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This is How They Do It

These parents aren’t perfect, and they’re certainly not claiming to be. Each of them struggles with the pull of spending more time at work versus more time with their families. But despite the rotating pitch of their work/life seesaw, these local execs have managed to create systems that work for them. There’s a couple who owns not one, but two, businesses and carves extra time by living near their work; a single mother who takes great steps to simplify her life; and the owner of a flourishing construction company who walks away from an office full of blueprints to spend quality time with his daughter. What their stories show us is that work/life balance is not an achievable goal, but rather something to define and refine over time. Here is how they do it today; ask them tomorrow and they might tell you something different.

Kay Mathers: Stick to the Schedule

Every morning before she wakes up her daughter, ABC 7 News Director Kay Mathers has already watched two news programs, read five news publications and checked two email accounts. After getting five-year-old McLain ready, Kay drives her to school. But this overachiever doesn’t drop her child off at the door—she walks her to her kindergarten class, which of course involves going to the administration building and checking in, nametag and all. “I have just enough time to sit with her for five minutes, so she can show me what she worked on the previous day, before I head off to work,” Kay says.

How She Does It
For this single mom, simplicity is serious business. When she downsized to a 1,300-square-foot cottage last summer, her goal was to find a home she could clean in an hour. She designed her kitchen with a pillow-stuffed bench where McLain can do homework or crafts while Kay prepares dinner and the next day’s lunches. Kay’s entire day is scheduled in 30-minute increments. Even her landscaping is stress-free. “It’s the key to my sanity,” she says of her lifestyle.

Kay credits McLain’s father for helping out considerably. He teaches at McLain’s school, and she spends the afternoons at her father’s house until Kay picks her up after work. McLain also spends the night with her dad once a week, allowing Kay one night of flexibility. “I usually end up working late,” she says. Also, McLain’s grandparents spend time with her during the weekends, and they help out when Kay travels. “It takes a family,” says Kay. “A lot of people don’t have that luxury.”

Bringing Balance to an Entire Newsroom
Kay says she thinks about work/life balance every day. “I think about it because my staff has kids or older parents.” When Kay first came to ABC 7, she was eight months pregnant. McLain was born with a heart condition, and Kay spent a month in the hospital with her child after the birth. Then September 11 happened, and then Hurricane Gabriel. Kay returned to the office well before her maternity leave was over, until her boss, Manny Calvo, told her to go home. “He’d say ‘what are you doing here? You should be home with your daughter,’” she recalls. “He kept reminding me what was really important.” Today, Kay finds herself dispensing that advice to her own staff. When she first joined the news team, there was only one woman with a young child at home. “Now, almost all of the on-air talent has kids, and they frequent our newsroom,” says Kay.

It’s not a leap to say that Kay has paved the way for balancing work and family in the newsroom, and she credits her company for setting the tone that family comes first. “News doesn’t happen between 9 and 5,” Kay says. “I know what I need to get done, and so does my staff. It’s a leap of faith that people will take care of their jobs, but they need to take care of family, too. Otherwise they may be here physically, but they’re not here mentally.”

Where the Scales Tip
Kay didn’t always take time for herself. “When I was married, I didn’t think it was okay to accept help,” she says. Now that she’s single, she feels okay about letting McLain spend the weekend at her grandparents’ house, or one night a week with her dad.  “Before, I was mad all the time because I had no time to myself. Now I know it’s okay to take a short weekend trip. You come back with so much more perspective. And when I come back, I’m all hers.”

Parental Guilt Factor
“Do I feel guilty? Of course I do. If I’m at work, I feel like I should be at home; if I’m at home, I feel like I should be at work. But guilt does not play a role anymore in the decisions I make,” she says. For example, Kay knew she needed to be in the newsroom on the evening of the city commissioner election. At first, she felt guilty for bringing McLain to the station. “But in the end, she had a great time. She learned about the commissioners, and I made the best of it by teaching her what mommy does for a living. Now she says she wants to be a producer!”

