*Editor’s Note* Today’s parent, Jessica DeGroot, is the founder of Third Path Institute, whose mission is, in part, to, “Assist individuals, families and organizations in finding new ways to redesign work to create time for family, community and other life priorities.”
Third Path’s mission and ours are closely aligned, as we seek to show how today’s mothers and fathers are making work + life ‘work’ for their families.
We were lucky to meet Jessica through Matt Schneider, a friend and co-organizer of The NYCDadsGroup, and to attend a one-day Third Path workshop last Spring. Our participation in Third Path has given us invaluable insight into how we can better arrange our lives and schedules in order to meet all our responsibilities, while caring for our daughter.
We are so very pleased to include Jessica in our living book about contemporary parents, and hope you are inspired to learn more about Third Path after reading her personal story of work + life —— and/or to join Third Path’s email list where you can meet lots of other people who are following an integrated approach to work and life.
ON THE WEB www.ThirdPath.org
NUMBER OF CHILDREN Two
DAY JOB Running a nonprofit and sharing in the care of my two children with my spouse. Although the amount of care has significantly changed over the years, since they are now 15 and 21 years old!
RELATIONSHIP STATUS Very happily married for 22 years – didn’t actually know it could be this fun.
FAVORITE CHILDREN’S BOOK
The books I most enjoyed reading to my children were books with surprise adventures or surprise endings —books like Doctor De Soto by William Steig, featuring two mice who are dentists. Against their instincts the mice decide to help a fox who has a bad tooth ache. As the fox begins to feel better from their treatment he begins to contemplate how tasty the mice would be if he eats them. But little does he know the mice have out foxed him —a trick that cures the fox but also eliminates any possibility of them becoming the fox’s after-dentist-snack. What a great life lesson!
HOW DO YOU COMBINE WORK AND FAMILY? How have you, or you and your partner, arranged your life/schedule to provide the daily care for your kid(s)?
Both my spouse and I have made a series of decisions to first reduce our work hours, and then work full time but flex our work hours as the children got older. This allowed us to both stay actively involved in the care of our children and both continue our careers.
When we first started down this path so many of our friends liked the way we had arranged things that they suggested I write a book about our approach.
Others even encouraged me to take a bigger step, suggesting that I start an organization that could get this message to an even wider group of people. Hence ThirdPath Institute was born – a nonprofit that helps parents work as a team at home so they can both have time for work, while staying actively involved in the care of their children. We also work with leaders who are interested in helping their organizations apply these concepts to their workplaces and develop integrated career paths for all.
HOW HAS PARENTING CHANGED YOU AS AN INDIVIDUAL?
Jeff and I have both grown so much from the “job” of being a parent. He came from a family that put the needs of children first. I came from a family that modeled hard work in order to achieve career success. Together we’ve learned how to integrate these two goals – how to really prioritize the needs of family while also continuing to succeed at work. We’ve also learned how to navigate through our differences and to ask for help when needed. For example, one year we worked with a family therapist to help get out of a pattern where I had become the parent who was too lenient and he was being a little too stern. Lucky for me I discovered that increasing my ability to set limits, and then reinforcing these limits, is a skill that can be used in all areas of my life – work and home.
IF PARTNERED, HOW HAS PARENTING AFFECTED YOUR RELATIONSHIP?
Yes, it’s true! Having the other parent truly share in family responsibilities — both the care needs and financial needs — is good for romance.
It also doesn’t hurt to have a wonderful mother-in-law who takes your children on Friday nights so you can have a “date night.” Here’s the proof: on more then one date night people have approached us and asked if we were newly married.
I think the reason this happens is because we look so happy and engaged in our conversation. Week to week we always have so much to talk about – the latest adventure with one child, how school is going with the other, a new opportunity that’s surfaced with a client, or how we’ve handled the latest work or home challenge. Both of us have expertise at work, both of us have expertise at home, and Friday night becomes a place to learn from each other and applaud each other in a job well done.
WHAT ARE YOUR STRENGTHS AS A PARENT AND WHAT ARE YOUR WEAKNESSES?
I didn’t know that when Jeff and I first started down the road of Shared Care that we’d bring such different and complimentary skills to parenting. He was better with babies then I was and I brought some unique skills as the children got older. I’m also the planner and he’s the one who is willing to give something new a try.
These two very different approaches have proven to be valuable over and over again as we’ve navigated the constantly changing terrain of work and caring for children. Looking ahead, in just three short years we will become “empty-nesters.”
But you can bet we’re using this “team approach” again, as we imagine what we want from this next stage of our lives.
WHAT IS YOUR WORST PARENTING MOMENT?
Do you remember that stage when children go from two naps, to one nap, to none? I do! Yes, I know everyone survives it, but everyone is also a little cranky as they manage through this change. I remember one afternoon I was trying to finish a work project (I work from a home office) but my daughter was just not interested in taking her usual nap. She was also a little overtired and I was adding my own stress to the situation.
The combination of trying to get her to take a nap so I could get the work project done, and her being very tired but very resistant to a nap, made for a very frustrating afternoon for everyone involved. Luckily — despite these moments of poor parenting — she’s grown up to be a wonderful 21 year old. And one day, in the not so distant future, maybe Jeff and I can be a resource to her and her family on those days when work and family are in conflict.
WHAT IS YOUR BEST PARENTING MOMENT?
When parents truly “share care” it means both parents need to learn how to step back and let the other parent shine. Sometimes this is easier said then done. When my son was very young, I remember coming into our kitchen one morning when my husband was “in charge.” He and a neighbor and my 2 year old son were all hanging out together. I happened to walk in just as my son fell down and gave himself a big scare. The neighbor expected me to swoop in and comfort my son, and she even gave me that “bad mom” look when I didn’t. But I knew my son was in good hands. So I took a deep breath and watched my husband work his magic. Soon my son was feeling better and everyone moved on to the next activity. I also left patting myself on the back for supporting Jeff to be a great dad and true partner in the care of our family.