I'm a mom to three and a small business owner. I built a multi-million dollar business from my home, while I had a young family. My goal is to share my experiences on management and parenting and how they feed off of each other.
Oprah says it best, “Forgiveness is giving up the hope that the past could be any different.” When someone wrongs you, especially to your core, it is so hard to “forgive and forget.” If you’ve figured out how to do this, you should be writing your own book (seriously).
To master healthy relationships, we need to practice the skill of forgiveness.
And when we forgive, we don’t forget. We might even have a scar on our heart forever. But we need to be able to move forward, knowing what we know. Even being afraid it will happen again.
I once had an employee who resigned. She told me she was going to be a full-time mom. A few months later, I noticed she had her own work website listed on LinkedIn. I followed the link, and as I read it, my shock grew to horror. A former employee took almost all of my intellectual property and used it in the content of her site. Even her claims about how expert she was were laughable. I was indignant, “I taught her everything she knows! And she lied to me. How dare she?”
When I asked her about it in a pretty vanilla email, she claimed it was just for a few projects she was doing. But it didn’t look that way. It looked like she had taken everything I had taught her and hung up a shingle.
By the way, if she had been honest with me, I would have been more than okay with it. You want to grow your talented employees so they feel confident to move on to the next thing. People can’t be with you forever. Little birds have to fly from the nest. Hopefully, as parents we stick around forever, but we still want to see our children become independent, make their own decisions and live their own lives. When we are managers, our jobs is to usher the people we care about on to the next phase of their journey.
But lying just isn’t cool.
Because I was so hurt, I had to decide if I could trust my next employee in that position. It could have been the same thing all over again—she could work for me for a couple of years, and then leave with all of of my company’s intellectual property.
And there was absolutely nothing I could to stop her—or anyone else for that matter.
My mom says, “The greatest obstacle to wealth is inflexibility.” But I think one of the greatest obstacles is also trust. I needed to trust my next employee. So, I had to forgive the old one.
It’s taken me quite a few years not to reference it or talk about it. It used to feel like such a betrayal. Now it just feels like a chapter. In the end, how was my anger toward her serving me? Or my company?
If you can move forward from the things that feel like daggers in your heart, you will be a healthier person, capable of forging intimacy with the people that you care about, and the people that care about you. And you’ll bring that healthy intimacy to work, so that you can trust your employees to get things done.
Children will do and say things that will be so hard to integrate into your own reality of your family dynamics. Unfortunately, some parents see their children as products they’ve created. But, children go out into the world and are their own people. They’re going to wrong you. They’re going to disappoint you. They’re going to see things differently from the way you do. And you will need to forgive them too. You will need to give up the idea that the past could have been any different with them as well.
Forgiveness is a practice, and it won’t happen overnight. So be patient with yourself as you work through learning to forgive.
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There’s a well-known idea that people listen to respond, not to understand. In fact, George Bernard Shaw said, “The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”
When my kids were toddlers, I used to ask them to put their shoes neatly together, side by side against a wall “like they’re married.” (Let’s encourage positive feelings about marriage—we’re together! Like shoes.)
But. Here I am, 13 years later, and the shoes are still all over the house. They’re in the living room—like RIGHT, IN THE MIDDLE OF THE FLOOR. Why are they there? Is it so hard to put them in your cubby or your room or the front hall closet? I even bought a shoe tray and put it in the entry way. To be fair, the shoes are now in the entry way. But, they are just adjacent to the shoe tray. Not IN the shoe tray. Why is this?
I’m not going to solve this universal conundrum today. (Although, I do think there’s something: Why are these shoes still in the middle of the goddamn floor? might make an excellent parenting book title.)
Point? You can say things again and again with no hope of directions being followed if you don’t communicate clearly.
Tease out what they heard
I employ the following tactic with my children and my employees: “Can you tell me what you heard?” It’s an old marriage therapy trick, “What I’m hearing you say is…” If you truly listen to responses, you will find that the other person didn’t hear you. Instead, they were thinking about their lunch, or the boy they like in school, or why their boss lectures them constantly about dumb shit.
