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Allyson Downey is the founder of weeSpring, a Techstars-backed startup she launched in 2013 that makes the process of finding the best baby and kids products easy for parents—like Yelp, but think reviews of Merlin’s Magic Sleepsuit and Burt’s Bees lotion instead of the new sushi joint downtown. (We couldn’t live without it.)


Allyson is also an author of Here’s the Plan and the host of Motherly’s class for working mamas.

This book is a game changer, ladies. It answers the who, what, where, when, and hows of everything parental leave, balancing your nights and weekends, finding childcare—and beyond.

We sat down with Allyson to talk about how to deal with the guilt of unplugging on the weekend and how to work to make things equal at home.

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It seems like in a lot of situations today, both women and men are ill-informed about what they are entitled to or what they should fight for when it comes to parental leave and work flexibility. Do you think there should be a class offered in high school or college detailing all the intricacies of work and parenting?

Allyson Downey: At the risk of sounding like a zealot: Yes. But it’s a more complicated yes, because I don’t think it’s just about “teaching” work-life balance.

There are so many simple tactical skills that we totally fail to educate kids about in high school and college.

And while I’d love to see conversations starting early on about family balance and the economic case for parental leave (see Jessica Shortall’s outstanding TED Talk for more on that), I’d be pretty satisfied to see girls taught simple fundamentals like negotiating. If girls came out of high school knowing about anchoring high and finding the efficient frontier, they’d have a fantastic foundation to build from when it’s time to negotiating their compensation while on parental leave.

I think a lot of women may have crucial maternity leave, extended leave questions, etc. for their potential employers while on interviews, but are scared to ask them because they’re afraid they may not get hired. Advice for women in these situations?

Don’t ask them when you’re interviewing. Devote 100% of your energy to putting yourself out there as the rock star you are. Don’t muddy the waters by inviting people to think about you as a mother or a prospective mother.

I know it’s discouraging to hear that, but you don’t want to distract someone for one second from hearing about how phenomenally you’ve performed in your previous roles, and what a tremendous asset you’ll be once they hire you.

Save your logistical questions (and even cultural questions, when you’re digging for insight on work-life balance) for after you get an offer.

The details of maternity leave, parental leave, disability policies, etc. often seem secretive at companies. We need to dig for the information ourselves. Why do you think companies aren’t more up-front about these details?

I wish I knew! Despite that corporate opacity, there are some great new resources—like Maybrooks [now Après] and Fairygodboss—that crowdsource data to try and shed light on company policies (as they relate to women) and culture.

But one of my calls to action in the book is for companies to wear their policies on their sleeves.

We’re seeing more and more of that as companies like Etsy and Netflix trumpet their generous leave packages, and my hope is that there will eventually be enough companies being transparent that all companies feel compelled to do so.

In terms of your home life—there’s a quote in Here’s the Plan that says, I’m so glad you always ask what you can do, but I don’t want to have to be the one who always thinks of what needs to get done! I think this hits the nail on the head for a lot of women. We strive for an equal household—the mother and the father do equal amounts of childcare, planning, prepping, household chores, and both work—but a lot of these things ultimately fall on the woman. How do we continuously work to make things equal at home?

This is one of my very favorite lines in the book. It’s funny: I didn’t initially dig very deep into what I call ‘household division of labor,’ but a few of my early readers seized onto the little bit that was there and begged for more. So I sent an email around to what I called my book ‘brain trust’—a couple dozen women who I’d ping when I wanted to get outside perspective and insight. And it wound up being the most active email thread throughout all my research for the book. The topic just hit home for people, and I think it comes down to what one woman described as ‘executive planning.’

Even if Dad is the one doing all the baby laundry, Mom is the one thinking about getting hand-me-downs in the next size up, and that ‘thinking’ work is rarely acknowledged—despite being cumulatively exhausting.

My best advice is to think in terms of responsibilities (not tasks!), and divide things along those lines, so the ‘thinking’ work becomes part of the overall job. I also am a big advocate for putting things in writing and clearly assigning responsibility. I posted a worksheet on herestheplanbook.com that couples can use as a starting point in thinking about how they want to divide things up.

I think relinquishing control of parts of our home life and our children’s care is hard for women. How do we become comfortable with and good at delegating tasks to others in our home life?

You have to get comfortable with imperfection. That’s not to say that women are perfectionists and men aren’t, but women often have a clear vision for how they want things to be—and they’ll jump in when it looks like something is going awry. And sometimes it just seems easier to do something yourself than explain it to someone else. You have to accept a little short-term discomfort (like some well-intentioned but pantsless baby outfits) for long-term equality.

