Google Marissa Kraxberger and about 100 interviews with her come up, almost all of them titled How Does She Do It? People are enamored (and perhaps perplexed) by this woman, and it’s not hard to see why. Marissa is the Vice President of Creative at Ivanka Trump, with past positions including Art Director at Diane Von Furstenberg, Web Art Director for Kate Spade, and most recently, Vice President of Art Department at Oscar De La Renta. Somehow, in between a career and two kids (Alexa, 4, Hayden, 3), Marissa also has a blog: Lady & Prince, which documents her life as a working mom in New York City. Scrolling though the glossy pictures (it helps that Marissa is super pretty and has a professional photographer for a husband), it’s no wonder women are wide-eyed behind their computer screens. But Marissa is determined to dispel the fairy-tale facade, claiming that it’s all a work in progress: “I love to work and I love being a mom, and I’m figuring out how to do both every day.”
“Last night I tried to make it to an event to meet my husband and kids, and was literally falling apart at the seams. I was late out of my meeting, sprinted from the Trump tower to the subway—the whole time thinking I had turned into that cliche of the disheveled, working woman running late to her kid’s thing. A train and a cab later, I missed the entire event. People probably think my life looks a little cookie-cutter perfect sometimes, but there are days when I’m falling apart and don’t know how to do it. I’m trying to weave more of that reality into my storytelling on Lady & Prince, because I feel like it’s my job to be as real as possible. So much of the time we’re able to curate an image of ourselves exactly how we want to. Being in branding, I’m particularly good at it.
The truth is, I’m trying to find the time to blog between everything else in the first place. Time takes on a new meaning when you have kids—you’re more efficient than you thought humanly possible. We do a lot of activities with our kids—I’m not the kind of mom who likes to sit at home and play. People always ask how I have the energy to go out and do things on the weekends—and it’s because I don’t have the energy to sit at home and play barbies. I’m not with my kids all the time, so I’m always thinking, how can I be the best mom possible when I do have them? If I was home I’d want to be on my computer. That’s in my nature and I’m forever trying to figure out how to remove myself from that. I find that feeling of always being connected difficult—and think that learning to disconnect will be the next learning curve for people. It’s a blessing and a curse:
I’m always connected to work and I’m always connected to family, but I never feel like I can breathe.
We have this approach at work that is aimed at creating balance—in that we’re always connected, so we can work from anywhere. But what if I don’t want to work from anywhere? It stresses me out that there are no boundaries, those lines are so blurred now.
I’ve always been that way—naturally work-inclined—but my husband and I always said that 5 years into marriage would be the right time for us to have kids. And we stuck to it, almost to the day. I didn’t put my life on hold either—I flew to China to shoot a DVF campaign at 6 months pregnant, and left DVF for Kate Spade at 8 months along. I think being aligned in a relationship and having the same goals helps more than anything. My husband and I knew we wanted to have at least two kids and that we wanted to be young parents. We also knew life would change and didn’t have any false realities about that. We didn’t know exactly how, but knew things would be different. We knew it was going to get harder, that life would get complicated, but we also knew that we were passionate about being parents. Since becoming a mom, I’ve learned so much about myself, and in many ways, the life we have now is not how I expected it would turn out to be.
Before I had my kids, I thought I’d be a stay at home mom. But I didn’t have that option. After 3 months I had to go back to work, but in doing so, was really surprised by the fact that I didn’t really miss being at home. It sounds terrible, and I obviously missed my son and daughter, but it’s just life. I don’t know anything different. I still feel guilty sometimes, but it’s never because I’m at work. I feel guilty if I do things when I’m not at work and supposed to be at home. I struggle taking personal time for myself outside of work, because I think of work as my personal time. But something equally surprising in returning to work, is that the kids are completely OK. They love our nanny and they love school. Everyone acts like it’s this big, damaging thing to have both parents working. There’s a lot of judgment out there—but you know what?
You have no idea what I’m instilling in my children because I work.
That guilt associated with working mothers is such a shame. I think it’s been created over generations of women transitioning from home into work and what that means. Men don’t have that guilt. My husband goes for 6 hour bike rides on a Saturday and I’m like—do you not feel guilty at all that you’re spending time away from us? And he’s like, I love you, but no. How is that possible?
While we need to change the narrative around women who work, we also need to change the narrative around men, because they have very different roles now too. Our situation is not entirely traditional in that I’ve always been much more of the go-getter, ambitious type in our marriage. When Nate and I were first together, I was interning in New York City while he was in school for photography. He ended up moving here for a job I got. For the first few years we lived off of what I brought in, while he interned or freelanced.
It was really hard, because when you’re driven like I am, you also have high expectations for everyone around you.
I was never without 18 million projects including my full-time job, and he was slower. But he was so supportive of me, and I needed to learn how to be supportive of him. Now, 10 years later, I finally understand his workflow—and we’re also on a more level playing field. So there were definitely rough times in the beginning, and I’m glad we didn’t have kids that young because we weren’t ready. The good thing is, when we did have kids we defined roles. For example, Nate’s the heavy lifter when it comes to pick-ups and drop offs, because I work longer hours than he does. And it’s given him this great connection with his kids, they adore him.
I feel like our generation is defining a new norm. We’re creating a completely different home and family life than what has existed in the past. Women are realizing they have a lot to give and it doesn’t always have to be through kids. I hope by the time my daughter is in my position, these won’t be conversations that she’s having. That society and workplaces will have caught up, and it will just be. A really important moment for me was not too long ago—when my daughter was still in bed and I had to leave early for work. She was asking me why I had to leave for work, and couldn’t I just stay home? I almost said, I wish I didn’t have to and I’d rather be at home with you—but instead, I said—I love you the most, but I also love to work too. I want her to grow up thinking work is a great thing, that it helps fulfill a passion in life.
I want both of my children to find that passion, whatever it may be, and pursue it. I want them to see that my husband and I love what we do and that we also love each other. Nate and I have a standing date night that we always take. It’s hard saying goodbye to the kids, but we tell them that it’s really important for mommy and daddy to have time together too. I want them to know that both work and family are important and that it is absolutely great to love both—that you don’t have to pick one or the other. That you create the life you want to live. I think I’d want everyone to know that, if you want to do it you can.
So many of us let things get in the way, but we all have the power to choose.
It’s really just deciding and focusing on that—because people will tell you that you can’t. I’m from Atlanta, where no-one thought we could live in New York, and definitely no-one thought we could raise kids here. We started off living in a shoebox apartment, and since then we’ve grown, we’ve pushed our careers forward, and we’re doing it. Even when it’s hard, I step back and think how far we’ve come, and how hard we’ve worked to get here. I hope our children see that while life is sometimes hard and things break down, we come back and it’s all about love. That they understand we are trying our best.”
Photography care of Lady & Prince
As told to Amy Woodside, November 2014