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Meet a Thrive Expert: Justin Wilford, PhD

Justin is a cofounder (with his wife, Audra) and VP of Content for The Family Thrive. He and Audra also co-founded MaxLove Project, a national childhood cancer non-profit that has served over 25,000 families since 2011. He earned a PhD from UCLA in geography (2010) and a PhD from UC Irvine in public health (2018). He's published a book and over a dozen research articles on topics ranging from religious social groups to online social support.

His expertise lies in designing health promotion programs and translating complex health and wellness science into simple, easy-to-understand resources for busy parents.

What does family mean to you?

It is a necessary and wonderful part of realizing my full humanity. It means to embrace responsibility for others, to always see my actions in the context of a larger whole, and to fully dive into love and its necessary companion, grief.

What does thriving mean to you?

I answered this a little differently when our TFT team was posed this question at the very beginning. Today, I’m feeling like thriving is opening my heart to all that life is presenting, listening to what my heart is saying, and then responding with love, compassion, and wonder.

When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

My earliest memory is wanting to be a helicopter pilot. I have no idea why because the idea seems totally unappealing to me now. In my early adolescence I wanted to be a baseball player and then write about baseball. But in later adolescence I lost all sense of what I wanted to be. I've now rediscovered it with The Family Thrive. I want to create and guide meaningful, life-changing content that will help parents live their best lives.

When did you know you wanted to work in health and wellness? Can you tell us about that time in your life, and what it felt like to come to that realization?

It was a slow realization after our son Max was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2011. I was still totally wrapped up in the academic path of becoming a tenure-track professor. I had just received my PhD in geography and was finishing the edits on a book when Max was diagnosed. It took me about two years after that to come to the realization that I didn’t want to do research and write articles that were of interest to only a handful of other academics around the world. I wanted to do something more meaningful and my daily life with Max’s treatments and our budding non-profit showed me that there was so much good work to be done in the space of family health and wellness.

When did you know you wanted to work with families?

Honestly, I’m not sure I ever wanted to work with families as a whole. My real passion is working with parents. As Audra and I began to run cooking classes for childhood cancer families (we began doing cooking classes with MaxLove Project in 2013), it became clear that if parents weren’t thriving, their kids couldn’t possibly thrive. It is now crystal clear to me that children thriving starts with parent thriving.

In your training, research, and experience, what do you see as the biggest factors in children thriving?

Parents doing serious emotional work to become more present, connected, and responsive to their kids. Everything else—nutrition, sleep, exercise, social connection—comes from this.

As a dad, what is one piece of parenting advice you’d give to The Family Thrive parents?

Your emotional health is the foundation for everything else you care about. Prioritize it.

What is one piece of self-care advice you’d give to The Family Thrive Parents?

I know this sounds totally self-serving, but my advice would be to take my OPEN-Hearted Parenthood workshops to learn more about your emotional world and then start doing daily OPEN-Hearted mindfulness sessions on your own.


What is your own most important self-care practice? Can you tell us a little bit about how you came to it, what it looks like, and how it helps you?

Meditation, followed by a solid sleep routine. I had tried meditating for years (since age 18) but it never stuck. It never made complete sense and the payoff wasn’t clear. Finally, my friend John Balkhi (The Family Thrive’s Director of Growth) suggested Headspace in 2015. At the time, I was feeling a lot of stress in my life so it just clicked for me. I felt like, yes, I need this because it will help with my stress. I’ve done it almost every day since then. Today, my meditation routine is different from back then: I’m now doing the OPEN Method. But it’s still the same essential practice of sitting for some time each day, closing my eyes, and connecting with what's happening for me right now.

What lies ahead for Justin Wilford?

I’m lucky, I’ll be creating and guiding content for The Family Thrive for a really long time. I truly can’t imagine doing anything else!

If you liked this article, be sure to join Justin in our Wednesday Wind-Down for a parent-focused, guided mindfulness practice. It's guaranteed to bust your stress and help you connect more deeply with yourself and your family.

