Six Lessons from AIGA’s The Momologues


On Thursday, July 20, five mothers sat down and candidly discussed their experiences being working moms – in particular, being working moms in the creative field – as part of AIGA Cincinnati’s Momologue’s, a panel part of the WomanUp initiative.

The panelists included:

  • Holly Shoemaker – Creative Director, Hyperquake
  • Anna Diederichs – Senior Art Director, Cincinnati Children's Hospital
  • Nikki Mayhew – Owner + Creative Director, Mayhew Creative
  • Cathy Sonnet – Creative Director, Spicefire
  • Laura Russell – VP Digital Marketing Manager, Fifth Third
  • Moderator: Haley Moore, Co-President of AIGA Cincinnati

These creative directors, digital marketing leaders, and mothers opened themselves up to over an hour of questions, and bravely discussed work-home balance, maternity leave, infertility, postpartum depression, the rising expense of childcare, and more. They all came to the discussion with a wide range of experiences, job titles, and parenting timelines, but all were aligned on one thing: Having children impacted their lives – and careers – in ways they could have never predicted.

Here are a few lessons that we were lucky enough to learn from these awesome moms that all women can apply:  

Learn to Say NO

Time management can be a struggle, especially in the creative and design world, but all panelists agreed that becoming a parent forces you to adjust and improve this skill, and quickly.  It became more crucial than ever to leave by 5 p.m., and that took more prioritization and quickly learning the ability to say, “NO,” even when it meant saying no to the company foosball tournament. It also took plugging in at work – even more so, in order to be 100 percent plugged in at home.

Nikki Mayhew says, “I try really hard to put the phone down and email off when I’m with my kids, and I think that makes me a better designer when it comes time to plug in, because I’m not stressing about all of that stuff.”

Find a New Perfectionism

Many designers and creatives maintain the perfectionist mentality, especially in their work. But according to Cathy Sonnet, a self-proclaimed “recovering perfectionist,” having kids quickly breaks that and also allows you to gain a new perception of perfection.  

Sonnet says, “While we all strive for greatness and excellence, it looks different now that I am on the other side. It is a different feeling: it isn’t all necessarily the way you want it, but it's great in its own way. It is letting go a little bit of that control in your career and in your life, which is good.” 

Make Choices About What Is Meaningful to You

When asked if they’d ever passed up an opportunity for their career due to having kids, some of them nodded, but stated having no regrets. One panelist passed up the opportunity to work with a more time-intensive, demanding client – a great opportunity career wise, but unrealistic for her family.

Travel also becomes more difficult. Before Anna Diederichs had kids, she was traveling a great deal for her job. She decided to leave the agency world and start in a more corporate role that allowed her to still be creative, but have benefits like daycare and a more consistent schedule.

All panelists agreed that while they have the same goals as they once did, they have different paths to get there, and that means that all opportunities aren’t the right ones to take. It's about making choices and determining which opportunities – both big and small – are most meaningful and intentional.

Gather Your Woman Tribe

Many attributed their success and their ease in their working environment with kids to their bosses and partners, who were also working mothers.

Nikki Mayhew says, “One of the biggest challenges is dealing with sick days. And it has been so nice to have so many working moms who are supportive and understand that you need to take your kids to urgent care.”

Many also attributed it to a trusted and supportive woman tribe at work.

“Just being able to have a confidant in the office, who you know could cover for you, makes a difference,” said Anna Diederichs about how her female coworkers supported her through her pregnancies especially.

Cathy Sonnet noted that she experienced that support even during her maternity leave.

She says, “You think, ‘I’m going to watch Netflix and maternity is going to be great,’ but it is really hard. And having my coworkers come and visit, and remind me that I’m a person, too, was so valuable.”

Accept that Balance Can’t Always Be Attained

When asked about the word, “balance,” loud chortles filled the air and bewildered glances were exchanged. “I’ve learned to hate the word balance,” said Holly Shoemaker.

While a cause of laughs, the panelists all seemed to have their own different meanings for the word and were seeking to find their own equilibrium. Laura Russell attributed her ability to achieve her semblance of balance to her use of her vacation time and her commitment to making it to at least all of her daughter’s home games.

“When I try to strive for balance, I criticize myself. I either criticize my work self or my mom self,” says mom of three, Holly Shoemaker. “But when I’m at work, I’m 100-percent work self, and when I’m mom, I’m 100-percent mom.

“Balance is about taking care of myself,” says Nikki Mayhew. She strives each week to plan time for herself, from yoga classes to time with friends, as she finds it is what keeps her more balanced at work and with her family.

Be a Catalyst: Start the Conversations

Maternity and paternity leave policies in both corporate and agency environments are still inconsistent. There were many pioneers on the panel – women who’d spoke out regarding work from home and maternity and paternity leave policies – and they are proud to say they’ve seen the impact of their doing so.

Laura Russell, for example, requested being able to work from home one day a week, and has paid that forward to her employees, allowing similar flexibility.

Nikki Mayhew worked with her former employer and proposed establishing an adoption paternity leave and benefit policy.

So, speak up. Start the conversations. Be the catalyst in the change that you want to see in your organization, no matter how large or small. You don’t know the impact you can make, not only for yourself, but also for others in the future.

I’m so thankful to have attended this event and heard from these amazing women; I’ve walked away with an increased amount of empathy and perspective for my mom, my coworkers, and all my working mom (and dad) friends out there – you all rock. –Justine

If you’re interested in future AIGA WomanUp events, go to and learn more.

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