It’s your job, as a parent and as a manager, to tease out what was heard. By employing this single technique of asking, you will avoid miscommunication. Directives you thought were clear, like, put you shoes here, become clearer when you know the person heard “I don’t care where you put your shoes.”
And, if there’s a clear directive in place, chances are people will follow it. Especially, if you attach it to carrots and sticks: “If X happens, then you can expect a bonus or to be fired,” or “If I find these new $100 Adidas sneakers in the middle of the floor again, then I may just throw these in the garbage.”
Teach each other how to listen to the other
The other beautiful thing about this technique is that you teach each other how to communicate. When you start asking what they heard with every meaningful conversation, you learn the other person’s listening rhythms. What do they actually do hear when you speak? Then, you can modify your own communication tailored for that child or colleague. Some people need a story. Some need direct communication and an email follow-up. Understanding what they hear when you ask them will train both of you to sharpen your communication with each other.
Really, though. If you have any suggestions about what to do about the shoes, please contact me. I just cannot figure out why my children have this thing with shoes—is it just my three? Let me know in the comments below!
Once at a basketball game (yep, again), I was sitting with my friend Jennifer Offer, MD, watching both of our daughters playing.
At one point in the game, one of the girls on the other team got hurt. She was writhing on the court in pain, holding her leg. I watched Jenny very carefully. She’s a passionate pediatrician who has such a caring, generous heart. But she didn’t run to the injured player. Instead, she was on the balls of her feet, ready to jump, but she waited to go down to the court.
I kept muttering under my breath, “Ok Jenny go down, go down,” but instead, she watched as the girl’s coach helped her off the court limping. I said to Jenny, “Wow, I’ve never seen you wait to help a kid who is hurt.” Jenny turned to me and said, “That’s one of the first things they teach you when you’re an intern; never run to a code.”
Interfering in hurt is interfering in learning
So often, in both parenting and as managers, we want to run to a code. We know we’re in a position of authority to help, and for many of us, rescuing our kids and our employees is a way of life.
But it’s bad for us and them. Here’s why: They’ll never learn. Getting hurt and moving past the hurt results in building self-esteem and resiliency. You can’t learn to be a competent leader or adult if someone is always riding in to save the day. (Obviously if someone actually gets hurt, physically, then you may want to get involved. As my husband always says, “It’s all fun and games till someone gets hurt.” Then we peel our children off of each other.)
Push them forward, even when it hurts you
Never running to a code saves you. If you’re always racing to rescue, both employees and children become dependent on you. They’re always coming back to you to solve the challenge. And we don’t want them to come back (except for Thanksgiving.) It’s our job to push them forward. Just watch a mother bird.
Do what Jenny did. Take a few minutes, or days, or months to watch the result of your employees or your children being hit, psychologically. See if they can limp off the court, without your help. You may need to support them, but try not to solve it right away. That’s how they’ll learn to solve it on their own. Watch it carefully, gather information, but don’t feel the need to get involved until they ask.
And if they do ask, “What should I do?” the best reply is, “What do you think you should do?”
Recently I was talking to my friend Aaron who was lamenting the attitude of a manager he supervises. He said, “She complains that she doesn’t want a supervisor’s job. She says there’s too much hiring,” and I said to her, “As a manager, that’s your job—you should always be hiring and always be firing.”
When I shared that anecdote with some friends recently and told them I was going to include it in the book, they looked at me in horror. “How do you plan on firing your children, exactly, Ahava?” (You know, some days—just kidding.)
It’s not the actual hiring or firing as an activity in and of itself that I think is the point here. It’s the attitude Aaron is espousing, which comes down to:
Understand the people in your life and the roles they play to support you
Identify the people who are not supporting you in the ways that you need
Lose the emotional vampires
Get comfortable with the revolving door metaphor of life
While raising 2 teenage girls, I truly see this as excellent advice for life. Watching their different friends come and go, and how they get closer with some friends and pull away from others when things change is a sign of a healthy attitude and a growth mindset. Our own growth is predicated on how well we understand ourselves, as well as the impact others make on us.
