How She Does It | Debi Yadegari

Sometimes, life serves you lemonade. Oftentimes, life only gives you the lemons. May is one of those in-between months when you can’t really tell what’s on the table. Am I getting there, or is there more see for me to traverse?

The national lock-down measures are gradually lifting: as of today I am allowed to go get myself a haircut, yet at the same time I remain skeptical about how soon I will actually feel comfortable to exercise that right. My professional self is still stuck at home on mandatory remote-work arrangement for yet another month. So, yay, no heels until June, as I am trying hard to convince myself (and my family) that I am not burning out. That I am coping. That I’m in this for the long run. Some days run smooth. Other days, I get flooded by inspiration stemming from the amazing people I meet along the way of the working parenthood journey.

Take Debi Yadegari, for instance: a mother of five (!), ex-banker/lawyer and active working parents’ advocate. A sunny example to us all working parents: if Debi can pull it off, Momma, we all can! One of the most positive people on the list, Debi keeps inspiring others with her broad societal impact as founder and CEO of MommaWork, frequent independent content contributor to the Working Mother Magazine and Certified Lactation Counselor! Her curriculum is stunning, but even more so is her can-do attitude!

Here’s one way Debi helps working parents: Employers register their working parent staff (and working parents-to-be!) with MommaWork, and MommaWork goes on to connect them with experts who assist with everything: from fertility, breastfeeding, sleep coaching and child-rearing, to creating transition plans, navigating difficult workplace conversations and much more. This way coaches and consultants help working parents maintain an upward career trajectory, while achieving their parenting goals! But employee assistance is just one part of the offering.

MommaWork also helps employers create family-friendly workplaces that promote diversity and inclusion, through manager sensitivity training. They partner with HR to shape their corporate culture, and develop the policies necessary to support their working parents. Debi and her team ensures that employers are legally compliant with federal, state and local lactation accommodation laws. They also rent hospital-grade breast pumps while consulting on the design of their clients’ lactation rooms! It’s practically a one-stop shop to turning the workplace more parent-friendly!

To make waves of progress and change the corporate landscape with regards to working parents, we need more employers actively caring for their working parents, and more employees demanding respective support from their employers! Knowing what Debi and MommaWork bring to the table, I am convinced they are on the right track, and feel deeply privileged (and pumped!) to welcome Debi in this month’s “How She Does It” column!

Debi Yadegari, Founder & CEO at Mommawork

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I’m Debi Yadegari and I am the Founder and CEO of MommaWork.  MommaWork is an employer-paid benefit that helps working parents achieve their parenting goals and professional success by connecting employees with coaches and assisting employers with the creation of family-friendly workplaces.  But more importantly, I am a working mother of five. 

Before I became “mom,” I earned a double bachelors from Barnard College of Columbia University in economics and political science, and a law degree from George Washington University.  Once a Wall Street lawyer, I traded my briefcase for a diaper bag in 2005 and I have been supporting working parents ever since.  I walked away from my last employer for two reasons: (1) my employer did not support working parents, and (2) my workplace was not equipped to support my breastfeeding goals.  Recognizing my experience was not uncommon I started MommaWork. 

Today, while managing a growing business dedicated to the success of working parenthood, I am extremely busy organizing the needs of my 14 year old daughter, 13 year old son, 11 year old daughter, 9 year old son, 3 year old son, a supportive hubby and a 6 year old puppy, who is absolutely the best listener of them all.  We live just outside New York City, in the suburbs of Long Island where my kids are fortunate enough to have a backyard, yet still prefer electronics.  It’s a constant struggle for even the best of us! 

My passion in life is absolutely my family.  They are what motivate all that I do!  But of course, the juggle of family and work is taxing and for that reason, I find myself seeking solace from two outlets: hip hop dance classes and tennis.  There is nothing like focusing on difficult dance choreography or a ball coming fast and hard straight at you, to force you to focus and give your mind a much-needed break.  And, as much as time and opportunity allows, I engage my children in opportunities to give back to society.  Whether it is delivering groceries to a food bank, or collecting items of need for others, it is important we teach our children to look beyond ourselves and seek opportunities to help. 

Stemming from your personal experience, what is the toughest part of being a Mom, and how do you manage it?

As a working mom of five, dividing my time is hands down the toughest party of motherhood.  Whether it is a matter of helping with homework, or driving to and from activities, I cannot always be there.  And even when I am home, I have five kids vying for my attention.  I address this in a number of ways. 

First, I hire help.  I don’t pretend to be superhuman, and I know I cannot do it alone.  I have an amazing au pair who lives with us and helps with the children.   Second, I believe in communication.  I make sure there are no surprises and my children know and understand when I will and will not be there.  And when I can’t be there, they understand why not.  Third, I make special time for each child.  While I cannot always be there for each child, I make time to give each child my undivided attention. 

