Liz Cebron x Michael Williams
In our new column about how high-octane couples finesse the competing demands of parenting, professions and personal time, we asked Mike and Liz what they’ve learned while logging 250,000 air miles during their daughter’s first year.
When Liz Cebron and Michael Williams were married on the island of Kauai in 2014, their lives were less complicated. They both lived and worked in New York. She was part of the marketing team that was building Madewell, where she is currently the vice president of brand innovation. He is the driving force behind the cult menswear site A Continuous Lean and the co-founder of Paul + Williams, a PR and marketing agency. There was no child. Every night was date night. Life was simple.
Then two and a half years ago, they decided to trade a two-bedroom within earshot of the Holland Tunnel for a house with a palm tree and pool in the backyard in Mandeville Canyon, a small community in LA’s Brentwood neighborhood. Liz had grown up in Southern California, spending her summers surfing and at the beach, and she always dreamed of moving back someday; however, it was Michael, a Midwesterner by birth, who pushed for the move. “I really got the hint when he decided – out of the blue – to buy a 70s vintage BMW to keep at his office in LA for ‘driving when he was out there.’ Hmmm,” she says. Last fall, their daughter Miya was born, and her arrival has taught them the fine art of juggling. Here’s how they do it.
Are there certain activities that each of you “own” when it comes to taking care of Miya? Who handles bedtime, who makes breakfast?
LC: We find that it works a lot better to bucket the big tasks and divide ownerships versus both trying to do a little of everything. I handle weekly scheduling, doctors’ appointments, playdates, groceries, other baby-related shopping. Michael owns her weekly swimming lessons, cooking and pre-school research, as well as gear and tech research and installation.
Because of the time difference with New York, I start work around 6 a.m., so Michael gets Miya up in the morning and gives her breakfast. I watch Miya in the late afternoon once I’m finished with work. We tend to divide and conquer on evening rituals, too. Michael usually does the bath, and I do story time and bottle.
How do you approach traveling for work now that you’re parents?
MW: We look at our travel schedules together to make sure that only one of us is away at a time. When one of us is away, the other makes sure to FaceTime, send photos and generally keep in touch so we don't feel like we are missing out. (And Miya doesn't forget she has a dad. Ha!)
Does Miya ever travel with you?
LC: We try to think about what's best for her in every travel situation. Will it be worth it for her to go through the disruptions to her sleep, time zones, etc.? Will the new environment be better for her than being at home? Who will be available to care for her? Where that line of thinking has netted out is that, so far, we've mainly just traveled with her for pleasure. We took her to an extended family gathering in Colorado this summer, and then to Hawaii on our first family vacation. Although the flight to Hawaii felt long with a squirming 9-month-old, it was totally worth it because it is the most relaxing place on earth, even for stressed-out parents. She became a total water baby on that trip.
What are times when you really try to be together as a family, i.e., what are the non-negotiables?
LC: Honestly, with our schedules it hard to have any hard and fast rules, but as Miya gets older, we would love to try and preserve a few nights per week for a family dinner where we all sit around the table and share a meal, with no phones.
After spending a decade in New York as working professionals, it's hard to break the habit of just foraging for whatever meal each of us individually feels like. In NYC, we each would order our own meal separately from Seamless for peak double-income-no-kids living, but Michael has started doing Blue Apron and cooking for all of us, which is nice. I just listened to this podcast with Michael Pollan where he talks about the merits of gathering around a shared, cooked meal at home, and it reinforced for me that this is something I would like to do.
What are your personal, non-negotiables in terms of “me time” and how do you make sure that your partner and you get to do the things that refresh them or make them happy?
LC: My only non-negotiable for "me time" is exercise. I once heard someone say you should think of exercise like brushing your teeth, something you do every day and don't really question — and that really stuck with me. If I only get one hour of "me time" a day, I'll prioritize that first because it keeps me feeling energized for everything else. You definitely have to make sacrifices in your "me time," and I don't get to do as many dinners out with friends, but I'm OK with that. Now, instead of going out, I'll have friends come over for dinner and a glass of wine once Miya has gone to sleep.
MW: My preferred activity is playing golf — which has basically the worst optics of all time. It's also super time-consuming, so I am always trying to finagle my way into a game. That doesn't always work out, but Liz has been pretty cool about letting me get out. The other things I like to do are these little Saturday rituals like getting my car washed and eating breakfast tacos at Palisade’s Garden Café. I've found a way to do that and bring Miya along, and it's more fun that way.
It is important to have some personal things that help us feel whole. Sometimes that means splitting up the weekend so we each have a day for ourselves. At other times, it means we hand off responsibility. For example, we each have one weeknight where we have “parenting night off” and can do whatever while the other babysits.
Where and how does Lancey fit into this gorgeous mosaic?
MW: Our beloved springer spaniel has come along for the ride and is balancing a lack of attention with a greatly increased amount of scrap food that she manages to Hoover off the floor during Miya's meals. We love our doggo, but she isn't quite the center of attention that she used to be. Luckily, Lancey and Miya are fast friends, and we hope Lance is enjoying our new bundle of joy as much as we are.
What sort of help, support do you have?
LC: We both work, so we have a full-time nanny. And on top of that, we're lucky to have a lot of family in the LA area. Plus, her grandparents are willing to fly to town at the drop of hat to help out whenever we need it.
Is working from home possible with a child or more like science fiction?
LC: It's totally possible to work from home with a child. I work from home when I'm in LA, and I think there are a few tips I'd suggest to others doing the same. If you can make it work, set up a dedicated workspace away from where your child is hanging out. We turned a spare bedroom at the far end of our house into a library and office for me, and during the workdays, I go in there and close the door, and it provides nice separation. Also, obviously, it's pretty impossible to work if you are trying to watch a small child at the same time, so set up the same sort of childcare situation as if you were leaving the house if you want to be productive.
Anything else about how you manage the juggle that you feel would be helpful for others to know?
MW: Parenting is an area where you will get more unsolicited advice in life than ever before. There are no hard-and-fast rules for parenting. You have to just do what feels right for you. Figure out your own individual parenting non-negotiables, and try to compromise with your spouse on the rest.