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Two Architects and a Baby: How These Dads Turned Project Management Into a Winning Parenting Strategy

Whether building skyscrapers or changing diapers, for Marc Kushner and Christopher Barley, planning matters most.

The following was produced in partnership with our friends at New York Life, who are committed to helping families be happy, successful, and good at life.

Parenthood is half process, half spur of the moment negotiation. There’s the plan — and, for the sake of all concerned, there needs to be a plan — then there’s the day-to-day. It’s three-dimensional chess. It’s the constant demand to solve common problems in a personal way and personal problems however possible. For Marc Kushner, CEO and co-founder of Architizer, that means running a highly in-demand architecture firm that’s been featured in Fast Company’s ranking of the world’s most innovative companies, speaking at events like TED and PSFK conferences, and being there for his partner and fellow architect Christopher Barley and five-month-old son Michael.

Today, the 39-year-old Kushner is happy to have a complicated life. He and Barley dealt with a slew of challenges when they tried to start a family via surrogacy. They had to be persistent, determined, and focused to navigate each complex step. And then, when their son finally arrived after a long, fraught, nearly four-year process, they were thrilled to have their lives upended. They shared the process of adjusting to fatherhood, learned together, and figured out the strategies that worked for their young family day by day, hour by hour. It was a familiar feeling, not unlike what they had experienced in building their respective businesses. Eventually, they pinpointed it. They were project managing their life. They found that, in parenting, as in business, planning matters.

Fatherly spoke to Marc and Christopher about how they’ve balanced their careers, their lives together, and a newborn.

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What were some of the family planning challenges you faced and how did you navigate them?

Surrogacy is a unique process that was difficult and long and involved a lot of different people. Each step takes multiple weeks and months and the whole process, for us, took about three-and-a-half years. Both of our lives were naturally busy — we’re both trained architects and have our own companies — so we reminded ourselves to navigate the stress by making time for the things that matter to us.

“Time management and advance planning let us savor the slowness.”

Is that also how you’ve handled the natural stress of parenthood so far?

Yes. We’re New Yorkers, and are constantly running, running, running. Having a baby has taught us to move at a different pace and understand that things have to sometimes sleep. Building a house takes time. Feeding Michael his bottle is slow. I still get as much done, but I have to be more efficient. Time management and advanced planning let us savor the slowness, which has been really nice.

Marc Kushner

What does your daily decision-making look like in practice?

We treat decisions like option reduction. Often, neither of us knows the right answer — Is now a good time for the bottle? Is it gas? Does he have to go to bed? Should we pull over and change him or just press on for the last 15 minutes of the ride with him hysterical? What we decided is that debate isn’t helpful because neither answer is right. Just go with one and adjust accordingly. Another thing we have realized is that often it just takes one. One parent for a bath, one parent for a feeding, one parent to soothe at night. We are secure in that we love each other and all that, so we quickly dispensed with the obligatory, “Are you ok?” or “Need help?” If we need help we will ask for it.

How do you make room for quality time at home given your demanding professional lives?

The advice we got was to eat with Michael so we eat together every night. That’s a thing. (He just moved to solid foods and we’re psyched!) Both of us grew up eating dinner with our parents so that’s important to us. In general, one or both of us will try to be home for dinner, bath time, to give him a bottle, and enjoy those final awake and very cute hours. We haven’t seen him all day so that’s the best part of the day.

Do you think the advice you get or the way people talk to you about parenthood is different because you’re gay?

When that conversation comes up, it’s more about the difficulty of having a child later in life or as New Yorkers than as a gay couple.

Do you ever feel judged by other parents?

We get this reaction, especially from women, where anything we do they’re amazed we do it. ‘Oh you change that diaper so well!’ It’s like, they’re so shocked that we’re actually capable. That’s where being a dad — and we’re two dads, obviously — seems different from being a mom. Unfortunately, the bar is much lower.

“The amount of energy that gets put into work now has a price on it that it never had. Before, we didn’t care if we didn’t go on summer vacation. Now, we want to go as a family — and feel free enough to do so.”

What’s been the hardest part of new parenthood? 

Monday mornings. We get to spend the whole weekend with Michael and Monday we have to go to work. So we miss him. Viscerally. That’s cliché and what everyone said would happen and also totally accurate. We’re going to keep working because we both love what we do and we do think it will be good for Michael to grow up around two dads with a passion for their careers. But that kind of visceral love that your mother says you’ll have for your child is exactly what’s happening. It makes you question how busy you are and weigh out the things you spend your time doing.

marc kushner architizer hollowich kushner pennovation university of Pennsylvania architecture

The Pennovation Center, a converted 20th-century paint factory Kushner’s firm designed for the University of Pennsylvania was built to inspire and facilitate invention for the next generation of entrepreneurs.

How do you balance your time?

Before, it felt like there was an endless fountain of work and we could keep throwing ourselves at things. Now, the goal isn’t this amorphous idea of success. We still have things we want to accomplish but we also want to spend time with Michael to be there for him tangibly. The amount of energy that gets put into work now has a price on it that it never had. Before, we didn’t care if we didn’t go on summer vacation. Now, we want to go as a family — and feel free enough to do so. The perspective has elevated from being in the trenches to stepping back and critically looking at where we want to go.

This article was produced in partnership with our friends at New York Life, who are committed to helping families be happy, successful, and good at life. Learn more at nylife.com