“How extremely busy executives make time to be great parents”, with Rosa Couto

“How extremely busy executives make time to be great parents”, with Rosa Couto and Dr. Ely Weinschneider

Success to me is measured daily. Did my kids feel loved today? Did I make forward progress today? Did I achieve all the goals I set out to accomplish today? Am I ok with the choices I made today, and, if not, will I be able to repair that tomorrow? If I can answer yes to these questions, then I’m happy to call that day a success. When I have more successful days than not, then I feel like I’m on the right track.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Rosa Couto. Rosa is Chief Financial Officer and part-owner of SoCreate, a screenwriting software company based in San Luis Obispo, California. She is a wife and mother and strives to keep a healthy balance in her life while raising her three young daughters and managing the financial aspects of her company.

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

I grew up in a small agriculture community in California’s Central Valley. We certainly didn’t have much, but we made the best of what we did have. My brother and I were raised by a single mom who filled every role in our household. She was the nurturer, the handyman, the tutor, the cook, the chauffeur, the one who’d go out and have a look when we heard something go bump in the night. On top of that, she also took care of my aging grandparents. I learned from watching her that I was capable of handling whatever came my way. She has always been strong and independent, and I’ve always wanted to be as strong and independent as her. My upbringing has influenced my outlook on the world, and it’s what keeps me grounded.

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

When all goes as planned, I’m up before the sun seven days a week. It’s still quiet at that time, and I’m able to focus on what I need to do to get my day started on a good note and at my own pace. If I can get through a short workout, finish packing school lunches, and get breakfast for my family started before the kids wake up, it’s already a good day! I drop off our kids at school then head into the office for part of the day before picking them up midafternoon. Then it’s after school activities three days a week; currently it’s gymnastics and martial arts, before heading home for dinner, baths, and bedtime. Once the kids are in bed, I get back to my desk at home to finish up where I left off at the office and hopefully get to bed at a reasonable hour to wake up the next day and do it all over again. Things don’t always go as planned, though. Sometimes we end up with one, two, or even three little ones in our bed in the middle of the night, which means little rest for us. Or, maybe that morning someone’s ponytail doesn’t cascade down her back like the princess’s did in the book we read last night and now I’m faced with a full meltdown. On those days, I’m just glad to get out the door with something in their bellies and shoes on everyone’s feet. Those days, I need a good cup of coffee, yet I end up leaving it on the counter as we race out the door.

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

I never really imagined myself as the CFO of a software company. I had worked in the telecom industry for nearly a decade in both a technical role and a managerial role, but when the software company that my husband founded started to expand, it was obvious that there was a role that needed to be filled. I was able to come aboard as employee number four. I took some classes to sharpen my financial skills and did a lot of learning along the way. I’m very happy to be a part of SoCreate and that I’m able to contribute to its growth in a meaningful way.

Based on your experience or research, can you flesh out why not spending time with your children can be detrimental to their development?

Spending time with your child is the only way to really connect with them. When kids grow up without a true connection to their parents, or the people raising them, I think that they start to feel alone in the world as they grow up. That’s a very scary feeling as an adult, much less as a child. How does one feel secure when they feel alone? How does one feel brave enough to reach for new heights when there is no one there to support them or catch them when they fall? It makes it difficult for a child to reach their full potential when they don’t have that sense of security that comes from a strong connection to a parent. The simplest way to connect with your child is to spend time with them at their level, really letting them know that you are interested in them, that you really see them. We all live busy lives. It doesn’t matter if you work outside the home full time or not, we all have responsibilities and obligations to fulfill, and it’s hard to find the time to fit it all in. But, making time to stay connected to your child is crucial. I don’t know of anything else that has the same impact or importance as just spending time with 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?

Raising my three young daughters to be confident, resilient, respectful, and compassionate women is my focus every single day. I want them to understand that they have value in just being, that the simple fact that they are in this world makes them deserving of my love, my attention, my time. By giving my kids focused time, I’m showing them how interested I am in them and who they are, and how very important they are to me. In knowing that, I hope that they feel safe enough to take big steps in life with the knowledge that I will be here cheering them on when they fly or dusting them off when they fall before they take off again. I want them to know that in this big scary world, they will forever have a safe place to share their fears or shed their tears. I want them to know that I will truly see them and hear them and know them and love them for who they are. I can do this by simply putting things aside and giving them my 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?

We manage to find ways to sneak in quality time throughout our day. Music is a big part of it. I can share with them songs that I love from all genres and decades. Hearing them sing songs from Queen, the musical Annie, Lady Gaga, or Cat Stevens with such gusto is just amazing! One of our twins loves chocolate, so when she changed the lyrics to that Joan Jet classic and belted out, “I love rocky road!” my husband and I doubled over with laughter! It was priceless! Right now, we’re teaching them the lyrics to Nothing Compares 2 U by Sinead O’Connor, and they’re digging it. If they start bickering in the backseat, all I need to do is start up Girl on Fire by Alicia Keys, and they all go into concert mode! We love it, and they love it. Fostering these common interests keeps us bonded and connected. Plus, who couldn’t use a little more music in their lives?

