"It’s easy to forget that the world we live in is scary to us as adults who know things let alone these kids who have never been through it." - Matt Heinz, husband, dad, and renowned marketing expert
You can listen to the whole interview here or read the article below.
In celebration of Father's Day, I sat down with one rockstar dad, Matt Heinz.
Matt is dad to three: Clara is 8, Nicky is 6 and Evan is 3 years old. He lives on a farm in Kirkland, Washington, just outside of Seattle with his children and wife, Beth. Beth is a teacher, a reading and math specialist for children from kindergarten to grade 6.
In addition to being a dad, Matt is also a nationally recognized sales and marketing expert. He is a best selling author and included in numerous lists of the top 50 most influential marketing and sales experts in the USA.
When I first heard Matt interviewed, he was asked about his fantastic wood carvings on his farm and his darling children he showcased on social media. He replied, "well you know, what goes on social media is only the top 5% of real life happenings!" Isn't that so true? The reality is that so much of parenting is not shared in our virtual realities, like 95% of it.
Parenting As An Human
His parenting realism is soothing. In our talk, Matt emphasizes the ancient obvious of parenting, yet one we do not hear often enough in our modern age.
“Parenting is hard man,” Matt says.
In the age where we are connected to many virtually and not physically, we see only the top 5% of life of so many of our parenting friends on social media, the smiles, the laughter, the joy, and subsequently we often feel isolated in our children’s tantrums, our parenting struggles, and our exhaustion. The difficult part of parenting is rarely portrayed in our virtual connections.
Matt references a study he heard the other day that demonstrates that a child makes on average three demands of their parent every single minute. "How do you stay sane?" Matt asks.
"No wonder you get frustrated with your kids and then you start asking yourself are you a bad parent because you get frustrated? No! You are frustrated because you are human!"
Matt shares how work days can be long and then how it is difficult to come home and have the energy to be a good parent, as you are really wanting to rest after a long day's work.
"You come home and you want to be great parents but it’s hard. It’s hard for a lot of reasons.”
Matt clenches at the humanity of parenting that can be lost in our virtual, social media worlds and yet is so important for us to hold dear as parents so we do not feel alone. Yes, we do get to enjoy that top 5% of parenting joy, but we also get to experience 95% of parenting that is mundane and a lot of the times, very hard. It is important for parents to have a community of support to get us through that other 95% of parenting. We need to remember we are “human”.
Matt’s most recommended resource for parents? “Talking to other parents,” Matt says.
"They don't have necessarily the right answers but they have their answers and they are real answers.”
He recommends hanging out with fellow parents and sharing parenting stories, which leads to more significant interactions than virtual ones currently allow.
He shares a story to illustrate:
"We had friends over this past Saturday. They have two young boys. Sometimes it’s valuable to share what happened and have your friends say ‘oh, yes that happened’.”
It turns out Matt and Beth were struggling with a particularly messy subject: when going potty, their boys were aiming anywhere but the pot. So Matt asked his friends,
“you know with these boys when they are late getting to the bathroom the potty goes everywhere but in the toilet. What’s the deal?”
His friends replied, “oh yeah, painting the walls is what we call it….”.
As Matt demonstrates, sharing your story with fellow parents and having these fellow parents acknowledge that they have gone through similar events helps you realize you are a normal parent. Connecting with real parents, sharing parenting stories with humans face to face, is Matt’s ultimate parenting resource to get us through that 95% of real life parenting.
Starting An Human Family
It was far from easy for Matt and Beth to start a family. To which so many couples who struggle with fertility issues can relate, Matt shares the pain of it.
“It took us a while to have Clara. It honestly took us about two and a half years from the time we decided we were going to have kids to the time Beth got pregnant with Clara. For anyone who has had a difficult time getting pregnant who wants to get pregnant that is extremely painful for both people. It was really really hard for Beth.”
