Mama Shaker: Rhonda, Adjusting Expectations of What’s Enough

Running a startup and raising twin 5th graders through a season of wildfires, literally and figuratively, requires Rhonda Collins to be more compassionate about what’s possible in a 24-hour period.

“I end up feeling the way I know a lot of working moms feel,” she says. “If I never slept, if I didn’t have a family and didn’t have anything else to do, there would still not be enough time in the day for me to do everything.”

It’s why Rhonda recently began starting her days by asking herself what the single most important thing is for her business and her family, rather than a to-do list.

“Sometimes it’s two things, or maybe it’s three things, but it’s not 137 things anymore,” she says.

“I feel like that’s all I can do,” she says, adding that she ends the day reminding herself she did her best. “These times are just super challenging.”

Rhonda’s instincts to pare things down to the essentials are what led her down an entrepreneurial path after “an incredibly satisfying career that really fed me” as a social change documentary filmmaker.

“I had my twins a little bit later in life, and so I had a long stretch of living fairly minimally,” she says, recalling the visceral reaction she had to the growing pile of brightly colored toys and baby gear that began accumulating in her living room.

“I was faced with having two small children and having to figure out, ‘I gotta sell this stuff, or I’ve got to give it away,'” she says.

Rhonda’s realization other parents shared the same challenge was the impetus to create ToyCycle, specifically as a service that places value on the time spent with our kids instead of sorting through an excess of outgrown toys and baby goods.

“I did not wait this long to have children so that I could then just work my ass off all day long, every day of the week and never see them, never actually have quality time with them,” she says.

Interestingly enough, 2020 dished up an abundance of time that would normally be limited with tweens or teenagers.

“I see them in the morning and then I go up and I check on what’s going on, and they show me an assignment they’re working on,” Rhonda says about their co-located work and school schedules. “Then we eat lunch together and they bring me down a smoothie that they just made.”

“I feel like we are much more bonded and together than we ever have been,” she says.

On Fridays they have movie nights huddled in a chair with popcorn. She also carves out one-on-one time, as challenging as it can be with twins.

“I feel best about myself and about my life when I just step out of my business self and say what I want and need to do,” Rhonda says. “Right now, it’s been time with my kids.”

“I feel connected, like life feels like it’s supposed to feel,” she says. “If I forget that for a few days, I just keep reminding myself of that.”

“Let’s just read together, let’s spend some time together, let’s hang out,” she says about her new definition of accomplishment. “That’s it.”

Mama Maker: Viola, Drawing Us Towards Happiness No Matter What Happens

Viola Sutanto found joy within the four walls of a hospital room where her 9-year-old daughter awaited a bone marrow transplant for aplastic anemia, ultimately defying the odds of a match with her 3-year-old brother.

“They had told us of course we’ll test your son, but just know that sibling matches are a 25% chance, so don’t hold your breath,” Viola recalls her doctors saying at the time. “So when we heard that he was a perfect match, we couldn’t believe it. It was such a miracle.”

Now Viola wants to pay her gratitude forward by publishing Eat Cake for Breakfast and 99 Other Small Acts of Happiness in partnership with The Collective Book Studio and will give a portion of proceeds back to the UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital. She’s been amazed at the response to her iFundWomen crowdfunding campaign, which has reached all the way to her hometown in Singapore.

“I was really very touched and overwhelmed,” she says. “In the first 24 hours of the campaign, we had raised thousands of dollars. Longtime friends of mine, people in our community and even friends I hadn’t heard from in years—suddenly I’m getting texts and messages from them saying, ‘I cannot believe you went through this’ and ‘here you go, I want 10 copies of your book.’”

Sharing Her Story

“I’ve been pretty isolated for more than a year since Maika was diagnosed, and I’m a very introverted person so I tend to hold it all in,” Viola says. “I realized, gosh, I’ve never even told most of these people what had happened.”

The inspiration for Eat Cake for Breakfast and 99 Other Small Acts of Happiness began when Viola and her daughter came up with sketchbooks as a way to keep themselves occupied during the hospital stay. The “100 days” creative movement had also recently gained popularity.

“So that’s when the drawings started happening,” she said. “We’d pick one thing to draw and it could be just the most mundane thing in the world. I think my first drawing was actually a dinner at the hospital or something silly like that— but over time it just became something fun for us to do.”

Viola started posting the drawings on Instagram and as a former book designer, she naturally began to imagine them taking shape in page form.

“What happened last year made me realize, as a family, how much resilience we have,” she says. “I’m a more optimistic person now than I ever was before, and also very mindful of being grateful for everything that we have.”

