Author Archive

Jenna Bush Hager: “I want the moments that I have with Mila to not be interrupted by anything.”

Friday, May 2nd, 2014

Last week, Jenna Bush Hager ventured to Brooklyn, New York to introduce educators to Bing in the Classroom—a new initiative (free for schools) to bring technology safely to America’s students—and to lead a special lesson plan for the kids of PS 205. As a former teacher, rising journalist, and mom to 1-year-old Mila, Jenna knows that technology can teach us a lot, but must be used carefully. Parents caught up with Jenna to discuss technology, education, and life with her little girl.

P: As we continue advancing in this digital age, technology is both friend and foe. What are some “best practices” for helping children to use these tools productively and safely?

JBH: As a new mom I’m particularly concerned with that. It’s important that we give kids access to the technology—particularly in schools—so they’ll be successful learners and eventually successful workers for our country. The one thing I don’t want to do, personally, is use technology as a replacement for the job that I’m supposed to be doing. I want to use it in a way that can help Mila learn and grow, but I don’t ever want it to replace our dinner conversations. I even found myself working while taking care of her, and I just realized it had to stop. When I get home from work I leave my cell phone up in the front of our house in a little basket and I take her back and we do the bedtime routine. I want the moments that I have with her to not be interrupted by anything.

P: As Mila grows, how do you hope to ensure her digital safety and digital “health,” especially with social media as prominent as it is?

JBH: Obviously, Mila is only 1. It’s something that I think Henry and I are quite conscious of and even worried about. I grew up wanting to play outside and we didn’t have video games or any of that. I didn’t even have a cell phone until I was in college, so this is a totally different world. I feel like it’s uncharted waters for the two of us. Not only do I want her to stay protected, but I also don’t want my husband and I to be so distracted by technology that we don’t interact.

P: Are there any other specific tech safety lessons you anticipate teaching her?

JBH: It’s hard to say because I’ve only been a parent for a year so I don’t want to speak on things that I’m not that knowledgeable about yet, but I know from my students that obviously safe search is important. As a parent you have to monitor what your children are doing online, that’s all there is to it. It’s a huge concern that these kids are putting something on the internet and it stays there for the rest of their lives. I want to teach her that you can use it and to connect with friends, but it shouldn’t be your only connection and what you’re putting on there stays there forever.

P: As we were saying, Mila just turned 1. How did you celebrate the big first birthday?

JBH: We actually just celebrated on Saturday with a little cowboy and Senoritas party, so we brought some Texas to New York City. I still have Cheerios all over my apartment. We just had a lot of friends over and family, including my sister. Mila loved cake, of course, she’d never had it and she quite appreciated sugar, like her mother.

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P: Is there anything that she does that is just like you when you were a baby? 

JBH: She reminds me a lot of the two of us. She’s really curious, which as a mom I love. She’s so interested and focused in the world. She’s smiling at everybody walking by. You can tell she’s an extrovert. When she’s around people she loves getting energy from them. She’s just the most curious little person. It’s hard to say what I was like as a baby, but I know that she has this curiosity for life that I just love.

P: Reading is a big part of your life. What are your favorite books to read with her?

JBH: This is cliché, but it was my favorite book that my parents read to us: Goodnight Moon. We have it in English, Spanish and French. I don’t speak French, I speak Spanish. Henry took a little bit of French so he reads the French one. My friend just gave us a huge collection of Madeleine books, including one that is in Spanish. I’m really excited to get into those because when I was little I just adored her. I thought she was such a fun character. I love Dr. Seuss, obviously. [Books] are her favorite toys, which I love. My mother was a librarian; I love to read. I think that’s something that I can pass on to her.

P: What are our country’s greatest challenges with regard to education today and what are some steps we can take to fix those?

JBH: That’s a huge question. I think the biggest challenge is making sure that every single child gets access to an excellent education. There’s this gap between students that have access to really good educations and those that don’t. We want to make sure every child no matter where they live, what neighborhood, has access to a really excellent education. As far as solving it, it would have been solved had it been an easy problem. But there are so many amazing organizations and innovative programs like Bing in the Classroom, Teach for America, the Harlem Children’s Zone. The fact that there are so many smart people working on it gives me a lot of hope that this problem will be solved.

Setting Limits on Technology
Setting Limits on Technology
Setting Limits on Technology

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Josh Duhamel: “Nothing really meaningful happens without the help of many.”

Monday, April 14th, 2014

This past weekend, Parents joined Josh Duhamel as he closed out National Volunteer Week (April 6-12) and kicked off the Advil Relief in Action volunteer campaign. As part of the annual New York Cares Day Spring, Josh helped clean up Franz Sigel Park in the Bronx. The actor, husband of Fergie, and dad of 7-month-old Axl took a break from the dirty work to chat with us about volunteerism and fatherhood.

