“Motherhood changes your needs. Who you are. How you show up”, with Farrah Louviere Cerf and Dr. Ely Weinschneider

Motherhood changes your needs. Who you are. How you show up. I wasn’t prepared. I didn’t even know to ask the questions. Honestly, I still wake up some days and can’t believe the hospital let me take these little ones home. I look at them and can’t believe that they are mine. I have been […]

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Motherhood changes your needs. Who you are. How you show up. I wasn’t prepared. I didn’t even know to ask the questions. Honestly, I still wake up some days and can’t believe the hospital let me take these little ones home. I look at them and can’t believe that they are mine. I have been the worst at prioritizing my own wants and needs. I lost myself in parenting and my career. You can’t be a great parent or wife or friend or leader without being great to yourself first. Yes, it is so cliché, but it has been my hardest lesson. This year, I have been intentional about boundaries and self-care and I feel like my whole spirit is coming alive again. I am a better person and role model to everyone all around.

I had the pleasure to interview Farrah Louviere Cerf is a seasoned Brand and Marketing Strategist who helps founders, executives and entrepreneurs grow their personal and professional brands. After spending nearly two decades working in marketing and licensing for global brands and start-ups, Farrah knows what truly drives sales, consumer engagement and press — and it’s not implementing the marketing tactic of the week. Her success has been driven by mastering the basics of planning, strategy, discipline, failing forward and an enduring, unrelenting desire to succeed. She has learned that while talent is important, grit, tenacity and a little charm are as much a determinant of success.

Farrah has executed successful strategies for some of the largest brands in the world including Procter & Gamble, Warner Bros., Disney and Hallmark Cards. While she found success at larger companies, her true passion was uncovered working alongside a creative founder to operate and scale his small businesses. Currently, she is the CEO of a burgeoning lifestyle brand and spends her free time consulting with female founders, snuggling with her family, laughing with her friends, missing her mom and trying to sneak in some quality self-care.

Farrah holds a BS in Communications from Boston University and a MBA in Marketing, Strategy and Media Management from Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the “backstory” behind what brought you to this point in your career?

This is always an interesting question. I feel like if people are really honest, the road to now is always a messy accident. I am a very type-A personality and I’ve tried to control and mastermind every aspect of my life, especially my career. The rungs, titles and company names all mattered to me. I remain pretty hyper obsessed about my career path and trajectory except now, I am much more open to what “success” looks like. I did not know that my current here was here, so there was no way to navigate toward it. Reflecting back, learning to surrender and redefining fear and failure helped me say yes to many opportunities that others would have never looked at.

Finding a “job” after my first kid was so different than looking before I became a mom. On every level, how and what work is to me fundamentally shifted. If I was going to be away from my baby, the time had to mean something. Prior to kids, I was so dependent on completing work after hours. When that was not an option, I began to manage my time in a way that was very foreign. I would get home from work utterly exhausted. There was no waking up early to check email or finish a project. I started to feel such guilt and shame for judging people who were slow to respond to emails at home or refused to work at home. I had no empathy or understanding about what it meant to be a working mother. It is the hardest job on the planet balancing a career with motherhood. It is so clear to see looking backwards, but while I was in it, it felt like a hurricane. It was all just momentum.

Can you share with us how many children you have?

I have two amazing little humans. A 7-year-old boy and a 5-year-old girl. I totally live for them. They make me smile ear to ear daily.

Where were you in your career when your child was born/became part of your family?

Our eldest was born in Kansas City, Missouri. And, the Missouri part is important. My mom still says that we lived in Kansas. We didn’t. Missouri is a different state from Kansas. Sometimes the obvious is elusive. This general confusion pretty much explains my thirties. At the Kansas City point in my career (mid-career), I was so confused about my worth, my interests and what was next. Without a job, in the middle of the country with no friends and family, I was at the lowest point in my career fresh off of the high of getting a “prestigious” degree. In a new city and confused as hell about what was next, I put all of my good OCD energy into trying to have a baby.

Did you always want to be a mother? Can you explain?

