Children need to feel safe and loved. All the time. Otherwise, their brain doesn’t develop well, and they won’t thrive physically or emotionally. This is well documented in the book by Bruce Perry, The Boy Who Was Raised As A Dog. Being a parent was never meant to be a 24/7 job for one or two adults with no break for 365 days a year. Fortunately, parents aren’t the only people who can provide security and make children feel loved. Historically, that was the role of the extended family. With our modern lifestyles it’s harder to make that work.
As a part of my series about “How extremely busy executives make time to be great parents” I had the pleasure to interview Zarja Cibej, founder and CEO of myTamarin. After having two children and experiencing first-hand how hard it is to be a parent, Zarja completely understands the saying it takes a village to raise a child. We’ve lost that village over time and there is no modern infrastructure to replace it. That was Zarja’s inspiration for myTamarin. Zarja is a professional skier and medal winner, studied and practiced corporate law, and graduated with an MBA from the Wharton business school. Prior to founding myTamarin, she worked as a management consultant at the Boston Consulting group for almost ten years.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us your “childhood backstory”?
Igrew up in Slovenia and put on my first pair of skis when I was three. By the time I was a teenager I was a serious Alpine skier, training and racing 200 days of the year and I practically didn’t attend school as a result. I was proud to represent my country on the national team and I have to thank my parents for their part in this.
They’d wake me up early, drive me to the first training location of the day, go to work, pick me up later, and drive me to another location. They’d also make sure I was eating properly and staying hydrated AND that I kept up with my school work. In fact, I was told that if I got anything less than an A at school, I would have to stop skiing.
I worked hard and was a really good student despite missing three quarters of all classes, but one day I got a B+… Sure enough, my dad drove five hours to collect me from a mountain just before a race and reminded me that we had a deal. He drove me back home despite the fact I was defending a championship the next day. After some serious pleading he let me continue with my skiing, but he made it very clear that I should never get anything less than an A again. And I didn’t.
Can you share the story about what brought you to this specific point in your career?
When I had my first child, my life was turned upside down in an instant. It truly does take a village to raise a child and we’d lost the support of that village. My husband and I were living alone in London and our families were in Slovenia and Greece. I had nobody to turn to who truly understood how I was feeling or what support I might need along my journey. I also found that existing childcare services didn’t meet my needs as a parent. I struggled to find a nanny who could understand and relate to me as an individual — instead they focused purely on caring for the children. As modern-day parents, we should be able to have both.
That’s why I started myTamarin two years ago. Our mission is to empower parents to fully enjoy early parenthood and support them along their journey.
Our focus has always been on parents, with childcare (our first service) being just one part of that. We started out helping parents find the best nanny or newborn support for them. We match parents and nannies on both objective and subjective criteria. The subjective criteria is so often neglected when it comes to childcare, but is often much more important than, for example, years of experience. So we’re matching primarily based on parenting style, family values and personality compatibility. We’re using both the psychology of relationships as well as AI to enable our matching. This leads to placement longevity that is 2–3x better than the rest of the market. We’re grounded in psychology and powered by technology.
Over the last six months we’ve been working on new types of support and tools for parents to help them be their best selves for their children. We call this #parentcare. I am very passionate about this and we have a lot of new things coming up.
Can you tell us a bit more about what your day to day schedule looks like?
I have two boys aged five and three. They both have endless energy and are also early risers — often waking up before 6am. That’s really tough for me as I’m definitely not a morning person! Luckily my husband often steps in and starts breakfast with them while I try to snooze a little longer until my nanny takes over at 7am.
When I can, I like to get into the office by 8am, and do some thinking and problem solving before it starts to get busy when the team comes in at around 9am. If I have a good chunk of work to do I will block out a few hours and go and work from another (quiet) location. During the day I have a lot of meetings — with my team, my mentors and advisors, our investors and business partners. As part of the TechStars start-up accelerator we are lucky to have access to great mentors and other business support so I will usually meet with an advisor, potential partner or investor at least once a day.
I also answer (and write) a lot of emails and since we’re still in the early stages, I’m still very much involved in both the growth of the company and product development — it’s typically crazy and I NEVER get to the end of my to-do list!
On a good week, I try to squeeze in a visit or two to the local gym, typically in the early afternoons when my work productivity is at the lowest. I leave the office at around 6pm so that I can spend some time with my children. I’m tired by then and it always surprises me how much energy they still have when I get home. Then it’s bedtime and story time and if they are asleep early enough, I do some more work.
Unfortunately, I tend to be very productive between 9pm and midnight so I tend to do a lot of work then. It shortens my nights too much though, so I’m trying to limit working in the evening as sleep is so important.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now 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?
Children need to feel safe and loved. All the time. Otherwise, their brain doesn’t develop well, and they won’t thrive physically or emotionally. This is well documented in the book by Bruce Perry, The Boy Who Was Raised As A Dog.
Being a parent was never meant to be a 24/7 job for one or two adults with no break for 365 days a year. Fortunately, parents aren’t the only people who can provide security and make children feel loved. Historically, that was the role of the extended family. With our modern lifestyles it’s harder to make that work. Hence myTamarin, which is the modern version of the village you need to raise a child.
If you’re wondering where the name comes from, Tamarins are monkeys who parent in family groups and help each other out when children are small. I would actually argue that children are better off having happy, rested, present and engaged parents who are not there some of the time, rather than having tired, disengaged and unfulfilled parents all of the time. It’s about quality over quantity. To be their best selves, to be the best parents to their children, parents need time for themselves too.
