“Kids need their parents to be around and involved”, with Dr. Ely Weinschneider and Jamie Diaferia.

Kids need their parents to be around and involved. My daughter has had many incredible teachers and coaches, as well as friends and relatives who love her, but no one has her best interests in mind like we do as parents. It’s easiest to view it through the opposite end of the lens: How would […]

Kids need their parents to be around and involved. My daughter has had many incredible teachers and coaches, as well as friends and relatives who love her, but no one has her best interests in mind like we do as parents. It’s easiest to view it through the opposite end of the lens: How would she turn out if we weren’t around that often, showed no interest in her life, and didn’t set rules and boundaries? She may push back at the attention and interest at times, but I know that it’s usually a test to make sure we’re still in this together.

As a part of my series about “How extremely busy executives make time to be great parents” I had the pleasure to interview Jamie Diaferia, founder and CEO of Infinite Global, counsels leading professional services firms on their media, litigation and crisis communications strategies. During the course of his two-decade PR career Jamie has worked behind the scenes of many of the biggest stories in the news, including Enron’s collapse, the Penn State scandal and multiple high-profile civil and criminal prosecutions. He has three times been named one of Lawdragon’s 100 Leading Legal Strategists and ranks among PR News’ “50 Game-Changers of PR.” He is based in New York.

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

I grew up in Poughkeepsie, NY as an overly serious, anxious kid. I did the usual things: I was on soccer and baseball teams, played trumpet in the school band, did well academically. I asked my parents to send me to a boarding school as a teenager and I ended up at a small school in Connecticut when I was 15. It really changed me by teaching me to think on my own versus the method of memorizing and spitting out information that most schools used back then. I also learned to be a lot less serious there.

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

My law school education and background as a journalist are what set me up for a career in legal PR, but ultimately it was 9/11 that pushed me to start Infinite Global. I was living in NYC and working at a PR firm when the planes hit and like everyone, it affected me and made me question how I wanted to live my life. There were many parts of working for someone else that didn’t appeal to me, and I had strong ideas about how I could provide better client service. I quit a month later and started this company. What I’m most proud of is that we’ve stuck to and improved on those initial client service tenets all these years later.

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

It’s a mix of business operations work, new business and client development, and client service — typically high-level strategy or specific crisis and litigation communications projects. PR is not a 9 to 5 job, so over the years I’ve added the best people in the industry so that I could create a more flexible schedule for myself. I always tell people starting out in their careers to make themselves indispensable, and yet I’ve set out to gradually make myself the opposite of that so I could spend more time with my daughter, without it dramatically impacting the growth of Infinite.

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?

Even more than when I was a kid, there are so many outside influences on children. Social media has its uses, but I’d rather it not be how my daughter learns about life. It makes no sense to me that as parents we would bring her into this world and not do everything we can to help her grow as a person and enjoy her childhood. There’s only one way to do that and it’s to be a consistent, stable, available presence in her life. Now that she’s nearly 13 she would argue that she could do with a little less “presence” from us, but she’s stuck with us. I also happen to think my daughter is really interesting — witty, intelligent and exceptionally creative. Who wouldn’t want to spend time with someone like that?

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?

Kids need their parents to be around and involved. My daughter has had many incredible teachers and coaches, as well as friends and relatives who love her, but no one has her best interests in mind like we do as parents. It’s easiest to view it through the opposite end of the lens: How would she turn out if we weren’t around that often, showed no interest in her life, and didn’t set rules and boundaries? She may push back at the attention and interest at times, but I know that it’s usually a test to make sure we’re still in this together.

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?

The most creative thing we do together is write — she’s a gifted writer and has always enjoyed creating her own short stories. As a young kid she also asked me to tell her stories each night before bed, so rather than try to come up an entirely new theme each day, I invented a set of characters called Spoglers: little creatures who lived under trees and came out to wreak havoc on other unsuspecting Spoglers. A couple of years ago we began working on a book together based on an idea she had and we’re incorporating the Spoglers into the story. We’re hoping one day to get it published, but even if we don’t it’s been a lot of fun working on it together.

