Working Mom Interview: Courtney - Lollipops & Laptops

Courtney is one of those women you meet and are instantly connected to. We briefly met when we were in junior high and both performed as extras in the local high school musical, then did one year in high school drama together before she was admitted to a prestigious performing arts high school in Orange County, and our lives came full circle when she planned my wedding 10 years later. By the time she was 30, Courtney had gotten an education at a first class university, gotten married and had three boys, founded, ran, and sold her own company, and supported high-end wedding and event industry leaders in various positions. What makes Courtney’s story so interesting is her experience as business-owning mother, stay-at-home-mom, and now a working mom in the traditional corporate world. Read on to learn more about Courtney’s background and how she’s crushing that working mom life.

What is your role (professionally and personally) today?  

I have been married to my high school sweetheart for 12 years and am a mom to three sweet and super active boys–ages 10, 7 and 4. I’m the lone woman standing in our house, but I love being a boy mom. I can talk Star Wars, baseball, and nerf guns all day long. I am the Marketing Manager for a large high-end shopping center in Southern California, with a special focus on center events.

Working Mom Interview: Courtney - Lollipops & Laptops

These high school sweethearts make one good looking couple.

Give us a little background on how you got to where you are today.

I started in the wedding and event industry in college at UCLA (Go Bruins!) [Editor’s note: she literally called this USC Trojan out preemptively expecting me to edit this out.] I had been interning for a planner in LA and started my own business out of my dorm room. I had always been an entrepreneur growing up–selling friendship bracelets and easy bake oven treats on the corner and door to door–so I just jumped all in to having my own company. I planned and coordinated over 100 weddings in 6 years and loved it.

When I got pregnant with my second son, I made the decision to sell my business so that I could be home with my boys. A year later, I completed my last wedding for the company and handed the reins over. For the next few years, I stayed home with my boys while running an Etsy shop selling party and wedding paper banners. (I always had to have a side hustle!) Life, as it does, threw some twists and turns our way and we found ourselves moving back to Orange County from San Diego when my husband lost his job.

I jumped back into the event industry, but in a supporting role for two businesses owned by friends. I started planning weddings under one of the companies and jumped into the role of Production Manager for an event design company as well. I moved over into the corporate world last Spring when my current position was offered to me.

How did your career change when you had kids?

Before I had kids, I thought that owning my own business and working from home was dreamy and best case scenario. I learned quickly with my first that this is not the case. I loved that I was home with my son, but it became much harder. I felt like I could not fully be the mom OR business owner I wanted to be because my attention was in both places at once. When my second son was on the way, I knew that things had to change. I either had to get full-time help watching my son and build the business more to be able to make that a wise financial decision, or I needed to step back.

I chose the second option based on my desire to be fully present for my kids when they were babies. It was 100% the right call for our family at that time, and I knew I could jump back in later on once the kids were older. At that time, my husband was also working weekends as a pastor. I’d be gone Friday night, all day Saturday until 2:00 am, and he’d be up and out of the house by 5:00 am on Sundays. It was exhausting and we had very little family time, which heavily influenced our decision as well. I was missing birthday parties and soccer games on Saturdays and was an exhausted zombie mom on Sundays. Something had to give.

Working Mom Interview: Courtney - Lollipops & Laptops

It’s a boy’s world and Courtney is just living in it.

As a business owner in the wedding industry, you worked weekends and very long hours. How did you manage the logistics?

It was always a puzzle to figure out child care since my hours and work days were not consistent or 9-5. My weddings would be on weekends and most meetings took place in the evening. When we were in San Diego, it worked as my husband could watch them, but when I jumped back in for the second time, he was working nights and weekends as well, so we were often scrambling to find family members or babysitters who could watch our kids on the weekends, which was a lot to ask since it included sports, social activities, etc.

Meetings always changed during the week as well, and I had corporate events during the week for the design company, so we had to be very flexible and relied on the help of our family immensely. There were benefits of the non-traditional schedule as well though–I could help in my son’s class in the mornings and schedule my meetings around things like baseball games and field trips. I often was on my laptop until midnight catching up on emails in order to carve out time for my kids during the day, but it was a way to make it all work.

What was your favorite thing about running your own business? Least favorite?

I loved having the freedom to do what I saw as best for my brand and to build my company in line with my goals and priorities. I loved building a network of trusted vendors who became close friends and shaping what my brand was and who my ideal clients were. When I saw everything come together on a wedding day, my heart was so full, knowing that I was an integral part of creating something incredibly meaningful and important.

That being said, having everything resting on my shoulders, both in terms of my client’s wedding days and keeping the business running, brought a great deal of stress. When you run a very small business, you are the visionary but you are also the marketing team, the operations team, the accountant, the customer service department and the director of HR, all while balancing the needs of your clients which, with weddings, are often intense and emotion-laden. I had a team of planners and event assistants and a few interns, but the day to day operations of the business were all on me because it had not grown to the size that I could hire full-time help for those areas.

Working Mom Interview: Courtney - Lollipops & Laptops

As your kids have gotten a little older, what has changed in terms of schedules as a working mom?

With my new position, I now have more traditional hours, which is great because I can have more consistent child care set, especially since my kids are in school now, which is very helpful and much easier than when they were younger. As they get older, though, they become more involved with after school activities and want play dates with friends and that is the most challenging piece to figure out when both parents are working full time. My puzzle now is figuring out how to get everyone where they need to be for practices, games, etc. Then there is homework time after dinner, and with my oldest in 4th grade now, it can often be a good chunk of time.

We have to keep our schedule very structured to get everything done in the evenings and then we need to be very strategic with our weekends. We sit down every Sunday and meal plan for the week, review our schedules with all of the practices, who is picking up who on which days, etc. We also make sure we’ve got time for a date night as well as planned family time. Right now we’ve got baseball games on Saturday and practices and church on Sunday, but we try to fill the other weekend time with a mix of family time, rest time and opportunities to connect with friends.

We try to be fully present with our boys when we are home, deepening our relationship and creating an environment that leads to open communication, which is hugely important as we are not far away from the teenage years.

Working Mom Interview: Courtney - Lollipops & Laptops

Can you share some advice either from your own experience or that someone has given you about balancing career and motherhood?

I have learned that having constant balance is a myth and that was hard for me to process as a bit of a perfectionist. I cannot be all things at all times to all people and that is okay! When I’m at work, I can focus and give it my all. When I am home, I can pour into my kids and husband as much as possible.  It is SO important as a working mom to give yourself grace. Also, to say no to things. I can’t be the team mom or super involved in the PTA at my kids school, but I can send in cookies and school supplies when they are needed and support fundraisers. I focus on attending what is most important for my kids, like taking time off to be in the audience when my son looks for me at an awards ceremony or talent show performance. Knowing my limits and being okay saying no to things has helped me prioritize the time I have outside of work.

Also, planning for the week each Sunday with my husband and meal planning is crucial. I cannot stress enough how important it is to carve out quality time with your spouse as well. We both work so hard at our careers and at home and we need to keep our connection strong and have fun together often. Whether that is a dinner date, an at-home date night after the kids are in bed, or a quick weekend getaway, this is a priority for us, for our relationship, and for our sanity as working parents.

Working Mom Interview: Courtney - Lollipops & Laptops