As with many other parents, Heleen and I want our kids to feel loved. We want them to have solid self-esteem, become independent over time and keep hold of the joy that comes from learning and experiencing new things. I believe the foundation for this is set in infancy and early childhood. By spending time with our children, we are putting them first. We can show them our love, help them understand and deal with their emotions. As well as, empowering them to take their own age-appropriate decisions.
As a part of my series about “How extremely busy executives make time to be great parents” I had the pleasure to interview Panayotis Nikolaidis. Entrepreneur and father of two, Panayotis is the founder and CEO of Savings United. Together with his team, he has transformed an international coupon startup into a leading global company that partners with premium media companies to connect brands with smart shoppers. Its solutions and fast growth have been recognized by organizations such as Deloitte and Digiday.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us your “childhood backstory”?
Yes, sure. Well, my parents divorced when I was a child. We were all living in Germany, but then my father and my grandparents moved back to Greece when I was 10. While my brother and I lived with our mother, each year we spent the summer holidays in Greece with my father’s side of the family.
My brother and I were deeply loved by both of our parents. However, in my German home there were lots of rules and boundaries. I remember wanting to grow up and take my destiny in my own hands.
Can you share the story about what brought you to this specific point in your career?
My first experience in the entrepreneur world was during my summer internship in Hamburg. I learned more about startups and venture capital, which I found very appealing. They allow young people, just like me, to take charge and be responsible for their own success or failure.
Following on from that summer, Panna Cotta GmbH was born. Later, we became Savings United and began partnering with premium media companies worldwide.
Can you tell us a bit more about what your day to day schedule looks like?
Before being a parent my day looked like a typical young startup founder’s routine. I would wake up at 7am, skip breakfast, drive to work while listening to music far too loud in the car I was sharing with my co-founder- who also happened to be sleeping on my couch at the time. At around 10pm I would arrive home after a crazy day at work and try to relax in preparation for the following day.
Becoming a parent drastically changed my life and this schedule. I said to myself, I want to be able to see and enjoy spending time with my kids everyday, unless I am away travelling. So, I had to find the sweet spot that allowed me to push my company forward and raise my children.
Currently, my working week consists of two long days, two regular days and one day where I finish a bit earlier. All of them start in the same way. I wake up at 6am, prepare breakfast for my children and we eat together while talking about the day or play small games at the table. Afterwards, I take my daughter to school, she rides her bike and I go on my scooter. Then, my work day starts. If I am lucky I will be home on time to have dinner with them. Nevertheless, my partner and I always put them to bed together. After that, I continue working on our business in the US.
I have become quite radical in my prioritization in order to make this work. When making decisions about how to spend my time, I consider how I can maximize my impact on the company with a limited amount of working hours. This helps me understand our business better, empower the people I work alongside, and become clearer in my communication.
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?
Child development experts suggest that children who don’t receive enough emotional support, especially in their infancy and early childhood, can often experience low self-confidence, lack trust in people, depend on validation from others to feel good about themselves and question whether the closest people in their lives truly love them. To summarize, they may have difficult relationships with themselves and others throughout their lives.
I believe the most important thing in this initial stage of their lives is giving them security and love. You show them love by attending to their needs, understanding what they like and spending time doing things that they actually enjoy. Security comes from having routines, being a reliable presence in their lives and providing them with the space to safely experience and understand their emotions.
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?
As with many other parents, Heleen and I want our kids to feel loved. We want them to have solid self-esteem, become independent over time and keep hold of the joy that comes from learning and experiencing new things.
I believe the foundation for this is set in infancy and early childhood. By spending time with our children, we are putting them first. We can show them our love, help them understand and deal with their emotions. As well as, empowering them to take their own age-appropriate decisions.
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?
As I said, I normally have breakfast with both of my children and then take my daughter to kindergarten. In the evening, I help my children brush their teeth. Afterwards, Heleen and I read them their bedtime stories. In my view, having these kind of normal and regular routines gives children a sense of security and stability.
