“How Extremely Busy Executives Make Time To Be Great Parents”, With Jennifer McGhee and Dr Ely Wein

“How Extremely Busy Executives Make Time To Be Great Parents”, With Jennifer McGhee and Dr. Ely Weinschneider

We have a ritual to eat dinner together every night and share roses and thorns (the highs and lows) for the day. This cultivates an environment where my son feels comfortable sharing things that are going on in his life in a casual setting rather than just when there is a crisis. I also put him to bed every night, and we have our own bedtime routines that we go through together, and I think that those kinds of habits are a good way to ground us in our home and in our family even when we have chaotic schedules to uphold.

As a part of my series about “How extremely busy executives make time to be great parents” I had the pleasure to interview Jennifer McGhee. Jennifer is a Managing Partner/ Co-Founder/ General Manager of VOCO, with an outstanding track record, who has excelled in both Fortune 500 and entrepreneurial environments including ConAgra, Abbott Nutrition, Mike’s Hard Lemonade, Gatorade, Boulder Brands, Atkins and Coleman Natural on both the client and agency side. She was a key member of the Senior Leadership Team at Atkins that established the infrastructure to rebuild the brand and drive growth, doubling sales and tripling earnings in just three years, eventually leading to it’s successful sale. Jennifer also worked with a Private Equity firm to purchase 6 national and organic meat companies. She created the strategy and led the execution to expand from natural food retailers to conventional grocery channels, leveraging shopper insights to successfully communicate the benefits of natural/organic meat and poultry to retailers and consumers within traditional retail. They achieved distribution in over 1,000 traditional outlets with annual sales growth of $122 million. Jennifer is a graduate of the Mays Business School at Texas A&M with a well-rounded skill set including strong leadership, strategic thinking, consumer understanding, innovation, and a track record of attracting and developing talent.

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

I grew up outside of Fort Worth, Texas in a close-knit community with a wonderful network of family and friends. Since I was 2 years old, my family and I lived in the same neighborhood. I have a close relationship with both my parents and older brother. Both my parents worked — my Dad worked for the airlines and my mom was an x-ray technician. She took time-off to stay home with my brother and I, but once we were both in elementary school, she went back to work only part-time to ensure she could take us to and from school and be home with us. Throughout my childhood, the sounds of the early morning activity from my mom and dad getting ready every morning served as my alarm clock. Growing up with working parents has shaped my work ethic and success-driven nature. I was undoubtedly impacted by my mom’s work-life balance and her career journey. Once I got to high school, she went back to school to better her skills and then went back into the medical field full time. I’m sure it sparked my childhood aspirations to take over the neighborhood babysitting and lawn mowing business, and is partially responsible for the fulfillment and joy I’ve found in working ever since.

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

Family, especially immediate family, is very important to me. I realized the child-raising time is relatively short and have built my life around being able to show up for my son’s life — before/after school, in-school activities, sports practices, and games. I have worked in a corporate environment for the past 22 years and five years ago I joined forces with my business partner, Juli Dimos. We now run a full-service marketing agency in Denver, CO. Juli also has children, as we have a very like-minded partnership where we cover for each other, support each other any time family time is needed, when we need to run and pick up a sick kiddo, or really any of the many things that come up when raising kids.

I find my work and my vocation incredibly rewarding — leading a team of amazing people working together to bring great products and services to the world. Being in marketing for the past 20+ years has taught me about reading people and knowing what they want (sometimes before they do). I take this responsibility very seriously. The strategy and planning piece of my job filters over into other areas of my life, allowing me to decipher what is truly important and fulfilling, and where I want to put my time and energy. Right now, the formula is very simple: family first, work second, and everything else fits in if it brings me joy.

I am driven by relationships. By nature, I am a nurturer — gathering those who are close to me and taking care of them. Being receptive to their needs and knowing how to push them in directions that provide growth and opportunity is important to me. The choices I make with my family, friends and work are most often influenced by my desire to show up for them. The personality I have been blessed with is a fun mix of discernment, humor, extraversion when I am not loaded down with too many commitments, and introversion if my plate is full. My intuition is strong, and I am a very organized planner, often enjoying the planning process as much as the end result and can adapt to situations as needed. I tend to be thoughtful of others and love celebrating them in special ways, especially around occasions like birthdays, promotions, small wins, and big ones as well.

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

Every day is different, but I do have a routine, I wake up between 6:00–6:30 am and either go to the gym or do work I have not finished from the prior day. I then get myself ready, get my tween up and make breakfast for him, wrangle him to get dressed and off to school, and head out the door around 7:30am. I do a carpool in the neighborhood so I either pick up or drop off a group of kids. After I drop the kids off at school, I head to the office where my day is usually packed with meetings and action items.

After work, I go home to have dinner with my family, or take my son to an after-school activity. I try to get some more work in while he is doing homework or at a practice, and then we unwind together by talking about our days, roses and thorns, and read together before getting everyone ready for bed. After he’s in bed for the night, I finish up any outstanding work or personal to-do’s before heading to bed myself.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now 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?