P: You’ve mentioned that your mom made volunteering a part of your life. 

JD: Yeah, and my dad really. For my mom it was more about organized volunteering. Getting out and doing things in the community. But my dad is a really selfless dude, too. He’s always helping somebody do something.

 P: What kind of volunteering did they have you doing when you were young?

JD: Everything from parking cars at events for the football team to the local downtown cleanup. It was always kind of a drag for me when I was a kid. I always felt good afterwards, but it wasn’t until recently when I started organizing things [that I became passionate]. I was having a bit of a problem with just putting on a suit and going to charity events and calling it charity. Even though they are raising money for a worthy cause, I didn’t feel like I was really doing anything. I started organizing youth runs throughout Los Angeles where I go recruit people in schools to come out, raise money for Haiti or Japan and then again we did it in Minot where I’m from. Ever since then I’ve just sort of been an advocate of volunteering. I just read something yesterday where it’s the lowest it’s been since 2002, volunteerism, which is a little bit disconcerting.

I really believe that nothing really meaningful happens without the help of many. So we’re here with Advil and the Relief in Action campaign trying to get people to go pledge to volunteer in their communities and share their stories and re-inspire people to get out and volunteer.

P: Obviously Axl’s a bit young, but how do you hope to encourage this spirit of volunteerism as he gets older?

JD: The best way to do that is by showing them by example. Definitely gonna take him [to volunteer], also to keep everything in perspective. There are consequences to not going to school, doing drugs, things like that. Take him to soup kitchens and places like that, not only so that he’s helping, but so that he can see “better keep myself in line.”

P: What other values aside from volunteerism, generosity, do you hope to impart to him?

JD: Hard work is one. Valuing money—things just aren’t handed to you. It’s going to be hard because people want to give [us] stuff and I don’t want him to think that that’s normal. Mom and dad had to work hard for what they got. It’s a tough thing to do in our position, in that town, but we were both raised with very modest houses.

P: When was the first moment that you felt that “I’m a dad” feeling?

JD: Immediately when he was born. There’s this excitement-slash-terror that comes with a newborn baby like “Oh my God I love him! Oh my God I gotta take care of him for the rest of my life!” But it came pretty naturally. I’ve been wanting this for a long time. All my friends have kids. There haven’t been any major shockers, but, you know, I still look at him sometimes and go “Omg, I can’t believe that’s my kid. That’s my kid. We made him.”  He’s got a very sweet nature about him, which we love.

P: I know you grew up with three sisters. How do you think will it be to having a little man around the house?

JD: Honestly, I was expecting a girl because I have three sisters, [my wife] has a sister, our dog is a girl. Everything around me is female, so when they said ‘boy’ it took me a minute to actually register. He’ll need me as a male energy in the house.

P: Father’s Day is a little ways off but at Parents we’re already working on our June issue. This will be your first Father’s Day as a dad. Any special plans?

JD: In June he’ll be close to 10 months. Maybe we’ll go to the zoo so he can see all the animals. I do look forward to that.

P: He’s still a baby, but what do you enjoy doing with him on a regular Sunday afternoon?

JD: Right now he’s learning how to roll. He rolls all over the place, that’s how he gets around. But he has this car that was given to him by one of our friends, it’s a little Ferrari—it’s the only Ferrari that he’ll ever own as far as I can control him—but he gets in that thing and he’s all over the place. He becomes very independent and it’s very funny to see him explore in this little car. He loves to go in the pool; he loves to sort of kick his feet and play in the water. I’m gonna teach him how to swim as early as possible because that’s one of my biggest nightmares.

P: Sounds like safety is constantly on your mind.

JD: Unfortunately you have these crazy scenarios that run through your head that I think are there to make sure that you’re keeping him as safe as possible. I see things vividly and I’m like “No no no no no, that’s never gonna happen. We need to put a fence around the pool immediately,” or “We need to put a door here because this is not safe.” You know that he’s gonna get hurt, but it’s just a matter of how hurt.

P: Some actors decorate their kids rooms with paraphernalia from movies or projects that they’ve done. Anything like that in Axl’s room? Maybe some Transformers goodies?

JD: No, he’s got nothing but Safe Haven posters all over his room. [Laughs] Ah no. We’re just about to move into our house. We didn’t make his room too babyish, so it’ll be a room that he’ll grow into. Behind our house is this beautiful little ravine, this valley with all these birds and geckos and there’s a fox down there. We painted a mural of all those animals that are down below. One of the things that I look forward to is taking him down to explore. That’s the kind of stuff I did growing up. It’s all about imagination and nature.

Help get your child’s creative juices flowing with these fun activities.

