Daisy Dowling, WORKPARENT

Daisy Dowling, WORKPARENT

Zibby is joined by Daisy Dowling, her beloved fourth-grade teacher’s daughter, to discuss Daisy’s new book, Workparent. After serving as a corporate executive coach assisting mothers and fathers trying to strike the right work-life balance, Daisy realized there are lessons every working parent can learn. She shares why she made sure to include advice for all types of families, how she structured her research as if she were an architect, and the importance of figuring out your own working-parent template while not comparing yourself to anyone else.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Daisy. Thanks so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss your book, Workparent.

Daisy Dowling: Thank you so much for having me.

Zibby: This is such a thrill. I know we were chatting before, but your mom was my teacher, who I’ve never forgotten. I remember you. You were like a celebrity in my mind because you were related to her. She was like God. To be interviewing you, it still gives me a thrill, and I’m forty-five years old. It’s crazy.

Daisy: Everybody remembers their fourth-grade teacher. You can ask anybody who that was. We think back. It’s a pivotal year. It’s a big deal going from nine to ten.

Zibby: It’s true. It really is, oh, my gosh. Congratulations. You’ve had so much career success. I love it. Your bio’s amazing, and of course, everything you shared in the book, which your work has informed. Would you mind telling listeners about — everything is sort of interlinked, but let’s start with the book and how you — in whatever order you want, your career, which became the book. The book is your consulting company. You tell it.

Daisy: I’ll say that my book is a travel guidebook to combining career and caregiving without losing yourself in the process, so staying healthy and whole as you meet the responsibilities that are two big sets of responsibilities in your life. When people say, why did you write this book or what was your inspiration? I feel like I should have a really lofty, glossy answer to it. The real answer is necessity. I wrote this book because I really desperately wanted to read this book. Nine years ago, my first daughter was born. I have two little girls who are nine and seven now. When she was born, I was working in-house at a big company as an executive coach. I could give a lot of people advice about how to manage their careers and get ahead professionally, but I just didn’t have much advice to give them on how to do that while being the parents that they wanted to be. I felt a little bit on my back foot about that.

Then you can see where this is going. When I had my own first baby, of course, the problem kind of came home with me. I didn’t know how to do so many things like tell my boss that I needed to leave midafternoon because I had to take my daughter to the pediatrician. I pushed the stroller literally down to the flagship Barnes & Noble one day. I said to the very nice clerk at the store, “Where’s the working parent book?” There’s a book for everything. He said, “There’s the career section,” and went like this to hundreds of books in one part of the store. He said, “There’s the parenting section.” He pointed to the other part of the store. There didn’t seem to be anything that really brought those two together. Long story short, that sent me on the journey to gathering all this advice and different kinds of supports and perspectives that working parents can use and then to ultimately collecting them in what I’ve written.

Zibby: Wow. So where are they shelving your book? Are you in the parenting section, or are they going to put it in the career section?

Daisy: It’s in the work section. I come to this work as an executive coach, so I will readily say, and my children would probably also tell you, that I’m not a parenting expert. I come from the angle of, how do we succeed and thrive and be ourselves professionally while also holding what’s really important dear and central? That’s what I bring and I think, therefore, why the book is written the way it is, as an executive coaching conversation that happens on the page and why it is in the category or the section that it is.

Zibby: I’m glad we’re doing this particular interview now because I don’t know if you’ve heard the screaming in the background, but my kids are in the other room and have these two friends over who are particularly loud. This is my intersection of career and home and everything else.

Daisy: I’m in my daughter’s bedroom. I’ve blurred the background so that you can’t see all of her nine-year-old stuff. This is how we’re .

Zibby: How we get it done.

Daisy: Work-life integration.

Zibby: Obviously with the pandemic, it’s all become blurred anyway, the fact that there are no really clear lines and that so many people aren’t even going back to the office. In a way, I like that people remember now that the people they work with are actual people. I feel like it used to be cordoned off. This is who you were at work. You can’t talk about your family or your private stuff or whatever. Then this is who you really are, or something, off on the side.