Today’s families are busier than ever. In our family, my husband and I both work outside of the home while trying to maintain some semblance of organization inside the home, and we aren’t the only ones with packed schedules. On any given night, our son is routinely being shuttled to sports practices, and a host of other after-school activities. With so much going on, it’s easy to get wrapped up in handling life’s day-to-day challenges and lose sight of spending quality time. While I may feel like there are never enough hours in the day to get things done, not spending enough quality time with our child isn’t one of them. Our son is the most important thing in my life, and I want to spend as much time with him as I can. So even though I work, it is extremely important to be present each and every day, to be a good listener, and to spend quality time doing things together as a family.

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?

It’s important for our son to know that he is surrounded by people who love and support him. We take pride in the strong bonds we have with our son, and we think that bond allows us to talk and listen with honesty and trust. Spending time with him allows us to find moments to teach him important life lessons, and to show him affection, appreciation, and encouragement when it’s most needed. Our family also takes pride in our strong values, and being able to lead him by example, when we’re together, is the best way for him to begin to also take note of those values. Important things happen when families are together, and we’re focused on making sure that happens as much as possible while also providing for him with our careers.

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?

Even though our family has packed schedules we’ve found a few ways to share quality time, including any time we are driving to school, sports or after school activities we share and talk about our day. My husband and I are in a carpool with our neighbors, but I make a point to be home when he gets home from school once a week, so we have one on one time together as well as time to take him to basketball, football, baseball, whatever it is he’s participating in at that time of year.

We have a ritual to eat dinner together every night and share roses and thorns (the highs and lows) for the day. This cultivates an environment where my son feels comfortable sharing things that are going on in his life in a casual setting rather than just when there is a crisis. I also put him to bed every night, and we have our own bedtime routines that we go through together, and I think that those kinds of habits are a good way to ground us in our home and in our family even when we have chaotic schedules to uphold.

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

  1. I have a daily “connect” time with my son. Do this face-to-face, if possible; but if this isn’t an option, create a routine for doing so in other ways, such as leaving a note in your child’s lunch bag, posting a note by his toothbrush, or writing an encouraging saying on a shared whiteboard in the house.
  2. We have created a special ritual at night to tell stories and read together before bedtime. This brings us both together at the end of every day and puts us in the right frame of mind before we fall asleep.
  3. I make sure and tell my son how much I love him every day. And tell him how important he is to me. I don’t think this can happen enough.
  4. We make at least four meals at home each week and get together as a family so we can share our day together. Not every family does this but gathering around a table to break bread is a tradition that my family valued growing up, and we value it today.
  5. I schedule time for doing an activity of my son’s choosing. It’s usually a sports activity where we play basketball or catch together, and he enjoys being active with me just as much as I enjoy it back.

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

No parent is perfect. You can only do your best. Being a good parent doesn’t mean being a perfect parent. I make mistakes all the time but I’m always trying to do better when I make those mistakes, and I let my kiddo know and apologize for them. Taking responsibility shows him it’s ok to make mistakes as long as you can grow from them.

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

I always tell my son you can do anything you put your mind and heart into. There are no limits on life, so don’t limit yourself. I try to develop a confidence in him to try new things and praise him even when things don’t work out. We’ve also tried to keep him interested in diverse things, and support all of his interests so that he knows he doesn’t have to just do one thing at a time.

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

“Success” for me is when my child is happy and thriving, when I am super engaged in work and maintaining my most important relationships, and things feel relatively calm and manageable. It’s important to remember that’s not an easy feat. Women are expected to have it all under control — work, home, beauty, fitness, social lives. That’s not always possible. Making sure that my priorities are taken care of feels like success.

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

I lean on my mom, and friends as my most trusted resource for parenting advice. My mom and sister have been educators for a long time and have a wealth of insights on childhood learning. Many of my friends also have children the same age as I do, so I like to also draw on their experiences and compare notes.

Jen Hatmaker is also an inspiration to me. She says, “We’re doing the best we know how with our limited training and resources, and putting faith in the notion that all of those nights of lost sleep, all of those hours spent being driven one step closer the loony farm, all of it…..is going to pay off someday in the form of a well-adjusted kid. Fortunately, we all have this amazing gift of community where we get to share our experiences and learn from other moms and dads who are figuring it out through tedious trial and error.”

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

Oh, this is a hard one- A few life lessons or quotes I’ve learned along the way:

  • Be consistent and clear in your communication and expectations
  • Listen more than you speak
  • Trust your inner compass
  • Always take the risk that takes us somewhere new
  • Anything is possible
  • Hard work pays off
  • Never be afraid to do the unexpected
  • There’s always more to learn

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 wouldn’t call myself a person of great influence, but if I could inspire a movement it would be to be kind and to know it’s ok to be different and its ok to be friends with people who don’t share the same beliefs that I have. People have forgotten that we are all different and that’s what wonderful about the world. A movement to be kind to everyone.

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

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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.

“How Extremely Busy Executives Make Time To Be Great Parents”, With Jennifer McGhee and Dr Ely Wein was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.