Nursery Ideas: Design a Bird-Themed Nursery
Nursery Ideas: Design a Bird-Themed Nursery
Nursery Ideas: Design a Bird-Themed Nursery

Photograph: Getty Images for Advil / Duhamel is encouraging everyone to join him in taking the #ReliefinAction Pledge on the Advil® Facebook page and commit to volunteering this year.

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Minnie Driver: “It’s the quality of time you spend with your child, not the quantity.”

Monday, April 7th, 2014

Parents sat down with Minnie Driver during a lunch to celebrate the launch of the “Be a Claritin Trailblazer” campaign. In an effort to help everyone enjoy their time outdoors, the makers of Claritin have donated $50,000 to Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, a non-profit that converts unused railways across the country into public parks. Minnie talked with us about why this project is so important to her and her son Henry, 5, their favorite outdoor activities, Easter plans, and her latest role as a single mom on NBC’s “About a Boy.”

P: How did you come to be involved in this cause?

MD: [On "About a Boy"] I play a very overprotective mother of a very sedentary child who doesn’t really like to go outside and do much. My son is the exact opposite of that. All he wants to do is go outside and run around, but I come from a long line of allergy sufferers—which is how I got involved. I love the idea of recycling aspects of where we live into something that is going to be healthful.

P: Does your son have allergies, as well? 

MD: He does. He actually has them worse than I do. I’m about to take him to an allergist when we get back because it’s only just properly surfaced. Poor little bean.

P: When he’s feeling under the weather, is there anything special that you do as mom to make him feel a little extra loved?

MD: Essential oils have really helped. Lavender oil and eucalyptus really help clear out his sinuses. I get him to lie down and I’ll give him a massage on his arms and his head. He loves that. Swimming helps, as well. He loves to be in the water because I think the itchiness goes away and the salt water really helps.

P: When neither of you are feeling the effects of the allergies, do you like trips to the park? What’s your go-to outdoor activity?

MD: We’re very outdoorsy. We surf. We live at the beach. We hike in the mountains in the back of our house. He plays soccer and tennis and tee ball. We’re outside a lot.

P: It sounds like you have him combining exercise and enjoyment and nature through his activities.

MD: Definitely. In Callifornia you can really do that. The weather permits you being outside a lot. Plus, he’s a boy. Running around is just the best thing for him to do.

P: Now that he’s 5 it is an age where he’s coming into his own, like a mini person instead of a baby. What’s your favorite thing about this age so far?

MD: You know, that he’s just so interested in the world. Just watching him explore it and now he’s sort of confident in it and in his exploration. It’s incredibly sweet to see his independence blossoming. He’s never been a shy boy, but I love the delight that he takes in the world.

P: Speaking of delight, do you have Easter plans?

MD: We have a big egg hunt planned. We live up on the bluff, and it goes all the way down the trail to the beach and then along the beach up until there are big flags where it ends. All the dads hide all the eggs early in the morning and we go for it. I can’t wait. It’s my favorite thing. The level of competitiveness also cracks me up.

Easter Chicks
Easter Chicks
Easter Chicks

P: Is Henry competitive?

MD: He just gets so excited. There is something so exciting about looking around in foliage and then seeing a pink egg. We dye them all like the week before. But I also do a thing where I know how to drain an egg and wash it out and then fill it with chocolate. It’s pretty cool. I did it last year for Henry and in the morning he came and hit the top of the egg like it was gonna be his breakfast and he was like, “It’s not cracking Mommy, what’s going on?” And I said, “I don’t know, open it!” And he opened it and [GASPED!] “It’s a CHOCOLATE EGG!”

P: During lunch you mentioned Henry’s love of Happy Feet and Frozen. I know you did the voice for Jane in Tarzan. Has he heard you in the movie?

MD: He absolutely loves it. It used to confuse him when he was little hearing my voice. I’m actually doing another movie for Disney, another big animation movie which will be out in a few years called Zootopia and he’s fascinated by me doing that. I’ve taken him to Disney. It’s really all coming together for him now and he realizes that me being a part of that is something special and amazing.

P: On your new show “About a Boy,” your character, Fiona, is this mix of an alternative mom yet super protective and hyper-vigilant. How do you compare on the Fiona scale?

MD: I’m not like that at all. I think it’s really funny, though, because I know so many women like that who think that they’re not. She’s a high perversion of some people that I know. And I have to be quite careful with dropping things in, not to identify. But I love her. She cracks me up.

P: In one episode she’s juggling life as a full time working mom and giving her son some freedom, but there is mom guilt. Do you ever experience mom guilt? What is your advice to other women who may experience that?