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Meet a Thrive Expert: Justin Wilford, PhD

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Justin is a cofounder (with his wife, Audra) and VP of Content for The Family Thrive. He and Audra also co-founded MaxLove Project, a national childhood cancer non-profit that has served over 25,000 families since 2011. He earned a PhD from UCLA in geography (2010) and a PhD from UC Irvine in public health (2018). He's published a book and over a dozen research articles on topics ranging from religious social groups to online social support.

His expertise lies in designing health promotion programs and translating complex health and wellness science into simple, easy-to-understand resources for busy parents.

What does family mean to you?

It is a necessary and wonderful part of realizing my full humanity. It means to embrace responsibility for others, to always see my actions in the context of a larger whole, and to fully dive into love and its necessary companion, grief.

What does thriving mean to you?

I answered this a little differently when our TFT team was posed this question at the very beginning. Today, I’m feeling like thriving is opening my heart to all that life is presenting, listening to what my heart is saying, and then responding with love, compassion, and wonder.

When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

My earliest memory is wanting to be a helicopter pilot. I have no idea why because the idea seems totally unappealing to me now. In my early adolescence I wanted to be a baseball player and then write about baseball. But in later adolescence I lost all sense of what I wanted to be. I've now rediscovered it with The Family Thrive. I want to create and guide meaningful, life-changing content that will help parents live their best lives.

When did you know you wanted to work in health and wellness? Can you tell us about that time in your life, and what it felt like to come to that realization?

It was a slow realization after our son Max was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2011. I was still totally wrapped up in the academic path of becoming a tenure-track professor. I had just received my PhD in geography and was finishing the edits on a book when Max was diagnosed. It took me about two years after that to come to the realization that I didn’t want to do research and write articles that were of interest to only a handful of other academics around the world. I wanted to do something more meaningful and my daily life with Max’s treatments and our budding non-profit showed me that there was so much good work to be done in the space of family health and wellness.

When did you know you wanted to work with families?

Honestly, I’m not sure I ever wanted to work with families as a whole. My real passion is working with parents. As Audra and I began to run cooking classes for childhood cancer families (we began doing cooking classes with MaxLove Project in 2013), it became clear that if parents weren’t thriving, their kids couldn’t possibly thrive. It is now crystal clear to me that children thriving starts with parent thriving.

In your training, research, and experience, what do you see as the biggest factors in children thriving?

Parents doing serious emotional work to become more present, connected, and responsive to their kids. Everything else—nutrition, sleep, exercise, social connection—comes from this.

As a dad, what is one piece of parenting advice you’d give to The Family Thrive parents?

Your emotional health is the foundation for everything else you care about. Prioritize it.

What is one piece of self-care advice you’d give to The Family Thrive Parents?

I know this sounds totally self-serving, but my advice would be to take my OPEN-Hearted Parenthood workshops to learn more about your emotional world and then start doing daily OPEN-Hearted mindfulness sessions on your own.


What is your own most important self-care practice? Can you tell us a little bit about how you came to it, what it looks like, and how it helps you?

Meditation, followed by a solid sleep routine. I had tried meditating for years (since age 18) but it never stuck. It never made complete sense and the payoff wasn’t clear. Finally, my friend John Balkhi (The Family Thrive’s Director of Growth) suggested Headspace in 2015. At the time, I was feeling a lot of stress in my life so it just clicked for me. I felt like, yes, I need this because it will help with my stress. I’ve done it almost every day since then. Today, my meditation routine is different from back then: I’m now doing the OPEN Method. But it’s still the same essential practice of sitting for some time each day, closing my eyes, and connecting with what's happening for me right now.

What lies ahead for Justin Wilford?

I’m lucky, I’ll be creating and guiding content for The Family Thrive for a really long time. I truly can’t imagine doing anything else!

If you liked this article, be sure to join Justin in our Wednesday Wind-Down for a parent-focused, guided mindfulness practice. It's guaranteed to bust your stress and help you connect more deeply with yourself and your family.

