“Parents, put down your phone” with Heather Clauson Haughian and Chaya Weiner

Put down your phone. When you are with your kids and trying to be present, put your phone down and ignore texts, email and social media and, unless something huge is happening with your business, don’t check it. You will be amazed how such a little step can make you be more in the moment […]

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Put down your phone. When you are with your kids and trying to be present, put your phone down and ignore texts, email and social media and, unless something huge is happening with your business, don’t check it. You will be amazed how such a little step can make you be more in the moment and let them know how much you respect them and the time you are spending with them.

Heather Clauson Haughian is an attorney and mom who has practiced law and parented her two children all over the world thanks to her Air Force husband’s frequent deployments. She is one of the founding partners of Culhane Meadows, the largest national, full-service woman-owned law firm in the country (WBE) and member of NAMWOLF.

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

Growing up I lived in eight different cities, from Daytona Beach to Chicago to Memphis, before graduating high school and heading off to college because my dad was a manufacturing engineer whose job had us move about every 2 or 3 years. The constant moving as a child came with adversity and with adventure, but the one thing I always had to rely upon was my family. We always joked that we were such a dysfunctional family, but despite our sometimes unorthodox way of dealing with things, I never felt safer or more loved than by my parents and my brother. I remember that today as I parent — albeit not necessarily in the “right way” — but in a way that my kids know that they are safe and loved no matter what.

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

I was paying my dues with an eye to making partner after working for six years in “Big Law.” Then, I met and married my husband (a Special Operations pilot in the Air Force). As my husband would be transferred every 2 to 3 years (sense a recurring theme here in my life?), part of the package meant figuring out how to juggle the nomadic lifestyle of an Air Force wife while maintaining a legal practice.

After all of the hard work and time I’d invested in building a career in “Big Law,” I was deeply committed to maintaining some form of a legal career. So I began to explore alternative law firm business models that made it possible for me to service my clients and practice law regardless of where we lived or where my husband might be stationed. Six years ago, I took the plunge and became a co-founder (along with three others) of Culhane Meadows PLLC, a cloud-based, client-centered law firm that lets me work wherever my life is currently centered and understands that my location doesn’t compromise my ability to offer exceptional service to my clients. We are the largest, national, full-service, woman-owned law firm (WBE) in the U.S., and I serve as a Managing Partner and the Chief Technology Officer. Culhane Meadows is a venture I might not have undertaken had I not been forced to learn how to juggle the demands of a nomadic life and multiple priorities.

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

I get up before the kids (9 and 11 years old) and meditate, look at my schedule for the day and write down the 3 things that absolutely must be accomplished that day as well as 3 things I’m grateful for, but I avoid looking at my email so I start my day off on my terms and not on someone else’s. Then I wake up my kids, feed them breakfast, get them organized for the day and off to carpool (or into carpool if I’m driving that day). After that, I get in my workout and hit my desk at around 8am until about 6pm — unless I’m teaching a cycling class, which I do once or twice a week. On busy days, I go “back to work” after the kids are in bed even if it’s just to get ready for what’s about to hit me the next day. It allows me to start the next day feeling more prepared and settled.

But the very best part of my day is at 3:45pm when my kids get home from school and come running up to my home office to tell me about their day — sometimes good and sometimes bad — but it always involves a huge hug from both kids, which literally melts my heart no matter what bad news I’ve just been given at work or how tough a negotiation I’ve been in that day. Talk about the power of endorphins! Who needs drugs when you have the endorphins your kids’ enormous hugs can give you? Don’t get me wrong, I still cherish a nice glass of bourbon at the end of a long week, but that small window of time with my kiddos right after school is what I love the most about every day… except maybe “talk time” at night when I’m putting them to bed. Now this entire schedule goes out the window when I’m traveling for work, but that is more the exception than the norm and why video conferencing is one of my favorite technologies as it allows me to still “see” my kiddos even when I’m gone.

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 think that children whose parents don’t spend quality time with them lose out on the opportunity to learn valuable life lessons on how to treat people, how to do the right thing, how to be compassionate, and how to be confident — among others. Children learn by what they see and what they hear, and if they aren’t hearing the right things and from the right sources, then this can be detrimental to their development. The saddest part is that children who don’t get time with their parents might lose out on learning what unconditional love of a parent feels like.

This doesn’t require spending every free moment of time with your children, it requires quality time with a focus on what is important and making sure you are being a parent and not a friend and finding those teachable moments when they arise — and they aren’t that hard to find if you look out for them.

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?

I firmly believe that spending quality time with my children is what makes them feel secure, respected, confident and unconditionally loved. Whether that is the 10 minutes I spend in a Zoom session with my 11 year old when I’m out of town and she just needs to see Mommy’s face, or an extra-long “talk time” session at night when I’m putting my kids to bed, and they want to discuss a big problem that happened at school. Or it might be teaching my kid the right way to shoot a free throw again and again and again until they get it right or calling them out when I see them treat another kid in the neighborhood poorly and explain why their actions are wrong. Each of these examples will affect the way my children’s personalities will develop and the type of person they will become, as will the way I chose to interact with them in those moments. I’m blessed to have an amazing husband who not only shares my beliefs in making sure we raise children with integrity, compassion, confidence and faith, but who also looks for any opportunity to teach them something.

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?

Every morning while the kids are eating breakfast, I will play all kinds of different music and dance in front of them to make them laugh or just to wake them up some days. We listen to everything from Hamilton to Ariana Grande to ZZ Top to Hillsong. Some of the songs they can’t wait to end and some they scream out at the top of their lungs. But it’s always a fun time to start out our day together…and it has the added benefit of keeping me from being crabby as I’m not a morning person.

