September 2010 Profile: Dr. Jenn Berman
Dr. Jenn Berman
Marital Status: Married
Residence: Los Angeles, CA
Children: Mendez and Quincy (twin girls), four years old next month
Profession: I am a licensed marriage, family and child therapist, an author, a parenting columnist, a radio host, a psychological expert on television, the owner of the clothing company Retail Therapy, and, of course, a wife and mother.
Q: Why did you decide to become a mom later in life? What factors precipitated this decision (or dictated it)?
A: I don’t really think of myself as a later mom, just a mom. It was really important to me that I be established in my career before I became a parent. I am very passionate about the work I do helping people, and I was really nervous about how I would balance motherhood and career.
Q: What do you love about your career? What is most challenging about your work? How long are you doing it? Where do you see yourself heading?
A: I love that I get to help people in so many different ways. In my private therapy practice, I help people one on one in a very intimate setting; as a writer I get to reach out to so many people but never get to see their faces; on the radio I get to have personal contact while helping many listeners; and on television I get to send out a message in a big way. It really excites me to make a difference in people’s lives.
The most challenging thing about my work is that I need more hours in the day. I do most of my writing while my kids are sleeping which means I don’t get a lot of sleep. While I was writing SuperBaby: 12 Ways to Give Your Child a Head Start in the First 3 Years I had a four month period where I was up until 4 am writing and woke up at 7 am to get my kids off to preschool. It doesn’t make any sense to write a parenting book while neglecting your own kids! People often ask me how I did it. I am so passionate about the topics that I write about and eager to get the message out that my adrenalin keeps me going. Having a super supportive husband helps too.
I have been working in the psychology world since 1991 when I started as a rape and battering hotline counselor for the Los Angeles Commission on Assaults Against Women. It was an amazing experience answering the hotline and going on accompaniments to hospitals and police stations with women who had been attacked. In college, I was a mass communications major with a focus in print and television journalism so television and writing were a natural fit for me. I have been working in radio, giving advice to callers for nearly a decade and most recently started an eco-friendly clothing line, Retail Therapy, in 2009 with design partner Stefanie Lain after we met on a show.
A: I wrote SuperBaby because I wasn’t able to find all the information I needed in one book. There are a lot of great books out there about infant development but there wasn’t one that covered all the aspects: the psychology of parenting, reducing toxins, nutrition, language development, sign language, baby massage, kangaroo care, scheduling, sleep, responding to cues, foreign language, television, child care, and picking a preschool, so I felt I had to write it myself. I looked at all the questions that my clients, readers, listeners and viewers have been asking me over the years. I also looked to address the questions I encountered as a mom and tried to answer all of them in this book. You don’t have to be “Type A” to want your child to have a head start in life. Let’s face it, we all want that. I love doing research. I am an obsessive at heart and in my late 20’s I learned to put that obsessive energy towards the greater good. What made me self critical and neurotic in my earlier years has made me successful and diligent now. So, for me, reading about the latest study about language development or talking to an expert in toxic chemicals, is fascinating. I also wanted to make sure to share my own experience and struggles in this book. While I work very hard to be a great mom, I struggle with the same issues as other parents.
Q: What have you experienced through motherhood that has also helped you in your work or personal life?
A: Being a mother has enabled me relate to more people in my personal life. I was on an airplane flying to New York to do The Early Show and there was a woman on the plane with a screaming child. Before I was a parent, that would have annoyed me but I understood what was going on with mother and child and was able to help.
Q: What is a typical day for you like, managing both work and home life? Do you do any work from home? If so, how do you find that? Have you worked more or less since you became a later mom? Do you travel a lot, and do you take your family? What do your children think of your work?
A: My days vary tremendously. I see therapy clients five days a week. Twice a week I work from an office at home and do phone sessions which I started doing after I gave birth. It was an interesting adjustment for me and some of my clients but it was really nice to be so close to my kids. My children understand that I see clients from the house they learned from an early age not to interrupt me when I am at work in the house. I don’t see therapy clients as late as I used to. Before kids, I used to work until 8 or 10 at night every night since most people love coming in after work. Now I only work late (after I put my kids to asleep) once or twice a week. I am also lucky that I get to do my radio show out of the house so, as soon as the show is over, I can walk right into my kids’ room.