Justin is a cofounder (with his wife, Audra) and VP of Content for The Family Thrive. He and Audra also co-founded MaxLove Project, a national childhood cancer non-profit that has served over 25,000 families since 2011. He earned a PhD from UCLA in geography (2010) and a PhD from UC Irvine in public health (2018). He's published a book and over a dozen research articles on topics ranging from religious social groups to online social support.

His expertise lies in designing health promotion programs and translating complex health and wellness science into simple, easy-to-understand resources for busy parents.

What does family mean to you?

It is a necessary and wonderful part of realizing my full humanity. It means to embrace responsibility for others, to always see my actions in the context of a larger whole, and to fully dive into love and its necessary companion, grief.

What does thriving mean to you?

I answered this a little differently when our TFT team was posed this question at the very beginning. Today, I’m feeling like thriving is opening my heart to all that life is presenting, listening to what my heart is saying, and then responding with love, compassion, and wonder.

When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

My earliest memory is wanting to be a helicopter pilot. I have no idea why because the idea seems totally unappealing to me now. In my early adolescence I wanted to be a baseball player and then write about baseball. But in later adolescence I lost all sense of what I wanted to be. I've now rediscovered it with The Family Thrive. I want to create and guide meaningful, life-changing content that will help parents live their best lives.

When did you know you wanted to work in health and wellness? Can you tell us about that time in your life, and what it felt like to come to that realization?

It was a slow realization after our son Max was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2011. I was still totally wrapped up in the academic path of becoming a tenure-track professor. I had just received my PhD in geography and was finishing the edits on a book when Max was diagnosed. It took me about two years after that to come to the realization that I didn’t want to do research and write articles that were of interest to only a handful of other academics around the world. I wanted to do something more meaningful and my daily life with Max’s treatments and our budding non-profit showed me that there was so much good work to be done in the space of family health and wellness.

When did you know you wanted to work with families?

Honestly, I’m not sure I ever wanted to work with families as a whole. My real passion is working with parents. As Audra and I began to run cooking classes for childhood cancer families (we began doing cooking classes with MaxLove Project in 2013), it became clear that if parents weren’t thriving, their kids couldn’t possibly thrive. It is now crystal clear to me that children thriving starts with parent thriving.

In your training, research, and experience, what do you see as the biggest factors in children thriving?

Parents doing serious emotional work to become more present, connected, and responsive to their kids. Everything else—nutrition, sleep, exercise, social connection—comes from this.

As a dad, what is one piece of parenting advice you’d give to The Family Thrive parents?

Your emotional health is the foundation for everything else you care about. Prioritize it.

What is one piece of self-care advice you’d give to The Family Thrive Parents?

I know this sounds totally self-serving, but my advice would be to take my OPEN-Hearted Parenthood workshops to learn more about your emotional world and then start doing daily OPEN-Hearted mindfulness sessions on your own.


What is your own most important self-care practice? Can you tell us a little bit about how you came to it, what it looks like, and how it helps you?

Meditation, followed by a solid sleep routine. I had tried meditating for years (since age 18) but it never stuck. It never made complete sense and the payoff wasn’t clear. Finally, my friend John Balkhi (The Family Thrive’s Director of Growth) suggested Headspace in 2015. At the time, I was feeling a lot of stress in my life so it just clicked for me. I felt like, yes, I need this because it will help with my stress. I’ve done it almost every day since then. Today, my meditation routine is different from back then: I’m now doing the OPEN Method. But it’s still the same essential practice of sitting for some time each day, closing my eyes, and connecting with what's happening for me right now.

What lies ahead for Justin Wilford?

I’m lucky, I’ll be creating and guiding content for The Family Thrive for a really long time. I truly can’t imagine doing anything else!

If you liked this article, be sure to join Justin in our Wednesday Wind-Down for a parent-focused, guided mindfulness practice. It's guaranteed to bust your stress and help you connect more deeply with yourself and your family.