Cooking together can be a wonderful bonding experience. For example, my daughter and I cook pizza together sometimes. I am helping my child develop important life skills, learn about other cultures and we get to share a delicious meal.
I have found that it’s important to have one-on-one time with my children as part of our routine. My daughter and I often do something special together at the weekend, such as visiting the zoo or going swimming. That way we have the chance to spend some time just the two of us, to strengthen our relationship and create happy memories. I am looking forward to doing those activities with my son when he is old enough.
Traveling is an important part of our family life and we love to travel together. Most of the time this means visiting our extended families in Germany, France, Sweden or Greece.
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?
From what I have learnt so far I would say that focus and prioritization are the most important factors to achieve the best balance between family life and work. To integrate focus and prioritization into your habits is not easy and requires both discipline and effort.
At work, I only focus on activities where my input is important and where I can have a real impact in our corporate objectives and our people. Therefore, I select my activities according to the impact they have per hour. I always do my best to empower my team to take their own decisions. However, they know they can seek my advice should they need it.
In my free time, I make sure that my phone has been put away when I am with my children. More broadly, I integrate family time into my diary in the same way that I dedicate time to other important things in my life.
I would say that most valuable approach I found is always trying to get joy from bringing joy, both at work and at home.
How do you define a “good parent”? Can you give an example or story?
Heleen, my partner, is a good parent. She has great parental intuition and keeps up to date with the latest thinking and research on child development in order to help us both to be the best parents we can be. She practises attachment parenting and does her best to give our children what they need.
She loves our children and demonstrates her love for them every day. She tries to reflect on her emotions, fears and actions so that she is not driven by stress or negativity when interacting with our children. She constantly helps me be a better father.
How do you inspire your child to “dream big”? Can you give an example or story?
Our children are still young, especially our son. In my view, it’s very important not to unnecessarily limit our children. I want my daughter to be able to make mistakes without fearing punishment. I think that is a good starting point to help your child develop into a free thinker. We tell her that she can learn or become anything she wants in her life.
How do you, a person who masterfully straddles the worlds of career and family, define “success”?
For me, success is when I have a positive impact on the people around me. If I make them feel a bit better because they encountered me, then that is a great start. Also, I think my character development will continue to play a big role in my definition of success. I want to keep learning more about myself. Becoming more mindful and dealing with my own emotions better is a life-long journey.
What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a better parent? Can you explain why you like them?
To be honest, Heleen has inspired me to be a better parent more than any book I have read. However, I do have some favorite books that have helped me to become a better leader and a parent.
Peace is Every Step by Thich Nhat Hanh has helped me to find new ways to achieve a sense of calm, get in touch with myself and turn any negative emotions into more helpful ones. Also, I find this perspective on life and peace to be well explained in the book, particularly for someone who doesn’t come from a Buddhist background.
I recommend “Das gewünschteste Wunschkind aller Zeiten treibt mich in den Wahnsinn” by Graf Danielle and Katja Seide for parents and primary caregivers. Life as a parent can be very intense and stressful. This book helped me to understand children’s emotions, behaviour and child development better. As most of the time, better understanding and more empathy leads to better communication and interactions.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Every word from Thich Nhat Hanh is like a “Life Lesson Quote”, his book Peace is Every Step is truly inspiring for the reasons I mentioned earlier.
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. :-)
For the sake of all of our children, I must go with the global climate emergency. Creating a world that is more ecologically mindful and less wasteful, where financial success correlates with how good a company is for human beings, animals and our planet. This is something to aim for.
My way of doing my part to help mitigate the situation is to ensure that our workplace is as green and eco-friendly as possible. I believe that it’s of the highest importance that our people and our practices are committed to these values. However, helping society should be the standard. I feel very grateful that my colleagues and I share a common view on this.
Thank you for sharing your 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.