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The 20 Most Influential Moms of 2017

  • Dan MacMedan/Contributor/Getty

    The Transformer: Drew Barrymore

    Actress, entrepreneur and writer, age 42 
    Mother of Olive, 4, and Frankie, 2 

    The former child star showed she had staying power by becoming a Hollywood boss and a successful businesswoman offscreen.

    I’ve acted my entire life, which I love, but when I had my first daughter, Olive, I decided it was time to take a break. That said, it was during this period that I launched Flower Beauty. With my own company, I was able to find the balance between being a mom and throwing myself into a new business passion, but all on my schedule.

    My mom and I didn’t have a traditional mother-daughter relationship. I was on my own and had to figure life out as it was thrown at me. This laid the perfect groundwork for what kind of mother I want to be to my two daughters.

    I got back in front of the camera for the Netflix show Santa Clarita Diet. I didn’t want to return to work as an actress, but I fell in love with the writing. I met with the show’s creator, the other actor signed on and it felt good. Both were married with kids and I knew family was their top priority.

    I used to care so much about every creative/business/day-to-day decision that I would drive myself crazy. Being a mom has totally changed my priorities and perspective. You wake up every morning with a mile-long to-do list and in order to get it all done, you gotta trust your gut, make a decision and move on to the next!

    Be nice. That ‘Hello’ or ‘Can I help you?’ may seem so small, but it could change a person’s day.

    Breathe…I got it tattooed on my forearm to remind me every day. 

  • Blake Newton

    The Starter Upper: Angela Benton

    Entrepreneur, founder of NewMe, age 35
    Mother of Asha, 19, Kaiya, 16, and Ava, 10

    Everyone deserves a place at the tech table, and Angela is making sure underrepresented entrepreneurs—including minorities and women—get a seat. Since she founded NewME in 2011, the company has helped more than 300 startups raise over $25 million in funding.

    My career has largely been led by intuition. I’ve just been smart enough to actually listen and follow it.

    The greatest myth about motherhood is that you have to be ready for it. You just have to flow with it. Each stage of your kids’ life will require a different version of you in order to parent them properly.

    I have a great coparenting relationship with my ex; right now my two youngest live with him full-time. This has allowed me to take care of myself while successfully fighting cancer.

    I’d like my girls to always trust themselves. Women are consistently given unsolicited feedback and if we don’t have a strong sense of self, it can end up derailing us.

  • The Player: Melissa Bernstein

    Cofounder and chief creative officer of Melissa & Doug, age 51
    Mother of Brendan, 23, Ilana, 22, Audrey, 14, Sydelle, 12, Esther, 10, and Nathaniel, 9

    Santa’s elves have nothing on Melissa Bernstein. The $400 million conglomerate she cofounded with her husband Doug features all manner of imaginative play, puzzles and crafts that embody the philosophy of their Take Back Childhood movement.

    When I found the intersection between what I was most passionate about and what I was most skilled at doing, work became an extension of who I was down deep in my soul.

    I had a very superstitious Jewish grandma. She was worried that calling attention to herself would cause someone else to give her a kenahora [the evil eye]. That’s why she taught me not to boast.

    Show your kids that you love them dearly, but also that you adore what you’re doing when you’re not with them. And that doing both makes you happy and a better person overall.

    I’ve known my husband for over 30 years, and he has been not only my life partner but my business partner. There’s no way I would have been able to handle the strain of running a large business and raising our six children without him by my side every step of the way.

    Motherhood isn’t perfect and glorious every day. It’s a reflection of life—and anyone who is honest will have to admit that life and motherhood are both bittersweet.

  • The Earth Mother: Natasha Bowens Blair

    Author, grower and food activist, age 34
    Mother of Ariah, 10 months

    Community, cultural empowerment and food sovereignty are the values that inspired Natasha to create her blog Brown.Girl.Farming. Her book, The Color of Food, celebrates the triumphs of Latina, Black, Native and Asian farmers nationwide and illustrates the challenges they face.