I am an only child raised by a single mother. Our house was often empty and silent. At a very young age, I dreamed about having a home filled with lots of people, lots of kids and lots of noise. I always loved to babysit as a kid. I loved changing diapers and dressing babies. I still steal babies when I see them now. THAT SMELL. Becoming a mother was as easy as breathing. For me, there was nothing more affirming than those witching hour breastfeeding sessions. I would often have trouble keeping my eyes open, but there were moments where time seemed to stretch and I felt completely and totally alive. I felt like more. I was in awe of the magic and power of both my body and my spirit. Those moments affirmed for me that I was indeed born to do this. It has been the hardest and most rewarding part of my existence. Maybe becoming a mom, is actually the key to my success. I have gotten so much strength from being stretched beyond my personal and professional limits. If I was going to work and take precious time away from my babies, I wanted that work and time to be worth it. It is still what is pushing me to find my passion and fuels my desire to be great.

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?

OMG! Like I said, I am a total OCD freak. When it was go time, I seriously expected that I would just get pregnant immediately but months passed. Imagine. I was friendless and alone in Kansas City — Missouri — hoping to get pregnant every day. Getting pregnant became an obsession because it was all I had. I was, at the lowest point in my career, my husband’s career is taking off, and I couldn’t even get pregnant. To make matters worse, in the middle of 2x a week acupuncture sessions, testing my lady fluids and drinking smelly Chinese herbs, my doctor found a lump under my arm. The baby making came to a screeching halt. I had to have a suspected tumor removed from my armpit and I could not be pregnant for the procedure. After it turned out benign and the emotional roller coaster of the previous months, I decided to put the baby making on pause and focus on getting a job. I found one quickly so my confidence starting to come back. 2 weeks into my new job, we found out that we were pregnant with our son. How often have you heard stories like this? As soon as we stopped trying, we got pregnant.

A little advice for a women who is having trouble conceiving — I wholeheartedly believe that acupuncture should be a part of your baby-making regimen. Whether IVF, IUI or trying to conceive in the traditional way, it is a beneficial add-on pre, during and post pregnancy. Also, for me, it felt like I was “doing something” more than just monitoring.

Can you tell us a bit about what your day-to-day schedule looks like?

My husband wakes up pretty much every day at 4:45 am. So, I am generally up and out of the bed when he leaves for the gym.

I love the stillness and darkness of the house at the hour. It is my favorite time of the day. Mornings are filled with possibilities. And, most importantly, I am alone. Husband gone for hours. Kids fast asleep. The mornings are for:

  • Meditating — I have a headspace subscription. I should do this every day at least twice a day. I don’t get anywhere close to that. It is a work in progress. Let’s say, this is how I would like to start every morning!
  • Burning sage — I smudge myself and cleanse the house before the kids wake up.
  • Emails — If I am going to respond to a complicated email….it will be in this 5am-8am window.
  • Social Media — I manage our company social accounts. So, I put in a little “work” every morning.
  • News — I can’t believe this is now a must have part of my morning routine. It makes me feel like my mother. I absolutely have to scan the news in the mornings. I get the Wall Street Journal. Like the actual paper delivered. I like to have CNN on the background in every room. And, I always check what’s trending.
  • Music — My two favorite morning Pandora stations — FKA Twigs and Leon Bridges. I love burning incense (Midnight Love or Jamaican Plum from House of Intuition) while music is playing to get me inspired.
  • Snuggles — I snuggle with each kid individually. We call it “getting lovin”. I always try to hug my husband for 5 seconds chest to chest…I honestly don’t know why. I think I read somewhere that 5 seconds allows you to transfer pheromones or something.
  • Making the kids breakfast — I rarely cook dinner. I wish that this was that interview about how I run a business all day then come home and make home-made pasta and milk my own goats. Nope. So, breakfast it is! I can make some mean eggs. For real. Everyone says that I make the best eggs. There is a sense of pride and warmth that I get knowing that the kids are starting their day with a warm, home-cooked breakfast.
  • Packing backpacks — I have been told that I mix up water bottles.
  • Walking the kids to school — We try to walk to school as much as possible. We get to hold hands, get some blood flowing and chat about nothing important. When drop off goes well, I start the day with a winning vibe. When voices are raised on drop off mornings, I literally want to run back home and pull the cover over my head.

