Jennifer is about to take a trip with her family to the Pyrenees, where her recently deceased father-in-law once bought a home for his children. The remote area has now become Jennifer’s second home – partly because she spent months there last year during her father-in-law’s illness.
It is a place for Jennifer, her American boyfriend Dorian and their toddler Cooper to take a break, without the stimuli of the city. ‘Unlike in the Netherlands, in France I take long walks through nature, without a phone, completely in the moment.
We now try to be there as much as possible. As long as our lives allow it and Cooper is not yet of school age, we have that luxury. We are guided by my work; If a big series or cool job comes my way, we will immediately change it again. In that sense we are contemporary nomads.’
Is Cooper just as flexible?
‘So far, yes. At the same time, he had been a child who was very attached to one place. But for now, Cooper is switching gears effortlessly. He also had a fantastic time in America, where we visited Dorian’s mother last summer; Of course it helps that he already speaks the language with his father.
I had never really looked into children before, but it’s incredible what they can do at this age! I’m completely amazed. Cooper is only 2.5 and speaks two languages, flies across the street on his scooter and is virtually toilet trained.
In fact, he only wears a diaper in the daycare garden. That’s only because ‘someone’ – I won’t mention any names, but it’s his father – always allows him to urinate in public in France. And yes, here at daycare they are less enthusiastic when he ‘waters’ the plants.’
Are you and Dorian on the same page in your upbringing?
‘Dorian is a kind of painter who, with conviction, draws a line on the canvas and continues from there. I prefer to work with a plan, or at least a careful sketch in pencil. Dorian sees no obstacles on the road. If he unexpectedly sees one, he will find it interesting.
I like his attitude. I never give up either, but sometimes I see a bear on the road that I can’t immediately ignore. Then Dorian says: “We’ll just take that bear with us.” That is why I undoubtedly lead a more adventurous life with him than I would have on my own. And Cooper too. Without Dorian, he would probably eat the same food every day and go to bed at set times.
Especially in the beginning, when I was still breastfeeding, I stuck to the schedules quite a bit – not least because a sleeping Cooper also meant freedom for myself. Dorian always looks to see where he can stretch these types of structures a bit.’
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Does that ever cause friction?
‘In the beginning I sometimes objected when Dorian was ‘too flexible’ in my eyes. I was quite focused on the world slowly revealing itself to Cooper, not too much, not too fast. During the first year this sometimes led to some discussion, which, as a breastfeeding mother, I largely won.
Until we fortunately discovered while talking that we actually have the same goal in mind: we both want Cooper to become an easy-going guy, who can go everywhere, feels at ease with everyone, and experiences as little stress as possible. My path there may have been diametrically opposed to Dorian’s, but we want to achieve the same thing.
That eye-opener strengthened our bond enormously. Now we look at each time whose method is the best, and it works. We are even in a love phase again. The first period of lack of sleep, fits and panic about whether we were doing it right was tough, but after a year and a half we fortunately emerged together again.’
What makes Dorian a nice father?
‘I couldn’t have imagined a better father for my son. I see Dorian challenging Cooper. A good example is our holiday in America last summer. Dorian’s mother lives in a house with a huge garden and a large swimming pool. For weeks I had nightmares: how do I keep Cooper from falling into the pool? Should I build a fence around it or tape a swimming pool to it?
Of course I didn’t want to make him afraid of the water. But Dorian doesn’t make any fuss: he hoists Cooper into his puddle jumper and takes him into the water. Cooper responded hesitantly, a signal for me to postpone it for a while, but Dorian persisted. I consciously kept quiet, because even though I ‘thought’ something about it: this was something between Cooper and Dorian, I didn’t want to interfere. Long story short: for the rest of the week, Cooper couldn’t get out of the pool with a stick, he enjoyed it that much. That would never have happened with me alone.’
Do you spoil Cooper a lot?
‘Not in the sense of buying gifts. The only gift I can think of is an old go-kart on his second birthday – a terribly bad and dangerous plan with all those hills in France, but that’s besides the point. I never used to get anything ‘just like that’, only on special occasions, which seems very healthy to me.
