Several months into the pandemic, we take a look at how some CPA parents are faring. They talk about the struggles they’ve faced, how they balance parenting and working from home, what they do to recharge, and the unexpected joys they’ve experienced while spending more time with their families.
Our guests for this episode are Lindsay Stevenson, CPA, CGMA, and Chris Hervochon, CPA. Stevenson is vice president of finance at 1st Financial Bank in North Sioux City, S.D., founder and CEO of Origin Evolution LLC, and mom to three sons: a 19-year-old college student, a 17-year-old high school student, and a 7-year-old second-grader. Hervochon is the owner of Chris Hervochon CPA, located in Hilton Head Island, S.C., and dad to a 7-year-old boy and 4-year-old twins.
To comment on this episode or to suggest an idea for another episode, contact Courtney Vien, a JofA senior editor, at Courtney.Vien@aicpa-cima.com.
Courtney Vien: When the pandemic started, many parents found themselves in a bind: Daycares, schools, and offices all closed, and they had to work from home with their children underfoot. Parents of small children had to keep them occupied all day, while parents of school-age kids had to make sure they kept up with their schoolwork.
Just as many families had gotten used to this new way of living and working, the school year started up again. Some parents had to make a difficult choice about where and how to school their children, while others had to hope that whatever decision their local school district made would keep their kids safe.
We wanted to catch up with some CPA parents to see how they were faring during this challenging time. We’ll hear from them in a moment, but first, please listen to this word from our sponsor.
In this episode of the Journal of Accountancy podcast, we hear from Lindsay Stevenson, CPA, CGMA, vice president of finance at 1st Financial Bank in North Sioux City, South Dakota, and founder and CEO of Origin Evolution LLC, and Chris Hervochon, CPA, owner of Chris Hervochon CPA, located in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina.
Here’s Lindsay talking about her kids:
Lindsay Stevenson: I have three boys and it's a little crazy in our house. Dylan is my oldest and he is 19 and he is a sophomore in college this year, and then I have Hayden who is 17 who is a senior in high school this year, and then Paxton is our littlest and he is seven and he is a second-grader this year.
Vien: Lindsay is working from home and will be through the end of the year. Her husband, an exercise physiologist, started his own business this year and works from home but also travels to see clients. And here’s Chris talking about his kids:
Chris Hervochon: The oldest is Henry. He's a seven-year-old boy, and then we've got four-year-old twins, Sullivan and John, and they are girl-boy twins.
Vien: Chris has operated his home virtually for the past two years. His wife, who works in advertising, has gone back to the office now, but there was a period of time when all five of them were at home at once.
Hervochon: There was about a four- or five-month stretch there where we were both working from home so she would work from the couch, I would work from the other corner of the living room, which is where I am now, and the kids were home. So for about two or three months in there, so we're all one big happy family trying to just make it through like everybody else.
Vien: To start with, I asked both Lindsay and Chris what went through their minds several months ago when the pandemic first took hold here in the U.S.
So take me back to March. What was it like when you found out that you would probably be spending a lot more time at home with the kids?
Stevenson: There was like sort of that immediate stress and fear. I mean, I don't know about you, but I was not built to be an educator of children. [laughter]
Even though in my professional life I spend a lot of time facilitating and training with adults, my ability to keep a 7-year-old focused and on task is not great. I just think until maybe the first couple weeks of April that it was going to be temporary and then pretty soon everybody figured out it was not going to be temporary, and we were going to go that way to the end of the year. So I just think I mean emotionally I was so scared, right? I was just like, “I'm not going to be able to do this.”
The first three weeks I felt like a superwoman. It’s like, “Oh, yeah, I write a schedule every morning and I've got my kids going and doing their thing and taking off and I'm sitting here working and we just have this flow,” and it was amazing and then by the end of week 3, I was so overwhelmed and I was exhausted and my husband's, like, “Oh my gosh, we can't keep doing this. How are we going to balance it all?” and then we’re like, “It's not going to end.” [laughter]
Vien: In the weeks that followed, parents tried to adjust to a new normal that was anything but. Many had to work in the same house or in some cases the same room with their kids. As Chris found, it could be difficult keeping the kids occupied:
Hervochon: So for us, the challenge for the most part was, well my wife is working, she's doing her job, she's going to be on conference calls, I'm working, I’m doing my job, I’m going be on conference calls. It's just how we operate. And trying to figure out what that looks like with three young kids running around the house. So invariably what you get is some sort of thing to keep them occupied, and hopefully they’re being safe and they're not burning the house down and hopefully they're not spending time on screens. That was our biggest challenge, trying to figure out the screen time thing because. Yes, the screen time keeps them quiet and keeps them focused on something other than jumping in our lap or on a video conference, but too much screen time is obviously not good for young kids.
Vien: Many parents found that their sense of work/life balance was upended. Lindsay discovered that she missed the office and the separation between worlds it provided:
So what's the hardest part of parenting during the pandemic for you?