How do we deal with the guilt of unplugging for the weekend or leaving the office at 6 every night? Basically, how do we prioritize things based on what is best for us and our families, but leave the guilt behind?

I think it’s important to remember that guilt is something we’re projecting on ourselves; it’s not about other people. It would be overly reductive to say, ‘You’re in control! Just turn it off!’ But to an extent, if you don’t want to feel guilty, you don’t have to feel guilty.

Another thing that’s important to remember: If you want something to get done, ask a busy person. And there’s no one busier than a working parent. It’s almost like there’s a magical switch flipped when you have kids—a superpower that enables you to get way more work done between 9 am and 5 pm (or whatever hours you have childcare).

Acknowledge that you’re getting more done in less time.

I recommend that women devote 15 minutes at the end of each week to writing down what they’ve done that week. We spend so much time worrying about what we haven’t done that we forget to celebrate what we have accomplished.

As mentioned in Here’s the Plan, working from home can cut commute time, which means more available work hours and more productive employees. So why do you think more companies don’t offer this option?

I think we’re starting to see a shift away from ‘forced face time,’ but it’ll be a slow evolution. There are so many technological tools at our disposal that make it easier, but there are some definite downsides to having a fully remote workforce. It’s much harder to establish culture and rapport—so it can take longer to build a well-oiled team. And there are some tasks that are just easier to accomplish when you’re sitting next to someone. But I see almost no downside to empowering people to work remotely a couple days a week, particularly if you’re able to cluster that face-to-face teamwork onto ‘office’ days and have home days be the ones when you’re working on more solitary projects.

You talk a bit about the Pomodoro Technique in Here’s the Plan: 25 minutes of distraction-free work sessions followed by a short break. Do you think this process is the answer to working distraction free throughout the day?

Lots of studies have shown that taking a short break helps refresh your thinking. And the reality is that most people are taking short breaks right now when they take a few minutes to scroll through Facebook, but they don’t necessarily conceptualize it as a break because it’s rarely planned and it often can interrupt the flow of what you’re doing.

I also talk in the book about how multitasking can be your worst enemy because you wind up doing everything half as effectively (there’s a great sample task in there that I think will convert even the most emphatic multitasker).

Pomodoro forces you to be disciplined about remaining focused on one task. It’s about doing more in less time.

Me time is important. Often we feel guilty about taking time for ourselves—trying to fit it in with work, playing with our children, cooking dinner, bedtime routines, time with our spouse, etc. How can we prioritize time for ourselves?

Here we are talking about guilt again! I jest, but it’s such a pervasive part of working motherhood.

When you’re with your kids, you feel guilty about not working. When you’re working, you feel guilty about not spending time with your kids. I don’t know a single person who doesn’t struggle with this.

I think of my ‘me time’ as my opportunity to refresh myself, so I can be a better person when I’m with my kids or running my company. This past year, I spent 12 days in Cape Town solo visiting my best friend from business school. (Side note: My husband should be sainted for encouraging me to do this while he stayed home with the kids.) Oh, the guilt. The guilt! I wasn’t with my kids. I wasn’t working. It felt horrible. But after a couple days, I relaxed into it, and when I got home, I just had more energy. I had more energy for my kids, I had more energy for weeSpring—and I was a better mom and CEO because I ‘indulged’ myself (I couldn’t stop using that word the whole time I was gone). What I really did wasn’t indulgent. I was replenishing myself.

So carve out that you time. While 12 days may sound crazy and impossible (it sure felt that way to me), you can derive benefits even from 12 minutes. One woman I talked to told me that she uses her morning shower to reflect and be alone in her own head. Do that, or go play tennis, or have dinner with just your girlfriends—and remember, you’re not just doing these things for you.

You’re doing them because taking care of yourself will make you a better mother.

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When I think about the Super Bowl, two things come to mind: funny commercials and tasty snacks. If you're hosting the Super Bowl and have kiddos around, the name of the game (pun intended) is to offer a spread of snacks loaded with proteins and vitamins that will keep everyone's energy levels up the entire game, and won't make your friends rely on greasy items.

