School Run III - A morning story with Melanie Van Dooren and her family

A new family, a new morning routine, a new "School Run." Today, we take a deep dive into the life of jewelry designer Melanie Van Dooren and her family. Husband Hendrik works in real estate, and they share two sons: Maurice (9) and Odil (6). Soon, a little sister will join them, as Melanie is eight months pregnant, making her no longer the only woman in the household. We discuss the family's colorful home, their everyday habits and hobbies, and, not to be overlooked, Hendrik's car.
Watch the full school run video with Melanie Van Dooren here.

Melanie, could you introduce yourself briefly?

My name is Melanie Van Dooren, and I'm 36 years old. I'm a mother of two children, Maurice (9) and Odile (6). I am happily married to Hendrik and we're expecting our third child — a daughter — in about a month. So yes, I’m heavily pregnant right now.

You have your own jewelry brand, could you share more details about it?
About eight or nine years ago, I started my own jewelry brand, which I run from home. I consider myself a grassroots entrepreneur, but one with a professional approach. 

When I take on something, I like to do it thoroughly and well. I know that if I had chosen a different way of working, I might have not been able to give my children the attention they need. At the same time, I wouldn't feel complete without my work — it's essential for my personal growth and sense of purpose. That's why I made the deliberate choice to be a small business owner and create a perfect balance between managing my household, caring for my children, and work.

How did you get started with your brand?
About ten years ago, my husband and I moved to Brazil for his job. While there, I took a break from my media career and started a silversmithing course, which ignited my passion for making jewelry. When I unexpectedly became pregnant, we returned to Belgium for the birth. Afterward, I went back to work at production company Koeken Troef, but I soon realized that being a young mother was challenging. Despite my passion for the job, I made the tough decision to resign.

After I gave birth to our eldest, Maurice, I started making jewelry again. I refreshed my silversmithing skills by taking evening classes and it organically evolved into a professional career as a jewelry designer. I've been at it for around eight years now, and I'm still very pleased with my career change.

It's also very nice to be able to set my own hours, especially since I'm not a morning person and struggle with sleep. I only start to be really productive around nine or nine-thirty, and I never schedule appointments in my studio before ten o'clock. This flexibility ensures that my work and personal life are well-aligned, which optimizes my performance. I know my best work rhythm and understand how to best manage my family's needs.

And does that also work for your husband, Hendrik?
My husband is a true morning person and manages the school run. He understands my need for peaceful sleep without rushing with the children early in the morning. So, we've agreed that he takes charge in the mornings while I get to sleep a little longer. He enjoys setting the pace and structure and when I'm around, the children tend to rely more on me and can sometimes be more challenging in their behavior. It’s a win-win situation.

In return, I manage the evening routine by picking up the kids from school every day. After that, we have someone who watches over them for a couple of hours. Since I start work at ten in the morning, I often work a bit later into the evening, just like my husband. Typically, both of us work until seven o'clock. Later on, I take on more of the childcare duties. We've established a clear morning and evening schedule that aligns perfectly with our personalities. My husband is naturally an early riser, whereas I find I'm most productive later in the day. It's fantastic how well we complement each other in this way.

What does the morning routine look like?
There's not really a fixed structure. The children come downstairs in their pajamas. They eat a sandwich or some cornflakes and get dressed. After that, they watch some TV, play with their sticker book, for example from the European Championship, or they play outside. Unfortunately, the weather hasn't been good enough for that much this year.
The highlight of their mornings is the school commute. My husband drives an Ineos Grenadier, a rare new car model in Belgium that resembles a vintage Land Rover. Despite not being materialistic, he could survive in a tent, the car is his exception. He loves it, as do our boys. Living in the countryside, he takes scenic routes and even ventures onto tractor trails, transforming the journey to school into a daily adventure. The kids absolutely love it, often spotting deer and other wildlife along the way. For them, the ride to school is the ultimate excitement.