Stevenson: I think, for me personally it's really been being a mom 24/7. I know for some in our industry maybe they've been doing this for a long time, but for me, work was always like that separate space and going into the office is a big part of that, where I could spread my wings and sort of be who I want to be professionally and have that kind of separate growth space. Now I feel like I struggle a lot with being a mom like all the time, right? If I was at the office, unless it was an emergency, I didn't get a phone call or I didn’t get a question. Now that I'm at home it’s, “Mom, can I have a snack? Mom, look at this video game that I'm playing.”
I don't like having those things cross over 24/7. I really do like having space where, like, I'm in my work mindset. That's when I'm trying to get things done and I'm being really efficient and focused, and I like my mom time when I'm really being a mom and I'm focused on my kids and my husband and being in my family. It feels like now it's really hard to separate that, and it feels like over-integration, like my whole life is everything all at once always happening. So it’s been a real struggle.
Vien: In those early days one thing many parents struggled with was trying to keep their kids focused on their schoolwork when they weren’t in the actual classroom. Chris experienced this with his 7-year-old.
Hervochon: The biggest thing for us was the Zoom online school with our oldest who was in first grade at the time. And that went well for a period of time as a learning experience for everybody and he was only doing like two or three hours in the morning each day. So he had the rest of the day to do whatever. There was no real curriculum, it wasn't really super structured, I wouldn't say. And that went OK for a minute, and then by the end of the school year it was it was a fight to get him on it, right? He just didn't like it, he wanted to see his friends. Totally understand that.
Vien: Parents, including Chris, also worried about how their kids might be affected long-term by the pandemic.
Hervochon: We’re not going to know for another 20 years how this is affecting them. We don't know how long it's going to last, if this is normal or not normal, what it's going to look like, it's — that's the difficult part. Our son likes to play basketball, he likes to play soccer, and he was in — all three of them were in baseball before they canceled the season, so they're not having that experience, and what is the cumulative effect of not having that experience over an entire childhood? Don’t know. Nobody knows. We’ll figure it out, but all we know is that they're not having the childhood experience that we had when we were kids, and that's a shame so we have to try to fill those gaps in other ways hopefully.
Vien: But both Lindsay and Chris said there was an upside to spending more time at home with their families. In fact, I got the sense that, while their kids’ experiences were different than they would have been had the pandemic not occurred, in some ways they were positive.
Has there been a good side to spending more time with your kids?
Stevenson: When we were all cooped up with nowhere to go, at the end of every day we tried to go outside and do something together, all five of us. … We’d go play soccer in the backyard or go play baseball and it was fun because my middle son would participate even though that's not his passion, and it was fun for us to get out and kind of laugh about it and have a good time and just be active together and that was pleasing. It’s not often that I can find things that keep the interest of my 19-year-old, my 17-year-old, and my 7-year-old to participate willingly. But they were so sick of being inside, of not going anywhere that they were like totally agreeable to it. That's been a really good thing.
Vien: Chris said he was grateful for the strong relationships his children had with their siblings:
Hervochon: I think one of the things that we’re really fortunate with is the three of them, so the three of our kids, they're all really close. So they have each other, and they — I mean they're perfectly content just driving each other nuts all day long and that's the day, right?
Vien: Lindsay reported that the pandemic has brought her closer to her sons:
Stevenson: I feel like before this, maybe I was sort of more focused on, “OK, is it important, is it not? Let's move on,” and now I feel like they're more open to just talking about random things that are important to them. I don't get the whole Fortnite thing, I don't understand it, I don't know how to play it, I'm confused by it, but it is a passion for my littlest and he's really excited about it. And so I'm trying to make sure that I at least hear him and listen to those things, whereas I think six months ago there was always a reason that I was too busy not to, like, we had somewhere to go, there was hockey practice or there was soccer practice.
Vien: In some ways, Lindsay said, the pandemic has made work a kinder place.
Stevenson: We all are so much more compassionate and caring toward each other and the challenges that we have in terms of balancing that personal and professional persona, and it's almost like a running joke now ,right? On Zoom if you have kids, lord, they're definitely going stick their head in at sometime, or they're going to say something totally inappropriate and everyone's going to hear. Where six months ago that would have been terrifying — like I would've been horrified if the chairman of our bank was on a Zoom call and my 7-year-old pops his head up and starts picking his nose [laughter] — “Oh my gosh, I swear I'm a professional, I'm so sorry!” And you used to feel like you had to apologize for that, and I think now we live in a world where people are almost surprised if you don't have something like that happen, or if the Zoom call doesn’t freeze right in the middle of your sentence and everybody has a good chuckle instead of getting really upset about it. So I think that it's a real positive thing. It allows for us to offer way more flexibility for people that need it and people that choose it than we were willing to do before all of this, so I'm really grateful for that.
Vien: As fall approached, parents had to make some hard choices about where and how their children would go back to school. Chris’s kids are all attending in-person school, but it took him and his wife a while to make that decision.
Hervochon: The school decision was a really big decision. We spent a number of weeks trying to figure out, “Are we going to send them back, where are we going to send them, what do we want their experience to look like, what is the probability that the experience that we're envisioning them having even after we make all those decisions, that that’s going even become real?”