Family dinners at the table are extremely important to my husband and me, and they are the focus of our evenings. I enjoy cooking, so creating a meal for my family is a joy for me. This is our time to hear our girls tell us what they experienced during their day. Our oldest is five and a half, and the twins are almost four. Right now, we’re in the thick of the Knock-Knock joke phase, and we go around the table taking turns. It’s hilarious what these kids come up with! The more we laugh at the jokes they make up, the sillier they get. Seeing them laugh their heads off is the best release at the end of the day!

While dinner time is great for my husband and me as it helps us feel engaged with and connected to our kids, when it comes to real quality time, that designation needs to come from the child’s perspective. Making the time to spend with my kids doing what I know they enjoy is key to showing them how important they are to me. My daughters have very different personalities, so what one would consider being enjoyable “mama time” or “daddy time” wouldn’t be considered enjoyable by the others. My oldest daughter is very inquisitive and wonderfully interested in how the world works around her. She gets such a charge from spending time with us just asking questions about anything and everything. One of our twins loves to help me in the kitchen. Simple tasks like putting silverware on the table make her feel so very important and helps her know that we’re a team. Our other twin enjoys building elaborate structures with magnetic tiles. She can do it all day long! Sitting with her while she’s building and marveling at her creations leaves her beaming. These are all simple things we do as parents, but these simple things have a major impact on our daughters.

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? Please include examples or stories for each, if you can

1. First and foremost, put down the phone. Put it down in a different room! We all know how hard it is to not think about that notification you just heard. If you’re in the middle of a freeze dance with your kids and you hear that DING, your attention shifts to your phone, and whatever it is that’s waiting for you after one quick swipe. Then you start thinking about that email you’ve been waiting for or that appointment you forgot to add to your calendar and, maybe, if you could take a minute to take care of that … Yeah, you may still be dancing, but your kid knows you’re no longer dancing with them. They know. They always know.

2. Prioritizing is a necessity. I have a full-time roll in the company that I’m trying to fulfill on a part-time schedule. I have a full-time roll in my family that I’m trying to fill, also, on a part-time schedule. I must be clear on what I need to focus on and how I will spend my time. Each day I set out with some intentions, one for my family life, one for my work life, and one for my household. These are things that I must do. Of course, I have more to do in a day than just one thing, so I prioritize what will move up on my list as I complete each task. I make this list on paper and cross things off as I go. This is something I learned from the book Making Time that I’ll talk about later. At the end of the day I can easily see what I’ve accomplished and how productive I’ve been which gives me such gratification! Every little victory counts!

You also need to add yourself to your list of priorities. When you’re being pulled in every direction, and you have to meet all of these demands, it’s hard to carve out time for yourself. I know that all too well. Yet, it’s very important to do something for yourself and only yourself that makes you feel happy, recharged and centered. For some it could be a good workout to start or end the day. I would LOVE to start the day with 75 mins on a yoga mat or a sunrise hike on one of our local trails! However, that hasn’t happened in years. I can, though, commit to 20 minutes on my mat most mornings and that does wonders for my body, my mind, and my outlook for the day. It could also be lunch or just a glass of wine with a friend, or 15 minutes to read a book or magazine quietly, a long shower with nobody pounding on the door, or something as simple as savoring good cup of coffee that hasn’t been reheated two times before taking that first sip. Whatever you need to refuel, recharge, and center yourself so that you can move on in a positive manner needs to be added to that list. Fit it in wherever you can and do it every day.

3. You have to say no. This is hard for me. Really hard. My day is packed. My week is packed. My month is packed. What? You want me to organize a craft project at school for National Button Day? Ok, let me check Pinterest. Wait. No. Ok. No. Maybe … ok. No. NO! But maybe keep me in mind for National Cupcake Day … I must remind myself that things like this take time away from my family. It would be a better idea just to bake cupcakes with my family for my family. So, no.

4. Use a calendar and a timer. This is something that my colleague and dearest friend does every day. We all add appointments, events, and reminders to our calendars. That’s something we’re probably already good at. It’s also smart to allot a specific amount of time to an item that’s on your list and do your best to stay on task and be as productive as you can until your time is up. Then move on to your next timed task.

5. Sometimes you have to take Elsa’s advice and let it go. Just let it go. I know I get wrapped up in things that drain my time or my energy, then regret only having what remains of me to offer my family, and that’s usually not the best me. At the end of the day though, I can let it go. I can read a bedtime story to my girls, sneak some extra snuggles, plant three kisses, then take a step back and remind myself that this moment is what it’s all about. I will get a new start in the morning and tomorrow I’ll do my best all over again.

