Resides in Mendham, NJ
PR Mommy: How many children do you have? What are their ages and names?
Ilyssa Maisano: I have four amazing children. My eldest, Layla Rose, is 8 years old. My 2nd is Jax who is also 8 years old. Nope, not twins! We adopted Layla when she was 5 days old and just a month later adopted Jax when he was 4 weeks old! My third and our little surprise baby, is Nahla Maeve who is 7, and then my bonus baby Paisley Brooke is 4 years old.
PRM: What inspired you to adopt before having your own children?
IM: They are all my “own” children, but my inspiration came from my parents. Growing up we had foster children in and out of our home for as long as I can remember. I saw how lucky we were to have so much love every day that everyone takes for granted. My parents gave each child just as much love and they truly became part of our family whether just for a day or for many years. It taught me that DNA doesn't make a family, love does. I always knew from a young age I would be adopting children because of that. I knew whatever children were meant to be mine, it will be, and I was right. We didn’t know which would come first, biological or adopted children, but after several attempts at both IUI and IVF fertility treatments, we knew that the plan was supposed to be adoption first.
PRM: What was the adoption process like?
IM: The adoption process for the most part is a difficult one. With Layla it was very up and down. There were many court hearings and paperwork that needed to be done between the state I lived and the state where we adopted her from and it was a very lengthy process. Layla’s adoption took 8 months to complete. Jay’s adoption was very different. His adoption was completed in 2 weeks but we waited on his finalization until Layla was ready and we finalized them together in August of 2010. It was an incredible journey that I wouldn’t trade for anything.
PRM: What are some unique realities of raising children of a different race?
IM: For our family, it is only positive that our family is mixed racially. My children are raised knowing at the earliest age that the color of your skin doesn’t define who you are. They are not colorblind, they know their siblings are a different race, but it doesn't matter. They love each other for who they are which is a very important lesson from an early age. That is the reality in my family, unfortunately it is not the reality for many people around us. We live in a predominantly white community and therefore they are the only black children in their class. It doesn't affect my son much, but my daughter talks about it often. There are times at school that children will say things to her about her race, or the fact that she is not the same race as her parents and we have provided them with the language to use to help other children better understand.
On another note, I struggle with certain things like, hair! LOL! Don't judge me but I have watched countless youtube videos on how to do Layla’s hair. I think I am actually pretty good! I also have some pretty amazing friends from high school (Dreena included) that are completely accepting of my family and willing to help me with my countless questions about their hair and skin. I am learning as I go and my children understand that.
The other harsh reality of raising children that are African American is teaching them about race and the hate in that currently exists in the world towards people that are different. I have started to teach them age appropriate things, we discuss black history (bc I believe that its extremely important), and we have tons of books about incredible, strong black leaders and historical moments.
PRM: What is your current occupation/title?
IM: Since I was a special education teacher before I had children, education is extremely important to me, my sisters and I started a non-profit organization called The Growing Hearts of Africa Foundation, which is dedicated to building quality learning facilities for children in Africa. To date we have built 12 elementary schools in under served areas of Ethiopia, and we are in the beginning stages of building a school in Uganda, we have also funded several medical missions to countries all over Africa.
I am also the owner of ThreeBabies Photography by Ilyssa Maisano, where I specialize in newborn photography. I've been a photographer for 6 years but just for the last couple of years I have focused on newborns. I feel so lucky to call this my job, and I'm grateful to have clients who not only trust me to capture that very special time in their life but have grown to become friends.
PRM: How do you manage/balance your mommy title with your professional title?
IM: Although I take on a lot in life, somehow I manage to do it all in either the 2 hours I have no kids at home when they are all at school at the same time or when they go to sleep at night. Sometimes I get work done when I am taking them to an activity and have some time to just sit, but mostly when they are not home. Sometimes I wish there were more hours in the day, but I’m thankful for what I have and all that I do.
PRM: How do you find time for yourself?
IM: Downtime? I’m not sure I know what you mean! I don’t have a lot of down time but I really consider my jobs “me” time. When I get to snuggle a one week old baby it makes me happy, when I'm working on how I’m going to build a school for 500 children that otherwise wouldn’t be able to, I’m happy. My kids are still little, I’ll have plenty of time for myself when they are teenagers and I’m not the coolest thing in their world anymore!
PRM: Where do you get your inspiration from?
IM: My family. My parents raised us to accept others for who they are, never judge and to always help others in need. These are all rules that I live by and have been teaching to my children. My sisters also inspire me, they are both incredible mothers, my brother has always been supportive and my husband is my rock.
PRM: Who and/or what is your style inspiration?
IM: When I’m not in yoga pants, I have a very Anthropologie type style. I love a good pair of jeans and a t-shirt with a twist. I always have to be comfortable, I’m not one to wear heels when I don't have to but I love a good pair of flats, some jeans and a cute top. That is my go to.
Recently I started to get into off the shoulder shirts which I just love, I feel put together, sexy, but still comfortable. If I had to choose someone who I pull inspiration from I think I would say its Katherine Heigl. She always looks appropriate, put together, and beautiful.
PRM: Who’s your mom crush?
IM: Honestly? My sisters. They have shown me that there are so many different ways to parent, no one way is the right way.
I never judge another mom for what they are doing and I hope for the same from others towards me.
My sisters are incredible parents who love their children but are both very different mothers. I believe I am a mix of both of their parenting styles and we have found what works for us.
PRM: What quote do you live by?
"Different is a good thing".
This is a quote that I instill in my kids and that we always say. My oldest child has special needs and all four of my children are very different from each other. Yes, two of them are adopted and two of them are biological, but what makes them different is not the DNA, it's them.
PRM: What advice would you give to other mommy bosses?
IM: Don’t forget who you are and what you stand for. You lead your business, don’t let your business lead you. I do what I’m passionate about, if it becomes too much or not what I was in it for in the first place I take a step back and think about what I truly want out of my business.
PRM: What are your top 3 self-care experiences? (i.e. massage, manicure, new shoes, etc.)
IM: Massages! I never take time away from my kids to care for myself, I know I know, they would be fine, but I really love to spend as much time as possible with them so I often get massages in my home after they have gone to sleep so I'm not far from them! It is a time where I can just zone out and be me while getting into a meditative state that hopefully melts away the stresses of the day. Honestly, I do yoga a lot and have to stare at my feet so I love getting pedicures, just one less thing to "worry" about ;) And lastly, whether I do it online or with the kids, I love to shop. Since having kids I do more shopping for them than I do for myself but it still gives me the same satisfaction!
PRM: As a boss mom, what is one essential item you have that you can’t live without and why?
IM: If I had to choose one thing it would probably be my camera. Not because I am a photographer though, but because I love to capture those small moments during the day, the everyday with my kids. Whether they are perfecting their cartwheel, jumping in puddles, doing their homework, or the rare occasions where all four are doing one thing together, at the same time, I like to capture it.
I always live in the moment and the memories are what mean the most, but the photographic evidence certainly helps.
I want to cherish those memories forever, so I quickly snap a picture, edit it and save it for a yearly book I put together of my family of the small moments that truly mean the most to me.