The research is abundant on the importance of family time. Regular quality time as a family is linked to fewer behavioral problems, closer family bonds, less drug, and tobacco use, and healthier eating behaviors. One study even found that children who ate dinner with their families 5–7 times a week had better grades and less than half the risk of harmful behaviors in the teenage years. More importantly, we have such a limited time with our children that this family time is the foundation of our lifelong relationship with them. Creating quality family time allows them to ask questions and talk about their days, and gives parents time to share stories and values with them.
I had the pleasure to interview Katie Wells, CNHC, MHCH, and Seth Spears of Wellnesse and Wellness Mama. A mom of six with a background in journalism, Katie took health into her own hands and started researching to find answers to her own health struggles. Her research turned into a blog and podcast that turned into an amazing community. If Katie was writing this, she wouldn’t tell you that she’s written over 1,500 blog posts, 3 books, recorded over 300 podcast episodes, and was named one of the 100 most influential people in health and wellness. Or that she’s been called a thought leader for the current generations of moms. When she’s not reading medical journals, creating new recipes, or recording podcasts, you can find her somewhere outside in the sun with her husband (who she met walking across the country one summer in college) and six kids or undertaking some DIY remodeling project that inevitably takes twice as long as it was supposed to. Seth is the ninja that keeps the site running and optimized (and fixes it when the rest of us accidentally break something). He also happens to be Katie’s husband and (usually) willing test subject for all of the weird biohacking things they test in the name of health.
Thank you so much for joining us Katie and Seth! Can you tell us your “childhood backstory”?
Katie: I grew up with hard-working parents who had several entrepreneurial ventures over the years. My parents are both also hearing impaired, and I learned early the importance of work ethic and not being defined by your limitations. Academics were important in my family, and I loved school. With a background in journalism, I always thought I’d end up in law or politics, but I am so glad I followed the entrepreneurial path instead.
Seth: I grew up as the oldest of six children in a lower middle class family. Hard work, loyalty, and frugality were of the highest importance to my parents, and they instilled those values to all of their children. When I was 16, my father became involved in a direct sales venture, and I really enjoyed learning about the entrepreneurial and marketing side of it. Because of that experience and reading several business and self help books around the same time, I decided I wanted to own my own business and not have to depend on anyone else for my own livelihood.
Can you share the story about what brought you to this specific point in your career?
Katie: In short, my career started when I had a baby and got sick. I got married young and got sick with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis after the birth of my first child. When he was six weeks old, I also read that “for the first time in two centuries, the current generation of American children will have a shorter life expectancy than their parents.” I had no idea how, but I was determined to change that statistic. It took years to get a diagnosis and start getting better, and as I researched that and how to keep my kids healthy, I started sharing it all on a blog at WellnessMama.com (which has now become a community of millions of moms). With my journalism background, I love reading studies and distilling the science into usable and actionable steps for other moms and am honored that such a community of like-minded parents has developed.
Similarly, I saw problems with so many conventional personal care products and wanted to change that industry as well. You’ve likely heard that you absorb the majority of what you put onto your skin or hair. I set out to turn that on its head and create products that weren’t just safe and non-toxic, but also contain beneficial ingredients that support the body. It took years, but Wellnesse now creates personal care products that meet these criteria, and I’m proud to be able to share these with other families.
Seth: When Katie and I were first married, I encouraged her to start a blog, (as I had been playing around with this new technology for several years and saw it as the wave of the future) since she could marry her interests of writing, research, and politics.
She declined on the political subject matter, but decided instead to write about health, as we had recently had our first child, and she was trying to figure out her own health issues and wanted to make sure he was going to be as healthy as possible.
During this time I was working in higher education in the admissions department for a small liberal arts college, but assisting with their marketing. I ended up leaving that position and went out on my own to start a boutique marketing agency and consultancy, working with small business owners and bloggers on website design, social media, SEO, and all things digital marketing. At the same time I was handling all the technical details for Katie’s growing blog, and using it as a testing ground for my paying clients.
The strategies we employed worked really well, and both my clients and Wellness Mama saw tremendous growth.
In late 2014, I started to get really burnt out on client work, and scaled back my agency into a solo consultancy so I could focus on growing Wellness Mama with majority of my time and get to work alongside my wife. It was during this time that Wellness Mama experienced exceptional growth and we started conceiving the idea of launching a product line based on the DIY creations that Katie had been making in our kitchen for years.