When you understand that friends and colleagues and mentors and mentees come and go, you open up the emotional space to let others enter your life. While there is grief in losing close friends, employees and colleagues, that’s the reality of life.
Cultivating the attitude of “always be hiring, always be firing,” will get your teams and children attuned to the realities of relationships with others.
My daughter Amaya and her team recently got completely killed by another girls’ basketball team. (In case you haven’t noticed, I spend a lot of time at team sports. What can I say? I’m a suburban mom.)
Her team, even though completely overwhelmed, fought valiantly, working together, boxing the other team out and relying on strong defense. But the other team was taller, stronger and better. So they lost—by a lot.
After the game, Amaya was expressing her frustration about her teammates and their defense, upset about her teams’ loss, and I said to her, “Amaya, that was the best game I’ve ever seen you guys play. You worked together, your defense was strong and you never, ever gave up. That’s beautiful basketball.”
Sometimes the game is rigged; sometimes other people are just better
It’s hard to accept in life: Sometimes we show up 100%, do our best, and the other person is still better. They win. And we don’t. And it hurts. It hurts a lot.
But one of the major themes of this blog is learning from our mistakes and failures, and picking ourselves up and dusting ourselves off. Nancy Kerrigan, after being hit on the knee by Tonya Harding’s boyfriend, right before the 1994 Olympics, became a household name, and a worldwide superstar—because of that incident. She was signed by Reebok and featured in a commercial, where you hear her voice layered over scenes of her practicing and performing, “There is a voice. I know it well. It’s the voice of doubt that creeps in and doesn’t let go. If I’ve learned anything about getting stronger, getting more competitive, I’ve learned that you can listen to only one voice. The one that says, get up.”
When the going gets tough, the tough get going
And that is the lesson to Amaya and her teammates and to you, your employees and your children—it’s more that when the going gets tough, the tough get going. It’s that we fight through the hard times and we’re proud of our performance even when the chips are down.
Amaya and her team never gave up, never said, “Forget it—these girls are better and stronger. We’re just going to phone it in.” They worked hard to make the point spread respectable and more than that, they could be proud of the way they worked together.
When things are down—either in your family or at work—remind everyone that it’s our choices and our behaviors that define us. No matter what the circumstances. Let’s play the best basketball game we can, even when we know we’re going to lose.
This one time at work (that’s a joke for those of you that remember American Pie), I was talking to Emily, who at the time was my VP at my company. She was offering me data about how much our project managers are working. We were noticing that very small things were slipping, and Emily wanted to let me know that she thought I should throw more resources at project management—maybe even hire some extra help.
The deeper we got into it, the more my frustration grew because some of the data didn’t point in that direction. In fact, if anything, the data pointed to the fact that the project managers needed to spend more time on certain phases of their projects.
Emily’s job as their manager was to remove obstacles for them and report to me about what was happening in the field. But her reaction seemed stronger than the proof, so I prompted her, “Why do you feel so strongly about getting them additional help when the data doesn’t really point in that direction?” She said, very clearly, “I remember being a project manager and feeling really overwhelmed and not being sure that I was right that I didn’t have enough time to get things done.”
Once what Emily was feeling was in the light of day, which is what happens to the truth when it’s spoken, we could tackle it. I said, “Emily what do you hear yourself saying?” Her response, “I’m pulling from my own experience.” Exactly! Emily was putting herself in their shoes, which is a wonderful thing to do as a manager. But we have to be careful, both as parents and as managers, about letting our own experiences dictate the way we make decisions. Do we want the people we show up for carry our baggage?
I struggled with my weight (I still do). I also struggled with friendships as a child (that thankfully, I do not struggle with anymore). I wanted very much for these issues to be different for my children. And I did everything I could from a macro perspective—I picked a great guy to be their father, together we picked a wonderful community to raise them, and so on. But the hardest thing was the micro perspective—I had to sit on my hands, or bite my tongue when it came to eating too much candy or watching them pick certain friends.
