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Struggling To Juggle Work And Parenting? Maybe Just Try Parenting Less

Somewhere between free-range parenting and drone parenting is low-intensity parenting. And the kids are all right with it—really.

Struggling To Juggle Work And Parenting? Maybe Just Try Parenting Less
[Photo: Flickr user Darren Johnson]

Matt and Michele Hofherr met in L.A. in 1990; he was pursuing acting, and she was an agent. They married two years later, and within a few years, Matt had pivoted into advertising, while Michele had taken up photography. Their only daughter, Sam, came along in 1998; she’s now 17. The family lives in the Bay Area, where Matt is a cofounder at creative agency MUH-TAY-ZIK | HOF-FER, while Michele has cofounded the digital consignment shop PreviouslyOwnedByAGayMan.com.

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How do they juggle heading two companies while raising a teenage daughter? It comes down, in a way, to aggressively ruling out modish parenting styles: Instead of being helicopter, tiger, or drone parents, the Hofherrs opt for a more laissez-faire approach. Fast Company caught up with the Hofherrs to glean some tips.

Michele Hofherr

1. With Time, Think Quality Over Quantity

Frank Bruni wrote recently about the “myth of quality time.” But the Hofherrs don’t believe it’s a myth, especially when it comes to parenting a busy teenager. “When they’re super busy themselves, it’s less about the quantity of time, and more about the quality,” says Matt. “My daughter has got her college applications going on, and she’s moving at a million miles an hour. My quality time with her probably comes down to an hour or two a week. You do your quick check-ins.” There may simply be times when your child doesn’t need your attention 24/7.

2. Raise Your Kid To Be As Obsessed As You

Matt still remembers the day when Sam was 4 years old, and she first discovered that someone else could run faster than her. “She couldn’t believe it. I didn’t realize she was a competitive kid.” Sam later wanted to take up horseback riding, which her parents initially discouraged. But when Sam wouldn’t drop it, they caved–as long as Sam took the initiative. “She found her horse on Craigslist,” says Matt. “She did it all on her own. The horse is competing against Steve Jobs’s daughter’s horse, which I’m pretty sure was not purchased on Craigslist.” They go to her events and cheer her on, but freely admit they “do not have any connection to that animal in any way,” says Michele. What’s lucky is that Sam, like her parents, has a consuming passion: “Everyone understands everyone is on the same page.”

Matt Hofherr

3. Sometimes Low-Intensity Parenting Is Good Parenting

“Kids can fix a lot of things on their own,” says Matt. “Sometimes they just want you to listen, to be empathetic. Don’t jump to the fix.” By that, he means, don’t rush to offer solutions to their problems. He gives the example of a child who complains about her hair, and a parent who responds with the platitude that beauty is on the inside. “Just engage in that moment,” says Matt. “So many parents want their kids to like them. Just like when you run a small business, you want your employees to like you. Some parents throw parties for their kids because they want to be liked, but I think you need a balance of being liked and respected. You should go for the respect first.” (It’s a strategy he pursues as a boss, too; he declined to dress up for Halloween at work.)

4. Recognize When Your Kid Can’t Be Changed

Says Michele: “Both Matt and I don’t feel like we need to control everything and everyone around us. You get to a point in life where you realize, you can’t really change someone. They are DNA-wired how they are.” In managing your child–as in managing your employees–“you can nudge in the direction of success and happiness, but you can’t map them to success and happiness,” says Matt. “It sounds kind of clichéd, but you do get more perspective as you get older, and maybe let go a little,” says Michele. It’s true in both work and business, she says: “‘Oh, I’ve been in that meeting 20 times, I’ve dealt with that kind of person before.’ Likewise, when you get older as a parent, you get familiar with certain scenarios. ‘Okay, that will work itself out. Let it go.’”

5. Forget The Firewall

Matt and Michele like to say that there’s “no separation between church and state.” Another way of putting this is that they bring their work home–even on vacation, at times–and they’ve made peace with this. There’s aggressive communication back and forth about everything: Matt’s business, Michele’s business, raising Sam. “It’s great to have perspective,” says Michele. “I think the best couples call each other out on their own shit,” concurs Matt. A life without compartmentalizing has its perks, but also its price: Matt and Michele recently went on a weekend getaway–“our first in a long time”–when Michele’s website crashed. Suddenly, their couples massage turned into crisis management–and they had to be okay with that. “C’est la vie!” says Matt.

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About the author

David Zax is a contributing writer for Fast Company. His writing has appeared in many publications, including Smithsonian, Slate, Wired, and The Wall Street Journal.

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