    I love the feeling of watching seeds sprout. It’s that cultivation of something epic, whether it be the literal seedlings popping up in the spring, or the look that emerges on the faces of new gardeners when they see what they’re capable of.

    I’m obnoxiously optimistic, and since optimism allows you to completely ignore the fact that you might not have a clue about how to accomplish something, that trait has allowed me to charge forward and just see what happens.

    I truly knew my work was right for me when I realized that it’s a perfect combination of parts of my life: food, race and culture, connecting with people, writing, overcoming barriers and, of course, getting my hands dirty.  

    While I love that motherhood connects us as women and we share so much on its journey, I think it’s a mistake to paint it with one single brush. We’re all impacted by the journey in our own way—it’s important that we honor and support one another.

    The three words my daughter uses to describe me? “Ba ba vfffff.” She’s obviously picking up on my love for farms with the sheep reference; the rest is up for interpretation. 

  • Circe

    The Storyteller: Erin Bried

    Founder and editor of Kazoo, a magazine for girls who aren’t afraid to make some noise, age 42
    Mother of Ellie, 6, and Bea, 1

    Little girls are so much more than sugar and spice and everything nice, but when Erin was looking for magazines for her daughter, she saw a void: an intelligent princess-free read for the younger set. So she created Kazoo, with stories developed or inspired by women of all kinds.

    You wouldn’t think it was such a radical idea to encourage girls to be smart, fierce and true to themselves. Kazoo is where my skills and passions intersect.

    When we started out, we were a kitchen table operation. Once the kids went to bed, we’d convert our living room into a mailroom. Then last fall a story about Kazoo went viral and blew up my in-box and crashed our site. Overnight we had more than 1,000 orders. Amid the frenzy, I accidentally sent out an issue that my 5-year-old literally had colored every single page in! At that point I knew we needed help.

    There would be no way to describe everything my wife does for me without it being a massive understatement. She is the other half of my brain—Kazoo would not exist without her.

    It’s almost impossible to create something that will bring people joy if the process doesn’t start from a place of joy.

    Ten years from now I hope I am still doing what I love—writing, but also surfing more. And by “more,” I mean I will have finally learned how to.

  • Brigitte Lacombe

    The Fighter: Gretchen Carlson

    Television journalist and women’s advocate, age 50
    Mother of Kaia, 13, and Christian, 12

    Calling out your boss for bad behavior requires a great deal of courage, especially when you’re a public figure. The former Fox News anchor opened up about sexual harassment in the workplace and helped other women fearlessly come forward.

    A week after I got married, I was fired from my television job in Cleveland and was told by one of my bosses that I would be fine now that I had a husband. Men never get told anything like that!  It was one of the toughest years of my life. Lesson learned: To pick yourself back up, you sometimes have to take a job that maybe isn’t tops on your list and doesn’t pay as much—you just have to work harder.

    I studied the violin as a child and listening was incredibly important.  It turns out listening is one of the most important talents to have when interviewing people.

    Tenacity, bravery and seizing every single day are the three qualities that got me where I am.

    My biggest hope for my kids? I don’t want them to look back and say “If only…”

  • Phoebe Rourke-Gabriel

    The Table Turner: Gracie Cavnar

    Founder and CEO of Recipe for Success Foundation, age 64
    Mother of Justin, 42, and stepmother to Bobby, 36, and Gina, 32

    When Gracie found out that kids who garden and cook make better dietary choices, a lightbulb went off. In 2005 this trained chef and philanthropist launched her foundation with classes for kids and parents. Gracie’s Seed-to-Plate Nutrition Education program is available in schools nationwide.

    I designed the strategies of Recipe for Success to mirror my personal passions of cooking and growing food. And when the frustrations of dealing with the bureaucracy beat me down, I can get an immediate lift by doing something I enjoy with kids who will benefit from it their entire life.

    The greatest myth about motherhood is that it comes naturally. My mother-in-law used to say that if you love enough, it overcomes your mistakes. Maybe. My son and I are close and I am very, very proud of him—but I honestly wish I had done some things differently, for both our sakes.

