Mama Maker: Suzanne of Mompowerment

Suzanne Brown wants to empower moms to create our own personal definition of “work life balance.” She’s a living example of how to design careers and family life around what matters to us individually, in each season of motherhood.

For her latest book, The Mompowerment Guide to Work-Life Balance: Insights from Working Moms on Balancing Career and Family, Suzanne spoke to more than 100 women to answer a simple yet daunting question, “how do you create the work life balance you want?”

“A lot of times, especially for professional women, they really just look at it as very black and white: either I’m in the workforce or I’m out of the workforce,” she says. “There is this area of grey.”

Suzanne dealt firsthand with the consequences of making assumptions about motherhood, while trying to keep up business as usual as a first-time mom.

“I was horribly misguided and I thought we could just kind of ‘tuck’ our son into our lives,” Suzanne says. “We could continue to travel the same way, have the same lifestyle, travel and network.”

Her son was born 10 weeks premature, with boundless energy and determination. She describes him as “a mover and shaker since the day he was born.”

After powering through the blur of her first year of working motherhood, Suzanne recalls looking in the mirror around her son’s birthday and thinking “what happened?!”

“I was in survival mode,” she says. “That was a wake up call. I wasn’t paying attention to my own needs or my own goals.”

Nearly three years later, her second baby arrived at 36 weeks, but she was in a better position to face the challenges of juggling a newborn, a “spirited” almost 3-year-old and research for her first book, Mompowerment: Insights from Professional Part-Time Working Moms Who Balance Career and Family.

“When we had our younger son, it was making sure that didn’t happen again,” she says. “Being able to go through that once was enough for me to say, okay, what do I need to put in place so that the second time around I’m much better equipped for what’s coming my way.”

“I had to make the moments count, but I also had to embrace the good stuff and keep it rolling,” she says. “I had to keep up the momentum because if it stalled out, I was afraid of what would happen.”

Once Suzanne realized how much of a precious commodity her energy was, she put herself in the drivers seat.

“I wanted to decide where I would pull my energy from,” she says. “I had to have a very honest conversation with myself to do that.”

She asked herself the same questions that now make up the backbone of her guide, which she says can lead to “creating what we need” for a career and family life that doesn’t constantly deplete our reserves.

How this Mompreneur Makes it Work

Now as an entrepreneur with a 7-year-old and 4.5-year-old, and two businesses, Suzanne says she has to allocate her time and energy very carefully or she will “literally getting nothing done.”

“I try to be very intentional with my time,” she says, describing how she preps for her day the night before–including articles she wants to read–so the next morning she can hit the ground running instead of wasting otherwise productive moments getting her bearings.

After reading The Mother’s Guide to Self-Renewal: How to Reclaim, Rejuvenate and Re-Balance Your Life, which helps moms “fill your cup,” Suzanne was inspired to start doing a self care check-in each morning, in the moments she takes to get out of bed, before diving into her email.

Her boys start school an hour and 20 minutes apart, so she uses that gap to spend some quality time outside with her youngest. After that, it’s time to get down to business.

“Once I drop off our younger son, my power hour starts,” Suzanne says. “It’s my time of the day to get my hardest, most challenging, most strategic work done.”

“If I don’t do anything else in the course of the day, I have accomplished that goal…whatever that thing is that’s going to move the needle in my business or my client’s business.”

“Mid-day is when I start to have my lull so that’s when I start to take calls or I might do volunteer stuff for the boys’ schools,” she says. “It’s also when I might do some of my social media that needs dedicated time.”

Suzanne picks up the boys at 2:30, when she switches back to “mommy mode.”

“That first interaction can make a huge difference with my boys,” she says, noting they each have their own disposition requiring a different style and energy level. She’ll listen to music accordingly on the way to pick up.

Despite her mastery of daily rituals, Suzanne is also a realist.

“Not every day is going to be a great day,” she says. “There are days where you’re going to say ‘today sucked’ and you know what? Who cares! Stick it in a box, understand why was today so bad; that doesn’t mean tomorrow has to be bad.”

“I’ve tried to instill this in my children as well,” she says.

Suzanne often tells her oldest, “you get to decide how today starts…you can leave the bad day in your bedroom. You have the power to shift what happens in the course of your day.”

“It’s a mindset shift for any of us being able to use what it is you know, to take it in a different direction,” she says.

Women Helping Women Succeed

I can’t help but think of Matrescence, when I reflect back on the refreshingly honest note that Suzanne ended our conversation with.

“It is highly unlikely that you will enjoy every season of motherhood and that is absolutely okay,” she says.

“We definitely don’t talk about that enough.”

“For some people, toddlerhood is magical and for others it’s nails on a chalkboard,” says Suzanne. “For some that newborn phase is absolutely delicious and for others it’s like ‘I can’t wait until I get through this. From one child to the next, it might change how you enjoy those seasons.”

“Toddlerhood for me is hands down the most challenging period.”

When a friend and former family therapist gave her this piece of advice, Suzanne no longer felt alone.