Try these healthy go-to treats for your viewing party that even your toddler will love:

Skinny baked mozzarella sticks

Skinny baked mozzarella sticks

Serves: 16 pieces

Time to cook: 1 hour and 18 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 8 sticks part-skim mozzarella string cheese
  • 1 large egg
  • 5 tbsp Italian seasoned breadcrumbs
  • 2 tsp parmesan cheese optional
  • olive oil cooking spray

Instructions:

  1. Cut the string cheese in half and place it in the freezer for 30-45 minutes. Beat egg in a small and set aside. In a separate bowl mix the parmesan cheese and breadcrumbs and set aside.
  2. Dip one string cheese in breadcrumb mixture than in egg mixture and then back in breadcrumb mixture. Repeat this for all the pieces. Place sticks on a greased foil or pan. Return the cheese stick back to the freezer for at least 30-45 minutes. Note: do not skip this step because the cheese will melt if they are not frozen.
  3. After the cheese is finished freezing, heat oven to 375 degrees. Spray the cheese lightly with cooking spray and place in the oven. After four minutes flip the cheese sticks and continue baking for another three minutes or until they are golden. Do not overbake because the cheese will melt. Serve hot with your favorite marinara sauce.
Recipe from Gimme Delicious.

Broccoli cheese balls

Broccoli cheese balls

Serves: 20 balls

Time to cook: 35 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups broccoli florets
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup almond flour or panko or Italian breadcrumbs
  • 1 cup shredded cheese mozzarella, cheddar, or favorite melting cheese
  • 1/4 cup minced onion or shallots optional
  • 2 tbsp cilantro chopped optional
  • 1 clove garlic minced
  • 1 teaspoon cajun or taco seasoning or favorite seasoning blend!
  • Pinch of salt and pepper black pepper

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or foil.
  2. Steam broccoli in boiling water or microwave until tender. Chop broccoli using a knife or food processor until finely minced.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, combine the chopped broccoli, eggs, almond flour, cheese, parsley and spices. Mix until well incorporated.
  4. Scoop about 1 tablespoon of mixture and form into a ball. Place on a lined baking sheet and spray or drizzle lightly with oil. Bake 25-30 minutes or until lightly golden and cooked through.
  5. Serve on a salad, in a sandwich, with rice, or as an appetizer or snack with your favorite dipping sauce.
Recipe from Gimme Delicious.

Chicken taco lettuce wraps

Chicken taco lettuce wraps

Serves: 4

Time to cook: 30 minutes

Ingredients:

Grilled taco chicken

  • 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs
  • 2 tablespoons taco seasoning
  • 2 cloves garlic minced
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

To assemble

  • 8 leaves romaine lettuce rinsed
  • 1 avocado diced
  • 1 tomato diced
  • 1/4 cup onion diced

Cilantro sauce

  • 1/2 cup loosely packed cilantro
  • 1/2 cup Greek yogurt or sour-cream or mayo
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 jalapeno optional
  • 1 clove garlic minced
  • Juice of 1/2 lime
  • Pinch of salt

Instructions:

To cook chicken

  1. Add the chicken, garlic, olive oil, and spices in a large bowl or zip-seal bag. Place in fridge and let marinate for at least 15-30 minutes or up to 24 hours.
  2. Remove chicken from marinade and discard marinade. Place chicken on a grill or pan heated to medium-high heat. Let chicken cook until it is no longer pink on the inside, about 9-10 minutes per side (or until it has reached an internal temperature of 165 degrees).

To make cilantro sauce

1. Place all the ingredients in the food processor and blend for one minute or until creamy.

To assemble

  1. Layer lettuce wraps with chicken, tomatoes, onion and avocado. Drizzle with cilantro sauce or your favorite taco sauce.
Recipe from Gimme Delicious.

Eggplant pizza bites

Eggplant pizza bites

Serves: 4

Time to cook: 35 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1 large eggplant cut into 1/4 inch slices
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 3 cloves garlic minced or crushed
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • 1 cup pizza sauce
  • 1 cup mozzarella shredded

Instructions:

  1. Sprinkle the eggplant with the coarse salt, let sit on paper towels for 10-15 minutes and wipe dry.
  2. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a small bow, combine the crushed garlic, olive oil and Italian seasoning. Brush the mixture onto both sides of the eggplant slices and bake for 15 minutes.
  3. Remove eggplant from oven and flip eggplant slices, top each slice with a tablespoon of marinara sauce, and a sprinkle of cheese. Return to oven and bake for another 10 minutes or until cheese is fully melted.

Recipe from Gimme Delicious.

