Phoebe Netto: “Don’t underestimate 30 minutes with your children”

An Interview With Dr. Ely Weinschneider

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Don’t underestimate 30 minutes. In 30 minutes or less you can plan a to-do list and delegate in a way that avoids feeling overwhelmed at what is on your plate. In around 30 minutes you can get a healthy meal in the oven or pressure cooker and you can use the cooking time to have quality time with your children without standing at the stove. In 30 minutes you can do something with your child that is meaningful to them. In 30 minutes you can treat yourself to some technology-free time that gives you a boost.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Phoebe Netto. Pheobe is the founder and Managing Director of Pure Public Relations, a PR agency in Australia. Phoebe honed her PR and marketing skills working with PR agencies, large and small, but felt frustrated that small and medium-sized businesses and not-for-profits couldn’t access the expertise that big budgets could. Founding her own PR agency was the natural next step in 2010 to share her “big business” experience with small and medium-sized businesses and not-for-profit organisations. She has a reputation for securing excellent coverage for topics that are not obviously newsworthy, and an impressive track record for issues management. No business is too boring or technical, and no issue is too hard. Phoebe has two young daughters and is very involved in regular community and charity work, and is on the board of Red Cross in Australia.

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

My childhood was wonderful and far from boring. Both my parents are pastors and the founders of an incredible charity that provides homes for at risk families and individuals to live in, as well as those who are struggling financially, so they can receive support and develop necessary life skills.

My father had his own very successful business that funded their unpaid ministry work and was an excellent example of working hard while prioritising family and service. My parents used a huge portion of the profits from the business to help others.

We almost always had other people in our home — young people who needed some TLC, boarders, foster children and other guests. It enriched my life and taught me empathy and perspective, particularly in my teenage years when it’s easy to think that the world revolves around my happiness and comfort. As a mum now, I marvel at how my mother was able to do so much at once (including study psychology and volunteer) and still give me her best. I never felt that I was an inconvenience or that I was getting the left-overs of her time.

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

I am the founder and Managing Director of Australia-based agency Pure Public Relations. I honed my PR skills working with agencies large and small, but felt frustrated that small and medium-sized businesses and not-for-profits couldn’t access the expertise that big budgets could.

Founding my own PR agency was the natural next step. I started the business in 2010 because I saw a gap in the market, but also because I wanted to do things differently, where results were the only KPI worth measuring.

The flexibility that comes from having your own business came to be incredibly important to me. Adding two young daughters to the mix required far more flexibility and attention than I had ever needed before!

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

My day starts at 3:50am, even on the weekend. First, coffee! The first 15 to 30 minutes of my day are filled with reading, prayer and gratitude. It’s important to start my day off right, to help me tackle whatever it might bring.

This leaves me with almost two hours to do my best work. I have learned that my brain is sharpest early in the morning, and I struggle to work efficiently, brainstorm, or think laterally at the end of the day. Early morning allows me to get a large volume of work done, have my best ideas, and get a head start on my day before client and media requests start coming in.

I also can get some housework underway, make my girls’ breakfasts and get ready. This way, when they wake up we can have a (mostly) smooth and quick morning. The drive to and from school is time for quality conversations and reading practice with my girls. Some of our best life lesson discussions happen in the car! Then, when I have the car all to myself, I use the time to record voice memos for my team.

The rest of my time is a mix of planning, delegating, brainstorming, having conversations with my team and clients and pitching to the media. Most of our work is to secure positive media coverage for our clients, but sometimes we help clients with issues management when they’re facing a crisis or negative attention. That kind of work requires that you drop everything and act fast. It’s one of my favourite parts of my job, but it does require working some odd hours — 5am or 10pm calls are not unusual.

My finishing hours vary depending on my kids’ activities and I am fortunate enough to have grandparents that help with some of the school drop offs and pick-ups. We also employ a nanny one day a week. Running my own business and putting in early morning hours means that I’m often able to work four days a week.

The flexibility means I’m still able to attend school performances, mentor weekly at a school through a program for disadvantaged children, take my children to their appointments, and spend more quality time with them. I have always been very involved in regular community and charity work, including sitting on NFP boards.

I aim to be in bed pretty early so my brain is sharp the next day. Being a mum comes with a big mental load, and I never want to be too busy to do things like make big batches of healthy home cooked meals. That requires an early night!

I try to only do housework when I can multitask, such as listening to a podcast or audiobook, recording voice memos or having a call with my team. I outsource and automate what I can. My business growth has meant that my pile of clean clothes to fold and put away has gotten a little out of control, so there is definitely room for some extra systems there!

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?

Any responsible, caring person could take care of my children, but occupying their time and keeping them fed and as healthy as possible is not the full extent of what a child needs. In order to raise your child to be a responsible, caring adult, you need to spend quality time with them and show them how to approach the mundane and difficult parts of life.

Children learn so much by observation. In order to avoid a skewed or unhealthy view of the world, they need to spend time with a parent who lives in a healthy, mature way. If they don’t get this privilege, their toolkit for navigating all of life’s ups and downs will be limited.

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?

No one is going to be as invested in my child as I want to be, so it is up to me to prioritise my time to do that well. For example, if I want my child to learn certain values, this can only come from being intentional in how I use my time.

Even the mundane moments can be important opportunities. How do you handle being cut off when waiting in line? How do I treat that person who can’t repay me? How do I handle stress when one child is sick or misbehaving and my work to-do list could make me feel overwhelmed? What do I prioritise? Do they only see me rushing? Do they show kindness to others? Am I taking the time to sit with them and read? Are they being challenged to question things and be aware of the world around them?

