Part 1: Brooklyn moms share how they manage careers and families
A three-part series about amazing women
This is the first article in a three-part series about amazing women in Brooklyn. The next two pieces will be published in the near future.
The challenges of raising children in this city are daunting. Working full-time can leave moms feeling stressed out and guilty about being neither a good-enough mother or good-enough worker. Sometimes the task seems impossible.
How do Brooklyn moms balance life and career?
The Brooklyn Eagle spoke to a dozen moms who have gone through the struggle of finding a balance that works for them. Some have kept their nine-to-five jobs, dealing with all the issues of daycare and schedule-juggling that entails. Others have left the corporate or nonprofit worlds to strike out on their own. Some have cobbled together a combination of part time jobs, consulting or flexible side hustles.
We heard stories about moms closing real estate deals during labor; losing jobs during supposedly protected maternity leave; leaning on their friends and faith; and creating new businesses during the pandemic. We found these women’s stories to be frankly remarkable, and the advice they offer to other parents is inspirational (even for folks with no kids at home).
Here is Part One of a three-part series about amazing Brooklyn moms:
Kim Rittberg: Content strategy, media training
Five years ago Brooklyn Heights resident Kim Rittberg found herself in a hospital bed delivering her second child — while at the same time frantically trying to salvage the Us Weekly digital video unit she had created.
The video operation brought in more than 20 million views per month for Us Weekly, which was being acquired by America Media, Inc., the publisher of the National Enquirer. The acquisition was “messy,” Rittberg told the Brooklyn Eagle.
“So many people were fired and so many people on my team had quit. I had been going 100 mph with my newborn, pumping at the office, while trying to grow this unit, and I started to see everything just sort of fall apart — and I was 9 months pregnant,” she said.
“I had been working for 15 years to get to that point and I thought, ‘This is it?’ I remember being in the hospital bed, and I was on my phone looking at people’s resumes because I had to restaff the unit, and I’m like, ‘I am a caricature. I’m a caricature of a career mom and I don’t want this anymore.’”
Rittberg was at the peak of a successful career in media and marking. But at that moment, in the delivery room with an IV in her arm, Kim lost her desire to work in Corporate America.
Today, as head of her own boutique content strategy and video production company, Henry Street Media, she styles herself a “Corporate Quitter.” But it didn’t happen overnight.
“It still took me another two years to actually do it,” she said. “I learned who is my target audience, where are my clients, what am I offering, what are the services I provide? It took me a while to understand that, and also to truly gather the confidence to say, ‘I really can do this and I’m really committed to it,’” Rittberg said.
Her company offers video and content strategy, video and audio production and on-camera media training. “Everything a business would need to present itself well, to market itself to the outside world,” she said. “I did a big project for It Gets Better where we won two awards last year.”
Rittberg is also the host and executive producer of Mom’s Exit Interview Podcast, which she says started as a “passion project.” In the podcast, Kim showcases other moms who have successfully created their own versions of work-life balance.
“So that can be an entrepreneur, a consultant, a part-time worker; this mom can be working 10 hours a week or 30 hours a week or running her own business, but she is the boss of herself,” Rittberg said. Her guests have ranged from Carley Roney, who co-founded Knot.com to freelance writer and single mom Leslie Gray Streeter. The podcast includes tips from experts on business development, finance, finding your passion, growing a freelance business and more.
“We hit the top 20 of Apple podcasts in careers. It’s been really, really exciting. We launched a few months ago so it’s just trending really well,” she said.
“My main goal is to further the conversation and create a community around moms pursuing other things. There is this whole world of opportunities for moms between climbing a corporate ladder and having a boss, and being fully home with your children,” Rittberg said. “And it’s not just the money, it’s the fulfillment.”
We asked Rittberg if she had advice for other moms.
“You need to have a lot of conversations with your partner, because it is a big transition and you have to get on the same page. There’s a lot of planning: planning of schedules, planning of finances, planning of childcare and housework.” Her husband Alex, who works in finance, was “super supportive,” she said.