    My mother, who was whip-smart, super creative and driven to be successful, was regularly worn down by a system that did not support her desire for a career. It broke her and that was a terrible thing to witness. It made me that much more determined to be the master of my own destiny.

    “Forward until apprehended” is one of my favorite mottoes.

  • Mat Szwajkos

    Leader of the Pack: Claudia Chan

    Owner of S.H.E. GLOBL MEDIA, age 42
    Mother of Jackson, 21 months, and Arya, 2 months

    Harnessing the power of women is Claudia’s passion. Through her women’s leadership and education company S.H.E. Globl Media and its S.H.E. Summit, Claudia helps organizations and individuals become better leaders.

    What I love most is activating individuals to lead change. When one person takes action as a result of our programs or events, it improves not just their personal life but also the communities, workplaces and families they impact.

    I am a very spiritual person and believe that when your life and work are on the purpose God assigned to you, he will help you get the work done.

    Your time is less about the things you want to get done, and more about who you want to become.

    My mother is the reason I started my company. Because she was such a role model, I went through my childhood and 20s believing that girls were the stronger gender. Reading Half the Sky and becoming aware of the atrocities against women and girls worldwide ignited my obsession with learning about the state of women.

    I’d like my children to know that trials in life are inevitable and to not fear them but instead prepare for and even appreciate them. They’ll help build strength and character. 

  • Courtesty of Food Network

    The Spice Queen: Maneet Chauhan

    Owner/chef, Chauhan Ale & Masala House; owner, Mantra Artisan Ales, Tànsuŏ and The Mockingbird Nashville; judge, Food Network’s Chopped, age 40
    Mother of Shagun, 5, and Karma, 2

    Sometimes a woman’s place really is in the kitchen, especially if she has passion and skills. From India to Nashville—and on TVs everywhere—Maneet has become a star thanks to her global fusion cuisine and down-to-earth persona. 

    My parents joke that I was born with a ladle in my hands. I used to visit my older sister in her dorm, and I always brought food that I’d made. I think my epiphany came when I discovered that I was the most popular kid on campus: People love me for what I love doing!

    Our son Karma was born a preemie at 26 weeks, the day we opened our first restaurant. What helped me through was throwing myself into work. My daily schedule was getting up, going to the NICU for a few hours, then heading to the restaurant for a few hours, back to the NICU and back to work. To me it was important to dwell only on the positive. The more positive I was, the more positivity I’d be putting out into the world, helping both Karma and the restaurant to grow stronger.

    My grandmothers and mom have always been extremely supportive of what I have wanted to do and very proud of my achievements. That has helped me overcome the “what girls are supposed to do” misconceptions imposed on women in India.  

    There is no such thing as balance. Some days I struggle to keep my head above water, and it’s a successful day when I’ve managed to do so.

    I want my kids to know that if you set your mind to it, you will achieve it! I also don’t want them to ever have regrets. Learning experiences, yes—regrets, no.

    Here’s what my eldest said about me: “She’s a chef. She’s beautiful and she’s kind to other people and me. She gives nice cuddles and hugs and she can cook too and I love her.”

  • Amy Paulson

    The Wise Soul: Glennon Doyle Melton

    #1 New York Times best-selling author of Love Warrior, activist, creator of Momastery.com and founder of Together Rising, age 41
    Mother of Chase, 14, Tish, 11, and Amma, 9

    Alcoholism. Bulimia. Infidelity. Religion. No topic is off-limits to Glennon. Back in 2009 she started sharing through her blog, Momastery. Glennon then went on to help make other women comfortable in their own truth.

    The best advice I ever got from a friend: “You gotta quit drinking. It’s making you suck at life.” During my drinking decade, I believed I sucked. I didn’t know it was the booze that sucked. After I quit, life began.

    Courage, faith and shamelessness got me where I am today.

    My partner thinks I’m magic. She tells me so often and with such sincerity that I think one day I might start believing her.