The Outlook
Kay’s motto is “no regrets,” and makes it a point to be mentally present with her daughter. “I only have once chance to get this right,” she says. “Giving her 100 percent of my life—it’s the easiest thing to do.”

The Mom: Kay Mathers, News Director, WWSB ABC 7
Key Factors to Success: Sticking to a schedule; simplifying everything; having
family nearby
Hours at the office: Kay works at the station about 50 hours a week and spends another
5-10 working from home off-hours.
Child: McLain Miller, 5

Kay Mathers and daughter McLain Miller shot on location at ABC 7. McLain wears a Lacoste short-sleeve classic polo, $50, cable sweater, $98 and spaghetti strap dress, $75. Kay wears an Akris Punto Stone jacket, $1400, and Panna top, $198; Saks FIFTH AVENUE. Styled by Landon mcmahon.

Bob and Lisa Morris: Proximity is Key

On weekday mornings, the Morris family sits together on the front steps of their Lido Key home, playing with their two dogs as they wait for the school bus that stops at their front door. After Tripp, 9, and Kate, 11, board the bus for school, Bob is off for his morning run while Lisa walks toward the shops on St. Armands. “Do these people even work?” a passerby might wonder. But the truth is, by 8am Bob has already spent two hours at the office, and Lisa is on her way to her office at Rooks Morris Realty, a real estate, investment and brokerage firm she founded with her husband and father Howard Rooks. The couple also recently purchased two restaurants housed under one roof, The Bottle Shop and Cork, which are also located on St. Armands Circle. “If we’re remotely successful in managing everything, it’s due to proximity,” says Bob.

How They Do It
“I try to be present and attentive during the little daily stuff, like folding laundry or riding in the car together,” says Lisa. “It doesn't have to be a sunset walk on the beach.” When the family is home together, Lisa says they have to make a conscious effort to get everyone to stop what they’re doing and actually spend time together. To do this, she’ll ask the kids to hang out with her in the kitchen while she prepares dinner or enlist their help with the yard. “It’s always a battle getting them to participate, and sometimes it would be more efficient to do the work yourself, but it’s important to do things as a family,” she says. After dinner, they try to take walks on the beach together, and the family also attends church every Sunday. “Not that we’re religious zealots,” says Lisa, “but the activity of taking time as a family is important to us.” She adds, “It’s a challenge. I have to yell.”

Also, while many parents spend their weeks shuttling kids from one activity to another, Bob and Lisa’s kids do one or two activities at a time, max. “We’re all homebodies,” confesses Lisa, adding that Tripp and Kate would rather read or watch TV. And despite their home theater, Lisa says, “we all end up in our bed watching movies.”

Where the Scales Tip
As many couples know, taking time for work and kids can be all consuming, leaving little time for romance. Bob and Lisa are no different. “If we struggle with anything, it’s carving out time for each other,” says Bob. They take walks together in the mornings when they can, but the fact that they own two businesses together makes it even harder to separate work from their personal lives. “We have to say, ‘okay no work talk,’” says Lisa. Their kids help keep them in check, too. “If we start talking about work at dinner, they’ll tell us to stop,” says Bob.

Aside from time alone together, Bob says he rarely has large blocks of time for recreation. “We have a boat sitting out there, and we’ve never used it,” he says.

Parental Guilt Factor
Bob and Lisa are no strangers to the guilt parents face when trying to balance business and family. Bob says, “Even as much as we work, we make a concerted effort to not look back and say we didn’t go to enough after school activities. Still, I wonder, can I do more? I go to my son’s football games, but I’m not a coach. Lisa helps out at school, but she’s not a room mother.”

Lisa admits that she wrestles with balancing work and family. “If your kids know they’re loved and know you’re there…” she says. “It’s a struggle and you do what you can.”

The Outlook
Kate sometimes complains that Lisa isn’t more domestic. “She says she wishes she had a mom who would scrapbook,” says Lisa. “And I tell her I hope when she’s a mom she’ll carve out time for herself. It’s important to be a model for having your own life, too.”

