad school. Meanwhile, she’s relocated from Bedford to New York City, where she enjoys going to events and co-working at The Wing.

“I wish I had me 10-15 years ago,” she says. “But I didn’t and not having that was part of the impetus to start The Parenting Mentor.”

“If you could see what your four-year-old was going to be like as a young adult, and see them as a really healthy, active, functioning, kind human being, all the little things that you worry about you wouldn’t have to worry about,” she says.

It was at this point in our conversation that I got a little emotional thinking about how much pressure we put on ourselves to keep our young kids safe and healthy. To get them to eat, put their shoes on and wash their hands. And then we worry about what those battles are doing to them and what the stress is doing to us.

“Maybe just say, ‘you know what, either I accept my kid getting up and running around in between bites or they eat separately,’” she says. “Maybe dinner time just isn’t this wonderful, beautiful thing right now.”

Sue points to the example of tantrums, when our immediate impulse may be to try and stop a meltdown in its tracks. Instead, she encourages us to see our children’s outburst in a more empathetic light.

“Look what they’re going through right now,” she says. “They are so upset about something that this is what they need to do to show me how upset they are.”

It’s easy to forget that our kids need to develop coping skills and learn how to regulate their emotions, and it’s “unrealistic for us to have expectations on little kids that are unfair” she says.

Sue remembers vividly what it was like to worry that her children’s social behavior in kindergarten was indicative of their ability to make friends later in life.

“I was one of those stressed out, anxious moms thinking that how my kids were, at that particular moment in time, was a reflection of what they were going to be like as adults, which is crazy, you know.”

When you look at it objectively, or after the fact, it’s clear as day. But in the moment, it’s so easy to fall into the trap of mom guilt and feel anxiety about our role in shaping their future.

“We need to step back and look at our kids and say this is a human being,” she says. “This is a person with their own thoughts and ideas, and likes and dislikes, and feelings.”

In Sue’s case, she watched her daughter blossom from a young girl who preferred to call the shots to a young woman who now takes trips to Paris on her own.

“I wish someone had said to me, ‘it doesn’t matter—stop projecting your concerns about your child as an adult on your little child,’” she says.

“It’s not our job to make our kids happy all the time. That is a huge, huge burden that we put on ourselves.”

Sue believes that “all of that comes from a really wonderful place of love,” but “it’s the bad evolution of the maternal instinct” acting up and signaling “to protect my child from imminent, life-threatening danger.”

Trying to juggle our own emotional rollercoaster while helping our kids through theirs is a tall order. Fortunately, she says, we can work through our feelings together.

“The more that we as moms express how we’re feeling to our kids—whether it’s the frustration because you can’t find your phone in the moment, or something happened with work and it’s really bringing you down, or you were supposed to go out and the babysitter canceled—you need to be saying to your kids, ‘I’m really disappointed. I was really looking forward to going out with my girlfriends tonight.’”

She says that when they see that 15 minutes later you’ve calmed down, they learn “she felt disappointed, and then she was fine. She felt frustrated, and then she was fine. She was sad and then she was fine.”

“Then they start to see, oh yeah, these are normal feelings,” she says. “Adults have them. Kids have them.”

The other trap Sue sees parents fall into is what she describes as an “engineering project” where aspirations focus on achievement vs. skill development.

“Ultimately, what do you want for your child?” is a question she asks her clients. In response, she often hears, “I want my child to excel. I want my child to be as smart as they can. I want them to use their full potential. I want them to do well in school. I want them to value education. I want them to be physically fit and eat well,” and “the list goes on and on and on.”

“My theory is wait a minute, what if we work on raising kids who are resilient and self reliant with good problem solving skills and good coping mechanisms,” she says, “as opposed to being proficient on the piano. Those are the kids who are going to go into the world and be happy because they’re going to be able to deal with whatever comes their way. They’re going to know that no matter what happens, they have the tools to deal with it.”

Perhaps the most compelling reminder of all is that these intense years with our children are fleeting.

“I do think it’s a healthy way to look at life in terms of chapters,” she says. “As you know, 18-20 years is not that much of your life.”

“A lot of people feel their reason for being becomes their children,” she says. “And then when they’re not needed anymore—and that not needed part happens when your kids are at home, too—you feel useless. I did not want to feel that way,” she says. “And I never did.”

Sue was fortunate to take the cue to shift gears in her own life, as her children became more independent.

“Whether your kid is three, or 13, or even 23, everyone continues to grow and develop and evolve. I mean, I still am,” she says.

When emotions are running high and our worries are spinning out of control, we can pause and appreciate the opportunity we have to watch what emerges for our children—and ourselves.

“It exciting to look at our kids who are little, and say, ‘well, I’ve got the privilege to watch these little human beings develop,’” she says.

“I’m going to sit back as much as I can and just be there for love, and I’m going to see how they start thinking about things, and developing what they like, what they don’t like, and how that changes. What they’re interested in, what they’re not interested in.”

“And that it’s all okay,” says Sue. “It’s all really good.”

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 Shaker: Jane, Helping Women Bloom as Mothers

It took having a third baby for Dr. Jane Shomof to finally ease into motherhood without the postpartum OCD that clouded the early days with her first, or the inevitable pull when her second came along.

“I feel like we’re all taken by surprise when we bring home that baby,” she says. “Like as much as we can prepare and plan for the birth, I think it’s really what comes after that’s so shocking to our system.”

Any mother can relate to those feelings that come in the middle of the night, when you’re at your most vulnerable, and desperately trying every trick in the book to get your baby back to sleep.

“I think we also have this unrealistic expectation of immediately feeling the same way about our second as we do with our first,” Jane recalls.

“They both turned out to be incredible little humans,” she says, having gained the confidence in her third pregnancy that “whether this person is going to be a boy or a girl, whether they’re going to be challenging or easier, it’s all a phase and it’s all going to be fine, and it’s all going to work out.”

Third time was a charm, and everything clicked—even breastfeeding. After recurring mastitis the first two times around, Jane invested in “the most amazing like Nespresso machine for formula” for her daughter and then “lo and behold, she ended up having breast milk for almost a full year.”

“I really was able to finally enjoy and relish in the moments of having a newborn and taking time away from my older two, if I had to, and spending the time all together.”

“It was a really lovely experience.”

Women Helping Women Succeed

No matter whether it’s a mom’s first baby or fourth, Jane created Bloome to make each transition easier.

“It was birthed from too many women that had to struggle too much, more than they needed to,” she says.

While Jane still sees clients in her private practice, moms who feel overwhelmed by the thought of the leaving the house can benefit from the virtual, on-demand programs she’s developed.

“In our society we have a tendency to wait until we’re really sick or really struggling to ask for support and I think it’s really backwards,” she says, which is why she’s taking a proactive approach with women to talk about what to expect even before the baby comes.

“A lot of women don’t know that these feelings are normal and everybody thinks they’re alone in their misery,” she says.

Mothers have the added challenge of putting our own needs after everyone else’s, and not making ourselves a priority until we reach a boiling point.

“There is a light at the end of the tunnel and we’re going to help you see that,” she says. “The struggle is temporary.”

“Bloome is here to just help make this incredible life-changing, life-consuming transition enjoyable.”

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.