Sesame Street has been broadcast into homes across the nation for almost 50 years—my childhood home and the home I now share with my husband and two children included. To watch an episode means you’re invited to use your imagination, open your mind and explore the world around you in the most fascinating ways.
Growing up with a family legacy in live entertainment, these principles were echoed throughout my childhood and ultimately shaped my working life, now as executive vice president and producer at Feld Entertainment Inc. (where I produce Sesame Street Live! Make Your Magic), as well as my home life as a mother and wife.
In today’s world of parenting, there seems to be an unspoken rule that to be present at home you must “punch out” from work. However, who I am as a parent, and who I am as a producer, is woven into my identity. Of course, the balancing act of parenting and being an executive isn’t easy. There’s still an underlying challenge to provide my kids with the tools they need to become kind and independent adults, as well as the challenge to lead a global company into its next successful venture. But I've learned I can't separate the two identities—and it's actually better for both when I don't.
The best advice I could give is to embrace your work and home life equally rather than fight to keep them separate. To be clear, I don’t mean living behind a computer screen at home or forcing your toddler to start learning pivot tables on Excel. This means seeing yourself as one person with strengths and lessons that come from both your career and parenting experience—a mutually beneficial merger. Here's how:
1. Let your experiences as a mother inform your decision making.
Yes, I have the luxury of having a “test group” at home, but being a mom in general has also provided me with tons of helpful insight. For example: We want our shows to be as engaging for adults as they are for children. Of course, it’s wonderful to see your kids’ faces light up when they see Elmo, Abby Cadabby and Big Bird live for the first time, but something special happens when a parent becomes as equally invested—an event becomes a memory. For that reason, I’ve looked to the number of impromptu dance parties I’ve had with my daughter or counting games I’ve played with my son and incorporated moments into the storyline that invite the same guided play. But you don't have to work in entertainment to incorporate what you've learned at home into your workday. If you can manage toddlers, you can manage employees. Use your mom skills! You've earned them.
2. Share your passion with your children.
How many children understand what their parents do for a living? My husband and I both have careers in entertainment and production and enjoy sharing that part of our lives with our kids, because it allows them to sense the passion behind what we do while also keeping them involved in who we are as people, not just “Mom” and “Dad.” Occasionally, we’ll bring them on set visits or to rehearsals or the office, but we also take the time to explain aspects of what we do in ways that resonate with the world they experience every day. One of the more rewarding things we’re able to do is expose our children to the arts. I love that they’re learning very early on about the amount of people and dedication that goes into any theatrical career, and I’m hopeful it will give them an appreciation for creative minds as they grow.
3. Use work experiences to encourage important conversations at home.
I often find challenges during my workday mirror similar challenges that my children are facing at their age of development. When we began writing the script for Sesame Street Live! Let’s Party!, we were looking for ways that its central theme of “community” could be explained to children.
Coincidentally at this time my daughter, Piper, was going through her own “creative process” when it came to deciding what games to play or who would portray various characters in her group of friends. Rather than approaching the situation with a disciplinary tone, I related her frustration with my own experiences. This prompted a conversation about listening to everyone’s ideas and voicing your own as a suggestion and not a demand. I like to think this conversation provided a solid foundation for her socialization skills and let her see what positive leadership can accomplish.
Having lived through this narrative at home, it was great to see how it played out similarly on stage when everyone on Sesame Street has different ideas of what theme would be best for the big, community street party. Introducing this abstract idea of compromise and how a community is made up of different opinions and people was also my “love letter” to parents everywhere who have ever needed to bargain with a toddler.