MD: I do all the time, but it is a choice. If you are choosing to go out to work, because you have to (which most women who work do), it’s sending such a strong message of having a great work ethic. It’s the quality of time you spend with your child, not necessarily the quantity. There are plenty of people who are around their kids all the time and don’t really connect with them. You have to trust that the time you spend with them is well spent and that there are many different ways to live your life. Mom’s not supposed to just be home. Dad’s not supposed to just go to work. I think if one can, it’s an amazing thing to be able to bring your child to your workplace at least just to see where it is, then they can picture you there. Whenever I’m going overseas, I find a picture of the place to show Henry.

Find printables for fun Easter crafts and activities here.

Photograph: Minnie Driver; Helga Esteb/Shutterstock.com

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Alison Sweeney: “My best course of action is to model the behavior that I hope to see in them.”

Thursday, April 3rd, 2014

Like most moms, Alison Sweeney is super busy. But the Days of Our Lives actress, Biggest Loser host, author of the upcoming novel Scared Scriptless , and our cover girl along with her cute kids back in 2011 still makes living healthfully a top priority for herself, her husband, and Benjamin, now 9, and Megan, now 5. She’s recently teamed up with Arm & Hammer Truly Radiant to promote healthy smiles. Parents caught up with Sweeney to talk about good nutrition, keeping active, setting a good example, and maintaining a balance amidst the chaos.

P: How do you approach the pursuit of a healthy lifestyle?

AS: There are so many great tips from The Biggest Loser that I have incorporated into my daily life, but certainly I have tried to make it a lifestyle for my kids, too. Just that idea of healthy eating at home. Not making food or dessert a reward in any way. Trying not to put too much emphasis on food, trying to keep it in a healthy realm. I wish Popeye were on TV again eating his spinach to get big muscles, because that’s exactly what I’m going for: Your body needs fuel, but there’s good kinds and there’s bad kinds.

P: Are your kids healthy eaters naturally or do you get creative with your recipes?

AS: Maybe there are kids who are healthy eaters “naturally,” but I have yet to meet one. Our preschool taught us that kids’ palettes change over time so even if they don’t like something right away you should try it again. I just keep reintroducing foods, especially vegetables. I try different ways to prepare them. Brussesl sprouts are more a grownup thing, but I’m absolutely obsessed with them. They’re my favorite vegetable right now. I made a raw brussel sprout and kale salad the other day that I literally chopped up like a chopped salad and my kids devoured it. I had this olive oil and lemon juice dressing and roasted almonds on it and I’m not kidding, my son had third helpings. I couldn’t believe it. I do keep trying. I’m an old school parent; I’m pretty strict. “You don’t always get to eat your favorite thing. This is what I made for dinner tonight and you have to eat your vegetables.” That’s the rule.

Healthy Lunch Ideas for Kids
Healthy Lunch Ideas for Kids
Healthy Lunch Ideas for Kids

P: Is there a go-to healthy snack that you like to give them after school or before an activity?

AS: I love greek yogurt. So I have tons in the house. It’s a 2% greek yogurt with blueberries, a little bit of agave and cinnamon and spiced almonds. My kids love it and so do I and it’s really good for you.

P: How do you like to get active with your kids?

AS: My kids are involved in lots of sports and different activities after school. I like to get involved with my son. He plays baseball and I love to go out and play catch with him and run the bases. I worked with him on his running technique because I am a runner. It was really fun to practice his breathing technique with him and his posture and his form. I was thinking to myself, “Wow. It’s pretty cool, a 9-year-old learning to run legitimately.”

P: With all of this encouragement of a healthy lifestyle, how do you still promote a healthy body image so that it doesn’t become a pressurized situation, especially because you have a young daughter?

AS: I think in today’s society it really is starting to become across the sexes. It’s something that I’m extremely aware of and concerned about. I know that my best course of action is to model the behavior that I hope to see in them. I don’t criticize my own body. I don’t cover up or shy away from wearing a bathing suit when we’re at the beach or when I’m with them. I work hard not to use dieting-type words in front of them.

P: How else do you set an example?

AS: It starts from the moment you wake up in the morning. We brush our teeth together. Your kids should see you work out and taking time for yourself. You would want your daughter to take time for herself to work out. You play with your phone in the family dynamic, that’s the choice they’re going to be making. I know lots of people with teenage kids who are like, “Why are they on the phone the whole time?” And I’m like, Aren’t you texting me right now to ask me that question?

P: It seems that women are always trying to achieve a perfect balance. How do you manage expectations and how do you hope to guide your daughter?

AS: I don’t expect everything to balance out at the end of one day or two days or even a week. I feel like it is a pendulum: We’re getting a little bit heavy on the work this week, so next week we’re gonna get a little heavy on the family life. If you’re looking at the scale over the course of my life, it will balance out in the end. It’s a conversation my husband and I work on together when we see how the family dynamic is shaping up.

