7 AM to 7 PM: How Jill Li Wants to Improve Your Parent Experience

Jill Li

Verywell / Christian Alzate / Jill Li

"I messed up with my older son Zimo," admits Jill Li, founder of Parent Lab. Li and her husband moved to Portland, Ore. from Beijing with their then six-year-old son. She was working full-time in tech, balancing motherhood, and trying to do what was right for her child developmentally.

She thought that by raising a physically healthy and academically advanced child, she was doing all the right things. But now she knows her focus was always on the "wrong" things, which made Zimo struggle. "I had many unrealistic expectations for him. He was unhappy, not confident. It brought me frustration, as well," she explains.

Li did what any mother would do: she consulted the internet. But she didn't like what she found. "I saw immediately there was so much conflicting information, and I didn't have the bandwidth to study and identify what was right for my family," she says. So she shut down.

I felt it was all my fault. I remember one night, after both of my children fell asleep, I was sitting on the floor of the living room crying. And it felt like the end of the world.

As her oldest son was struggling in school with learning disabilities and rage issues, Li gave birth to a second son, Ethan. She was the sole caregiver for both children and was on a merry-go-round of appointments between the school, doctors, therapists, and hospitals. Then, she was diagnosed with postpartum depression.

"I felt desperate," Li shares. "I felt it was all my fault. I remember one night, after both of my children fell asleep, I was sitting on the floor of the living room crying. And it felt like the end of the world. I believed that the darkness would be in my life and their life forever. This feeling of helplessness and hopelessness went with me for weeks, and I almost didn’t have the energy to get up to feed my baby or send my older one to school."

Her friend Bo Shao encouraged her to join a listening group, where she could talk to other moms in a one-on-one setting. That routine chat and community was cathartic and instrumental in Li turning a corner. "I never knew how many emotions I had held back, or how good it would feel when they were relieved," she notes.

In three months, Li had regained energy and hope, as well as advice on how to help her older son. She immediately saw positive changes in her son once she switched her thinking and priorities.

Li knew that she had been given access to resources that other parents could use, and knew it had changed her life. She wanted to be able to do the same for other parents. So along with Shao, she founded Parent Lab, a resource for parents that includes an app and live, on-demand support.

The duo wanted to offer parents the support they need, in the way they need it, with formats designed to meet parents where they are. "All parents have different thresholds and we take into consideration different factors, she says. "It's why the content we share on Parent Lab is in many different formats."

You can browse courses by topics such as potty training or parenting burnout, or you can use an AI-powered tool to get a quick answer on co-parenting or bullying, for example. There's even interactive support in the form of book clubs, webinars, and meditations. The content is available in a variety of ways, so parents can choose how to consume it.

Parent Lab likes to think not only about how parents consume the content, but also when, and why. "We want parents to feel empowered, uplifted and hopeful, instead of depressed and anxious," she explains

I became a mom who really enjoys parenting. It is now something that’s pleasant and happy.

The app does that by an evidence-based approach, which means they use scientific experts and research to back up their advice. Almost 200 scientists have been consulted for the app. Every article is thought through the lens of one of the app's three key principles: human and child development, psychology, and neuroscience. 

“We emphasize all three in topics we cover on our website and app, to make sure that parents have a complete look at parenting," Li notes. "It’s not just ‘what’s wrong with my kids?’ but also parents trying to take good care of themselves. How important our relationship is with our children plays into the ultimate outcome of our children’s lives.” 

The change in Li's parenting has been significant and affected her and her children in a positive way. “The most validating thing came from my old son last year,” she says. (Her oldest, Zimo, is now 13, her second son Ethan is now 6, and she is due with a third baby in April 2022.) He said, ‘Mom, I’m so happy you created this company because you became a much better mom.’”

Now pregnant with baby number three, Li feels super confident as a parent, and as a co-founder and CEO, and she hopes her children learn from her. “I want my children to see how energetic and dedicated I am to something meaningful to me," she shares. "I want them to find that sparkle in their lives, to ask, ‘what’s the meaning of my work?’ I want them to see the positive change...and that we’re bringing people hope. I became a mom who really enjoys parenting. It is now something that’s pleasant and happy.”

Here’s how she balances weekend work with family time, how she's preparing to give birth in under 30 minutes, and how she and her husband teach their children about chores.