I see that in our family; our boys have learned so much from our nanny — she brings a different perspective and different attitude to life than me and my husband and that has enriched their lives.
On the flip side, can you give a few reasons or examples about why it is so important to make time to spend with your children?
I’ll be a little selfish first… My children give my life a completely different meaning and they’ve taught me how to live my life better. For example, I’m much better at keeping my work and life in balance now that I have children than I was before. They relax me, they energise me, they make me laugh. And they make me appreciate life so much more. In other words, they are great for my mental wellbeing.
Having relaxed, energised and present parents is so important for children. As parents we are the centre of their universe. We make them feel safe and loved, and that’s what they need the most, especially early on.
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?
I 100% agree with this.
First, and this will sound counterintuitive, I try to look after myself. If I’m not rested, present, fulfilled and happy, I can’t be a good mum. It’s like on airplanes, you’re supposed to put the oxygen mask on you first, then help others, including your children, You can’t help them, if you’re not in a good place yourself. And that’s why we’re so passionate about #parentcare at myTamarin. Parents being healthy, well and rested, is a precondition for children being happy. So, I try to sleep well, exercise regularly and eat healthily. And I work because I love working, I love building and I love accomplishing something. All that makes me a much better parent.
I love sports and being outdoors, so whenever I can, I try to take the boys out and expose them to outdoor activities and different sports. Naturally, skiing is one of those sports and I also like taking them to my native Slovenia where being outdoors is so much more a part of everyday life.
Now that they are a little bit older, we can actually have a meal together in a restaurant! I quite enjoy that, as it gives us about an hour without any distractions.
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 5 strategies about how we can create more space in our lives in order to give our children more quality attention? Please include examples or stories for each, if you can.
Sleep. I tend to repeat myself… Sleep is the first and most important thing. Without enough sleep you can’t be present. Without enough sleep you can’t be productive and you inevitably end up working longer, and spending less time with your family.
Routine. Predictability of a routine is what children thrive on. And so do adults. So having the same schedule every day works really well, and saves quite a bit of time too.
Self-care, or as we like to call it, #parentcare. Make sure you’re mentality and physically well. Take time for yourself, take time for your partner. The children will be fine. Don’t neglect yourself by “sacrificing” yourself for your children. This won’t end well for anyone.
Get off your phone. This is doubly bad because it takes you away from the moment (and your children) and because it also teaches children bad habits. When I get home, I (try to) keep my phone in my coat or in my key basket until my children go to bed. And I’ve been experimenting with hiding my phone away for half a day during the weekend. When it works, it’s great! Freedom!
Ask for help, and delegate. You can’t do everything. Do what you do well, and outsource the rest as much as you can, e.g. cleaning, cooking, shopping, organising holidays etc.
And just to be perfectly clear, while I know what it takes, I still fail to follow it all of the time.
How do you define a “good parent”? Can you give an example or story?
For me, being a good parent is about two things — it’s about being a good role model for your children and a good enabler for their talents. In other words, it’s about helping your children develop to their fullest potential. And I don’t just mean academically and professionally. It’s about helping them be good human beings who are good to themselves, their family, their friends, the broader society, and the planet. Every child is different, and so every child needs a different parenting style to get the best out of them.
How do you inspire your child to “dream big”? Can you give an example or story?
I think that children have this amazing, innate attitude of no limits. They don’t yet have the biases, the self consciousness and the limitations that come with growing up. So allowing them to be. and do, and go where their imagination takes them is key for them to live to their fullest potential. You shouldn’t impose your own judgment.
And also, allow them to fail, as failing is good. It’s a part of learning. In fact, it’s critical for progress and innovation.
How do you, a person who masterfully straddles the worlds of career and family, define “success”?
Ultimately, it’s about whether my family and I are spending our days feeling happy and content. I’m not striving to be happy and content all of the time, just most of the time.
What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a better parent? Can you explain why you like them?
Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker — because sleep really is the most important factor that contributes to a healthy mind and body. Everyone should read this book, and everyone should get their eight hours of sleep a night, especially parents.
Deep Work and Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport — the best advice on how to be productive in the world of constant distractions. For parents, more so than anyone else, it’s important to make the most of your time, so that you can be productive at work, and still have time for your family.
I’ve recently read the book The Boy Who Was Raised As A Dog by Bruce Perry. This is a collection of stories by traumatised children, and while those stories are traumatising, they are an excellent guide for how NOT to behave as a parent.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Recently, I find myself quoting Einstein a lot: “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome is a definition of madness”. This holds true in business and in parenting. For example, when you’re trying to get an idea, product or business off the ground you need to try a lot of different things to get it right. It’s the same thing with parenting; you can plead, shout, punish, beg, bribe over and over again, but it’s not likely to work. With kids, you have to keep trying different ways to get them to see it your way.
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. 🙂
I’d love people to gain a deeper understanding around how important sleep is for the quality, and the length of our lives. Did you know that if you sleep for less than six hours a night, two consecutive nights, your mind and body are in the same state as when you’re legally drunk? Just think about that for a moment — in such a state you’re not allowed to drive a car, but you’re not only allowed, you’re actually expected to parent like that. That shouldn’t be the case, and hence parents should really get more support so that they can rest properly. We owe that to all of our children.
Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!