Shawn Johnson & Andrew East: How an Early Miscarriage Encouraged Them to Be Open About Their Parenting Journey
How I Parent explores the ins and outs of modern day parenting with moms and dads from all over the world, who are raising their own unique families and sharing their best advice and most heartfelt lessons with PEOPLE. Want to be a part of it? Email what makes your family so special to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Name: Shawn Johnson East and Andrew East
Location: Nashville, Tennessee
Occupation: CEOs and Entrepreneurs of Seven Summit Media [both are former athletes as well; Johnson East is also an Olympic gymnast and East played in the NFL]
Family situation: We're married and have a 10-month-old daughter named Drew Hazel East. Shawn's mom lives near us and helps to watch Drew during the day while we're at work!
Parenting “philosophy” in a sentence: We’re all about raising Drew with love and logic, while supporting her and giving her room to learn and grow, too.
What was your journey to having the family life you have today?
Shawn: Andrew and I met on a blind date in 2012. We started dating in the summer of 2013, got engaged in 2015 and married on April 16, 2016. A year after we got married, we had our first miscarriage. It was all pretty fast.
We always talked about kids, but we never really set a timeline. We always lived very, very busy lives — and still do — but we accidentally got pregnant in 2017, and it was the greatest blessing. Then when we miscarried, the conversation about having kids came up a lot more. We ended up waiting about a year before we started trying again. After our loss, we remained firm on wanting to have kids, we just had to take a break to get ourselves in order.
Andrew: I'm the middle of five kids and I always envisioned myself having a big family. Shawn is an only child, so she's had a different experience but she still wanted to have at least one child. Looking back, it's funny because I went from wanting to have a big family and Shawn wanting one or two kids, and now it's progressed to be the opposite. Now I'm open to just one or two and Shawn wants a whole handful.
Shawn: As for documenting our parenting journey, we really never planned on sharing as much as we do until our miscarriage happened. During that time, we had been blogging our life, but in a very edited way. Then when the miscarriage happened, we started documenting everything for our own personal memories and archives. Andrew was actually the one who shared more than I did [on social media], but in that moment he wanted to keep things just between us to protect our hearts. I was the one who really pushed to share our story because the community we've fostered on social media seemed like a good resource for me to ask for help. I also wanted to share my experience to help other women, who had also gone through it.
Andrew: It's funny because on social media, depending on who you ask, everything is okay and nothing is okay — in tandem. But for us, ultimately we hope that sharing our story has encouraged people to have confidence in not only parenting, but also all aspects of their lives, no matter what they're doing.
Once our daughter Drew was born, she became, and has remained, our top priority.
How did your upbringing influence your parenting style?
Shawn: My parents have always done everything in their power to help me go after every dream or opportunity I was interested in, which came with a lot of sacrifices on their part. It is the most beautiful thing they've done for me, and that's what Andrew and I try to do for Drew every day. We're not looking to put our hobbies and interests on her. She is her own individual person, and we both feel like it's our job and duty as parents to help her follow her dreams, whatever they may be.
Andrew: One aspect of parenting that Shawn and I have found difficult is creating a parenting style that works for both of us. Everyone is raised differently, and so in my experience, my dad took out the trash and my mom did the dishes. That's kind of the subconscious expectations I had going in. After Drew was born, we've learned that working out our differences requires a lot of communication and patience, and that it's okay to take our time as we figure things out.
What’s your favorite thing about parenting?
Shawn: Every single part. Drew is the greatest tiny human in the whole world, and I know we're 100 percent biased in saying that, but I love every single day with her. I love seeing her grow, change and learn as she starts to become the person she's meant to be. It's obviously difficult and hard, and you go through tough challenges, but the most rewarding thing is seeing her just light up and be her little self.
Andrew: I was actually thinking about this last night, but it's almost like watching a masterpiece painting be drawn by an artist. Every day you learn something new about your child, or you see something different about them. It's just so fun to be able to watch that journey on a day-to-day basis.
What’s the hardest part?
Andrew: I think it's the challenge of constantly realizing that it's not about just me anymore. Now I'm third on my priority list — it's Drew, my wife, then me. It's a constant battle.
Shawn: As a parent, you try to plan out how long you're going to breastfeed for, what you're going to teach her and when, until you quickly realize that it's not really up to you. She's another human and she has her own opinions and thoughts. She has her own way so I think we had to learn very quickly that, while it's a team effort, we can't have complete control over everything. It can be difficult at times, but I also think it can also be beautiful.
Andrew: Yeah, there's this tendency to really want to hover over your child and make sure they don't bump their head, get hurt or eat something they're not supposed to. But at the end of the day, they kind of have to make those mistakes so they can learn. I think those lessons will stick over time, but it's really hard to fight the urge to step in and try to control everything.
What's the best advice you can share with new parents?
Shawn: Every parent does things differently, and that's okay. When we had Drew, we didn't know how to do anything. Also, every kid is different and will have different needs, so as long as you try your best and parent with love, everything will be okay.
Andrew: At the end of the day, being a parent is the best part of life and it's something to be really excited about. Of course, it's hard and exhausting but it's also really fun. It's an honor to be a dad, so don't let all of your worries and stress overshadow the fact that it's awesome. We're so thankful for our girl Drew.
What would you want Drew to say about you as a parent?
Shawn: I would want her to say that she felt loved, no matter what. I always tell her every single day when I kiss her good night, "No matter what you do or who you are, I will always love you."
Andrew: I hope she says that I taught her how to be a confident, responsible person and that I always made her my number one priority.