My days are generally a blur. I start my work day by reconciling our accounts every morning. From there, I check out our social media and peruse for any important emails. I manage and operate all aspects of the business. So, every day is like drinking from a fire hose.

My husband picks up the kids from schools and manages their schedules in the evening. By the time I get home, they are generally ready for bed. I step in to read books and snuggle with them before bedtime. I try to finish conversations and emails in the car if I have to so that I can 100% focus on them once I step in the door at home.

Has being a parent changed your career path? Can you explain?

Absolutely. I did not realize how much of a lazy bad boss I was. Let me explain. I am an extrovert. So, I loved talking all day at work. I mean all day. 4:30pm-ish, as others would be getting ready to go, I would start to dig in. I totally judged people who left the office early. I was a face time player. I had a crisis after having my son because with all of those meetings and all of that talking and no time to work at home — how was I actually supposed to get work done? There were just not enough hours in the day. I was used to starting work at 5pm, but that was when I needed to leave work to get my son. For 14+ years, I was able to outwork all of my colleagues because I would stay until I was done. That was my value. I could hide behind that and live in my own martyrdom. Who was I if I could not sit on my high horse of judgment?

I had no idea how to shine within an 8 hour day. I have been learning that lesson ever since. It was a lesson that I am ashamed that I had to learn. If I, a feminist woman, was judging other women in the workplace, I could not and cannot imagine the reality of how men judge us. I hated that I had judged working mother’s for leaving early and for being slow to answer emails.

After my son, I felt like I could do anything. I felt such a power surge. And, then, when he was about 10 months it started to feel like I was living through one failure after another. When we finally moved back to Los Angeles, there was so much to be excited about. But, I was depressed and despondent about how I was going to manage all of it. I had a toddler, we found out during the move that we were pregnant with our second (10000% unplanned). Hallmark had agreed to let me telecommute. I should have been ecstatic. It sacred the living daylights out of me, and I was overwrought with anxiety about managing a now long-distance gig with a toddler and a newborn. The weight of failure felt heavier and I just knew that failure wasn’t an option.

Has being a mother made you better at your job? How so?

A million times over. I am smarter, kinder, stronger, nicer, more patient, more fearless. I am more of my authentic self that I have ever been and it has helped me learn harmony and acceptance. I don’t sweat the small stuff anymore. I don’t micro-manage. I work to be an example from a leadership perspective on giving people the freedom to manage their own schedules and workload.

What are the biggest challenges you face being a working mom?

The patriarchy is the single hardest challenge. What do I mean by that? The unreasonable and unreachable expectations that society (the patriarchy) places on us is heavy. We must be ambitious career women, sexy supportive wives, engaged friends, lovely hostess, etc., etc. We birth babies and feel guilt for staying at home and feel guilt for going back to work. We are bad moms if we we don’t have natural births, breastfeed or feed our kids organic food. There are gang wars between stay at home and working moms. The level of consistent and persistent judgment is unnerving. Being a working mom is a no-win scenario on the guilt front based on our society’s framework. The fragmentation is so difficult. Lately, I have doing the work of piecing myself back together so that I am not able to splinter off so easily in the future.

Are there any stories you remember from the early days of parenthood that you want to share?

Too many. I will land on this story. Our son was 4 months old and we were taking a trip back to LA for a friend’s wedding. This was the first trip that we took with him and we were excited to introduce our baby to our LA friends and family. The day of the wedding everything that could have gone wrong did. I was trying to pump and blow dry my hair at the same time. I hadn’t pumped much milk and I was leaving our son with a friend. So, I was a little anxious to make sure that I could pump enough. I pumped enough for at least one bottle! I was so excited that I lifted up the bag of milk to celebrate the win and the milk bag slipped out of my hands. I started to have a nervous breakdown. I was able to save an ounce or two. Certainly, not enough for us to be gone for hours. I didn’t know what to do. I started rifling through our bags and realized that the milk didn’t matter. I had forgotten to bring bottles. Now, in a full frenzy, I rallied to go to a store and get a couple of bottles, drink a ton of water and resigned to pump more liquid gold when I was back from the store. When the valet attempted to pull our rental car around, they let me know the bad news. One of the tires had popped. The car would need to be towed and I would have to go back to the rental car company to swap out the car. The wedding was in less than an hour. My hair was half straightened and we still needed to have the car towed, get a new car, get bottles, pump milk and drop our son off at a friend’s house before the wedding.

