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.

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 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.