Dr. Rob Yonover: “How Extremely Busy Executives Make Time To Be Great Parents”

When my son was just starting elementary school, he came home one day and asked me to help him with his science homework since I was a scientist. I calmly told him that I had already did my school work when I was little and that he should do his homework, but I would be […]

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When my son was just starting elementary school, he came home one day and asked me to help him with his science homework since I was a scientist. I calmly told him that I had already did my school work when I was little and that he should do his homework, but I would be happy to debate any scientific topics and/or principles with him anytime. Once again, I was around and available to the children and I think that was comforting, even though I didn’t was so buried in my own work and caregiving that they understood that their homework was their responsibility, not mine!

As a part of my series about “How extremely busy executives make time to be great parents” I had the pleasure to interview Dr. Rob Yonover.

Dr. Rob Yonover received his Ph.D. in Geochemistry/Volcanology from the University of Hawaii with a Research Fellowship at NASA -Johnson Space Center and laboratory work at MIT. He invented the SeeRescue®Streamer survival technology, LIFE/FLOAT Rescue Board, Pocket Floatation Device, Pocket DeSalinator,, the Video Search and Rescue (vSAR) technology, and Fin-propelled Water Bike. The SeeRescue®Streamer technology is now in use by all branches of the U.S. military and has been credited with saving 4 lives to date. Dr. Yonover has authored several books including why does only one have quotes “Hardcore Inventing”, “Hardcore Health”, “Caregiver’s Survival Guide”, and “Brainstorm Islands” (kids). Dr. Rob has appeared on ABC Shark Tank, CBS Innovation Nation, CNN, PBS, and Discovery Channel.

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

Igrew up in Miami when my parents decided to move us from the bitter cold of Chicago. My father is a World War II Battle of the Bulge Purple Heart recipient and my mother was an enlightened activist and Guardian Ad Litem professional that represented children in court proceedings. Both of my parents were very creative and they instilled that on their children. I have an older brother and a younger sister. We were constantly exposed to arts, crafts, entrepreneurship, and travel. We grew up with nature at our doorstep with a lake outback and the ocean a few miles away.

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

I was working on my Ph.D. on volcanology in Hawaii when I invented survival gear (SeeRescueStreamer) that would later be used all over the world by military groups, civilians, and even SpaceX to protect the astronauts! When our children were 7 and 4 years old respectively, my wife was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS). She went from a limp to a walker to a wheelchair within a year and remained fully paralyzed for 19 years until her passing (Half Dead, Twice as Alive). I took care of her and raised our children while building my technology business (Caregiver’s Survival Guide).

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

My day to day schedule was absolute chaos mixed in with moments of ocean-delivered solitude. Fortunately, I worked from home so I was able to juggle child-rearing, caregiving/nursing, and work. I would wake up at 6 am, check my emails to see if there were any fires to put out and make sure my wife was ok and comfortable. I would then tend to the kids’ pre-schooling ritual and then get them to school (or at least to the bus stop). I would then help my wife until my caregiving help arrived (if I had any at all). I would then go back to my computer or my in-house laboratory and work until I could get my sanity solitude break at lunchtime when I would paddle out to the ocean or go for a quick surf session. Then back to the house for a quick bite and then pick up the kids and return to work and caring for my wife. Later, when I got my wife ready for bed, I returned to working on the computer. The kids learned early on that we expected them to hold their own for their school work so they were self-starters in that arena.

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 (and adults) learn by example and when they try to emulate people that are doing something successfully. It is definitely important to be around for your kids, however, I disagree with the amount of input most people have with their kids (i.e., helicopter parenting). I was available to answer critical questions and play with them when I could, but I strongly urged them to follow the 3 R’s: Respect, Responsibility, and Resourcefulness. We strongly urged them to be independent (and they kind of had no choice in the manner since they saw the workload I was handling). Just by being in front of them working hard, I think that was comforting as they knew we were around and in a loving relationship and that provided a constant grounding. I believe children are on the bottom of the pyramid and they should aspire to be like the people on the top of the pyramid — their parents/adults (Put Your Oxygen Mask on First). Children learn best by example.

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?

It is important to spend time with your children, as long as you are not doing their work for them or fighting battles or challenges they should take on themselves. We are teaching them to be independent fully-functioning adults. To that end, the more time they can spend with stable adults in a positive non-combative setting, the better. Try to spend quality time with your children that does not involve their schoolwork and focus more on constructive projects, creative endeavors, all-encompassing discussions/debates, travel, and new experiences.

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?

When I did accompany my small children to play on the playground, I commonly pretended to ignore them (even though I had my eye on them) to encourage them to become more independent and solve problems themselves. I commonly use the method of “Ignore and Distract” and even find it useful to utilize on adults.

When my kids would fall down and appear to be hurt, instead of running to their aid, I would initially pretend I didn’t see it/them (“Ignore”) and see if they could pull themselves up and solve the problem. If they came to me crying and holding their “owie”, I would look at it, rub it, kiss it, and then ask them if would was bad enough that we need to go to the doctor and get a shot? That usually spurned them to an immediate recovery and return to play!