Jill Li and her son

Verywell / Christian Alzate / Jill Li


Friday

7:15 a.m. I am woken up by my younger son, Ethan. He knocks on our door lightly. If I am too sleepy I may not respond and he will go back to playing by himself. If I open my door, he gives me a big hug.

It’s the same routine every day with the same script from him: “We haven’t seen each other for a long time, mom!” And then he goes on to share with me what he remembered from his dream. Sometimes I share mine, too.

7:25 a.m. I make breakfast and lunch bento boxes for my older son, Zimo. We have an au pair who takes care of my younger son while we work during the daytime. We have a different breakfast every day of the week, including green onion pancakes with egg and lettuce, sticky rice balls, steamed buns, gyoza, or French toast. And always a serving of fruit!

For the lunch bento boxes, the favorite is chicken curry. My younger one calls himself a vegetarian (he is trying to become one), so he sometimes tries to avoid the chicken in it. I also put in fried rice with veggies, or pork buns, red bean buns, potstickers, ravioli, or pasta. And of course, fruit.

8 a.m. I give a kiss and goodbye to Zimo in front of our house. My husband sends him to school. I have my own breakfast and read the news. I normally eat the same thing as my kids do, including fruit, always. I read "Huffington Post," "The New York Times," and sometimes news articles from "Nature." I also read collective news from Apple News. I browse the top posts from Twitter too. I also make a point to balance my views, so I also intentionally read "Fox News" and the "New York Post." 

I go out for a walk in my neighborhood and intentionally do not listen to anything. Instead, I focus on walking. I make sure my attention goes to every end of my body so that my energy spreads to my whole body in a balanced way. The rhythm should be kept consistent, as well.

8:30 a.m. I go out for a walk in my neighborhood and intentionally do not listen to anything. Instead, I focus on walking. I make sure my attention goes to every end of my body so that my energy spreads to my whole body in a balanced way. The rhythm should be kept consistent, as well.

I learned this specific way of walking, which is known as a sensory practice from Rudolf Steiner. He is the founder of [educational philosophy] Waldorf education, as well as the founder of biodynamics and anthroposophical medicine.

I intentionally walk and swim to make my delivery process shorter and easier. My goal when delivering Ethan was 30 minutes, and I ended up finishing up [the delivery] within 15 minutes. 

8:50 a.m. I start working by reading emails. I make a point to clear my email inbox every day, so I only have somewhere between 10 and 20 emails each morning when I check-in. It normally takes 20 to 30 minutes in the morning to get through reading and responding.

I block three different time slots throughout the day that are specifically reserved for email: Morning, noon, and afternoon before I get off work. I do 20 to 30 mins each round.

I have shared with my team members that I'd prefer things with different urgency levels coming through different channels. Extremely urgent things should go through direct phone calls. Averagely urgent issues go through our workplace chat. And there is no rush through emails, according to my routine schedules. I learned this tactic from the book "The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership" years ago and it works pretty well.  

11 a.m. I take a break from work and spend a short time spent with Ethan in our backyard. We have been harvesting veggie seeds lately. Friday, it was cucumber, corn, and cherry tomato. We pick up over-matured fruit and store it outside.

11:15 a.m. I get back to work, my last Zoom meeting for the morning. It's a discussion about our current partnership with an expert of ours. I normally won’t have myself in back-to-back Zooms all day, but sometimes it happens.

I make a rhythm for myself with jobs of different natures. For example, solo work, like budgeting, routine reporting, and drafting decks for investor meetings, or group work such as discussions with other team members. I also make sure I have sufficient time to rest, walk, or meditate before very important meetings. I actually try to nap for 30 to 40 minutes each day now that I’m into my second trimester. 

12 p.m. Noon break, and a quick lunch with my husband. Whoever finishes their morning work first gets the job of cooking lunch. Typically it’s really fast and simple, like noodles with veggies and eggs. Or, simply the same thing from the morning, like the bento boxes I made for kids. The conversation between us is always pleasant. We sometimes chat about news we read that morning. Sometimes we talk a bit about work.

1 p.m. I normally start my afternoon by doing solo work, in a quiet space. Concentration gets me chilled down and sometimes even energized.