Somehow, all of that happened. Not without a lot of yelling, tears and anxiety and we made it to the wedding…reception just as dinner was being served. We missed the ceremony. I only ended up with about 4oz of milk. I told my friend to just give him water if he was hungry. You can’t make this stuff up!

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?

In business school, I met another kindred only-child spirit and our families have now become family. Our kids are close in age and have practically grown up together. We do a “Friendsgiving Thanksgiving” with her family every year at their home in Oakland Hills and we vacation together once a year. We’ve started the tradition of picking our dual family vacation at Thanksgiving and it has been something that we all really look forward to. We’re nerdy and we’ll all do presentations on the vacation destinations that we’re nominating and then we do a family vote. Even the kids get a vote. Last year we did ten days in Alaska and it was amazing! Honestly, my friend and I are “sit on the beach with a drink” vacation girls. Alaska was not at the top of our list, but it was a life changing trip. This year, the eight of us are headed to London for ten days. I love that there’s always two amazing trips to look forward to each year with friends who are like family!

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?

  1. Limit screen time. It’s hard to stay present. I try to limit my own screen time since I limit theirs. They are the first to call me out. They complain that I am always on my phone. I hear them. It is mostly true. I work hard to change that narrative.
  2. Start the day off strong. The mornings are the best time of day. I love to start their day off filled with love and good food. I just feel like starting the day on a good foot is important and I want them to feel centered and filled up when they walk into school. I find that it is harder to connect in the evenings when the day is still heavy on everyone.
  3. Share in a nighttime routine. I used to rub essential oils on them at night before bed. My kids both have eczema, so now it is Aquaphor or some sort of creamy balm to keep them from itching at night. They fight over who gets their lotion massage first every night. So, I know that this is one-on-one time that they enjoy.
  4. Find shared activities. We are also big readers in our family. I will read them all kinds of books. Poetry, The Wall Street Journal, self-help books. Reading and games are our ways of connecting. Card games, scrabble, monopoly, ping pong. I am always trying to find things that we can all do together.

How do you inspire your child to “dream big”? Can you give an example or story?

Dreaming big is important because it is just a part of my DNA. And, I think that it is a part of theirs. I was playing a video game with my son and my avatar kept dying. I was annoyed and I wanted to quit. He gave me the “oh, so you’re just going to quit because you haven’t practiced enough until it’s fun” speech. I was annoyed, but also proud. It was confirmation that he was not only hearing me, but that he could identify what the behavior looked like!

What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a better parent? Can you explain why you like them?

When I was a new mom, Pump Station in Santa Monica and my mommy group were a lifesaver. I did not have that mom support in Kansas City and it really made a difference. I read a million books on parenthood and honestly nothing was more helpful than me to talking to other mothers. It helped me feel not alone. I committed to doing group therapy every other Friday with moms from my 2nd time mom group and that was very beneficial. I learned about the cycle of repair and I use that concept daily. I honor my kids feelings and I apologize when I mess up.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote” that you share or plan to share with your kids?

Honestly, it’s a DMX lyric. “Life is hard and hell is hot.” No judgment.

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?

Motherhood changes your needs. Who you are. How you show up. I wasn’t prepared. I didn’t even know to ask the questions. Honestly, I still wake up some days and can’t believe the hospital let me take these little ones home. I look at them and can’t believe that they are mine. I have been the worst at prioritizing my own wants and needs. I lost myself in parenting and my career. You can’t be a great parent or wife or friend or leader without being great to yourself first. Yes, it is so cliché, but it has been my hardest lesson. This year, I have been intentional about boundaries and self-care and I feel like my whole spirit is coming alive again. I am a better person and role model to everyone all around.

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.

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