I had to own my own experiences around these issues so I could parent in a way that I had defined as successful for myself. I believe this may be the hardest thing I have ever done and continue to do. This is true in management as well: I know that when I’m getting emotional then old stuff is coming up for me at work. I need to figure out what it’s about so I don’t let it cloud my judgement.
When you feel triggered or frustrated or you don’t understand why you’re having an emotional reaction, take a break. Take a walk. Ask for time to think about it more. No good manager will say—“You cannot take time to think about this!” And you can always say to your children, “Mommy needs a time out so she can think this through”, or “Daddy isn’t sure what to say and I want to say the right thing so I need some time.” Think about what a gift you’re modeling–you don’t need to know right away.
If it’s old stuff, then talk about it with a friend or a therapist. Or journal about it. No matter how painful it may be to hold it, working through it will get you to a clearer place, where you will understand your own reaction to the issue at hand.
And the truth is, as Steve Almond says, “Sometimes we need to look backward to move forward.” Understanding why we behave the way we behave is our stuff, and getting it out in the open helps us move past it. So carry your own bag, understanding it’s your bag and shouldn’t have to be carried by others.
“If now isn’t a good time for the truth, I don’t see when we’ll get to it.” -Nikki Giovanni
To be the parents and managers we need to be, the first thing we need is an understanding of ourselves and the impact and effect we have on others. We need to get comfortable with the uncomfortable truth of how we show up in the world. And if the uncomfortable truth for you is that you suspect you’re a little bit selfish, well then, that’s okay.
Try breathing without oxygen
When you travel as much as I do, you pretty much memorize the safety directions on an airplane. Except on Southwest. Southwest is the best airline to travel if you’re looking for a laugh. The flight attendants like to lighten the mood with the “safety features” speech and often insert their own playful, sarcastic, one-liners.
One time I was coming back from Los Angeles, with both of my daughters, and the flight attendant said, “If you’re traveling with one child, put your own mask on first. If you’re traveling with 2 ask yourself which one has the most promise.” Tzophia, who was around 7 at the time, looked at me with her big blue eyes—”which one has the most promise? “, she was thinking. It was so clear from her concern.
When my kids were really little, babies really, my mom used to encourage me to make time for myself. That’s challenging when you’re taking care of two little babies and trying to grow a business. But when I used to run out of energy and I would cry about how crazy my life was, my mom would say, “You know in those airline videos they tell you to put your own oxygen mask on first. Why do they tell you to do that?”
Because without oxygen you can’t breathe. And if you can’t breathe, you can’t help anyone around you. So both as a parent and as a manager, you MUST build time for yourself into your schedule. Exercise, meditation, a walk with your spouse, coffee with a good friend—whatever it is. I used to do those logic puzzles you find in puzzle magazines to decompress when I flew. That was my oxygen (yes, I’m that nerdy). Now I do jigsaw puzzles as a form of meditation because honestly, sitting on the floor with my legs crossed just does NOT do it for me. And I refuse to be guilted into thinking I’m a bad person because I don’t meditate.
Don’t wait to explode or get resentful
Here’s the amazing thing: Every time I took time away from my business or my kids to exercise or get together with a friend or get my nails done, I reminded myself that I was replenishing my soul so that I could give more to my family and my employees. And my business grew, and I was a better mom.
So schedule it in your calendar. Ask someone who loves you to hold you accountable and make yourself a promise—you’re going to put your own oxygen mask on first. Because if you don’t, you’re not going to be able to give the people that count on you your best.
When my business first started to grow, I decided to enroll in a program run by the Entrepreneur’s Organization to learn how to run and build a business. At one of the first workshops I attended, the speaker informed the crowd that there was a dollar taped to the underside of one chair.
Everyone got up to find it, looking underneath their chairs, until one person exultantly cried out, “I got it.” After everyone sat back down, the speaker said, “I just taught you the most important lesson of entrepreneurship—you got get off of your ass to make a dollar.” We all laughed, but I never forgot that.