Can you tell us a bit more about what your day to day schedule looks like?
Katie: I am, first and foremost, a wife and mom, and it is important to me that the business doesn’t ever cause my family to come second. I’m also a big believer that we will fill whatever time we have available, so I schedule the most important things first (family time, meals with the kids, homeschooling, etc.) and schedule my work around that.
I started this a few years ago when I reached a point of burnout (and probably near nervous breakdown). Everything was running smoothly at work, but I was stressed all the time at home. I realized that this was because at work, I was running everything with systems and KPIs and goals and tracking everything. At home, I was trying to manage everyone’s schedule, our meals, the household, and everything else in my head and by myself. I started implementing things that made business run smoothly at home and found my stress melting away. I’ve since added two more companies, including Wellnesse, and can still say (most days) that I have little to no stress while my home and business run smoothly.
Seth: Every day is very different, but it usually starts out with getting the kids fed and ready for school, drinking coffee, then opening my laptop to begin work for the day. I think the biggest challenge in working from home is trying to find balance with work, family time, and intentionally scheduling down time to relax and have fun together as a family. There have definitely been times where work was more of a priority than family, and other times when focusing on the kids or marriage has taken priority. I think in the end it all balances out, though it might not seem that way if you look at single days in isolation.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the core of our discussion. This is probably intuitive to many, but it would be beneficial to spell it out. Based on your experience or research, can you flesh out why not spending time with your children can be detrimental to their development?
Katie: The statistics are pretty clear that not spending time with our children (or not enough quality time), can lead to behavioral issues and even physical issues. While we statistically spend more time with our children than previous generations, the quality of the time has suffered as screen use has increased and as life gets busier. But by the time our kids leave home, we will have spent over 90% of the time with them that we will during their lifetimes.
Our lifelong relationships with our kids are forged in those years we have together, and we have a short time to impart the values and skills that we want them to have.
Seth: I think my own childhood experience is a good example of this. While I always knew that my parents loved me, they spent the majority of their time working, and quality time with their children was never a priority. Because of that, we’ve had a strained relationship for years. I want my children to look back on their childhood with great fondness over the time we spent together and how family life was a priority to us all.
On the flip side, can you give a few reasons or examples about why it is so important to make time to spend with your children?
Katie: The research is abundant on the importance of family time. Regular quality time as a family is linked to fewer behavioral problems, closer family bonds, less drug, and tobacco use, and healthier eating behaviors. One study even found that children who ate dinner with their families 5–7 times a week had better grades and less than half the risk of harmful behaviors in the teenage years.
More importantly, we have such a limited time with our children that this family time is the foundation of our lifelong relationship with them. Creating quality family time allows them to ask questions and talk about their days, and gives parents time to share stories and values with them.
Seth: If you care about someone you’ll want to spend time with them. Relationships can only grow when they’re a priority, and means spending time together. It can be challenging since we have six children, but as they get older, I make it a point to connect with each one and take them out for coffee, or to play sports together, or to learn what they’re interested in and makes them tick.
According to this study cited in the Washington Post, the quality of time spent with children is more important than the quantity of time. Can you give a 3–5 stories or examples from your own life about what you do to spend quality time with your children?
Katie: When it comes to quality family time, I try to make sure these activities are a priority:
● Meals: The research is clear about the benefits of family dinner, and my experience backs this up. Everyone is happier, calmer, and more bonded when we make family dinner a priority each day. We enjoy cooking together and spending time eating. Most days, we also try to eat breakfast together, but family dinner is non-negotiable, and all activities have to fit around this priority. Family dinner also accomplishes two of our family’s core values: community and healthy eating.
● Activities: Our children do have structured sports and activities, but our favorite times as a family are often just unstructured activities together, and these are great bonding times. Something as simple as a game of tag or capture the flag is a fun way to spend time together, and the kids get to see us be silly and play. Family vacations are great, but these small activities and bonding moments are much more important in daily life. Shared activities accomplish another core value of the importance of play.
● Hobbies: Similarly, we found shared hobbies that we can all do as a family. I enjoy doing crafts with the kids or teaching them art. I’ve always loved to draw and paint, and if I get out a sketchbook and sit at the kitchen table, most of the kids will join me and start drawing too. These quiet times often lead to great conversations.