Vien: And, with the virus still around, school situations can change overnight. Parents have had to be flexible, as Lindsay found:
Stevenson: And then my littlest they already had a positive case in his class, so he's actually home. We did on-campus learning for him, but he's home until Friday because they're quarantined in his class, so he's working from home last week and this week.
Vien: College, too, has been very different for students than it was in years past:
Stevenson: It’s definitely different because the university my son goes to decided to do on-campus, and so he moved up there and he's going to class but they already have a number of covid cases. They've got a number of kids that are in quarantine. They're still on campus during quarantine, and they're wearing masks and so it's been in a unique experience to talk with him about how he's adjusting to the expectations. And it's not what we would have probably remembered from our college life. The number of parties are much less, there's not a lot of social stuff going on. That first few weeks of college I felt like there were so many activities to get kids engaged and make sure they're connected to their peers, and this year is a lot different for them and there's not a lot of that stuff and so a lot of them are hanging out in the dorms and spending a lot of time with their roommates as opposed to going out and meeting other kids. My son pledged with a frat this year and even the frat stuff has been so low-key and mellow and a lot of Zoom stuff. And so that's been kind of interesting, to see that change and what it's been like for him to experience that.
Vien: Between work, children, and community activities, these CPAs have a lot going on. I wanted to know what they did that was just for themselves.
Stevenson: [laughter] The analytical part of me is like, “You should have a really good answer for this about how well you’re taking care of yourself,” but the reality is no, I have not been great about it, and I shouldn't say it like, “No, I don't have time for myself,” because that wouldn’t be fair to my family. The reality is they are great, when I need space and when I need to do things.
We have a massage chair and that's like — and I love it, and I spend a fair amount of time with the lights off in the massage chair, just contemplating life and relaxing and letting things go, so that's a form of self-care. And I love to read so I read. I've probably read more in the last six months than in the last three years before so that's been great, to be able to read and do that.
Hervochon: For me one of the things that I really like to do is take walks, take like an hour and 15-minute walk every day, throw on an audio book. So that's how I both consume content and try to educate myself on things, and that's also how I get my exercise. So just being on Zoom eight hours straight a day is completely exhausting, and it's just not good for me anyway emotionally or mentally so just making sure that at some point during the day, I go take my walk and then also at the end of the day when I'm tired and I've been on Zoom for who knows how many hours like, that's time to call it quits.
It used to be like, OK, we’d do dinner, we put the kids to bed, I’d get back on my laptop and watched TV or whatever — at that point it’s like the laptop needs to go away. Work will be there tomorrow, and we just need to be a little bit more mindful about getting quality sleep, not being on Zoom 20 hours a day, making sure that I get outside, making sure that I've actually hugged and touched my kids at some point. And so just being more mindful about being present as a dad, too, is helpful.
Vien: I also asked if they had any helpful hints to share.
Do you have any advice for fellow CPA parents?
Stevenson: Oh, lord! (laughter) I think the first the first thing I would say is give yourself grace. We're not great at it as a profession. I think that we are built to be perfectionists, we’re built to be right. We don't like to make mistakes, and so it kind of gets under our skin a little bit. Just give yourself the grace to mess up and to feel crummy about stuff and to let that emotion process as opposed to beating yourself up over everything that goes wrong, because stuff definitely has gone wrong and will go wrong as we work our way through what the new normal is going to be. That would be the first thing.
The second thing I would say, in particular for CPA parents and trying to figure this stuff out is be patient with your kids, just giving them some patience and being — recognizing that having to live and work in the same environment is significantly different than what they were probably used to and your spouse included, right? That's been different for us. [laughter] Figuring stuff out is a real challenge and then the only other thing I would do, I would say, is keep connecting with people. Right? It's so tough. I don't know about you, Courtney, but for me I like people, I like being with people, I love traveling, I love going to different firms and meeting with different leaders and meeting their teams, and I love going to conferences and doing all those things, like people give me energy and so this has been a struggle for me because Zoom is not the same.
Just keep those connections alive, make time to have wine nights with your people through Zoom and to actually see their faces and look each other. … Don't just have just phone calls, don't just do just emails, really set up some face to face Zoom or Skype or whatever you use so you can see facial expressions, so you can recognize if somebody's hurting and you have a way to help them navigate that. I think it's still invaluable, and it's so much harder now that we have to actually try to do those things, but I would say we really do need to focus on it and make an effort.
Hervochon: Well, I mean we're not perfect parents by any by any stretch, and when you have kids, there's no manual, and when you have kids during a pandemic, there's no manual. But just realizing you just have to be really nice to yourself, like realize you're doing the best you can. Everybody else is doing the best that they can, and that just needs to be good enough. You need to do the best you can, and it's OK to feel stressed about it or it’s OK to feel indecisive at times or like you don't know, because you don't, right? You're just making the best decisions that you can in the moment for you, your family, and your kids, and you’ve just got to roll with it. And everybody else is doing the same thing, too. Be patient with yourself, be patient with the family, be patient with others — and just roll with it.
Vien: Give yourself grace, be patient, stay connected. That was Lindsay Stevenson and Chris Hervochon, CPAs and parents, telling us about their experiences raising children during the pandemic. This has been the Journal of Accountancy podcast. Thank you for listening.