Let your kids know that “Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass…It’s about learning to dance in the rain.”, with Cristina Mariani-May and Dr. Ely Weinschneider

My favorite quote, which I share with my kids frequently, is “Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass…It’s about learning to dance in the rain.” Because in life, there’s seemingly always a storm, and the sooner you learn to roll with what life throws at you, the happier you’ll be. You can’t get […]

My favorite quote, which I share with my kids frequently, is “Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass…It’s about learning to dance in the rain.” Because in life, there’s seemingly always a storm, and the sooner you learn to roll with what life throws at you, the happier you’ll be. You can’t get stuck on the negative things that happen, waiting for them to “end” before moving on to something better — when you do that, you’re not in control of your happiness. Find a way to deal with the negatives and turn them into positives.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Cristina Mariani-May, the family proprietor of the internationally renowned Castello Banfi vineyard estate in Montalcino, Tuscany, and CEO of Banfi Vintners, a leading U.S. importer of fine wines. The youngest daughter of Banfi Chairman Emeritus, John F. Mariani, Jr., Ms. Mariani-May, together with her cousin James Mariani, represents the third generation of family leadership in the company founded by their grandfather, John Mariani, Sr. in 1919. As part of her many contributions to the family business, Mariani-May created progressive new tracking and monitoring systems at Castello Banfi designed to elevate performance and establish new goals in the fields of customer satisfaction, environmental responsibility and social responsibility.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the “backstory” behind what brought you to this point in your career?

My grandfather founded Banfi Vintners in 1919 — right before Prohibition — naming the company after his Aunt Teodolinda Banfi, who raised him in Italy and had a strong influence on his life. She was a strong, cultured woman who spent much of her life running the household of Pope Pius XI as the first non-clergy female in the Vatican. Based on Spring Street in lower Manhattan, the company imported wine and specialty foods — an extension of what my grandfather learned from his Aunt Teo. Through Prohibition, he sold amaro and Marsala, which at the time were considered medicinal (laxatives!). After Prohibition, Banfi focused solely on fine wine importing, bringing in the great wines of France, Italy, and Germany. In the 1960s my father and uncle took over the business and turned it into such a success that the family was able to purchase a virgin swath of land and 11th-century castle in Montalcino, Tuscany, which became Castello Banfi. I joined the company’s marketing department after earning my undergrad at Georgetown and MBA from Columbia, and over the years, worked my way up to President and CEO.

Can you share with us how many children you have?

Three children, each about two years apart. My oldest is 16.

Where were you in your career when your child was born/became part of your family?

At the time my first was born, I was Global Marketing Director for Banfi, so I didn’t have quite the same responsibility as I have now as CEO, but the position entailed constant traveling — including significant international travel. At the time, we were still near the beginning stages of building the reputation of our Brunello di Montalcino as one of the greatest wines from Italy, so my job entailed presenting the wine around the world and educating people about why it was worth their attention and a place on their wine list or in their cellar. Then, with my pregnancy and the birth of my son, the schedule tightened considerably, and the balancing act began.

Did you always want to be a mother? Can you explain?

Yes, at least as long as I can remember. I grew up in a warm, loving family and my mother has always been my best friend, so I guess becoming a mother myself was a natural progression.

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

It’s never the same. I spend about half of my in-office time at the Castello Banfi estate in Italy and the other half in New York headquarters. The rest of the time I’m traveling — throughout the US and around the world. The only constant is saying good-night to my kids every night — whether it’s in person, or via face-time.

Has being a parent changed your career path? Can you explain?

It didn’t necessarily change my path, but it changed the way I worked and how I scheduled my life in general. It also changed the way I thought about the world. After having kids, the far-future and the future beyond my lifetime became more important, and drove me to think about how I, and Banfi, could contribute to a better planet for the long-term. Castello Banfi was always respectful of nature and the environment, but I wanted to do more, so I started looking at more ways we could be sustainable and reduce our carbon footprint. For example, we began using lightweight glass bottles about ten years ago, and that one change had an environmental effect equal to taking 3600 cars off the road. And because taking care of future generations has become so important to me, I’m sharing many of our initiatives and ideas at a climate change leadership summit for the wine industry in Portugal during the first week of March. Al Gore is the keynote speaker, and if you told me 20 years ago that I’d be presenting answers to global warming next to him, I’d think you were nuts — that sort of thing was nowhere near my radar before becoming a parent.

Has being a mother made you better at your job? How so?

Yes, in many ways. Certainly, it made kindness to others to the forefront. Not that I wasn’t kind before, but, having a baby changes perspective on the human race — it makes you more aware of others and their emotional needs. I believe kindness and empathy are key traits when managing others and getting the best performance from people. Also, becoming a mother forced me to be laser-focused, diligent, structured, and efficient. When you are a working mother, there is no time for distractions, and you very quickly learn to prioritize. And, you also learn that you can’t do everything, so you learn how to delegate and how to find the people you can trust to handle what you’re delegating. Trust and delegation freed me to concentrate on the most important aspects of the business and the things that I do best. I would not be the president and CEO of Banfi today if I didn’t evolve in that way, and I’m not sure it would’ve happened if not for motherhood forcing me to learn those lessons.

What are the biggest challenges you face being a working mom?

Balancing work and life is especially difficult for a person in the wine industry, because our job rarely adheres to a consistent schedule — in addition to traveling, there are many late nights. So, it’s hard, for example to establish a routine of exercise, for eating right, for being with your family at the same time every day. Family activities are always in flux and often reactive to where I am and when I’m available. One thing I try to do is make traveling fun. It’s something I have always enjoyed, and I try to have my kids join me whenever possible and make it fun for them as well.