P: Was the quest for that balance part of your choice to leave Days of Our Lives?

AS: I turned 16 at Days and I’ve loved being part of the show. That said, my son is now 9, my daughter is 5, and I’m wanting to spend more time with them and to explore new opportunities directing, acting, writing, and developing shows.

P: How do you hope to spend the time that this will free up?

AS: I’m still planning to be busy but I’m hoping the new schedule will enable me to take my kids to school more often, help them with their homework, go with them for a hike, and take vacations when they’re on break.

P: What is your favorite thing to do with your kids? 

AS: I love when my husband, kids, and I have an impromptu dance party at our house. It’s so much fun, and hearing their laughter is the best.

Photograph: Alison Sweeney with her kids Benjamin and Megan/ S. Buckley for Shutterstock

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Paralympian Tatyana McFadden: “We should all be included as one.”

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014

The Sochi Winter Paralympics took place March 7-16. Previously known only as a summer Paralympian in wheelchair racing, Team USA member Tatyana McFadden took on the snow in Russia—where she was born before being adopted into an American family at the age of 6. As part of Team Liberty Mutual, McFadden rose to the top. Born with spina bifida, the now 11-time medalist (track and sit-ski) chatted with Parents about overcoming obstacles—in life and in athletics, her adoption experience and her family, and fighting for equality in sports.

P: How does it feel to have won even more medals now in the winter Paralympics?

TM: It was just an amazing, fulfilling experience for me. I definitely exceeded my expectations. I really expected just to be in the top ten for the 12k and I got fifth and then in the sprint, I just really wanted to make the Finals and I medaled. And in the 5k I really wanted to be top 10 again and I got seventh.

P: Summer Paralympics, Winter Paralympics, New York Marathon, Chicago Marathon, the list goes on. What was it like to train for so many different events simultaneously? 

TM: It was very difficult. I ran marathons all the way up until November [2013] and at that time I was still in college. I graduated just this December [2013], so as soon as I graduated I headed out to Colorado for snow training. It was a very continuous schedule.

P: You encountered quite a few obstacles in your childhood. When you were in the orphanage in Russia, how much of an understanding of your condition and your potential did you have? 

TM: Living in the orphanage for six years, I never saw myself as any different. I walked on my hands for the first six years of my life. I didn’t have a wheelchair, but I was a child of determination and drive. If I wanted to get somewhere I would do it and I would do it by walking on my hands. You know, many others think that living in the orphanage was a huge setback in life, but being adopted into an American family brought me opportunities to rise on so many levels, as a student and an athlete.

P: Do you think that your lack of wheelchair as a child led you to gain the strength that has now served you as an athlete?

TM: I think it was just the personality that I have. I wasn’t going to let anything stop me. I always had a Russian saying “Yasama,” which means “I can do it myself and I can do it by myself.” I didn’t want anyone to help me and I think walking on my hands made me extremely strong. But it was just having that drive and determination at such a young age. As soon as I was adopted, I became involved with sports to help be gain a healthy lifestyle.

P: Tell me a little more about your family and the adoption process and coming to America.

TM: The adoption actually saved me. I was very sick and very anemic living in the orphanage. I was born with spina bifida and I was laying in the hospital with my back open for 21 days, so it was quite a miracle that I lived without getting an infection and dying. I do believe there is a purpose for me being here and being alive. I also believe in fate and I remember a woman walking in [to the orphanage] and I looked at her and I told everyone that was gonna be my mom. It was just the strangest feeling. From that moment I really connected with my mom and here we are 19 years later. She’s been so supportive in helping me be the person that I am today.

P: You have two younger adopted sisters, Hannah and Ruthi. What’s that like all having different origin stories and coming together in one family?

TM: There’s lots of culture involved. I mean, we love each other. My middle sister Hannah is also a Paralympian. She’s missing a tibia and fibula, so she’s an amputee. She was in the final of the summer Paralympics with me in the 100 meters. That was the first time ever in track that siblings competed against each other. And my younger sister Ruthi, she plays basketball. We’re all involved with sports and athletics. It’s fun just having that one thing in common. I’ve always wanted a big family.

P: When did you first discover your passion for sports?

TM: Around age 7 when my mom got me involved with a para sports club called the Bennett Blazers. She got me involved with a sports club because being so sick and very anemic, the doctors said, “She probably has a few years to live, just help her try to live a healthy lifestyle.” But my mom really thought otherwise and she said, “No, I’m gonna help her get healthy.” The way to do that was to get me involved with sports.

