Aristotle liked to talk about “the golden mean,” and whether or not you’re a Greek philosopher, it’s vital: Everything is best in moderation.
Too much of a slacker? You can’t support your family. Too much of a workaholic? You won’t have the time and energy to enjoy your family.
One person who embodies this ethic is Joanna Parker, co-founder of Yumble, a kids’ meal delivery service that was featured on Shark Tank.
She spoke to us about how she tries to find that golden mean in just about everything she does, from work-life balance to her approach to technology and discipline. Here are the top tips she lives by.
It’s all well and good to talk about wanting work-life balance when you’re a hard-working mom, but it actually takes a lot of discipline, Parker says.
“When my husband and I decided to work together, our biggest hurdle was to make sure our company didn’t consume our home,” Parker says. Their jobs still enter the home, she says, but she and her husband always aim to finish hashing out their day before they get inside.
“We commute together, so we usually spend the majority of our drive recapping our day. But we won’t pull into the driveway or garage until we’ve summed everything up and put a bow on it.”
When they click the garage opener and their kids come through the door, she says, they’re back in Mom and Dad Mode. “Some nights, we’ll sit on our street finishing our conversation, even if it takes an extra five to ten minutes to get inside the house,” she says. “But we think it’s worth it so we’re not distracted when we get inside.”
Parker sets aside specific times when she can give her kids her undivided focus. “My mornings are to be a mother,” she says. She checks her email before she comes down in the morning, around 5 or 5:30 am, and doesn’t look at her phone again until she’s dropped her kids at school at 8:30.
The Parker family also takes its weekends very seriously. “David and I do need to work on Sundays, but from the time we get home on Friday all the way through Saturday, we have a 24-hour period with no phones or computers,” she says. They spend their time doing non-electronic games with their kids, like puzzles, board games and coloring. “That makes our conversation just feel different,” she says, “and we can really focus on each other.”
Their choice of Friday and Saturday originates in the tradition of Shabbat, but Parker believes that everyone would benefit from a day or two when they can truly unplug. “It’s a relief to go off the radar for a little while,” she says. “My teammates know they can’t get in touch with me for just one day, so if there’s an emergency they’ll find someone else. It’s a gift every week.”
(Want some inspiration? These are the cities with the best work-life balance.)
For kids whose parents work long hours, one of the most challenging things is knowing what to expect. “My kids aren’t upset if I don’t get home one night till after they’re asleep,” Parker says, “if they know it in advance.”
One key way she tries to maintain peace at home and work is to set her children’s expectations clearly, every morning. Each day, before she leaves, she tells her children when she will return home, and whether that will be in time to say goodnight—or if she’ll sadly end up missing bedtime. They’re OK with it, she says, as long as they know what’s coming.
Children and technology is a very complicated and personal decision for parents, from internet safety for kids to phone addiction. This is something each family needs to figure out for itself.
That said, Parker shares her “golden mean” approach to this, too: “I’m a strong believer that if you take something away from kids 100 percent, it’ll create an unhealthy relationship with that object. Of course, 100 percent indulgence will also create a bad relationship. I’m all about cultivating healthy relationships with money, people, objects, food.”
Following through on that philosophy, Parker closely watches her kids’ technology usage, but doesn’t withhold tech entirely. “We do watch family movies and talk about interesting things, which I like. Other than that, my kids are really into their iPads.” They each get about a half hour of iPad time each night. Parker sets a timer and they can choose from programs that she and her husband have pre-approved.
Her son likes Fortnite, so he’ll sometimes ask if he can skip one night’s iPad time and trade it in for an extra 30 minutes on a different day. “I will allow him to do that up to a certain extent,” Parker says, “because I like the self management. It teaches him maturity, I think—planning and budgeting, essentially.”
She has mixed feelings about the video game, but she doesn’t want to withhold it entirely. “Fortnite, I think, is another example of moderation. He’s learning a lot of strategy from it, and obviously we keep an eye on any of the violence.”
She takes this middle-of-the-road approach to personal finance, as well. Each of her kids has a piggy bank, and she doesn’t require that they save all their money forever. Nor does she push them to spend it on anything in particular. “If they want to spend their money, they can spend it. If they’re in getting something bigger, they can hang onto their money and save up.”
Her Fortnite-loving son used to ask for in-game cash for Fortnight (V-Bucks), she says, “but he knows I will not spend my own money on it anymore. If he wants V-Bucks, he knows he must shell out his own money. That’s teaching him he has to pick and choose what he wants.”
When it comes to choosing things to talk—and chastise—about, Parker also tries to find a balance. “My son has a struggle to stay seated in school, so I try hard to think about how many days a week the first thing I say to him when I see him is, ‘How did you do in school?’ as opposed to something unrelated,” she says. “I don’t want him to think our relationship is only about me checking up on him.”
When Parker’s son has a bad day, she tries to say, “OK, let’s not dwell. Can we talk for a minute about why you thought it was challenging? Maybe you’re just cranky? That happens to grownups, too.” She tries not to indulge in obsessing or overanalyzing and instead try to say, “Onto the next.”
As a former schoolteacher, Parker always tries to remember that children are just smaller people. “They have good days and bad days. Some days they want to eat something, and sometimes they don’t. We don’t need to get frantic. Roll with it. They’re just like us.”
In everything, Parker tries to take a wide-ranging perspective. “In all things, a more balanced reaction will make everything less dramatic, less stressful and easier.”
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