Bob’s friends tease him about moving to Florida and playing golf all the time, but the truth is, he only plays when he has visitors. “But that’s my goal,” he says. “By the time I’m 45, I’m going to golf once a week.”

The Couple: Robert (Bob) Morris and Lisa Rooks Morris, founders of Rooks Morris Realtors and owners of The Bottle Shop and Cork
Key Factors to Success: Both businesses Bob and Lisa own are located just steps from their home. Also, Bob hired a solid management team to run the day-to-day operations of the restaurant.
Hours at the office: Bob works 65-70 hours a week; Lisa works 40 hours a week
Children: Tripp, 9, and Kate, 11

The Morris family, Kate, Lisa, Bob and Tripp (pictured from left). Lisa wears Armani 5-pocket pant, $205; THE MET, and earrings, $256; ADDISON CRAIG. Bob wears Etro shirt, $335; THE MET.

Alan Zirkelbach: Corporate Restructuring and Daddy Dates

Alan Zirkelbach is the founder of Zirkelbach Construction, a $48 million company with projects in ten counties. The company has grown 200 percent over the last five years, and in those five years, Zirkelbach has never once missed a weekly date with his daughter. “She’ll leave messages on my machine—I still have them—asking ‘daddy can we go on a date tonight?’” So what do they do on these dates? Annie’s three favorite restaurants are Caragiulos, DaRuMa and Flemings. During dinner, Annie talks about her day and her friends. “She’ll sit there for hours,” laughs Alan. “She’ll ask me things like, ‘why do whales have babies and fish lay eggs?’” he says, adding, “Some of her questions are really hard.”

How He Does It
Alan has a policy not to check his BlackBerry or answer his phone while on dates with his daughter. But that doesn’t stop business associates from approaching his table at restaurants. “I have to tell them really politely, ‘guess what we’re doing? We’re on a daddy date!’ and hope they get the message. Usually they do.” How does he find the discipline to shut everything else out? “You have to balance what’s important over what’s urgent. Emails and phone calls are urgent, but when I’m with my daughter, she’s what’s important.”

Although he typically works 7am-7pm, on his daughter’s nights, he leaves at 5:30pm, something he’s able to do because he schedules it in advance. “I’m a very structured person in terms of appointments. If it’s on my calendar, she can count on my being there in a 15-minute window.”

For the times when Annie comes to the office, Alan keeps a drawer for her filled with dolls, crayons and activity books. “It helps her feel at home at the office. She knows everyone here, and I like it that way,” says Alan. In fact, Alan encourages employees to bring their children in the office so he can get to know his employees better. “It’s hard for an entrepreneur to let everyone see his goal without seeing each individual person’s goal,” he says. “If I don’t know their family, I can’t understand where they’re coming from.” Soon, Annie will have much more than a drawer at Zirkelbach—above the new office Alan is building for himself sits a 200-square foot play loft for Annie.

Work Balance Creates Life Balance
Part of Zirkelbach’s work/life balance comes from a transition he made in his company, moving from an entrepreneurial structure to more of a senior management structure. “You can’t burn the candle at both ends forever,” he says. Now, instead of Alan controlling every decision in every department, senior managers hold responsibility for their departments. He says he wishes he made that transition in his company ten years ago. “It’s the wisest way—having really smart people do what they do best, the outcome will probably be better than if you did it by yourself. It’s letting go of control, but it takes trust.” This structure also fosters a stronger team environment within the company. “I think when you get to ‘it’s our company’ versus ‘it’s yours’ then you start to let them do the things they do best,” he says.

The Outlook
Next year, Alan and his wife Carmen hope to adopt a baby girl from China. Alan and Carmen have discussed sending Alan to China alone to meet the new baby and bring her back. “That way I’ll have two weeks to bond with her,” he says. But Annie doesn’t need to worry about competing for attention during her weekly dates. “I’ll be adding another date night for the new baby,” he says. Two daughter dates plus his weekly date with his wife—Alan Zirkelbach is indeed a busy man.