“Also, I think that separating our identities from our job is a really hard thing to do, especially in New York. The irony is that I kind of gave up the idea of having this fancy big job title and then this year I ended up winning two awards for my work as my own company that I’m really proud of.”
Cara Sadownick: Residential real estate
Real estate broker Cara Sadownick was born into a Brooklyn real estate family. In 1993, Sadownick started working for her mother Paula Ingram at her commercial real estate firm Paula Ingram Realty (which shortly after became Ingram & Hebron Realty).
Nine years later, when Sadownick considered moving to residential sales at Harbor View Realty, she was terrified. “I didn’t know anything about residential real estate,” she told the Eagle. “My husband laughed at me. He was like, ‘Are you kidding me? You’ll be great.’ After two months I kind of got the swing of it and I ended up being the second highest producer in the office at the time.”
“I literally was in labor on January 31, 2007. And I was on the phone with a client in between contractions, coaching him through finishing off his co-op board package. I was like, ‘Scott, I’m having a baby, I don’t have any more time — we got to get this thing in today.’ I would have a contraction, and I’d say, ‘Hold on a minute,’ and I would put the phone down and I would breathe through my contractions, and then I was like, ‘Okay,’ and we’d get back to it. It was funny because his own wife was pregnant at the same time as I was,” she said.
“So he got the board package in, bought the apartment, and then he bought another apartment and they combined them, and then I ended up selling both of them for them, and I sold them another house,” she said, adding, “He’s a great client.”
Sadownick took two months off after her son was born, and then returned to work at Harbor View. After the death of the company’s owner followed by its sale, she interviewed with The Corcoran Group.
“I was afraid to go to Corcoran because I had always worked in mom-and-pop organizations. I thought, ‘Oh my God I’m going to join the evil empire.’ But when I got to Corcoran, instead of them being the evil empire, the opposite was true. It was much better organized, much more functional, they had forms and systems in place and databases set up.
“I had this little baby that was 8-months-old when I started there,” Sadownick said. “So what I did was, I strapped him to my chest and I took him on almost all of my appointments, unless I was meeting a big developer. I did research in the middle of the night when they were sleeping, and I went to moms groups and was nursing. It was intense. I was tired but I did it,” she said. “You’re doing logistics for half your life.”
“I also happen to have a very good kid, which makes my life a little easier. We must have done something right somewhere along the line,” she said.
Sadownick wants moms considering the field to know that residential real estate is much harder than it looks.
“People think you make so much money from hardly doing anything. That’s not true at all. A lot of the things you work on it never come to fruition. You are working 100 percent on commission and if you don’t close a deal, you don’t make anything,” she said. It helps to have someone who can support you for six months to a year when you first get started, or having that much in savings, she said.
“You have to learn how to qualify the customers, how to manage your time, how to set boundaries. Forget 9 to 5. In residential real estate you could be working 24/7 if you allow yourself to do that.” On the other hand, you can make your own schedule, she said. “You can go to the museum on Wednesday afternoon when no one else is there.”
Working in residential sales with a child is easier than working in commercial sales because the hours are more flexible, she said. But you can’t really work part time. “Things have a momentum and it’s really important to keep up with the momentum.”
The kind of person who does well in real estate sales is “really good at meeting people and also can learn to listen,” Sadownick said. “And someone who’s well-connected, because it’s all about referrals and connections. Also, someone who’s good with social media. You need to know how to market yourself. You need to have administrative skills or be able to hire someone who does. You also need to be able to ask people for things in a way that doesn’t make either party uncomfortable. It’s the characteristics of a salesperson, really,” she said.
When Sadownick first started at Corcoran, she had her own individual brokerage within the company. A few years later she teamed up with Cheryl Nielsen. “Once we joined forces as a team it was so much better because we complement each other,” she said.
“We are the Nielsen Sadownick team at Corcoran,” she said. “We are one of the top teams in Brooklyn. We are an award-winning team, and we happen to be women.”
