With three beautiful kids to balance her three Olympic gold medals (she won gold in the 2004, 2008 and 2012 Summer Olympics), beach volleyball dynamo Kerri Walsh Jennings knows a thing or two about raising healthy eaters and finding time for yourself as a mom.
SheKnows caught up with Walsh Jennings, who is busy training for the Summer 2016 Olympics, raising three children with husband Casey Jennings and serving as a spokeswoman for The National Honey Board, to talk mom guilt, handling parenting challenges with grace and the struggle even a pro athlete has to get her kids to eat healthy.
No stranger to the guilt many new moms feel leaving the baby to take some time for themselves, she credits her husband (a fellow beach volleyball pro) for helping her let go of her mommy guilt shortly after the birth of her first child.
“I was saying ‘yes’ to everything and doing so much, and he said, ‘A, you need to slow down. You have a support system. Use it. And B, you’re being really selfish not letting people help you,'” Walsh Jennings said. “That really resonated with me, because I’ve always been on a team and wanted to be the best teammate, and he called me out on not being that.”
Teamwork is a big theme in the Walsh Jennings household — and not just for the parents.
“Our kids are 6, 5 and 2, and they’re becoming very opinionated on their nutrition and what they want to eat,” Walsh Jennings explains. “So they have input. We empower them to make good choices, which is a huge parenting thing, for sure.”
So what does an Olympian feed her kids day to day, anyway?
Almond butter and honey sandwiches on sprouted bread are a favorite of the Jennings kids, and she uses cookie cutters to make the sandwiches both crust-free and fun. She’s working on curbing her kids’ love of chips by making healthier alternatives, like sweet potato chips and kale chips, and offering those instead. While her kids haven’t been the biggest fans of them yet, she’s hopeful that in time she and her husband will “wear them down.”
Getting worn down isn’t exactly on Walsh Jennings’ own agenda. Anyone who’s seen the four-time Olympian in action on the court knows that no matter what happens in a match, she always appears calm. It turns out she credits the same techniques she uses on the court for helping her stay in control during her hardest times as a mom.
“Being a parent has made me a better athlete, and being an athlete has made me such a better parent,” Walsh Jennings explains. “Being mindful and knowing that I’m in charge of the situation, knowing that stress and anxiety is going to be part of my daily routine whether it’s on the court or with my kids, just preparing myself for that is a big deal.
“If I go in expecting a match to be perfect and then I hit a rut and then I go into a tailspin, that’s not going to work. The same thing with my kids. If I expect my kids to act like angels all the time, I’m setting myself up for failure. So mindset is really important.”
Besides mentally preparing herself for potential stress in her day, Walsh Jennings also tries to meditate for a few minutes each day and aims to get eight hours of sleep each night, a goal which she admits is hard for any parent. But when she does manage it, she says it makes a huge difference. “Anything my kids do I’m going to handle it with more grace and more patience because I’ve got sleep. That’s super elusive. It’s challenging for me and for any parent, but it’s a top priority because it makes the biggest difference.”