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: Oh, hi, Jonathan. Thank you so much for having me. This is really fun. I 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, 19, and 24. It takes me a minute to think of all that. And 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. And we’ll talk about that.
Jonathan: So tell us just what is TruKid? What you guys do? What’s your mission?
Jennifer: Well, our product is TruKid, and we offer sun care, skin care, eczema care, body care, and I started this business 10 years ago because I thought there was a gap in the marketplace addressing kids’ skin care needs. We have baby product, and then all of a sudden, they’re teenagers and they’re dealing with acne. And I thought if I could get kids into skin care, washing their hands and their face, starting at age, you know, about two and up, that they’d be better prepared to dealing with the trauma of, you know, teenage skin as they get older.
And, you know, along the way, I’ve learned a lot about healthy skin care, and how there’s so many products out there that are just 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 a kid… So I was raised in the country, and my parents wanted me to travel in high school. And I was really shy, and just the mere notion of it made me incredibly nervous, and I didn’t do it. You know, we didn’t have a lot of money growing up, you know, we grew up in the country, 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.
And I didn’t do it because I was so…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 it… I really regret that I didn’t have courage to face my fears with that, and it’s interesting because my kids are travelers now. And my oldest just got back from Israel and she…that was her 33rd country. So somehow that fear of mine, I must have put 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: Yeah. Well, as a kid, we didn’t travel. We went boating in the summer and we camped. That’s what we did, right? It was really, really fun, and one time, my parents rented an RV and we traveled across the country and back, and it was really cool. But when my oldest was living in Madrid for about nine months teaching English, she wanted us to come visit, and I’m like, “Oh, my God, 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’m like, “Fine, okay, I’ll go.” You know, like, I wouldn’t wanna go. I’d love to go, but then I felt guilty about leaving my kids behind or how do I afford all of that. And so I… The kids like, “We wanna go.” I’m like, “Okay, perfect. You can go if you could pay your own way.” And they’re like, “Okay, we’re in.” And I’m like, “All right, fine. Go upstairs and give me all the money you have as a deposit.”
And so they all went upstairs, the ones that wanted to go, and brought down their various monies, right? And it ranged from 50 bucks to 150 bucks. Like, not a lot of money. So I’m like, “All right, I’m gonna buy the tickets, and then you’re gonna cover yourself.” And it was so spontaneous and, like, nobody had a chance to react that this may be a good or bad idea. And so we…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 and…but we had to go through Stockholm. 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. And it was amazing to watch them, you know, earn the money, and I’m not just kidding. Like, 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, but it took… Now, it’s now turned into this thing with my kids where, like, you know, the other ones wanna go now, too, so we all go. Oldest four went with us on that trip, and then in the next trip, you know, another one came along because they thought it would be really fun, too. So now, every year’s like, “Where are we gonna 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, right, because everything is possible. Like, literally, it’s cheaper to go to Europe than to fly to New York City, just about, right? So now we… Now it’s, like, now the conversation, “Where we’re gonna go next?”
Jonathan: What’s the age range of kids who pay their own way?
Jennifer: So we went 13 and up, so, but anyone can go. Anyone can pay their own way, right? So this year, my college kid is studying in Barcelona and we’re like, the kids are like, “Okay, Barcelona it is, right?” That’s just…it’s just a de facto decision we’re gonna go to Barcelona. And it’s so interesting because we’re looking at, you know, the map, we always look at the map, and Freddy, my 17-year-old is like, “Well, Marrakesh seems like it’s just right over there. Can we also then go to Marrakesh?” Oh, my. Oh, my. “Well, how much is it to go to Marrakesh?” “Yeah, we can go. It’s on me.” It’s all, like, why not? And the kids have now like… Everything is like, “Why not?” And, you know, from Barcelona to Marrakesh on Ryanair is 100 bucks, so it’s really easy to do all of that. So the little ones, the 10 and 13, I’m like, “Are you guys gonna go to Barcelona?” They’re like, “I don’t know, maybe.” And my 13-year-old has decided that she has a fear of flying, which is not true, but she’s just decided. And, I think, it’s because she just doesn’t wanna earn money, so she won’t go. And the 10-year-old is thinking about how he wants to earn money to go see his 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, you know, working. So we are a working family. So in our house, we… I don’t pay allowances because, for me, contributing for your household by doing local domestic chores, like laundry or cleaning or whatever, is just part of what you must do as part of contributing to our community, right? But if they want…
Jonathan: Just being part of the family.
Jennifer: …to work, they… It’s just the decision that my husband and I made, but they can earn money. They can come to work for me, or they can come to work for my son or they can work for my husband. There’s an opportunity to work every single day. You know, they can babysit. Babysitting pays a lot of money these days, by the way. Almost more than I pay the kids. Babysitting is a way, or walking dogs, or starting businesses. It’s, you know, if you just do the math, right, let’s say we have six months out to go on a trip, and it’s gonna cost, you know, 800 bucks or 500 bucks, whatever the number is, if they can earn 100 bucks a week or a month, like, it’s just not that much money to earn.
It’s just not that hard. You just gotta think about it. And so 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, you know, whatever, right? There’s ways to earn money, it’s just not that difficult.
Jonathan: Nice. Jennifer, describe something in your family life that you consciously made more fun, easy, meaningful, or joyous?
Jennifer: We… I love this question, and I…I had to really think about it. Ten, twelve years ago, something like that, at Christmas time I started…I asked the kids to write letters to each other. And so I think I even started it before I had all six kids, it must have been because that’s so long ago, where 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 was just a Christmas letter to say hello.
