Mama Shaker: Lisen, Helping Moms Work, Pause and Thrive

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It changed me in a powerful way.”

Women Helping Women Succeed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It Takes a Village

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Mama Makers from Head to Toe

This holiday wishlist is inspired by five women who overcame the highs and lows of “mompreneurship” all the way to the shelves of NORDSTROM (and beyond). From 80s designer Eileen Fisher to millennial mogul Kristin Cavallari, they span decades of building brands while raising children.

Note: Click on the holiday eye candy pictured below to see each listing on NORDSTROM.com (affiliate), where you can get up to 60% off through Monday, November 26:

1. Former “Laguna Beach” reality show star Kristin Cavallari’s latest venture, Uncommon James, is the subject of Bravo’s binge-worthy “Very Cavallari.” The mom of three young kids lives with her retired NFL husband in Nashville and recently published a New York Times bestselling cookbook, True Roots: A Mindful Kitchen with More Than 100 Recipes Free of Gluten, Dairy, and Refined Sugar.

These Uncommon James Strawberry Fields Jasper Tassel Earrings come in three (very Cavallari) neutrals for $52:


2. Eileen Fisher came of age as a designer in the 1980s, forging new paths in fashion and working motherhood. She reflected on the constant pull of both worlds in her How I Built This podcast interview.

At just under $100, this Eileen Fisher Check Plaid Organic Linen Top is 50% off and emblematic of how the brand has evolved while staying true to its origins:

3. Austin-based Kendra Scott built her namesake jewelry brand while raising three boys. She writes about being a mom first on her blog, noting she built a company culture to make this possible.

This Kendra Scott Birthstone Pendant Necklace is $37.50 and might be just the thing for this emerald-seeking mama to add to my collection.

4. Orthopedic surgeon turned footwear designer Taryn Rose recaps her journey from idea to multiple buyouts, and the toll it took on her relationships (which you can listen to here). While she’s spent the last 7 years reinvesting time with her kids and focusing on her health, her brand has returned to its core mission of making women feel better about supportive footwear.

The Taryn Rose Graziella Ankle Strap Pump is currently 40% off (about $255), a significant markdown from its original price of $425.

5. Rebecca Minkoff was just featured on the GirlBoss Radio podcast talking about her big break when Jenna Elfman wore one of her original pieces on The Tonight Show. Fast forward to 2018, and Rebecca is now a mother of three and just started the Female Founder Collective to support other women entrepreneurs.

At first blush, you’d never guess this piece de resistance is a diaper bag. The Rebecca Minkoff Logan Studded Nylon Baby Tote is $325.

Mama Shaker: Amy from TendLab

One week from now, Amy Henderson will open the relief valve for a group of working mothers in the heart of San Francisco’s high-pressured tech scene, during a lunchtime “Career Moms” cohort that starts up September 5.

“We ask each mom to share one of the moments they’re most ashamed about in the confluence of their journey of working and parenting,” says Amy, CEO and co-founder of TendLab.

“There’s so much that happens when you become a new mom that feels isolating and shameful,” says Amy. “When you’re in a cohort of others who have either experienced, it or are experiencing it, it de-stigmatizes it and you realize you’re not alone.”

For Amy, her boiling point came when she lost nine pounds working 20 hours a day for two weeks on the #YesWeCode initiative to increase diversity in the tech sector.

She had brought along her husband, two kids and mother-in-law to New Orleans, because her exclusively-breastfed youngest refused to eat anything else. So the four hours of sleep she was squeezing in, weren’t entirely hers.

To top it off, she found out she was pregnant again a few weeks later, which would mean she’d soon have three kids under the age of four.

“I had always been really committed to my career,” said Amy. “It’s like the wheels fell off the bus.”

Amy’s moment of panic led to an epiphany, as she dialed up dozens of high-powered working moms to find out how they managed it all.

“What happened was this organic revelation that many of these moms had: ‘I’m performing better in my career because of my kids, not in spite of them,'” she says.

Amy soon learned that there was neuroscience to back it up. (You can read more about the important role of oxytocin here along with more of the wisdom gleaned from her findings.)

In a particularly impactful conversation with the original VP of HR for Twitter, Amy learned the same skills acquired in parenting “are the skills needed in the workplace of the future.”

