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Author Margot Machol Bisnow On How Extremely Busy Leaders Make Time To Be Great Parents

An Interview With Candice Georgiadis

You’re a good parent if you have children who thrive. And all children thrive when they have parents who believe in them and help them learn to believe in themselves. Your children will thrive if they learn to pursue their true passions, and if they have your support for their success in those passions — even if they weren’t things you were excited about.

As a part of my series about “How extremely busy executives make time to be great parents” I had the pleasure to interview Margot Machol Bisnow.

Margot Machol Bisnow is a writer, wife, and mom from Washington, DC who speaks on raising fearless, creative, entrepreneurial kids who are filled with joy and purpose. She is the author of Raising an Entrepreneur: How to Help Your Children Achieve Their Dreams — 99 Stories From Families Who Did. Margot has a BA in English and an MBA, both from Northwestern, and spent 20 years in government, including as an FTC Commissioner and staff director of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers. Both her kids are now grown: Austin started a popular band, Magic Giant; Elliott founded Summit, a noted international conference series for Millennial entrepreneurs and creatives, and led the purchase and development of Powder Mountain ski resort in Utah as a permanent home for the Summit community. Her husband Mark was a late-blooming entrepreneur, and wishes his parents had read her book when he was growing up, so he might have started his company before he was 50. Margot is on the Board of Capital Partners for Education that mentors low-income DC-area high school kids.

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

I spent the last couple years working on my book, Raising an Entrepreneur: How to Help Your Children Achieve Their Dreams — 99 Stories From Families Who Did. It’s packed full of stories of how parents raised children who not only are successful, but who are creative, confident, resilient, and fearless. And, even more important, happy. I want parents everywhere to read this book to help their kids dream big dreams. It’s definitely not what I would have expected I’d be doing when I grew up! I was an English major in college, worked for a few years in the anti-poverty program, and then got an MBA and moved to Washington DC for what I thought would be a couple years. But I spent the next 20 years in and around government, mostly in international economic policy.

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

My older son had started Summit — conferences of young entrepreneurs. He’s just published a wonderful book about it for anyone who is interested: Make No Small Plans. I met all these extraordinary young people and asked them what gives them the courage to take on so much risk and work so fearlessly on their project? To my surprise, they all essentially said the same thing: “My mom believed in me; she told me I could succeed at anything I put my mind to.” I was really amazed by this and decided to look into it. That’s what led to writing this book.

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

I’m totally focused on my book, and have been for the last couple of years. Plus, I try to walk at least an hour each day.

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?

I actually disagree with the premise of this question. I don’t believe there is a direct correlation between the amount of time you spend with your children and how good a job you’re doing as a parent.

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?

I believe there is nothing more important in the world than your relationship with your children, and your family. But I don’t want busy parents to think that won’t be possible for them. My boys are both in their early 30s now, and we still talk almost every day and see each other constantly, even though we don’t live in the same cities. Knowing that your family believes in you and is there for you whenever you need them is the most important thing to give a child a sense of confidence. But it’s not the time you spend; it’s how you spend the time you have.

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?

When our boys were growing up, we always ate a family dinner together every night. Someone asked me once what time we ate, and I said, “When the last person walks in the door.” It was something the kids knew was important to me and it created a bond. Everyone has to eat. Sometimes it was 6:00 PM if everyone got home early. Sometimes it was 9:00 PM if we waited for my son to finish play practice. But we always ate dinner together.

We spent so much time supporting our kids at their chosen passions. When our kids were in high school, we all went to our younger son’s concerts and plays; we spent every vacation for three years going to our older son’s tennis tournaments around the country.When my sons were in college, I used to go once a month to visit for a weekend. I was lucky, they both played D1 sports, so I always had an excuse to visit. My younger son also did a lot with music, so there was always a concert he was singing or playing in, or a performance he was in — any excuse to go and not be a weird parent. I can’t imagine letting months go by in between seeing my kids.