The Dad: Alan Zirkelbach, CEO of Zirkelbach Construction
The Mom: Carmen Zirkelbach, a former nurse who is now a full-time mom
Key Factors to Success: Scheduling weekly dates for family time. Also, Alan was 39 when Annie was born. By waiting longer to have children, he says he was more prepared to be a patient, gentle and wise father.
Hours at the office: Alan works 12-hour days and Saturday mornings. Work is “off limits” on Sundays.
Child: Annie, 6

A day in the life of Kay Mathers

5:45-6:15am Kay wakes up, answers emails on her BlackBerry, watches ABC 7’s morning show and the previous night’s 11pm show at the same time (flipping between the two). She checks a second email address on her computer, where she also visits MSNBC, YouTube and CNN. She reads the paper version of the Sarasota Herald Tribune and the Bradenton Herald online.

7-7:30am McLain gets up and watches TV while getting dressed. Kay gets ready.

7:30am Kay and McLain sit down for breakfast.

8am Kay drives McLain to school, checks in at the front desk and walks McLain to class.

9am Kay arrives at the station.

7pm Kay leaves work and picks up McLain from her father’s house.

7:15pm Prepare dinner, typically something simple that takes 15 minutes or less. Kay tries to cook on Sundays, making big batches of spaghetti.

7:45-8pm Bath time for McLain.

8-8:30pm Kay reads McLain three books.

8:30-9:30pm Kay packs lunches for the next day. To unwind, she watches sitcoms or reads magazines.

9:30pm Bed.

Weekends: While McLain is at ballet on Saturday mornings, Kay gets her errands done. She’ll pick up materials for projects from Walgreens or go to Hibbs for gardening supplies. “Gardening is our thing, now,” she says. On Sundays, Kay lets McLain decide what they’ll do together.

A day in the life of the Morris family

4:45am Bob wakes up, gets ready and reads the paper; walks to office.

6-8am Bob spends 2 hours in the office working before others arrive.

7am Lisa wakes up gets kids get ready for school.

8am Bob returns home to spend time with Lisa, the kids and their two dogs while they wait for the school bus, which stops right in front of their house.

8:30am Bob goes for a run by himself or takes a walk with Lisa.

9am Bob and Lisa are in the office.

4:15pm Lisa returns home for the kids’ arrival.

5pm Family eats an early dinner together 4-5 nights a week. Either Lisa cooks dinner, or they walk down the street to eat at their restaurant, The Bottle Shop and Cork.

6-9pm Walks on the beach, TV, movies or reading. Bob gets more work done in his home office.

9:30pm Bedtime.

Weekends: On Saturdays, Bob and Lisa take their two dogs to the farmers’ market. The kids come, too, “If we can get them out of bed,” says Lisa. Then Lisa and Kate go horseback riding and have lunch together while Bob takes Tripp to football practice. Lisa and Bob usually go out on Saturday nights, accepting her father’s offers to baby sit. On Sundays, church is mandatory. In the afternoons, either Bob or Lisa holds an open house, and the other stays home with the kids, working on home or school projects or running errands. Sunday nights, the family cooks and watches a movie together. Kate and Tripp also love to have their friends over for sleepovers Friday nights or play on Saturday afternoons.

A day in the life of Alan Zirkelbach

5:30-6am Alan wakes up and spends time alone. Sometimes Annie wakes up early to join him.

6-7am Alan wakes up Annie, gets showered and dressed, reads the paper and spends 10-15 minutes with his daughter.

7am Alan arrives at the office.

7pm On most nights, Alan comes home at 7pm and eats dinner with his family. On daddy date nights, he leaves work at 5:30pm.

8pm Annie goes to bed.

8-11pm Alan and Carmen spend time together; bedtime.

Weekends: Alan works half-days on Saturdays and meets his family for lunch. They spend the rest of the day together. Sundays are family days and work is off limits.

—By Britta Alexander, Photos by Carlton Grooms

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