Helene Godin, founder of By the Way Bakery, talks family dinner, teenagers, and more with Your Teen.
Q: You had a high-powered legal career before founding the bakery?
Godin: Yes, and my sons, each independently, over the last year have said to me that they are so thankful you I was so engaged and driven in my career because it made me a better parent. They said, “Otherwise you would have taken all of your energy and focused it on us and made us crazy.”
Q: Yet you always made time for family dinner?
Godin: They weren’t lavish six-course dinners. They were 30 minutes around a small table. I purposely designed my kitchen with a very small table where the four of us (me, my husband, and two sons) would have to make eye contact and talk for 30 minutes.
Q: Does your husband see the importance of family dinner?
Godin: Yes, and he is the one who had to execute and make the family dinner because he works from home. He was a short order cook. I am a pescatarian. He is a vegan who eats eggs. One son was a vegan for a two-year period and then became a serious carnivore. My other son is an omnivore and always ate anything. So trying to please us all became ridiculous. The other thing is, I am really into setting a nice table. We use real dishes and cloth napkins. Everything was in a serving bowl. I would make exceptions for the ketchup.
Q: So you made it an affair.
Godin: On late days, my husband would give the kids a snack and we might eat dinner at 8 o’clock. Even if I were exhausted when I got home, I would set a pretty table, sit down, and we would all mark the end of the workday.
Q: Is your schedule less intense now that you’re running a bakery?
Godin: No, I am the same. It’s just in my DNA to the nth degree. Yesterday, for example, we made a really beautiful cake and, even though we have a great delivery person, I wanted to make sure that the cake would arrive in pristine form. So I drove it myself. It was just too pretty.
Q: Tell us about your boys?
Godin: My 19-year-old is in college. He just finished freshman year at Northeastern. He really loves the co-op program there. Both of my children are really kind souls. I don’t mean to brag but they also really respect the value of work and they like work and they like being engaged. So, Northeastern is the perfect choice for him because Northeastern really focuses on careers and practicality and he likes that. He is now part of a student run advertising agency and that’s his favorite part of school.
Q: And your 21-year-old?
Godin: He came to us in 8th grade and said, “I just want you to know that I am not going to college.” I said, “Really?” and he said, “Yes.” He is really good at technology. He just gets it and has since he was two. He said, “Bill Gates didn’t finish. Steve Jobs didn’t finish, so I am not even going to go.” I am really proud of that day because I said, “You know what. You don’t have to go, you just have to get in. Because my job as a parent is to give you options.” What we said to him was that he has to get in to a school worthy of his potential. That means, you can never not do a homework assignment or not go to class or not study for a test just because you say you are not going to college. You have to always act as if you are going.
Q: How’d that go?
Godin: Mostly he did really interesting things during high school, including starting an Internet company at the end of junior year with two other guys. He graduated early, and he got in to New York University early decision and immediately asked to defer. He said, “As you can tell from my essay, I am busy with other things.” And then he returned a year later and said, “Can I defer for another year?” NYU allowed him to defer again and by the end of that second year, he decided he really didn’t want to go. And that was fine because he is working. He is supporting himself in New York City and he is really happy. I still have friends who say, “So is Alex going to go to college?” I say, “He is more engaged. He reads more books and goes to more lectures than most college students. I personally think that his curiosity is in part because of our family dinners—we always encouraged a fruitful discussion.”
Q: Was it hard that your child took a different path than the one you envisioned?
Godin: Not really. We made our expectations clear. We said to him, “Listen, if you don’t go to college, you must support yourself.” And he has done that.
Q: Do you have one piece of advice that you would offer to our readers that you feel helped you?
Godin: To paraphrase the principal from Dobbs Ferry High School … It’s not about the sticker on the back of your car. Let your teenager be who they are.