I started gaining weight. I started becoming a lot stronger. I was able to be more independent. I could push my own wheelchair. Then I started to do my own transfers in and out of the wheelchair. Before I knew it I could do almost everything by myself. Sports allowed me to do that and I wasn’t even focusing on how far I could take this sport. I was just focusing on Wow I can live a healthy lifestyle. If it wasn’t for my mom, I wouldn’t be a healthy person and have fallen in love with sports.

P: Your work with the Bennet Blazers and your battle to pass legislation for equality in high school sports is so important. Tell me a bit more about your quest for equal access to athletics. 

TM: I was a very different high school student. Coming into freshman year, I came back from the Paralympic games in Athens winning a silver and bronze medal and the only thing I wanted to do in high school was to be part of the track team. I was the only physically disabled wheelchair athlete at my high school and I remember the principle saying, “Get involved!” I wanted to be involved with track. First, they denied me a uniform, and then at track meets they had to stop the entire meet and let me run by myself. That’s not what it should be about. We should all be included as one.

P: So the idea is to have integrated teams of those who are in wheelchairs against those who are not? Not for a separate division or town leauges?

TM: It’s for people with physical disabilities to be part of high school sports. It was never to compete against, it was just to run along the side of. That’s what should happen especially if you’re the only athlete. If there were several others than of course we would have our own heat. It’s just about showing your athletic ability. It’s the 21st century and no one should be denied that. And if they’re denied high school, imagine what problems they’re going to run into later in life that they could be denied. Now it’s a federal law.

P: What is your message to kids with differing abilities and to parents of those kids?

TM: There are definitely gonna be challenges in your life and there’s definitely gonna be several setbacks, but it’s about being able to come back from those setbacks and rise in your own way. For me, I rose because of my mom and then in high school I rose because of the lawsuit creating opportunities for others. Now being an 11-time Paralympic medalist, I know these setbacks make us stronger so we can rise as individuals.

One mom’s story about adopting a child with spina bifada:

Adopting a Child with Spina Bifida
Adopting a Child with Spina Bifida
Adopting a Child with Spina Bifida

Photograph: Tatyana McFadden; Courtesy Liberty Mutual Insurance

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The Road to Rio with Katie Ledecky

Wednesday, March 19th, 2014

While the Road to Rio is a long journey counting down to Summer 2016, Olympic medalist Katie Ledecky has had tons of success in her (so far) short career. At the age of 15, she was the youngest swimmer on Team USA at the London 2012 Olympics, where she took home the gold in 800m freestyle (for which she also holds the world record). Katie and her mom, Mary Gen, sat down with Parents at a Winter Olympics viewing party sponsored by Swim Today to get her take on swimming, her family’s incredible support, and all things Olympics.

P: What makes swimming such a great sport for kids?

KL: I think the competitive atmosphere and the people that are involved in the sport. It’s a great outlet to meet friends and engage with them. That’s what I have always enjoyed.

MGL: When the kids first joined the summer pool we really didn’t know anybody there and that’s, I think, one of the reasons she and her brother decided to join the team. Right away they had like a hundred friends. The thing I think is interesting about swimming is that it’s not just one age that goes and practices together. It crosses a couple of ages and it’s co-ed. She’s working out with girls and guys and they have such great camaraderie and ability to support each other. You don’t see that with a lot of other sports.

P: Did you gravitate to swimming on your own or did your parents guide you?

KL: I think my mom taught me how to swim when I was probably 3 or 4. But then I joined summer swim team with my brother when I was 6. Then we joined a club swim team that fall. So I’ve been swimming on teams since I was 6, but up until about age 10 I played basketball and soccer, a few other sports. Once I got to about 9 or 10 I started to go to swim practice over basketball practice. I Gradually I just started to lean towards swimming.

How to Introduce Your Baby to the Water
How to Introduce Your Baby to the Water
How to Introduce Your Baby to the Water

P: What’s it like to raise an Olympian?

MGL: Well, it’s been great. We always say that she makes us look good—our kids make us look good. My husband and I feel that we’ve gotten a lot of support from our community, our club, our summer team. I’m very very proud of her. I’m proud of how she’s handled it.

P: Does it sometimes feel like a full time job to be the parent of an athlete at this level?

MGL: You know, I think no matter what she would have decided to do, it’s great to see one of your children finding and developing the passion. My feeling is is that it’s not really hard to support your child in whatever direction they want to go—whether it’s sports or music or academics. It’s been pretty easy to support her.

P: What does it mean to you to have your Mom and your family cheering you on? How does it help with some of the pressure of these moments?

KL: It’s the best. They’re at every meet. They take me to every practice. That support means a lot to me. At the Olympics I saw them in the stands and knew they were there. It was kind of a relaxing thing to know that. I was 15 years old and traveling with the team on my first international trip. My parents had prepared me well for it and I knew how to handle it all.

P: What is your message to young aspiring athletes?

