Parenting is all about: “Listening. Being present. Showing empathy. Patience”, with Andy Nathan and Dr. Ely Weinschneider

Listening, being present, showing empathy. Patience. I guess an example would be all the coaching I do. While it adds more time-pressure on my work and also forces me to make personal sacrifices from my own leisure time, it’s a no-brainer. It ensures that I spend a lot of time with my kids and their […]

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Listening, being present, showing empathy. Patience. I guess an example would be all the coaching I do. While it adds more time-pressure on my work and also forces me to make personal sacrifices from my own leisure time, it’s a no-brainer. It ensures that I spend a lot of time with my kids and their friends. It ensures meaningful connections together. I learn from them, they learn from me and we have fun together.

As a part of my series about “How extremely busy executives make time to be great parents” I had the pleasure to interview Andy Nathan. During his 20 years of experience, Andy has served as CMO of Victors & Spoils, Managing Director of TBWAChiatDay NY, and VP/Account Director at Crispin, Porter + Bogusky. Plus, roles at BBH New York and Ogilvy New York and London. Andy has worked on brands like IBM, Miller Lite, Microsoft Windows, McDonald’s and Smirnoff, among others. He has been an integral part of multiple award-winning campaigns, taking home Cannes Lions, Effies, One Show and ANDY Awards. When Andy’s not working, he’s wrangling kids, skiing and coaching lacrosse.

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

I’m the youngest of two sets of twins in our family. We are all very close and the values my parents instilled in us have really shaped my perspectives on life and work. My twin brother, Dan, is my best friend and our stories are fairly intertwined. He was recently featured in Thrive, you can see it here….

Growing up, we primarily lived in Syracuse, New York (with a few years in Middletown, New Jersey in elementary school days.) The sport of lacrosse was a big part of our family’s life, with Dan and I playing through high school and college. I went to Hobart College in upstate New York. After my sophomore year, a few friends and I drove out to Vail, Colorado to spend the summer there. It was that summer that set my life in motion. We spent several weekends visiting other friends of ours in Boulder, Colorado and I said to myself: one day I want to live in a place like this. And here we are, living in Boulder for over 10 years now.

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

Paulo Coelho wrote in The Alchemist: ‘And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.’

I’m a big believer that every moment led to this. And that when you set goals for yourself, everything happens for a reason. The formula tends to be a dash of luck, a lot of elbow grease and some real decisiveness. My career consists of three places where I’ve lived (New York, London, Boulder) and three archetypes of agencies: more traditional agencies like Ogilvy & Mather, creative shops like TBWAChiatDay and CP+B, and more agile, innovative companies like Fortnight Collective. My ambition to move to places like New York and London were simple: I wanted to be on the biggest stage possible. Once I started establishing my career, it was far more important for me to have a great work/life balance and to start thinking about what was best for my family.

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

I wake up at 5:30am. Most days I go for a run or walk the dog. Then go my favorite coffee shop (Logan’s) and get lattes for my wife and I. Typically I will work there for an hour. I can get more done in the morning at the coffee shop than I do the rest of the day, as I’m focused and locked in. I come back around 7:15am and help wrangle the kids out of bed, have breakfast with them, and get them off to school. When I get to work around 8:30am, I’m generally in meetings about client business, new business prospecting and working with the team on internal operations. I try not to work past 6pm and expect the same from our team. A couple days a week I also coach lacrosse. I used to coach for my son and now I coach for my daughter. So, after work I’m doing the carpool run quite often with my daughter and her teammates to/from practice.

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?

You miss out on the little things, the opportunities to connect on something small and bring home a bigger life lesson based on your experience.

You miss the opportunity to share what you do and what motivates you, and the chance to understand — or even help them find — what makes them tick. By not being present it can be detrimental to their growth. Because they follow your examples. They learn by observing your behavior. I want to always be there for them. To answer questions and, if they ever just need to talk to someone, to simply listen.

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?

Spending time with your family puts things in perspective. Nothing is more important than the health and happiness of your kids. Nothing else matters in comparison. What was the quote Barbara Bush said? “At the end of your life, you will never regret not having passed one more test, not winning one more verdict or not closing one more deal. You will regret time not spent with a husband, a friend, a child, or a parent.”

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?

I’m a firm believer that there should be more meaningful family time in people’s lives, where we focus more of our time laughing, playing and enjoying each other’s company. With that in mind, my wife and I, who both work full time, strive to play a very active role in our children’s lives. It’s crucial to be present and engaged, and I put a lot of effort into detaching myself from my professional life to focus on my time with my kids.

