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Childhood is often associated with play. If you close your eyes, you’ll probably transport yourself back in time to days at the park, front yard lemonade stands and homemade pillow forts. But this sweet nostalgia isn’t the case for everyone.
As a child, Whitney Lundeen grew up surrounded by addiction and abuse in her home. When she became a mom, she wanted more for her kids, but playtime didn’t come naturally to her. So she designed a fashionable and functional “play” dress she could wear as a reminder to herself to change the narrative in her family. The original dress helped build the foundation for Sonnet James, an apparel collection featuring fun and fashionable dresses and “playsuits” that take can take parents from the office straight to the playground.
Read on to find out more about Lundeen, her functional fashions and why being a present and playful presence in her kids’ lives is the most important thing to her.
What’s the idea behind Sonnet James?
When I became a single mother at 25 years old, I felt emotionally distant from my two children; my emotional piggy bank was at zero. I had a difficult childhood with addiction and abuse in my home, and I wanted to give my kids the connection, playfulness and joy that was absent for me when I was a child. Playing with my kids isn’t something that came naturally to me, but over the years I’ve learned how important play is developmentally and emotionally.
After both of my pregnancies, I was constantly throwing on my old, soft maternity shirts and yoga pants because they were comfortable and easy to clean. I missed wearing fashionable clothing and things that made me feel good and comfortable in my own skin, but the clothes I had were made of fabrics that didn’t feel like they would move with me or clean easily when I was with my kids. I came up with the idea of a play dress as something my mom could have worn to remind herself to play with me as a little girl, as well as remind myself to be present and help change my family patterns.
Each day, when I put on a Sonnet James dress, it helps me remember who I want to be—a playful mother who is confident in herself and who wants her kids to feel the same.
Where does the name come from?
I waited until I delivered my children to find out their sex, so I had a boy and girl named picked out both times. James was the girl name I had picked out if Satchel would have been a girl, and Sonnet was the girl name for Eero. I kind of put them together, and it was as if Sonnet James was the daughter I never had.
What are your favorite picks from the collection?
You’re a single mom running a business. How do you handle both aspects of your life?
Sometimes I feel like,I’ve got this, I’m on fire! The kids lunches are packed and breakfast is planned and I signed up for a field trip and remembered to go! Other times, we wake up late and I have to run to the store and pick up something for the boys’ lunch and bring it to them at school. I try to be gentle with myself. Every day is different, and I hope that the days I’m on will be enough to cover the days I’m off.
What are your favorite playtime activities with your sons?
Definitely dancing. We also love to grab a ball and take it to the park right by us and make up games, or go to the beach and play in the sand. Another thing I love that may or may not be “play” is reading chapter books with the boys. It’s a highlight for us. We cuddle up and have a nightlight and read for 30 to 45 minutes. Right now, we’re reading a book about a 14-year-old boy who finds out his uncle is a CIA agent and he has to ride on a quad through mazes, and I can just see my boys’ minds going. It’s so much fun!
How do you incorporate play into a busy schedule?
I’ve been thinking so much about the connection between being present and being playful. You can’t really be playful with your kids until you’re first present in the moment. I have been trying to be more present in everyday tasks. When I’m packing lunches, instead of thinking, ‘I have to do this every morning for 15 years,’ I remember what it felt like to be a kid in school, so excited for lunchtime and wondering what was going to be in my lunch. It’s a small change to adjust my mind, but it makes such a big difference. Now I’m thinking about what I want those 15 years of mornings to be like—a nice breakfast, music playing. It’s such a happier place to be.
Are you raising your sons any differently than you thought you would before you became a parent?
I’m going to be honest here. For a while, I didn’t think about how I would parent because I didn’t really want to be a parent. When I was a little girl, I had a very strong maternal instinct and everything was all about my baby dolls. As I got older, I wasn’t that kid anymore, and I didn’t like babies or babysitting. I think it was the dysfunction in my family that made me feel like it was just too much to be a parent.
Then, I became a mom at a young age of 22 and something changed. I became so maternal again. I read every book on taking care of babies, and my sister moved to be near me and she taught me so much. She had a baby three years older than my oldest son, but my sister was 10 years older than me when she became a mom, so she knew so much about being a parent. She taught me all about feeding babies healthy food and taking them to storytime for early literacy skills. I was like a sponge, watching and learning from everyone who I thought was a good mom. It’s intimidating to be a mom, but reaching out to all of the moms I admired helped me so much.
What’s your best parenting advice?
One of the best things I’ve learned is to get on eye level with my kids. When I’m trying to get my boys to do something or teach them, it makes such a big difference to be at their height, looking into their eyes. One time, when I was frustrated with Satchel and looking down at him, Eero came over to hug and protect his brother and I realized I had this power and it felt terrible. I immediately dropped down to the ground to change that power dynamic.
Do you have a guilty mom pleasure?
It’s probably a box of See’s Candies chocolates with half rum nougats and half peanut butter patties, or a hot bath with candles while I watch a show. Oh, and Shake Shack cheese fries with cheese on the side, Dove Promises and Fruit Roll-Ups!
Published April 2019
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