Focus on doing only the things in your life that fulfill you. Say no to all the rest, and don’t apologize for it! When we commit to tasks that drain us, we don’t have the energy to be present and joy-filled with our families. Do one thing for yourself every day, whether it’s a workout, talking to a friend for a few minutes or indulging in a favorite food. In order to be fully present, you have to be in a good place mentally and making time for self-care is imperative to achieving that mental stability and balance.
I had the pleasure to interview Erin Engelke. Erin is the Executive Director for Calm Waters, a nonprofit in Oklahoma City that serves children and families who have experienced loss due to death or divorce, providing free support groups and other services. She is a public speaker and trainer for Strata Leadership as well as a writer and blogger for her personal brand, Beauty in the Busyness, www.beautyinthebusyness.com. She is frequently tapped to speak on issues relating to branding, non-profit marketing and management, but her deepest passion is empowering other working moms to resist the pull to achieve work-life balance, instead seeking a fulfilled life. Her expertise and real-life perspectives have been heard on stages across Oklahoma, most notably as a TEDx speaker in 2014. A graduate of Oklahoma Christian University, Erin serves on the Board of Trustees for The Christian Chronicle, President-Elect for the Public Relations Society of America, past president of the Association of Women in Communications, and an active member of the Junior League of Oklahoma City. Erin’s greatest pride is her family — her husband, son and two daughters.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the “backstory” behind what brought you to this point in your career?
I began my career in corporate and agency PR and marketing, with every intent of rising the corporate ladder, but four years in, quickly discovering my skillset and experience could best be utilized in supporting the development and marketing efforts of the nonprofit sector. Little did I know how much I would fall in love with the nonprofit community and fundraising! Over the past 15 years, I’ve led and managed marketing and development teams at four notable charities — World Neighbors, Feed the Children, Sunbeam Family Services and now, most recently, transitioned to Executive Director of Calm Waters Center for Children & Families. In all four instances, I stepped in at a time when change was greatly needed and when a solid fundraising/marketing foundation needed to be developed. I excel at building a team and program from the ground up — quickly identifying what needs to be done and rallying a staff to help execute a strategy. I’ve seen what works locally and what works best nationally, applying all of those principles to my work and pushing the status quo when needed.
Can you share with us how many children you have?
I have three little rays of sunshine. My son, Gabriel is 13, Ava is 10 and Elin is 7.
Where were you in your career when your child was born/became part of your family?
I was 7 months pregnant with my firstborn son when I was promoted to the position of Vice President of Marketing & Communications for an international nonprofit, World Neighbors.
Did you always want to be a mother? Can you explain?
Yes! I knew from the time I was a little girl that I wanted to be a mom. In fact, my own mother likes to remind me of the times I would pretend to give birth in my playroom as a little girl. Little did I know at the time how painful it would actually be!
Did motherhood happen when you thought it would or did it take longer? If it took longer, what advice would you have for another woman in your shoes?
Each of my children is such a gift. I struggled with infertility for five years and had four miscarriages during that time, so to have three beautiful and healthy children now is a dream come true. I battled depression during the years of my losses and survived through the support of other friends around me who were also dealing with fertility problems. I also found it incredibly healing to name each of my lost children, even though I didn’t know all of their genders. In my heart, I knew and being able to give them a name made them more real and loved. I would strongly urge other women dealing with infertility or miscarriages to find a community of support. Early on, I was afraid to talk about how I was feeling and it wasn’t until I found a support group that I was able to let go of a lot of the hurt and pain.
Can you tell us a bit about what your day-to-day schedule looks like?
No matter what time my alarm goes off each morning, I’m never ready for it! I love to sleep, but I also love starting my day with a burst of energy, which in my case means a hard 4 to 5 mile run first thing when I get up. From there, I head to work as Executive Director of Calm Waters, the only grief center in Central Oklahoma serving children and families who’ve experienced a loss due to death or divorce. There’s no one day that’s just the same at work, and I wouldn’t want it any other way! I spend time in meetings with board members, review grants, visit with donors or do media interviews. I serve on three boards which means I am constantly juggling those responsibilities on top of my work and home life. I’m also a paid trainer and speaker for Strata Leadership so it’s not atypical for me to be fielding and/or booking speaking engagements.
