Block off “fully present” time in your calendar — What’s happening lately is that I need to put that downtime into my calendar, otherwise I commit to something and completely forget about my kids! True story from today, I woke up and remembered it was my daughter’s birthday. And in my head I knew we were all hanging out as a family, but I hadn’t put it into the calendar, so during a busy time in the weekend I looked at the calendar when someone asked us to get together and thought to myself, “wow, there is a whole open night” and scheduled dinner. Not until this morning did I realize that I had double booked on my daughter’s birthday. My takeaway from this, is that, as annoying as it sounds, I have to block off my calendar for the “fully present” time with our children and my husband.
As a part of my series about “How extremely busy executives make time to be great parents” I had the pleasure to interview Juli Dimos. Juli is founder and managing partner of VOCO, a Colorado-based Marketing Agency that specializes in savvy marketing for brands. Known for 20+ years of her interdisciplinary approach to marketing, Juli has worked with/for powerhouse brands including Transamerica, Cummins, Cars.com, Realtor.com, Beyond Meat, Earth Balance, Ameritech, MCI, Cuties, and Progresso. As the creative/analytical force behind VOCO, Juli finds inspiration wherever she looks, pushing toward what’s new, what’s next and what makes sense for the brands VOCO serves.
Thank you so much for joining us, Juli! Can you tell us your “childhood backstory”?
Igrew up on the “East side” of Chicago (which was really the South side). One day, I remember running into my grandma’s kitchen and she had a magical, mystery machine on the table that had the most delightful keys to press and levers to pull. I asked her what she was doing, she responded “bookkeeping for grandpa’s brick laying business.” I said oh and ran off, climbing into my dad’s semi-truck that I loved to ride in, to go over to my parents shop, where I got to get as dirty as I wanted, facing only mild scolding from my mom when I got home. She was mainly relieved that someone else had my brother and I most of the day, because she was home with the baby.
As I got older, my weekends were spent working in an office as the receptionist and cleaning lady for my family’s scrap yard, learning the ins and outs of invoicing, marketing, bookkeeping, and customer service. When I was 15, I was working in the office most of the summer, I think I quit 15 times. The education I didn’t know I was getting was a multi-generational apprenticeship in entrepreneurship, and lessons on how to integrate and celebrate our family while running successful businesses.
The integration and celebration I saw from my grandparents and my parents, didn’t just include making us work for them, but it meant both my parents were able to go on field trips, help with our 4-H club, and spoke in the classroom, showing up not just when we needed them, but often when we just wanted them to be there.
Can you share the story about what brought you to this specific point in your career?
At the time I was 23, having worked as a UI/UX expert and database engineer in the corporate environment for two years already in Chicago and Denver during the dot com boom. The fast-paced environment suited me, I had multiple chances to travel internationally to Australia and had a great group of colleagues. One day after moving with the same people through three different companies, I realized I was suffocating. I put two sticky notes up on my computer screen, one said “I am putting money in the pockets of my bosses who I don’t trust” and the second one was the Theodore Roosevelt quote “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
It took another six months before my husband and I sold everything and moved to China to adventure and teach English. We jumped off a cliff, and when we did that, we thought we would jump off another cliff and I would start a freelance business centered around website development, photography, and small-business marketing. As I was raised with the general cliff-jumping business, this wasn’t all that scary, but rather exhilarating. Freelancing turned into bigger clients, which meant starting a marketing agency and I have been holding tight for the ride ever since.
Can you tell us a bit more about what your day to day schedule looks like?
5:00–6:30 am — wake up because I can’t sleep anymore, read the news, watch someone inspirational on Masterclass, read a book if the news is too awful to deal with that early, definitely drink coffee.
