Expert Q&A | Jessica Rolph, Happy Family & Lovevery
If I could adopt one ongoing mentor, it would be Jessica Rolph. Despite her immense success in partnering to found two companies that create impact in the early years with kids, she's somehow still curious, open and kind to new voices in the parenting space. First she was founding partner of Happy Family. You're likely familiar with the brand for the pouches and snacks that have been a staple in our diaper bag since Bodie started on solids. Jessica's aforementioned curiosity led her to found her next venture, Lovevery, a close look at how our little ones' brains develop and what they actually need at different stages. In speaking about the light bulb for their first popular product, The Play Gym (already a best seller on Amazon), Jessica shared that real and relatable feeling of wanting to connect with our children and know we're giving them the best while also managing the realities of home life and work distractions. She writes more about what that means as a mother and an entrepreneur below - read her thoughtful and smart take below.
1. You founded Lovevery to create more connected experiences with your child. What does that mean to you?
My favorite moments of connection are the times when we can just BE together, and I’m not distracted by my phone and all the to-dos.
I love the baby stage when everything is so new! There is something so magical about seeing her face and body completely consumed with each discovery. I love thinking about what is happening inside her little brain.
We take house tours and find all the places where there is water, or deconstruct a package of q-tips, or turn on and off lights. It is so fun to think about introducing the concept of ‘what’s in a home’ to someone who hasn’t been in one before!
I also love the toddler stage - laying on the floor while my two-year-old “doctor” probes me, reading books on a weekend afternoon, playing monster fort in the basement or “Dragons are coming!” in the bed.
2. What's your opinion on how investing in meaningful play can give back to the parent as well as the child?
Parenting is so hard, and there are so many insecurities. My little people have such different personalities, and I am often struggling to figure out what each one needs. Is he manipulating me by having another “fit” or does he really just need a hug… or both?
There is one area that is so natural and simple - play. The times that I have felt most connected and confident as a parent are when I know what my child is hungry to learn and know how I can help.
All toddlers love to pour. For example, instead of telling my two-year-old to stop driving me crazy pouring her milk onto her sandwich plate at dinner, I offer her a set of containers filled with water and food coloring to help her practice pouring. Giving her the chance to practice something she is naturally programmed to do and hungry to learn is so satisfying.
3. The Play Gym by Lovevery was based on tremendous research. What elements of the research do you think are most provocative for new parents?
What helps a child become their full selves and grow into their greatest potential is relatively simple. Beyond providing a loving environment, babies need the freedom to move and explore. They have to stretch out of the womb position and learn about their bodies. We have so many ways that we contain our babies - in swings, seats, strollers, and exersaucers. Convenient and necessary at times, but often not the best place for a baby’s development.
Decades of research show that time spent looking at high contrast images is important for a baby’s cognitive development. It makes sense and is so easy to do. Babies rely mostly on their eyes for learning in the early months - yet eyesight is one of the least developed senses at birth - a baby can’t practice looking in the womb. It was stunning to me to watch my one-week-old newborn riveted with a simple high contrast image... for over 2 minutes!
4. You were also founding partner of HappyBaby brands, which Bodie happens to love. Are there similarities in how you approached building both products that are so core to baby development?
I have a passion for children’s health and learning - stemming from my own experiences before and after having children. My interest in organic food, which led me to Happy Family, started from an experience I had with my health. I was very sick in my 20’s. I was prescribed multiple courses of antibiotics, only to find I was getting worse. I finally discovered the power of healing slowly through healthy foods.
At Happy Family, we fought to keep toxins out of babies’ bodies. And then I started thinking, what are we doing to nourish our babies’ brains? I discovered a doctoral thesis on infant brain development that had all these detailed, nerdy, cool things that I could do with my baby. It felt really natural and simple, and I never looked at our toys the same again. This discovery became the inspiration for Lovevery.
As parents, we all intuitively know what is best. If we had the time we would all grow our own organic food in our backyard garden and offer it to our little ones in a plastic-free dish. Our homes would be full of sustainably harvested, locally produced wood toys, and we would have a “home education” curriculum based on the best research in child development science.
This doesn’t line up my reality as a parent. I’m guilty of being distracted by my phone when I’m with my kids. It is impossible to be perfect and so hard to know where to start and what to do. We crave being present and having moments of connection, but what does that really look like?
I want to help parents bridge what our intuition tells us - what feels right and good and wholesome - with products, information, and support that fits seamlessly into the pace and realities of our world. My work at Happy Family and Lovevery serve my ultimate life purpose - to help children from all backgrounds reach their highest potential.
5. The parenting space is so full of products and perspectives. For other mother entrepreneurs (ahem, hi!), what do you think has contributed to the amazing adoption of the Play Gym?
The founder of Patagonia, Yvon Counard, is one of my heroes - he talks about how we all need to live an examined life - question assumptions and challenge the status quo.
We took this approach to our first product, thinking deeply about the core purpose of a play gym. A mat on the floor with exciting sensory stimulation, overhead objects that hang down and swing at just the right pendulum to encourage reaching and grasping, a place where babies can learn from images that interest them. This all seemed so foundational and simple.
We created countless versions of the gym and tested them with with babies and families around the country. My basement was covered with babies and prototypes. Our early designs were admittedly and embarrassingly NOT RIGHT - but we stuck with it and kept the ultimate vision of creating a product that was grounded in science for what is best for a child developmentally.
We have felt so grateful that The Play Gym has resonated. Our dream to help parents and the little people they love is coming true!