3 p.m. I play with Ethan as a work break. We spend some time reading in his room. While we are staying together, we read our own books separately. 3 p.m. is also snack time.

3:30 p.m. Back to work. Zimo goes for a playdate with his friends at a skate park. We live in a small city and most of his classmates live close by—within 10 to 15 minutes. He has tried to keep this routine of going to the skatepark after school since the beginning of this school year and he has tried really hard to skate well.

I don’t create playdates for my children. For Zimo, he makes plans for himself. And even when he doesn’t have play dates, he never bothers me when I work. For Ethan, his teacher suggests no playdates during school days because the work they do at school is hard, and she wants them to rest well after getting home.

After coming back and spending a short dedicated time with me as a special time, he simply moves on to reading or painting or playing piano by himself, while Zimo works on his homework or saxophone.

They both are very much into learning musical instruments, and it magically happened without any pushing from me. Ethan plays piano, using software, for over an hour every single day, so it’s pretty easy for me to work until 6 p.m. undisturbed. Zimo loves cooking as well, so sometimes he cooks dinner.

I do evening meal prep as a break time. I chop cabbage, peppers, onions, and potatoes. My partner cooks the meat because unfortunately, I’m at that stage in pregnancy where I can’t really handle any meat prep because the smell and feel bother me.

5:30 p.m. Tonight I am cooking. I do evening meal prep as a break time. I chop cabbage, peppers, onions, and potatoes. My partner cooks the meat because unfortunately, I’m at that stage in pregnancy where I can’t really handle any meat prep because the smell and feel bother me. To be honest, my wonderful partner cooks dinner for the family most nights, so I can’t complain!

6 p.m. I have a meeting with our new overseas team. It was 9 a.m. their time in Hangzhou, China. They just closed some exciting business milestones and were getting the business started. It’s surprisingly easy to coordinate these international teams. We either have these meetings in the early morning, like at 7:30 a.m. or later in the early evening, at 6 p.m. It only happens once every two weeks, so it’s totally doable.

6:45 p.m. Dinner, cooked by my hubby.  He made curry and braised chicken. He is an amazing cook! He is a chief technology officer and he supports me unconditionally in all aspects. He's my best friend, my kids’ loving and playful father, the best cook, a skillful handyman, and such a wise member of my personal book club. He even holds my hand when sleeping.

What I hear the most every day from him is, "You don’t know how much I love you." I feel I am the luckiest and happiest woman in the world. 

7:15 p.m. It's family movie night. Screen time is strictly limited in our household. Screens have so much negative impact on children. Of all the things I wish I had known earlier in my parenting journey, this is a major one. We started limiting screen time when we started working with my older son’s behavioral challenges.

When detoxing from screens, I realized how much it really impacts my children’s executive function, which is the major neural function that helps humans regulate emotion and make plans. After the detox, I also realized how much more creativity children could have when not watching cartoons or movies all the time.

There is only one slot for screen time each Friday after dinner, and it's a family event. We watch “Dr. Strange '' this week. I skip some parts this time, due to a phone call from my cousin, notifying me about my aunty passing away earlier this day. It was a sad accident, and I am quite shocked. I followed up by giving my dad, her brother, a call to comfort him. It becomes a night of grief.

9:20 p.m. It's bedtime for the kids. Our normal bedtime for them is 8:30 p.m. Friday is a special day for them as they work so hard during the week they are rewarded with an extra hour of family fun. For my youngest Ethan, bedtime consists of face washing, brushing teeth, and of course, storytime. For Zimo, it’s a bath [followed by] a big hug and a kiss. 

9:30 p.m. My partner and I go on an evening walk together. We partake in the same type of walk I do in the morning but shortened at 30 minutes. I try my hardest to walk at the start and end of every day.

Our normal bedtime for them is 8:30 p.m. Friday is a special day for them as they work so hard during the week they are rewarded with an extra hour of family fun.

10 p.m. Now it’s time for bedtime. My typical bedtime is between 10:30 p.m. and 11 p.m. I chat with my partner about my aunt's life and my feelings of grief. I told the story of my aunt’s life, then I shared my feelings. It’s complicated. On one hand, she had been suffering a lot in her life and I almost feel relieved for her. On the other hand, I feel sad that she didn’t get to enjoy much from life yet and we didn’t even get to say goodbye.

