Kelly McKusick-Gillett is the owner of NATURAWL, a “homegrown” Connecticut based business founded in 2010. NATURAWL evolved from the desire for a healthier and cleaner lifestyle by directly utilizing, while still honoring, the offerings provided by nature. Their mission is to create effective products derived by nature using pure raw organic plant-based resources for both product and packaging.
I met Kelly on Facebook a few years ago through the raw food movement. Quickly though, I realized we had more than that in common, and I enjoyed reading her updates and shared links. Later, I learned that her first born (she had 3 more children later on) had been a challenging baby, and she gave me words of encouragement when others criticized or belittled my efforts (as many of you probably remember, Franklin was an intense baby whose idea of a nap was a 10 minute snooze.) I loved interviewing her, and I think many of us will learn a lot from what she has to share.
Joanna Steven: As mentioned above, you are the mother of 4 beautiful children. You also started your own business, NATURAWL, even though your littlest one, Dahlia, was not even 2 yet. How do you manage to raise your children as well as you want, be a business woman, a wife, and still have a little time to yourself? Do you have any advice to share with new mothers or soon-to-be mothers to help them stay sane during this intense time?
Kelly McKusick-Gillett: The truth is, I don’t always raise my children as well as I would like to, I don’t always give my business as much attention as it needs, my skills as a wife aren’t always where they should be, then throw breastfeeding, attachment parenting, and co-sleeping into the mix and I’m left with little to no time to myself.
I try to take advantage of every available moment. I meditate in my morning shower, and then once again, right before I go to bed at night. Instead of a traditional 30-45 minute workout, I may do a 10-15 minute workout session three times per day. I brainstorm business ideas while I’m driving in my car or waiting in line at the grocery store. I breastfeed while I get my work done on the computer. I try to incorporate the children into my daily routine, preparing meals, cleaning the house, doing the laundry and gardening. It not only keeps them entertained but it also teaches them valuable life skills and allows me to accomplish some work at the same time.
I think women were born with an innate sense to multitask. Every day can to be a juggling act, time rarely feels like it’s on my side, yet somehow, everything seems to fall into place and we manage to remain relatively sane despite the craziness.
I think that the best advice that I could offer to new mothers, or soon-to-be mothers, would be to redefine your idea of perfection. Perfection is rarely what it once was prior to having children. Women put so much pressure on themselves to be the best at everything. Sometimes being the best isn’t always the best for the situation. If you don’t learn how to bend, you will break.
Patience is key when dealing with children. A 30-minute chore before becoming a parent, may now take a couple of days to complete. It’s easy to become frustrated when you feel like time somehow isn’t what it used to be. I’ve gone to bed feeling like a failure more than once. The reality is that kids just want to be loved and cared for. If you can accomplish those two goals throughout the day, then you have your priorities in check and you are doing well. I’m still waiting for someone to publish a book titled “How To Parent Well and Still Get Out Alive With Your Sanity Intact”.
Joanna Steven: My friends and I are close in age and we are all having children at the same time, more or less. None of us could imagine having children close together when they were under 2. Did you feel that raising children got easier with time?
Kelly McKusick-Gillett: This is a tough question to answer because the dynamic of a family changes so much after another baby is brought into the mix. There are two factors to consider: the personality of each child, and the amount of time in between having each child. My last three children were all born within a four year time span. With that being said, two of the three are easy going and mild mannered, so it’s not quite as difficult as it may sound.
Without a doubt, some things do become easier with time. Parenting becomes second nature and almost takes on a life of its own. There have been many times when I felt like I was functioning on auto pilot from lack of sleep. Little things that seemed rather dramatic with my first child have become easier to deal with the second, third, and fourth time around. I notice that I’m able to live in the moment and revel in the joys of parenting a lot more than I could just a couple of years ago.
Joanna Steven: When I posted an article on my blog about high needs children (I felt that Franklin was especially intense compared to other infants and toddlers I had met), you shared that you yourself had a high needs child and wondered at the time how other mothers were making it all seem so easy.
I actually had a lot of feedback on this article (and its follow-up High Needs Baby articles), with mothers sharing how relieved they were to read about my experience because they felt something was wrong with them or their parenting style. Drawing from your own experience, how do you feel that high needs children differ from others? How did you manage with your first child, and is there anything else you’d do differently?
Kelly McKusick-Gillett: My children’s pediatrician once told me that if you are going to have a “difficult” child, it’s best to have that child be your firstborn. While I do agree with this statement in many ways, I often wonder, had I had the experience of my “easy” children under my belt first I may have noticed some “off” signs with my son.
My son was high needs from day one. Rarely napped and rarely stopped crying. Daycare and school became very challenging and took a serious toll on my self-confidence as a parent. I couldn’t figure out where I was going wrong. Parenting my son wasn’t coming naturally the way it seemed to be with other first time moms. My husband and I were exhausted and burnt out. After years of testing, my son was officially diagnosed, at age six, with Sensory Integration Disorder and ADHD combined with impulsivity. My perspective on the situation and my parenting style changed almost immediately after receiving his diagnoses. I researched everything I could get my hands on to gain a better understanding of what my son was experiencing. While it can still be a daily challenge, I have a certain kind of patience with my son that I didn’t have before. Had we received the diagnosis sooner, we may have had fewer struggles. On the other hand, he has been blessed with so many positive qualities and artistic talents that, at times, it can be easy to forget that he has a disability.