When my son was just starting elementary school, he came home one day and asked me to help him with his science homework since I was a scientist. I calmly told him that I had already did my school work when I was little and that he should do his homework, but I would be happy to debate any scientific topics and/or principles with him anytime. Once again, I was around and available to the children and I think that was comforting, even though I didn’t was so buried in my own work and caregiving that they understood that their homework was their responsibility, not mine!

I commonly would bring our children along on our activities (“fit them into our schedule, instead of fitting our adult schedule into the kids), and they were able to learn by example — they absorbed and emulated the way my wife and I reacted to each other and experienced new things that we happened to let them join us on (whether it was an excursion in nature or an errand we had to run).

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.

First of all, I would try to incorporate them into some of the requirements you have for the day. If you have to walk the dogs anyway or go to the store, bring them along. That way they can see you in action as a functioning adult and model themselves after you. It also gives you to talk to them when they don’t realize they are getting either quizzed or lectured by you. I use to refer to car rides as “captive audience” — I had their complete attention since I controlled the radio and we were all in a cabin together. Of course, that is harder to do know with the scourge of smartphones. If I was a new parent these days, I would probably purchase a cell-phone blocker to ensure that cell phones couldn’t be used in the car or house when I would like quality undivided family time.

I like to include kids on large projects around the house or even work-related. Depending on their age, you can give them little things to do that help you and make them feel like they are part of a larger venture. As they get older, you can pay them modestly for certain jobs. I grew up working in my father’s business and also doing yard work for him with pay ranging from an ice cream treat to a few dollars an hour when we got older and smarter.

You can also engage your children under the guise of needing their help or opinion on something. You can watch a video with them related to your work and tell them that you need a young person’s opinion on a matter. Let them try to use a device you have been working on to see if it works well for children. Kids love tools, so let them have a hammer and nail and give them some scrap wood to practice on. Anything related to what adults do is good because they aspire to be adults (at least subconsciously).

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

A good parent to me is one that is around and available for their children, but no hovering over them or doing their work for them. A good parent should lead by example. A good parent should show them how a good adult behaves and how a good married couple interacts and values that relationship first and foremost relative to the one with their kids. My kids were able to see how I helped and attended to my disabled wife’s needs before them. They saw that I valued independence and how their independence would help the overall family unit.

We started early with our kids on getting them independent. We would not let them have their toys all over the house. They were allowed to bring them into the house (the adult part of the house was everywhere but their rooms), but they had to put them back into their room when they were done playing with them. Again, the adult world is reflected in an adult-looking house and that is what they should aspire to. I would tell them that they can’t trash our house, but they can keep their rooms pig pens if they would like, however once again they commonly would then keep their rooms clean to show how grown up they were becoming (all un-forced) — they wanted to be considered “big kids” or adults, not little babies…

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

Dream big yourself first and foremost, sharing that with your children and then encouraging them to do the same with whatever interests they may have. Also, support their big dreams regardless of the field it may be in or the unlikelihood of it occurring. If they think they can invent a spaceship that travels to Mars, you celebrate their vision, however, you also should supply them with information on what is involved in something like that so they can learn about real-world goals. I am a big believer in bio-mimicry and exploring nature in general as that is where a lot of my inspiration has come from over the years (Brainstorm Islands). By spending time with your children in the great outdoors, there are big dreams all around them when they can interact and appreciate the grandness of nature.

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

Success is personal, not just how fancy a car or house you have. Lifestyle is everything and you want to be flexible enough to experience the rewards of parenting as well as achieving your own goals and dreams (Hardcore Inventing is how I was able to be a “success”, with success defined as a very personal goal — not the way society generally sees success.)

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

Quality children’s books are a great resource for your young children. I loved Curious George and I made it part of my collection for my kids. I think the best thing you can do for your children is to expose them to books by reading to them when they are young. There is nothing like turning off your electronic devices and your voice reading an adventure to a young child and having them hear your voice and even asking questions about the reading journey you are taking them on. I also like to encourage my children to create stories themselves and write them out in crayon or craft form — anything to be creative and work with your hands and mind (and not just stare at a little color TV screen they refer to as smartphones)!

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

When I was a young teenage surfer growing up in Miami, the waves were terrible and we had to go to great lengths to try to catch them sometimes (e.g., get up at 6 in the morning during a cold front or hurricane). A friend of ours once told us when we were whining about how it’s going to be too cold and we didn’t want to get up that early said, “You gotta be Hardcore!” That saying has stayed with me in all aspects of life as it points to our tendency as developed world people to just take the easy way out. Sometimes, “Harder is Better” and you have to “earn it” go get the great rewards in life!

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 would change the way people eat and exercise. It is really sad what people do to the beautiful bodies people are born with. Many of the problems in our world (specifically health care) are related to the junk people put into their bodies. Respect the temple that is your body and feed it the good fuel it craves so it can serve you well!

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

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