“Your tribe is unbelievably important and that can be a lot of different things,” she says. “It can be literally, your family, your friends, your neighbors, your colleagues…it can also be if you have a housekeeper, a mother’s helper, or you use whatever service to buy your groceries.

“The most important thing is to make it your own story,” says Suzanne. “Create what you personally need. Because people will dish out advice left and right; that’s just the reality of–not just when you become a working mother–but as you go from one stage to the next.”

She says it’s tempting to compare yourself with your friends, coworkers, siblings, neighbors and try to maintain the façade of having it all together.

“Figure out what it is you need to deal with that season and move onto the next,” Suzanne says.

“Take what you need, leave what you don’t, and adjust whatever it is that people give you, and make it work for your situation.”

40 Working Mom Stories That Made 2017 Shine Brighter

2017 was undoubtedly a big year for women, and looking back it feels like working mamas are finally getting a chance to shine.

From a conference dedicated to mompreneurs in San Francisco to booming Facebook groups with 20,000+ members, there is a movement of moms leading and building businesses, and redefining corporate culture in the process.

As a working mom myself, I haven’t written as many stories about all these amazing mamas as I’d like to, so I found Twitter to be the next best way to quickly spread the word.

Here’s a recap of 40 moms, moments and would-be blog post topics I found to be particularly inspiring in 2017:

Working Mom Tales From the Road

Discovering the Working Parent Resource podcast set the year on the right foot. (Thanks Sarah for everything you’re doing to help make it easier for working parents to find their way!) Here are some of the working mom voices that inspired my morning drive time:

There’s nothing that gives a busy mama more relief than hearing a kindred spirit tell their story, which was my experience hearing Drop the Ball: Achieving More by Doing Less author Tiffany Dufu share hers on the Heroine podcast:

The Naked Truth About Working Motherhood

Getting other humans out the door in the morning is nothing to sneeze at, and Liz Petrone managed to bring humor to the madness:

While Neha Mandhani reminded us why it’s helpful to embrace imperfection…

Motherly editor Colleen Temple perfectly captured the conflicted emotions of motherhood, “to every mother who wants to give herself a hug when she checks on her sleeping children post-bedtime because today was a tough-as-nails day and now in the still of the dark night, she wonders if she was enough, did enough—I’m that mama, too.”

SWAAY captured confessions from 14 working moms, including the mompreneur behind Kindred Bravely (softest maternity/nursing bra ever!):

Why It’s Worth the Working Mama Juggle

Sometimes we need a reminder of why we’re crazy enough to try and juggle it all. Two videos captured it very nicely — one from tried and true baby food brand Happy Baby and another from DigitalMums.com which helps create flexible jobs:

Tend Lab founding CEO Amy Henderson is championing the evolution of corporate culture to better recognize and support parenthood. In addition to her spot-on quotes about the benefits of working moms in Mother, she also moderated a fantastic panel on juggling it all at the In Good Company conference:

These quotes are the closest things I’ve found to an antidote for working mom guilt. The first comes from a profile of stylish mompreneurs behind Nomad CollectiveELLIS BROOKLYNFreshly Picked Baby MoccasinsPembroke PR, and Catherine Kwong Design in Mother. The second is from the Krazy Coupon Lady who appeared on Mario Armstrong’s Never Settle Show:

Making Life Before and After Maternity Leave A Little Easier

I loved the words of maternity-benefit pioneer, Maven‘s CEO and founder, Kate Ryder, on the GirlBoss podcast discussing how to make the most of her time in the office as a new mom, “One of the first things I did when I had a kid was reduce meetings to 30 minutes.”

Author of Here’s the Plan.: Your Practical, Tactical Guide to Advancing Your Career During Pregnancy and Parenthood and WeeSpring founder, Allyson Downey, is helping women educate themselves on maternity leave and returning to work after baby, as featured in Motherly:

Kim Chappell so eloquently captured the emotions of a new mom getting ready to head back to work after maternity leave, which made me want to reach through my phone and give her a reassuring hug:

Designer Sarah Sherman Samuel admits she “had no idea how I was going to feel, what I was going to take on, or how I was going to do it” once she became a working mother. She shared how she’s currently arranged childcare in a way that works for her:

A new mama who’s near and dear to the TripIt team, Natalie DiScala, wrote two great pieces for moms facing the reality of traveling for business, covering everything from nursing to childcare:

When Motherhood Inspires New Business Ideas

“Kids are the ultimate start-up.” I love this quote from the co-founder of bkr glass water bottles in Mother (which were a welcome inclusion in the spring The Zoe Report’s Box of Style along with other mompreneur-created products):

Sarah Michelle Gellar found the inspiration to start FoodStirs and step away from travel-intensive acting after she had her daughter:

Kango founder Sara Schaer set out to kick carpool chaos to the curb by launching a Lyft-like service in LA and SF, in which all the drivers are fingerprinted and background-checked:

Air Force veteran and Euphoric Herbals founder Cindy Collins started making herbal teas for her clients as a doula, around the time she had her first son. As her family grew, so did her business (from $3,200 in revenue in 2011 to more than $400,000 just five years later):