Because Maika was immunocompromised following her treatment, Viola’s family entered another year of social distancing and mask-wearing with plenty of practice and perspective.

“I think it really helps to find the silver lining in everything and every day,” she says. “Being able to see that on the upside, while stuck at home I get to spend a lot of time with my kids, which I love. I have the privilege of working from home—some people don’t. There’s just so many things to be grateful for despite everything else that’s happening.”

Viola’s perseverance has helped her carry her sustainable bag and home goods business through the abrupt changes that came earlier this year.

“Our wholesale business plummeted between March and now,” she says. “It’s still very much in recovery mode and that was a real bummer because we had started off the year strong. Every day we’d pick up the phone and get order cancellations and postponements. It was really devastating because most of our accounts are mom and pop stores, or they’re small businesses like mine. We have real relationships with these people and worked with them for years.”

She stays grounded by centering herself with meditation and journaling, before jumping into full days of distance learning and running her now booming e-commerce business. It’s a practice that helped Viola get through her darkest days.

“The only other person who was really in the thick of it with me is my husband and that’s all we talked about,” she says. “Sometimes I just don’t want to talk. I felt like my journal and my meditation practice was my own thing that I could do solo, without having to worry about how everyone else is feeling. And that felt sacred to me.”

No matter what life throws your way, Viola recommends giving yourself a break, taking it one step at a time and focusing on the small things you can start with.

“Try to find the silver lining somewhere,” she says. “There’s going to be light at the end of the tunnel, even if it’s a super long tunnel and these days of not seeing where it’s going to end. But I do believe it will be there.”

“If you just take the time to notice, there’s always something, some small joy to be found.”

Mama Maker: Sarah, Deciding How We Want to Live

Sarah Kelly’s rebound from a breast cancer diagnosis at 32 weeks pregnant to building a clean beauty brand featured by the likes of Good Morning America, exemplifies what “salty” women are capable of.

“I was up in Maine at my parents’ house and my sisters were there and it was one of those moments that you’ll never forget,” she says about the dreaded phone call that no one ever expects.

Just 72 hours earlier at a routine prenatal checkup, Sarah mentioned the lump she’d recently found to her OB-GYN, at the encouragement of her sister Leah, an oncology nurse who’s now her business partner. That Tuesday appointment led to an ultrasound on Wednesday, followed by a biopsy on Thursday and confirmation on Friday that it was indeed stage 3, triple-negative breast cancer.

“They wanted to start chemo right away, and it was too big for surgical removal,” she says. “The first cancer treatment that you do, you can receive while you’re pregnant. So I started two rounds of chemo and then they induced me at 38 weeks.”

What Sarah calls her “warrior week” started with the birth of her daughter, followed by blood transfusions two days later, and her third round of chemo two days after that.

“It’s just amazing; I always say, your body can handle so much,” she says. “You just have to have the right mindset.”

Sarah also credits the support she had during treatment, especially while she and her husband were between houses and living with her in-laws. She points out that her 14-month-old and newborn were in incredibly capable hands with her mother-in-law, a neonatal nurse.

“Cancer sucked, but it also gave me perspective on how I wanted to live,” she says.

“I think I was checking the boxes—half of them were making me happy and the other half were creating a lot of toxicity,” says Sarah about life back in Boston, which involved battling traffic to and from work, taking time away from her kids.

The idea of starting a business with her sister Leah entered the equation, inspired by the emerging interest in green beauty and a lifelong dream to build her own brand after working in sales and corporate marketing.

“Having lost my hair and everything, putting on a lipstick really empowered me to feel a little bit more feminine throughout my journey,” says Sarah. “That’s the direction we decided to go in and then it just evolved, talking about how we take care of ourselves, eliminating stress in our lives.”

Salty Girl Beauty took a minimalistic approach to cosmetics and body care, made locally in small batches using organic coastal ingredients. The name is a double entendre, honoring the resilience of women.

“What we were going through at that time in our lives, you needed a lot of grit and sass and attitude,” she says. “I think women feel that throughout the day they need to have that armor—whether you’re going through amazing things or a really hard time in your life.”

Sarah noticed that while she was getting a lot of attention during her treatment, finding ways for her husband to feel supported too was critical. So she, Leah and their siblings started Foundation4Love as a non-profit arm of the brand to carve out quality time with caregivers.

“Making sure that we were staying connected was really important to me, and so people would come over and watch the kids while we could go out to dinner,” Sarah says. “So that’s kind of the thing we do with other people going through this. Who’s their number one, is it their family or is it a sister, a husband? We try to do something that allows them to disconnect from their cancer and connect with whatever is love in their life.”

