Jonathan: Welcome to Kidorable Parenting’s interview with Jennifer Bunkers, mother of six and founder of TruKid. I’m Jonathan Domsky, blogger, parenting coach, and co-founder of Kidorable. I’ve been learning how to be a better parent and entrepreneur with Jennifer for 10 years. I’m always inspired by her example. Let’s get started. Jennifer, tell me a little bit about who you are, what you do, and what you’re passionate about?
Jennifer: Hi, Jonathan. Thank you so much for having me. This is really fun. I always love talking about parenting with you. For your listeners, I’m Jennifer Bunkers and I’m a mom of six. I have six kids ages 10, 13, 15, 17, 20, and 24. It takes me a minute to think of all that. I run a couple of businesses, and I love talking about parenting because there are some things I’m doing in my life that I think is really fun, and one of which is my business of skin care.
Jonathan: So tell us just what is TruKid? What you guys do? What’s your mission?
Jennifer: Well, our brand is TruKid, and we offer sun care, skin care, eczema care, and body care. I started this business 10 years ago because I thought there was a gap in the marketplace addressing kids’ skin care needs. We all start with baby products when they are babies, and then all of a sudden, they’re teenagers and they’re dealing with acne. I thought if I could get kids into skin care, washing their hands and their face, starting at an early age, about two and up, that they’d be better prepared to dealing with the trauma of teenage skin as they get older.
Along this journey, I’ve learned a lot about healthy skin care, and how there’s so many products out there that are full of toxic chemicals, and I wanted to create a brand that was really healthy and natural, and gentle on kids’ skin.
Jonathan: I’ve used it myself with Kubla and I could attest it’s a wonderful product. Jennifer, what’s something that you wish you had more courage or imagination to do when you were younger?
Jennifer: I really love this question and it’s interesting. When I was in high school, my parents wanted me to be a foreign exchange student, but I was really shy. The mere notion of it made me incredibly nervous, and I didn’t do it. We didn’t have a lot of money growing up, and we grew up in the country. It was simple living and my parents were hard-working blue-collar people, and for them to even suggest to me to travel, I thought was really outside our wheelhouse of doing anything like that.
The idea made me so nervous, I just gave it up. I didn’t do it. I couldn’t see myself traveling at all. And I really regret that I didn’t have courage to face my fears with that, and it’s interesting to me because my kids are travelers now. My oldest just got back from Israel and that was her 33rd country. So somehow out of that fear of mine, I must be putting on the, “Don’t be afraid of the world,” on my kids, and now they’re exploring the world like I wish I had when I was their age.
Jonathan: Tell me more about that. So you said when you were a kid, traveling just wasn’t even on your radar. In my own experience, when I was a kid, we went on family vacations, but I’m sad to say that at the time, I didn’t really appreciate it. You have an interesting story about how you travel as a family. Could you talk about that?
Jennifer: Well, as a kid, we didn’t travel. We went boating in the summer and we camped. That’s what we did. It was really, really fun, and one time, my parents rented an RV and we traveled across the country and back, and that was really cool. When my oldest was living in Madrid for about nine months teaching English, she wanted us to come visit, and I’m like, “I would love to, but we have so many kids. It’s just too expensive. No, we can’t go.”
And she kept bugging me to go, and finally, I agree, “Fine, okay, I’ll go.” I’d love to go, but then I felt guilty about leaving my kids behind or how do I afford for them to go. And they say, “We want to go.” I’m like, “Okay, perfect. You can go if you can pay your own way.” And they say, “Okay, we’re in.” “All right, fine. Go upstairs and give me all the money you have as a deposit.”
They all went upstairs, the ones that wanted to go, and brought down their various monies. It ranged from 50 bucks to 150 bucks. Not a lot of money but I say “All right, I’m going buy the tickets, and then you’re going pay me back and then save for your part of the travel.” It was so spontaneous and nobody had a chance to react that this may be a good or bad idea. The kids continued to work to pay the rest of their fare, and so we went.
We didn’t go to Madrid. We decided that we wanted to go to Rome instead. So the kids found the cheapest airfare to get to Rome but we had to go through Stockholm. It was really Planes, trains and automobiles. I have really clever kids, so they found the cheapest way to get there because they knew that they were having to pay for it. It was amazing to watch them, earn the money. I’m not just kidding, they didn’t just pay their airfare, they paid part of their taxi rides and their food, and their activities.
I wasn’t joking around, they had to pay their way. We’re super savvy people, so they managed to find inexpensive Airbnbs, etc. Now, it’s now turned into this thing with my kids where the other ones want to go now, too. The oldest four went with us on that trip, and then on the next trip another one came along. Now, every year’s like, “Where are we going to go next,” and the kids pick the place based on the cheapest airfare because they’re on the hook for it.
And it’s been really fun because it has changed how we look at the world, because everything is possible. Like, literally, it’s cheaper to go to Europe than to fly to New York City, just about. Now the conversation is, “Where we’re going to go next?”
Jonathan: What’s the age range of kids who pay their own way?