    I’m horrible at laundry. I’m incapable of washing and drying a load on the same day, so my entire family smells like mildew. We have other strengths.

    We don’t need to show our kids perfection. We need to show them how a real human shows up, screws up, says sorry, forgives herself and repeats that process forever.

  • The Stem Champion: Maribel Gomez Mendoza

    Cofounder of Impact Education, director of K-12 Outreach for Latinas in STEM, senior product manager, age 37
    Mother of Belicia, 8, and Viviana, 4

    Diversity in the science, technology, engineering and math fields is gradually becoming a reality thanks to women like Maribel. Not only has she made a way for herself, but she’s helped create a path so that Latino students can explore their options and nurture future careers in the growing STEM sector.

    When I started studying engineering at MIT, I felt like a complete outsider and questioned how I would ever make it through. I had to work harder, but I also learned to work smarter. I leveraged the many resources available to me and stopped being afraid to ask questions.

    Dream big, share your dreams, then make them a reality. Share them with others not just to make yourself accountable, but also to network and get help. Don’t let your dreams stay a dream—get to work!

    The best advice I ever received? Forgive freely. Holding on to anger only hurts you in the end.

    Motherhood is wonderful, but it is not always pretty. A few years ago I was flying to Texas to visit family with my two daughters. The youngest was a few months and my older daughter was 4. I was quite proud of myself when the first two hours of the flight were pretty easy. Just as I completed that thought, my younger daughter had a tremendous diaper blowout. We hit turbulence and could not get up from our seats, so I was left trying to clean her up crammed into our seats—both crying. That’s real motherhood!

  • The Head Coach: Melissa Harper

    CEO of Good Sports, age 41
    Mother of Parry, 13, twins Elsie and Margot, 10, and Libby, 8

    Helping underserved children get in the game is the winning strategy behind Melissa Harper and Christy Keswick’s company. (Christy's profile follows.) Since its 2003 launch, Good Sports has donated over 20 million dollars’ worth of equipment, footwear and apparel to schools, recreation programs and community centers and helped introduce kids to pursuits that keep them active and healthy.

    The real key to success is working hard. There are a million books out there about networking, time management, strategy and more, but at the end of the day, if you don’t put in the effort and give it your all, you’re not going to succeed.

    My motto is “Play to win.” And that’s not because winning is all-important, but because if you don’t set out to win, put in the necessary effort and believe you can, then you’re never striving for success.

    Let’s kill the myth: Motherhood is not what you see on Facebook. It’s not all about pretty pictures and fabulous experiences and us adoring our kids. Some days it’s unbelievably hard, some days it’s great.

  • The Head Coach: Christy Keswick

    COO of Good Sports, age 41
    Mother of Anderson, 7

    I love the problem solving that comes with building and growing an organization. I love the freedom to be creative, to try new strategies and to stop doing things if they are not working.

    Someone told me early in my career that you shouldn’t feel the need to contribute to every conversation. I loved that because it gave me permission to listen, and I think listening is a competitive advantage.

    Our struggle with fertility was a personally challenging moment. After easily getting pregnant with our son, my husband and I weren’t able to have any more children. Initially, I was heartbroken, but I decided I couldn’t sacrifice my time with what I already have for what I thought I was supposed to have. 

  • The Filmmaker: Valarie Kaur

    Civil rights activist, lawyer, filmmaker, founder of Groundswell, a multifaith network, and founder of The Revolutionary Love Project, age 36
    Mother of Kavi, 2

    Trying to right the wrongs in the world is no small task, but Valarie is up for the challenge, camera in hand. Through her award-winning films, national campaigns for civil rights and commentary, she shines a light on hate crimes, gun violence, immigration issues, LGBTQI equality and more to make sure everyone is treated fairly.

    What I enjoy most about my work is the stories I hear. Every person has a story that has the capacity to change the world.

