“How extremely busy executives make time to be great parents” with Dr. Ely Weinschneider & Katie Bigelow

My children are incredibly grounded and secure. That comes from having parents that are present and fully invested in their lives. They get to witness a solid marriage between their parents. The kids see us problem solve, disagree, and laugh together as a team. As a part of my series about “How extremely busy executives make […]

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My children are incredibly grounded and secure. That comes from having parents that are present and fully invested in their lives. They get to witness a solid marriage between their parents. The kids see us problem solve, disagree, and laugh together as a team.

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

Katie Bigelow started Mettle Ops in 2013 knowing defense contracting was the place where she could make an impact for the warfighter. She is a former Army aviator with experience in leadership and wartime operations. She completed four overseas tours including Korea, Bosnia, and two year-long tours in Iraq. Katie started her army career as an enlisted, Arabic linguist but spent the bulk of her time as a warrant officer and most notably a medical evacuation pilot.

Mettle Ops has won 9 contracts since its start and currently has 3 large customers including a prime government contract. Mettle Ops’ primary competencies are program management, engineering, and business development. For the government contract, Mettle Ops partners with the Army to research and develop materials and solutions to increase soldier survivability on the battlefield. Mettle Ops is also introducing the world’s first turbine engine hover-board to US defense markets. This incredible technology will save soldier lives.

The Bigelow family motto is “Never Give Up”. Katie and her husband, Mark, raise their own army of seven (plus) children in Sterling Heights, Michigan. Mettle Ops allows Mark and Katie to be passionate about their profession and the flexibility to be passionate about their children.

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

Igrew up in an Air Force family with one sister. My dad travelled extensively for work and my mom was a SAHM. I was an independent spirit. I have no idea if that’s because of how I was raised or if that is inherently who I am. Probably both. From kindergarten, my mom let me walk downtown to the post office to pick up the mail or go to story hour at the library.

The summer before fourth grade, I had a babysitter all day. I was playing on the front porch with a balloon trying to pop it, and I accidentally smashed the glass in the storm door. Begging my babysitter not to call my mom, I called the hardware store to find out how much glass cost. I emptied my piggy bank and walked there. My babysitter griped at me the whole time because she wanted nothing to do with my plan. Together we carried home a piece of glass wrapped in newspaper to replace the broken one. At home, I figured out how to install the glass just as my mom pulled in. She would have never known if I hadn’t felt so guilty that I blurted out the whole story.

It wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized how the unusual level of independence in that story.

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

After 10 years as a soldier, I left the military behind to become a SAHM. I started a small business as a freelance technical writer so I could make some extra spending money and completely control my schedule. I got food poisoning in my second pregnancy that was so severe that my son was born severely, multiply disabled. My identity became ‘special needs mom.’

Meanwhile, my husband shifted careers from artillery office to acquisitions officer in the military. He would come home every day from work and tell me about his day. After a few years of listening to his day, I realized that I had received a solid education in government contracting. I already knew a lot about military equipment and environments. One day, I asked him for clarification on a job he had hired an outside company to do. As I thought about it, I mentioned that I could do that. He laughed and said it was too risky. We would never do that.

I mentioned it a few times over the years, and he had a change of heart. He suggested I set up a business and explore what I would like to do in government contracting. By this time, he had retired and was working for a private company.

As a special needs mom, I had no idea how I could do this. My son was so ill. He was 5 years old and had over 25 surgeries. He couldn’t walk, talk, or see and often wasn’t able to breathe without assistance. I managed his medical care and the medical staff that worked in our home. I was teaching junior high math part time at my kids’ school. But, I set up the business, anyway. We named it Mettle Ops because we used to say that mettle was my son’s best character quality. He was brave and strong and endured suffering valiantly. I filed for my business in July of 2013. My son died in November of that same year. My life went on hold while I grieved the loss of my son and the loss of my identity.

As I began to heal, I started to look at my fledgling business and decide what I wanted to do with it. By 3rd quarter in 2105, I won my first government contract with the Air Force. I used the same “figure-it-out” spirit that I used to replace a window when I was 8 years old. By May 2015, I had more business than I could handle by myself. My husband quit his job and worked full time with me as my vice president of operations.

I now have ten employees and hold several prime contracts with the Department of the Army for prototyping on future Army ground vehicles.

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

My two-year-old twins get up at 5:30. Uggg! One of my personal priorities is family first, always. I don’t routinely work outside of the standard work day unless something unusual comes up. My school age kids leave for school by 7:30 and our nanny arrives at 8 when I sneak off to work.

I stop working between 5 and 6. Up until that point, my nanny handles homework, music practice, reading time, dinner, and ships the kids off to their various sports, ballet, and activities. I usually grab a quick dinner with my husband, and we start the process of rounding up kids from their activities and bed time. The five youngest are in bed by 8 and the older two usually are home by 9.

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?

My children are incredibly grounded and secure. That comes from having parents that are present and fully invested in their lives. They get to witness a solid marriage between their parents. The kids see us problem solve, disagree, and laugh together as a team.

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 still run my business out of my house. We have about 1,000 sq ft office space of office space and parking for our employees. We have 5 full time employees that sit in the office on a daily basis, the rest work remote and come in regularly to collaborate.

I love the arrangement because I can take a break and have lunch with my kiddos. I don’t have to miss first steps or kisses before nap-time. The preschoolers aren’t allowed in my office area, but the school-age kids stop by my desk to give me a hug after school. I help at the school occasionally and stay involved with the kids’ lives.

There’s no time for television or leisure other than time spent with the kids. I focus on my family and my business and leave most household chores to our nanny and housekeeper. I get to live a life that I love that only includes my favorite things.

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?

We don’t attend ballet, tae kwan do, sports practices, or lego club classes every day, but they often find one of their parents in the stands or watching through the glass. We NEVER miss a game or concert and always sit in the front row. My parents rarely came to a game or concert. I remember looking for them. If they showed up, it was unlikely they would sit through the whole thing. While everyone else’s parents were congratulating and encouraging their kids, I was looking for a ride home. I know I’m not that only one that experienced that and many children have it much tougher.

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 3 strategies about how we can create more space in our lives in order to give our children more quality attention?

  1. Only do the important things. I let others handle housekeeping, laundry, and other household tasks. I felt guilty about this. Moms put pressure on each other to do it all by themselves. I realized that I would rather spend money to have these things done and spend time with my family that is meaningful.
  2. I limit my schedule. I typically don’t work beyond a normal workday. I rarely agree to attend events outside the work day.
  3. Sleep enough. I emphasize sleep discipline so that my time at the end of the day with the kids is not ruined with exhaustion.

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

Being present and fully invested in your child’s life. Letting them witness a solid marriage between their parents. Having your kids see you problem solve, disagree, and laugh together as a team.

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

I want my kids to feel that a failure is simply a chance to grow and success is something to celebrate and enjoy. They need their parents present and to come alongside them and teach them that.

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

Mettle Ops is named in honor of Bret Bigelow. Bret contracted food poisoning before he was born and barely survived. The miracle was not only that he lived, but he inspired everyone around him. He lived six years and endured countless medical procedures. He smiled when pain was unbearable and faced uncertainty with honor and strength.

We remember a boy that had greater tenacity and mettle than any other person we have known.

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

There’s no time for television or leisure other than time spent with the kids.

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

The Bigelow family motto is “Never Give Up”.

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

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