What a Work Conference Taught Me About Parenting

Last year, I attended an HR and leadership conference in Minneapolis. The mission for the event was to bring humanity back to work – a topic thankfully becoming part of the business conversation, as evidenced by viral posts like this CEO’s (and single dad’s) perspective circulating the interwebs. I was on the event’s design team, so I felt confident I knew most of the content and how the event would unfold.

I didn’t realize the event would hit me on such a personal level, as it uncovered so many parallels between good leadership and good parenting. Leaders are entrusted with people’s lives and livelihoods and have the ability to impact them in significant ways (sound familiar?). One startling stat from the Mayo Clinic said, “a person’s direct supervisor has more effect on a person’s health than their primary care physician.”

While I was attending the event in a professional capacity, my experience felt a bit like a self-help and parenting retreat. Here are four parenting lessons I was surprised to take away from a work conference.


1. Remember the ideal praise-to-criticism ratio

The ideal praise-to-criticism ratio was written about in Harvard Business Review and shared at the conference by CEO Bob Chapman: “Be sure you’re giving five positives for every one piece of negative feedback.”

This 5-to-1 ratio was eye-opening for me. In my day-to-day life, I knew I was quick to say, “no” or “not that way” or “don’t do that” to my kids way more often than I was affirming their choices and actions. How many times daily did I tell them “stop,” “don’t,” “you can’t?” How few times did I recognize their accomplishments or their positive actions, even small ones? I didn’t think I was living up to the ratio.

I also learned that letting your feelings lead your feedback and mentioning the impact of someone’s actions can be especially powerful. For example, “I appreciate your help picking up the toys because it means we can spend more time together playing.”

Of course, being a parent means setting boundaries and ensuring kids don’t hurt themselves, but being conscious of the ratio has helped me recognize when I’m thinking something positive about my kids, and it reminds me to say it out loud.



2. Believe others are capable. Trust them with enormous responsibility

This came from CEO Kristen Hadeed as she described letting go and allowing her team lead. I found it to be helpful when thinking about my parenting relationship with my husband, especially at the beginning of life with a newborn.

In parenting relationships, sometimes one parent naturally takes the lead managing certain elements, whether it be the day-to-day caregiving, school drop-offs, remembering all the things. If you’re the one leading your parenting partnership, trusting your co-parent to handle things can lift some of the weight from you and give the other parent confidence in their choices. And it means they won’t be calling or texting you with as many questions while they’re in charge.

The same goes for caregivers, whether it be a babysitter, nanny, or your mother-in-law. Once you’re comfortable and have set clear expectations with them, the only way you’re ever going to leave the house is to trust them to act with your child’s best interest in mind.


3. Failure teaches resilience

Hadeed wrote an entire book about the mistakes she made when growing her business. The confidence gained from experience – and the learning that comes from experiencing failure – is invaluable for our kids too.

The term “lawnmower parenting” made the rounds last year after an anonymous teacher’s post went viral. “We’ve all heard of helicopter parents,” wrote the teacher for the website We Are Teachers. “But lawnmower parents go to whatever lengths necessary to prevent their child from having to face adversity, struggle, or failure. Instead of preparing children for challenges, they mow obstacles down so kids won’t experience them in the first place.”

I found my own lawnmower tendency tested a few times this past school year as a first-time kindergarten mom. Kindergartners don’t have a ton of responsibilities, but remembering to bring back their library book on each and every Wednesday is one of them. The day came when we both forgot about the library book. I realized it after drop off, and I knew it probably meant she was going to meltdown at school. To make it harder for both of us, it was her birthday. HER BIRTHDAY!

BUT. I didn’t bring the library book back to school.

Yes, she was upset. But in the following weeks, she started asking me whether it was Wednesday. The lesson wasn’t foolproof, she did forget one more time, but she knew it was her responsibility to remember or she’d have to deal with the consequences if she forgot. Small victory.




4. Be conscious of your personal data

Not the data on your phone or what you share on the internet. Rather, be conscious of what is going on inside you. “It’s OK if you don’t feel OK,” said one speaker. “But you need to be conscious of that data.”

Before I was a mom, I had a moment where I hit burnout at work. It was a physical and mental crumbling. I mean, I worked in advertising. I wasn’t saving lives, but I let burnout affect my relationships to the point where my husband said he felt like he didn’t have a partner, and I got my first grey hair! No one was getting my best.

I’ve crumbled a few times since under the stress of parenthood (like adjusting to two kids) and unexpected life-altering changes. Being conscious of your personal data allows you to know when you need time for self-care so you don’t suffer burnout from motherhood. Even if the term “self-care” is overused and over-marketed, the adage “you can’t pour from an empty cup” is true. Try to identify what fills your cup and prioritize it so you can give your best at work and at home.

Put another way, one speaker asked us to ponder the question, “Who gets the best of you? And who gets the rest of you?”

I came back from my work trip with a full cup, eager to hug my own precious kids and start using what I’d learned.

This time, it was nice to bring some of my work home with me.