Jennifer: We went 13 and up but anyone can go. Anyone can pay their own way. This year, my college kid is studying in Barcelona and the kids are, “Okay, Barcelona it is, right?” It’s just a de facto decision we’re going to go to Barcelona. It’s so interesting because we’re looking at, the map, we always look at the map, and Freddy, my 17-year-old says, “Well, Marrakesh is just over there, can we go?” “Well, how much is it to go to Marrakesh?” From Barcelona to Marrakesh on Ryanair is around $100, so it’s really easy to do all of that. I ask the little ones, the 10 and 13, “Are you guys going to go to Barcelona?” They’re like, “I don’t know, maybe.” And my 13-year-old just doesn’t want earn the money, so she won’t go (yet). And the 10-year-old is thinking about how he wants to earn money to go see his big sister.
Jonathan: So, especially for the younger children, the younger kids, the 10-year-old, the 13-year-old, how did they make hundreds of dollars to go on this trip?
Jennifer: Well, working. So we are a working family. So in our house, we don’t pay allowances because for me, we all contribute to the community (our household) by doing chores, like laundry or cleaning or whatever, it is just part of what we do as part of contributing to our community.
Jonathan: Just being part of the family.
Jennifer: …It’s just the decision that my husband and I made early on, but they can earn money. They can come to work for me, or they can go to work for my son or they can work for my husband. There’s an opportunity to work every single day. They can babysit or dog walk or collect cans, etc. Babysitting pays a lot of money these days, by the way. Almost more than I pay the kids. If you just do the math, let’s say we have six months out to go on a trip, and it’s going to cost, you know, $800 to $500, whatever the number is, if they can earn $50-$100 bucks a week or a month, like, it’s just not that much money to earn in 6 months.
The opportunity is there for anybody, even the 10-year-old who goes to work with my husband and will clean up a job site, and collect cans, whatever, right? There’s ways a way to earn money that are not that difficult.
Jonathan: Nice. Jennifer, describe something in your family life that you consciously made more fun, easy, meaningful, or joyous?
Jennifer: I love this question, about twelve years ago, at Christmas time, I asked the kids to write letters to each other. I even started this before I had all six kids. They had to write just a letter to their siblings, and it could be about anything. I don’t care what’s it’s about, it is just a Christmas letter to say hello.
The guidelines are it has to be a minimum of four sentences, because you know kids….. They’ll take the shortcut and write, “Merry Christmas. I love your hat.” Every single year they fight about they don’t want to do it. But then Christmas Eve comes, and the deal is, “If the letter is not in, we don’t open the presents.” And they all do it, they complain a lot, but they do it. It’s the most fun thing that we do, well, not one of the most, but is incredibly fun because the kids are all so different and, one will write something emotional, and imagine it’s like six times six, so each kid writes six letters times six.
It is 36 letters, and I write letters too, and my husband writes letters too, so it takes a while to read it all. The kids have established a hierarchy on how we read the letters to each other because they manage all of that. One letter might be emotional, one letter will be about nothing at all. And one kid will have the same opening phrase to everybody because that’s her shtick. One of them will make sure his looks graphically pleasing. Then one will write about points of contention and or grievances that she has. It’s hilarious.
I have one who’s a really good writer, so we always make her read her letters twice because they’re really funny. This has become a tradition that I really love, and I know the kids really love it, too, because they joke about how they’re going to want these letters when they’re older. They all go into the Christmas book of letters, and we can go back and read letters from years ago. It’s like a snapshot in time. We can go back five years and see what everyone was thinking about. It’s lovely.
Jennifer: …I think I’m probably going to scan them and get them into a book at some point so that the kids can all have a book of these letters.
Jonathan: Nice. What’s something about your current family life that you wish was more fun, easy, meaningful, or joyous?
Jennifer: I was thinking about that. We are really lucky right now. We live by our kids’ school, well, we have two schools, but, though, the grade school where the kids can walk to and from school every day. We’ve been in this house for five years and we’ve cut down driving by 80%. I notice that we’ve got caught up in the tradition of society of driving kids to every activity that there is.
I would like to have created a life where the driving wasn’t so much. The driving, evenings and weekends, it’s just drive, drive, drive, drive, and even though my teenage kids can drive now, I wish there was another way. I didn’t create my life in a way to minimize driving because we do activities, we play a lot of sports and that’s just what we love to do, but it just gets to be a grind after a while. I wish I had done something different about that.
Jonathan: Makes sense. What’s something you treasure from your childhood that you’ve tried to recreate with your own children?
Jennifer: Well, it’s interesting because my childhood and my husband’s are very similar. He grew up in an Iowa farm family with a lot of independence. I grew up in the country, too, with a lot of independence. And you may have had this as a kid, too. I talked about it with other parents of my age, that in the summer, we would get up and go and we’d be gone all day. And we had ultimate freedom, and our parents never knew where we were. We didn’t have phones, obviously, and we’d come back at dinner.