6:30–7:45 am — chat with my teenage girls, help them figure out what they need, chit-chat about boys, sports, grades before they leave at 7. Next, use a stick of dynamite to get my 11-year-old son out of bed. While we are waiting on him, my husband and I catch up before he leaves for work, discussing schedules and generally telling each other how much we appreciate the other. Go use another stick of dynamite to get my son out of bed. Start to get ready for work (I love dry shampoo), nudge my son to remember to put shoes and pants on, because he can’t go to school in underwear, no matter how cool they look. Finally, after screaming and gnashing of teeth, we both get out the door, I drop him off at school and I have a super-long commute of 1 mile to get to the office.
8 am- 3, 4, 5, or 6ish pm — Work. Agency work is never the same, there are always new challenges, new opportunities, and some lunch that I forgot about that requires a mad-dash to make it on time. The most recent one was my son’s school thanksgiving lunch. Thankfully his school is a mile away and I made it just in time.
3,4, 5, or 6ish pm — 10 pm — Family. Oh the schedules, especially for fall and winter! Everyday is a pretty consistent juggling act to get kids to soccer, volleyball, swimming, and tutoring. Planning meals all together is next to impossible, and having food in the house is even harder (thank goodness for Instacart). But the chaos of it all will be too fleeting and they will be off to college, so my husband and I lean into it as much as possible.
10 pm — 11 pm — I crash.
P.S. — Sometimes I exercise.
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?
When we get to the end of the week, or a particularly stressful day, without fail, when I walk in the door my kids lose it on me, whining, crying, angry, needing to cuddle, needing a hug. After shoving food in their mouths, sitting down quietly together for a bit, not really saying anything, and then goofing on each other, their shoulders unclench, the worry lines disappear, and they can start talking about all of the things they had stored up that needed a release and were coming out in very, predictable rough ways on Jon or I.
My husband is a psychologist, so we talk about this all the time. Kids need a safe place, unconditional love, and boundaries. Fortunately, Jon and I have built careers and businesses that allow us to show up for our kids in those ways. When kids don’t have those outlets, boundaries, and someone listening, they will try to get those basic needs filled somewhere, and those somewheres run the gamut, but often don’t involve the parents. Merely being available and ready to talk without judgment has been working so far for us. But we are never quite sure we are getting it right.
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?
When we can spend time with them, they feel heard, all the feels that are building up in them have a place to release, they tell us they feel safe.
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 absolute favorite time to spend with my kiddos is the in-between driving times. Again, as long as I get them fed first, and then sit quietly without asking too many questions (which is SO hard for me), they start talking about their day, philosophizing about something, or have commentary on any number of topics.
We work with them to decide on no-tech times, no-tech days or weeks. The amount of space and conversation that opens up when that happens is still amazing to us, even though everyone talks about this. The key is that we also have to participate in the no-tech times (which is incredibly hard).
And the final intention I settled on this year is to “play” with my kids. This is perhaps the most unattainable intention I have ever set. Because, really, I am the task master, organizer, etc. — I am not the play person. What I keep hoping is that this embodies the concept of the quality over quantity, that when I show up, I am all in. Which, as an executive, takes some heavy duty work, because my brain never turns off.
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.
- Block off “fully present” time in your calendar — What’s happening lately is that I need to put that downtime into my calendar, otherwise I commit to something and completely forget about my kids! True story from today, I woke up and remembered it was my daughter’s birthday. And in my head I knew we were all hanging out as a family, but I hadn’t put it into the calendar, so during a busy time in the weekend I looked at the calendar when someone asked us to get together and thought to myself, “wow, there is a whole open night” and scheduled dinner. Not until this morning did I realize that I had double booked on my daughter’s birthday. My takeaway from this, is that, as annoying as it sounds, I have to block off my calendar for the “fully present” time with our children and my husband.
- Trust our team — Jenn and I, as managing partners for VOCO, believe it is super important to spend time with our respective families. We make time for them and don’t apologize when we need to do that. This is possible, because we have such a stellar team that is doing exemplary work.
