“Between work and kids, I realized I wasn’t taking any time for me.”

“I heard the word ‘no’ a lot. And I got tired of hearing it.”

“I like being able to have a say in who I work with, and partner with the people that I want to partner with.”

A few weeks ago, we gathered Baltimore mom bosses to celebrate creativity, business, and motherhood. In addition to our panel of business owners, founders and executive directors, we featured local mom makers and retailers as part of a #MadeByMom marketplace. The setting for this cumulation of Charm City mom power? Green Spring Station — Baltimore’s largest collection of mom-owned boutiques.

To say that the evening was inspiring would be an understatement. There was a whole lotta laughter, a few collective gasps, and raucous story sharing interspersed with ‘a ha’ moments, and ‘been there’ moments. A string of commonalities emerged, weaving in and out of all of our stories. There was sage advice shared for navigating motherhood and leadership. We talked about working while raising kids. We talked about stepping away from careers while raising kids. We talked about why it’s important to not consider taking time off to be with your children as a career gap; rather, it’s a time when you’re honing skills.

We came to one powerful conclusion: no matter how you mother, motherhood prepares you to lead and build successful companies.

Don’t believe me? Let’s talk about juggling (i.e. prioritizing).

“As a mom, you have a ton of balls in the air. At any given time, you have to know which ball is the glass ball and which ball will bounce. Somedays, the glass ball is your business. Other days, it’s your kids,” said Katie Richardson, founder of YearCheer, a holiday subscription box service. 

Debra Williams, founder/creator of Campus Canopies, has an overnight success story that was years in the making. The idea for Campus Canopies came to her when she was moving her eldest daughter into her room at boarding school. In order to give her daughter privacy, she used items found at Home Depot and fabric to construct curtains around her twin bed. Debra had forgotten about it until she moved her youngest daughter into her dorm room. She wanted the same kind of curtains. And then her roommate wanted curtains. Debra knew she had a product and started manufacturing. But it wasn’t until two years later that things rocketed.

“I got a phone call from a boarding school asking me how quickly I could get them a Campus Canopies kit,” said Debra. The school was ready to string curtains down the middle of each dorm rooms in order to bring their students back in the middle of a pandemic. But the curtains weren’t really CDC compliant; so they wanted to see a Campus Canopy kit and determine whether or not Debra’s product would work for their school and meet the new regulations. Debra met them at 9:00 the next morning. She left with 400 orders. The next week, they told every boarding school they knew about Campus Canopies. Today, Campus Canopies is in 670 Barnes and Noble College Bookstores online.

You just never know when you need to spring into action when you run a business; just like you never know what curveball your toddler will throw.

Or, in the spirit of 2020, you never know when you’re going to need to pivot.

Dana Carr is the Executive Director of Leaders of Tomorrow Youth Center. The organization’s goal is to provide access to the arts to all children — so when the pandemic closed schools, Dana and her team had to act quickly and flex their approach. They partnered with Howard County Public Schools to offer in-person learning centers for students that supported their school-based virtual learning AND gave them in-person, hands-on arts instruction.

Unforeseen circumstances sparked conversation — and innovation. LTYC’s creativity landed them a $1 million contract.

Understanding the community’s needs is key to successful leadership; just liking understanding your child’s needs is the key to good parenting.

“Being a mom teaches you patience and to be a good listener,” said Mindy Leiken, co-owner of Necessary Secrets, a lingerie and swimwear boutique that has been in business at Green Spring Station for more than 35 years. “In retail you need to be able to listen to your customers’ needs so you can fit them in the proper undergarments. It also takes a lot of patience because show me one woman who is completely satisfied with their body! As we get older we learn to embrace what we have.”

 

It didn’t matter what line of business a  mom was in — non-profit, retail, education, research– there was one collective acknowledgement among all Mom bosses: no one has it all together, all of the time.

“I’m not sure how qualified I am to give any advice!” joked Angela Tandy, mom and owner of Sassanova Boutiques. “Some days I feel like I’m really crushing it and others… not so much. What I will say is that I try to maintain a healthy perspective on the work/motherhood balance. Some days my business will need to be my top priority, and some days all of my focus will turn to my family and kids. Most days, my attention is constantly in flux! Overall, I’m proud to be able to model for my boys what a business woman looks like – hard-working, multifaceted, and capable of accomplishing anything we set our minds to.”

Modeling work ethic, flexibility, and creativity for our kids might just be the key to raising the next generation of successful businesswomen. But as Vanessa Fava, owner of Panache Boutique at Green Spring Station says, when it comes to balancing motherhood and working, you make your own rules.

“There is no manuscript. No rules,” said Vanessa.

What does work, we discovered, is building community. Whether that community be with other like-minded businesswomen, fostering a mom positive work environment and bringing other moms onto your team, or having a mentor to bounce the crazy off of.

“It was important to me to build a mom positive workplace,” said Bridget Stickline, owner and founder of Wee Chic Boutique and the brand-new teen fashion destination, Girlhero. “There is a member of my team who leaves every day at 2:45 PM to pick up her daughter from school. Her daughter comes to the store, does homework in the back, and mom finishes her shift. When you’re flexible, you can retain great talent.”

In the spirit of building a mom-positive community, I decided that we need to do something with all of this amazing, local #mompower. Let’s harness it! Introducing the SparkMoms Community, hosted by (cool) progeny! This new subset community of (cool) progeny will offer events, professional development opportunities, a mentorship program, and creative networking options for Baltimore moms in business in 2022. In the meantime, we’ll be sharing stories and advice from local #mombosses on a new Instagram account. Follow along at @SparkMoms.

Want to be sure to get information about our new SparkMoms Community when it launches in January? Be sure to sign-up for our mailing list here.