After leaving work, I try to catch a few minutes at the gym to lift weights before heading home to either (1) run a kiddo to dance class, golf lessons or acting rehearsals or (2) cook dinner. I’m a planner and work hard to meal prep for lunches and dinners most days of the week. I use my crockpot constantly. In fact, I’m pretty sure it’s the same one I got for our wedding 21 years ago and it’s still working great! We eat clean foods — lots of healthy vegetables, fruits and little processed foods. I’m no short order cook so our kids eat what I make! If I were to ask them what their favorite meal is that I cook, they would tell you either salmon and brown rice or my meatloaf.
After dinner is cleaned up, our family enjoys sitting on our patio and talking, playing with our adorable new member of the family — Max, the labradoodle — or simply catching up on our day. Because we live on some land, we have lots of wide open space for a game of baseball or kite-flying. We also have chickens, which are entirely the kids’ responsibility, even though they don’t always love feeding them. That rooster can be mean!
Honestly, winding down the day is the hardest. I’d usually love nothing more than to finally sit down and catch a break but that generally doesn’t happen until I collapse into bed well after 10pm. Our kids find every possible excuse not to shower, put on their pajamas and get to bed so we try to start the hounding early. Routine is important to me and to my kids (even though they likely wouldn’t admit to that!) and we try to maintain a schedule, in spite of our multiple evening commitments.
Has being a parent changed your career path? Can you explain?
Being a mom has changed the way I view life, both personally and professionally. I am much more attuned to how I spend my time, what I focus on and what goals I set for myself. I largely made the transition from corporate to nonprofit management because I wanted my time away from home to be meaningful and use my skillset to better my community.
Has being a mother made you better at your job? How so?
YES! I like to say I’m more efficient now that I’m a mom. Because I want every ounce of time I can with my family, I don’t waste much time during my day and have found ways to maximize my workload so I can get home at a reasonable hour, even if that means I have to bring work home and focus on it after the kids go to bed. I love to socialize with my team and will make time for fun in the office too! We can’t be serious and productive all the time, but I am driven to make the most of every minute of every day. I grew up with a mother who always pushed me to live out the mantra of “Work first, then play.” I have to be mindful of the need to sometimes just play and not work…because ultimately, the work is never done, whether it’s writing a report, folding laundry or organizing a closet.
What are the biggest challenges you face being a working mom?
The greatest challenge for me is the pressure I put on myself to do it all as a mom…and to do it just right. Thanks to a supportive husband and my children who remind me regularly that I’m the “best mom ever”, I’ve ~mostly~ learned to focus more on the quality of my time with my children and less on doing it all perfectly.
Are there any stories you remember from the early days of parenthood that you want to share?
One of my most distinct memories as a young mother was when I traveled 1,900 miles away from home to a remote village of Guatemala for work where I was separated from my 9 month old firstborn for an enduringly long 10 days. As a first time nursing mama, this was an experience I was ill prepared for. Yet I refused to allow a work trip, no electricity and no way to communicate back home to keep me from being connected to him. So I pumped and dumped. I wrote in a journal every night — letters from mother to child, telling him how much I loved him, shedding uncontrollable tears for being away from him. And then prayed that he would still nurse once I got home (which he did!).
Are there any meaningful activities or traditions you’ve made up or implemented that have enhanced your time with your family? Can you share a story or example?
I love traditions and creating special memories with my children, and began incorporating them into our family when the kids were very young. One of our favorites is our Valentine’s Day tradition. We make homemade heart-shaped pizzas (because everyone likes something different for toppings!), decorate our kitchen table with flowers, rose petals, and other décor. We then each take a turn going around the table, sharing one thing we love about each other. The most eye opening compliments are the ones that are shared between the siblings, especially the two that rarely get along! Over the years, we’ve added special friends to the tradition and they love seeing these personal displays of verbal affection.