“The light bulbs went off, the heavens opened up, and I was like okay!”

Amy had stumbled upon the catalyst for TendLab, and the woman who would become her future co-founder.

And so their mission became “to unlock the power and potential of parenthood in the workplace.”

In addition to the “Career Moms” cohort, which Amy believes “can actually be fuel for really positive transformation in our own lives and in our collective society,” TendLab also offers workshops, consulting and special events.

To learn about scholarships available for the 4-week cohort, leave a comment below or contact me directly.

In addition, you can read more about the neuroscience and career benefits of parenting–for actively engaged mothers and fathers alike–in articles Amy’s penned for Mother Magazine, Fast Company and Slate.

Mama Maker: Luba by Hannah Payne

A mere month after the launch of Luba–a clothing brand to honor and support resilient women–Hannah’s own strength was put to the test as she faced a jolting start to motherhood.

“If I wanted to have a baby, it needed to be then,” says Hannah, about the moment she learned she had a severe case of endometriosis.

The self-described “feminine and girly” Parsons graduate had just started a socially conscious, lace-adorned line in contrast to the rugged outdoor brands that surrounded her in Denver, where she had relocated for her husband to attend law school.

Things took a turn for the worse when Hannah found out 20 weeks into her pregnancy that she had a mass on her placenta, called a chorioangioma. As she went digging for stories from women who’d been through it, she kept running into case studies that cited a 50 percent survival rate and risk of heart failure following birth.

“The whole time I was trying to figure out if I was going to keep Luba alive and I decided I needed to continue it,” she says.

“I obviously pulled back a little; but, it helped me keep my mind off of this terrible thing that was happening.”

Her daughter arrived eight weeks early, which introduced its own set of complications, but they all made it through that difficult chapter.

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The rest of Hannah’s story is full of intricate layers and textures, just like the clothing she creates.

The inspiration for the brand comes from its namesake: her tough-as-nails grandmother Luba, who survived a concentration camp but was taken by cancer at just 42 years old.

“I never had the chance to meet her,” says Hannah. “But just from the stories that I’ve heard about her, she was such an inspirational person. And my mom is so strong and so inspirational, and so are my aunts. So I just thought she’s the perfect kind of matriarch for the brand.”

Hannah treasures her heirlooms from Luba–including a leather trench coat with an emblem stitched into its lining that inspired the logo for her brand–as well as from “Glamma,” her dressed-to-the-nines grandmother on her dad’s side.

“I just love the idea of passing something down,” she says, about designing clothing to last a lifetime.

Women Helping Women Succeed

“I know the women that are actually sewing the clothes,” she says. “We’re a brand for women by women. Most of these women are immigrants who came to the United States to get a better life for their family…and so it’s full circle. It’s really cool to see and to know these women.”

With generations of strong women as the inspiration behind Luba, there’s meaning woven into every garment and aspect of Hannah’s business and accompanying foundation.

“Like a woman, she’s beautiful on the inside and the outside,” said Hannah, as she showed me the silk interior of one of her pieces.

“It’s a clean finish and really quality product and it’s beautiful and feminine and really fun fabric. At the same time, you really are doing more because a percentage of every sale is going directly to a shelter.”

When Hannah was taking a social entrepreneurship course in college, she uncovered some jarring statistics about the lack of funding for women’s shelters.

“She said our biggest problem is we turn down women and children every day,” recounts Hannah of her conversation with a director of a women’s shelter at the time. “It’s not just like getting them out, you know, and giving them shelter for two nights. You really have to break the cycle. You have to give them all these opportunities that they don’t normally have.”

The idea to create a foundation that helps women’s shelters overcome their lack of funding came into the forefront again when Hannah was dreaming up Luba.

“When I went to actually write my real business plan, it was the exact same kind of structure and idea and mission statement when I had written it three years prior,” she says.

She experienced the same sense of serendipity while deciding on a name for the foundation. After Googling Luba, Hannah discovered it means “Love” in Russian. And so the Luba LOVE Foundation was born.

Hannah points out that domestic violence can show up in places where you least expect it. She recalled a story where she spoke at a women’s luncheon in Aspen. Afterwards, a well-to-do woman approached her.

