WMM Spotlight

April 2019 Spotlight | Mandy Potapenko

April 2019 | Working Moms of Milwaukee Spotlight | Mandy Potapenko

Happy April! This month we're spotlighting local mom, Mandy Potapenko, Executive Director of Milwaukee Community Justice Council. Read more about this incredible mom in our exclusive interview!

Please tell us your Name / Employer / Profession(s)

Mandy Potapenko, Executive Director, Milwaukee Community Justice Council – I am responsible for working with local criminal justice system leadership and community on strategic, collaborative, system change efforts, and ensure coordination across justice entities to improve public safety in Milwaukee County.  In essence, I gather groups of people around common criminal justice priorities and work to implement strategies to address those priorities.

How many children do you have?

I have one son, Eli, turning two on April 23

Explain/describe one of your proudest mom moments recently.

I feel like we’re in a period with so many new developments - new words, funny phrases and/or skills that he’s learned at daycare.  I am proud to see how much Eli’s growing into a caring and social little person. I also love the close bond my son and his dad have formed.  As much as I love to hear my son call for “mama” when he first wakes up or wants to play, my heart also explodes when I hear him call for “dada.”

What do you like best about your job?

I really enjoy building and sustaining relationships.  It is through relationships that we are able to develop understanding and find ways to tackle challenges that are too large to accomplish alone.  

Throughout my career, I seem to always find myself positioned in a unique role that is never easy to explain or do, but I find satisfaction in my work having a direct impact on my community.  I am also grateful to work in a community where so many individuals in key leadership positions come together to roll up their sleeves and problem-solve for the greater good.

What's the hardest part of being a working mom?

That’s a tough question.  There are many hard things but I think many of them come with motherhood in general.  The hardest part of being a working mom for me is prioritizing myself. Of all the juggling of things, I often put myself last.  I don’t take a lunch to meet a deadline, I don’t go to the gym because I want to see my son awake, I skip an AM shower to make it into the office early so I can make it to the grocery store before picking up my son from daycare, etc.  

As challenging as it is to be away from my baby all day, I know working is best for me and our family.  As a family, we selected a daycare that provides amazing opportunities for my son, more than I could if I stayed home with him, and for that I am so grateful and it makes going to work a little bit easier.

What has been the biggest surprise so far in motherhood?

How quickly the “baby” phase disappears.  In the moments of cluster feeding, pumping, cleaning bottles, being up all night, you will believe it will never end.  Then suddenly it does. Now my son is getting his own yogurt pouches out of the fridge and handing me the TV remote asking for (lets be real, demanding) “Mickey-time.”  Who is this kid and where’d my baby go?!

Did you always want to be a mom?

Can I be honest?  Um, not really. Over the years, I suffered from a number of health conditions that led my doctors to not only believing I couldn’t get pregnant, but that I also wouldn’t be able to maintain a pregnancy – all of which I accepted and was pretty content with.  Keeping a very long story short, to our HUGE surprise, I did both with success! It was a big transition, but I now couldn’t imagine not being a mom!

Did you grow up in the Milwaukee area?

I’m a Wisconsin native.  I moved to Milwaukee from a small town in northeast Wisconsin to attend UW-Milwaukee, which is where I met my husband.  We currently live in Wauwatosa and love the community that surrounds us.

Do you have any words of advice for other working moms, especially those that are newer working moms and learning how to navigate this new world?

Advocate for your needs and don’t think you have to do it all.  I work in an environment that is often dictated by meeting schedules; most of which are off-site from my office and run notoriously long.  In the early months of being back at work, I didn’t advocate for my needs (ex. time for meals, pumping breaks, and the need for accommodations in scheduling so that I could look presentable at my first AM meeting).  Looking back, I wish I would have. Also, I encourage you to give yourself grace in what you can feasibly accomplish in a day/week. The difference between finding balance and disappointment is your expectation. Would I like to check everything off my to-do list before leaving to pick up my son? Or have a perfectly vacuumed home without dog hair?  You betcha! But I’ve realized that I can’t squeeze it all in all the time. I pick what’s most pressing (or annoying) in the moment and tackle it. In the end, I typically embrace the chaos and spend my time with my family when the opportunity is there, or heck, lay on that couch and catch up on TV after baby is asleep!

Do you have a favorite MKE restaurant/store/hangout? 

We’re big into supporting local businesses.  Living in the Pasadena neighborhood of Wauwatosa, we love being able to walk to Mid-, East, and Downtown Tosa to support businesses in our community.  Collectively, I think Cranky Al’s wins for all-around favorite in our house (toddler’s vote included).

Stone Creek is my go-to.  The Factory Café location downtown has fueled my working-mom body and brain since early in my pregnancy.  As part of my morning commute, I became extra fond of their vanilla bean lattes. In the early months of returning to work, after long nights of multiple wake-ups, the contents of the cup would give me the hug I needed and say, “Get it girl.  It will be ok. You can do it.” 😀

Other favorite spots – Bavette and Screaming Tuna

What makes your family unique?

My husband was born in and spent much of his childhood in Ukraine.  Eli’s first trip to visit family was at 5 months old. We look forward to continuing to visit as often as we are able, as Eli’s great-grandma and many cousins are there.  I am excited and happy to incorporate both American and Ukrainian family traditions into Eli’s childhood.

What (in your opinion) is Milwaukee's biggest opportunity to improve the lives of working moms and better support them?

I’m inspired by the increasing support for and conversation about the needs of working moms (and dads).  Flexibility for families, especially new families, is key. When I think about all the challenges I had in the first year of returning to work, from weekly physical therapy and cranial band appointments to unplanned (never-ending) illnesses, etc., the one thing I’m so grateful for was the flexibility I had with my employer.  Because of my employer’s willingness to be flexible and understanding, it made me a better employee and mom. It goes so immensely far in allowing families to feel like they can have some balance without being torn between a rock and a hard place.

Do you have any fun plans or trips on the books for this summer?

We look forward to simply enjoying summer!  We chose to live in Wauwatosa because of the walkability, and we look forward to enjoying all that our community has to offer, especially Hoyt Park and the Beer Garden.  We’re also fortunate to have a few family members with pools and look forward to spending some time out on Papa and Grandma’s boat!

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