“A better parent is one that can teach and demonstrate a growth mindset”, with Cameron Smith and Dr. Ely Weisnchneider

A good parent is one that makes the time and invests in themselves. A better parent is one that can teach and demonstrate a growth mindset. A great parent can teach the power of “yet”. Encourage your child to try and fail and when they say “I can’t”, you respond with “You can’t yet”. Now, […]

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A good parent is one that makes the time and invests in themselves. A better parent is one that can teach and demonstrate a growth mindset. A great parent can teach the power of “yet”. Encourage your child to try and fail and when they say “I can’t”, you respond with “You can’t yet”. Now, my children have turned the power of yet back onto me. I recently visited my son at gymnastics. We won a handstand competition and I said, “Wow, I don’t think I could hold a handstand for a second!”. My son just replied with “yet!”.

As a part of my series about “How extremely busy executives make time to be great parents” I had the pleasure to interview Cameron Smith. Cameron was inspired to create Bennett Day School after the birth of his first son in 2010. As a new parent, he recognized that there are very few options for progressive independent schooling in Chicago. Many parents resort to moving to the suburbs when they would prefer to continue to live, work, and learn downtown. Both the motivation to innovate and a commitment to the city inspired the creation of Bennett Day School. Cameron was thrilled that his oldest son was a member of our first JK class in 2014; his younger son will soon be in PreK as well.

Cameron served on the Board of the Namaste Charter School where he was the Treasurer and Chair of the Investment Committee. A licensed attorney in Illinois, he is a member of the Education Law Committee of the Chicago Bar Association. As a member of the North American Reggio Emilia Alliance, Cameron is energized by the ideas and best practices he observes as a regular participant at educational conferences and gatherings.

Cameron was previously a Vice President at private equity firm CHS Capital LLC in Chicago where he focused on investing in education and healthcare services companies. While at CHS, he served on the Board of Royall & Company, the leading provider of strategic enrollment marketing services to traditional colleges and universities. He currently serves on three external boards, including the non-profit Neighborhood Parent Network of Chicago (NPN). Cameron is also a member of the Chicago Chapter of Conscious Capitalism. He holds a B.S. degree from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania as well as J.D. and M.B.A. degrees from Northwestern University.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us your “childhood backstory”?

I grew up in the Midwest as the son of a locomotive engineer and a school teacher. We moved around a bit in my younger years as a railroad family through Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana, but we spent most of my formative years in suburban Detroit, Michigan. My parents were both extremely passionate about their jobs — my mom loved teaching and my dad loved trains. I used to help my mom set up her classrooms. My job as a teenager on the railroad was as a brakeman and working in the snack car. But like my parents, I wanted to find my own calling too. I went on to attend the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and later Northwestern University for graduate school where I earned my JD and MBA. I learned about private equity and venture capital while in school, and I quickly learned that industry would allow me to grow and learn about a wide variety of businesses to help me find my calling. Who knew it would bring me back to education and those times in the classroom with my mom.

Can you share the story about what brought you to this specific point in your career?

In private equity, I found myself drawn towards mission-driven companies, specifically those in education. I was going to take a tried and true path and was on track to become a partner at my firm, but the more I learned through the companies I was investing in, the more I had an appreciation for the intricacies of education how schools could best serve their students. I learned that collaborative time that teachers got to spend with one another in school has a great impact. I learned that you need to make what is extracurricular, curricular so that when students apply to college they stand out. I wanted a school for my kids that would change their experience based on their interests. With a deep desire to provide my own children with real-world learning, there would be other families like my own in Chicago. I knew that I needed to start a progressive and project-based school. It felt too important not to make it my life’s work.

Can you tell us a bit more about what your day to day schedule looks like?

5:15am: Wake up, go to the gym.

7:00am: Home, ready for breakfast with the family.

7:45am: Drive to school drop off.

8:15am-4:45pm: Work time, meetings, lunches, coffees.