KL: If you find a sport that you’re passionate about stick with it and be dedicated and mainly just have fun with it. That’s what success will come from. If you’re happy doing something and you have friends doing it that’s gonna be your best path to success.

P: What’s your message to the moms of aspiring athletes?

MGL: Mine would be the same. To really make sure your children are having fun. If they’re not having fun with it, find something else or support them looking for other outlets and make it fun. [Swimming] is great for building confidence in both my kids, making great friends, learning how to support goals, setting goals and reaching those goals and setting new goals, helping them to be organized. As long as they’re learning from it it’s good for them.

P: Looking ahead to Rio, what are you most excited about?

KL: There’s a lot in between, but yes it is coming up quickly. I just want to make the Olympic team again. That’s going to be the biggest challenge. I’m excited most about training over the next two years. I have my goals set and I’m excited to see what my limit is over the next two years.

Find our top picks in sports gear by visiting our Shop Parents page.

Photograph: Katie Ledecky/United States Olympic Committee

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The Road to Rio With Caitlin Leverenz

Wednesday, March 12th, 2014

Our journey to Brazil continues! This week: Olympic bronze medalist Caitlin Leverenz and her mom Jeannine. The mother-daughter pair sat down with Parents at a Winter Olympic viewing party sponsored by Swim Today to talk about the personal rewards of swimming (it’s not all about medals), the importance of family, and why she’s focusing on the now.

P: What makes swimming such a great sport for kids and adults?

CL: I just learned so many things from it. I’ve had so much fun. I had to learn from a young age time management, how to get my homework done. I laugh because it was a threat if my mom wouldn’t let me go to practice. I had to get my homework done and learn how to manage other things in my life so I could still make it to practice because that was really what I wanted to do at night. It’s just been such a great platform for allowing me to talk about who I am and what I want to do in life and really learn about myself. In so many ways the personal growth is the bigger success than any medal I’ve won.

JL: I remember when she was in third grade she said she wanted to quit school and just swim and I told her she couldn’t be a dumb swimmer she had to be a smart swimmer. But, through most of grade school she was a very quiet little girl. I remember taking her to her first day at kindergarten and she was hiding in my skirts. The confidence as a person that she has built through her gifts of swimming has just been incredible. This little shy girl who hid behind me is now up on the world stage.

P: Tell me, Mom, what does it take to raise an Olympian?

JL: Oh gosh. Well you have to know that when she was 8 and doing really well just in her local level, my dad looked at me and said “Maybe she’ll go to the Olympics someday.” And I looked at him and I said, “I hope not.” And he said “Why?!” And I said, “Because you have to give up your entire life for it.” Little did I know what our road was going to be at that point. I think she’s given up a lot of her life but I think the gifts she has received through swimming and that our family has received has been immeasurable. It’s been worth every bit of it.

P: What does it mean to you to have such support from your mom and your family?

CL: It’s been tremendous. You know,during the Winter Olympics, when Noelle Pikus-Pace won her medal in skeleton she said: “We won a medal.” I just love that. When I won a bronze medal, it was a “We won the bronze medal.” I got to see [my family] right after I finished my race and have this we did this, we finished and we just did something amazing moment. There were so many things that parents and a family have to sacrifice. I don’t think any Olympian would be where they are without that good foundation of a family and support behind them.

P: What is your advice to moms of aspiring athletes at any level, but especially at this high level?

JL: Make sure they’re having fun and let it be their sport. It’s not your sport. So, if they’re not having fun figure out why and move them to a different sport if that’s what it takes. Just love them no matter how they do. Any time Caitlin got out of the water I’d say “Great swim!” and I’d give her a hug and she’d go “Not really, Mom.” And I’d go, “It was to me.”

CL: Which was huge, being an athlete. There are points where I didn’t want to keep swimming and my parents would say “We’re going to love you whether you swim or not.” My motivation to swim and do well was never because of pressure from my parents, it was always their support that allowed me to do well.

P: Gearing up for Rio, what are you most excited for?

CL: Well, the Winter Olympics got me excited just to race again. I love watching Team USA. Being a part of that is just so special. There’s just so much that builds up and leads up to the Olympics, that’s just the culminating point. The time in between from now until Rio is such an important time in terms of enjoyment and growth and learning that you know I try not to look too much ahead to Rio and just enjoy what I’m doing right now.

Will your kid be the next member of Team USA? Take our child career quiz and find out what she could grow up to be!

