A chat with Maria McCool

09.18.22 04:04 PM Comment(s) By Adrienne Towsen

I am thrilled to add the second entry to our 'interviews with working moms' category. I had the pleasure of lunch and a great conversation with the very impressive Maria McCool. She is the mom of three as well as the co-owner of award winning Calista Salon and Spa in West Chester, PA (a place near and dear to my heartπŸ˜‰). If that is not enough, she is also the founder and CEO of the Calista Haircare Line which one of the most successful hair care brands showcased on QVC. Other accolades include competitive hair stylist, image coach/consultant and author, but her number one priority since becoming a mother has been her daughter and two sons. 

Let's find out how she does it all!

The Working Mom: "Tell me a little about your working mom situation"

Maria McCool:  "My oldest is my daughter who is 26 and then I have two boys who are 23 and 19.  The 26 year old is on her own. The 23 year old graduated from college this year and has just started his career In New York City. My daughter is in NYC as well, and then the youngest is a sophomore in college in California. So that's where I am now, but I became a single parent when they were quite young (8, 5 and 2). 

I have been doing hair my whole life. I started with my first perm and cut on my best friend when we were 12! I knew I wanted to have my own salon some day and was ready to pursue a great opportunity in California when my current partner, who was my boss at the time, approached me about opening a salon here. I was 23 when we opened Calista. The salon grew very fast. We were open 7 days a week and stayed open until 10pm."

The Working Mom:  "So how was that while having kids?"

Maria McCool:  "I had my daughter when I was 30, so 7 years in, which was good. I had a lot already under my belt at that point..,but by then, we had tripled in size and opened a much bigger salon, so I was still extremely busy. I also began looking for other ways to make money after going through my divorce, so I started creating the product line. We started building the brand on QVC, and it is now one of the top hair care brands sold there.

I always knew I wanted to have my own business, and I always knew I wanted to have children, so starting the business early was a good game plan...then I was a little bit more established when the kids came. When they were little, it was busy, but I was very grateful to have the business, because then, even though I was still working 60-70 hours a week, sometimes it was while they were asleep. I was fortunate enough with my hours, to be able to get them off to school and then off the bus in the afternoon.  I might have a helper come in at times, but I feel like my kids would say I was there for them. They were (and still are) my priority."

The Working Mom: "Was there ever a time when you felt like you would prefer to stay home full time with your kids? Was it even a possibility?"

Maria McCool:  "Maybe in some stressful moments, I thought that way, but I always knew it's who I am (my career). I think we have a purpose. Now the purpose of a working mom could be for financial reasons...you need to work, and there were times, since I went through a divorce, that I couldn't have not worked. I think part of my purpose in life was to raise those kids, but what I do day in and day out at work is definitely part of my purpose as well."

The Working Mom:  "What do you feel must be a priority with the kids? Were there things you would absolutely not miss?"

Maria McCool:  "Yes...so many things! Owning the business made that a little easier in the beginning, and I could just schedule around it. My clients knew I had kids and were understanding. I could move appointments around some. I tried to be organized enough to know when things were coming at school or other events and plan for them. When I was building the business at QVC, the schedule was a little more unpredictable, but I still was able to make time when needed and my kids were always my priority. The tv shows run 24 hours there, so at times I did overnights with a 3am show on air. That was great for my kids since I was at work while they were sleeping.

The Working Mom: "Are there any pearls you have or strategies which have worked well for you to manage work and kids on a day to day basis?"

Maria McCool:   "A couple of things....Definitely, I think organization is important. I even worked with an organizational coach at one point, and she had so many insights, like how to arrange the bedrooms. It made things easier, I kept it simple. To this day, I purge every season. You remember when your kids were little and things piled up...like all those McDonald's toys that ended up at the bottom of a basket and then they never played with them...well seasonally, I would go through stuff and get rid of things.  So organization is huge.

 (The Working Mom: RIP happy meal toysπŸ˜…)

The other thing...SLEEP! I think that what I learned is how to nap. Especially as a single parent, if there was even an hour window at a certain time, a nap could make a difference. Mornings could be hard. Getting up with three kids, and getting them off to three different schools, then going to work for a full day, getting them off the bus, getting the homework going, piano lessons, and then dinner..."

The Working Mom: "Did you have help?"

Maria McCool: "I had babysitters when they were little. I would go to the salon 4 days a week, so I would have someone there when I couldn't be. Later on I had an au pair and that was amazing, especially when I was doing the overnight work at QVC. But once they went to school, I made my schedule so that I could be there and didn't need as much help. I did always have a posse of people in the neighborhood. So, if I needed someone to get them off the bus, it could happen. Other, slightly older kids would come over and play for a couple of hours so I could get things done. I think you should try to have a posse of people...younger teens are great for entertaining the kids for a couple of hours. My kids would be so excited for this. I am the youngest of seven, so I always had older siblings around. This is the same idea. If possible, I think it's so helpful, and it's okay to take some time to do things yourself. If you can leave the kids for a couple of hours to run errands, go to the market, etc... it will really help."