- Put my phone/iPad/computer/watch away — literally I could check/respond to email 24/7 and run hot 365 days of the year, and I often do. Yesterday I was very concerned about something from work, and I came home needing to take my daughter to get her permit, my other daughter forgot her athletic clearance card for swimming and we were running out of time. I started yelling at my husband, yelling at my daughter, trying to get us all out the door. All of the sudden we looked down at the clock and realized there was no way we were going to make it to the DMV in time. I stopped everything, looked around, my daughter was crying, my husband was trying to roll with me (he knows me well after 21 years), and I was exasperated. I put down my phone and hugged my daughter and we crashed on the couch to chit-chat. She thought she needed anxiety medication but really just needed to talk about a boy. And we took some deep breaths.
- Let it flow — Lately I have been working off of this idea of flow, the idea of non-duality in my life that allows me to do a both/and vs and either/or. What that means to me is that when I go on vacation or something like that, I don’t have to be all “off” from work, or when I am in the middle of the work week I don’t have to be all in on work, but forgetting my family. It lessens my anxiousness because I can do a quick check in to work on vacation and know that we “Trust our team,” but answer some quick questions if they need it. And during the work week, I can flex my schedule around sporting events, dr. appoints and such. It allows me to be fully present and not worry about what is happening in either place. While this can trend into not being fully present anywhere, if I am intentional about it, it allows my life to be fully integrated.
- Take time to think and clear out all of the mental tabs that are open — For some ungodly reason, I wake up early on Saturday mornings and this is some of the sweetest time for me during the week. I have about three hours before everyone else gets up and I am able to “close” all of the mental tabs that have opened up throughout the week, all of the things I needed to remember, look up, act on, etc. Once I have that time, when everyone else is up I am done for the weekend, and put my computer away and can be present to what is happening.
How do you define a “good parent”? Can you give an example or story?
Ha, if you find one let me know. I have a tattoo on my arm that says “Further Along.” The general gist of it is that I am acknowledging that yes, I am wrong. Yes, I screw up. Yes, I should have done that differently. But, I hope I am less wrong today than I was yesterday.
Parenting feels like it is that kind of flow, never really sure if we are doing it right, or if we are good parents, or how our actions will echo into our kid’s grown-up lives. The standards are so shifting on what a good parent is, that really we have no idea if we are, but wow are we trying and maybe sometimes succeeding.
How do you inspire your child to “dream big”? Can you give an example or story?
We loved the book “Not a box” by Antoinette Portis when our children were little and we reference it a lot when we talk about what they want to do now and in their future lives. Our 11-year old son asked us the other day if we thought he would make anything of himself. We said yes, but asked why he was asking us. He mentioned that a sub was yelling at their class telling them all (because they were being unruly) that they would only amount to gas station attendants and have no chance of making it beyond that level of work. Needless to say that took some deconstructing for our son, but what came of that is us sitting down and dreaming beyond anything he had ever thought of before and discussing (in very general terms) what it would take to get there. By doing that together and dreaming big we moved past what the “world” was telling him and he chose to take his life into his own hands.
How do you, a person who masterfully straddles the worlds of career and family, define “success”?
As long as my kids are still talking to me, clients like our work, and our team is enjoying what they do, that feels like success.
What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a better parent? Can you explain why you like them?
For the love podcast — Jenn Hatmaker
She is the funniest and real of the realest. Honestly, when I can laugh that hard, it makes everything a little easier.
Girlfriends and Wine
Sitting on our back porches and sorting out all of it is perhaps the best resource I have.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
That’s Life. It hurts, it’s dirty, and it feels very, very good. — Orson Scott Card
It puts all of life and all the situations into perspective for me. That it in the good, in the hard, in the boring, it is good because we are alive and still breathing and we still have a million chances to get it right.
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. 🙂
We worked on this concept for a client a few years ago. We called it “Random Acts of Kindness.” And I realize this is already somewhat of a movement, but it is asking us to drop into ourselves, take a second and think of someone who really needs some kindness, especially someone that is very hard to be in relationship with and showing up for them in a big or small way.
Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!