“You were just talking about my life,” the woman said. “It took me eight times,” she told Hannah, about finally getting the courage to take her kids and leave an abusive relationship.

How this Mompreneur Makes it Work

Working in the fashion business means Hannah has to spend time on both coasts, despite her land-locked home base. Understandably, she’s spent a lot of time carefully working out childcare arrangements that she feels good about.

“I feel like I have to make my time away from her valuable and important,” she says. “There’s such a thing as mom guilt and I have it all the time; especially when I’m traveling a lot. And so I think to myself, I’m doing this for her.”

“I was just so close to losing her that I’m just so cautious about everybody,” she says, recalling the first time she left her with a new caregiver.

“I remember I drove to the airport and I was terrified something was going to happen,” she says. “I was like this is probably not a good fit if I am that nervous about leaving her.”

“We finally found someone that I love. She is just so sweet and my daughter loves her. And so that’s been really nice to have like a steady person that we really like.”

During the summer, when airports are less germ-ridden, Hannah brings her daughter along to stay with family members in New York or Los Angeles, where all of her clothing is made.

“I would not be where I am today without my support system,” she says.

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“I feel like designing is in my soul, says Hannah. “And so if I stopped, I would really lose a part of myself.”

In the spirit of her grandmother, her daughter and the legacy she wants to leave behind, Hannah has learned to celebrate small victories and take the “really low lows” in stride.

“I would just say, keep going. That’s the biggest thing; never give up. Just keep going.”

Mama Maker: Karli from Unlisted Market

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Women Helping Women Succeed

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

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

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

How this Mompreneur Makes it Work

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

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

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

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

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

Mama Shaker: Dr. Sharon Somekh of Raiseology

When her oldest daughter started middle school, pediatrician Sharon Somekh decided it was time to re-orient her career around what she loved most about her profession: working with parents.

In March, she left her practice and launched Raiseology, so she could build “more meaningful relationships” with parents virtually from her home office while being an “accountability partner” for her 11-year-old.

“I help anxious parents go from feeling like a deer in headlights to feeling like they can really do this… to the point where they can stop being so anxious about the day-to-day and really enjoy what they have in front of them–which is their kids.”

“We all love our kids and want what’s best for them,” she says.

Women Helping Women Succeed

As a mother of four daughters, ranging from 3 years and up, Sharon has personally navigated through multiple stages of working motherhood. For her, it was actually easier to get through 80 hour weeks as a resident when her first two were very young.

“One of my mentors said something to me that I’ve since told many, many moms,” says Sharon. “When your children are young is when you will feel better working more. A lot of moms think when their kids grow up, they’ll go back to work. You don’t realize that that’s when it’s hard to go back.”

She says feeling secure in your childcare arrangement and getting help are key to making it through the early years–I couldn’t agree more.

“Whether it’s emotional help, coaching help, physical help, outsourcing certain things you don’t enjoy doing at home–it will make your life much easier and it’s worth every investment in yourself to do that,” says Sharon.

Part of that support has come from moms who pitched in for preschool pick up and drop off. Her then 3-year-old started to notice and at one point told Sharon she wanted to be a stay-at-home mom when she grows up.

“Nothing hurts more than that,” she said. “But when she asked me ‘why do you work?’ I gave her a very honest answer. I think we underestimate what our kids understand and we need to have real conversations–that are age appropriate–with them.”

“Every mom has mom guilt,” she says. “They may have guilt about different things, but they still feel guilty.”

She says knowing your limitations benefits both you and your children.

“I think the example we set for our kids is really important. I like that they see that I’m a driven person and I value what I have to offer and think it’s important enough to put it out into the world.”

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How this Mompreneur Makes it Work

“If you’re asking how I manage four kids, I don’t,” Sharon says pointing to the independence that she’s fostered in each of her children.

She described a recent parent-teacher event where another mother she was volunteering with called her 11-year-old three times to make sure she was getting ready for school.

“I did not have a doubt in the world that my daughter was waiting for the school bus,” says Sharon.

Her 8-year-old makes her own lunch for school, and Sharon and her husband are currently training their 5-year-old to get herself dressed with the help of routines and checklists.