Rice krispie chicken tenders

Rice krispie chicken tenders

Servings: 4

Time to cook: 20 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb raw chicken, cut into long thin slices
  • 2 cups brown rice krispies (or regular if you desire)
  • 1/3 cup egg whites
  • 1/2 teaspoon each: garlic powder, onion powder, sea salt
  • Dash of cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 cup plain greek yogurt
  • 2 tablespoons mustard
  • 2 tablespoons BBQ sauce
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • Sea salt, pepper and cayenne pepper to taste

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Place egg whites in a shallow bowl.
  3. In a separate bowl, add rice krispies and smash with the bottom of a cup until it is a crumb like texture (some will be almost a flour consistency, but don't smash long enough for all of the krispies to be completely crushed). Add seasonings in bowl.
  4. Dip each slice of chicken into egg whites, then coat completely on both sides, and place on a baking sheet sprayed with nonstick spray.
  5. When all are on a baking tray, lightly sprinkle a little more sea salt onto tenders and place them in the oven.
  6. Bake for 10 minutes, remove and flip and bake for 10 more minutes.
  7. Combine yogurt, mustard, bbq sauce, honey and seasonings in a small bowl.
  8. Serve with chicken tenders for dipping.
Recipe from TheLeanGreenbean.
Life

I have a love-hate relationship with maternity clothes. On one hand, I love them because they make me feel comfortable as my bump grows, without anything getting in the way of my breathing or baby's movement. On the other hand, I've really struggled finding items that are my style—which I admit is very particular—or don't cost a ton of money.

During my first pregnancy I bought a bunch of basic pregnancy outfits and tried to include some of my non-maternity favorites in the mix. Sometimes it worked, sometimes in the middle of a work day I had to run to the bathroom to unzip my high waisted skirt because it was too much to handle. By the time baby came, I realized I had spent a ton of money on clothing that I barely wore, and passed them on to other pregnant friends (some items still with tags on.)

With my second pregnancy, I decided I needed to be comfortable above all, but also not spend a ton of money on fast pregnancy fashion because these months go super fast and I'm trying to be more environmentally conscious. I had tried clothing subscription services before (hello wedding season!) and loved being able to wear different outfits I otherwise wouldn't have been able to. After doing some research, I found three subscriptions that offer maternity clothes. I tried them out in an attempt to dress better while sporting a huge bump and to save money and keep my closet decluttered. The best part was that if I really loved something, I had the chance to purchase it at a super discounted price.

Here are the three maternity clothing subscription services I tried:

Amoire

Amoire Style

About the service: This is a fairly new service and it's currently priced at $149 a month. Once you sign up, you take a style quiz by picking from a group of eight photos of the looks you like the most. Once you are done defining your style, you give your current sizing and then tell your stylist what you are looking for. You get four pieces at a time that you can wear as many times as you want, then return and get new items to wear.

More to know: Unlike other clothing services, you cannot pick from an endless list of clothes what you'd like to receive in your shipment. Instead, you have to go through a stylist who sends picks for you. To be honest, I found this a little annoying since I kept asking for rompers and pants, but kept getting blouses and dresses in my orders. So it did take some back and forth until my stylist sent me things I actually wanted to wear.

My thoughts: I received a mix of maternity and non-maternity clothes that were all bump friendly. The quality of all of them was great and some came with tags, which meant I was the first one ever wearing that piece of clothing.

$149

NUULY

Nuuly

About the service: This subscription is priced at $88 per month for six pieces at a time. The difference between Nuuly and other services is that you cannot return items to get new ones during the month—you return all of them at the same time and get six new ones the next month. This was a bit of a learning curve for me as I was used to sending back things that didn't fit or I didn't like to maximize my month of rental.

More to know: This service provides clothes from more edgy brands, like Urban Outfitters, Reebok and DL1961, which actually made it my favorite service because it was super aligned with my style. They offer both maternity and non-maternity clothes, so I was able to get super cool dresses (like the one pictured above) in a bigger size than my regular size to wear with my growing bump.

My thoughts: Their maternity catalog is pretty limited, however they have super unique items. One of the pieces I requested was already rented by the time my order was placed and they sent me something totally different to what I wanted. I understand the effort to make sure I was getting the full six items in my order but it was a non-maternity summer dress that didn't work with my bump.

$88

Rent the Runway

Rent the Runway

About the service: I went with their Unlimited Plan which is priced at $159 for four pieces at a time (you can exchange over and over again during the month). Their return service is super fast so if you are organized and return pieces you don't love quickly, you can get so many new things to wear in a month.

More to know: They have the biggest catalogue of maternity clothes and brands, including Hatch. Like Nuuly, you get to pick what you want from their options. It can be a little overwhelming since you scroll through pages and pages of really good quality stuff so I recommend going into it with something in mind (do you need jeans or a party dress?).