And, but it had to be four sentences because you know kids. They’ll take the shortcut and write, you know, “Merry Christmas. I love your hat.” So, and every single year, they fight about they don’t wanna do it, or whatever it is, right? 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. And 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, you know, one will write something emotional, and imagine it’s like six times six, so each kid writes six letters times six.
So it’s 36 letters, and I write letters, and my husband writes letters sometimes, so it takes a while to go and to read it all, and the kids have established a hierarchy on how we read the letters to each other because they manage all of that. And one letter might be emotional, one letter will be about nothing at all, right? And one kid will have the same phrase to everybody because that’s her shtick, right? But then one will be a point…she will write about points of contention that she has with somebody. It’s hilarious.
And then I’ll have one who’s a really good writer, so we always make her read her letters twice because they’re really funny. And it has become a tradition that I really love, and I know the kids really love it, too, because they joke about how they’re gonna want these letters when they’re older. So they all go into this Christmas book of letters, and you can go back however many years you’ve gone back and see… It’s like a snapshot in time. You can go back five years ago at Christmas and see what we were all thinking about. It’s lovely and…
Jennifer: …I think I’m probably gonna 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: You know, 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 and that’s been… We’ve been in this house for five years. It has been… Boy, what a… Like, we’ve cut down driving by 80% by having this happen, right? But what I notice is just we’ve got caught up in the tradition of society of driving their kids to every activity that there is, right?
I just… I would like to have created a life where the driving wasn’t so much. The driving just… Like, evenings and weekends, it’s just drive, drive, drive, drive, drive, drive, drive, and even though my teenage kids can drive now, it’s just…I wish there was another way. And I haven’t… 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. Like, it just, it gets to be a grind after a while. So, I guess, 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 Iowa, farm family, you know, lot of independence, and where I grew up in the country, too, a lot of independence. And you may have had this as a kid, too, and 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, right? 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 in that entire day, and I think it has really developed my sense of curiosity and able to solve problems because, you know, nobody was telling me what to do, and I really want to and have been trying to give my kids that kind of freedom, but, to date, we’re so overprotective of our kids, and I’m equally protective, right?
Like, I wanna know where they’re at all the time, wanna be able to reach them all the time, and living in this particular house, right, 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 gonna walk down to Patrick’s house that is down around the corner.” And I’m like, “Fine, just go.” 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 gonna be different no matter as much as I try to force them or to guide them into something, they’re gonna be who they are, just like we are. And I really, really love the chaos of all the kids, and I love watching them just be, be themselves. So, example, picture this, so at night, I sort of retreated to my room and then, of course, the kids all come find me because that’s just what they do.
And at any given night, they’re all in there almost all the time, and imagine this. So if, you know, if the big kids are home, now I may have four kids because the two kids are older and they’re out, but, let’s say at Christmastime, they’re all 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, right? They’re laying on my bed, they’re whatever. It’s, like, they’re all in there all the time. And 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, and I love that about being a parent is that ridiculous chaos that is like this little mini circus happening, but it brings…it, like, feeds me such great joy to be in that moment. Like, I think about when all my kids go away, I’m like, “What I’m I gonna 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 son’s high school… I have three kids, actually, in high school, their entrepreneurial program. 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 the small business is king, right, in my mind, and 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 wanna start businesses, like, help them get off the ground. You know, and aside from that, too, I…my teenage son has a fairly robust and growing business. I’m helping him, you know, navigate that. But then two of my other kids are starting businesses, too, which is… And hopefully, by the summer, they’ll be off and running and, you know, 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, and I’m contemplating writing a book, not about parenting advice because I’m not…I don’t believe that I should be giving advice because it’s not… I don’t believe I should tell people what to do, but I’d love to share what I’m up to because I think that, you know, as I read other parenting blogs or whatever, I always glean a little something about what somebody else is up to. So I’d love to talk about, you know, how I’m raising kids to be entrepreneurs in my family and how we do that. So I think I might be doing that this year.
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 a, that’s the age-old question, right? So, you know, my kids all play sports. So that’s important to our family because we love being active, we love being competitive in that way, but academics is always our priority. I wish I had a better answer for you, but the kids…you know, how I’ve been raising my kids is they manage their time, right? They’re in charge of their academics. They’re in charge of their sports. They’re in charge of sort of everything. It’s my conscious choice to raise independent kids.
It doesn’t mean I’m not, like, oversighting all the things and questioning why things are going wrong, but they have a lot of downtime. 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. But it just is what it is, right? But we manage that a little bit. And then we have dinner as a family at night. It’s just sort of how we bring ourselves together. It’s a main focus for us, like, we definitely have our dinners where we talk about life, and we have that down time, then they all go off.
When you have six kids, and everyone’s really, really busy, you know, it’s very fluid. Like, I can’t… I don’t know how to answer this in a really just succinct way, maybe I should think about that. It seems like when we have our dinners, it’s our place to, like, reconnect to each other. But, you know, also part of what we do is we have our grateful book, which we’ve had for a super-long time, where 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.
It’s a way to ground all the kids in, like, we have a lot in our lives, and to be grateful is, like, one of the things I want the kids to have as a first priority. Like, just be grateful for the whatever. Gratefulness carries, you know, things a long way. So I thought… That was just a roundabout, rambling answer, but… I don’t know. It’s like I didn’t really answer it all the 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 hypergo.com. If you want to support his young business, that would be awesome. Yeah. And, you know, what we’re doing here at TruKid is we’re really focusing on, you know, the needs of eczema care sufferers, so we have gone big into the eczema space because it is a real struggle. You can get it as babies and you can have it your whole life, and we’re trying to create products that are really healthy and steroid-free, and safe for you and your families to 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.
In two weeks I’ll give a free Kidorable Umbrella to whoever leaves my favorite comment and shares this interview on the social media platform of their choice.