Paul Baron - Product Manager, Entrepreneur
"Your life is right now, today. Not tomorrow, not yesterday. And all of what is past, is gone. Spend time with your kids "today", not "this weekend" or during the next holidays."
Tell us a little about yourself and what you do.
I'm a French-Swiss 44 year old dad with a 13 year old son. My wife is Japanese, and we have spent 12 years in Japan before moving to Paris for 6 years and recently to Berlin. I co-founded a digital product studio in Japan over a decade ago and left a few years back to join an AI startup in France that ended up being bought by Sonos. In Summer 2020, I was laid-off with most of my team, and decided to found my own startup.
Recently, I launched a self-care coaching & community app for dads called Dadditude.
How old are your kid(s)?
My son is 13 years old. He's a very sweet trilingual kid who loves juggling between his Japanese background, French roots, and English culture. Everyday, I wake up feeling proud that I was able to offer him the stable and exciting childhood that I wish I'd had as a kid. My parents divorced when I was 5 years old and I was separated from my brother and sister. My dad wasn't home much so I had to kind of create my own world. When my son was born, I swore things would be different for him.
Who is the primary caregiver in the household, and what are you and your partner’s parenting philosophy?
My wife and I were working full time when my son was born, and after our parental leaves, we both went back to work full time. We made it so that my wife wouldn't have to quit her job after birth. We try to share the morning and evening tasks as evenly as we can. She takes care of most of the meals and I take care of most of the school admin, school runs and activities planning/shuttling. It's been a winning combination for over a decade now.
Regarding our parenting philosophy, we've had a few guiding principles from the beginning, some important to my wife and some important to me (actually we have developed and catalogued a long list over the years, so this is just an excerpt):
When he was a baby, we would speak to him as much as possible, and in our own language; describing what we were doing, what he was doing, what we were seeing around us, what we thought he wanted, what we were thinking. I see many dads who do things with their kids but don't exchange words, and I think there is a missed opportunity to develop the world's vocabulary of their babies/kids (we know exposure to words has a positive impact on the brain development). It also helped to strengthen our bond with him and taught him how to express his emotions and needs faster than other kids.
We always explain the reason behind a yes or a no. We also started when he was a baby. This helped him build a mapping of how the world works, and also kept us in check and not go full autocratic on him. This helped him understand the world around him and self-regulate his emotions.
We make it a point to go on a parent-child holiday with our son, my wife and I 'separately', each year. Doesn't have to be for more than a few days, and importantly, we choose a place we have never been to. What this does is that it removes the "routine" and the "known" from our relationship with him, so we can truly be together, on an equal basis, and work together as a parent-child team to adapt to this new environment. It's a sort of team building holiday. I've done it each year since his birth and I credit this with having had the most positive impact on my relationship with my son. I basically have never had any tantrum, struggle or argument in 13 years </dad-brag>. For the rest, I guess I'll need to write a book 🙂
What's your favourite moment in the day with your kid(s)?
When he comes back from school, I'm always home these days, and I make it a point to go out to play badminton or ping-pong with him. We manage to do it twice a week. The other days, he has after-school activities that make him come back after dawn. My second best moment of the day is when we read together on his bed before sleep. My wife and I have nearly never missed an evening of reading together before bed in all these years. Now that he's older, we read "together" rather than "to him". We read our own books on his bed and sometimes I still read to him some of the chapters of my books.
How do you keep yourself sane?
I immediately went back to the gym after his birth. Once a week minimum, never more than twice a week (too much burden on my wife otherwise) and it's been great at keeping me in top shape in order to be as adventurous and agile physically as my son needs me to be. I'm not into cold showers, journaling or waking up at 4am so I guess I'll never be the perfect man that most self-help books want me to become, but I have found some crucial support in mindfulness, learning to listen to my body, learning about nutrition, learning about emotional management. Long walks together with wife and son are the simplest and biggest pleasure of my life.
Best tech tip on parenting. This can be apps / hardware / gear you use, and how you use them.
The landscape is changing and improving rapidly these days, and if my son were younger, I would look into some of the reading assistance or emotional coaching apps.
Most helpful advice you've received as a parent.
Your life is right now, today. Not tomorrow, not yesterday. And all of what is past, is gone. Spend time with your kids "today", not "this weekend" or during the next holidays. That time is never coming back. You will regret it all your life.
What lessons do you not want your kid(s) to learn?
Basically everything I went through as a child: being put in boxes that didn't fit me, hurtful judgements from adults, being unwillingly weaved into adult drama, being told I was too young to understand this or that.
What was the best lesson you learned from your child?
Staying with negative emotions for long is no use. We expect kids to be moody all the time, especially as pre-teens, but he has this ability to just move on quickly, which is a gift for him and an inspiration (and constant reminder) for me.
What is your proudest dad moment?
My son smoothly integrating an English school after spending all his life in Japanese and French public schools. He just flipped the switch on his English language skill.
If you could ask anyone, dead or alive, for their best parenting tip, who and what would that be?
I would love to ask the hunter-gatherers on this planet 30,000 years ago that Yuval Noah Harari talks about in his book Sapiens, as well as the pre-industrial revolution parents, especially in other cultures than mine. What did it mean to be a parent then, was there a concept of being the best parent you can be, what was it like to spend time together with your kids, what were the favorite activities then.
How do you manage technology exposure for your child/children?
We never pushed tech into his hands so it never became a cause of tension or struggle at home. The iPad was always "one of" many activities at home, and never "the only" activity. When the iPad was used as a young child, it was always 30 mins max, with a clear understanding of the limit and a reminder 5mins before the end. Now that my son is older, the Screen Time settings are a must for him (and for me honestly), always coupled with a healthy dose of discussion on the subject of screen addiction and app design.
What hobbies do you and your children share?
When he was younger, drawing together was one of the best activities together. A few years ago, we used to go bouldering together on weekends. These days it's a lot of ping-pong and badminton in the park. We always adapt based on season and city we're in, but I make a point of making time for him and I to be together. These days, we're visiting a fab lab together to make a huge Naruto anime sign out of plexi and flexible neon to hang in his room.
Finally, your best dad joke!
I'm pretty bad at jokes, but having 3 languages spoken at home provides a pretty endless sources of unexpected rhyming or puns between words in different languages. I love that my son has developed that sense too.