When Shelly Bell became a mother at 17, she was determined to overcome the economic consequences that often result from teenage pregnancies. So she threw herself into overdrive—and has been going nonstop ever since. “It was like working a muscle that got stronger, and now I can lift a lot more than I ever could,” she says.
We spoke to the Northern Virginia mom about the joys and challenges of raising three kids—Damien, 21; Josiah, 18; and Skylar, 6—while leading a national movement of thousands of female entrepreneurs.
Can you describe the type of work that you do?
I work to create a more equitable world for women and to inspire women to see themselves as deserving of a more equitable world. My company, The Black Girl Ventures Foundation, works to create access to social and financial capital for Black and Brown women-identifying founders. We believe that community, capacity and capital are the building blocks for creating a sustainable business. When women founders have these three pillars, they are able to generate generational wealth for their families.
What’s the hardest part about juggling motherhood and your career?
For me, everything has to have a rhythm and a flow. The COVID-19 quarantine laughed at my rhythm and threw me off beat. Trying to be a great mom while managing virtual kindergarten, speaking engagements, coaching, facilitating and fundraising meetings is really challenging. Juggling motherhood and my career was a little easier when my Josiah was living at home and everyone had somewhere to go during the day. Now that Damien and Josiah are in college, it’s just Skylar and me toughing it out every day.
What’s something that makes it easier to balance both?
Skylar’s dad and I have week-week visitation, so she is one week with me and one week with him. Having an active co-parent is super helpful. I plan around the days she is with him to catch up on things and to work the longest hours. I also block time on my calendar to be sure I can be with her during class breaks. I have decided to hire help in areas that would slip while I am busy, including tutors, cleaners and sometimes a chef or a food delivery service. HelloFresh has been a bit of a lifesaver!
What do you love about being a parent?
The simple things like laughter and playing. I love the first words, first steps, first school day, first college acceptance letter, etc. I love the feeling when my children are happy to see me and they say, “Mommy!” There is no better feeling than that for me. I also love knowing that I am contributing three amazing leaders to the world that I want to be a better place. Being a parent reminds me to look at life from all angles. Watching my children grow up into amazing adults has been one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever had.
What’s your biggest parenting fail?
When Josiah was about 7 or 8, he made me his version of hot chocolate. It was overly watery, not mixed properly and had mushrooms floating in the grit of the cocoa bits. I smiled and pretended to drink knowing I was absolutely not about to drink it. I sat it on the counter, got busy doing something and forgot to pour it out. Days later, I noticed him looking sad, so I asked him what was the matter. With the saddest face ever, he looked up at me and said, “You never drank my hot chocolate.” I was like, “OMG! I didn’t pour the friggin’ brown water he made me down the drain.” It is a story that we remember to this day.
How has your family been handling the pandemic?
Damien and Josiah are in college and handling it pretty well. I am home with Skylar two weeks a month, and being an entrepreneur has been challenging for her to understand. At her dad’s, the work hours of the adults are typically consistent. At my place, I may be on calls from 8 a.m. until 10 p.m. fundraising, coaching and speaking. Josiah didn’t realize all the work I was actually doing until now. In July, he said, “Wow, Ma. I thought you were sleeping all day.” I would be asleep when he left and taking a nap when he would come home from school, so he assumed that I was sleeping all day. It never occurred to him that I needed rest from all the working I had been doing.
What’s the one thing you hope your kids learn from you and your career as an entrepreneur?
I hope my kids learn to believe in themselves and to try something new. I want them to develop a playbook for their own successes. I want them to know that they can dream up something, activate it and that it can be a viable business.