“It takes effort in the beginning, but it definitely has amazing payoff…and it’s great for the kids because one day they’re not going to be living in your house.”

You can learn more about Sharon’s “system of empowerment and independence” on her blog. In addition to her group program for parents of toddlers to school-age kids, she also consults parents of infants one-on-one, and she’s launching a podcast this summer.

Mama Shaker: Lori from Mindful Return

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Women Helping Women Succeed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Asking For It

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So where to begin?

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

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

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

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

How This Mompreneur Makes it Work

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

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

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

Before the kids wake up, this includes:

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

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

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

After work:

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

Her evenings after the kids go to bed, include:

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

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

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

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!

When Working Mamas Need a Break

I’ve been hibernating. I haven’t written a blog post in two months. I just didn’t have it in me to give up any spare moments of rest. But I know I’m not alone.

Some of the most driven mamas I know — who are actively raising young children, working in corporate jobs and even building businesses on the side — find themselves needing to turn one dial down from time to time, like Sarah from Piperoos.

For Paula from Ceh Flora Gifts, caring for an aging parent comes with many curve balls. But it also puts things in perspective, and can even be a source of inspiration to change direction.

I’m learning from the mompreneurs I speak to that we all have different modes. Sometimes we’re on, sometimes we’re off. Building a career, a family and a business (or passion project) has to be at our own pace. But it’s hard to give yourself that forgiveness.

Patagonia has proven that you can keep an eye on the long game, while having ups and downs along the way:

“We didn’t know if we were going to make it or not,” said Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia on NPR’s “How I Built This,” about the period following a down turn.

“All decisions from then on were made as if we were going to be here 100 years from now. So, slowing down the growth, saying no to a lot of opportunities and just being more responsible.”

“One year we’ll grow 3 percent, another year we’ll grow 20 percent,” said Chouinard. “It’s not this smooth curve like public companies that have to grow 15 percent every year… There are two kinds of growth, one where you grow stronger and one where you grow fat.”

This philosophy comes from the same company that retains 100% of its moms by providing on-site childcare.

Have you taken time to recharge lately? I’d love to hear your story.

How Working Moms Build and Lead with Limited Time

In the age of startups, #hustle, and productivity gurus, never has so much emphasis been placed on the relationship between hours and success. Typically, this results in a frenetic work ethic that’s not sustainable for working parents and other groups that are responsible for the livelihood of family members.

It’s been five years since Anne Marie Slaughter nailed it on the head in “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All,” challenging “the belief that more time equals more value.” Sadly, her words still ring true: “the culture of ‘time macho’—a relentless competition to work harder, stay later, pull more all-nighters, travel around the world and bill the extra hours that the international date line affords you—remains astonishingly prevalent among professionals today.”

This precedent is in direct conflict with the realities of parenting: kids get sick, daycare isn’t always available, and doctors offices have limited hours. It’s time to be more transparent about the demands on working mothers, and elevate examples of leadership and entrepreneurship that don’t lead to burnout – or workforce dropout entirely.

For this series, I’m going to focus on working moms for two reasons:

  • While there’s been a lot of debate about the gender gap, examples of how women are building or leading companies – while actively raising children – aren’t typically part of the conversation. Without these stories, young women won’t have examples to inspire their early career choices, and women who are going through the life-altering transformation of becoming mothers will too easily feel defeated.
  • As a toddler mom, I’ve become somewhat of a cultural anthropologist on this topic for the last few years. I believe working moms are in a unique position to reshape corporate leadership and dispel the myths that perpetuate cut-throat startup culture. Stories from female founders who are simultaneously building companies and families are innovative by design.

Without further ado, let’s get into it!

How Do You Build or Lead with Limited Time?

I’ve been fixated on answering this question for years, starting long before I became a mom. I was intimidated by the idea of working motherhood, so I read voraciously like any type A person would. From I Don’t Know How She Does It to I Know How She Does It, and Lean In, I couldn’t guzzle down stories about working moms fast enough.

While these gateway stories were inspiring, I finally felt empowered when any notions of super mom flew out the window. By talking to other parents with the same sleep deprivation or childcare struggles, it released the pressure I was needlessly putting on myself to return to my pre-maternity leave pace.

