Tovah Klein, PhD: 2.9.14

tovah klein


BCM: How did your life change when you became a mom? 

TK: Becoming a mother was humbling. No matter how much I knew, having a tiny baby in my care 24/7 was a whole different experience- in wonderful and exhausting ways. I remember feeling relieved that my view of children had always centered on understanding who the child is first, and the idea that every child has his/her own unique way. Because it was very clear to me that my baby had his ways of being in the world and it was our job to love and guide him, but he is who he is. And that has been reinforced with each of our children.

I had no idea how complex the change would be to becoming a mother. You can’t fully grasp it until you are in it. It has certainly made me better at what I do professionally. I thought of myself (even before having children) as not being judgmental of parents, but I am sure I was more often than I realized! Having my own child, and then children, made me well aware that there were lots of tough spots when you are a parent and parents need support. More than I knew before I had a child of my own.

BCM: What has/have been your most memorable moment(s) as a mom?

TK: That’s a tough question. There are so many highlights as my children grow up. I think seeing my three children together- when they are uproariously laughing or playing together, or looking out for each other, taking care of each other- just seeing that special bond between them. It is a bond that only siblings can have for each other. At the end of the day, after all the fighting or jealousy, or miscommunications, they have each other. And seeing the caring they can show each other is deeply fulfilling as their mom.

BCM: What has been the biggest challenge for you in motherhood. Any advice for new moms?

TK: I think for any of us who had careers, becoming a mother shakes up how we see ourselves in a major way. It forces us to see ourselves differently in the world and in our relationships, like with our spouses or partners. That process of trying to figure out who I was now that I was a mother- that was a challenge, even beyond the challenge of the lack of sleep! Whether you continue to work or not, the question of “Who am I?” looms large. The other big challenge for me is the little time I have for myself- outside of 3 children, a wonderful husband and a career, there really is little time in a day or a week for ‘just me’ moments, whether being with friends or listening to music. I sneak patches of time in for this and as my children get older, I find more of these moments. It’s important not to lose yourself entirely.

The best advice I can give to new mothers is to do everything in your power to be less hard on yourself. Being a mom is a deeply moving and life-changing event, but you have to let go and let the joy of this new phase happen. Don’t try to micromanage it. Parenting is not a profession. It is not about perfection or even about getting it just right. Being a mother is tiring, but it is really about an intimate new relationship. If you can step back a bit and try to relax, have humor, laugh a lot, then you will learn to enjoy the ride.

BCM : Congrats on your first book! What was your inspiration behind writing “How Toddlers Thrive”?

TK: Thank you. It is exciting to see it come into print. The inspiration came from a number of places, not the least of which was raising 3 children through the toddler years and beyond. It came from seeing so much confusion amongst parents about how to raise young children. Every parent wants to do well by their child but now more than ever parents don’t know what path to take. They are unsure. They are nervous about doing it ‘wrong’. There is tons of information available and I think the sheer quantity leads parents to greater confusion about whose advice to follow, to doubt themselves, to lose sight of what really matters. On top of that, the toddler years are a unique and special opportunity, but they are also hard to understand. Toddlers are just coming into their own, they are separating and wanting to figure everything out. They are curious and independent one moment and glued to the parent the next. It is not easy to understand. Their behaviors can be baffling. Who else lunges food across a table as a way of saying, “I’m finished with dinner, thank you”?

For a long time, friends, colleagues and toddler parents kept saying I should write a book. For years I would say, “I’ll put that in my book” in response to a toddler moment I watched or a parent reported. So people started asking if my book was done. But I had not actually started writing. I finally decided to take the plunge. It feels great to combine the neuroscience findings, the research we’ve conducted at the Toddler Center, and years of observing toddlers and working with parents into one book. If I can help more parents understand what their toddler is really about, then their toddler will get a better start in life- and I am sure their parents will enjoy them more, too.

BCM: What is the one question that you get asked the most during your seminars? What is your answer?

TK:There are a number of them that come up regularly. If I had to pick one, I’d say it is “Why does my toddler tantrum? She falls apart over the tiniest little thing!” The short answer is that they have no other recourse at those moments. They have ideas, they have desires, they want to do things on their own and they are experiencing many new and intense emotions. Combine this with a lack of verbal skills, no sense of time, the lack of skills to fully do what they want to do, and still developing brain structures to handle those intense emotions—it is a recipe for tantrums. They are railing against limits- their own and those imposed on them. This phase passes, but they need to go through it if they are going to have desires of their own.

BCM: How do you manage your work/life balance? 

TK: This is the million dollar question, isn’t it?! We are doing a study at the Toddler Center where we look at this issue in parents. And the answer is that there is no right answer. Just as you think you find balance, the pieces shift. The needs shift. Something changes. Balance is elusive. In our study, we are calling this theme, “The myth of balance”.

Over the years, I have had the luxury of some flexibility in my schedule plus I work near where I live. So that helps a lot, especially when the boys were younger. I see myself as a mother and a professional, and one does not have to go in order to have the other one. That is not to say it has always been easy, and when the boys were younger I struggled with it much more than I do now.

I make sure to be home most nights in a week, we eat together and have evenings as a family. I am involved in my kids’ schools. We try very hard not to overbook our weekends so we get time together. And we do activities, like cook. Oh, and we have had great caregivers to help us with the kids. I feel fortunate in this respect. That is a huge part of making this all work. Plus, my husband is a partner- he cooks, shops and does other household things, which is essential for a woman to have any semblance of balance. We both have to be part of raising the children and managing the household.

Trying to tackle the work/life balance has to be a conscious effort and one I revisit regularly. My husband and I also make a conscious effort to get time alone when we can- to get out to theatre or dinner or just some time together. It is not easy!

BCM: What are your favorite activities to do with your sons? Any fun family “must do” activities you can recommend to other moms?

TK:I actually think that cooking together is a great activity, because you can do it at any age with them. Little ones like to ‘help’ and as they get older, they can do more or all of the steps in the cooking. It is relaxed time together. Each of my boys has a meal or two they now cook on their own. This fall, my youngest and I learned to make jam- something I never imagined doing. An activity we all enjoy is being outside in any way we can- snowball fights included. We go on bike rides or hikes – again, since they were young. I also will go for a walk with just one child, or out to get a bite to eat. It is so important to get alone time with each child. I have traveled alone with my oldest to a meeting in Wales. My middle one and I will visit my parents out of town this spring. These are such special times.


I’m totally obsessed with…Finding the perfect color of the gel nail polish that lasts 3 weeks

My biggest influence is…My Dad

My favorite drugstore buy is…Fun and funny greeting cards

My guilty pleasure is…Dark Chocolate, the darker the better

My favorite NYC activity…Walks in Riverside Park, often with one of my children

My favorite color is…Blue

My favorite NYC restaurant…Tribeca Grill