Janet Lansbury (formerly known as Janet Julian) was a model and actress in classics such as The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries, B.J. and the Bear and Knight Rider to name a few. Once she had children, she left Hollywood and found her life’s work in parent education and now teaches RIE parenting classes in Los Angeles. Janet sat down with Celebrity Baby Scoop to discuss her parenting philosophies, encouraging us to listen and respect our babies “from day one as unique individuals.” As a mother of three who left Hollywood, Janet also talks about her “huge admiration” for celebrity moms and the unique pressures they face as mothers.
CBS: You were a successful model and actress and left showbiz when your children arrived. Was this a hard decision for you?
JL: “It was hard only because I had been an actress and model for all of my adult life and that was a big part of my identity. I never loved acting, and, despite my successes, often felt ‘at sea,’ or under water in the entertainment business, and I really can’t explain why I stayed with it so long. Maybe I needed inspiration to let go and move on to something else. Having children, and the desire to be there to raise them, finally gave me the nudge I needed.”
CBS: You are now a parent educator. Please tell us about your parent/infant guidance classes and your philosophies.
JL: “The philosophy I teach can be summed up as respecting babies from day one as unique individuals, as people with their own point-of-view, personality, talents, likes and dislikes. Once you begin to see babies that way, and treat them as if they understand you when you say, “I’m going to pick you up now,” rather than just scooping them up — you are amazed — because you find from their responses that they actually are “all there.” Infants are completely present, and understand much more than we give them credit for. When we treat babies with respect, they grow into secure, self-confident people and they respect others.
Friday, when I have my classes, is my favorite day of the week. Parents bring their babies and we all learn a lot while watching the babies play. Every class is completely different. We have no ‘set’ curriculum. Questions and discussions come out of what happens in class, and what is going on at home. There are always surprises and many, many laughs.
Parents enjoy taking RIE Parent/Infant Classes because the (non-profit) RIE approach elevates the parenting experience to something truly interesting, creative, and intellectually challenging. The vast majority of our parents are in the arts or other creative fields, including many celebrities.”
CBS: Do you think celebrities are good role models as parents?
JL: “Since celebrities (like babies) are unique individuals, some are obviously better role models than others! But, you are right that being in the public eye makes parenting (and other aspects of life) much more challenging. It is difficult to model deeper values, the values a parent wants to instill in a child, when life is so much about appearances.
Good parenting can be called “cool and cutting edge,” but it can never be called “glamorous,” and glamorous is what celebrities are expected to be. The inconsistent lifestyle of a celebrity is not conducive to good parenting either. Children thrive in a predictable environment, and when a family travels constantly, schedules changing all the time, parents working long hours, it affects the child. So, yes, it’s much more challenging, but not impossible, for working celebrities to be good parents!”
CBS: Having worked in showbiz and living in LA, can you give us any inside scoop of what life as a celeb mom is REALLY like?
JL: “I’m not sure what the moms are off doing in their spare time, but I’ve had plenty of experiences with celebrities and their children. The oldest child of movie star parents attended my son’s preschool for awhile. This couple is at the top of the paparazzi hit list and photographers would swarm the school and do dangerous things like zoom through the parking lot in their SUVs. Parents tried to empathize with the family, even though their presence at the school endangered everyone. The little boy came to school with a ‘minder, ‘ who played with him the whole time he was there, so he never interacted with the other children. That seemed pointless to me, but it must have been difficult for him to make friends, since he was constantly traveling around the world.
I have huge admiration for the celebrity moms I know who take a year or two off when they have a baby. Inevitably, the mom is offered the role of a lifetime as soon as she decides to pull the plug on her career. She worries that she won’t be A-list anymore, she’ll be forgotten. It takes tremendous courage. Those women turn out to be wonderful moms, because they prioritize their children.”
CBS: What is your best advice to new moms?
JL: “Pay real attention to your babies when you are feeding, diapering and bathing them. Don’t be on the phone while you’re nursing. Talk to babies about what you are doing together. Include them. Then, when they are peacefully looking off at a corner of the room, don’t interrupt. Those periods when a baby is involved in thought will stretch longer and longer and will be the beginning of the independent playtime you will want to cultivate.
Set up a safe area for the baby’s uninterrupted play time. That play time will become your ‘break’ time, while your child explores his environment, creates, and learns. A simple, safe environment is a stimulating enough place for a baby, so don’t waste your energy entertaining. And, especially, don’t get a baby hooked on TV.”
CBS: What is your best advice to parents who are feeling overwhelmed and not sure where to turn?
JL: “My mentor and friend, infant expert (and founder of RIE) Magda Gerber, always reminded parents, “This too shall pass.” The most overwhelming years for a parent are those first few, and they pass quickly. Later we may long for them back. We get overwhelmed when we put pressure on ourselves, and try to do too much. Babies don’t need to be taught colors, letters and numbers, or to walk, talk, or even toilet train.