The thing about being a parent, though, is that not everything we do together has to be a big production. Recently we woke up early on a trip to Florida and walked the beach looking for shells. Things like that are probably just as important as writing a book together. I value dinner time when we sit and talk about our days, or we watch a cooking show together, and knowing when to stay out of her way and let her work through boredom on occasion. Kids are all a bit over-scheduled and over-stimulated by technology in my opinion.

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?

It starts by cutting off our phone addictions. I’ll confess I’m as guilty of it as anyone else, and as the head of a growing company, maybe more so. It’s a constant struggle to put the phone down and be present. I’m not a perfect parent and the same technology addiction that I warn my daughter about is an ever-present problem for me in my life too. So…

  1. As much as possible, put away the phone when you’re with your kids. Lead by example.
  2. Meditation. It works. For me it’s Transcendental Meditation, but you should find the style that works best for you to re-train yourself to be engaged in the moment.
  3. Learning to say no. Early in the company’s history it felt like bad client service to say no to a request to speak at all hours of the day, weekday or weekend. We still make sure our clients’ needs are being met, but I’ve learned that it’s acceptable to say no to a call if I’m already scheduled to do something with my daughter. Recently, I had to take a critical crisis call on a weekend while we were at lunch, and the disappointed look on my daughter’s face when I returned to the table ensured I won’t do that again soon if I can help it.
  4. Trust your colleagues. I’d still be working long hours if I didn’t learn how to delegate. It helped me and has also put them in positions to be leaders in the company. I’d like to think my faith in my co-workers has contributed to our unusually low turnover rate.
  5. Create a couple activities that are yours together. For me it includes writing with my daughter, but when I was a kid it was baseball with my dad. I recall him taking me to the baseball field to throw batting practice after work. I didn’t see other parents out there doing that and it stuck with me.

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

I believe a good parent is invested in their kid’s success and growth without attaching their own self-interest to the process. My daughter is nearly 13 years old and in five years she’ll be away at college and on her own. I have five more years to help prepare her for life outside of our home. To me, a good parent knows when to get involved in their kid’s life and when to back off, so they gain confidence and coping skills on their own. I’ve messed up a bunch of times by butting in when I shouldn’t have, but I’m learning too. She’ll be ready. Will I?

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

Aside from regularly reminding my daughter that she’s capable of doing anything if she works hard enough and embraces the possibility of failure, I’ve tried to lead by example. It’s one thing to tell her she can do and be anything she wants, but far more powerful to show her that I’ve exceeded my career dreams by being persistent, resilient and hardworking. I want my daughter to have the room to define success for herself; I can only show her how I got to my own version of it and hope she takes away the parts that work for her.

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

Balance. I’ve seen people who excel as parents but have done so at the expense of their careers or social lives. Likewise, I’ve seen people who were geniuses in business, but their kids refused to talk to them because they felt neglected at home. I’ve never believed you can’t do it all with a little balance. One could argue that Infinite would be a bigger, more successful company if I’d been willing to travel more for work, or spend more time networking at night, but I can live with that criticism.

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

I’m reading “The Self-Driven Child: The Science and Sense of Giving Your Kids More Control Over Their Lives” by William Stixrud PhD. I highly recommend it. Sometimes the best parenting involves knowing when to get out of the way.

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

Two quotes:

“To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all [people] — that is genius” — Ralph Waldo Emerson. To me this always struck a chord because it taught me to trust my instincts. It’s served me well over the years as I rejected a lot of advice that would have turned out to be bad for our business, and I’ve pushed forward with my own views on how we should operate that have contributed to our overall success. I listen to people I trust and value their counsel, but ultimately you have to go with what you believe is right for your company’s culture and personal values.

Second quote: “Don’t be a jerk” — Dominick Diaferia (my dad). Simple advice that’s helped me navigate life in a way that allows me to sleep with a clear conscience.

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. 🙂

Fight back against social media and smart phone addictions. There’s nothing worse than being on the subway and seeing everyone buried in their phones (again, myself included — but I’m working on it…). I can probably list 20 different ways the two technologies have irreparably changed society for the worse, and I keep hoping we’ll collectively wake up one day and agree that we used to be better off without them. Maybe I need to fight this battle on social media to be heard.

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, 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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