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

A good parent is one that tries their very best every single day, one who loves their babies with nothing expected in return, one who recognizes the impact they have in their kids’ lives now and 10, 30, 80 years from now and from that makes a conscious decision to do their very best to guide these little people that we are so privileged to have in our lives into whole and happy adults. When it comes to defining a good parent, little else matters.

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

Kids are born big dreamers! It’s amazing what they can visualize if you give them the space to do so! We do our best to encourage the visions they have and never, ever tell them they can’t or shouldn’t, or it’s not possible. Right now, our girls set up “stores” or “restaurants” and they sell us their wares or take our orders. We play along with them and try to educate them on what’s involved in owning a store or restaurant without making it feel like a lesson. The girls are very aware that we have a family business and we hope to instill in them an entrepreneurial spirit.

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

You know, some days I hit it out of the park, and other days I struggle even to make it to the plate! Life isn’t always predictable, and our best-laid plans aren’t impervious to a flying monkey wrench or eight. I need to stay agile and fluid and roll with the punches. Some days, one aspect of my life demands more attention and I must be able to accommodate that. So, success to me is measured daily. Did my kids feel loved today? Did I make forward progress today? Did I achieve all the goals I set out to accomplish today? Am I ok with the choices I made today, and, if not, will I be able to repair that tomorrow? If I can answer yes to these questions, then I’m happy to call that day a success. When I have more successful days than not, then I feel like I’m on the right track.

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

Now that my kids are in school, and I can get into the office, I take the opportunity to listen to audiobooks as I drive. I’m constantly seeking new information, insights, and wisdom from a wide range of authors. Here some of my recent favorites.

I have to start with #IMomSoHard by Kristin Hensley and Jen Smedley. This is THE funniest book about parenting by far! Life gets messy and crazy, and the best thing to do is laugh about it! They have a YouTube channel, too. They’re hysterical! Somehow, they’ve taken real scenes from my life and put them in their book. It just goes to show that we are all in this parenting experience together and it doesn’t always have to be so serious.

Make Time: How to Focus on What Matters Every Day by Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky. So much great advice on how to manage your time, prioritize your tasks, and find energy you never knew you had. These are ex-tech industry guys so I can relate to their world. And they’re funny!

Unglued: Making Wise Choices in the Midst of Raw Emotions by Lysa Terkeurst. Faith is an important part of my life. This book helped me learn how to react to unpleasant situations with grace and kindness from a place of faith. I’ve listened to this book more than once.

Power of Vulnerability: Teachings of Authenticity, Connection, and Courage by Brene Brown. This book helped me to understand how my history, my experiences, and those of my family, have shaped my habits and traits, both good and bad. She is so very insightful!

The Five Love Languages: The Secrets to Love That Lasts by Gary Chapman. There’s a reason this book has 4.8 stars and over 12,000 reviews on Amazon. This book helped improve my communication skills both on the giving and receiving end.

Parenting with Love and Logic: Teaching Children Responsibility by Foster Cline and Jim Fay. My husband and I have taken the seminar three times. This book enforces the philosophy that nothing is more important than your relationship with your child. I hold this to be true!

Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting by Laura Markham. The title of this book says it all!

Most importantly, find someone who is supportive and who’s parenting style or organizational skills you admire and learn from them. We have a very dear friend who is an exceptional mother. I’ve learned so very much from her advice and her support along the way has been invaluable.

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

“Work hard so you can do your best.” — Justin Couto. This is something that my husband started saying to our oldest daughter as we were heading out the door when she first started preschool at 2 ½ years old. Now all three kids say it to him as he heads out the door! This has become our family motto. Last year I had it carved into a piece of sheet metal as a birthday gift for him. Both my husband and I came from humble beginnings, and we’re at this point in our lives and our careers because we were willing to work hard and always did our best. We’ve faced very real struggles and major setbacks along the way, but each day, we got up and continued to work. It’s not always easy, but hard work is a requirement. If every day you work hard so that you can do your best, then there is nothing you can’t accomplish.

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

Be your own success. I think people struggle when they are reaching for someone else’s idea of success, or what they believe others think is success. Reaching someone else’s idea of success, be that of your parents, your peers, or society, in general, may leave you completely unfulfilled. We end up pushing ourselves to get there, exhausting all our energy, taking all this time, to realize that in the end that it’s not where we wanted to be. Now what? Or, maybe we quit before we get there, and then we are left with the sense of failure when we shouldn’t have even been on that path, to begin with. It’s important to know what your idea of success is. That idea will probably, and should, change over time as you gain wisdom from your experiences along the way. But it should always be your own.

Looking back on my life, I couldn’t have predicted that I’d be where I am now. I am so very grateful for everything I’ve learned throughout my journey and how all those experiences have shaped who I am at this moment. I had no idea even how I was going to leave my tiny hometown. But I did, and through many twists and turns, I’m here. With a wonderful family and a great career, I’m here. I am my own success.

Thank you for all of these great insights!


“How extremely busy executives make time to be great parents”, with Rosa Couto was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.