Alex Day Golden | Another Mother Her Way
Alex Day Golden has poise and pedigree - a Princeton undergraduate with an MBA from Stanford and a killer track record in merchandising at Ebay and Gap. Just when you want to be intimidated and back away slowly, she is the first to offer a glass of wine and open up about what's working and what's not. Then you realize she's just a super smart girl's girl who wants to hang. Alex had her baby boy, George, in late fall of 2015 and shortly after chose to leave corporate life to build her own children's apparel company, Paper Cape. Read about how Alex shifts priorities and structures her time to create space for motherhood and a start up.
Q how did you change after becoming a mother?
It can sometimes be difficult to separate the ‘lifestyle changes’ from the ‘identity changes’ of becoming a mother. One thing that has been a tremendous gift in becoming a mother is that I don’t care as much about either what people think of me or about petty drama that used to consume energy. It is freeing (ironically) to have to be brutal about defining my priorities because there truly aren’t enough hours in the day. My top priorities are currently my son George’s development and happiness, my marriage, the business that I’m building, and my own well being. Since that last one hinges on strong friendships and on (some) regular exercise, I’ve been careful to carve out time for those as well. With these priorities as my north star, I’ve routinized my life. It’s not always pretty: sometimes I roll out of bed and go running in basically my pajamas and certainly no makeup, I often say no to social invitations that don’t fit with my priorities, and I’ve quit biweekly manicures, but it works. As it turns out, caring less about what every stranger on the street thinks about my mascara-less face on a 6AM run leaves me a just a little bit more energy to fuel my day!
Q What choices did you make to accommodate motherhood? would you make them again?
The biggest choice that my husband and I jointly made to accommodate parenthood was to be very intentional about how we would divide up the housework, parenting, and administrative tasks of a joint life. Before George, we made spur of the moment decisions about who would handle what. Now we have to plan ahead so we’re in a constant dialogue about how to balance our son’s needs with our careers and interests.
When I decided to leave my corporate job at Gap and start a kids and baby apparel brand, Paper Cape, my husband was extremely supportive. We both agreed on a level of childcare that would allow him to pursue a demanding career in tech at Airbnb and me to bootstrap a company. At the beginning of each week, we agree on who will be home which mornings/ nights and if one of us has a high stakes meeting, the other will be the one to get up early with our son. Last night I had a dinner meeting so my husband ‘cooked’ some very sad looking pasta and re-heated chicken, but he was totally happy to take his and George’s dinner off my ‘plate’.
So far our biggest challenge is that it can sometimes be lonely to divide up chores because our free time no longer overlaps the way it used to. We try to do something as a whole family every week whether it’s taking George to the park to re-set in nature, going to breakfast at a family friendly place, or organizing a play date with another family. George is only 14 months old and my startup journey began 6 months ago, so I know I will face many more choices over the next several years and I look to older female mentors in my life for guidance.
Q Describe yourself as a mother in 3 words. What kind of mother would you like to be?
Loving, Inspiring, Tough
My motherhood philosophy is a lot like my management philosophy. I’d like my children to feel supported and that I trust their judgment. I see it as my responsibility to help them learn the values that will underpin that judgment. There is a fine balance between loving and inspiring them to be their best selves and being tough when they can benefit from a lesson that will help them make good decisions in future. This philosophy is very similar to the one my parents used during my childhood and I’m grateful for the example.
Q How do you take care of yourself outside of motherhood?
Exercise and spending time in the outdoors have always been my best sources of energy and inspiration. I’ve traded my gym membership in for a jogging stroller and George comes with me on my morning runs. I find that if I’m chewing over a tough question at work, running or walking outside can often unlock my mind. My favorite way to be outside is to feel “small in nature”. The Lands End trail in San Francisco is 20 minutes from my home and walking along its cliffs overlooking the ocean reminds me to keep things in perspective but also helps me stay optimistic and think big.
Q Every woman needs help to find balance. what does your village look like?
I grew up in the suburbs of New York City and most of my family is still on the East Coast. I was thrilled when, the year before I gave birth to my son, my sister moved to San Francisco. She and her husband are our best support system. We have family dinner at least once a week and they are enthusiastic babysitters.
The other critical members of my “village” are the close friends with whom we share a nanny and the nanny herself. Having been friends long before we all had children, we’ve benefited from shared transition to parenthood with our “nanny share family” in countless ways: We lean on each other for advice, we’ve organized our joint schedule around a Thursday night date night (nanny stays late with both boys) and around a Monday and Friday early morning Pilates class (nanny arrives early), and we’ve even planned a toddler friendly vacation together. All four parents work full time and three of us are entrepreneurs so there is empathy and understanding when schedules are tight or tradeoffs are hard. Our nanny cares deeply about the boys (it’s mutual), has raised three wonderful children of her own, and so is full of wisdom. The camaraderie between George and his nanny share “brother” is really fun to watch and we hope they’ll always be friends.
As more of my friends are starting families, I’m hopeful about our growing village. One thing I didn’t think hard about before starting a family is how much my social life would change. It’s much easier for us to make plans that include George. While we can do so with non-parents, it helps when everyone is thinking about how to accommodate toddler schedules.
Q What are You Working on improving about yourself as a woman & A mother?
So many things! This is my second time as part of a founding team of an apparel startup. I learned the first time around that it is possible to never stop working. People notice and not in a good way: my relationships suffered. One of the reasons I’m starting Paper Cape is to reverse a growing narrative that to build a successful startup, you must be a twenty something with an engineering degree and no life outside of work. By contrast, I think having commitments outside of work forces entrepreneurs to be incredibly efficient and focused in the office.
In that spirit, I’m working on compartmentalizing my life both in terms of schedule and in terms of emotional energy so that I can be 100% at work when I’m at work and 100% focused on my son when I’m with him. An important part of this has been creating a space outside of the house where I can go to be in “work mode”. I share a WeWork office with a great friend who runs a different company. When I’m there, I’m working. When I come home, I mentally shift my role from entrepreneur to mother and partner. This setup is trickiest after dinner when I often put in a few hours of work perched at the island in my kitchen. If I start to get worked up about something that can’t be solved without staying up all night, I try to be disciplined about putting it away and revisiting it at my desk first thing in the morning. Writing these goals down here and talking about them with the people in my life helps keep me accountable.