Working Parents Rock Interview Series # 3 Brady and Andrea Brelinski from Flavors of Cacao

Hi friends! I had the pleasure of interviewing a friend and coworker of mine, Brady Brelinski from Flavors of Cacao. Brady is one of the founders of the Manhattan Chocolate Society. Brady and his wife, Andrea, show us how you can live colorfully as dedicated parents who work in NYC, but you really have to work together as one unit.- Kat

To begin, tell us a little about Brady and Andrea Brelinski...

My wife Andrea and I both were born and raised around Flint, Michigan. We spent most of our lives there before moving to New York City.  In our early years together, I was dreaming of being a professional skateboarder, and Andrea was much more realistic and career oriented.  We both graduated from the University of Michigan and although the pro dream for me never came to fruition, my experiences traveling around the country to skateboard helped shape me into the person I am today and ignited my passion for travel.  Andrea shared my interest in seeing the world; both of us were anxious to experience more. Within months of getting married, we left Michigan for New York City, for what was supposed to be our first stop as we moved around to the country.  We had a list of places we wanted to eventually live in, but settled on NYC as our first stop.  We were pretty eager to leave Michigan, so we came here without jobs and made it work.  Andrea soon worked full time at the American Museum of Natural History.  For the years before our first child, Andrea traveled a lot for her work with the museum experiencing the world like she never had done while growing up in Flint.  She had lucked out in landing what we thought was one of those only-in-New-York type jobs.  Through the museum she traveled to Europe, Russia, parts of Africa, Central America and the Panama Canal to name just a few.

As a Registered Nurse, I easily found work at a hospital in the city when we first moved here. I kept that job for only a few months because I didn’t like working the third shift while Andrea worked during the day.  I guess I didn’t believe in paying my dues and did believe a newly married couple should be able to spend time together.  So after three months, I left for a day-shift position at the company I still work at today.  We were living on Maiden Lane near Broadway for a year when 9/11 happened, but we were already so in love with the people and the neighborhood. So we committed to stay.  Sixteen years later we are still in NYC!  When our first child, Charlotte, was born nine years ago, we were even more committed to living here.  Although the only other place we had lived was in Michigan, we had already traveled a lot together and knew that the experience we wanted for our kids (we eventually had another, Wesley, now 5) was right here.

What is your secret to achieving work life harmony?

We have to plan our time out in advance.  We can’t hope for harmony because it doesn’t really work that way.  I once heard a colleague say “hope is not a plan.”  That’s true for us.  If we don’t organize our week in advance in order to accomplish each of the things we want to do, then we don’t have that work-life harmony.  For me, I work a 9 to 5 as an Associate Director of Operations for a health care organization.  I’ve been back in school for the last 2.5 years, working toward a second Master’s degree. Several nights a week when five o’clock hits, I’m usually studying.  That means Andrea has taken on role of single parent several days a week.  On top of that she’s working again for an employer, this time for a private detective.  Yes, she has a knack for finding interesting work!  This time she doesn’t have to report to an office and its work she can fit in her schedule. The caveat, however, is if she can’t finish her work while the kids are in school, she’s up finishing the work after the kids go to bed completing it. 

Although we try to share the tasks of taking the kids to extracurricular activities on the weekend, during the week all of that falls into Andrea’s hands.  So mapping out the week goes a long way.  We categorize the times to schedule into buckets; the have-to-do things, family time when we’re all together, time where each parent has one on one time with each child and our hobby time.  It is hard to fit in much time for all of our hobby-like interests but it’s something we think is important for our harmony as well.  Andrea has many hobbies such as fitness and running. This past year she spent most her hobby time training for the NYC Marathon. She just ran her second NYC Marathon this November. And I spend a lot of time studying dark chocolate and editing our website, FlavorsofCacao.com.  Together we both founded a chocolate tasting group called the Manhattan Chocolate Society.  Over six years, the Manhattan Chocolate Society has held more than 60 focused chocolate tastings.  The tastings are very much like wine tastings where we study the origin and terroir of the bean and the impact of the chocolate maker.  Although we love tasting chocolate, we enjoy talking about it just as much.

This story is an introduction to tasting chocolate of the world in the USA. Sponsored by Dark Chocolate Imports, Flavors of Cacao, Marou, and Astro Coffee.

It’s hard to be spontaneous or have even the hint of recklessness as a parent because. There are so many responsibilities. I’ve also come up with a concept I call conscious spontaneity, which means I have to schedule time to be spontaneous!  I know it may sound funny, but it’s true for me.   It just means the whole week or month, if it happens to be the case might be planned out, but then I purposely leave a day or part of a day where I can just do whatever (kind of).  That usually means one parent takes over, while the other gets a night out on their own.  I say night because it sounds cooler, but it might even be a Saturday morning.

What's one piece of advice you can offer to new parents who work?

I’m glad you’re only asking for one piece of advice because I feel like I’m making mistakes all the time and any more advice than this one thing might be pretty risky.  But what I’ll say with confidence is that one of the best things parents can do (new parents or not) is to schedule time for just mom and dad to be together.  You can call it adult time or whatever, but we call it “Date Night”.  We actually didn’t do this for a long time and our relationship suffered because of it.  When Charlotte was born, Andrea left her job at the museum and did not work for an employer until just recently.  We went years never hiring a baby sitter and without much family in NYC, we spent every moment with the kids.  Finally, we smartened up and hired a babysitter once a week. The two of us could go out and have uninterrupted conversations, like the kind we used to have before having children.  It has worked wonders for the marriage!  And just to clarify, we use a real babysitter and not a tablet or television.  In fact, we haven’t owned a television for at least 11 years and have resisted buying a tablet or cellphone for the kids.  Sure, we have Netflix, the Internet, and gadgets at home but in the home we’ve taken a stance (it’s yet to be seen how long we’ll win this battle) to minimize this kids time with them.  

These days, how do you define success?

A happy family is how I define success.  In fact, we used to have this thing where we’d ask the kids, “What family is this?”  and they’d say “the Happy Family!”  It was always a cool thing to do.  We don’t really do it so much anymore, but they still know the answer.  At the same time, don’t let me try to fool you with this interview.  It’s not like the polished world of Facebook where everyone has such a wonderful life.  Remember, we have a 5-year old, who we love to death, but he never wants to do anything we ask him to do.  He can be a royal pain!  Anybody who has children should be able to relate.  It’s not always easy.  But at the end of the day we make it a promise that everyone goes to bed happy and with a hug. :)

Thanks for your great insights and wonderful interview, Brady and Andrea! Can't wait to go to one of your chocolate tastings!- Kat