Getting to know OHbaby's sex and relationship expert
Pursuing your career passions while simultaneously raising a family is no mean feat. OHbaby’s resident sex and relationship expert, Jo Robertson, shares how they're making it happen.
The way in which Jo and Dave’s romance started out when their worlds collided as 19- and 22-year-olds was a pretty solid indicator of how their lives would continue over the following decade. They were volunteering at a community working bee and hit it off. They reconnected again a few months later at Parliament, where both had coincidentally been nominated as Inspiring Leaders. Jo wasrunning Street Works, a community initiative in Hamilton, while studying at university. Dave was running a mentoring programme for at-risk youth called Upside, an initiative he started when he was 20, while also working as a sailing coach.
They were both in relationships at the time, but six months later the stars aligned again and they were newly single and ready to mingle! Within a year, they were married. Eleven years, and three young sons later, this continues to be the best decision they ever made. With their combined passion for social change and strong ambition to make a difference, they continue to make powerful waves in New Zealand through their individual pursuits, while navigating the challenges and joys of parenting along the way.
A HEART FOR SOCIAL CHANGE
Jo wears quite a few hats. She works at The Light Project as a pornography researcher and community educator – speaking to teachers, police, social workers, doctors and schools on what is happening for our young people in the digital world. Her incredible TedX talk in 2019, 'Why we need to talk about porn', has had over 260,000 views. She runs her own private practice in Mt Eden, as a sex and betrayal therapist, as well running Practical Parenting Antenatal classes in Auckland with business partner and midwife Grace Nixon (these two ladies are also the hosts of our online antenatal course! Find out more HERE.
Dave is the CEO of Upside, a charity he set up in 2010 to partner mentors with mentees: high risk young people from disadvantaged communities who need support and friendship. He’s a lot of fun – conversations with Dave are loaded with wise cracks – but when it comes to his work, he takes it seriously. “It’s really important to me that my work at Upside is making a difference and it’s proven. We work with the University of Auckland ongoing, and have worked with AUT and Impact Lab to measure the social return on investment and evaluate the efficacy of the project. It’s been great to see the positive impact this long-time charity is achieving – it’s changing real lives.”
SERVICE IS THEIR WHAKAPAPA
The drive to do good in the world is something they both grew up with, values that are ingrained deep in both of their psyches. Both Jo's and Dave's parents played very active roles in the community and were focused on giving back.
Jo says, “Both my parents were very community-minded and their work reflected that. We lived in the Philippine slums for a few years when I was young as they worked within a very impoverished community. My parents instilled strong values in us, they carried strong ambition to change the world. They believe your life has purpose and should be used for impact. Our family business is basically the charitable sector,” she laughs.
Dave’s parents lived in a similar vein, in the state housing area of Mt Roskill; his mum was a teacher and his dad worked in the automobile industry, with both focused on giving to their communities. “Dad was from the Salvation Army, so service has always been part of our whakapapa – you live to serve your local communities. My mum had a pretty tough childhood so her heart is also for the vulnerable. Our house was always full of extras at Christmas, those who had nowhere else to go. New immigrants to the area became my best friends as Mum took families under her wing.”
NAVIGATING CAREERS AND PARENTING ROLES
While Jo wanted to become a mum, she certainly wasn’t up for being the sole carer – a role traditionally reserved for women. It was a discussion she raised while dating Dave at the age of 20.
“I asked Dave what his expectation was of women when they became a wife and a mum and he said he didn’t know. We nearly broke up over this,” she laughs. But in all seriousness she says, “From a young age, I was not interested in being the primary caregiver, I wanted to be a mum but I wanted to share the role with my husband. My mum was the CEO of a Women’s Refuge and my dad is a strong feminist. They both wanted to see more women in the workplace, and women in leadership, and believe women shouldn’t hold back; so I was shocked Dave hadn’t thought about it!” Dave laughs, “Of course I hadn’t thought about it, I was in my early 20s, into sailing, surfing, kitesurfing and my charity. I wasn’t deep in sociology and womens' rights university papers like Jo!”
It turned out Dave was more than happy to share the parenting load, with his parents being incredible role models – living lives centered around giving their kids the best experiences. A selfless act he tries to emulate today – as hard as those freezing cold, early Saturday morning soccer runs are!
Jo says, “We eventually established that Dave wanted to be very present for the kids' lives and we have always been good negotiators.” Dave continues, “At the time, I was coaching Olympic champions in sailing and it involved a lot of travel. We said I would give that job until 2016 and then we would re-negotiate our work and parenting roles so Jo could move into pursuing her career goals.”
