Kindness and generosity abound. I have been inspired by the number of people doing big and little things to help each other out during these challenging times. From assisting elderly neighbors, to food collections for families in need, to offering free services and entertainment to get us through these days at home, seeing so many people respond so generously is an uplifting reminder that even in dark times we can find light.
The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Many of us now have new challenges that come with working from home, homeschooling, and sheltering in place.
As a part of our series about how busy women leaders are addressing these new needs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Alexandra Fung.
Alexandra Fung is the CEO and co-founder of Upparent, a website where parents share recommendations with one another for local things to do with kids, activities and educational resources at home, family-friendly recipes, and other parenting tips. She is a mom of four and an attorney whose legal career has centered on children’s rights, practicing in the nonprofit and educational sectors. Alexandra is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame and New York University School of Law.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
I became an entrepreneur by accident — and what a happy accident it was! A lawyer by training, I went to law school committed to going into public interest work. Community has long been an important part of my life, having grown up in a tight-knit extended family and spending much of my young adult life volunteering and working at different community organizations. I was determined to go into a profession that would allow me to deepen this commitment.
I was fortunate to attend a law school that did just this, and the various clinics, internships and experiential learning opportunities I had at NYU led me to a career representing children in immigration and other legal proceedings. Just as impactful, if less traditional, was the fact that I also welcomed my daughter into my life in my second year of law school — just weeks before my final exams! More than anything else, these two experiences — becoming a mom and being immersed in meaningful work at various community organizations — influenced the path that led me to my current passion, Upparent.
I loved my work as an advocate for children and families and had not been thinking of diverging from that path when a good friend shared an idea for a parenting resource that immediately captured my imagination. Having two small children of my own at the time (four now), and having been balancing career and family since before I became a lawyer, I was inspired by the idea of creating an online community that gathered recommendations from fellow parents about things to do and try as a family — from local activities and events to favorite books and toys, even kid-approved recipes.
As a working mom with a long commute, I had never really had the time to dive into mom groups or follow influencers on social media (that feed can be so distracting!), or the opportunity to chat with parents at school pick-up or extra-curriculars to learn about fun activities or cool products that my fellow moms were recommending. So the thought of creating a space online that purposefully captured and organized those conversations that parents naturally have when they get together (Do you know of a great playground for toddlers? How did you like that STEM camp? What’s an easy meal I can throw in the crockpot before work that the kids might actually eat?) was intriguing. Excited by the idea of creating community in this new way, and helping myself and other moms like me more easily discover and share ideas for enjoying quality time with our families, I made the difficult but inspired decision to digress from my original career plan and become an entrepreneur. And that is how Upparent was born!
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started at your company?
I don’t think anything has been more exciting for me than encountering fellow parents in my everyday life who have benefited from Upparent, and who have naturally come across it as a resource for their own families. I was at a family event in Chicago over the holidays last year when a woman I was speaking with mentioned that she had learned about the event through Upparent — I was beside myself with excitement, seeing that we were, in fact, beginning to reach other parents as we had dreamed of doing. Similarly, my friend and co-founder was at a party one evening when a neighbor mentioned a great website to him that she had recently discovered — Upparent! These are the moments that provide me with the inspiration and encouragement to get through the more challenging times that are also inevitably a part of launching and growing your own business.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
When COVID-19 hit, we had primarily been focusing on making Upparent a local resource for parents to find and share things to do as a family around their communities — extraordinary playgrounds, family-friendly festivals or events, restaurants where kids eat free, etc. With the pandemic keeping most of us at home, we quickly shifted to primarily share ideas for fun, educational and meaningful activities that families can enjoy together without having to leave the house. After all, these are unprecedented times, and even the most creative of us could benefit from ideas from fellow parents on how to keep our families busy, learning and having fun after so many months at home together.