Beluga Baby wrap founder Haley Campbell launched her company four months after giving birth to her daughter. She lived to tell the tale in Motherly:

Advice from Women Who Paved the Way for Today’s Working Mamas

I’m lucky to be surrounded by inspiring women leaders at work, some of which were featured in Working Mother and Inc:

SitterCity CEO Elizabeth Harz has refined working motherhood by planning ahead and shared other tips with Working Mother on how to carve out more time and cut yourself some slack:

Jennifer Rudolph Walsh, the powerhouse literary agent behind Oprah, Sheryl Sandberg, Brene Brown and Arianna Huffington, reminded us that guilt is essentially useless:

Fashion mogul and pioneering mompreneur, Eileen Fisher, shared her one working mother regret on the How I Built This podcast:

Research that Gets it Right

It’s time for outdated research on “advanced maternal age,” “geriatric pregnancy” and my personal favorite, “elderly multigravida” to go the way of the dodo. The New York Times helped shed some light:

A study in the Atlantic followed up with 37 women who graduated together, 20 years later; the results from the  “Ambition Interviews” were both fascinating and heartbreaking. Authors Hana Schank and Elizabeth Wallace have written a book, The Ambition Decisions: What Women Know About Work, Family, and the Path to Building a Life, which comes out in June 2018:

Working Mom Voices Are Getting Louder

Melinda Gates became a welcome and powerful voice in the gender gap discussion by highlighting how America’s workaholic culture isn’t helping moms–or anyone really. She’s not the only recognizable face bringing much needed attention to the issues facing working moms:

As a “digital” participant of the inaugural In Good Company conference, I was delighted to see these recaps (and live vicariously through them) in Vogue and the San Francisco Chronicle:

Stitch Fix CEO Katrina Lake made headlines when she IPO’d with her toddler in tow. I was equally interested in surfacing the day-in-the-life secrets to her success as a mompreneur:

I can’t wait to see what 2018 holds in store for working moms. In the meantime, you can count on me to keep sharing stories every chance I get!

Finding a Village at the Office

I wrote this one year ago, and it’s one of the reasons why “Best for the Moment” is my working mom mantra.

There I was, standing in the back of a conference room, coffee cup in hand, holding back tears while listening to the leaders of my company speak about how hard it is to be a new parent.

I had made a special trip up to our headquarters, away from my 6-month-old, and felt like the exact message that I needed to hear in that moment had been crafted just for me.

My naivety thinking this particular business trip was merely a matter of logistics – fly up after bed time, have my husband do daycare drop off and grandma pick up – was coming back to bite me.

That first night away, I expected my son to go happily to sleep while I whizzed off in an Uber to the airport. But there were tears of protest about the interruption in our well-oiled routine. The next day he was all smiles on Facetime, but his tummy and teething bothered him later on.

My son didn’t need super mom, he just wanted his mom.

Where did this new working mama overdrive come from? Going back to work in the beginning of the year was refreshing. I cherished the early days of just me and my son spending time together, but I was ready to get back into the swing of things.

The hardest parts of returning to work were the adjustment to our new morning routine, when I frequently underestimated how long it would take to get two of us out the door, and pumping on trains, planes, in airports and hotels.

Otherwise, my first few weeks were mentally exhilarating. I felt sharp and focused, even while struggling to get a full night’s sleep during my son’s 4-month sleep regression.

That’s when I got cocky. Amidst my adrenaline rush returning to the job I love, I had fallen into the self-inflicted trap of trying to have it all.

I smoothed out the morning daycare drop offs with podcasts and lattes, and channeled my determination and focus into inspiring my team to make the most of every minute in and out of the office. I became a fan of recipe delivery boxes and experimented with subscriptions to personalized stylist picks. I double-counted gym trips as quality couple time.

I’ve always jumped at opportunities to improve myself, my health, and my career. But trying to do so while taking care of another human being is where I started to bumping into walls.

No one asked me to master every facet of my life, so why did I put so much pressure on myself?

As a new mom, it can be hard to find your compass. Where do those of us who are crazy enough to think we can have it all go to confess and commiserate?
Plenty of moms ban together around things like breastfeeding, baby-wearing or school admissions.

But for me, it’s at the office. And that’s been the biggest surprise. The same place that drives me is full of a community of moms who’ve been through the very same challenges.

So I’m learning to be more open about my struggles – even in the workplace – and I’m getting reassuring messages in return. The common theme is that no working mama can do it alone. “It takes a village” frequently rolls off the tongue, and everyone agrees that it’s trial and error until you figure out a system that works for you.

Admitting that I’m struggling at work too, is a first for me. This is incredibly humbling for someone who has never wanted to show weakness and said yes to every opportunity.

Even outside of work, I’m now trying to focus on the simple things that bring joy to me and our little family. Like making dinner and snuggling in bed on the weekends. If I can carve out time for those two favorite past times, I will consider it a huge accomplishment.

Most of all, I’m learning that to admit you can’t do it all, isn’t weak, it’s human.

Not super human. Just human.