Sleepy? Yes. Braindead? Nope. Not for Susan McLain, the genius behind The Baby Einstein Company . As VP and General Manager, Susan is responsible for managing strategy development, leadership and market growth, consumer communication, and product expansion for the Baby Einstein Business. When her 2 ½ year old daughter Kiera was born, she definitely struggled to get over the mommy guilt and develop a rhythm with work and home life. Now, with baby number 2 on the way, Susan McLain opens up to contributor Jenny Herschko about how life in the (baby) fast lane, may change.
What came first in your life: Baby fever or Baby Einstein?
Actually Baby Einstein. My sister had a baby about 8 years ago and introduced me to the product. She loved the DVDs and was a huge fan of the CDs — they seemed to work magic on her baby. In 2003, I began working on the Baby Einstein DVD business and I immediately understood the passion communicated by moms. In 2006, my daughter was born and I was able to experience firsthand the happiness and excitement our products bring to baby and parents alike!
You are definitely a busy, full time working mom. What kinds of things do you tell yourself to get over the mommy guilt?
I’ve come to terms with things since having my daughter 2 1/2 years ago. Don’t get me wrong, the first few months back at work were really difficult — I ached to be home with my child. But, now we have our own little rhythm that seems to work for us — we enjoy some time together in the morning and then have our evening routine that involves playtime, bathtime and our bedtime ritual. And, one perk is that I am much more focused and organized than I ever was which has helped me at work, at home, even running errands. Now, as I await the arrival of baby #2, the question is whether or not I will be able to maintain this routine or if I will start completely from scratch.
Do you think you’d be as invested and passionate about your job/company if you weren’t a mother? Meaning: At a certain point, would all the cute characters drive you nuts if you didn’t have a child?
Baby Einstein is an amazing brand, and it’s one that I first experienced through others which I think is even better. I worked on it for 3 years before I had my first child and was excited when the opportunity to manage the entire business came my way because I truly believed in the products and had experienced the positive impact the products had on so many families — mine included! It is a line of products that I care about as much as if I created it myself, so right now I can’t imagine getting tired of working on it — it really is fun!
Have you ever gauged the success or likeability of a product based on your daughter’s reactions? What’s the funniest reaction that she’s ever had to a Baby Einstein product or video?
It’s very nice to have my own little focus group at home and with my girlfriends with babies. I can’t help but share my daughter's reactions to the DVDs, our toys, our CDs, even our books. Fortunately she is a huge fan of just about all of our products. In fact, I often wondered if she somehow knew that I worked on the products because for a period of time everything I would bring home she loved. But, I do have to say my favorite moment was watching her react to the Baby da Vinci DVD — something about those particular puppet shows make her so happy — watching her laugh over and over again is just priceless.
About two years ago, a study was published which claimed that videos such as Baby Einstein actually decreased IQ and “dumbed down” our kids? As a mom, how did these claims resonate with you? Did you question your own choices as a parent?
First of all, I must clarify that this study did not find any evidence that our DVDs decreased IQ, in fact, the study actually did not even study our products at all. For some reason the researchers felt that incorporating Baby Einstein into their press release would help them get publicity, and since then Baby Einstein has had to defend itself from accusations in a press release that have no scientific connection to our products at all. So, yes, as a mom I am upset that false and misleading statements can be picked up and communicated as fact. It is not just unfair to our brand, it is unfair to make parents feel that something that they are doing is wrong when in fact that is opposite from the truth.
Would you say you parent from the gut or read the books and reports and follow the lead of your friends? Are there sites or books in particular that you like?
I have to say that I typically follow my gut, but have no issues jumping online to see if I am doing the right or wrong thing. I also rely on my friends to help me work through things — getting my daughter to sleep through the night was one of those things where I consulted websites, friends and even a doula. But, truth be told, I knew in my gut that I was probably not handling it in the best way for all of us — I just couldn’t bear to let my daughter cry in the middle of the night. And, after being away at work all day I actually enjoyed the time I got to hold her — even if it did lead to 2 a.m., 3 a.m. and 4 a.m. wake-ups. Ultimately, I figured it out, but sometimes you need to do what is best for you — not what a book or another mom tells you.
How soon after your first baby was born did you return back to work? What’s your plan for this baby? Do you feel more or less pressure to be at home with the second baby?
My first maternity leave was great. I took about 4 months and really detached myself from the office. It was exactly what I needed and I loved being able to focus only on my family. It was an unforgettable time in my life. Now, as baby #2 is on her way, I am excited about refocusing on family for awhile. I am fortunate to have some help at home this time around, and actually feel less pressure than I did the first time. I hope that I can relax and give my daughters the attention that they deserve. It’s amazing how much you can learn from your children and I look forward to discovering some new things over the next few months.
What’s the worst, best, or funniest thing any one has ever said to you when you told them you are the General Manager for the Baby Einstein Company?
*EDITOR’S NOTE: Sloane Alexandra McLain was born May 13th at 12:18 PM. She weighed 8 lbs and 8 oz. Susan and baby are doing great!
Susan McLain was interviewed by Jenny Herschko. Jenny is a Writer/Producer, and author of Perfectly Disheveled , a blog about being a new mom. Jenny studied Acting at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts and worked for several years as a reality TV producer. She now spends her time writing for various parenting websites while trying to channel her former Type-A, pre-baby personality.
If you enjoyed our Working Mom interview with Baby Einstein Vice President Susan McLain, be sure to check out Mommy Tracked's interview with The Jim Henson Company's co-CEO, Lisa Henson .
Also on Mommy Tracked: Stefanie Wilder-Taylor's Reaction to the Baby Einstein Product Refund Offer: It Doesn't Take a Genius