Daisy: Right, that you were actually two people. You’re one person doing two roles without any contradiction between those two things. You can be yourself in both places. I do think, though, this blurring of boundaries is really good in a way, but it also leads to some really big pressure. People feel like they’re always on. They always have to be giving in both spheres of their life. They always have to be doing something or productive every moment of their day. A lot of the work that I do with my one-to-one coaching clients now — I support working moms and dad — is helping them figure out where, even really artificially because we don’t have a lot of tactical boundaries, but where artificially they can draw a line and say, all right, after seven PM in the evening, I’m going to physically close my laptop. I will fully permission myself to be fully present and available as a dad to my kids for the next two hours. Then if I have to get back online, I will. Having some of that clean break and that distinction is really important to showing up as your full self, being able to focus, not feeling so crazed and chaotic, and also doing better in both spheres. That’s important to push us back to also.

Zibby: I was out with my kids yesterday. I had my phone with me. I had not allocated it as the time where I would just be with my kids in my head, FYI. It was just during the day. I was trying to keep up with everything else. I have four kids. The one who was talking is eight. She kept being like, “Mom, Mom.” Finally, she was like, “What about being just in the moment?” I was like, oh, my gosh, this is too much. I was like, “Okay, I’m in the moment. I’m sitting next to you.” I’m playing with Kinetic Sand with one hand. I’m on my phone with the other hand. I am doing my best here. It’s never enough.

Daisy: Cut me a break. You’re eight.

Zibby: Right? It’s like, what do you need me to do? Make your own sandcastle or something? This is not the beach. It was sand on a table. Even if you cordon off the hours, I feel like then the next hour comes and they’re like, you’re never available. There’s just so much pressure.

Daisy: There is so much pressure. There’s always something more to do. There’s your to-do list and my to-do list. They would stretch across the country if we unrolled them. Everybody’s is. We could go twenty-four/seven, and that list would never get shorter. One of the techniques I encourage a lot of working parents to think about using is keeping some kind of list or scorecard for themselves about things they’ve already accomplished. If you haven’t done something, it’s top of mind. It’s always nagging at you. I need to call my child’s teacher back. I need to get that report done for work. I need to do whatever it is. You forget everything that you’ve done and accomplished that’s so good. If you can keep a running tally for yourself of, I did have a really good parent-teacher conference or I did spend time snuggling with my toddler last night or I did have a good meeting with somebody at work who’s a really difficult customer and we got to a great resolution on whatever it was, if you can make a list of that and then actually read down that list on a regular basis, it sort of re-anchors you back in this, I’m doing a lot. My commitment is total. I’m accomplishing things. I’m on the right path. I think that’s a powerful feeling when you feel the sense of frenzy and it’s never done. The treadmill is not an easy place to feel like you’re getting momentum. You want to feel like you’re moving forward.

Zibby: Unless you’re at Barry’s Bootcamp or something.

Daisy: Correct. I wouldn’t know much about that.

Zibby: Me neither. I tried it once. I could not keep up. I was like, this is not for me. To your point, while the Kinetic Sand was going on, I start making a to-do list just for what I had to do last night. When my daughter — I was with my mom too. They saw my list. They’re like, “Oh, my gosh.” I was like, “No, no, this is just what I have for the next two or three hours. Then by the time tomorrow ends, I’ll have a totally new to-do list.” They’re like, “All those things?” I’m like, “That’s what I’m doing when I’m at my desk frantic. I’m doing stuff.” To your point, I’m like, I should really write a new list. I’m like, no, I’m just going to admire the fact that there are all these things crossed out.

Daisy: Do you ever put things on your to-do list that you’ve already done so that you can immediately cross them out?

Zibby: Yes, sometimes where I’m like, oh, I forgot I had to do that. Boop, boop, yeah.

Daisy: Or put something really easy on the list so you can cross it out quickly.

Zibby: Lunch, done. The thing that was so great about your book is you start off by giving everybody a framework based on age. You come at it from all the different spheres. First, just by age. What do you need to know if you have toddlers? What do you need to know when you have teenagers? Towards the end, you go into different things like your own health and how to keep yourself balanced. Then what if you’re an entrepreneur? What if you’re a CEO? What if you run the show? All these different values and things and ways of coming at it. How did you decide to structure it? I feel like you had five or six parts. Each one could’ve been its own book. It was great. There’s so much information. It’s amazing.