I try to encourage my kids to not only stay active, but to also have good time while doing so. I used to coach my son’s lacrosse team and now coach my daughters, and I make it a priority to make our practices fun while teaching them valuable lessons. Coaching my kids is a great way to learn more about them and really bond over a mutually loved activity. There’s no better feeling than teaching them a move or trick, watching them practice it, and finally seeing them get it right for the first time, right in front of your eyes. I know I won’t be their lacrosse coach forever, but I truly treasure these moments I have with them.

I know this sounds like such a simple example, but I make it a point to take the time to eat both breakfast and dinner with my kids. Yes, I have to factor some extra time into my morning to sit down with my kids on top of getting ready for work, but it’s honestly an awesome way to start off the day. Now let me tell you, it’s definitely not a picture-perfect breakfast, as half the time we’re only sitting for 10 minutes munching on some cereal, but it’s still quality time I’ll always prioritize. Then at the end of the day, making it home for dinner with my family and eating together is a highlight. My wife and I cook, then sit down with our kids and listen to them talk about their days — it’s so important to squeeze that family bonding time into our hectic schedules. It’s the quality time we all need because in the blink of an eye they’ll be off to college and making their own dinners!

School events are also a top priority for me. I’m fortunate enough to have the flexibility at work to pop out of the office when my kids have a performance, sporting event, or a parent teacher conference. It’s so important for me to be involved in their academics and to be present to witness their hard work and accomplishments. I want them to know how I proud I am of them and to be there to share these great moments together.

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 meal times count. No electronics, just focus on each other.
  2. Use the time you’re in the car together to have a conversation, or share a passion. Talk about the day ahead on the way to school, or let them play DJ or listen to a podcast when driving to a sporting event.
  3. Engage them in family activities by having them help you cook or clean up after dinner.
  4. Read to them at bedtime. Even my 12-year old, who is a voracious reader, loves it when my wife or I read to him while he’s going to sleep.
  5. Take a genuine interest in their interests. Read what they’re reading, watch movies they want to watch so you can talk to them about it. Take on a project together. Play sports with them (and their friends) in the back yard.

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

Listening, being present, showing empathy. Patience. I guess an example would be all the coaching I do. While it adds more time-pressure on my work and also forces me to make personal sacrifices from my own leisure time, it’s a no-brainer. It ensures that I spend a lot of time with my kids and their friends. It ensures meaningful connections together. I learn from them, they learn from me and we have fun together.

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

We have a bunch of mantras that we live by as a company that I like to instill into my kids. For instance, ‘Don’t Be Bitter, Be Better’, ‘Everything you can imagine is real’, ‘Who cares wins’, ‘The Situation is Boss’, etc. At Fortnight, we tend to turn these mantras into t-shirts and hats, and I always give the latest gear to my kids so they can proudly wear it, but we also talk about the mantras and what they mean. My favorite is ‘Fortune Favors the Brave.’ That mantra really was the genesis that gave me the courage to start my company. I heard that quote. I wrote it down and I started working on the business plan. I remind and hopefully inspire my kids that anything is possible. If I’m being honest, I wouldn’t say I’m the most talented person, I just had good instincts, was decisive and hustled. A lot.

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

Throughout my career, I’ve recognized that the more successful I feel in my personal life, the better I will show up and perform in my professional life. I would define success in my personal life as sharing quality time with my kids and seeing their happiness. This in turn helps fuel the creative work that my team and I develop at work, which defines my professional success.

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

Book-wise, I’d say Paolo Coelho’s The Alchemist provides lots of inspiration. The main protagonist is a child. He’s a total dreamer and a seeker and I love how innocent and sweet he is, and the possibilities he unlocks because of that. We all have our personal destiny and need to realize our true self.

I also really like Stealing Fire by Steven Kotler & Jamie Wheal. It’s about harnessing group flow. Very applicable learning to my job, my parenting and my coaching. The book looks at teams at Google, Nike, SEAL Team Six, Red Bull, and despite different languages, cultures, techniques and applications, a commonality was that every one of these groups utilized shortcuts by looking to harness states of consciousness to solve critical challenges.

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

In lacrosse, my dad used to say, “The only person you need to worry about is yourself.” Which is a bit of a paradox given that it’s a team sport. I interpreted that in sports and in life: if you focus on your development and put in the work and dedication, then you control your own destiny. Another adage that I took to heart at an early age was: ‘While it’s nice to be important, it’s important to be nice.’ If I can impart one things to my kids, it’s that: be kind to everyone.

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 guess I would love to trigger a movement to make every moment count. I had an old boss that used to say: do interesting things and interesting things will happen to you. I’d encourage people to squeeze more living out of life. To try new things. To quote a few more Fortnight Collective mantras: ‘Keep Moving’ and ‘Action conquers fear.’

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, 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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