Trusting a baby’s inborn time-table can bring relief to a parent, who fears that if they relax, their child will somehow be left behind. The current culture tries to trick us into believing that sooner is better. There is money to be made selling parents programs and gadgets they don’t need. Don’t listen to others, listen to your child! Children develop naturally, in their own perfect way when we allow them to.
Parents are easily done in when babies cry. Sometimes there is nothing we can do to comfort them. I just wrote a post about this on my blog: Babies Crying – A Parent’s ‘Bad Day’ Survival Secret. I don’t think there is a caring parent who has not felt overwhelmed. Somehow the children turn out okay anyway!”
CBS: What are your thoughts on parents wanting to be friends with their children?
JL: “I understand it, but I think it’s unfortunate for the child. Parents who create those relationships with their children want to be the ‘good guy’ and always liked by the child at the expense of the child’s ultimate comfort and sense of security. Real love is giving a child consistent boundaries for behavior that often make a child very unhappy in the moment, but self-confident and secure in the long-term. Children who must be ‘friends’ with their parents, when they really need to count on them as authority figures, are burdened with too much power and forced to grow up too quickly. They end up feeling insecure and resentful.”
CBS: Why is discipline important on a daily basis? What are some ways parents can implement positive discipline in their everyday lives?
JL: “The purpose of discipline is to build character, and as Magda Gerber said, we want to “raise children we not only love, but in whose company we love being.” Healthy, respectful discipline is not giving punishments, ‘time outs,’ or withholding our love, it is establishing routines and rules, and then giving sensible consequences when those rules are broken.
Discipline begins when we establish a routine for our baby, a sequence of events for the day (i.e., after the baby wakes in the morning he is fed, changed, and then he spends time in his outdoor playpen.) Babies thrive when they are able to predict what will happen next.
Towards the end of the first year, babies begin to test limits, and need to be stopped when they are crossing the line. When a baby hits his mom, she must calmly, but firmly stop him with her hand and say, “I won’t let you hit.” The key is to be calm and in control, without anger, without lectures, without pleading (i.e., “That hurts Mommy! Please don’t do that!”). Our babies need us to project authority. Sometimes parents need help finding the right tone.”
CBS: If you could make one confession about being a mom, what would it be?
JL: “I haven’t been consistent about making my kids brush their teeth. Luckily, they don’t seem to get cavities!”
CBS: Do you think proper nutrition is important? Are regular mealtimes essential?
JL: “The quality of what we put into our bodies is important and, of course, parents should only offer nutritional food to a baby. We should then allow the child to choose from what we present and not coax him to eat even one bite more than he asks for. Parents who ask a child to clean his plate, try “one more bite,” or feed a child for any reason other than the child’s self-initiated desire to eat, risk creating food issues that may lead to eating disorders.
Ideally, a child should be offered food at predictable intervals. At mealtimes and for snacks, a child should always be required to sit and focus on eating until he is finished.”
CBS: Do children thrive on boundaries and routines? What about letting kids just ‘be’ and ‘go with the flow’?
JL: “Children absolutely thrive on consistent boundaries and predictable routines. Within those boundaries, and in a safe play environment, children should then be allowed to just ‘be’ and ‘go with the flow.’ Children need plenty of time every day for uninterrupted, self-directed play, but they don’t feel free to do so unless they are clear about their boundaries. If the rules are not clear, the child will test until they are. There is no real freedom without boundaries.”
CBS: What are some of the biggest mistakes well-meaning parents make?
JL: “At the risk of sounding like an ogre, I have to say that parents help too much. We help a baby to sit when the baby is comfortable on his back or tummy. We help a baby to stack blocks when the baby wants to line them up on the floor instead. We help a baby to draw a picture when the baby only wants to move the crayons in and out of the box. We help a child with his homework when he is working to figure out a hard problem by himself. By ‘helping’ we give our child the message that he is incapable on his own, or that what he is able to do is not ‘enough.’ It’s counter-intuitive to refrain from helping a child, but we serve children much better when we allow them to struggle, experiment, and solve problems themselves. And it’s okay if problems are left unsolved. Children enjoy process, and don’t expect to complete tasks the way we do.”
CBS: Please feel free to make any further comments or discuss any upcoming projects.
JL: “Celebrity Baby Scoop, Thank you for this opportunity. These answers feel like the tip of the iceberg, and there are many other icebergs we haven’t even touched upon. I would love to hear any comments and questions! I’m also excited to be sharing articles about RIE parenting, my classes and experiences as a mother on www.janetlansbury.com.
Good luck to us all!”