Daisy: When I first started writing the book, one thing that was really important to me was to have every parent who picked it up felt like it spoke to them. That’s an ambitious thing to try and do. In a lot of the working parent conversations and workshops and coaching I had done, there were so many parents who, for a lot of different reasons, told me that they didn’t feel like they were part of the group of working parents. Well, I have older children. I know the people who really have it tough are moms of new babies or people who are just returning from parental leave. We’re an LGBT family, and I’m not sure that some of my concerns are always reflected in the — I’m an entrepreneur. I don’t have the flexibility to work from home. Some of the conversation doesn’t relate to me. I came at the book from thinking, from the person who just picks that up and who wants to feel reassured and included, how do we start there? Then I was able to drill down and try and make it digestible. There’s the chronological section, which is from birth or prearrival to teenage years, and then by different category of how people thought about parenting. Resources is one section. Then health and wellness and feeling yourself together is another section. Some of the tactical stuff around career is another section. I was just trying to think about how to make it navigable with that inclusive lens on top.

Zibby: Love it. Then for people who that’s still not enough, you’ll do coaching with them?

Daisy: Yes. I do a lot of one-to-one coaching. The wonderful part about my job is that I’m surprised and challenged every day. The book is 550 pages long. I felt like, wow, I really captured a lot of stuff. Then every day, I will have a parent ask me a question or make a recommendation or say, here’s a habit or practice that really works for me. I’ve never heard it before or I’m thinking, gee, I don’t know how to answer that. I think that’s part of why I love this work. It feels like this book could’ve been a lot longer. As you know, as an author, at some point, you have to say, here’s what I’m going to deliver. I’m on a deadline. We have so many pages and words that we can use.

Zibby: It’s a lot of material. How did you sit down? Did you do extensive outlining and then you tackled section by section? How long did the whole thing take? All the research, there was a lot in here.

Daisy: I started by outlining. I’ve just found in my own writing that it’s easier to sort of pretend I’m an architect and put together the blueprint and plans and understand how the structure is going to work before I think about the drywall and the bricks and the decorative moldings and that kind of stuff. I started with just the question, which is, what would any working parent want to pick up and see? I honestly took inspiration from a lot of other books that you and I and everybody else is familiar with. You think about the Lonely Planet travel guidebooks, it covers your whole trip. What would make people feel like that? I outlined appropriately. Then I went out and I did a lot of research. A lot of the stuff that’s in the book is based on — a little bit is based on my own experience as a parent. A lot is based on my coaching work. Then, really, the meat and potatoes of the book is based on what I heard from other working parents. I spoke to a couple hundred of them just on pure-play research basis, not in my coaching practice. I deliberately went very broad. I spoke to people with teenagers, with multiples, from different backgrounds and cultures and beliefs, overseas or in different parts of the country. I spoke to people who are in frontline jobs, police officers, a single mom firefighter, healthcare workers. Some of this was going on during the pandemic. I also spoke in every different field. I wanted to try and mix it up and make sure that I was grabbing all the different nuggets of advice from this broad group so that the crowdsourced and distilled product would really work for people. It would give people the most traction.

Zibby: It’s hard to take all of the research and narrow it up, but if there were a couple things that stressed-out working parents could do to maintain sanity or just do a better job, aside from having dedicated time with your phone off, what would your top two tips be? Not to put you on the spot here.

Daisy: If I could leave people with no other task or idea or whatever, it would be to try and spend just a little bit of time mapping up and understanding and taking control of your working-parent template. Your working-parent template is your mental model of what working parenthood is and means and requires, and particularly of what good working parenthood is. It’s a mosaic-like picture of all the different experiences and bits of advice and observations that you’ve made about working parenthood, really, over the course of your life. If you saw your mom work full time but she always came home at five thirty and cooked dinner for you and then helped you with homework afterwards, that’s great. Your mom was a great role model. You may have it in your template in your mind that, if I’m going to be a good working mom, that means cooking every night for the kids or sitting down for dinner every night with them or always being available to help with homework. That’s not right or wrong, good or bad.