Get your little athlete to eat healthy with our advice in the video player below:

How to Eat Healthy: Raising Nutrition-Smart Kids
How to Eat Healthy: Raising Nutrition-Smart Kids
How to Eat Healthy: Raising Nutrition-Smart Kids

Photographs (from top down): Caitlin Leverenz/Arena; Caitlin and her mom, Jeannine

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Judy Murray: Why Tennis Is Great For Kids

Monday, March 10th, 2014

Last week, in celebration of World Tennis Day, the United States Tennis Association organized the World’s Largest Tennis Lesson and set the Guinness World Record. In an effort to get more young kids active and in love with the game, British Fed Cup Captain and mom to US Open and Wimbledon champion Andy Murray and doubles’ great Jamie Murray sat down to chat with Parents about her experiences in the sport and raising two tennis stars.

P: Having two boys in the sport and one so successful in the top of men’s singles, what does it take to raise a tennis champion? 

JM: I think, you know, in all individual sports there’s a huge onus on the parents to make things happen for their children. A big difference from team sports where the team or the club provides the training, they provide the fixture list [match schedule] and the kit [equipment], is that the parents have to make an awful lot of that happen themselves. The most important thing is to encourage your kids to try whichever sports take their fancy and to support them. For me it’s about making sure they’re having fun but also that they’re learning to try their hardest. It was the only thing that would not be acceptable to me, would be if my kids weren’t trying. Fortunately, we never had that situation.

P: Not only are you a mom, you’re a coach. How do you balance a push to realize their talent while keeping a sport fun?

JM: I don’t think it’s about pushing your kids. If you get to the stage where you’re pushing your kids to do something, there’s a good chance your kid is not giving their best shot for a reason. That is usually because they’re not enjoying what they’re doing. We always made everything a lot of fun. [My boys] were always around other kids, so it didn’t become a pressurized situation. Many parents buckle to the pressure of what their child is doing. From 1995-2004 I was the Scottish national coach and that helped me because I was looking after so many kids, I never got so caught up in what my own kids were doing.

P: With two kids in tennis, what did it take to juggle both of their schedules and also deal with Andy pulling ahead in singles?

JM: When they were young it was probably easier that they were doing the same thing. I think for me the great lesson in that is that you never teach kids the same. You have to be like the tailor. You try and prepare them for what their strengths are going to be. There have been a lot of challenges along the way of trying to do the right things at the right time because they were very different even though they’re playing the same sport. I always felt like that’s what my job was just to find the right people to help them at the right time.

P: As a mom—the support system—what were you feeling at the moment when Andy won Wimbledon and achieved that success?

JM: I think I had burst into tears and I had turned away because I knew the cameras would all be up our way. One of Andy’s first coaches was saying to me “You need to look, you need to look your son’s just won Wimbledon!” and I was all, “I cant’ look!” It was amazing. Just a lot of joy that he’d managed to achieve his dream, but also a lot of relief from the pressure from the whole expectation of the British public and media that for so many years it was all on Andy’s shoulders. It took a long time for it to sink in. I’m thinking, Gosh both of my kids have won Wimbledon titles [Jamie in 2007 for mixed doubles]. What is that all about? Amazing.

P: What do you do throughout the year to support Andy and Jamie emotionally and ease the pressure?

JM: The emotional support is very very important. I always go to the slams [main tournaments] because they’re the ones where they need the most emotional support. It’s not like I need to do an awful lot, but sometimes you just need somebody to talk to that’s completely away from your direct support to talk about your feelings—if you’re afraid of something or if you’re really excited about something or worried about something. I’ve just always felt you need to be there.

P: It is a demanding sport, it’s a demanding role as a parent. You were doing it on your own. What is your advice to single mothers who have kids with such big dreams?

JM: I think that anything is possible. I wasn’t a coach when my kids were small. I learned how to coach. I learned how to do massage. I went on a PR course. I did all sorts of different things at different stages in order to help me understand better what my kids were into. I couldn’t afford to pay people to do it, I didn’t have the money. So you have to learn how to do it yourself. I think it is all about supporting them and doing whatever you can to help them to follow the path that they’re going on, but only if they’re trying really hard.

P: What is it about tennis that makes it such a great sport for kids to start at such a young age and grow in?

JM: The thing that I like about tennis and apart from the getting active: you can have so much fun with it. The lesson for World Tennis Day for the Guinness Book of Records—to see 400 kids on six courts all at one time trying tennis and having great fun and making friends. The friends that you make in sport often are the ones who stay with you for all your life. The key with kids is to make sure they love what they’re doing, and so much of that love for the game comes from the people who introduce them to the game and who give them those first experiences. So the early coaches are so important. It’s not about getting the technique right at that stage, it’s about loving what you’re doing and who you’re doing it with. Parents can be really crucial.

Learn why it’s important to keep your kids active through Physical Education and other activities:

We Need More Physical Education in Schools
We Need More Physical Education in Schools
We Need More Physical Education in Schools

Find all of our favorites in sports gear on our Shop Parents page.

Photo credit: Jen Pottheiser

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