Having more children has brought an affirmation and reassurance that I am a good parent and I now find it easier to recognize the signs of a high needs child versus a child who may have something more going on. All you can do is live and learn, and try not to be too hard on yourself during the journey.
Joanna Steven: How did you feel your 2nd and 3rd children were easier than the first? Could you tell us for example how sleep issues differed? How their need for your presence differed?
Kelly McKusick-Gillett: In comparison, my second, third and fourth children have been much less challenging than my first, okay, ridiculously less challenging!
For example, my son rarely slept. I can remember countless nights pacing the hallway, my husband and I taking turns, trying to get him to sleep and wondering how we’d mange to get through work the following day. We felt like we’d tried everything, co-sleeping, crib sleeping, letting him “cry it out”, breastfeeding, bottle feeding, regular formula, soy formula. He didn’t like being restrained into his car seat so when we drove anywhere he would scream relentlessly. It became emotionally exhausting and frustrating for us. My husband and I quickly realized that our days of going out to eat and going on vacation were long over. Plane flights were received with dirty looks by the other passengers. I distinctly remember wondering how other parents were raising more than one child at a time – super powers, perhaps? My son needed constant one on one attention.
I voiced my concerns with his pediatrician, at the time, and I allowed her to convince me that it was just “first-time parenting jitters”. It was only after having my second child, four years later, that I realized not all babies are high needs. My daughter was comforted by breastfeeding, slept for long periods of time, rarely ever cried. Parenting her felt natural and it came easily. I thought it was a possible gender difference, either that, or I was blessed with the easiest child in the world. Shortly after, I had a third and then a fourth child, another boy and another girl, and they were just as easy as my second.
My son is now nine years old and he still requires very little sleep. He is bright, creative, and inquisitive, and can now entertain himself for hours at a time with his different interests.
Joanna Steven: Back when I was in college, I saw a graph of marital satisfaction throughout an adult’s life. The graph was fairly high until the first child arrived, at which point it dropped significantly and stayed down until the kids were off to college. I used to laugh and say this would never happen to me (don’t we all say that?) but realized that marriage does take a little more work after children are born. Could you share tips to nurture a relationship while raising children right?
Kelly McKusick-Gillett: It sounds so cliché but being on the same page, being a team player, and having a mutual respect for one another are the key components to keeping a marriage intact while raising children. Bringing children into a relationship adds so much joy but also brings new responsibilities. If you can’t be a team player, the chances of creating an environment filled with resentment are high. My husband is my biggest cheerleader and supporter, my sounding board, my rock, and my best friend. He gives me the confidence to make me feel like I can do it all and I like to believe that I do the same for him. We may not always see eye to eye on our food choices for the children, but if that is our biggest hurdle I think we are doing okay.
Joanna Steven: Can you give new moms ideas to nurture their couple? Do you carve out a special time every day (or week etc) where it’s just you and your husband without the kids? Do you rely on family members to take the kids sometimes for date nights? Etc?
Kelly McKusick-Gillett: My husband has a demanding work schedule. He doesn’t have the traditional 9-5 job. For the most part, he only gets to see the kids on the weekend so, unfortunately, we don’t have the luxury for “date nights” because we try to pack in as much “family time” during those 48 hours that he is home with us. It’s not always the ideal situation for our marriage, we definitely crave going out alone on occasion, but it’s also important for us as a family unit to have that weekend time together with “dad”.
We used to have a full time nanny, however, after I made the decision to leave my job to become a “stay-at-home mom”, I felt it was important to make up for lost time with my kids. It’s been almost three years now and I still don’t want to miss out on a single moment with them. Don’t get me wrong, there are days when I wouldn’t mind some extra help, but I also realize that they are only young once and they won’t need me forever.
Joanna Steven: You recently started your own business, Naturawl. I’m very excited about it, and the product photos I have seen so far are amazing! Please tell us more about NATURAWL. What is it about?
Kelly McKusick-Gillett: NATURAWL is a small business that evolved after I transitioned over to a high raw food diet. I was putting a lot of effort into eating healthy clean food but didn’t really give much thought to all the toxins that I was exposing my skin to on a daily basis.
After a couple of years of research I decided to take clean eating one step further by handcrafting my own organic vegan body, baby, and home care products using pure raw ingredients that are free of chemicals, parabens, petroleum, pesticides, synthetic fragrances and dyes. I use fair-trade, eco-friendly, recyclable and sustainable materials with plastic-free packaging.
I’m passionate about being able to offer a healthier and more affordable alternative to the toxic ingredients and packaging that are being used in the big named brand products. It’s unfortunate that you practically need a degree in chemistry to be able to decipher the ingredient list on a baby wipes container. I feel everyone should have the option to buy healthy organic products without paying a fortune.
With an affordable price point I am able to offer high quality and worry free products. Also, through my partnership with Trees for the Future, every NATURAWL product purchased plants a tree.
Joanna Steven: Thank you Kelly for the wonderful interview!
I don’t know about you guys… But whenever I see one of their products, I want to get it! To learn more about NATURAWL, you can follow the company on Facebook, Twitter, and don’t forget to drop by their website!
… And don’t forget, you still have a few more days to enter our giveaway to win a copy of Daily Raw by Nadia Petrova here!