Dr. Starita Boyce Ansari: Nonprofit social justice education
Dr. Starita Boyce Ansari is the founder of the nonprofit The New 3 Rs, which has the goal of dismantling racism. The three Rs stand for: The aRt of social justice storytelling; building Relationships; and fostering a sense of Responsibility.
Boyce Ansari was born and raised in Brooklyn and lives in Prospect Lefferts Gardens. Before her son was born 15 years ago, she worked in higher education.
“My doctorate is in the study of the economics of discrimination and education in equity,” she said. Her work has been recognized by Kellogg Foundation and other organizations.
After her son was born, Boyce Ansari took a break from working “to give him the foundation that I wanted him to have, with a plan of going back full-time once he was in first grade,” she said.
The couple managed because, she said, “A: My husband took care of things, and B: I was an executive in higher education so I had a good cushion to stay home. But not every woman has that, particularly Black women. So I will admit that my situation is not the norm and I acknowledge as a Black woman that my situation is a blessing.”
Boyce Ansari went back to 9 to 5 employment when her son was in first grade, working with children with learning disabilities who were failed by the educational system. She left after a year and a half because her boss felt threatened by a women in her position and tried to browbeat her, she said.
“I didn’t come back the next morning. I packed my little stuff that I had and I didn’t return. I spoke to my partner and I said to him, “I’ve been places where people felt threatened by me but this is a different energy here and I don’t think I should go back.”
She then worked in consulting and took part-time employment until her father became seriously ill. She decided to quit to spend time with him and take care of her mother as well. Before he died, her father grew concerned about the welfare of his grandson and told her, “I want you to take care of my sugar plum dumpling.”
“I was like, ‘Yes I will,’ and he says, ‘No, Pinky’ — that’s my nickname — and he says, ‘Pinky, you’re going to see an America that I’ve never ever seen in my lifetime.’ And I ignored my father, right? Because who thought Trump was going to win?” Boyce Ansari said. “But when he won, I came on this mission not just for my son but for all children. All of our kids deserve a better United States.”
Several encounters in the course of raising her own child helped to solidify her plan, she said.
“We put him in a program when he was 4 years old. One day he came home and he said that he had received a time out. And I said, ‘Oh, what were you doing?’ And he said he was raising his hand. I said, ‘Why did you raise your hand?’ He said, ‘To answer questions.’ I said to myself, a timeout for answering questions? And I just could not connect the dots. Mind you, he’s the only chocolate gumdrop in the building — not just in the classroom, but in the building,” she said.
“So I asked his teacher, ‘He got a time out for raising his hand?’ And she said to me, ‘That’s right! Because when I call on him he gets the answers right.’ So I’m having like, this slow processing,” Boyce Ansari relates. “And I said to her, ‘So what’s wrong with him getting the answers right?’ And she said, ‘He will lower the self-esteem of the other children.’ And I said to myself, ‘She did not say that to me!’
“So then we enrolled him into an independent school and everything was fine,” Boyce Ansari continued. “And I’m outside talking to one of the moms, and her son wanted to know if I was another child’s nanny so he could have a play date. And his mother was ready to yank him! And I said, ‘Don’t, it’s not your fault. It’s the conversations you’re not having at your kitchen table, and you bring your child to school expecting that he’s going to have your core values. It doesn’t work that way. You have to teach him how you became who you are in terms of your racial justice spirit.”
Boyce Ansari researched for three years before launching her nonprofit in 2020. “I kept researching what was out there in other states and I really wanted to make sure it was innovation,” she said.
“The New 3Rs online family program teaches Black history, Critical Race Theory and responsive philanthropy to 6th to 10th graders,” she said. “We have 10,000 Black history artifacts. When the children graduate, they award grants to Black-led organizations in the United States or Caribbean and on the continent of Africa, India and Brazil.
“Covid benefited us because people couldn’t [previously] wrap their heads around online learning. By going online, I have brought together Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Jewish, Black, White, kids in public housing and kids whose parents will spend the summer in Europe or in the Caribbean. So it’s an opportunity to bring like-minded families together regardless of their race and income,” she said.