The couple started having kids in 2013, and in 2016, as planned, Dave went down to four days a week at work so he could have more time at home with the kids. His mum stepped in one day a week too, so Jo could work part-time. Jo then started her Master’s degree while pregnant with their middle child Beau; spending time in Sydney for her study in sex therapy a few times a year. She completed her final submission when their third child, Danny, was just six months old.
Dave reflects, “Achievement is important to both of us. What I liked about Jo was that she had strong values, she knew what she wanted and was ambitious. You don’t get weak values with an ambitious person that wants to kick ass, you get the whole package.”
They credit annual sessions with Jenny Hale, a senior family coach at Parenting Place, to helping them ensure they are focused on their vision for their family and being the best parents they can be. Dave says, “Jenny helps us discuss what we want our kids to be like when they become adults, which helps guide where we focus our energy.” Jo adds, “We want them to feel confident going out into the world, excited to travel, explore and have fun. We want home to be a place of belonging, where they know they fit in the world.”
THE GOLDEN YEARS
Now that the kids are a little bit older – aged three, six, and seven – the family love getting out and about more and adventuring together. Dave, a former world champion sailor, is stoked the kids love sailing at their local beach, are learning to surf and this year are taking up kitesurfing. He says, “I’m loving getting them into the things that I love too, it’s so rewarding and a lot of fun. I love that they are into the same stuff as me. And they are involved in my work at Upside – often coming to events that we run and getting stuck in and helping. I remind them regularly how privileged they are to have the lifestyle and lives they have, they are so fortunate.”
This adventurous, fun nature is what Jo loves seeing in him as a dad. “I don’t do mornings! But Dave is up with them early – making breakfasts and full of energy; he’s straight into talking in funny accents, singing, making a game out of stuff. He’s so fun.”
And Dave loves seeing Jo shine in her strengths as a mum. “Jo has brought great structure to our family, I’m very relaxed and that wouldn’t be good most of the time. She is very intentional with parenting and puts her best in. She’s so good at the challenging, awkward conversations – she can match the inquisitiveness of our oldest child, Jack. I would be failing all over the show, but she is getting out books and getting involved and I’m like ‘far out, that’s awesome!’. She's very good at articulating and teaching.”
But of course, it’s not all roses! Jo says, “Parenting is hard … it’s just hard. But I do love the primary school age – I enjoy seeing their personalities, it’s fascinating seeing who they are growing up to be. I enjoy the hard questions, I live for that. I like that they are doing critical thinking. When we got to talk about, for example, the Black Lives Matter movement and police shootings in USA, we had big discussions. We talked about racism, violence, guns, the criminal justice system. There was so much depth and related topics to cover with the older boys, and it’s cool to have the opportunity to grow great people.”
“For people working in the not-for-profit sector,” Jo adds, “or those who've experienced trauma, you just understand social issues. I grew up understanding poverty, gender issues and sexuality. They were topics talked about and lived. These are the sorts of conversations we had growing up. Nothing was off the table, my parents always wanted to know my thoughts and they never shamed me, even if they didn’t agree with me, they always had a curious approach.”
NOT THE MUM HELPING WITH THE SAUSAGE SIZZLE
With her work in sexual health, Jo spends a lot of time researching the pornography landscape and the impact our digital world is having on young people. She is motivated to create change in this area. “I don’t really like any of the domestic jobs – cooking, baking, making breakfasts, waking up in the morning and going to sports in the cold. I’m not the mum that’s going to help run the school sausage sizzle. No judgement, we definitely need those parents! But I’m working with the local primary school on sexuality and relationship education to build their curriculum, that’s where my passion lies. I have a lot of experience in secondary schools and understand what’s needed there but primary school kids need age-appropriate education and understanding as well. In an ideal world, parents should be educated first. Then children second, and ideally by their parents,” she says.
The changing digital landscape has led to an array of illegal and problematic media being available online for kids. Jo is currently working on a new initiative called 'Makes Sense', focused on creating change at policy level to protect young people from seeing illegal content.
With huge hearts for social change, and a strong desire to invest in their relationship and family, Dave and Jo are careful to protect work and home boundaries. Sharing the load helps things run smoothly during the week, freeing them up for time together on the weekends or taking turns to let off steam.
An admirable calling, and one the couple manage to pull off with infectious humour and finding joy in their every day.
AS FEATURED IN ISSUE 55 OF OHbaby! MAGAZINE. CHECK OUT OTHER ARTICLES IN THIS ISSUE BELOW