Through the spirit of partnership they’re also funding the cold cap program at New England Cancer Specialists, running workshops with Mount Sinai, and even spun up a new kind of cancer wellness retreat called Warrior Revolution—together with Cynthia Besteman, the cancer survivor behind Violets are Blue Skincare.

“There are so many conferences around the medical side and the treatment side but we really wanted to focus on, ‘yes, you’re going through cancer, but how do you live through that?'” she says about the full-day events which covered a range of wellness, intimacy and mental health topics and ended with a pajama party.

“At the last retreat, we had about six stage IV 30-40 year-old women they didn’t know in our own community,” she says. “And now they’re best friends. Being able to create those connections has been really great.”

While 2020 brought a lot of uncertainty for Sarah, Leah and their team through the spring and summer months, things took a very exciting turn when the opportunity to be featured on Good Morning America popped up.

“Getting that national exposure has been life-saving,” she says. “It’s been literally the biggest whirlwind ever. To see how the four of us, as well our greater community, helped and pitched in so that everything came together for it was just really, really special.”

Coming together, whether it’s as “Salty Girls” or as a family has given Leah the life she reimagined for herself five years ago.

“As much as I probably work too much, it’s on my own terms and I can do it in the living room while my kids are around,” she says. “I’m very present and we’re able to do the things that they want to participate in and spend a lot more time outdoors and all of the things that I think create a happy house.”

While that often means Sarah has a six-, five- and two-and-a-half year old clinging to her while trying to put makeup on, she still believes in the importance of self-care “without it being a big production.”

“Being able to have that message to talk to women about taking care of themselves and not putting themselves last,” is what fuels her.

“Because when you’re healthy, everyone else around you can be healthy,” she says.

Mama Maker: Angela, Creating Our Own Story

Angela Engel flips right past the “why me?” question that many stumble over when the opportunity to make a difference presents itself. The mother of three is a publishing industry disruptor by day, who mobilized the creation of PPE at the start of the pandemic–while continuing to lead the San Francisco chapter of Hey Mama, support social causes, and navigate distance learning.

Her response when people ask how she raised $30,000 and distributed 10,000 face shields across the country—including Children’s Hospital Minnesota, Alameda Health Consortium and Navajo Nation clinics in Arizona and New Mexico— says everything about her willingness to spring into action.

“When this all hit and I saw my best friend literally in the ER when the Princess Cruise landed and he was working night shifts and lost it when he couldn’t get a face shield, I was like, ‘who else is going to save him?’”

“I think that same spirit is the greatest thing you learn when you’re an entrepreneur,” she says. “That fire, that spirit, that idea…what’s the worst that could happen? Someone says no, right? That’s not a big deal.”

Angela felt a similar call to action when she was “really pregnant” with her third daughter and had grown weary of publishing industry trade shows where she struggled to find a humane place to pump in concrete convention centers.

She dabbled in children’s apparel for a while, which was more kid-friendly and introduced her to the faster pace of retail.

“I would bring the baby with me and put her in the stroller and that was great, but I missed publishing,” she says. “It’s the creative piece.”

While doing business development for an independent publishing house in Petaluma, Angela “noticed the surge of self publishing” that was more akin to the speed of fashion than the traditional publishing industry.

“Why are we letting Amazon and self publishing take that market share?” she realized. “Why not pull together my colleagues from traditional publishing who are fantastic, who are graphic designers, who are typesetters, who are editors and let’s form a collective? We can do this as good as any big house and we can do it fast.”

The Collective Book Studio was born in 2019 around the idea of “partnership publishing” which retains the authors’ creative control and has gained the attention of her industry peers for its disruptive business model.

“We don’t print on demand,” she says. “We really believe the book is an art form.”

One example is how the team packaged up a series of beautifully crafted pages from parenting coach (and Mama Shaker) Sue Groner in Parenting with Sanity & Joy: 101 Simple Strategies in a way that even the most exhausted among us can digest at our own pace.

“What is the message that you want your reader to take away?”

It’s the first question that Angela asks prospective authors (and something that anyone creating content should take the time to answer).

“That will help decide why are you writing this book,” she says.

For Maika handbag designer Viola Sutanto, it’s a reminder that even in our darkest days, happiness is all around us. She’s working with Angela and iFundWomen to fund Eat Cake for Breakfast and 99 Other Small Acts of Happiness—inspired by Viola’s 9-year-old daughter’s hospital stay while she awaited a bone marrow transplant from her 3-year-old brother.

Whether our story involves putting an important message out into the world, or giving back in another way, taking action is the antidote to fear.

“I think the first step is to practice,” Angela says. “Write a sample chapter. Just write, even if it’s not good at all. It could literally be bullet points for all I care. But just get it down on paper.”

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.