We struggle when we don’t spend time together, with Dr. Ely Weinschneider and S.J. Kurtini

As a family, we struggle when we don’t spend time together. We miss each other and we miss out on the small everyday interactions that help us connect and understand what is going on in each other’s lives. Tensions start to rise. I don’t learn what’s going on in my kids’ lives by them telling […]

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As a family, we struggle when we don’t spend time together. We miss each other and we miss out on the small everyday interactions that help us connect and understand what is going on in each other’s lives. Tensions start to rise. I don’t learn what’s going on in my kids’ lives by them telling me (they can be fabulously uncommunicative in that way) but from the stories that just spill out of them when we’re doing ordinary things. That’s the way we can best be there for them and help them grow.

As a part of my series about “How extremely busy executives make time to be great parents” I had the pleasure to interview S.J. Kurtini. S.J. Kurtini created Tinybeans in 2012 after moving overseas and realizing other parents would value the ability to store precious memories of their children and share them with a private network of loved ones in a trusted, happy place. Since then, the app has evolved into an all-in-one destination that provides a safe and loving space for parents to document their child’s lives through photo sharing, journaling, milestone tracking, and photo album printing. As Tinybeans’ Co-founder & Head of Product Marketing, S.J. brings over a decade of experience to her role as she held past positions in social media and marketing at M&C Saatchi and Drum.

Tinybeans has been especially important for S.J. and her family — they’ve lived everywhere from Brighton to Sydney to Brooklyn, and they have family all around the world. While S.J. misses the beautiful beaches of Australia, she loves exploring New York with her husband Jason and two kids, Bella and Patrick.

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

I grew up on the south coast of England and feel very lucky to have had such an idyllic childhood. My husband calls it an Enid Blyton childhood, complete with camps in the woods and a gang of kids on our street to explore with. It was pretty sheltered though and I think that led me to want to see the world and have a strong sense of adventure. But being able to do that with such a stable home to come back to is a real gift my family gave me.

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

There was never a plan, and it was a journey. When my babies were little, we were living in Australia and I wasn’t working. A friend who worked at an advertising agency knew I had a marketing and PR background and asked me to be a community manager for a Facebook page she was working on targeting mums. This was the start of Facebook working with brands and I thought it was pretty jammy to have found an easy job I could do when the kids were napping…and I got paid to Facebook. I soon had quite a few clients targeting parents. Around this time, Stephen had started developing the first version of Tinybeans and was looking for a partner who knew about branding and marketing to parents and a mutual friend introduced us. We met for a coffee and we’ve been partners ever since!

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

I try to go to the gym 3 times a week but it can be hit and miss. Otherwise the day normally starts with the kids jumping into bed with us and then breakfast all together before dropping them at school.

The Tinybeans office is in Midtown Manhattan so I take the subway from Brooklyn and either listen to a podcast or watch a Netflix show on the way in. My favourite podcast is the How I Built This series with Guy Raz. I’m also watching an Australian series on Netflix called Offspring so think I might be feeling a bit homesick.

I run the product team so every day is different depending on whether we are planning, building or launching a feature or upgrade, but I love the variety and working with our awesome team.

The day normally ends with a check in with our Sydney team before heading home to help with homework and bedtime. Even though the kids are much older now, we still end the day with me reading a book to each of them. It’s super relaxing for all of us.

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?

As a family, we struggle when we don’t spend time together. We miss each other and we miss out on the small everyday interactions that help us connect and understand what is going on in each other’s lives. Tensions start to rise. I don’t learn what’s going on in my kids’ lives by them telling me (they can be fabulously uncommunicative in that way) but from the stories that just spill out of them when we’re doing ordinary things. That’s the way we can best be there for them and help them grow.

But I also believe it is important for them to learn to be independent and not to do things just because someone is watching or doing it with them.

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?

When they were tiny, I wanted to spend all my time with them to give them a sense of security and confidence that we’d always be there for them.

Now I want my kids to know how important they are to me and I don’t spend time with them because I have to, but because I want to. We are always trying to find activities and interests that we can experience together and create strong, loving memories for them.

I also want to help them grow by teaching them important life skills and the easiest way to do that is by example. Last week I taught Bella how to make pancakes and it was so much fun to do it together.

I think this is especially important the older they get. I know they will become so busy with their friends and school that if we don’t develop ways to enjoy spending time together now, the lines of communication will get narrower.

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 rituals of breakfast and bedtime are simple but important to us. The kids know that is when they can talk about anything coming up in the day or that happened when they were at school. I often ask them to score their day out of 10 and it’s a great way to find out what’s really going on in their world. If it is a 5 we find out why it wasn’t at 10. If it’s a 10 it’s great to share the happiness.

I put my phone away as soon as I get in the house. I want to set them a good example when it comes to technology and I’m terrible at multitasking. I want to give my full attention to whatever I’m doing.

We’ve struggled with weekends since leaving Australia where the beach gave us an easy way to all hang out as a family. Weekends take a bit more planning in New York but we’ve started playing tennis as a family and riding bikes in the park 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?

Putting phones down really is super important to me. Because of that, I’m often reading a book and I think this sends a great message to the kids and encourages them to read more.

We often go on ‘dates’ with the kids one on one. Jason and Bella love eating out and trying foods from different cultures and last night I took Patrick bowling and then we chewed the fat over dessert.

We’ll often do family movie nights where we huddle on the sofa and let the kids choose the movie.

Technology was starting to become problematic as the kids got older so we cut it out during the week and at weekends they can have an hour in the morning and in the evening. That seems to have improved things but I think this will be an ongoing balancing act.

Jason and the kids do Jiu Jitsu together a few times a week and always seem to be wrestling each other all around the house. I’m happy they’ll learn to protect themselves, keep fit and bond together.

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

I read somewhere once (I wish I could remember where!) that it isn’t your job to make sure your children are always happy and I truly believe that. Not in the always smiling sense anyway. I want to give my kids the confidence to deal with life’s inevitable ups and downs and retain a sense of underlying happiness that comes from knowing you are loved. It’s OK to feel sad or disappointed but how can you get yourself back up?

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

We moved from Sydney to New York two years ago and it was hard for the kids to leave their school and friends. We inspired them to see it as an adventure and that nothing is forever. I hope that the struggles they’ve faced have given them the confidence to know they can face difficult situations and thrive.

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

Success for me is providing a good example to our kids. In the last 10 years Jason and I have both taken a turn at working full-time, part-time and being a stay-at-home parent. I hope Bella and Patrick think we’ve got the balance right most of the time and, by seeing us try to get 50/50 parenting right, we’ve set them free from some damaging gender stereotypes if they become parents. I also think it is important for them to see us work hard but enjoy our work.

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

A book I’m currently enjoying is How to Be a Happier Parent by K.J. Dell’Antonia. What I love about it is its realism. Change takes time and effort to accomplish and she gives so many examples from her own life about what was need to make family life better. A great example was wanting to improve mornings on the way to school. We sometimes feel like we’re going crazy telling the kids the same things over and over again, but she suggests small improvements while removing the expectation that there’s a magic way to make everything run smoothly with no effort!

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

“Be kind. Be patient. Be tough.” I’ve learnt that kindness goes a long way in life and business. No matter how hard you work, you’re going to need patience. And the will to keep going every day even when you want to stay in bed and everything feels too hard.

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. 🙂

It’s simple but, eat breakfast together as a family every morning you can. Whatever else the day throws at you, you’ll have had a head start.

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

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