My partner reminds me of our shared belief around whether or not the end of the physical body is the end of life. We both believe it’s not. This belief was formed along with our spiritual practice. In many cases, suffering in our lives can become learning. These sentiments are very comforting to me.

Saturday

7:45 a.m. I’m woken up by Ethan, with the same script as yesterday. You could say he is my alarm clock. I slept a bit later today, because of the exhaustion from the grief and my evening meeting from last night. Since my only meeting today starts early, I had to skip my morning routine walk.  

8 a.m. I have a meeting with our overseas team and Zimo makes breakfast for me. He makes me ramen with an egg, something he makes often. He tends to do this when I have morning meetings on the weekends. He also cooks the same thing for his brother. We’re lucky in the meal department in our home.  

11:17 a.m. It’s the end of my rare weekend marathon meeting. I am now working on an unexpected email inquiry from investors. They are asking for my input on a potential new portfolio company they are considering investing in. I worked in venture capital previously, so I give them my thoughts.

11:50 a.m.  I’m done with work for the day, hooray! I seldom work during weekends. I really try not to because I want to make sure my family enjoys enough of me during my limited non-working days.

We take the kids to dine out at their favorite buffet, called Kumi Buffet...I think what they love most is the diversity of food and the ability to choose their own food.

12 p.m. We take the kids to dine out at their favorite buffet, called Kumi Buffet. It’s the favorite of both my sons. I think what they love most is the diversity of food and the ability to choose their own food, versus the actual flavor of food offered there.  

1 p.m. I have a one-on-one conference with Ethan’s teacher in the car. This is a routine parent-teacher conference held every month. Since Ethan is new to first grade, his teacher gives me updates on how he has been doing. He is doing great.

2 p.m. We take the kids and our friend's daughter to Oak Amusement Park, which is nearby. [Our friend] is a single mom, and we offer to take care of her daughter every one to two weeks so that she can have some alone or rest time.

6 p.m. We are back home and my partner speed cooks a fried rice meal for the family while I go take a nap.

6:40 p.m. We have dinner together, and our single mom friend joins us. It’s a lovely dinner. She is very relaxed and happy after a whole afternoon nap. We have a great conversation about fun things that happened this afternoon with her daughter, who was super brave and explorative. She also shares her latest exploration in handmade organic soap making. She is trying to replace the dish soap in my kitchen with her organic formula.

Five days a week, Zimo has chores at home, such as cleaning the dining area, kitchen, and being responsible for the dishwasher. It's his shift today.

Chores became much easier two years ago. We started having him help clean the dishes, and gradually his responsibilities have grown. We want him to understand the concept of responsibility, which is something we do consistently for ourselves and others.

Consistency matters. Even if he gets tired after a basketball game, or wants to go to a sleepover at a friend's instead, we reinforce consistency by allowing him to ask for help with his chores or have him prepare in advance by finding a substitute for himself.

Our "chore philosophy" is also about improving and optimizing the working process so that the outcome can be better and better. This is a process we work out together with him. For example, to make sure he doesn’t skip items, we make a checklist on a chalkboard together. To make sure all dishes are clean, we study the dishwasher manual and search YouTube to find how to best place dishes, bowls, and utensils so they get clean.

To reduce his workload, he observed our food prep process and proposed different ways for cooks to clean messy things right after use. All of the above happens step-by-step and slowly. When he saw how much progress he could make in this one area, he was encouraged and became confident in handling chores and taking on responsibilities.

7:45 p.m. I take my routine evening walk by the riverside, for an hour or so. My two kids are playing at a local playground, and I walk around the playground so we can see each other the entire time.  Zimo supervises and makes sure Ethan doesn’t hurt himself while I walk.

8:45 p.m. We get back home and everyone goes for a shower before starting our bedtime routine, same as last night.

9:20 p.m. Our kids fall asleep. My partner and I start our reading time. We were supposed to attend a weekly virtual book club, but it got canceled at the last minute. We’re both reading “Theosophy,” which presents how Rudolf Steiner sees human development and composition.

Our curiosity in his work became stronger when we witnessed how both of our kids have thrived in a surprising way during the past few years. We decided to dedicate effort and time to learning more about it.

11:47 p.m. Bedtime. 

Jill Li

Verywell / Christian Alzate / Jill Li

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