My thoughts: Because the service is so popular, I got some clothes that were super worn already and even damaged. I returned those immediately and got new items, but you really never know in what condition they are going to be in, despite the service trying to keep super worn clothes out of their rental catalogue.

$159

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When infectious diseases make headlines parents naturally get a little worried, and this week coronavirus is in the news constantly. The coronavirus has infected more than 600 people worldwide, though mostly in China. As of Jan. 23, Chinese authorities have reported 17 deaths from the virus so far. Only two cases have been confirmed in the U.S. and officials are monitoring 63 suspected cases.

Here's what you need to know, mama.

1. Don't panic.

According to the World Health Organization the coronavirus outbreak is not an international public health emergency.

"CDC believes the immediate risk to the U.S. public is low at this time, but the situation is evolving rapidly," Dr. Nancy Messonnier, the director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said on a conference call with media on Friday. "We have our best people working on this problem," Messonnier explained, adding that we will likely see more cases in the coming days.

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2. There have been no fatalities in children.

The youngest victim of a confirmed case of novel coronavirus is 36 years old. Most of the fatal cases in China have been in people over 60 and more men than women have been impacted.

3. The family of coronaviruses is a spectrum of severity.

According to the CDC, most people will be infected with a coronavirus at some point in their lives. The common strains of coronavirus cause "moderate upper-respiratory tract illnesses, like the common cold" while more severe strains, including Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrom (MERS) can be fatal.

The strain that is making headlines is a severe and novel coronavirus. It's new and the similarities to influenza make it difficult for experts to distinguish it from all the other respiratory illnesses floating around this time of year.

4. There is a test for it.

When public health officials suspect someone may have coronavirus they can send respiratory and serum samples to the CDC and find out if it's coronavirus or just the flu within about 24 hours.

5. There are steps to take for prevention.

To prevent the spread of the virus the U.S. State Department has issued its most severe travel advisory for the area of China (the province of Hubei, where the city of Wuhan is) most impacted by the coronavirus.

The CDC offers the following tips for protecting your family from the coronavirus (as well as other respiratory illnesses):

  • "Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds."
  • "Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands."
  • "Avoid close contact with people who are sick."
Bottom line: Don't panic, mama. The illness is likely to be in the headlines for months, but that doesn't mean we need to live in fear. We just need to be proactive and keep washing those little hands.
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Every generation has its parenting trends. “The Greatest Generation" had the idealized “perfect family"—a “picture perfect" two-parent, gender-divided home in the suburbs, that was probably more trope than reality.

The Baby Boomers brought us parent-as-life coach/ friend/chauffeur and manager. At best, it's a nurturing style done out of love and wanting the best for your kids. At worst, it's called “helicopter parenting," the idea that parents try to protect their kids from all harm and difficulty, only to make their kids incapable of caring for themselves.

And our Millennial generation has a “free-range" parenting trend, a backlash against the overly-controlled childhood aimed at teaching kids to rise to life's challenges.

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All of this talk about gender roles, helicopter parenting, grit and independence has me wondering—what kind of parent do I want to be?

Do I want to give my kids a picture-perfect childhood? Do I want to control them and make sure every good thing is done to them and for them? Do I want to set them free to figure it all out on their own? Defining the parent I want to be—and deciding what values drive my day-to-day parenting decisions—can be complicated.

The truth is, “helicoptering" comes easy to me, even when I know it's good for my children to work hard, face obstacles, and experience the pride of genuine achievement.

I don't want to helicopter—but I want to make sure my kids have the best opportunities in life, especially in things that I may have missed out on in my own childhood. (Though I'm sure I'm pushing my own values on them and they will find their own way to rebel....)

I don't want to helicopter—but I want to make sure they always look both ways before they cross the street, have their carseat properly installed, and are aware of dangers in our world. (Though I teach them these things and do my best to keep them in safe situations...)

I don't want to helicopter—but having faith that they'll be safe when they're out of my sight is really hard for me. (Though I say a prayer and trust in the universe...)

I don't want to helicopter—but sometimes doing things for them can be so much easier/ faster/ better than letting them do it for themselves. (Though I try to be patient...)

I don't want to helicopter—but I set up play dates, schedule after-school activities, and encourage them socially so that my children can make new friends. (Though I'm sure they will find true friends in their own time...)

I don't want to helicopter—but watching my little ones struggle can be hard for my mama heart. (So I hope they know I'm doing this because I love them...)

I don't want to helicopter—but protecting my kids comes easy. Giving them space to struggle and grow is essential, but hard, for both of us.

Life
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