5:30pm-8:00pm: Family Dinner, Bedtime Routine

8:00pm-10:00pm: Quality time with my wife and reading about outer space.

Let’s jump to the core of our discussion. This is probably intuitive to many, but it would be beneficial to spell it out. Based on your experience or research, can you flesh out why not spending time with your children can be detrimental to their development?

In our house (and in our school), modeling good behavior is a crucial element. Children often mirror their behavior after that of the people they spend the most time with. Learning good morals and habits from the adults in a child’s life should be a top priority if you want to raise competent and kind humans. Being there, and more importantly being a good example, is what a young person needs for success.

On the flip side, can you give a few reasons or examples about why it is important to make time to spend with your children?

Life is short. Our time here on Earth is limited. It is important for all of us to be responsible for building self-esteem in our children. Creating bonds and tightening that family unit, whatever it looks like for you, leads to having productive and kind people in the world.

According to this study cited in the Washington Post, the quality of time spent with children is more important than the quantity of time. Can you give a 3–5 stories or examples from your own life about what you do to spend quality time with your children?

My youngest is currently very passionate about gymnastics. I do my best to attend his gymnastics classes (even though it occurs before the end of a traditional work day) but I know that my attendance makes his heart soar. He is proud of his passion and wants me to be there for it. I couldn’t rob him of the experience of having his dad there at least occasionally. We also spend time in our basement playing catch or jumping onto crash pads, whether that’s 20 minutes in the morning or right after dinner, we get it in. Weekend mornings are sacred where I make waffles or pancakes from scratch with my kids.

We all live in a world with many deadlines and incessant demands for our time and attention. That inevitably makes us feel rushed and we may feel that we can’t spare the time to be “fully present” with our children. Can you share with our readers some strategies about how we can create more space in our lives in order to give our children more quality attention?

  1. Ask yourself the following questions often: What time is it? What time is now? Where am I? Am I here? Sometime the answer is, I am here with my family. Be in the here and now with the people that you care about
  2. Turn off all notifications on your phone and put your phone away when you are with your children. It allows you to focus and set a good example. When they are older and teens, you can’t possibly expect them to manage their screen time appropriately if you’re not setting a good example. Put it on silent, plug it in and walk away from your device.
  3. Exercise in the morning. It is easier said than done but it will oxygenate your brain. It also releases cortisol (that stress hormone) that you naturally build overnight.
  4. Go to bed early. You have to get yourself 6–8 hours of sleep. Staying up too late is not going to serve you. I have sacrificed television so that I can get enough sleep, get to the gym, and get home in time for breakfast. I am fully present for them before school.
  5. Batch your work. Know in your own head, I am at work until 5pm. But from 5–8 I am just dad. And I might do some work from 8–10 if I need to but I am trying to lie down at 10 so that I can be up at 5am to work out. Batch what you have to do and compartmentalize. If your mind is racing, you won’t be present.
  6. Give yourself permission. Things come up and you can pop out of balance. Don’t let the stress show. Be at peace with the fact that sometimes life feels like a pendulum. The trend and the goal over time is for it to look more balanced.
  7. Be honest with your kids. When you have to be away for work say things like “I love you and our family. I also love my job. I love my job because….”. I am able to say to my child that we are growing a community and that is satisfying and important to me. They know that I can be a better dad because I do those things that fulfill me. IF you say “I have to,” it sends the wrong message to your kids. Say, “I want to go to this work event because it is important to me”. Set the life example. Explain why what you do is important to you. Now, I recognize that for all parents who might read this, your work might not be that fulfilling. The message here should be that you love that what you do is providing for them and creating a better future for the family unit.
  8. Recognize when your tank is empty. Being a CEO takes a lot of interpersonal and emotional connection with people all of the time. The end of the day can be hard and it can sometimes seem like you have nothing left to offer, especially to your kids that may be otherwise thrilled to see you. Create some transition and space between when you leave work and see your kids. It doesn’t have to be long. Go for a walk. Listen to music. Give yourself space and silence. Maybe it’s just nothing on the radio for just ten minutes. You deserve time to transition.
  9. READ. Having an outside interest is easier said than done. Reading fiction can really help you build emotional connections with people. When I am reading, no matter how tired I may be, my mind has forgotten about the things that I was otherwise stressed about. Reading can relax you and you might provide you with something interesting to talk about with the children.

