Your kids are not customers. Neither are your customers.

Several years ago, I was traveling frequently for work. My children were 7, 9, and 11ish. One day I was talking to a friend about how out of sorts they always were when I left and when I came home.

“I just don’t understand it,” I said. “They are with their dad, I make sure he knows their schedule, I leave instructions for meals they like, and their routine stays pretty much exactly the same. What else do they need? Why are they so cranky?!” My friend gave me an are-you-serious? look, and said simply, “Maybe they like you and they miss you.”

It’s a little embarrassing that that was an a-ha moment for me; it doesn’t seem like such a revelatory insight. But it was. I had been thinking of my children as, essentially, very needy and adorable customers — people who needed something from me. And of course they did need something, but it wasn’t the sort of thing I could make ahead of time and leave in the freezer for them when I left, or put on a list of delegated tasks for an able employee.

They just wanted me.

This moment changed my parenting in a hundred subtle ways. I quit thinking of my children as people I needed to please as much as possible. I got more comfortable with them. I told them more corny jokes. I let them in on the part of me that is me and not just a mom-bot.

It changed my work, too. I am temperamentally reserved and something of an introvert, but learning to be more myself with my most demanding (and most loyal!) “customers” made me realize that the people I worked with also needed something from me beyond their immediate ask. They wanted to encounter a person, to know someone and be known. Now I try never to lose sight of the human interactions behind every business transaction. No one ever gets what they really need from a mere transaction, even if it is exactly what they expected — the interaction makes the difference between cranky and satisfied.