A great example to demonstrate this shift comes from one of my all-time favorite resources on the site, our lists of places to volunteer as a family for almost twenty cities throughout the United States. I love these lists because I believe that volunteering as a family is an incredibly worthwhile and beneficial activity — both for the community and for our families — but can be surprisingly difficult to do since most organizations do not allow children as volunteers. Our lists gather in one place organizations that welcome younger volunteers so that parents interested in volunteering with their kids can easily find a good fit for their family based on interests, age of their kids and location (all of our local lists include an interactive map). And, since the user community can always add new recommendations, the lists continue to grow and improve over time as other users recommend places they know about for family volunteering. As the pandemic has made it more difficult to safely volunteer in larger group settings, we have shifted to also begin gathering a list of opportunities where families can volunteer from home. This way, parents who are interested in volunteering as a family can still find what they are looking for during this unique time and discover ways to contribute to various community organizations without having to be physically present on site.
In this same way, we are shifting our focus throughout the site to meet families where they are at now, providing a space where they can discover ideas for things to do with kids at home that are working for other families. From indoor activities to entertain kids, to easy science experiments with quick video demos to supplement remote learning, to collections of podcasts for kids that parents will also enjoy, we hope this new focus will provide inspiration for families who find themselves hanging out together so much more than they ever have before.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I have been extraordinarily blessed with the number of incredible and generous people who have supported and inspired me throughout my life, but the one person without whom I could not be where I am today is my incredible husband. We have been best friends and partners for over 15 years, and it is that partnership that has allowed us both to flourish and grow as individuals, within our professional careers, and as a family. It was not easy to have an infant while I was in law school, just as it was not easy for him to commute four hours a day to his graduate school program while we had two young children. Yet, we have worked together to figure out so many of these challenges along the way, and this has made it possible for each of us to pursue careers that we love while also supporting and being present for our family. It has taken a fantastic amount of patience, support, encouragement and sacrifice along the way, and I am so grateful to the man who has walked beside me all this time to make it possible.
The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Can you articulate to our readers what are the biggest family related challenges you are facing as a woman business leader during this pandemic?
Our family is fortunate that both my husband and I have been able to work from home throughout this pandemic, though our inability to rely on the same child care support we had before has meant a lot of shifting around of schedules and a much more fluid dynamic between our work and home lives. This means that I often find myself working — either at my computer or on my phone or even just thinking about projects and tasks — throughout most of the day, even when I am physically playing with my toddler or helping my tween with a project.
This spillover of work into family life is nothing new, but it has been exponentially exacerbated by the pandemic. While we may be together as a family far more than we ever have been, the quality of the time that we are spending together — and my ability to be truly present to my children when they expect and deserve me to be — has been negatively impacted, and is perhaps my greatest family-related challenge. This is especially true as we are called to be more involved in our children’s schooling and any other activities they might be continuing in a virtual capacity, even as we are juggling work and our typical home responsibilities.
Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
I am working really hard to be more intentionally present to my family. It is an ongoing struggle, but I am trying to be better about setting personal limits for how and when I do my work. The easiest way for me to do this is to separate myself physically from my computer, and especially my phone, when I do not need to be working, to avoid the temptation to check-in or send a quick email.
Setting schedules has been extremely helpful in this regard, and breaking up my work time into more frequent but shorter blocks rather than trying to squeeze in a typical workday schedule. This way, when I am tempted to check-in I can tell myself that it can wait an hour, or a few hours, until whenever I have my next scheduled block of time.
Short of keeping my phone out of sight, I have also found it helpful to turn off notifications for almost all of my apps, as well as to keep my phone on silent as much as possible, to avoid yet another temptation to check my phone or computer throughout the day.
Can you share the biggest work related challenges you are facing as a woman in business during this pandemic?
The other side of the coin, of course, is making the time to get through all the work you need (or want) to be doing for your business to grow while caring for your family as you all shelter in place. The biggest challenge I am facing is not being able to rely on the wonderful child care we enjoyed prior to the pandemic and finding a way for both my husband and I to work while also caring for a baby, toddler, and two school-aged children. Though we are gaining some time by not having to do all the trekking back and forth to school, playdates and activities right now, there is still a lot of active time required at home to care for everyone’s needs, especially a rambunctious toddler and a baby who is still nursing. Fortunately, my school-aged children are old enough that they have been able to take on most of their school responsibilities themselves, but of course, there is still some work and support that we have to put in as parents which presents additional challenges amidst already full-to-bursting schedules.
Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
We have done quite a balancing act, arranging our work schedules so that one of us can always be present to care for the kids. We are fortunate to have the flexibility to make this possible, but it has also meant regular late nights (or early mornings) and weekends spent working rather than together as a family. Honestly, it reminds me of being in law school with a baby again, and being tired all the time from trying to squeeze as much as possible out of every minute of the day (and night)!
But, while it has been exhausting, we have also found ways to make it easier on ourselves and enjoyed plenty of silver linings as a family. Most important has been to work together through these challenges, as well as trying to be more forgiving of ourselves and one another, and more reasonable in our expectations. We have relied on our older kids to help out a lot more around the house and with their siblings than before, and to take ownership over their school work. Our toddler is on screens more than we would normally like, and we gave up on trying to keep up with all of the older kids’ extracurriculars via Zoom, but in the grand scheme of things we have learned to be okay with all of this, understanding that these are extraordinary times and adjusting our perspectives accordingly.
Can you share your advice about how to best work from home, while balancing the needs of homeschooling or the needs of a family?
Find ways to help each other. This is a great time to pass on important life skills to our kids, so depending on their ages and abilities, look for opportunities to have them to take on more responsibility for themselves and within the family. Whether it is making their own lunches, taking ownership over school assignments, helping with chores around the house, or entertaining younger siblings, there is a lot that kids can do to help alleviate some of the burden parents are currently facing.
Setting schedules is incredibly helpful as well, even if they look different from pre-pandemic schedules. Find ways to capitalize on times when your kids will not need you as much naturally, either by waking up early or staying up late to work or by using built-in nap or quiet times throughout the day. Communicate clearly and regularly as a family about scheduling needs, and keep calendars or lists to help with time management. In line with managing expectations, it is helpful to prioritize tasks (both for work and home) when you make your lists and to distinguish between those that must get done and those you would like to get done, so you know what to cut if you simply are not able to get through everything.
Having a few activities lined up that can keep the kids entertained on their own for longer periods of time is also a good idea, and there are plenty of educational choices if you are looking to supplement at-home learning. For example, kids can listen to a science podcast, watch a family-friendly documentary, or work on engaging activity books. Having easy snacks or meals prepared that kids can grab on their own, or with just a little help from you, also helps to minimize interruptions during the day.
Can you share your strategies about how to stay sane and serene while sheltering in place, or simply staying inside, for long periods with your family?
Go outside!! I cannot emphasize enough how crucial this has been to keeping us happy and healthy over the last few months. To the extent families are able to find safe outdoor spaces, getting that fresh air and time away from the rooms you are spending most of your waking moments in for months on end does wonders for lifting our spirits and renewing our energy.
One of my favorite silver linings from this extended time at home has been our new tradition of taking family runs together. We put the baby and toddler in the running stroller and our older two join my husband and I for a run around the neighborhood. It has been a fun way to get outside and also stay active together, which I especially love since I have had a hard time fitting exercise into my day since the kids came along.
Finally, adopting new traditions or hobbies, both individually and as a family, has been a great way to stay engaged and entertained during this time. My older two kids have made it a point to delve into new (and old) interests, using some of the virtual tools we have been discovering to help them dive in. For example, while they have always been interested in astronomy, now they are going out at night to stargaze, and are using astronomy apps and following along with virtual programming offered by our planetarium. We have also taken to watching throwback shows or movies that my husband and I loved when we were younger with our older kids when the little ones are asleep. It gives us all something to look forward to during the week and helps pass the time together in a way we all enjoy.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your perspective can you help our readers to see the “Light at the End of the Tunnel”? Can you share your “5 Reasons To Be Hopeful During this Corona Crisis”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.
- We are in this together. There is comfort in knowing that we are not facing this crisis alone, however physically isolated we may be from one another. Though we are all grappling with uncertainty in so many aspects of our lives, we are also all looking for ways to come out of this crisis together, and this shared experience and purpose helps to make it all a little less lonely.
