“If children aren’t getting the attention they need, they will create different behavior to get it”, with Kristen Sieffert and Dr. Ely Weinschneider

Based on my experience, kids need attention, sometimes more than other times. I experienced firsthand recently when my oldest transitioned to kindergarten. If they aren’t getting the attention they need, they will create different behavior to get it. It was a critical parenting moment for my husband and I and a big reminder that we […]

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Based on my experience, kids need attention, sometimes more than other times. I experienced firsthand recently when my oldest transitioned to kindergarten. If they aren’t getting the attention they need, they will create different behavior to get it. It was a critical parenting moment for my husband and I and a big reminder that we need to really slow down and be present so that we know what our kids need from us and when. We practice giving them the guidance they need, without trying to guide them away from who they are or turn them into who we want them to be — it is much easier said than done!

As a part of my series about “How extremely busy executives make time to be great parents” I had the pleasure to interview Kristen Sieffert. As President of Finance of America Reverse (FAR), Kristen Sieffert is responsible for growth and innovation in Finance of America’s reverse mortgage business. Under Kristen’s leadership, FAR has become the second largest GNMA issuer of reverse mortgages, the largest wholesale lender in the industry and an employer of choice for more than 300 professionals across the country. FAR’s HomeSafe® suite is the most comprehensive proprietary reverse mortgage offering in the industry and is a key driver of the organization’s commitment to help people get to work on retirement. Prior to her role as president, Kristen served as FAR’s Chief Operating Officer. Before joining FAR in 2012, Kristen served as acting president for San Diego-based EquiPoint and vice president for operations at One Reverse Mortgage. Kristen began her reverse mortgage career in 2004 with Financial Freedom Senior Funding Corp. She earned a bachelor’s degree at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and in 2018 was accepted as a member of the San Diego Coastal Chapter of the Young Presidents Organization (YPO).

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

I learned from an early age the importance of self-sufficiency. My childhood was shaky and from an early point I felt like I couldn’t rely on many people. My grandfather, one of the most stable influences in my life, used to sit with me for hours and teach me to play cards while we talked about life. I remember him always telling me that he and my grandmother worked very hard to create opportunities for my sister and me, and if I wanted to have the same opportunities as an adult and for my own future family, I had to create them myself. It really instilled in me a drive that I haven’t been able to shut off. I started my first job at the age of 15 and have worked ever since.

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

After I finished up school at UCLA it was time to decide what was next for me and my career. I had always dreamed of going to law school but decided to take a break before fully committing. During this time, I got a call from a very close childhood friend telling me about a “great company” she joined, Financial Freedom Senior Funding Corp., and that I should consider coming to work with her. It seemed like an opportunity worth pursuing, so I took the plunge, moving from Los Angeles back to my home town of Roseville, CA. I worked in a variety of positions while at that company, climbing the proverbial ladder, before moving to San Diego to help build a new reverse mortgage arm of an existing forward mortgage lender with a great group of people.

When I first started out, the mortgage industry felt like a far cry from work that would make a difference in the world. I thought about leaving the industry a few times because I couldn’t connect the dots between what my soul needed and the mortgage world. As I spent more time in our industry and worked my way up in the ranks, I realized that not only was I contributing to making a huge impact for those that we served, but the business environment was a tremendous setting to do good on several different levels. That is when I fell in love with my industry. We’re changing people’s lives. Whether it was empowering teammates to reach their potential, creating experiences for people that exceeded expectations, or providing services that improved a person’s situation, I was compelled by the positive effect a professional career might have beyond the bottom line and quickly saw the reverse mortgage industry as a powerful foundation.

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

Our company’s team is scattered across the country in various locations, which means I am either traveling for in-person meetings or spending a lot of my day on conference calls. My goal is to devote 25% of my time towards strategy and future thinking initiatives for our company, about 60% on day to day meetings and normal course of business items, and 15% on unexpected items that always crop up. I like to start my day with some deep breathing and visualization exercises before jumping out of bed to start answering emails. I then help get the kids ready to leave for their school day and I get a workout in at some point in the morning if I have time. After the work day is done it is a mad dash to bed time! Sports, homework, playdates, errands, dinner, bath time, reading, and lights out. By the time my kids are asleep I normally feel like I just ran a marathon. It is then that my husband and I are finally able to check in with one another, talk about our days and be glad we are on the same team. Wake up, repeat.

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?

Based on my experience, kids need attention, sometimes more than other times. I experienced firsthand recently when my oldest transitioned to kindergarten. If they aren’t getting the attention they need, they will create different behavior to get it. It was a critical parenting moment for my husband and I and a big reminder that we need to really slow down and be present so that we know what our kids need from us and when. We practice giving them the guidance they need, without trying to guide them away from who they are or turn them into who we want them to be — it is much easier said than done!

On the flip side, can you give a few reasons or examples about why it is important to make time to spend with your children?