It’s your experience, but you’re going to be in for some really rough sledding if you’re always holding yourself in comparison to this template, if you’re working under this layer of shoulds. Those shoulds might come from your social media feed or from your own parents or from your career mentors or from your current colleagues. Maybe the other moms at work say, when you have a second child, you should really tap the brakes professionally. That’s just what you should do. You should think about flextime. Maybe you should, but maybe you don’t want to. Maybe that doesn’t fit with your career. Maybe you’re not at the right juncture or you need the income or whatever it is. Figure out where all those bits and pieces are coming from. Jot them down on a piece of paper. Then step back and say, here are my own ambitions and goals and the contours of my job and my family structure and my resources, in all different senses of that term. Here’s the working-parent life I want to and can lead. I’m not going to beat myself up with all those shoulds and expectations and images of what good working parenthood involves. I think that really frees you up to start making your own decisions and to feel more confident and less burdened.

Zibby: I like that. I’ve had this experience where I didn’t realize I was becoming a full-time working parent. I think when you start your own thing, things just ramp up until all of a sudden, it’s like, do I have a full-time job? I’m working all the time. Maybe that’s what full time is. I’ve been thinking about these issues, which is why your book is so timely and so welcome. I’ve been like, is it okay? What do I judge it on? Is it how many hours I’m with the door closed versus working with the door open? Those are different things. My dad used to always — I would sit on his lap. He would be reading work documents, but I was okay with that because I was still — I don’t know. I think it’s, as you’re saying, what you grow up with, what you feel okay doing, and just owning it in some way.

Daisy: Straight up, I think entrepreneurs have it the hardest. I have a whole chapter in the book about people who are small business owners or freelances or entrepreneurs. I think there’s a view — I’ve held it. I’m now working for myself also. There’s a view when you’re in a demanding job that, if I worked for myself, I would set my own hours. I would have flexibility. It would be this easier, happier, more work-life friendly environment. In reality, then there’s no guardrails. If your boss isn’t there to say you’re on or you’re off, when are you on and off? As one working mom entrepreneur I interviewed said, “I get to take vacation when my boss lets me.” I sort of paused. She said, “I’m the boss. My boss never lets me.” It can be very tricky to navigate when you are in that self-directed career.

Zibby: Vacation, also, what does that really mean anymore? It’s not where you are physically because we’re all working from everywhere now. If you take a vacation, what it really means is you’re just going to be really behind. It’s not really a vacation. You’re just going to decide not to get anything done and then have twice as much to go back to. Where did I read somewhere that they — it wasn’t the fact that people got so many emails, but the company had decided that they would take care of all of this employee’s emails for her or him when they went on vacation. Have you heard this?

Daisy: Somebody will cover for you.

Zibby: Yeah, they do all the emails. That’s amazing.

Daisy: Instead of having to come back and face the music and have 642 unread messages. I think some of this also goes to — I see this a lot in my one-to-one coaching. It goes to our sense of identity. We all worked really hard to do well in school. We’ve all put in the hours professionally. We’re all doing what it takes to show up as great moms and be there for our kids in all senses of that term. The idea of just stepping back and saying, no, thanks, I’m just going to be doing whatever on a beach for a certain amount of time, it’s not that we don’t want to do that. It’s that we feel unprofessional or we’re dropping our responsibilities. There’s something that’s deeply disconcerting about that. You have to manage yourself and figure out how to get past that so you can get what you need. If you don’t have that time to recharge, it just grinds you down.

Zibby: How do you recharge? You’re doing so much stuff. How do you do that?

Daisy: Good question. If you ask my kids, they would probably say that I don’t do it well. I grapple with all these issues as much as anybody else. One technique that has really worked for me, though, is — I started this maybe six or seven years ago. I told myself that I was going to keep a Saturday sabbath. I’m using that word in a non-religious sense. Saturday was going to be my permissioned day off. I will receive emails, but unless they’re really urgent, I won’t respond to them. I won’t make plans unless they’re plans that I really, really want to do. I won’t just do something out of a sense of obligation. I try and find activities that are restorative to me and pleasurable and let me hang out with my kids. Saturday is this great reset button for me. Even if my week is crazy and I’m emailing at eleven thirty at night or whatever, I have that thing that brings me back to center. It’s just enough to do that. It’s rewarding without taking up too, too much time. That’s my day one-day-a-week thing that really works.

Zibby: The whole day, start to finish, morning and night? The whole day?