We all live in a world with many deadlines and incessant demands for our time and attention. That inevitably makes us feel rushed and we may feel that we can’t spare the time to be “fully present” with our children. Can you share with our readers 3–5 strategies about how we can create more space in our lives in order to give our children more quality attention?
- Turn off your phone! Set boundaries when it comes to when you’ll respond to work after hours and when you won’t.
- Do one thing for yourself every day, whether it’s a workout, talking to a friend for a few minutes or indulging in a favorite food. In order to be fully present, you have to be in a good place mentally and making time for self-care is imperative to achieving that mental stability and balance.
- Focus on doing only the things in your life that fulfill you. Say no to all the rest, and don’t apologize for it! When we commit to tasks that drain us, we don’t have the energy to be present and joy-filled with our families.
How do you inspire your child to “dream big”? Can you give an example or story?
It’s so important to me to not lose sight of who I am as a person, beyond being a Mom to my precious children, which is why pursuing what I love is a priority and truly helps me to be a better mom and setting an example for my children that their dreams and goals matter too. I always knew I wanted to make something of myself and haven’t been afraid to “dream big”.
Becoming a vice president of a major international nonprofit at the age of 26 (while 7 months pregnant) was one of those “dream big” achievements for me professionally. At the time, I applied for the position because I never wanted to regret going for it, but I was skeptical that I would be chosen, given my young age, limited experience and because I was pregnant with my first child. The CEO at the time saw my potential, took a chance on me and became my mentor. And it was this experience that launched my nonprofit management career, moved me into rebranding three international nonprofits, travel to some of the poorest communities around the globe, and lead large teams of people across the U.S. and world. It is now my mission to pay it forward to other young women, mentoring and encouraging them to achieve their full potential. This experience was also the impetus for me to support working mothers nationally, becoming a national speaker and author, including giving a TEDxOU talk, writing for a national working mom website, and launching my personal brand, Beauty in the Busyness. I also set a goal to compete in the Mrs. Oklahoma America pageant system and placed 4th runner up, again modeling for my children that the journey is in the pursuit of your dreams.
What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a better parent? Can you explain why you like them?
Working Mother shares incredibly valuable and relevant articles that I regularly follow via their social media accounts. I also love humor in parenting (even a little sarcasm!) and find Scary Mommy to often be the hysteria I need for my day! More practically, Siblings Without Rivalry by Adele Faber is outstanding, especially if you have more than one child.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote” that you share or plan to share with your kids?
Life has a way of presenting unexpected challenges, some of which you don’t always think you can tackle. But I’ve learned that in most every instance, you CAN accomplish far more than you could ever imagine, which is why Eleanor Roosevelt’s quote serves as my life’s philosophy and applies to every facet of life, whether personal or professional:
“You must do the things you think you cannot do”.
If you could sit down with every new parent and offer life hacks, must-have products or simple advice, what would be on your list?
Don’t be so hard on yourself as a parent! We put far too much pressure on ourselves to be perfect moms, but our children love us in spite of our imperfections. Say I love you often, hug them tightly and laugh together daily!
Thank you so much for these insights! We really appreciate your time.
About the Author:
Dr. Ely Weinschneider is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist based in New Jersey. Dr. Ely specializes in adolescent and adult psychotherapy, parenting, couples therapy, geriatric therapy, and mood and anxiety disorders. He also has a strong clinical interest in Positive Psychology and Personal Growth and Achievement, and often makes that an integral focus of treatment.
An authority on how to have successful relationships, Dr. Ely has written, lectured and presented nationally to audiences of parents, couples, educators, mental health professionals, clergy, businesses, physicians and healthcare policymakers on subjects such as: effective parenting, raising emotionally intelligent children, motivation, bullying prevention and education, managing loss and grief, spirituality, relationship building, stress management, and developing healthy living habits.
Dr. Ely also writes a regular, nationally syndicated column about the importance of “being present with your children”.
When not busy with all of the above, Dr. Ely works hard at practicing what he preaches, raising his adorable brood (which includes a set of twins and a set of triplets!) together with his wife in Toms River, New Jersey.