Fertility struggles should be a much more open discussion in order to help those who encounter them. Such an open discussion helps couples not feel isolated during the trying, intimate times of dealing with difficulties getting pregnant. The month after month of getting a negative pregnancy result, of waiting to see if the implantation took, of spending hours and hours of your time at the doctor’s office alone, hurts. The fertility struggle can make couples feel like failures, even though the ability to conceive has absolutely nothing to do with their ability to achieve.
Fortunately for Matt and Beth they were able to have Clara and her siblings. We discussed his memories of those first weeks and months after bringing home a new baby.
In his quintessential realistic tone, Matt says of becoming a father:
“Getting married is incremental. You are formalizing and expanding something you have already been doing. And then you have kids. And it is night and day. Everything changes. That transition is a bit jarring.”
When Beth was pregnant with Clara, Matt left his job in the height of the 2008 recession to start his own consulting company.
“It sounds much more crazy now than it did at the time,” Matt says.
As he was now working for himself, he was able to take a full two weeks after Clara was born to, as he put it, have “100 percent focus on the three of us as a new young family.”
Matt emphasizes that the first weeks after taking home a newborn are not just about the newborn: the postpartum period is also about your spouse.
“The transition is not just about a new kid,” Matt says, “it is also about your spouse as well who is going through changes and not getting sleep.”
Matt compares bringing home Clara to when he brought home Nicky and Evan.
Like the transition of bringing home a newborn is not just about the newborn, Matt notes that when bringing home subsequent siblings, “the transition is also about the older sibling responding to the new baby.”
His tip to start the transition out well? Get gifts from the baby to the older siblings. Matt says,
“Evan gave Nick and Clara costumes. So the pictures we have of Nick and Clara meeting Evan, Nick is dressed as a cowboy and Clara is dressed as a fairy.”
Looking back at himself, on those days when he was expecting his first child, Clara, Matt offers his former self some advice, and, in this vein, advice to all first time Dads:
“Patience. Take a deep breath.” Matt advises. “If the baby is crying too much and is bothering you, put him down and take a deep breath. Trust your instincts.”
Key Parenting Principles For Human Parents
So for that 95% of parenting, after we take those deep breaths, when parenting is routine or difficult, how does Matt get through it?
Matt, a marketing guru, has spent his career studying and then implementing communications that effectively move people from one point to another point of his choosing. How does he apply these kills for his home target audience, his children?
In our discussion, Matt references a phrase from a mentor that has guided him in his career:
“No one is going to care about your story unless you first care about theirs.”
He says of it,
"I think about this a lot when I am talking to my kids about things I want them to do. What’s in it for them? If they are upset, what are they upset about and how do I bridge that gap of where they are and where I want them to be?”
Additionally, in business to business marketing, Matt says he discusses questions that can be applied to parenting too. He asks in marketing consultations,
"How well do you understand your audience? Their challenges? If they are not willing to move forward on something, is that because they are not educated or is it because they are scared?”
Likewise, when our children are not willing to move forward on something - like go to school, for example - is it because they do not understand the reason for it or are they scared of it? Matt recommends identifying the challenges our children perceive in order to effectively help them overcome these challenges and successfully “move forward”.
The first of Matt’s key principles in parenting stems directly from his marketing expertise.
First and foremost, when Matt deals with a difficult parenting situation, he says he employs a "combination of empathy and affection”. Like a great marketer is able to empathize with the customer - to see the product or the conversion journey from the customer's perspective - Matt tries to see situations from his children's perspective.
"Empathy and affection have helped me break down the potential challenges the kids are facing and get on their level and make things okay.”
Matt continues pointedly,
"It’s easy to forget that the world we live in is scary us as adults who know things let alone these kids who have never been through it."
To illustrate, Matt shares a story about his son bringing home a library book on bridges and tunnels. His son wanted to build a suspension bridge that was modeled in the book but that day they could not. Matt told him, "Buddy, I would really love to make it with you but we can’t make it right now." What happened? His son kind of "flipped out". So Matt tried to see the situation from his son's perspective. Matt ultimately realized that his son knew it was a library book and that his son knew he had to return the book the next day to the library, so "in his head, if they did not build that bridge right now, it was never ever ever going to happen." Through employing empathy, through trying to figure out how his son was seeing the situation, Matt was able to address his son's need and explain that they would be able to build the bridge at a later time even if the library book had to be returned. He utilized empathy and solved the problem in an affectionate way.