Daisy: I wake up, and it’s my day. I’m a mom of two young kids. Oftentimes, I’m taking people to birthday parties or, pre-pandemic times, doing things that I have to around the house or whatever. It’s not a completely responsibility-free day.

Zibby: No, I know.

Daisy: It gives me back that sense of control. I’m doing this because it’s good for me and because I want to as opposed to feeling like I’m constantly spinning the plates, which I feel most moms are.

Zibby: Yes, very true. What is coming next for you? You have this giant book out. You have your thriving business. Where do you see it all going? Is there anything you want to achieve you haven’t gotten to yet?

Daisy: Listen, in the near term and intermediate term, given the pandemic’s still going, I think this ball, in a way, is going to be more stressful for a lot of working parents than even things had been up this point. We’re a bit depleted. We’re facing some back to work, back to school, etc. The immediate term for me is doing what I can to be of service to individual clients and to organizations. As much as the pandemic has been awful, just a dreadful time, it’s been really exciting to see how many working parents’ networks and affinity groups are sprouting up in every organization and how different corporations and institutions are doing what they can to support working parents. I sort of told myself, except for my Saturdays, the next six months or intermediate term is not going to be about balance for me. It’s going to be about trying to jump into that fray and help where I can. It’s exciting. It’s a little tiring, but it’s exciting and good work.

Zibby: I know, I’m bracing myself for the fall onslaught.

Daisy: The onslaught. School is starting.

Zibby: It’ll be fine. It’ll be great.

Daisy: It will be.

Zibby: Do you have any advice for aspiring authors now that you are also a published author in addition to everything else?

Daisy: I think the thing that was difficult for me before getting into the writing thing was that I always thought — maybe I had imposter syndrome or something. I always thought that people who wrote books or who had really popular blogs or whatever had some sort of special magic or special experience to them. They had to have worked for The New York Times or they had to have been A students in English or something. That’s true for a lot of people. Really, the gating item to producing a good piece of writing is sitting down, really working on it, and saying to yourself, let me think about how I would say this to somebody if I were just talking to them. How do I make that happen on the page? How do I make it valuable and urgent and readable? If you can do that, then you’re in business. Then the other stuff, it’s putting in the hours. Then there’s the whole business side of getting a book published. I think it’s having that sense of self and of confidence that I’ve got something to say and I’m going to work at getting it out there.

Zibby: I have to say, you speak so eloquently that for you to make it sound good on the page would be easy. You speak in beautiful paragraphs.

Daisy: Oh, no. We should’ve brought my editor for this book in. I got to the point in the editing process — Kevin Evers, my incredible editor at HBR who is absolutely fantastic and the father of two young children, I would get on the phone with him. I could tell by how he sighed, how good or bad my writing was. He would go, “.” I would say, “I’m so sorry. I’ll rewrite that chapter. I know it’s not good.” Let’s just say that there was a lot of sighing. He’s a really patient guy. It’s rewriting. It’s just refining and refining and refining, like anything else, lots of practice.

Zibby: It’s very true. Oh, my gosh, I don’t know if I could’ve dealt with the sighs. I feel like when you put your words out there, it’s like a whole layer of skin is gone. You’re so sensitive about it. Maybe not for you.

Daisy: I know. The fun part about it for me was that because it’s coaching, even if Kevin was sighing and my chapter was terrible and whatever, it was all in the spirit and all moving the ball down the field of helping other people feel like, yes, I can do this. I can work. I can parent. I can be myself. There’s a solution for this. There’s techniques. I have options. I felt like that was such a powerful end goal. I would risk the sighing and rip up forty drafts and redo it because that was the outcome I wanted to get to.

Zibby: That’s amazing. I love that. When you have a mission you’re working towards, and especially something that’s so altruistic, it’s really amazing, and has personal benefits.

Daisy: Yes. I wanted the advice myself, so I kept going.

Zibby: There you go. Now the next person won’t be in the middle of Barnes & Noble trying to figure out where to go.

Daisy: Exactly.

Zibby: Daisy, thank you. Thanks so much for coming on. It’s so nice to reconnect. Congratulations on your accomplishment. It’s really awesome.

Daisy: Thank you so much for having me.

Zibby: Take care.

Daisy Dowling, WORKPARENT

WORKPARENT by Daisy Dowling

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