Boyce Ansari has been recognized by NASDAQ as in entrepreneur and by Indiana University’s Purdue Center as one of the top 10 black female philanthropists responding to racial inequities. Recently she was asked to bring The New 3 Rs curriculum to India. “This happened literally three weeks ago,” she said. “I’m excited and nervous because I really want to make certain that I do this right.”
Her advice for other mothers considering starting a business?
“If you do something that is part of your story of who you are, your core values, no matter how hard that walk is, you’re going to keep walking it with all the blisters on your feet, because you know what? Your heart wants it. It’s more than the money. It is who you are,” she said.
“The second thing is, be smart and follow best practices,” she said. A friend at Columbia University told Boyce Ansari about the Lean Startup business model, which she used in founding her nonprofit. “That helped me figure out how to launch, but not only how to launch — how to launch with who I am, which is different than the regular business model.
“The first year, don’t expect that everything is going to be blooming, it’s not. Give yourself time. The first year, you may not have any customers at all. Every time you get frustrated and you think this isn’t going to go anywhere, don’t give up,” she said.
She added, “And don’t be afraid to sit down and say to yourself, ‘I’m tired.’ It’s okay. We don’t have to wear that Superwoman cape everyday. Just like your child, this business is your baby, so have the same patience with your business that you have with your child because it’s going to happen. Your business is going to grow.”
Lucy Curran: Co-founder of womenswear brand Ophelia & Indigo
Lucy Curran, co-founder of the Ophelia & Indigo fashion brand, moved to Brooklyn in 2015 from England and lives in Cobble Hill. After Covid hit, she founded a business with the mother of one of her son’s classmates, who also happened to be a fellow Londoner.
“I started a womenswear brand in the midst of the pandemic with a fellow parent, Claire Konviser,” Curran told the Eagle. “We are both British and relocated with our families for our husband’s jobs. We met as Claire’s daughter was put in the same first grade class at P.S. 29 as my son. He welcomed her as the other English kid in the class. They became firm friends, as did Claire and I.
“We ended up working together on a few projects — the last of which was a panel on sustainable fashion right before the start of the pandemic. We were both freelancing and obviously our freelance work dried up in the midst of it all,” she said.
“During the hell of homeschooling and long walks, I tentatively suggested doing something together,” Curran said. “There seemed to be a gap in the market for something well-made in terms of a throw-on dress for the heat of the New York summer, but it had to be affordable. The brands we saw and loved were lovely but so expensive! We talked about the idea of a brand with an emphasis on sustainability and ethical sourcing — Claire has long-standing relationships with family-owned factories in India. Her background is in buying; mine is in marketing, PR & copywriting. We drew heavily on our contacts and amazing network —we made samples and shot our first collection four months later!
“We launched online in the February of 2021. We are now in over 30 stores across the US and work with one of the biggest retail groups in the country,” Curran said.
“The key to all of this was and is making it work around our families and our children. We started this when they were at home full time. Everyone was remote. I’m not sure how we did it but we did,” she said.
It would have been impossible to do what she does now without the support of her husband, Curran said.
“Luckily we moved here for my husband to set up a business — a sports marketing agency within an existing bigger marketing group — so he completely understood what it took and still takes to establish and run your own business,” she said.
After the kids returned to school, the partners took an office at Industry City. The space gave them the needed separation between home and work, “but we always take the kids to school and we are, more often than not, there for school pick up, soccer practice etc,” Curran said. “We’ll have the kids in the office with us sometimes— an hour here or there. Or there are days when we don’t go in because we can’t or we don’t want to because we prioritize the kids. It’s a choice and it’s on our terms.”
“We have one amazing employee,” Curran added. “She’s a local mum who lives in Brooklyn Heights. Lindsay is our operations manager. We are a much better organized operation with her on board! She works two days a week but with the understanding that she has the utmost flexibility. She can work different days each week if she needs to — if her kids are sick, if the school schedule changes. We want work to be enjoyable and not a logistical nightmare, so we do as much as we can to provide a supportive environment. The 9 to 5 is such an outdated working notion!”
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