After we attend church on any given Sunday, we typically go to brunch, and we usually have the kids tell us what they learned that day in their kids’ service (they are each in different services for their age group). We talk about what they learned and about how that applies to their lives. It’s maybe a 20-minute discussion, but it is usually a pretty powerful one.

We are a very big sports family as my husband and I are both former athletes who continue to workout and play sports. So our children have naturally fallen in our footsteps, despite making them try many other extracurriculars. That means playing sports with our kids, helping them develop their skills or just watching them play is a big part of our family time, and we love it.

And as much as too much TV can be a bad thing, I have found that watching a few specific series on Netflix that allow me to teach my daughter some good lessons has been a great way to spend quality time with her as she approaches her teenage years. The shows bring up certain issues that provide a very easy environment to discuss what otherwise might be awkward topics to bring up out of the blue.

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?

Put down your phone. When you are with your kids and trying to be present, put your phone down and ignore texts, email and social media and, unless something huge is happening with your business, don’t check it. You will be amazed how such a little step can make you be more in the moment and let them know how much you respect them and the time you are spending with them.

Outsource what you can so you can free up time to spend with your children. If there are lots of household tasks that take away a big part of your day after a long day at work or on the weekends, then outsource them to a third party so that you can spend that time with your children instead. There are tons of great resources out there for getting help with even the smallest of tasks to free you up to do the big task of raising your kids. I mean would you rather shoot hoops with your kid or go pick up your drying cleaning?

A good friend of mine (actually one of the co-founders of my law firm, Kelly Culhane, an amazing working mom who has found a way to juggle a busy career and family) told me that you can learn a lot about what’s going on in your kids’ lives at school and when they are away from you by making sure you take a car load of kids to events every now and then and just listen to what they’re saying. You don’t have to weigh in on anything, and often times you can pretend you aren’t listening, but you can gain a wealth of information that will provide you with a ton of things to discuss with your kids once you’re alone — both positive and negative. So as busy and as hectic as my schedule can be, every now and then I do just that and drive a car full of kids to some event, sports practice, dinner, etc.

Get up before they do. Schedule some time before you have to be mom or dad that is time just for you, where you can get yourself together and organize your day. This will allow you to focus on your family when they first get up and not be distracted by your business, your workout or your schedule. Be present in that moment when they are starting out their day and challenge them to do something positive. I will sometimes ask my kids to find a way to help someone out at school or take the time to notice something positive in someone else and tell them.

Look for small ways to make your child feel special. Sometimes when I go out of town, I will write both my kids sweet notes to tell them all the things that they do that make them special or that makes me proud of them. It takes me such a small amount of time, but it makes them feel amazing.

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

I don’t think there is one definition of a good parent as it comes in many different formats. But I do think that making your child feel safe, loved, confident and respected — no matter how you get to that point — is a big step towards being a good parent.

Also, knowing that you don’t have all the answers and knowing that you won’t do everything right (and that it’s ok that you won’t do everything right) is a huge step as well. I think learning from other people’s mistakes or successes also makes a good parent. I never stop learning and finding ways to be a better mom and always welcome good advice from other parents.

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

I’m not sure we really have our kids dream big, but we do instill in them a sense of confidence that they can do whatever they want if they work hard enough and persevere. And we lead by example and make sure the kids see that what my husband and I have both achieved in our careers came from hard work and never giving up. We rarely tell our kids that they can’t do something — no matter how crazy of a story they come up with at any given moment. If they know that we believe in them and that we think they can do almost anything, then we are putting them in the best position for success. But tempering this with the reality that they have to be willing to put in the time and effort to make that dream happen is key.

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

I think success is understanding that work/life balance means that at any given moment, no two things will be in balance. There will always be a time when you have to spend more time on your work than you do on your family, and in turn, there will be times when you have to spend more time on your family than you do on work. I think success is knowing when you need to have the scale tip in one direction more than the other and being comfortable knowing that at any given point, you will be a bit off-balance — literally and figuratively.

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

I read so many parenting books when my kids were babies and toddlers, e.g., Happiest Baby on the Block, Happiest Toddler on the Block, Healthy Sleep Habits, NurtureShock, but as they have gotten older, I’ve turned more to podcasts. I really enjoy Slate’s Mom and Dad are Fighting podcast because it is extremely witty and focuses on contemporary issues we all face as they share stories they experience with their kids of varying ages and because they aren’t afraid to be a quite irreverent at times. So you realize the crazy stuff that happens with your family isn’t so crazy after all.

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

“At the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.” -Maya Angelou

I think this quote has been instrumental in my career and how I treat those who I work with — both my partners as well as my clients. If I’ve made my partners feel heard or feel supported — no matter if I said or did the right thing exactly — then I have achieved success. Conversely, even if I said the right things, if I came across unprofessionally or in a completely inconsiderate way, then I have failed as a leader and as a colleague. If I made my clients feel they are in good hands with my counsel or feel that they are making the right choice between two risks, then I’ve done a good job regardless of the exact words I used to get there. It has also helped in my parenting as it’s an easy way to teach my #1 rule of the house, ‘treat others the way you want to be treated’ because I always ask my kids “If someone did that to you or said that to you, how would you feel?” It always makes my point when they have made a bad decision in how they treated someone, and they get it.

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 am a huge proponent of girls in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). As a former engineer, who was one of the only girls in my engineering classes, I would love to see STEM emphasized more in our schools — especially for girls — and for there to be more widespread programs geared specifically for girls in STEM and not just for those in high socioeconomic areas.

Thank you for all of these great insights!

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About the author:

Chaya Weiner is the Director of branding and photography at Authority Magazine’s Thought Leader Incubator. TLI is a thought leadership program that helps leaders establish a brand as a trusted authority in their field. Please click HERE to learn more about Thought Leader Incubator.

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