Are there any stories you remember from the early days of parenthood that you want to share?

Following along with my penchant for making travel fun, there was a time when my son, who was one or two years old, was with me on a business trip in Las Vegas, and he was having a grand old time playing with a slot machine — that is, until a security guard came over to kick us out.

Are there any meaningful activities or traditions you’ve made up or implemented that have enhanced your time with your family? Can you share a story or example?

Delta miles make memories! Seriously, as I’ve already mentioned, I try to bring my family along on business trips whenever it’s possible. When I can’t, though, I have a tradition that I began when my kids were little. Before I left the house for the airport, I’d leave a little note on their pillow, telling them where I was going and what I would be seeing and experiencing. I wanted them to be excited for me, and excited that they had a mom who traveled to all these faraway places. They’d leave the note on their nightstand and read it before they went to sleep, and I believe it helped them cope with my being away. At first, when they were toddlers, the notes would be mostly drawings, and as years went on, they included more words and description. After I’d left, they might tell their friends or teachers, “my mom is in Hong Kong, the Big Buddha is there!” or, “my mom is where Romeo and Juliet lived, in Verona, Italy!” When I returned, of course, I’d give them souvenirs from my trip, and we’d talk about the things I saw. One thing we always said was “mommy always comes back” — I felt that was key to their understanding that I hadn’t abandoned them, that my going away was only temporary. To this day, the kids still have those notes, they kept them, and it’s really neat now to look at them with my kids and recall both my trips and where they were in their lives at the time; it’s like a travel log.

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

Hugs, lots and lots of hugs. Dancing in the kitchen — thank goodness for Alexa! That device makes it so easy for impromptu singing and dancing sessions with the kids. When I’m traveling, “facetime” is huge, and I do it at some point every day I’m away from home. The kids really get a kick out of, because I’ll show them my surroundings — like a beautiful mountain behind me, or a sunset, or an exotic food, or the car I’m in, that might look unusual because it’s not one you’d see in the US. I try to make it exciting, and if I’m excited about where I am, then they’re excited. And when I return, I don’t bring stress home with me — work stops before I walk through the door. At the same time, I will talk about some of the hardships and challenges that come up so that they understand life isn’t all roses, and you don’t win all the time.

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

First, they know the family story — against the advice of many, at a time when wine was not nearly the popular beverage it is today, my father turned a desolate plot of land in the poorest hilltop town in Tuscany into one of the world’s most magnificent and successful wine estates, while also helping Montalcino become one of the wealthiest hilltop towns in Italy. I try to keep that “big dreaming” alive in my children, by showing them the things I do and teaching them to be fearless. We do scary things together — things that scare me, like skiing or whitewater rafting — and we do it together. We face the fear together, and come out of it intact. Also, I’ll bring my kids on some of my business trips, especially if it’s the kind of thing that might offer something inspirational, like visiting a foreign land or seeing mommy do something important. For example, I recently brought my daughter with me to London, England, to accept the Drinks International “Woman of the Year” award. That was hands-down the best trip we ever had together. She got to see me being honored, and I was able to share the joy with her.

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

Books by Brene Brown, especially Daring Greatly and Dare to Lead. She writes about exactly the same thing I’ve experienced and believe in — the courage to be vulnerable. To be a strong leader, it’s so, so important to not be afraid to ask for help, and to trust others. Leadership is not about knowing everything, nor doing everything; in many ways, it’s the opposite. For similar reasons, I also like Ryan Holiday’s Ego is the Enemy. Give and Take by Adam Grant is another great one for business and child rearing, and it echoes how we’ve run our business from the beginning. Whether it’s charitable giving and scholarships through our foundation, sharing our winemaking research with our neighbors, or making ourselves physically available to help others and causes, Banfi has always been giving, and I sincerely believe our giving back has had a huge part in our success. I want my kids to be givers as well, and understand the rewards of selflessness. Also, I love podcasts, I listen to them all the time, especially on my runs and when I’m sitting on a plane. Dave Stachowiak’s Coaching for Leaders is one of my favorites, because even though it’s targeted to business people, the lessons are certainly applicable to teaching your kids leadership skills.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote” that you share or plan to share with your kids?

My favorite quote, which I share with my kids frequently, is “Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass…It’s about learning to dance in the rain.” Because in life, there’s seemingly always a storm, and the sooner you learn to roll with what life throws at you, the happier you’ll be. You can’t get stuck on the negative things that happen, waiting for them to “end” before moving on to something better — when you do that, you’re not in control of your happiness. Find a way to deal with the negatives and turn them into positives.

If you could sit down with every new parent and offer life hacks, must-have products or simple advice, what would be on your list?

First and foremost, at the end of a long day, after the kids have gone to bed, treat yourself to a glass of wine — it helps you relax, and a working mom needs time for the brain to settle down. Do things that create memories, any activities you can enjoy together. Go on vacation and forget about everything else when you do — even if it’s a “stay-cation.” Weekend road trips are great, too, because there’s less stress and pressure — you just jump in the car and go. There’s something quite liberating about a quick, unplanned jaunt. Be sure to take photos, and periodically create photo albums. My kids love looking back at the photo albums we’ve put together, and it’s so easy with an app like Shutterfly, where you just upload a bunch of photos, click a few buttons, and boom — there’s a hardcover book of your memories on your doorstep a few days later. Finally, don’t complain about things, like driving teenagers around, because some day they won’t need you to do that — they’ll have their own car, and, one day, they’ll be out of the house and suddenly you’ll have a lot of time to fill. In other words, savor it, savor every moment you have with them.

Thank you so much for sharing these inspirational thoughts with us!

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, clergy, 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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