I travel a lot more now than I did before kids because of my busy television and meeting schedules. When I go to the east coast, I generally take the red eye and return the next day. I used to have a 24 hour rule where I wouldn’t be gone for more than 24 hours. As they got older, I pushed it to 48 hours and the most I have ever been gone is 2½ days. Then there was the time that I got stuck at JFK because I missed the last flight out. My girls were about four months old, and I was still hormonal, and it was only my second time leaving them, and I cried for about an hour. I felt so terrible. It was much harder on me than them, not to mention my poor husband who had to listen to me on the cell phone until it ran out of batteries. Upon returning, I made my daughters a books called “When Mommy Travels” which explains what I do when I travel and lets them know what they can expect at home while I am gone. You can get more information about making a book like that on my blog.
My kids are very young so they don’t fully understand what I do but they know that I help people. They have watched me on television, now that they are old enough to have some screen time, seen the books I have written and tee shirts I have made. I am sure they just assume that all moms do the stuff I do.
Q: How do you think being a later in life mom has affected your experiences as a parent (share both good & not so good)? Has anything about being a mom surprised you? What do you most try to teach your children? What influence, if any, has your own mom had in your life and in your parenting?
A: I am glad I waited to have children because I really had a very strong sense of myself by the time my kids were born. I think that has helped me as a parent.
I am an only child and I had expected only to have one child. I was very surprised at my capacity to love two children so completely. It was like what the Grinch said, “I felt like I grew two hearts” when I gave birth to my daughters. When you are a mom, you feel like you invented love. It is hard to believe that other people love their children so deeply, but I know they do.
I try to teach my children to make a difference in the world. Starting when my kids were two years old I went out of my way to find age appropriate opportunities for them to be charitable with their time, art work, hands, and even money. They started out making cards for young children who were ill, they each picked an endangered animal to make a donation to, and they give their old toys to other children. I also go out of my way to find age appropriate activities we can do to help them give to others.
My own mother has been my strongest influence. She is an extraordinary mother and has a very successful career. She always made me feel heard and understood but always created limits. I can only remember being punished once. I rode my bike home from a friend’s house and came home after dark, much later than I had promised. I guess that makes me a pretty dull kid, huh? It took a lot to shock them but they were very firm about safety. I feel very grateful that I got to have a career mom for a role model which made it easier for me to figure out how to manage both at the same time.
Q: Where do you or did you turn for support as a mom? How important do you think it is to connect with mom peers? Do you consider yourself a role model for other later moms or aspiring later moms? Do you think an organization like Motherhood Later…Than Sooner can be helpful to later moms?
A: My mom was an incredible support for me when my kids were born and she still is. When Quincy and Mendez were born, they had severe reflux and colic. I make reference to it in SuperBaby because it was so traumatic for my family and I wanted to share some of my experience to help others. They were both writhing in pain, projectile vomiting and crying around the clock. Sometimes it would take up to three hours to get an ounce of milk in each of them. My mother came over every single night to help me feed them. It actually took so long to feed them and we spent so much time together that year that we wrote Rockin’ Babies, a kids book due out in early 2011, during those crazy feeds. I also found my mommy and me groups to be invaluable. I was in both a twin group as well as a mommy and me group. The support of the instructors and the other moms who were going through the same things with their kids was invaluable. Many of those moms are still my closest friends. I think it is crucial to connect with peers when you are a new mom. It is so powerful to have that “wow, me too!” experience and every mom needs to know that she is not alone in her feelings about her child, spouse, nanny, their -in-laws and friends.
I try to be a role model. I think that any time you see a woman who has a career she loves, a great relationship with her kids and a loving spouse it is something to try to emulate. Don’t get my wrong, I am not perfect. The other day I was in a store with my kids when I ran into a client who was there with three really well behaved kids. It was in that moment one of my daughters got really frustrated with a toy she was playing with and threw herself to the ground screaming. Some times that is just how it goes!
I think an organization like Motherhood Later can be very helpful to mothers. Having that “wow! me too” experience I mentioned earlier is very powerful. I also think that feeling less isolated and alone in motherhood is good for everybody.
Q: What words of wisdom would you most like to share with others contemplating becoming a mom later in life?
A: Your whole life is going to change, and while you will be giving up a lot, you will be amazed by the wonders you gain.
Q: When you became a mom, did your own mother or mother figure share any particular sentiments or advice that really resonated? Or do you recall anything from your own upbringing that really stuck with you and you’d like to pass on to your children or other moms?
A: My parents worked very hard to always make me feel seen, hear and understood. I always knew I was loved, even when my family went through some very tumultuous and painful times. I think this is so important for children. My mother is my best friend. I aspire to have that type of relationship with my own daughters when they are adults.