Like many women these days, Jennifer Phelps wears many hats. “My favorite hats to wear are my mom and wife hats,” says Phelps, who is mother to an analytical and fun loving 3-year-old boy, Evan, and a fiery, comedic 2-year-old girl, Sara. “I am also the wife to Justin Phelps, a handsome, analytical comedian (see where the kids get it?),” she quips.
Phelps is the owner of Engage Behavioral Health and Learning for Life Academy. She is also a Board Certified Behavior Analyst. Engage Behavioral Health provides Applied Behavior Analysis/ABA therapy to children, adolescents, and adults with developmental disabilities, specializing in working with children with autism. They provide services in clinics, clients’ homes, schools and in the community. Learning for Life Academy is an ABA-based school providing small student-to-teacher ratios and individualized curriculums.
As well as her practice, Phelps also stays busy enjoying the outdoors with family and friends.
“Being a mom is the greatest gift; it is the most important role I have,” says Phelps. “However, I also love my career and although I don’t believe you can have it all, I do believe that if you set realistic expectations for yourself, your house, and your family, you can find a balance that will make your life whole.”
What do you think is the secret to your family’s success?
I believe a collaborative team approach and communication is key to a successful, loving family! The magic really happens during our weekly “Team Phelps” meetings when my husband and I sit down with our play book (AKA planner) for the week and figure out how we are going to balance our careers, our marriage, taking care of ourselves, and giving our children the love, support, and time that they need and deserve. We take life day by day– literally!
Many impromptu “Team Phelps” meetings arise with our kids daily, sometimes multiple times a day. Sometimes it is crisis management and sometimes we get to help them learn how to work together as a team and explain our expectations for them. Often, it’s explaining how the bedtime routine is going to happen. Yesterday, my 3-year-old called a “Team Phelps” meeting to tell us that his “feelings hurt.” It gave us an opportunity to help him understand why and let him know that we value his feelings. At the end of each meeting everyone puts one hand in the middle for a count to “three” and a shout out of, “Team Phelps.”
What is your biggest fear?
Missing the little moments with my family. I get so caught up in making it all happen that sometimes it is really hard to make myself stop and just be in the moment. I don’t want to look back and not remember the special little moments along the way. Those are the moments that truly make everything worthwhile.
What advice would you give to other women?
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you can do it all or feel bad about creating a support system around yourself. Try not to compare yourself to other women or what you see on social media. We all need to create a system that works for our family and career. This system is going to look different for each person. One way is not better than another; they are all just different.
What is your proudest moment?
I feel like it is a cliché, but nothing can top the births of my son and daughter. I believe that each mom has to choose the birth plan that works best for her. There is no plan that is right or wrong and often how our births go is out of our control. My husband and I fell in love with the idea of having a water birth. The thought of a natural childbirth is scary, especially after watching a few Lifetime movies! I am proud to say that with the support of my husband, Justin, and our Birthing Center, Breath of Life, we were able to have not just one but two successful water births.
What is your biggest achievement?
When I was 7, I met my nephew, Carlos, who had special needs. I fell in love with him and grew up watching my brother and sister-in-law’s unbridled pursuit to ensure Carols and their family received the support needed. At 14, while I was babysitting for a child with special needs, I was given the book, “Let Me Hear Your Voice.” The book is about autism and the application of Applied Behavior Analysis. At age 15, I literally drew the floor plans for the clinic for children with disabilities that I hoped to create. At age 26, I incorporated my business. Today, Engage Behavioral Health provides services to families in homes and within our ABA centers throughout Tampa Bay and Tallahassee. The biggest achievement is not the growth of my business, but the countless families we have had the opportunity to help.
What makes you happy?
There are so many things it is hard to choose just one. Crossing things off my list of things to do, watching my children laugh and play together, hearing about the success one of our clients is having and eating gluten-free pizza that actually tastes good are just a few of the many things that make me happy. I believe that if you focus your thoughts on what makes you smile, your list of what makes you happy will never end!
How do you relax and take time for yourself?
Working with Vicki Buck at the Pilates Grup allows me to recharge my body and mind. If I could fit Pilates into my schedule every day, I would. One hour twice a week is the expectation that works for my life right now. Pilates is great for those of us with busy minds. It is virtually impossible to do the exercises and think about anything else.
What kind of message would you like to give women in the area?
Tampa Bay is a community that supports you as a mom and as a professional. Take advantage of all this community has to offer. Look around our community and you will find all kinds of organizations, support groups, and activities that will help enrich your quality of life.
What is your favorite thing to do in Tampa Bay?
There are so many wonderful things to do in Tampa Bay that each weekend we end up changing our plans. Our family enjoys the Busch Gardens play area, St. Pete Beach, Curtis Hixon Park, North Shore Park, Glazer Museum, and Great Explorations.
What is your biggest inspiration?
My biggest inspiration is my mom. There is a moment when we each figure out that our parents are actual people and make mistakes. It was then that I realized how amazing she truly is. In the face of adversity, her faith in God is unwavering, her strength and smile contagious, and her heart is always focused on the needs of others. I believe the lessons she taught me have helped shape my personal and professional success include a focus on finding the good in everything, how to forgive, and most importantly how to laugh at myself.