I am a big believer in making memories that children will remember.  They will not remember the times you couldn’t help with homework or pick up them up from dance class, but they will always remember a day off from school, spent with mom.  If you can’t be there at bedtime, have a morning pajama dance party and top it off with a pancake breakfast.  Like most things in life, quality over quantity is what counts.  That said, I still have guilt.  It’s the perpetual albatross of motherhood.

Who is (are) your go-to person(s) when you need support as a Mother? What type of support are you mostly in need of?

My best support is my partner in life – my husband.  He is there for me when it gets hard, when I need to tap out, and when I need a sounding board.  He knows me, he understands my stresses, and he is able to not only provide the advice and encouragement I need at times, but he is a physical presence to help me with the kids and offer affection.  He makes me laugh, he makes me happy, and he makes me a better mother.  Parenting is hard, and it is essential that every parent has someone with whom to share their day, their interactions with the kids and the good, the bad and the ugly of work.  I am very lucky to have my husband in my life.

What’s the No1 Skill (or Ability, or Knowledge) you have found handy in your role as a Mom?

A mother’s greatest strength is the ability to remain calm.  Whether it is an emergency, a temper tantrum, or an argument with your partner – keep calm.  And laugh!  It is harder to do as a newer parent, but laughter diffuses a situation. 

After the birth of my 5th child, my husband was with me at the hospital when our little guy was in the bassinet and began to wail.  My husband and I looked at each other, locked eyes and just laughed.  That definitely was not our reaction to our first born!  But the 5th time around, we had both developed a sense of calm to seemingly emergent situations.  In part, because we had the perspective and the knowledge to know our baby was 100% OK.  I always say if only I could go back and do motherhood over with what I know now…. I am a different parent with #5, than I was with #1 – clearly.  But looking back, even without that experience I have today, I could have chilled a bit!

Staying calm is important with little kids.  Do not let them frazzle you.  They may not yet have the communication skills to relay their emotions, but remember – you do!  Get down on your knees, meet them at their eye level and speak to them in a calm voice, always acknowledging their emotions.  Explain what is happening, as you see it, and explain how you can make it better – together.  Same goes for older kids.  Remain calm.  When they burst out, do not elevate the situation by yelling back.  Give them a moment, take a moment for yourself and respond in an appropriate manner.  And sometimes, you just have to laugh! 

When my oldest daughter was 11 and her hormones were starting to bubble, she asked me for help with homework.  I said “sure sweetie,” but before I knew it she screamed something or another, stormed off and slammed her bedroom door.  At that moment, I had two choices: (1) engage her or (2) remain calm and laugh at the growing pains.  I chose the latter.  She reemerged 30 minutes later, apologized quickly and the day went on as if nothing had ever happened. 

Remaining calm is absolutely the best secret weapon!  It especially works, when your child knows they have been naughty and you just give them that look, keep your voice calm and ask them, in a slow and steady voice, “what happened?”  A calm parent can sometimes be the scariest parent!

What advice do you have for a new Mom?

First, you cannot spoil a baby!  Spend as much time with your baby as possible.  They crave the attention for a reason.  They need it for for their development and sense of security.  So don’t let a baby cry, breastfeed on demand and allow that baby to snuggle close to you and do so as often as possible.

Next, keep perspective and temper your expectations!  Sometimes the toughest parts of childhood are absolutely age appropriate.  Baby not sleeping through the night?  Normal!  Toddler displaying lack of patience?  Normal!  Teenager being difficult?  Normal!  I often see parents become frustrated over behaviors that are absolutely normal.  We cannot always expect our children to live up to our standards of behavior and sometimes we must meet our child at their level.  For example, if you are somewhere with a young child and your young child’s behavior is not allowing you to enjoy the conversation or company, take your cues from your child and leave. 

Finally, when in doubt, relax and just laugh at the complexity of the moment.  Sometimes that is all you can do!  Make light of the diaper explosion – maybe it was your baby’s way of telling you she didn’t like your outfit.  Are you exhausted from being up all night?  Maybe you were destined to sit on the couch the next day, breastfeeding your baby and binge-watching Netflix.  Go with it! 

The days are long, but the years fly by!  I promise there is a light at the end of the tunnel and realize feeling frustrated is normal.  We all question our choices, decisions and worry whether or not we are doing our best, but guilt is proof positive that you are doing something right.  And recognize by the time you finally figure out one stage of development, you will have already moved onto the next one and probably be confused all over again.  Finally, and most important, enjoy every moment.  Within time, you will trade anything in the world to just hold your baby in your arms again.

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