We also traveled extensively together. I wanted them to get to know different places and I hoped it would make the kids aware that there were other cultures and other ways of doing things. It turned out that it had a more important and unexpected dimension: It strengthened us as a family, because we were alone together, creating shared experiences. I can’t recommend family travel enough. I cherish the memories of the four of us together, creating a bond I hope will last forever. And because we took incredible family vacations when they were young, they’re still willing to go with us today. Now we go with them and their wives. The patterns you set when they’re younger will be what will continue when they’re older. So if family vacations were a big part of their life growing up, you’ll be lucky and will be included in family vacations even when they have their own family.

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.

I can’t stress enough the importance of family dinners. No phones allowed! Just be there with each other. Share stories from the day. Tell me something good that happened to you. Tell me something bad that happened to you. It’s so important to have that bond.

I often think that parents don’t enjoy the time they spend doing necessary things, like driving a child to and from school, or to or from a sports practice or a lesson — they view that time as a chore. But if you view it as a special time, you will appreciate those hours. When my oldest son started playing regional tennis tournaments, I complained to a friend with an older child who I knew had spent a lot of time driving to travel soccer. I said, “Ugh, I have to take him to all these out-of-town tournaments!” And he looked at me and said, “Cherish the moments. They will be among the best times you ever have with your son.” It completely changed my perspective.

Just be present. Put your phone away. I often see families “having dinner together” in a restaurant — and the kids are on their phones. When you’re together, be together. It’s as simple as that. It’s not the hours. It’s being there for them when they need you, and really being with them when you’re together.

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

You’re a good parent if you have children who thrive. And all children thrive when they have parents who believe in them and help them learn to believe in themselves. Your children will thrive if they learn to pursue their true passions, and if they have your support for their success in those passions — even if they weren’t things you were excited about.

You’re a good parent if you teach your kids to find new ways to solve all problems, to see opportunity where others see the status quo, to work with single minded determination to achieve a goal, to take on risk if the project is worth trying, and to learn that building something wonderful is its own reward regardless of how much money they make.

You’re a good parent if you don’t punish them for failure. Let them see failure as feedback and setbacks as learning experiences. Let them know that failure is how they will learn, that setbacks are part of the road to success.

And you’re a good parent if you let them dream big dreams.

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

My book has 99 stories of parents who believed in their children, who showed their child that they had wholehearted trust in their capacity. All the parents I interviewed for my book said, “We love you, we trust you, we believe in you, we support you in whatever you want to do; we love that you have found your passion and we encourage you to pursue it; we know you’ll do great things; we will always be here for you; and don’t worry if you make mistakes, because you’ll learn from them, and anyhow they’re just bumps on the road to your success. We’re excited to follow you on your journey. We can’t wait to see everything you’re going to accomplish.”

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

Success is not defined by money. Success is defined by being happy and fulfilled.

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

I really hope that everyone who reads this will buy my book, Raising an Entrepreneur: How to Help Your Children Achieve Their Dreams — 99 Stories From Families Who Did. It gives parents 10 rules on what to do to be a wonderful parent and raise happy, successful children: support a passion, let your child learn to win and lose, don’t worry about straight A’s, encourage them to have a mentor, instill confidence, embrace adversity, nurture compassion, be a great family, show them there’s something bigger than themselves, and lead by following.

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

I think the most important thing people can do is ask themselves, “What’s the worst thing that can happen? And can I live with that?” The answer is usually, “Yes, that actually wouldn’t be so bad, it’s an acceptable outcome.” And then try it — or let your child try it.

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 want parents to believe in their children. Everyone says to me, “Don’t be silly, all parents love their children and believe in their children.” But that’s actually not true. They love their children, they want them to be happy and successful, but they don’t let their child follow their passion because they don’t think they will be able to be successful in life if they do that. I want all parents to let their children find their passion and then nurture it and support it however they can. Tell your child how proud you are of their success in the thing that they love. Don’t let them think that pursuing it with all their heart is too risky. Let them know that you believe in them and support them and will always be there for them. Let them know you’re there for them. It has nothing to do with the hours in the day. It’s how you spend the time with them that you have.

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

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