The key to success is really hard work. Unfortunately it’s hard to see that, especially in today’s day and age. In the era of reality TV stars and “overnight” success, we don’t see how hard someone worked to get to the level of success where they are widely recognized. But anyone who has ever achieved any level of success knows that hard work is key. Thomas Jefferson once said, “The harder I work, the luckier I get.”
When Taylor Swift released her album reputation, she shared videos of her songwriting process. It’s fascinating to watch how hard she works; how she spends hours on certain phrasings, and picking exactly the right words to fit in with the music. This is what people who work hard know—it takes time, energy and getting off your ass to create success.
Model this level of hard work for both your children and your staff. Talk about and stress the importance of hard work. Very often people don’t realize how long it takes to get good. But when you model your own hard work and you show people how other successful people worked hard, broke things down, took them step by step, you give your children and your staff more of an opportunity to understand how to maximize their own potential.
Recently, one of my children was lamenting that she wasn’t do as well academically as she’d like. I asked her how much time a night she spent reviewing her classes from that day. She immediately got it and started reviewing her flashcards the next day. If you aren’t willing to put in the effort, you’re not going to see the result. It’s just that simple.
If you aren’t willing to put in the effort, you’re not going to see the result. It’s just that simple.
I also remember I once had an employee who asked for a raise after a year, and also wanted a promotion. While she had done a good job, she hadn’t distinguished herself in any outstanding way. In fact, one of her arguments was that she had solved a situation she herself had created. I still shake my head when I think about it. Doing your job doesn’t deserve an exceptional reward. Being exceptional at your job is where you’ll find the promotion and the raise.
Doing your job doesn’t deserve an exceptional reward. Being exceptional at your job is where you’ll find the promotion and the raise.
So help your children and your employees understand that growth comes from putting your head down and getting the work DONE. Nothing impresses the people around you more than knowing you can make it happen.Suggest to your children and staff to read autobiographies of successful people, watch YouTube videos where people break down their creative process, and talk to other successful people they admire. Share your own experiences: They demonstrate how hard work, time, effort and commitment pay off.
“Whatever game you show them, that’s the game they’ll play.” Lt. Cedric Daniels, The Wire
There’s only one reason to read this blog.
Are you capable of change?
If you’re not, put it down now. I’m sorry if you landed here by accident—pass the URL to a friend.
All things change when we do. And chances are, if you started reading this blog, you’re feeling overwhelmed by your job as a parent, a manager or both. You’re not alone. In 2016, 56 percent of American working parents say they feel that work-life balance is difficult, according to a Pew Research Center study. (How do the other 44 percent feel, and can I get in the boat with them?)
The challenge of parenting is like the Greek myth of Sisyphus who kept rolling a rock uphill, watching it slide down, and rolling it up again. How often do you feel that way as a parent? You climb one mountain with your little people, and then behold! Another one in the distance, with the same rock. Except now, you’re exhausted.
This is how many of my friends and colleagues, in so many different industries—retail, marketing, healthcare, hospitality, food services, financial services—you name it—describe what management feels like. The word I hear over and over again?
Babysitting is different from parenting, in that babysitters get paid. They also get to leave. And managers may get paid (not enough!), but they don’t really get to leave. Work is a constant in most people’s minds. It’s where you spend 40, if not significantly more hours of your week. It’s also something that many of us use to gather self-esteem and understand our places in the universe.
Now I’m not a psychologist, although I do play one at almost every dinner table I’m at. I’ve had a ridiculous amount of therapy, which helps. My professional degree is in communications—I wrote my master’s thesis comparing Save the Last Dance and Dirty Dancing and the evolution of sexual identity politics in the United States (seriously—go look it up. But not right now.). I am a parent of three children who have serious doubts about my writing a semi-parenting blog.
So I’m not exactly “qualified” to write this blog. Except no one on earth is more qualified to write it than I am, because I’m actually doing it. And the reason I’m doing it is that I built a multi-million dollar business from my house while I brought up a young family. And what I can tell you, with every fiber of my being, is that management is like parenting and parenting is like management. When you master the core skills of each, you’ll be more effective at both.