● Work/School: Time spent together on schoolwork or homework might not be the most fun, but it can be a great family bonding time. We try to finish bookwork as quickly as possible so we can focus on the hands-on aspects of learning. As our kids get older, this focus shifts to accomplish another core family value: entrepreneurship. As our kids reach high school, we’ve created an entrepreneur incubator where we work with them to create their own business, which they have to run profitably for a year before they can drive. Time together in these ways helps us impart many other values to them, including work ethic, consistency, attention to detail, taking calculated risks, and learning from failure.
Seth: I think the definition of quality time will vary from person to person. For one kid quality time might be going out for coffee. For another it might be taking a trip. And for another it might be playing a board game. Trying to meet each child where there are and focusing on their emotional needs seems to be the best way to spend “quality time” with them. But I’ve also found that some of the most meaningful times I’ve had with my children weren’t planned out at all, it was just listening when they wanted to talk or when something was bothering them. Those are the times that have grown our relationships the most, way more than any planned activity.
But all that aside, we try to prioritize family meals, watching TED Talks together and discussing the concepts, asking each child what they are grateful for at the end of the day, and spending time learning about something the child is interested in.
That said, I think this is a great article about quality time.
We all live in a world with many deadlines and incessant demands for our time and attention. That inevitably makes us feel rushed and we may feel that we can’t spare the time to be “fully present” with our children. Can you share with our readers 5 strategies about how we can create more space in our lives in order to give our children more quality attention? Please include examples or stories for each, if you can.
Katie: In line with the idea of quality time being more important, I focus on prioritizing the small moments that allow for real quality time, including:
Eating dinner together daily and other meals whenever possible. Dinner time is a screen-free zone for us so we can focus on each other and enjoy the conversation. Family dinner is a non-negotiable in our house, and the time spent preparing and sharing a meal is so important. We also often talk about things we are grateful for during family dinner, which helps them learn to focus on finding the good things in each day so they can share them.
I also try to be fully available and present to my children when we are in the car. A veteran mom gave me that advice early on, and it has served me well. She explained that since we sit side-by-side in a car instead of face to face, kids often feel more comfortable asking the hard questions and opening up. I try to let them steer the conversation when possible, but I also keep some questions in mind to help start a conversation if they don’t take the lead.
Bedtime is another crucial time to be fully present. It doesn’t have to take an hour, but even as they get older, just taking 5–10 minutes to say goodnight and ask them about their day. At bedtime, they’ll often ask the tough questions or share something that bothers them and a good time for meaningful conversation.
I love going on walks with each of my kids, and I’m trying to prioritize this more. Just as with time in the car, time walking together side by side often leads to great conversations. As a bonus, we are spending time outside, getting some movement, and getting sunlight.
Lastly, I try to make it a point to take each of my kids out individually for breakfast at least once a month. I enjoy these times alone with each of them, and it’s an excellent way to check-in and talk. As with all of these activities, the phone stays off, and I’m focused on them.
Total, all of these activities may only take a few hours a week, but they make such a difference in how connected we feel as a family.
Seth: I think it will vary from parent to parent and from child to child, but taking time out of our daily schedule to be truly present with our children every day, and especially when they need us is the most important thing we can do.
It’s like the old saying that “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care”. I think that applies to children especially. If we want them to listen to us and take our advice, we have to listen to them first and not judge them or discipline them when they’re opening up and being vulnerable with us. It can definitely be a challenge but is well worth the time and effort needed.
An example of this is when our oldest daughter was complaining it wasn’t fair that she had to sweep the kitchen floor as part of her chores because here siblings had done less work that day. Instead of going into parent discipline mode and forcing her to do it, I asked her to explain why she felt that way, what she thought was a fair solution, and how we could work to solve the problem at hand. After a few tears she agreed to do her part and thanked me for listening to her.
How do you define a “good parent”? Can you give an example or story?
Katie: I don’t love this question because of all the stigma attached to those words in modern society. I think that too often, our definition of “good parent” is influenced by social media or what we see others do. Like health, this is one thing that I feel is very personal and unique to each family and each situation. That said, to me, the most important things I try to focus on as a parent are shared quality time, teaching them skills and values that they will need as adults, and fostering a strong relationship that will last into adulthood.
Seth: I’m not sure what the definition of a “good parent” is, as I think no matter how good we are, we’re still probably going to screw up our kids in some way, no matter how hard we try not to. My goal is to make each of my children feel loved, listened to, understood, and supported throughout their life. If I meet those criteria, I think that would be a successful parent.