The way Sarah Argenal from the Working Parent Resource put it into words really resonated with me: “As an overachiever in my life before kids, I was used to learning new skills and then mastering them. To put it bluntly, I was used to being good at things in my life; and one of the hardest things I had to do as a parent was realize that I was never going to be perfect at it. Our kids change all the time, and it was really disorienting to have to adapt and adjust to every new developmental stage that my child went through.”

The same can be said for how I previously spent work time. I was used to saying yes to every opportunity, traveling on a regular basis, and spreading my time across a lot of different projects and people. I had to completely rethink how I used and valued my time as a mother.

By surfacing stories about how working moms are building businesses or leading organizations, we can address “time” as a major contributor to the gender gap.

How Working Moms Make the Most of Limited Time

No matter the method, these stories – and the resources that follow – are about placing a premium on the hours you have available, rather than treating your time as a never-ending commodity. It’s also about recognizing your limits and making adjustments when you need to.

Whitney, founder of SproutFit, juggles a corporate job that requires frequent business travel, her new adjustable baby clothing start-up, and a 3-year-old: “It’s a lot of prioritizing, a lot of asking for forgiveness of friends and family members when I can’t go to events because I’m traveling, or when I need to take a me day,” says Whitney.

“My biggest thing right now is truly prioritizing, and learning what can be priority A, B and C,” she says. “Being able to communicate with my husband; with his traveling job and my traveling job, we have to make sure we’re keeping everything in check. It’s a lot of communication, a lot of priority checking and a lot of saying no.”

“I wasn’t always good at saying no,” says Whitney. “But, I’m pretty good at saying no now because it’s to protect, my family, my sanity and my future… our future.”

Sarah, founder of Piperoos, is going through “a phase where the balance of juggling Piperoos, and family and my day job has shifted in favor of family and day job.” In addition to a new role at work, she’s had to temporarily prioritize “the logistics of moving our family, and figuring out school, the new ballet class and swimming” over her environmentally conscious baby brand.

This isn’t the first time Sarah has had to rethink how she spends her time: “I struggled a huge amount after having my daughter. My identity had been so tied up in my career for so long.”

“Even if you have a really supportive spouse at home, even if you have a company that has set up structures in place that are supportive, you still end up facing a burden from a career perspective that you wouldn’t as a male in that situation,” she says.

Tips & Resources

  • Get a reality check on how many hours you have available: In the book I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time, there are actual calendars of working moms with leadership positions and high pressure jobs. Many of the women interviewed overestimated the actual time spent on work, which helps debunk the myth that everyone else is putting in more hours than you.
  • Figure out what your unique contribution is: Find the sweet spot between the work you’re most passionate about, what others perceive your super power to be, and your impact on the bottom line. Once you do, it becomes very clear how to prioritize your precious time and help your team stay focused. It also makes the logistics of how you get your work done less of an issue, because the value you deliver is ultimately what matters.
  • Get into alignment before tackling your most important work: This is about creating the conditions to tap into flow, which allows you to create quality without a lot of quantity (as measured by time). It’s a popular topic in podcasts like The Lively Show. Don’t be discouraged by morning rituals, which can be difficult when you’re trying to get kids out the door. As an alternative, you can pinpoint optimal pockets of uninterrupted time in the day for your most important problem-solving or creative work.
  • Cluster your hustle: As someone who works primarily from home, I arrange for one 12+ hour day per week to travel to and from the office, when extended childcare can be covered by family. I make the most of the long train commute, respond to emails while hopping from train to bus to Lyft, and then I can be fully present with my team in the office. Same goes for major customer events or conferences. The other days of the week, Zoom, Slack, texts and calls make it seamless to stay connected with my colleagues, and then I’m available for my family in the morning and evening.
  • Bring in reinforcements: There are likely many things you don’t need to be the one to do, in order to make room for the things that only you can do. In today’s sharing economy, there’s no reason you can’t preserve precious parenting time outside of work by outsourcing grocery shopping, laundry, housecleaning, your wardrobe, and more. By creating income for others, you can carve out time for you – and your family.

There’s so much more to say on this topic! If you have experiences to share, I would love for you to be part of the conversation. Please pipe in, either in the comments below, or by reaching out to me directly so we can chat.