- Kindness and generosity abound. I have been inspired by the number of people doing big and little things to help each other out during these challenging times. From assisting elderly neighbors, to food collections for families in need, to offering free services and entertainment to get us through these days at home, seeing so many people respond so generously is an uplifting reminder that even in dark times we can find light.
- Our communities can come out stronger than before. I have loved seeing my neighbors out walking, biking or running around our neighborhood more than ever. We smile and wave, chat from a distance, and I get the feeling that we are all so much more appreciative of these encounters and open to engaging with one another than we were before the pandemic. I have even seen this shift in my toddler, who just a few months ago would shy away from people he did not know well, uncomfortable in the presence of anyone who was not in his immediate family. Now, he runs to open the door to say hello any time he sees someone walking by — he is just so eager to bring new people into his day! In a similar vein, I have heard from so many parents that their children have grown closer during this time, as they adjust to becoming one another’s only playmates. I hope this is a sign that our families and communities can come out of this experience stronger and more willing to engage with one another than before.
- Our virtual lives have highlighted many excellent new ways to learn, connect, and have fun. As we have all scrambled to figure out how to keep living our lives almost exclusively from home, it has been pretty cool to see the creative ways we have found to stay connected. I grew up in a tight knit extended family, most of whom are currently scattered around the world. My parents are from Nicaragua and had recently moved back when this crisis hit. My sister is in Australia, my brother is back home where we grew up in California, and I am currently in Chicago. All of those cousins, aunts and uncles I grew up with so closely are likewise many long miles away. As virtual hangouts and communications become the norm, it has been incredible to reconnect more regularly with many of them. I have loved being back in touch, and am grateful for the opportunity to strengthen these relationships. Similarly, we have discovered so many cool apps and websites for learning and entertainment that have helped to enrich our lives during this extended time at home, and which will continue to do so when we are on the other side of this pandemic.
- We are resilient. One of the greatest gifts my work as an advocate for children gave me was the opportunity to witness the incredible strength and resilience of my child clients. Even though most had suffered terrible trauma in their young lives, these kids were still able to dream of a better future and approach that future with a strength, courage and hope that was truly inspiring. We, too, have found that we can adapt in the face of our current challenges, difficult though it has been, and this capacity to adapt and grow in the face of hardship is in itself a cause for hope for the future.
From your experience, what are a few ideas that one can use to effectively offer support to their family and loved ones who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?
There is great power in simply being present to one another, even if that presence is virtual for the time being. I think it is important to check in with family members, friends and neighbors regularly, whether through safe outdoor visits, phone, video chat, email or regular mail, so they know that they are thought of and have someone to lean on should they need that support.
If our loved ones are feeling overly anxious from reading the news, we can also offer to keep track of the news for them, and provide them with highlights or updates so they can avoid having to tap into a news feed that might feel overwhelming or anxiety-provoking. And, just as our family has found joy in adopting new hobbies and traditions, we can help our loved ones embrace a new pastime that might also serve to relieve some stress for them.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I have long found solace and strength from the Serenity Prayer, “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”
There is a power in recognizing that you do not, in fact, have control over all things in your life, no matter how much you may wish you did. That simple recognition is necessary, however, in order to then identify those things you can control, and where your time and energy can be spent most fruitfully.
I have repeated these wise words to myself countless times throughout my life, and they continue to bring me peace today, both as I work to grow Upparent and as our family faces the challenges brought on by the pandemic. As a non-developer working on a website, there are often times when I want to dive into the code right now to make changes to the site both big and small. Then I remind myself that while I, personally, cannot carry out those tasks there are many other ways that I can contribute to the overall growth and success of Upparent, and so I reorient my energy and efforts to those tasks instead. Similarly, though I would have liked for my children to be able to attend school in person safely this fall, since they will be learning remotely again as we start the year I will do my best to make sure they are supported, while also balancing the needs of the rest of our family working and living at home.
Even for those who do not believe in a higher power, the simple recognition and acceptance reflected in this prayer that we cannot control everything in our lives can have a profound impact on the way we order our days, and determine what matters most.
How can our readers follow you online?
We would love for everyone to visit us at Upparent.com to discover new inspiration for things to do as a family! We also share our favorite tips and ideas on our social channels, including Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram and Twitter.
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!