Matt’s story of literally building bridges with his son exemplifies using empathy and affection to build figurative bridges with our child too. When facing a challenging situation with your child, can you go back to the beginning and see the progression from his perspective? Might there be a consideration so significant in his eyes that may not be in yours? If you can identify such a consideration, can you address it with your child in an empathetic and affectionate manner to build a bridge, in a figurative sense, to get him from where he is now to where you want him to be? Approaching conflicts with your children in this empathetic way can help you connect with your child and move them from point A to point B in an affectionate and effective way.
The second of Matt’s key principles for better parenting is to “spend intentional time with his children.” Matt tries to spend 10 uninterrupted minutes with each of his children every day. Matt says,
"It doesn’t take a lot of time to fill their bank. 10 minutes of dedicated time every day. It could be coloring, come and help me cook something, let's go play with blocks or do a puzzle. Those 10 minutes fill their bank. “
While it does not sound like a lot of time, it is not always easy. Again, Matt’s pragmatism is so identifiable. Matt says,
"It is hard to do it - at the end of the workday, I’m tired. I want to go home and put on a ball game, but I also need to be a good parent, so there is a balance there.”
When spending his “intentional time with his children”, what are his go to activities with them?
Matt tells me they get outside on their farm and explore the wilderness. He cleared a patch of land covered in old blackberry bushes and made it into an open play area for the children.
Another go-to activity for Matt to do with his children are games. His favorite? A card game called “Guess Who” that all ages of his family enjoy.
Matt also reads lots with his children. Matt has spoken to numerous teachers about reading and his wife Beth is a reading specialist. Through his research, Matt has concluded regarding reading that,
“the most important concept for children regarding reading is to read a lot, and talk a lot. It’s not so much what your read, but the consistency of reading and talking to your child to boost literacy.”
His favorite children’s books include those by Patricia Polacco, the Llama Llama series and Skippyjon Jones books. He warns however that the Skippyjon Jones books are multi-lingual and can be quite difficult to read aloud!
A Marketing Warning To Human Parenting Brains
Exploring further Matt’s marketing expertise and its intersection with his experience with parenting, I asked Matt what types of marketing tactics are used towards parents to get us to buy an item for our children that we really do not need. What are the snake oil salesmen of marketing messages to parents? When should parents be wary of a marketing scheme and how can we spot them? Matt suggests being wary when fear is involved in the marketing message.
“There is an awful lot of fear that is used in marketing to parents that is effective and I think sometime it is used maliciously.”
Good to note. Next time we hear a product advertised that preys on our fear of a happening to our children that is statistically incredibly unlikely to happen, perhaps we can try to evaluate rationally. Easier said than done, of course. These messages prey on human brain behavior, which, as a human parent, is very difficult to overcome. Nevertheless, being aware of malicious marketing is the first step for us to not spend frivolously on useless products! Good luck.
Matt’s thoughts and advice on parenting, particularly during the 95% of our everyday parenting, are prudent and realistic and, in turn, comforting. His sharing of his marketing expertise as it pertains to parenting can help us learn how to modify our children’s behavior in an affectionate way. I, for one, am hoping to build some better bridges this week.
More On Matt
Matt, father of three, is married to his college sweat heart whom he met in his dorm in college at the University of Washington. They were living on the same floor freshman year. “We ended up at the same school and on the same floor at the same dorm. The rest,” he says, “is history”. Matt lives on a farm with his family outside of Seattle, Washington.
Where To Find Out More About Matt
- Follow him on Instagram where he shares lots of family pics and info on his cured meats! Yes, he makes his own bacon and he actually says it's easy. "The hardest part about making bacon," Matt says, "is waiting for the bacon!"
- Matt is founder of Heinz Marketing. Check out his new book Full Funnel Marketing and you can also find him on his blog.
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