Justin is a cofounder (with his wife, Audra) and VP of Content for The Family Thrive. He and Audra also co-founded MaxLove Project, a national childhood cancer non-profit that has served over 25,000 families since 2011. He earned a PhD from UCLA in geography (2010) and a PhD from UC Irvine in public health (2018). He's published a book and over a dozen research articles on topics ranging from religious social groups to online social support.

His expertise lies in designing health promotion programs and translating complex health and wellness science into simple, easy-to-understand resources for busy parents.

What does family mean to you?

It is a necessary and wonderful part of realizing my full humanity. It means to embrace responsibility for others, to always see my actions in the context of a larger whole, and to fully dive into love and its necessary companion, grief.

What does thriving mean to you?

I answered this a little differently when our TFT team was posed this question at the very beginning. Today, I’m feeling like thriving is opening my heart to all that life is presenting, listening to what my heart is saying, and then responding with love, compassion, and wonder.

When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

My earliest memory is wanting to be a helicopter pilot. I have no idea why because the idea seems totally unappealing to me now. In my early adolescence I wanted to be a baseball player and then write about baseball. But in later adolescence I lost all sense of what I wanted to be. I've now rediscovered it with The Family Thrive. I want to create and guide meaningful, life-changing content that will help parents live their best lives.

When did you know you wanted to work in health and wellness? Can you tell us about that time in your life, and what it felt like to come to that realization?

It was a slow realization after our son Max was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2011. I was still totally wrapped up in the academic path of becoming a tenure-track professor. I had just received my PhD in geography and was finishing the edits on a book when Max was diagnosed. It took me about two years after that to come to the realization that I didn’t want to do research and write articles that were of interest to only a handful of other academics around the world. I wanted to do something more meaningful and my daily life with Max’s treatments and our budding non-profit showed me that there was so much good work to be done in the space of family health and wellness.

When did you know you wanted to work with families?

Honestly, I’m not sure I ever wanted to work with families as a whole. My real passion is working with parents. As Audra and I began to run cooking classes for childhood cancer families (we began doing cooking classes with MaxLove Project in 2013), it became clear that if parents weren’t thriving, their kids couldn’t possibly thrive. It is now crystal clear to me that children thriving starts with parent thriving.

In your training, research, and experience, what do you see as the biggest factors in children thriving?

Parents doing serious emotional work to become more present, connected, and responsive to their kids. Everything else—nutrition, sleep, exercise, social connection—comes from this.

As a dad, what is one piece of parenting advice you’d give to The Family Thrive parents?

Your emotional health is the foundation for everything else you care about. Prioritize it.

What is one piece of self-care advice you’d give to The Family Thrive Parents?

I know this sounds totally self-serving, but my advice would be to take my OPEN-Hearted Parenthood workshops to learn more about your emotional world and then start doing daily OPEN-Hearted mindfulness sessions on your own.


What is your own most important self-care practice? Can you tell us a little bit about how you came to it, what it looks like, and how it helps you?

Meditation, followed by a solid sleep routine. I had tried meditating for years (since age 18) but it never stuck. It never made complete sense and the payoff wasn’t clear. Finally, my friend John Balkhi (The Family Thrive’s Director of Growth) suggested Headspace in 2015. At the time, I was feeling a lot of stress in my life so it just clicked for me. I felt like, yes, I need this because it will help with my stress. I’ve done it almost every day since then. Today, my meditation routine is different from back then: I’m now doing the OPEN Method. But it’s still the same essential practice of sitting for some time each day, closing my eyes, and connecting with what's happening for me right now.

What lies ahead for Justin Wilford?

I’m lucky, I’ll be creating and guiding content for The Family Thrive for a really long time. I truly can’t imagine doing anything else!

If you liked this article, be sure to join Justin in our Wednesday Wind-Down for a parent-focused, guided mindfulness practice. It's guaranteed to bust your stress and help you connect more deeply with yourself and your family.

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