If you casually strolled up the driveway of Michelle Wenke's sweet suburban home, you'd be forgiven for thinking you were miles outside of the city, but this gorgeous modern residence is in the heart of Los Angeles. From the quiet leafy streets (and manicured lawns) to the airy Cali-cool interior design, this modern-day sanctuary is the perfect escape from the bustle of downtown. But this was all part of Wenke's plan. As founder of the popular clothing label, Monrow (adored by a legion of celebrity fans from Rachel Bilson to Sienna Miller), the mother of two (Luscia Griffith, 3, and Asher, 1) needed a space to retreat from the stresses of running a successful business. "I designed it instinctually to match our lifestyle and what visually makes me happy," she says smiling. "That led to opening everything up and letting in lots of light for that indoor-outdoor vacation vibe."
Wenke has woven this relaxed thread right through the brand's aesthetic (we live in her chic and comfy sweatpants) and, more important, her life. In fact, since becoming a mom, she's made a concerted effort to infuse this tranquil quality across all areas. But motherhood has proven to be her greatest challenge—something she isn't shy talking about either. "It wasn't easy at all," she confesses, candidly. "I had a very hard time distinguishing what my identity was after having our daughter." Striking that balance between her personal career ambitions and the innate yearning to nest and nurture wasn't easy.
Wenke wasn't even aware that the two (motherhood and career) could sit at the same table, both in the boardroom and the kitchen. "I was so overwhelmed with love for my newborn baby that I only thought I could be a mom or work; basically one or the other," she tells me. "It took me a very long time to see that both worlds could co-exist. I do believe it takes time though to transition and to be patient and give yourself time even though our culture isn’t really built to support that way of thinking." In the second part of our new series, Her Domaine—a space that celebrates all moms—we delve further into the very real (and often unspoken) fears and challenges women face as they enter motherhood for the first (or second) time, why it's okay to "be sad," and the importance of asking for help when you do.
Many women can feel intimidated about getting back in the game and returning to the office (or your own business) after having a baby. Wenke knows this feeling firsthand because she's been there—twice. But the good thing is it does get easier. "Just know it's going to be hard and that it does get easier," she assures me. "Be easy and honest with yourself." That also means talking to people when you're going through a hard time and leaning on your network of family, friends, and colleagues for support because the old adage rings true, it really does take a village.
"It's okay to be sad, but let people know," explains Wenke. "I always tell moms to take one day at a time. Don’t look at it as the big picture. Take it day by day, hour by hour, and if you are truly suffering, speak up and ask for a schedule with some tweaks that can be more conducive to having a new baby at home. There is a reason human nature releases all the hormones that attach you so deeply to your baby. It is what nature intended, so don’t feel guilty about wanting to take some more time or adjust your schedule to be with your new baby."
But while there are certainly moments when you want to throw in the towel and curl up under a blanket (we've all been there), motherhood brings so many joys and surprising highs that surpass the lows. And all of those sleepless nights and frustrations can disappear at the drop of a smile or at the outstretched hand of your precious little one. "The amount of love you are capable of feeling is indescribable," Wenke says as she playfully wrestles with her son on the bed. But that doesn't mean it's all sunshine and lollipops. The reality is very different. Being a mom is a constant juggle of work, home, relationships, and maybe a little social life if you can swing it. Finding the middle ground and achieving that all elusive balance isn't easy.
"I think this idea of balance is misleading," says Wenke. "It doesn’t necessarily exist. It is about acceptance of whatever you are doing and trying to be in the moment enjoying it. I think you have to maintain boundaries and let go of what you don't finish at work or don't do for your kids that day and know that it takes a village to raise children and it's not all on the mom. I do believe though that you need to decide what's right for you and your children, and if you don’t fulfill other obligations, it is what it is. Prioritize your priorities." That also means scheduling in some quality "me time" or "mom time."
"Try to do something that fills your bucket or completes you, and then work it into your daily or weekly routine," she stresses. "Be patient with yourself; it might not happen right away or consistently for that matter, but it will happen."
Keeping yourself healthy with a busy schedule is hard enough, let alone with two children and a very successful business to run. While Wenke doesn't have the answer to making it work (does anyone?), it certainly doesn't stop her from trying. "It's not easy, and I am hanging by a thread," she laughs. "We eat healthily, drink loads of water, try to sleep or sneak in naps, take daily immune-boosting vitamins, get fresh air, exercise, etc., but once my daughter started preschool it was a losing battle. Those preschool germs are strong, and I feel like our household has been sick for the past three months."
To make it all work, she swears by routine. "In the morning, it's coffee first (always) while preparing and eating breakfast with my kids," she said. "In the evening, it's all about playing with my kids when I get home, making dinner, and eating all together as a family. I try to get them both asleep in a reasonable amount of time, which is hard. Then I try to take a hot bath or steam before I go to bed, but I usually end up falling asleep in my daughter's bed or barely keeping my eyes open on my way to my own bed." Yep, we've all been there.
When it comes to advice for her fellow working moms, Wenke urges us all to see the beauty in imperfection. Mistakes will be made along the way, especially when you have so many balls in the air, but that's all part of it. Some will fall to the ground, but keep practicing and you'll learn important lessons from those failures and even benefit from them. For Wenke, the list of mistakes is long "and this questionnaire is short" but to keep it simple she adds, "All mistakes have a benefit if you can adjust your mindset to thinking that way. I tell my team at Monrow 'If there were no mistakes or problems at Monrow, we would have no jobs. That is what we are here to do, find solutions.'"
And if you're a new mom looking to start your own business, Wenke has this sage soundbite: "Make sure you are passionate about it because it takes an incredible amount of drive." "The drive that it requires can only come from passion. I just read a great quote from Nicolas Ghesquière that said, 'Fashion is for when you're younger, it becomes about style when you're older.' I think that is where I am in life now; it's just about style and design, which in essence are textures, color, proportions, and ease. That is how I see everything. I love to try to create beauty."
The key to making it all work? "Good old-fashioned list-making and trying to keep things as simple as possible because it is easy to get caught up in the 'busy' trap," she explains. "Have patience. Control is an illusion. Flexibility and compassion are key." We couldn't agree more.