How do you define a “good parent”? Can you give an example or story?

A good parent is one that makes the time and invests in themselves. A better parent is one that can teach and demonstrate a growth mindset. A great parent can teach the power of “yet”. Encourage your child to try and fail and when they say “I can’t”, you respond with “You can’t yet”. Now, my children have turned the power of yet back onto me. I recently visited my son at gymnastics. We won a handstand competition and I said, “Wow, I don’t think I could hold a handstand for a second!”. My son just replied with “yet!”.

How do you inspire your child to “dream big”? Can you give an example or story?

Show them. I saw a need for a project-based school where teachers and children were co-constructing the learning experience together. I saw a need and I co-founded a school that could show them how presenting solutions for problems can be so meaningful for so many.

How do you, a person who masterfully straddles the worlds of career and family, define “success”?

Success is when you are practicing what you preach to your kids so often that they are reminding you of your own lessons. Success is when each day, you can recognize something that fulfills you emotionally. Perhaps it is a hug from your kids, or a big win at something at work. You will be successful when you can pause for gratitude each day. To the extent possible, you can’t let the day to day demands of your profession take away from the big picture. Life is precious. You should enjoy being alive and be thankful for the time you have with the people you love most.

What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a better parent? Can you explain why you like them?

My favorite books and podcasts have nothing to do with parenting but help put me in a mindset where I can best support my family. Reading parenting books can help but being present is far more impactful. Reading fiction helps me “turn it off” so that I can be more present in other ways. Here are a few:

The Foundation by Isaac Asimov, Planetary Radio, The Infinite Monkey Cage, Exploration, Playing with Science, Work Life with Adam Grant

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“When the well’s dry, we know the worth of the water.” — Benjamin Franklin

You can’t take care of somebody else when you aren’t taking care of yourself first. Thankfully, I have flexibility with my schedule. Wherever you can find control, self-care is important. Sometimes it’ll feel selfish but if you’re not present with your family, what’s the point?

Think about what you do in a day; in a week. Audit yourself and how you spend your time. When you get to senior management, you have to have a professional coach or someone that you can confide it that isn’t necessarily a colleague. Mine is Dr. Ari Levy here at Shift in Chicago. He taught me not to work when you aren’t being productive and the tank is empty — taking care of yourself is key.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

School isn’t practice for real life, it is real life. It’s time to make the most of our kids’ education for the uncertain yet exciting future that awaits them. This might mean rethinking how school works overall to incorporate a project-based approach, through high school, which allows students to develop impactful solutions to real-world problems before they even enter the workforce.

Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!

About the Author:

Dr. Ely Weinschneider is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist based in New Jersey. Dr. Ely specializes in adolescent and adult psychotherapy, parenting, couples therapy, geriatric therapy, and mood and anxiety disorders. He also has a strong clinical interest in Positive Psychology and Personal Growth and Achievement, and often makes that an integral focus of treatment.

An authority on how to have successful relationships, Dr. Ely has written, lectured and presented nationally to audiences of parents, couples, educators, mental health professionals, businesses, physicians and healthcare policymakers on subjects such as: effective parenting, raising emotionally intelligent children, motivation, bullying prevention and education, relationship building, stress management, and developing healthy living habits.

Dr. Ely also writes a regular, nationally syndicated column about the importance of “being present with your children”.

When not busy with all of the above, Dr. Ely works hard at practicing what he preaches, raising his adorable brood (which includes a set of twins and a set of triplets!) together with his wife in Toms River, New Jersey.

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