Behavior is a Choice
In his brilliant book, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, Mark Manson gives a crisp definition of adulting: Maturity is becoming more selective about the fcks we’re willing to give. Choosing how to show up at work and as a parent is maturity. So often we believe the winds of destiny define who we are: who we were born to, where we grew up, how we were educated. And those things matter—but once you are an adult, they can’t matter that much anymore. You can choose who you want to be. And so can your employees. It’s your job to model to your children that every behavior is a choice. Moods are a choice. The way we act is a choice.
Changing the way you think about this crucial part of your life will change everything.
The most important choice
This blog is dedicated to the idea that we have a choice to work on ourselves so we can show up better as parents and managers. My father-in-law was an educator for more than 30 years. I once asked him, “What would you do differently if you could do parenting over again?” Without missing a beat he said, “I would have worked on myself more.”
“What would you do differently if you could do parenting over again?”…”I would have worked on myself more.”
Think about that for a second. [Second].
An experienced educator understood that at the heart of every choice was who he was, not who surrounded him.
What does it mean to know who you are? It means to understand your values—the principles that you use to make choices. It’s a lifelong journey to understand which values truly belong to you, and which ones aren’t voices from your mental judging panel that should be fired. What old stories are you telling yourself about what you do value?
Time to decide what you really value if you’re going to be effective as a boss, a parent or both.
Working on yourself isn’t just about going to individual therapy. There’s group therapy. There’s self-help books. There’s classes. There’s training programs both in parenting and in management that can help you understand who you are and how you want to approach the people you work with.
Fill your toolbox with the right tools to manage and grow the people you love and care about. And then? Fill their toolboxes.
Filling the toolbox
I was struggling to deal with a situation with my daughter. I was talking to my friend, Sharon Mazel, who writes all those books, “What to Expect when you’re Expecting.” She said to me (as the mom of 4 girls), “Your job as a parent is to help them fill their toolbox. How they use those tools is up to them.”
This blog is about giving you the tools you can use to help both your children and your employees build and shape tools that will help them become the best they can be. They will add these tools to their toolboxes.
Those tools may sit in those toolboxes and get rusty. They may never use them. But you can’t force them to use them. Nor can you force them to use a hammer when they should use a screwdriver. But you can point out to them which tool might be best for the job in the future, and hope that the next time, they will make the right choice.
And that means we have to be brave enough to correct the people around us that we parent and manage. We may have to change to value conflict as a path toward greater intimacy, not something that separates us.
Conflict as a path toward greater intimacy
Our responsibility is to help nurture people to become the best that they can be. Sometimes that means that we have to give people constructive criticism that may hurt their feelings. You may even make them cry. (Don’t ever say, “Please don’t cry.” Just let people cry. Only assholes say, “Don’t cry.”)
You may even make them cry. (Don’t ever say, “Please don’t cry.” Just let people cry. Only assholes say, “Don’t cry.”)
Because of that constructive criticism, people may be angry with us. Most of the time, they don’t just get over it. It may take them a long time to quiet that hurt. But that’s part of the job.
And most of the time, when we talk things out with sensitivity and guidance, when we make constructive criticism a way to show how much we care, then we create better relationships. And better relationships create better people. And if you’re practicing these skills at home and at work? You’ll feel less like you’re rolling a rock up a mountain.
Are parents and leaders really the same?
The goal of this blog is to explore life lessons that apply to parents and managers. But are they really the same?
Let’s look at this chart:
To do those things, we need to know where we’re going and who we want to create at the end of this process. A successful parent waves goodbye to a child who wants to become independent—a successful boss shepherds an employee into leadership. Let’s find out how.
This blog is separated into 3 parts:
Nurture Each Other
Each of the blog posts will be categorized by one of those tags. That way we can learn the fundamentals of Parenting like a Boss; Bossing like a Parent: Take care of you, take care of them, take care of each other.