    When I was 20, a family friend I called “Uncle” was the first person murdered in a hate crime after 9/11. Balbir Singh Sodhi was a Sikh American who wore a turban as part of his faith. His murder made me an activist. Since then, I have worked with communities fighting for social justice. Their courage gives me strength.

    The best advice I ever got? Speak, even if your voice trembles.

    The three words my son uses to describe me: “Milk! Milk! Milk!” (We’re still weaning.)

  • Kieth Major

    The Producer: Tonya Lewis Lee

    Author, producer at Tonik Productions, entrepreneur, age 51

    Mother of Satchel, 22, and Jackson, 19

    After leaving a career in corporate law, Tonya decided to add producer, screenwriter, author and health advocate to her growing list of accomplishments.

    It was clear early on that being an attorney was not the best fit for me. The very first time I produced a 30-second spot for Nickelodeon I knew I had found my lane, even if I didn’t fully know what I was doing.

    Producing my film Monster [based on the novel by Walter Dean Myers] was a 10-year-long challenging moment. It was so important to never give up and to believe in the work, my partners and the project.

    My grandmother did work that she loved up until her death. I intend to be engaged in my own creativity into very old age.

    I can’t sing. I love to sing, but no one else wants to hear it.

    I love that my children are thoughtful people who love humanity and that they use their creativity as a means to say something about their world.

  • Mark Seliger

    The Mother's Helper: Jessica Seinfeld

    Founder and president of GOOD+ Foundation, age 45
    Mother of Sascha, 16, Julian, 14, and Shepherd, 11

    In late 2000 Jessica was a new mom. As she watched her baby outgrow perfectly good clothing and equipment, she realized that there were families who could use them. She soon created an organization that helps get necessary items into the hands of new moms in need.

    I started GOOD+ Foundation 16 years ago because it seemed obvious to me that a pipeline should exist between those who have outgrown family items and families in need. It has since evolved to become a national organization that has distributed well over 20 million items.

    One of the best pieces of advice I ever got came from my grandmother: “By age 40, you don’t have to finish a book you don’t love!”

    My husband, Jerry, has played a huge role in my success. Sixteen years ago, I was able to establish the GOOD+ Foundation more easily because I had access to media opportunities. However, what has made the most difference is how Jerry has stood behind me since we first conceived of this idea back in 2000.

    My biggest hope for my children is that they find work they love, have interests they actively pursue and get off their phones once in a while and look around.

    Two of my three kids are teens and at this moment they would say I’m “strict” and “mean” and “she makes us eat too healthy.” From my littlest: “smothering, overly attentive, affectionate.”

    Squeeze the life out of every day and do it with integrity.

     

  • The Medicine Woman: Sarah Soden, MD

    Neurodevelopmental pediatrician and director of the Center for Pediatric Genomic Medicine at Children’s Mercy Kansas City, age 46
    Mother of Benjamin, 16, and Samuel, 14

    When Sarah was in grade school, her class got to job-shadow and she chose to follow her pediatrician. That early experience set her on the path to her life’s mission. As director of the center, Sarah and her team use groundbreaking genetic testing to help uncover elusive diagnoses affecting infants and children.

    I’m honored to work with families whose children have special needs. When I can be of service to them, it makes my day. Sometimes that includes using genome sequencing to solve a difficult diagnosis, which is particularly fun because it brings my clinical and scientific roles together.

    When I first began to learn about genomes and gene sequencing, I was overwhelmed by the lingo and the rapid pace of technological advances. Mastering it all seemed truly impossible. So instead of trying to do that, I just tackled manageable pieces, one at a time.

    The qualities that got me where I am today are curiosity, flexibility and a willingness to fail.

    My mother was an educator for students with disabilities. She taught me to care about all kinds of children, especially the ones that need us most. Also, I don’t think I could have thrived as a working mother without her assistance.

    My children are teenagers now, and I love that they are starting to express independent authentic opinions about their world. They are both tuned in to issues of social justice, which makes me so proud. 

