How extremely busy executives make time to be great parents, with Sabrina Kieffer and Chaya Weiner

I try to develop the confidence in them to try things and praise them even when things don’t work out. I also encourage them to have interests in many different things, support them no matter what, and get involved when appropriate and when they need me. As a part of my series about “How extremely busy […]

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I try to develop the confidence in them to try things and praise them even when things don’t work out. I also encourage them to have interests in many different things, support them no matter what, and get involved when appropriate and when they need me.

As a part of my series about “How extremely busy executives make time to be great parents” I had the pleasure to interview Sabrina Kieffer, the VP of Operations at Skillshare, overseeing Content, Partnerships, Supply, Customer Support, and People Operations Teams. Previously, she was the SVP of Operations at Vimeo, where she was a member of the Senior Leadership team instrumental in growing Vimeo from 50 to 200 employees and growing subscriber base, viewership, and revenue by 50%+. Sabrina has a passion for figuring out how things work, helping companies run better, and empowering teams to do their best work. Sabrina is a mother of three amazing kids.

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

Very happy to be speaking with you! I grew up in California in a tight-knit family with a big network of extended family and friends. My parents, two siblings and I were really close, and my grandparents were like second parents. Most of my childhood best friends are still close friends today.

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

The common thread is I have always worked in an operational role, and most opportunities were presented to me due to a prior working relationship. I am very lucky that people took bets on me that allowed me to grow and develop new skills. I’ve had an unconventional path towards a career in startups. At the beginning of my career, I was managing high-profile events for Universal and University of Southern California.

My first foray into startups was in California, when a former mentor of mine took a bet on me and tapped me for a Director of Operations role at a hospitality brick and mortar startup — even though I didn’t have experience in hospitality. When my husband’s job took us to New York City in 2007, I started working for the technology conglomerate IAC, and then moved over to the IAC-owned video platform Vimeo in 2011.

As we started a family, I went back and forth between consulting and full-time work. In 2016, I took a year off to stay home with my three kids — my youngest was 2 at the time — and I was not planning on returning to the workforce full time until Skillshare’s CEO, Matt Cooper, lured me back in 2017. It was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up because I believe strongly in Skillshare’s mission to connect and enable lifelong learners. I was enthusiastic about the areas of the business I would be overseeing and the flexible working environment that would allow me to balance work and family.

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

I get exhausted thinking about it! On a typical day, I wake up between 4:30 am and 5:00 am and either go to the gym or do work I have not finished from the prior day. I then get myself ready, make breakfast for the kids, get the kids dressed and packed up for school, and head out the door around 7:45am. After dropping the kids off at school, I head to the office where my day is usually packed with meetings and action items.

After work, I go home to have dinner with the kids or take them to an after-school activity. I try to get some more work in while kids are doing homework or at a practice, and then we unwind together by playing games like cards or blocks before getting everyone ready for bed. Then I put everyone to bed by reading books, chatting and lying with them. After they are in bed for the night, I finish up any outstanding work or personal to do’s before heading to bed myself.

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?

I have never really thought of it that way — so many of my parenting decisions are based on instinct and feelings! My feeling is that I had children for a reason — they are the most important things in my life and I want to spend as much time with them as I can. Even though both my husband and I work, we feel it’s important for one parent to be present as much as possible. That means not only spending time with them, but being attentive and in the moment with them when we’re together.

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’s important for kids to know that they are surrounded by people who love and support them no matter what and who will always put them above everything else. It helps them to become confident, resilient and independent.

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?

Yes, for me and many working parents, it’s a constant juggling act — but in our family we’ve found a few ways to share quality time, like taking our kids to school everyday and having rituals around that. Our youngest starts school 30 minutes after the older two, so we have a ritual where we go to Starbucks everyday before school to spend time together. I also make a point to pick them up at least once a week from school, as well as take them to and participate in their extracurricular activities.

We eat dinner together most nights of the week and put them to bed with our own bedtime routines. It’s also important that we share special, unique things with each of our children.

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?

  1. Make it a point to take your children to school everyday if possible and be home for dinner and bedtime.
  2. Create rituals — for example, my youngest and I go to Starbucks everyday before school to share a treat, talk and read books.
  3. Be more present at bedtime. Our routine includes lying in bed reading books and discussing the days’ events.
  4. Make one-on-one special time with each child on the weekends.
  5. Create family moments to look forward to, like going out to dinner, lunch, sporting events, or shows together.

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

Everyone’s definition varies based on their situation and circumstances. How I strive to be a good parent is by prioritizing my children’s wellbeing above everything else, ensuring that my children know they are loved, ensuring that they know they always have someone they can count on, providing some sense of structure and stability, instilling in them the confidence and ability to make good choices and treat everyone kindly.

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

I try to develop the confidence in them to try things and praise them even when things don’t work out. I also encourage them to have interests in many different things, support them no matter what, and get involved when appropriate and when they need me.

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

I think we know by now that “having it all” is a myth. It’s about prioritizing what makes you happy, and doing what you can to make it work. “Success” for me is when my children are happy and thriving, when I am super engaged in work and maintaining my most important relationships, and things feel relatively calm and manageable.

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

I lean on my mom, sister and friends as my most trusted resource for parenting advice. My mom and sister have been educators for a long time and have a wealth of insights on childhood learning. Many of my friends also have children the same age as I do, so I like to also draw on their experiences and compare notes.

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

“You get what you give.” What you put into things is what you get out of them. Life is a constant balancing act and its important to prioritize the things that make you the most happy and content. For me, investing time in building my family and career has paid off manyfold.

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. 🙂

It’s hard to boil that question down into just one thing — but some of the most important lessons I’ve learned are to listen to yourself and follow your instincts, go towards new challenges with gusto, and spend time cultivating relationships with your family and at work. It takes effort but it is so worth it.

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

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