The Working Mom: " Do you feel like the ability to manage work and family gets harder or easier as the kids get older?"

Maria McCool:  "I don't think it was any easier until they went to college. I think some people like different stages better because it might be easier for them. I think the high school years involve a lot of running around..., but I feel like what you learn as you have more kids is that everything is just a 'season'.  From the teething, to the diapers and so on, everything is just a season. They are doing that now and won't be doing it later. Now they are playing a sport but then it will be over. I say that to younger moms a lot. They may feel like whatever phase they are in is never ending, but they have to know it's just a season. You will eventually be sleeping again, You will eventually not be dressing them and doing everything for them, etc..."

The Working Mom: "Is there anything you would do differently when you first became a working mom based on what you have learned since?  Any advice for your younger self?"

Maria McCool: " Talk to people. It's not really something I would change, because I did do that. I had 50 clients a week I could talk to as well as friends and family members, so I had a lot of advice. It goes back to the seasons idea. Remembering that every phase is going to end.  I am a very living in the moment type of person, and I would suggest living in the moment."

The Working Mom: " Did you find there was a big difference going from one to two or then two to three kids?"

Maria McCool:  "Zero to one was the biggest change. The sleep deprivation is hard and everything is new. With the second and third babies, things aren't new anymore.  Since I am one of seven, I always thought I would probably have four. It didn't work out that way.  In retrospect, I think you have to have the time to give enough, not only physical support, but also emotional support. So I think, especially as a single parent, four would have probably been a lot for me to be able to give the best emotional support. Emotionally meaning...what they need when they had a rough day at school, didn't make the team, and so on. Now if I had not been a working mom, I may have had more like my mom, but as a working mom, there is only so much brain power. But of course, if I had four, I would have figured it out. Things would have changed...maybe I wouldn't have been able to work full time or maybe I wouldn't have started the hair care line when I did."

The Working Mom: "Are you able to find time for yourself? You are in the business of self care...do you make that a priority for yourself?"

Maria McCool: "Yes, I think it's really, really important. When I look at the time I had to carve out for myself, it may have only been five hours a month and that was fine. I don't think we should be selfless. Also this is the industry I'm in, I can't go around with my hair not styled... and I really like it obviously.πŸ˜‰ I definitely think it's important. It's so different now (easier with older kids). Being in the business, there was a point when I was getting weekly massages, but it wasn't always because the kids came first. But of course, massages, facials, nail care...all that stuff was my thing! Later on, I would also take a few days when I could and go away to a spa.

The good news is my kids like to do a lot of the same things that I like to do, so the beach and that stuff we could do together, but I would have to say for myself it was mostly the spa."

The Working Mom: "How did you handle times when there were conflicts between work and events with the kids? Was there ever a time when you had a work obligation and missed something with your kids? If so, how did it affect you and how do you think it affected them?"

Maria McCool:  "I don't think there is anything major I can remember that I missed, but I do remember the first time I had to go away for business. My daughter was not happy at first. She was maybe 3 at the time, and I was going to be away for 4 days. I created this whole scavenger hunt thing, and it was the highlight of the week. I told her about it and then she was like... 'when are you leaving?'πŸ˜…

I also think it's what you have 'banked'. You have put so much in over the years, that especially once they were in high school, they knew that if I missed something, I really had to. They would  understand even if they might still have been a little disappointed. A lot of times, even if they would say 'I'm good', I would still try to do something more another time. Not that I think they weren't being honest, but it's just what I wanted to do. For example, my youngest goes to Berkley and we just drove out there, cross country, together just him and I. That was not too long ago, and parents' weekend is next weekend. He told me I didn't have to come since we just did the road trip, but I plan to go...why not?! That's the kind of stuff they remember too."

The Working Mom: " Do you feel there is truly a way to achieve work/life balance?"

Maria McCool: " 100%!! I think it's because both things are so important to me. If something is not working, I change it. I think that if people are really struggling to achieve this, maybe they shouldn't be working (if possible). For me, I wanted both things so badly, I had to figure it out. I think it depends on your situation and everyone is different, but if you want both badly enough, you will make it work. I don't even want to retire... I mean, I don't want to keep working like I am now, but it will be something else I have to figure out."

Thanks so much for taking the time to share your experiences and advice with our working mom community! You are truly an inspiration!πŸ’—

Adrienne Towsen

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