How do you inspire your child to “dream big”? Can you give an example or story?
Katie: I try to inspire my children to dream big in two ways: by example and by helping them try many things and learn from their successes and failures. From the time they are little, we’ve always tried to answer their questions thoroughly and help them research anything we didn’t know how to answer. When they are interested in a new hobby, we let them explore it as much as possible. I also try to share and be realistic about our struggles and successes in business so they can learn from our mistakes and see what is possible when things grow and succeed.
Seth: We have a tradition of most mornings before school, we’ll watch a TED Talk with the children and discuss it after. The people giving these presentations are experts in their field, so seeing successful people talk about their passion is very inspiring for the kids and they learn quite a bit from these presentations and discussions. We always ask them questions like “how would you solve this problem?” or “what would you do differently in this case?” We also encourage them to read, listen, or watch additional material about any of the subject matters they express interest in so they can develop their own talents, gifts, and personality without us trying to force our own on them.
How do you, a person who masterfully straddles the worlds of career and family, define “success”?
Katie: I take a somewhat stoic view of business success and am not overly excited by monetary or business success. I try only to measure myself in comparison to my past actions and not in comparison to others. For me, the fun is in the challenge of growing and building something new that can improve the world. Real success is in the quality of relationships and family. I often think of the Latin quote “memento mori,” which means “remember you will die,” and when I think of this, I realize the things that will define the success of my life at that moment will all be in the quality of relationships.
Seth: This is a tough question and has a multifaceted answer. To me, business success is having our financial needs met, but always growing from there and pushing to see how far we can take it. Family success is having a strong relationship with my wife and children, which entails spending quality time with them and always communicating our needs and desires with each other.
What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a better parent? Can you explain why you like them?
Katie: A few books that I’ve enjoyed are:
● The Opposite of Spoiled: Raising Kids Who are Grounded, Generous and Smart about Money by Ron Leiber
● The Danish Way of Parenting: What the Happiest People in the World Know About Raising Confident, Capable Kids
● How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success by Julie Lithcott-Haims
● Podcast: The Happiness Project
● Book: Rich Kid, Poor Kid
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Katie: I have two quotes that I often turn to in business and in life: Memento Mori (Remember you will die) and Amor Fati (love your fate or love what is). These two give me balance and perspective to focus on what is essential. The reminder of eventual death helps me keep the essential things as priorities and puts the less important ones in perspective. Amor Fati is a higher challenge to me… to love what is, even when it isn’t good. It’s easy to be grateful and “love your fate” when things are going well, but I take that to mean loving what happens even when it isn’t good. We can’t change the past when bad things have happened. All we control is our response, and we benefit (as well as everyone around us) when we choose a happy, grateful reaction.
I also like:
“Just keep in mind: the more we value things outside our control, the less control we have.” -Epictetus
This goes back to the idea of extreme ownership, not just in business, but in all aspects of life. I find that the more I focus on improving the things within my control: my attitude, my response to events that happen, the actions I take daily to build habits… the more successful and happy I can be in those areas. Focusing on things outside of my control (what others do, why things happen, even the news) is a recipe for stress and chaos. Aristotle famously said that “we are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” I think this habit starts with taking responsibility for the things within our control and letting go of the emotional attachment to the things we can’t.
Seth: Three quotes that I love are the following:
“Do the right things, long enough, consistently.”
“Quality over quantity.”
“Laws control the lesser man. Right conduct controls the greater.” -Mark Twain
I feel like all three of these quotes (which I use all the time) are formulas for success in all areas of life.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Katie: I’ve always said that moms are the most powerful force on the planet. Not only are we raising the next generation, but we control the majority of the purchasing power and have mastered multitasking. I think the movement that would bring the most good to the world is uniting moms around our commonalities rather than our differences. It’s easy to self-divide into factions based on our choices about birth, and breastfeeding, and feeding our kids, and screen time. But we share a very important common interest of creating the best future for our kids and if we united and focused on that, I think it would change the world. The division also leaves many of us as moms feeling overwhelmed and isolated, and the antidote to this is connection, community and a common focus on the good.
Seth: I try to live my life by the golden rule, to treat others the way I want to be treated. If more people would think about how their actions will affect others before they speak or act, I think we would live in a happier and healthier world.