The simple version of the story is that all of my friends got engaged when I was in my early twenties and in what felt like just a blink of my eye, I suddenly became Always The Bridesmaid.
I found myself collecting polyester dresses, spending weekends at bridal showers, bachelorette parties, or catching bouquets, while standing in the middle of a cold dance floor, beside a handful of other single and semi-hopeful women.
But the real slap in the face that made me decide to start Bridesmaid for Hire, a business where strangers from all over the world have enlisted my services to be there for them before and on the day of their wedding as a member of their bridal party, was because I was really, really good at being a bridesmaid.
Better than that, I was able to wrangle all of the people that come in to play on the wedding day, and often bring with them a clutch filled with drama, chaos, and unexpected twist and turns.
I was nicknamed the bridesmaid warrior, the bride's human Xanax, and finally “the professional bridesmaid" by my roommate, the night I posted the well-known Craigslist ad that took me from perpetual bridesmaid for my friends to the founder of a company where people paid me to zip on a dress, jump on a plane, and be there for them on their wedding day.
Two years, 30-something bridesmaid dresses, and over 40 clients later, I look back at my adventure so far and realize that there are 3 main reasons I decided to become the world's first professional bridesmaid.
1. I Wanted to End the Concept of Bridezillas
The term “Bridezilla" used to make me upset because I don't think most people understand the amount of stress and pressure that a bride feels leading up to her wedding day. There are questions over how she'll pay for the celebration, if her guests will like the venue and the food, and of course, if it'll look like the wedding she's always dreamed of. Because of so many unknowns and so many months of planning, emotions skyrocket and stress levels soar. Instead of writing off brides as going bonkers before their weddings, I wanted to intercept their chaos and help them make it down the aisle without feeling suffocated by what-ifs and unrealistic wedding expectations.
2. Being a Bridesmaid is a Lot of Work
The number one question people ask me is “Do brides only hire you if they don't have any friends?" and the answer is no. Often times brides hire me even if they have 5 or 7 other bridesmaids. But the role of being a bridesmaid is a lot of work and brides would rather their close friends have fun and enjoy the wedding adventure without giving them the headache tasks of planning a bachelorette party, organizing a bridal shower, and running around on the day-of the wedding as their personal assistant. That's what I'm there for instead.
3. I Didn't Like Weddings
This last one sounds a bit wacky, but it's true. After attending more weddings, for my friends, than I could count on both my hands, I started to roll my eyes at the concept of weddings because there was so much pressure attached to the idea that one day was supposed to be the most perfect and greatest day in a person's life. It's not. It is just a celebration of new, fresh love.
So make the day what you want and skip out on old school wedding traditions that you don't really need. Every bride I work with, that's what I tell them from day one. My goal is for them to have the wedding that they want, not the wedding that social media, the movies, or the wedding industry wants them to have.
New parents re-entering the workforce are often juggling the tangible realities of daycare logistics, sleep deprivation, and a cascade of overwhelming work. No matter how parents build their family, they often struggle with the guilt of being split between home and work and not feeling exceptionally successful in either place.
Women building their families often face a set of challenges different from men. Those who have had children biologically may be navigating the world of pumping at work. Others might feel pulled in multiple directions when bringing a child into their home after adoption. Some women are trying to learn how to care for a newborn for the first time. New parents need all the help they can get with their transition.
Women returning to work after kids sometimes have to address comments such as:
"I didn't think you'd come back."
"You must feel so guilty."
"You missed a lot while you were out."
To counteract this difficult situation, women are finding mentors and making targeting connections. Parent mentors can help new moms address integrating their new life realities with work, finding resources within the organization and local community, and create connections with peers.
There's also an important role for parent mentors to play in discussing career trajectory. Traditionally, men who have families see more promotions compared to women with children. Knowing that having kids may represent a career setback for women, they may work with their mentors to create an action plan to "back on track" or to get recognized for their contributions as quickly as possible after returning to work.
Previously, in a bid to accommodate mothers transitioning back to work, corporate managers would make a show at lessoning the workload for newly returned mothers. This approach actually did more harm than good, as the mother's skills and ambitions were marginalized by these alleged "family friendly" policies, ultimately defining her for the workplace as a mother, rather than a person focused on career.
Today, this is changing. Some larger organizations, such as JP Morgan Chase, have structured mentorship programs that specifically target these issues and provide mentors for new parents. These programs match new parents navigating a transition back to work with volunteer mentors who are interested in helping and sponsoring moms. Mentors in the programs do not need to be moms, or even parents, themselves, but are passionate about making sure the opportunities are available.
It's just one other valuable way corporations are evolving when it comes to building quality relationships with their employees – and successfully retaining them, empowering women who face their own set of special barriers to career growth and leadership success.
Mentoring will always be a two way street. In ideal situations, both parties will benefit from the relationship. It's no different when women mentor working mothers getting back on track on the job. But there a few factors to consider when embracing this new form of mentorship
How to be a good Momtor?
Listen: For those mentoring a new parent, one of the best strategies to take is active listening. Be present and aware while the mentee shares their thoughts, repeat back what you hear in your own words, and acknowledge emotions. The returning mother is facing a range of emotions and potentially complicated situations, and the last thing she wants to hear is advice about how she should be feeling about the transition. Instead, be a sounding board for her feelings and issues with returning to work. Validate her concerns and provide a space where she can express herself without fear of retribution or bull-pen politics. This will allow the mentee a safe space to sort through her feelings and focus on her real challenges as a mother returning to work.
Share: Assure the mentee that they aren't alone, that other parents just like them are navigating the transition back to work. Provide a list of ways you've coped with the transition yourself, as well as your best parenting tips. Don't be afraid to discuss mothering skills as well as career skills. Work on creative solutions to the particular issues your mentee is facing in striking her new work/life balance.
Update Work Goals: A career-minded woman often faces a new reality once a new child enters the picture. Previous career goals may appear out of reach now that she has family responsibilities at home. Each mentee is affected by this differently, but good momtors help parents update her work goals and strategies for realizing them, explaining, where applicable, where the company is in a position to help them with their dreams either through continuing education support or specific training initiatives.
Being a role model for a working mother provides a support system, at work, that they can rely on just like the one they rely on at home with family and friends. Knowing they have someone in the office, who has knowledge about both being a mom and a career woman, will go a long way towards helping them make the transition successfully themselves.