Networking is vital for any career. It’s also often the first thing working parents chuck when life gets busy. Between meeting work deadlines and taking care of your children, how are you supposed to find time to invest in building new relationships, too?
One option is to involve the kids.
I stumbled on this idea a few years ago when talking with Amanda Steinberg, founder and CEO of DailyWorth, a financial website for women, and WorthFM, an investment platform launching this year. Since I write frequently about women entrepreneurs, I had interviewed her. I knew she had young kids. When I moved to the Philadelphia area (where she lived), I suggested we meet for coffee. But then I mentioned in an email that my kids were up for playdates. This line suddenly moved me from the category of someone she would try to squeeze in during her already crammed work time to someone who could hang out with her during those hours parents all experience when we are attempting to occupy our offspring.
Thus began a series of what we called "power playdates." We’d brainstorm solutions to various career and business issues while our kids tore through our houses. "When you’re trying to grow a business and raise kids at the same time, it’s just a really efficient use of time," Steinberg says. You don’t have to pay for a sitter or coordinate schedules with a coparent. You don’t have to give up time with your family. Relationships go beyond being transactional, and the kids enjoy themselves. "Everyone’s happy," she says.
That potential for a win-win situation has spurred some interest in the idea. When I searched for "power playdate" I discovered an newly launching business with that name that would match working parents with others based on business interests and children’s ages. A handful of meetup groups (e.g. Pittsburgh Moms Business Networking) bring together working parents (often women entrepreneurs) for networking at a kid-friendly site such as a children’s museum. The Playdate Connection in California likewise organizes events where kids play and parents network. The Small Business Community Network in Canada says it offers kid-friendly networking events.
Of course, the networking playdate or playgroup must be handled with care. Very young children need to be supervised, which reduces the potential for conversation. Part of networking is having relaxed social time together, and chasing a toddler around is not conducive to that. For one-on-one power playdates to work, your children must be similar ages, and at least be able to tolerate each other. It’s probably best for situations where you know the other party somewhat, and would like to get to know him or her better.
But if you’ve got that, then the power playdate is yet another opportunity for work-life integration. Work and life need not be pitted against each other on opposite sides of the scale. Networking playdates and playgroups recognize that parents are people who have a lot going on, but they might be worth getting to know, too. "That’s a huge part of our population, and no one’s fully addressed the gap," says Steinberg.