And who knows what kind of trouble we got into being gone all day. I think it has really developed my sense of curiosity and able to solve problems. I really want to and have been trying to give my kids that kind of freedom, but I am overprotective but I want them to be free……
I want to know where they’re at all the time, and be able to reach them. Living in this particular house, has given them a little bit of that taste of freedom where they can walk to and from school, or my 10-year-old say, “I’m going to walk down to Patrick’s house that is down around the corner.” I love being able to have the kids have that kind of freedom where they’re not under my thumb, they’re not in front of the TVs, they’re out in the world exploring.
Jonathan: Yeah. Jennifer, what’s the best thing about being a parent?
Jennifer: You know what I love? I love watching these kids become themselves. Whatever that’s going to be for them because they’re all going be different no matter as much as I try to force them or to guide them into something, they’re going to be who they are, just like we are. I really, really love the chaos of all the kids, and I love watching them just be, be themselves. Picture this, at night, I retreat to my room and then, of course, the kids all come find me because that’s just what they do.
At any given night, they’re all in there almost all the time, and imagine at Christmastime, all 6 are home. One kid’s doing handstands, one kid’s attempting homework, one is probably singing something, another one is rummaging through my closet, and then they’re all talking to me at the same time. They’re laying on my bed, they are all in there at the time. One of my older ones said, “How do you this? How do you hear all of us at the same time? Like, I don’t even know how you do it.” Even my kids are mesmerized. I love that about my life. I love that being a parent for me is that ridiculous chaos like little mini circus happening, but it feeds me such great joy to be in that moment. I think about when all my kids move away, “What am I going to do with myself when the kids are all gone?”
Jonathan: Yeah. Jennifer, can you tell me about your current project or something else you think I should know about your work?
Jennifer: Oh, you know what’s awesome right now? I’ve started to work with my kids high school entrepreneurial program. I have two kids in high school (3 next year). I am very passionate about kids starting businesses, or being exposed to being entrepreneurs, because I believe that entrepreneurs are the foundation of our society. I just think that small business is king. I love helping these kids be exposed to being entrepreneurs, or helping them start businesses.
In the summer, I’m likely to have an incubator in my office helping a couple of kids who want to start businesses, help them get off the ground. Aside from that, my teenage son has a fairly robust and growing business. I’m helping him to navigate that. Two of my other kids are starting businesses too, which is fun and hopefully by the summer, they’ll be off and running, making something, whatever it is.
But then I’m also very excited right now about talking about parenting. I love what you’re doing with it. I’m contemplating writing a book, not about parenting advice because I don’t believe that I should be giving advice, I don’t believe I should tell people what to do, but I’d love to share what I’m up to. I love to read other parenting blogs and I always glean a little something about what somebody else is up to. So I’d love to talk about how I’m raising kids to be entrepreneurs in my family and how we do that.
Jonathan: Nice. One more question. So I’m curious to hear more about your teenage children who are entrepreneurs, and it sounds like they also do sports and school, of course, and other activities. How do you balance all these demands on their time to make sure that the important, most important things are, you know, getting the right attention?
Jennifer: Boy, that’s the age-old question, right? My kids all play sports. That’s important to our family because we love being active, we love being competitive in that way, but academics is always our priority. How I’ve been raising my kids is they manage their own time. They’re in charge of their academics. They’re in charge of their sports. It’s our conscious choice to raise independent kids.
It doesn’t mean were not, oversighting all the things and questioning why things are. When they come home from school, there is the definite sit on the couch and watch TV on their phones, which is a whole other conversation that drives me insane. And I’ll ask, how’s homework??? And then we have dinner as a family. It’s how we bring ourselves together. It’s a main focus for us, and at dinner we talk about life, and we have that down time, then they all go off…again.
When you have six kids, and everyone’s really, really busy, it’s challenging to remain fluid and sometimes it is hard to track it all. It seems when we have our dinners, it’s our place to, reconnect to each other. Part of our dinner is writing in our grateful book. We have had this for a super-long time. Every night and in the mornings, too, when we have our breakfast meetings, we talk about what we’re grateful for, either something really, really small or something really, really big.
The Grateful Book is a way to ground all the kids. We have a lot in our lives, and to be grateful is one of the things I want the kids to have as a priority. Slow down and be grateful for the whatever. Gratefulness carries things a long way.
Jonathan: No, no. That’s good. Jennifer, where can I find out more about TruKid and any further projects?
Jennifer: Well, TruKid is www.trukid.com, and then my son’s business is www.hypergo.com. If you want to support his young business, that would be awesome. And, what we’re doing here at TruKid is focusing on the needs of eczema sufferers, so we have gone big into the eczema space because it is a real life struggle. You can get it as babies and you can have it your whole life, and we’re creating products that are really healthy, steroid-free, and safe for you and your families that help relieve that itch so you can get out and play again.
Jonathan: Wonderful. Well, Jennifer, it has been such a treat and I’m grateful for your time, your wisdom, and the example you share with me and our listeners.
Jennifer: Thank you, Jonathan, so much. It was really fun.