My boys are so much happier and grounded when we spend quality with them. Between our work schedules, and their school and activity schedules, there are very few hours each day that we can spend time connecting so we like to make the most of those moments. I love sitting with them and hearing their stories, their perspectives on their life, and seeing what things bring them joy. It is also a great way for me to unwind and de-stress as well — their enthusiasm for everything is quite contagious.

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 some stories or examples from your own life about what you do to spend quality time with your children?

I am a big believer in quality over quantity! There are several ways in which we spend quality time with our boys. The most important one for me, is to sit down at the dinner table as a family. The time around the dinner table is non-negotiable and it’s a device-free zone. Some of my boy’s favorite quality time activities include — playing with Legos, reading together at night and talking about our day before lights out. My husband and I also like to carve out time to split up to have one on one time with the boys so that they get undivided attention from one of us, which we find creates some special moments for us.

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?

Personally, I think it is difficult to be fully present with anyone if I am not grounded myself, which is why I find it very important to first take care of me so that I can be available for others. I do this through exercise and yoga. I learned years ago that exercise not only keeps me physically healthy, but also keeps me mentally healthy. Beyond that, other strategies I use to create time for my kids are leaving my phone away from me when I am playing with them, planning and scheduling specific time to be with them, making a point to surprise them with unexpected fun outings when I can, and spending as much time on the weekends with them as possible. One other important item is making time for consistent date nights with my husband — when we are connected and in sync, we enjoy being with our kids so much more.

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

Defining what it is to be a good parent is so different for everyone and it’s amazing to see how many different styles exist that all support wonderful, well-rounded children. For me, first and foremost, it is creating a stable and loving environment at home, so my kids can grow from a strong foundation and feel safe, which I think instills in them the confidence to take risks elsewhere. I also think it is important to provide guidance without pushing my agenda onto them, teaching and showing them alternative perspectives, and making sure that they understand that their mindset will have a huge impact on everything they do.

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

My kids are still relatively young, and a lot of the limiting beliefs that we create as we age haven’t fully crept in for them yet. With that said, my oldest does have self-doubt that is starting to show up and when it does we like to ask him how he knows his thoughts are true and have him see there is another perspective he could choose that would be empowering. I think the most powerful thing I can share with them through their life journey is my personal story. All the mistakes, self-doubt and self-sabotage that I lived with and grew out of in order to create the life I have today and how setting big goals and stretching my capacity is one of the most rewarding things I do.

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

My definition of success has shifted over the years. Starting out it was very oriented around achievements. While that still exists for me, I also believe it is dependent on the impact I have on others as well as my willingness to stretch and grow personally. If I am leaving people better off than when I showed up, helping others get closer to their own goals, and pushing myself to grow emotionally, spiritually, intellectually, while still achieving my goals, to me, that is success.

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

My favorite parenting books are The Conscious Parent by Shefali Tsabary, How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish, and The Opposite of Spoiled by Ron Lieber. I love these because they have helped me grow as a parent and provide better guidance and support to my kids when I was stuck. My other source is my amazing circle of mom friends, most of whom have kids older than mine and have already dealt with challenges that I am facing. I get so much non-judgmental support and insight from them, they have all made me a better parent.

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

This is a hard one! If I had to choose a favorite, I think it would be “In life, we have either reasons or results, excuses or experiences, stories or successes” by Peter McWilliams. I spent the first part of my life with a lot of excuses; feeling sorry for myself because of certain circumstances that I believed were out of my control. After breaking out of that mindset, I have been able to create a life that I absolutely love and accomplish things I never would have thought possible in the past.

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 really challenge everyone to reflect on their mindset and perspective when life doesn’t seem to be going as they want. While we can’t control the things that happen around us, we can control how we think about them and it is those thoughts that can literally shape our reality. There is the quote by Gandhi that talks about keeping thoughts positive because thoughts become words, which become behaviors, which become habits, then values, then destiny. I believe this wholeheartedly. I also believe that when we come from positive perspectives, we have more capacity for compassion for each other and the world absolutely needs more compassion.

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

About the Author:

Dr. Ely Weinschneider is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist based in New Jersey. Dr. Ely specializes in adolescent and adult psychotherapy, parenting, couples therapy, geriatric therapy, and mood and anxiety disorders. He also has a strong clinical interest in Positive Psychology and Personal Growth and Achievement, and often makes that an integral focus of treatment.

An authority on how to have successful relationships, Dr. Ely has written, lectured and presented nationally to audiences of parents, couples, educators, mental health professionals, businesses, physicians and healthcare policymakers on subjects such as: effective parenting, raising emotionally intelligent children, motivation, bullying prevention and education, managing loss and grief, spirituality, relationship building, stress management, and developing healthy living habits.

Dr. Ely also writes a regular, nationally syndicated column about the importance of “being present with your children”.

When not busy with all of the above, Dr. Ely works hard at practicing what he preaches, raising his adorable brood (which includes a set of twins and a set of triplets!) together with his wife in Toms River, New Jersey.

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