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?

In the last couple of years, I realised that quality time did not only mean taking them out for a lunch or a babyccino. Any time can be made quality time if you can engage in conversation or be intentional in using it to teach valuable lessons.

For example, I will encourage my children to help cook family meals. They pick leaves off herbs and help mix ingredients in a large bowl. Sure, it’s often messy, but mess can be cleaned. Ultimately, the meal is still delicious and my children learn some life skills in the process.

Waiting for a plane or in a waiting room before an appointment can turn into a meaningful conversation.

Even the car ride home from school can be filled with questions like: ‘What made you laugh today?’ ‘Who were you able to help today?’ ‘Can you name three things you are grateful for?’ ‘What did you do today that didn’t work out like you wanted?’ ‘How did you see kindness in action today?’

Thoughtful or serious conversations flow much more freely if they happen while going for a walk or in the car, rather than sitting across from each other, making direct eye contact.

Quality time for me also means involving my children in helping others on a weekly basis. It is an activity that we can do together and is an opportunity to give them important perspective and help them find the fun in serving others.

Finally, know your child’s individual temperament and interests, and with that in mind set aside unrushed time to fill their emotional cup. For example, one of my children enjoys long chats, reading books, and working together in the garden. Another enjoys active fun, a surprise activity, or taking 20 minutes to paint her nails.

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?

– Set boundaries — including for yourself. Manage expectations for your availability and plan for times when you don’t need to be contacted by having alternative arrangements in place. You can then know that people will not be inconvenienced but you can be fully engaged in what you are doing at that moment.

– Know when you work best and maximise that time.

– Don’t underestimate 30 minutes. In 30 minutes or less you can plan a to-do list and delegate in a way that avoids feeling overwhelmed at what is on your plate. In around 30 minutes you can get a healthy meal in the oven or pressure cooker and you can use the cooking time to have quality time with your children without standing at the stove. In 30 minutes you can do something with your child that is meaningful to them. In 30 minutes you can treat yourself to some technology-free time that gives you a boost.

– You have many balls in the air, but know that while it is a (sometimes anxious) juggle, some of those balls are made of glass and need to be treated differently, and others can be dropped.

– Delegate well and plan ahead. This looks different for everyone, and you might want to keep some mundane jobs because they are important to you or you find them fulfilling. But otherwise, if someone can do something as well as you or better than you, consider if you can afford to outsource it. It is likely that you would make more money than you save, and if it is the difference between you being able to enjoy time with your family or feeling too overwhelmed to give that time or not be stressed as you do it, then it is important that you delegate that.

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

Very simply, a good parent raises their child to live well even when they are not with them. They teach their children to make the right choices and leave people better than they found them. Obviously, this requires a lot of inconvenience, sacrifice, persistence, and intention.

I was recently waiting in line at the grocery store with my two young daughters — one is five-and-a-half and the other is two-and-a-half. While everyone else was in their own world, my eldest daughter was aware of the people around her and noticed that a young boy was eating the chocolates that were displayed at the checkout. We watched as he ate more, and more and more — really fast, and with no adult even noticing, let alone stopping him.

My youngest daughter’s first reaction was to tell me how naughty this boy was, because she knew what he was doing was wrong. After all, he hadn’t paid for the chocolate and it was a ‘sometimes food’! I was able to explain to her that we needed to look beyond that and see what else was wrong with the picture.

This called for me to leave the long grocery line, set aside my shopping and walk over to the little boy to talk to him. He couldn’t tell me where his parent was, or any adult that he knew, for that matter. The way he was eating made me wonder when he had eaten last, and after 15 minutes no one had come to look for him.

All of this time I had my two little ones with me, who were able to learn an important lesson about taking notice of their surroundings, and putting aside our own convenience to help others. Together we were able to get some help, and it gave me an opportunity to sit down with my daughters and remind them that not every child has consistent provision or attentive care.

By the time this was all done, our night time routine was out the window, so I decided that they could skip bath time. Letting my kids go to bed without a bath that night was the best decision I could have made, because bath time isn’t the only key to raising well-rounded future adults.

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

I want my children to identify the needs of others and then question what they can do to help. I want them to ask: ‘Can I talk to someone about this?’ ‘Can I pray about it?’ ‘Can I offer to help?’ ‘Can I think of a better way to do something?’ ‘Is there a creative idea that would help solve this?’ ‘What skills do I have that could be used toward this?’

Living life with this kind of approach leads to real purpose and dreaming big.

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

Doing the next right thing in love (that mantra comes from Emily P. Freeman), making the most of the right opportunities, and using my time, energy, skills, thoughts and resources to do what matters.

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

My greatest resources are the people around me who I admire and aspire to be like. Having examples of parenting done well, including those who did not have it easy or juggled a career or service with parenting, is the best form of motivation.

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

‘Not all good things are right.’ My mother said this to me when I was a teenager and was frustrated that long-term chronic illness was making it impossible to do and accomplish everything I had wanted to do. There were so many good and worthy things that I wanted to do, and could have done if I was well, but not all of those things were right for me in that moment.

While I am now healthy and in a different stage of life, this quote still applies. Saying no to something frees you up to say yes to the right things. Often you don’t need to say ‘no’ but you do need to say ‘not yet’ without a fear of missing out. Because not all good things are right for you or right for this time in your life. That removes some of the frustration that can come from being a busy parent who has ideas, plans, and opportunities that struggle to harmoniously co-exist.

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. 🙂

How can you use your life experience, your unique abilities and your efforts to make things better for those around you? If more people asked themselves that question and then acted on it, can you imagine what the world would be like?

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

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