Exclusive: Natalie Manuel Lee Talks The Return Of ‘Beyond The Surface,’ Adjusting To Motherhood And More!

Beyond The Surface,” powered by Buttah Skin, delves into the professional and personal breakthroughs of Black creatives and entrepreneurs across various industries. Executive produced and led by host Natalie Manuel Lee, the series provides a judgment-free zone for guests to transparently reveal their mental and emotional struggles, how they’ve been able to cope with the effects of the pandemic, and so much more!

The web-series, launched earlier this year, has already featured an incredible line-up of guests which include Cari Champion, Lamorne Morris, Bresha Webb and Nina Parker. And has now returned with its second round of episodes, spotlighting Angela Davis, Khadijah and Malika Haqq, Melanie Fiona and Vanessa Simmons.

Read as Natalie shares the decision behind setting the second set of episodes on the topic of motherhood, how she’s been able to balance life as a wife and working mother and more!

Jadriena Solomon: In the show’s first round of episodes, viewers listened as you discussed the breakthrough moments in the careers of your guests, as well as how they dealt with the isolation and transformative time of the pandemic. What prompted the decision to shift the focus more on motherhood and parenthood for these second round of episodes?

Natalie Manuel Lee: Great question. It’s something that I’m experiencing in real time and I want people to be able to dive in and see what tools myself, and the guests, use and what tools we don’t. 

I saw a huge need for moms and parents to have a community that is willing to be vulnerable and honest with their highs and lows of parenting because it’s hard, you know? It’s a journey. But the greatest way for all of us to get through it is through community and authentic conversations. And for me – since I was going through the challenges of it in real time – I decided that it was something that really needed to be highlighted. 

Not only is it a universal topic, but it’s something that we can all relate to regardless of whether you’re a mother or a parent because we all tap into that fear of the unknown or learning what it feels like to relinquish control. We all tap into the lesson of just learning to trust the process.

JS: In an interview with Essence, you shared that you wanted to highlight that “there is no one way to be a mom.” As a mother to your 1-year-old daughter, what lessons, or methods, of parenting have you observed from your guests?

NML: Yes, the episode with Melanie Fiona. She really emphasized the lesson of surrendering and what it really means to do that when it comes to motherhood and parenting. 

For me – growing up with a faith-based background – surrendering was something that I was very familiar with, but it became a bigger challenge when I became a mom. I learned that you can’t control how things are going to be, you can’t control when your children get sick, what they’re around, what they’re not around. And for me, I was consumed with wanting to do everything right. I had to learn that the reality was to simply surrender and not try to get everything perfect. 

JS: In the episode with Angela Davis, you got a bit emotional when speaking of the challenges of working and being away from your 1-year-old daughter. As a new mother, and working woman, would you say that separation is the most challenging thing of balancing these roles? And how have you been able to adjust?

NML: One thousand percent, unequivocally, yes! I’m still adjusting. I have my times where I have to be on-the-go, and sometimes mom guilt will creep in and sometimes I’ll be okay. But this is the new me – understanding the importance of showing her balance and not losing myself as I morph into this new season of my life. I think this is probably the biggest challenge of motherhood and working. 

I don’t believe that mothers should have to put aside their purpose work – we should feel more empowered to do it. I definitely feel more empowered, encouraged and confident in my work. But it’s so funny because on the flip side, I still have those moments of guilt and difficulty striking a balance. I’m still finding that balance and I think it’s something every working mother struggles with. 

I love that you watched that interview with Angela because it was literally me in that moment, and she highlighted what I was going through in real time – I’m at work, I’m on set. And yet my heart is tugging towards my daughter, MaeJones. But in all reality, this is what it’s supposed to be.

I also think that it’s important to embrace what you feel in the moment but also  understand that you’re still working in your purpose and in your calling, even when you’re not able to be around your children. Understanding that the purpose is bigger than them, and bigger than yourself. And those emotions shouldn’t interfere with the calling and purpose of your life. You don’t want it to abort anything that you’re called to do. For me, it’s been an everyday struggle but it’s made me more self-aware and more awakened to how I need to flow daily.

JS:  This set of episodes also focuses on love and relationships. How have you been able to maintain a healthy romantic relationship with your husband, continuing to be present in your relationship, while adjusting to the constant needs of being a mother?

NML: For me, it’s just making sure that things are in order. I believe God has an order and the first thing, to me, is your marriage. Then it’s motherhood, then it’s workflow. I’m still figuring that out and I’m still finding that flow, but I think it’s the best solution for people that are trying to balance it all. Just understanding that life has an order, God has an order. And once you hit those pillars, everything else will flow.

JS: The series also focuses on the mental and emotional effects of the pandemic on your guests, and while we haven’t completely emerged out of the pandemic, we’ve certainly spent a lot of time preparing for that moment. How do you feel you’ve changed since the time we entered the pandemic, to now?

NML: I’m definitely way more intentional. I think that anything I do and everything that I do, would I say that I was intentional before? Sure. But I think right now the intentionality is a little bit different and deeper. I think for me, what the pandemic has done is highlight the things that are most important. I know that kind of sounds cliche, and I know a lot of people have said that, but that’s literally what my experience has been. 

I became a mom during the pandemic. So I can also say that I’m a little softer, a little bit more aware of the things around me, and aware of the things in my community.

JS:  One of the things that I really love the most about beyond the surface is its ability to create community. It candidly shows us that celebrity or not, we’re really no different from one another. We all struggle with mental health, we’re faced with the challenge of parenting, and the challenge of breaking into our careers. But what I really loved about the second set of episodes is that it focused on our ability to create community and resonate with one another as women. At the end of your second set of episodes, what have you come to love the most about the series?

NML: I’ve been doing this for several years now, and I think that this last batch has been such a food for my soul. I always say that the greatest way to serve is to tell your story. And so for me, being in the driver’s seat of and being able to orchestrate these conversations and find ways to serve viewers like yourself, and serve listeners with tools that can help them – that they can implement in their daily lives – has been bred for my soul. 

From the Melanie Fiona episode when we were simply just talking about motherhood and surrender, to Vanessa Simmons, to everybody that shared the most vulnerable parts of themselves – has been a testament into my life, into the things that they’ve gone through, and things that they’ve been able to help me with as I go through them.

I want to cultivate a community for the listeners of course, but the series has definitely pierced me with this last round of episodes. 

Watch full episodes of “Beyond The Surface” via Buttah Skin’s YouTube channel!