And what I buy is second hand. I see it as a challenge to do everything around Cooper as sustainably as possible. With washable diapers, for example. I also had to cross a hurdle in the beginning, because disposable diapers are so ingrained in our system. But it worked great; it’s better for baby’s bottoms, the environment, and Cooper was potty trained quickly. Something may seem like a hassle, but in reality it is often not that bad.
I realize that it’s easy for me to say. Because I speak out for sustainability, brands and initiatives also know where to find me; This puts me in a sustainability trap. I do my best, but I am certainly not more Catholic than the Pope.’
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What do you mean?
‘Hello, I have brought a child into the world, which is by definition not sustainable. And even though I travel a lot by train, when we go to Dorian’s mother’s, we really have to take the plane. And of course I have plastic toys at home, but… second hand, like the Paw Patrol garage that we recently found in the trash, Cooper loves it!
I am mainly against new things, there is already so much out there. Why should we produce even more Duplo? Doesn’t the world already have enough Duplo for every child to play with? This also applies to clothing and strollers: you can find everything on Marktplaats. And I would like to say to future parents who do not find it hygienic: believe me, as soon as you have a child, your idea of hygiene is completely different.’
So you don’t really understand it when parents buy something new for their child?
‘Yes, I understand. Especially if you come from a background of scarcity, it is very nice if you can buy something new for your child – and in some stores even tons of things for the price of a piece of cake. I understand the thinking behind that, but: fast fashion does not help the world. Moreover, a child has absolutely no idea whether something is new or second-hand.
I also don’t think it’s true that parents are made to feel guilty if they don’t buy new things for their child. As if you are less of a mother if you buy second hand. Nonsense! Ultimately, everyone has to do what he or she feels good about, but I think we can inspire each other with great initiatives.’
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‘For example, we use a toy subscription where you can pick out a number of ‘new’ toys every few months and then return the old ones. That is ideal for the phase Cooper is currently in. Even when he says: “It’s mine!” Then I explain to him that it is his for now, but that it will go to another child in a while.
In this way he playfully gets used to a circular economy. In that vein, my ultimate sustainability tip is: don’t give a maternity gift with a name on it: it’s nice, but you can’t easily pass it on or delight someone else with it.’
What else would you like to tell Cooper?
‘Plenty of boredom time. Some parents get stressed if, for example, they end up in a long line with their child: oh no, now my child has to wait, what now? I think that is actually very good. There is something magical about children, they can fool around. Cooper is endlessly busy with a blade of grass, messing around with a branch and throwing stones – ideally not in my face.
Although it remains a risk, because we have reached the stage where we may sometimes have to be a little stricter or punish him. That still takes some searching. What has worked well so far is when I say something like: “Ah yes, of course a baby does not yet fully understand that he is not allowed to throw stones in mommy’s face.” Then Cooper is the first to shout: “I’m not a baby, I’m a big boy!” Of course, but then he has to behave that way. But I think the messing around is more important, and I want to cherish that above all else.’
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How do you do that?
‘By demonstrating it. Dorian and I teach him what waiting is, for example by not staring at our phone all the time – and certainly not while eating. Or by not overly entertaining him at all times. A tablet, a phone, Cooper will eventually get it all – we certainly won’t raise him as a kind of Amish – but I don’t want it for as long as possible.
I hope that Dorian and I can give him a certain basis, so that he knows what boredom and lounging around are, and that he can come up with things himself… And then I hope that he will soon be able to withstand everything that will happen in the future. coming towards him. Because that is quite something, both in terms of technological developments and climate issues. We will give him as many tools as possible during these years, that’s all we can do.’
Do you see a large family in that future?
‘Well, not very big, I have to remain realistic, I am now 42. But if someone dares to join us, I am absolutely open to it.’
We know actress Jennifer Hoffman (42) as mother Hannah from De Luizen Moeder, the series Deep Shit (produced by herself) and as presenter of 3 Op reis. She also starred in the comedy film All Inclusive this year and is at the forefront of various sustainability initiatives. For example, she is an ambassador for Billie Wonder washable diapers. Jennifer lives with her American-French boyfriend Dorian and their son Cooper (2.5) in Amsterdam – and occasionally in France.
Text: Kim Hopmans