When Jennie Monness became pregnant with her first child, she knew her life would need a redesign. She decided to take a step back from her career as the director of Explore + Discover Early Learning Center in order to take on a more entrepreneurial path.
“When I had a hard time having a baby of my own, I started thinking about my career and building one of my own that gave me more flexibility,” she says. “I realized how important it was to be able to be there for my children, to form a relationship with them that wasn’t rushed or stressed, or trying to fit it into a small window of time each evening.”
Her first job in education focused on teaching English to toddlers whose first language was Mandarin. “It was my ‘phD program’ in studying children,” she says. “Play is a universal language and it was how we learned from each other.”
She wanted to share this school of thought with new parents. By the time she was 9 months pregnant with Tess, her first child, she launched a blog called Mo’ Mommies, a forum for new moms. She would then open an “organic play space” called Union Square Play. It opened in January 2019. Later that year, she would give birth to her second child, Nell, who is now 3 months old.
“I was changing my life so drastically in so many different ways at the same time,” the New Jersey-based mom recalls.
For a new entrepreneur and new mom, she had to leverage every innovative tool she could find. The BABYBJÖRN Baby Carrier Free was among her chief resources for staying productive. The inward and outward-facing carrier allows her to keep her baby close, while freeing her hands to accomplish other tasks and tend to her older child.
“Tools like the BABYBJÖRN Baby Carrier Free have allowed me to get work done when I need to but also allowed me to relax along with my baby when I am craving the focused present time with her,” she says. But the carrier—made of toxin-free and breathable materials worthy of baby’s skin—is made for all oarents. The BABYBJÖRN Baby Carrier is not only the easiest carrier to put on and place your baby in, it is created with comfort in mind thanks to its built-in waistband and back lumbar support. In fact, the carrier is certified by the International Hip Dysplasia Institute as “hip-healthy,” something new moms know about all too well after carrying a child in their ever-growing bellies for.
Meanwhile, Monness is just getting started in her dream to move the dial on early childhood development—and empowering mothers who want to fill their baby’s early years with meaningful connections and purposeful play. Here, she talks about her startup and motherhood journey.
The following interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
How was it like launching your business as a first-time expectant mom?
It couldn’t have been better or worse timing. It was the best because I was so “in it” but it was also overwhelming. I was changing my life so drastically in so many different ways at the same time. I just ran with it and don’t regret it for a second because I could not parent the way I do without owning my businesses.
Motherhood and entrepreneurship are very similar in a way. Being an entrepreneur and making our own plans and rules, and often making decisions as we go, is sometimes challenging, just like motherhood!
There are so many rules of how to engage and promote development for newborns babies and toddlers. The Dos and Don’ts can get overwhelming! What are your tips on how to deal with info-overload.
Find your guru. The one or two people whose parenting style you admire most—he or she can be an influencer, or professional but also a friend or peer! Look to them for guidance.
Now you’re a mother of two. How has BABYBJÖRN helped you in this phase of motherhood—and entrepreneurship?
To multi-task when I absolutely have to! I normally don’t like multi-tasking because it means I’m too scattered to really get things done. When I’m doing too much at once, it feels like I’m shortchanging it all; however it’s the reality as a mom of 2 and as a working entrepreneur!
So with the BABYBJÖRN Baby Carrier Free, I can take calls while wearing her and feel like I’m genuinely giving attention to both worlds. The BABYBJÖRN bouncer allows me to do bedtime for Tess while Nell is close by; the carrier has saved me in so many ways on a day-to-day basis.
But what about ways to be fully “present” when you are logged off. How can a mom achieve the bliss of being fully in the moment with baby?
Tools like the BABYBJÖRN have allowed me to get work done when I need to but also allowed me to relax along with my baby when I am craving the focused present time with her. For instance, I’ll get home from work, she’ll be cranky, and I’ll say, “lets go for a walk!” I’ll leave my phone home and just walk around the block with her close to me, kissing her head along the way and I truly feel present with her.
Mo’ Mommies consists of an online platform and a physical location in New York City. What was it like launching both an online and brick and mortar business?
I have worked in early childhood for about 12 years. I wanted to share my knowledge with other moms, while also going through it alongside them. At first, the blog documented what I was doing with my baby to encourage her curiosity and confidence through open-ended play. As months went by, I realized none of us are immune to the overwhelming feeling of becoming a mom. Including me, who thought I knew it all! So, my blog turned into an honest account of motherhood and a resource on play. A Mo’ Mommies mom tribe was formed via Instagram moms who felt similarly about thoughtful play and just being real about motherhood.
I discovered I needed a physical space to bring all of this to life and to gather these moms. It’s hard to balance both an online/social media presence and a brick and mortar business because it never turns “off.” But I wouldn’t want it any other way. I can share my personal life with my social followers and then support them in person at Union Square Play.
What differentiates your platform from other play centers and communities?
Not only is our space and classes more thoughtful and engaging than many places but our service is as well. If a family needs to cancel last minute because a child is sick, we have often been known to send bone broth to their home. We are looking to create a business, but more than that, we’re looking to support families.
There are so many schools of thought when it comes to raising babies and toddlers. What is RIE and how does it differ from, let’s say, the Montessori style of learning?
RIE (Resources for Infant Educators) is more appropriate for children 0-2 years old when you are at a loss of how to connect with such a small human. RIE basically brings it down to a few principles that are focused on respect for the baby. That’s where it starts.
Montessori, meanwhile, is a great extension for older years (2+) when the relationships and connections are already established and a child is eager to interact with materials and people in a way that builds on RIE principles. Same with many other schools of thought, RIE isn’t better necessarily; it’s more of the prerequisite!
Moms often get surprised about just how much support they need once the baby arrives. What’s your best advice for moms on how to prepare and build a support network before giving birth?
Motherhood starts the moment we decide we want to become a mom. Don’t wait to embrace that. It’s easier said than done especially when you are having trouble getting pregnant but it’s the truth. You are a mom the moment you want to be one. Once you accept that, you can start building your tribe.