  • U.S. Fund for UNICEF

    The Global Mom: Caryl M. Stern

    President and CEO of UNICEF USA, age 59
    Mother of Lee, 21, James, 17, and older son Brian

    Doing life-saving work for children worldwide is Caryl’s calling. She started out in academia and moved on to serve almost two decades with the Anti-Defamation League, where she addressed issues like bigotry and discrimination. Finding a way to support the world’s children with UNICEF was the perfect next step.

    My mother is the greatest influence in my life. Her parents sent her from Vienna to America as a child refugee from the Nazis at the age of 6 with only her 4-year-old brother. She lived in an orphanage before being reunited with relatives. She taught me at a very early age that one person can make a difference, and that we could each be that one person. She also taught me what can happen when the world ignores what is happening around the globe.

    Playing “heads, shoulders, knees and toes” with a giggling group of kids in a refugee camp in Jordan made me realize that children, no matter where they are, are children first. They made me know that my work was the right fit for me.

    I feel so lucky that I’ve gotten to oversee UNICEF Kid Power. It’s a national program that gives kids a way to help eliminate severe acute malnutrition for their peers around the world.

    I am constantly amazed that my career aligns with my passion and what my heart drives me to do—support and advocate for the world’s children.

    Being a mom has taught me to come to terms with the fact that while you can influence many things, you cannot control everything. Children are their own people and they’ll stumble, fall, make mistakes and disagree with us as often as they will make us proud. 

    Early on in my marriage, I was given a big promotion and would earn more than my husband. I asked if my success bothered him and he replied, “When a player hits a home run, they score points for the whole team.” He has honored that sentiment my entire career, but also reminds me that at home, we’re equal partners.

    Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose, but you’ve got to get dressed for them all.

  • Lians Jadan

    The Engine Starter: Julia Steyn

    Vice president of General Motors Urban Mobility and Maven, age 41
    Mother of Andrei, 9

    The discipline of being a child piano prodigy helped lay the groundwork for Julia to become a powerhouse in the demanding automotive world. She knows that transportation has the ability to change lives, and she’s proud to be one of the driving forces.

    There is nothing more exciting than transforming a monumental industry with more than 100 years of history. Above all, shaping the future of transportation will directly impact my son.

    When I was a Russian teenage piano prodigy, a benefactor made an offer to sponsor me at a prestigious music academy in Michigan. With $15 in my pocket, I said yes. I had no idea if I’d ever see my family again. I put my head down, worked hard and graduated in less than two years. Balancing studies, piano practice and working in the commissary, I developed a deep aversion to Jell-O (I still cannot look at it) but I also learned fortitude.

    Make it personal. From hosting a dinner party to starting up a car-sharing service, it’s all about personal moments.

    Things I’m really bad at? My personal trainer might say burpees. My son might say I’m terrible at riding his new hoverboard—but to my credit, I was in heels!

  • Happy Family

    The Spooner: Shazi Visram

    Founder and CEO of Happy Family, age 40
    Mother of Zane, 7, and Asha, 9 months

    Shazi spun pureed vegetables and fruits into gold. Her organic baby food company has become a multimillion-dollar business, one bite at a time. The daughter of Tanzanian and Pakistani immigrants is fortunate to have her two best customers in-house.

    I love that we support the well-being of our children with thoughtfully made organic food. Supporting our children’s health also allows us to support a healthy planet and help so many others.

    The most challenging time was when my son was diagnosed with regressive autism. All of a sudden, we had a child with special needs. It’s still hard but we never accept any limitations and are always fighting for him.

    My mom showed me that intelligence, creativity and hard work combined can overcome the most challenging circumstances. She was one of the first women in Pakistan to have her own medical practice. But when she immigrated to Canada, she was only allowed to change bedpans as a nurse for a few dollars a day. So she went into business, running a motel. By the time I got into college at Columbia, I had everything any privileged kid I knew had, with no student loans and only the expectation that I could do anything.

    The greatest myth is that you have to sacrifice your career to be a good mom. Our team has so many moms kicking ass every day, in business and in motherhood.

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