“Life becomes about opportunity cost”, with Dr. Ely Weinschneider and Alison Bernstein

We all have kids for a reason. We need to enjoy them, not treat them as a job. They have so much to offer. The truth about children is that they are young for such a short period of time and you want to really capture all you can. There are so many to do lists, both for you and them. You just simply never know when they are going to feel like sharing something with you -or simply need you. That is the human element you cannot plan for or schedule into your day. I don’t know what the right amount of time is to spend with children — I guess it depends on how many you have…and it is not a quality vs. quantity conversation. It is also about being present — both for you and them. If you are physically there but talking to your friends, on a conference call, or checking your phone…. it doesn’t accomplish what you intend. Life becomes about opportunity cost … staying an hour later in the office is worth a lot more and is more of a deliberation when thinking of that hour lost with your children.

As a part of my series about “How extremely busy executives make time to be great parents” I had the pleasure to interview Alison Bernstein. Alison is the President and Founder of the The Suburban Jungle, a real estate firm exclusively focused on buyers leaving the city for the suburbs. Recognizing how different neighboring towns can be from one another and how little families learn about a community during the home search, Alison launched Suburban Jungle, helping buyers navigate suburbia, and understand the ins and outs of towns before making their decision. She had personally experienced these challenges while undertaking her own suburban search, and strived to bring that unique expertise to Suburban Jungle families.

Prior to this launch, Alison worked in the industry for more than 15 years, including senior-level roles in sales, leasing, investment banking and corporate strategic work spanning three of the nation’s leading real estate organizations. She has revolutionized the real estate industry by creating this new advisory pre-search component to the home buying process. When she’s not helping families in their suburban explorations, Alison enjoys traveling, skiing and tennis as well as spending time at home with her husband and four young children… and huge dog.


Can you tell us your “childhood backstory”?

I grew up in a loving, supportive family- that always taught me to work hard. As a result I developed a strong work ethic. I was an only child which I believe made me more creative . My parents were an inspiration. Practicing what they preached, they both worked arduously toward their goals and believed strongly in the “American dream”.

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

I have always been passionate about residential real estate, and found the industry to be inefficient. I knew that there must be a better way to obtain greater objectivity during the key part of the home search process. The industry was innately focused on the sell side/listing side, and buyers were making key decisions without the proper guidance. While at Columbia Business School, I worked to create a model that would solve for these inefficiencies. I took a mundane piece of the typical real estate business, and created a specific niche which has grown nationally, and cemented a new piece of the residential real estate market.

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

I am very big on giving my employees full autonomy, and don’t believe in face time. Our offices are on 57th and Lexington (HQ)- however the last thing I need to do is go in and watch people type. I hire people that have a strong work ethic, so at any given time we have various people in and out of the office working. I schedule conference calls whenever possible, and line up meetings back to back in order to make the most of my day. I start my day by taking all 4 kids to school… then head to either meetings or begin with conference calls. It depends on the day.

I am a big lunch person, so when possible — I will schedule a meeting over lunch or squeeze in friends to meet to catch up. I am not someone who skips lunch or eats at my desk.

I will typically try most days to get back early to see my kids and eat dinner with them. After dinner I will traditionally take a few hours to finish up conference calls, catch up on desk work and emails. I usually reserve date night for midweek with my husband- typically Wednesday nights.

Let’s 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?

We all have kids for a reason. We need to enjoy them, not treat them as a job. They have so much to offer. The truth about children is that they are young for such a short period of time and you want to really capture all you can. There are so many to do lists, both for you and them. You just simply never know when they are going to feel like sharing something with you -or simply need you. That is the human element you cannot plan for or schedule into your day. I don’t know what the right amount of time is to spend with children — I guess it depends on how many you have…and it is not a quality vs. quantity conversation. It is also about being present — both for you and them. If you are physically there but talking to your friends, on a conference call, or checking your phone…. it doesn’t accomplish what you intend. Life becomes about opportunity cost … staying an hour later in the office is worth a lot more and is more of a deliberation when thinking of that hour lost with your children.

On the flip side, can you give a few reasons or examples about why it is important to make time to spend with your children?

It is of course important or make time for your children — — they see the effort and appreciate it. Again, being “around” for them provides a significant sense of security. Even if they are not directly interacting with you all the time, just knowing you are there provides a great deal of comfort and more.

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?

1. I enjoy taking my kids to school every morning. I call it “morning with mommy” -when I teach them about a life lesson on the way. It is sometimes a silly life lesson… but nevertheless it is a great way to start the day.

2. I try to take them on “one on one” trips or dinner when possible. For example, I take one of my daughters on our favorite ski trip each year. In addition, I often break up the 4 kids into smaller groups to create different dynamics.

3. Our family sports (skiing every weekend in winter together, golf, tennis and boating in spring and summer) help us really connect in an effortless way.

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?

1. No phone policy at family meals. I make an effort to eat as a family every night. This can be challenge with varying work commitments, travel and kid’s sports, however wherever possible we eat meals together and there are no phones at the table.

2. When watching TV together as a family, we also have a no cell phone rule…this prevents 6 of us from doing 6 different things….so ideally, we are together but not really.

3. We are frequent family travelers and work hard to make the most of each opportunity we get to spend with the kids. Together we love to explore different cultures and travel to eclectic world destinations. Learning and experiencing things as a family is an amazing tool to keep us engaged and close.

4. We have weekend homes that we get away to with just our family. Sometimes we bring friends, but having time together away from work and friends for a short 2 day period really helps us all catch up and unwind together.

5. Family activities that we love to do with our kids include skiing and golf; both fantastic sports for spending real quality time!

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

We all do our best. There is no such thing as a good or great parent. There are so many different philosophies of parenting, and the one thing I have learned is to never judge. The greatest gift to any parent, and the sign of great parenting is a happy child. I have always believed in giving my children independence … my theory is “if you can’t tie your shoe, wear Velcro” … many people don’t like that approach ….

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

Dreaming big is a constant conversation we have in our house. How do you teach your kids to dream big, without setting them up to fail in the future or not properly managing expectations?

I often share articles of successful people with my kids, and the things that these entrepreneurs/business owners have learned along the way…. articles from Inc. … (some of my kids read them, some of them don’t without naming names :) )

Kids also see how hard both myself and my husband work … and this goes a long way in helping them to understand how to dream big.

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

I define success by 2 simple things:

-Do I feel like I have accomplished something today? Did I have fun? the answer is always a resounding yes… oh, and I ask the same of my kids and husband…

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

I love reading Inc. — I get a daily e — blast… and they have great stories about some of the world’s most successful people and life hacks such as how they manage their inbox … or the way they start their mornings. I love that as I believe every family should be run like a business….

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

“It’s not about winning, but about losing less.”

I love this, because the fear of loss prevents some of the greatest accomplishments. If we stop fearing not winning all the time, we can let ourselves take bigger risks.

This is why people often talk about the world being run by C students… because the A students don’t want to risk 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. :-)

This is tough … as I want to believe we can all change the world.

But an idea I often think about is health related…I believe doctors/researchers would be better able to piece together the cure to so many more diseases if they had the “full picture”. So if everyone could provide details of their medical conditions and history, all of the places they have lived and those before them have lived, it would be so much easier to connect the dots. Similar to what companies like 23 and I are doing, the goal would be to create a map to understand clusters, causes, genetics etc. that much faster.

Thank you so much for sharing your inspirational thoughts with us!


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.