How do the children feel about the morning routine? Do they miss you in the mornings?
They are really completely used to it. We started this routine from Maurice's birth, so they have never known anything different. Of course, if it's their birthday or something special, then I am downstairs with them. But on others days, if I know I have to get up between seven and eight, I go to bed stressed the night before. And that just doesn't work. So they are accustomed to it.

And on weekends, it's pretty much the same. My husband's internal alarm clock goes off on Saturdays and Sundays too, so I can stay in bed a bit longer. The boys sometimes come and join me to watch TV together in bed. But they know the chances of seeing me downstairs first thing are almost nonexistent.

Does your husband also prepare the lunchboxes?
At school, they can choose between hot meals or sandwiches each trimester. Our rule is that the children have hot meals during the first two trimesters, and sandwiches during the last trimester, which frustrates my husband. At the beginning of each trimester, I always promise Hendrik that I will help with the preparations the evening before, but I actually never do.

So it's Hendrik who prepares a piece of fruit and a cookie for the afternoon, and then he makes classic old-school sandwiches. We're not the type of family that goes for super organic, bio, or extremely healthy options. No, it's just a simple sandwich with ham or cheese. Our youngest, who is a picky eater, is already a win if he eats his sandwich with chocolate spread. Overall, our lunchboxes are quite traditional and straightforward. Occasionally, someone might have two pieces of fruit while another got lucky with two cookies, but that's about the extent of it.

And what do the school bags look like around here?
I have two boys, and you can tell by their rooms covered in Pokémon and FIFA stickers. The beds and walls are fully themed accordingly. It's a real lived-in space; they hardly ever come home with clean clothes. Their clothes and backpacks often get torn because they don't take much care of them. That's why we go for sturdy backpacks, like travel backpacks, that are more durable. I usually end up buying a new backpack at the end of each school year, and sometimes even halfway through.
Could you share more about your home and living space?
About six or seven years ago, we bought a very old interwar house in the countryside. We renovated it as best as we could within our budget, incorporating some new construction while preserving its original character.

Hendrik and I believe in making our home a space where life happens. We've selected durable floors, walls, and materials that can withstand the energy of our young family. Our style blends colorful accents with open, spacious areas that allow our children to move freely. Our house is definitely designed to be kid-proof, prioritizing functionality alongside aesthetics. While we appreciate good design, it doesn't always have to be new; we're equally happy with second-hand pieces or items passed down from our parents that fit seamlessly into our home.

The boys also have their own play area in the house, separated by two doors, which is quite practical. When we head to bed, we prefer feeling that our home is somewhat tidy, allowing us to start the next day refreshed. Our family is quite busy, and once the day begins, it's non-stop. We go from one thing to the next with little time for cleaning up. That's why we both prioritize having everything ready before bedtime. Beginning the day with a clean slate is important to us, even though the kids quickly make a mess of the house again — it's a continuous visual cycle.Do you have any pets?
We used to have rabbits, but now we only have goldfish. Our kids love animals, but because Maurice has allergies, dogs and other pets aren't an option for us. Odile is also crazy about animals, but for the time being, we're keeping it simple with goldfish.

You mentioned FIFA earlier, do the boys also play soccer?
Yes, they both play soccer. Odile is only six, so he naturally understands less about it than his nine-year-old brother. But they're both passionate about soccer and very athletic.

And do they have a favourite team?
This a funny story. Maurice has been a fan of Anderlecht for a long time, and he also supports international teams like Paris Saint-Germain. However, when it comes to Belgian football, he's all for Anderlecht. On the other hand, Odile has made a deliberate choice to support Club Brugge, leading to a genuine sibling rivalry between them. It's Anderlecht versus Brugge in our household.And what about your husband? Does he like soccer too?
No, not really. I think I'm more knowledgeable about sports than my husband. I come from a family of athletes — both my brothers, father, and uncles are very sporty. We're into football, tennis, and padel, so it's a big part of my family background. My husband, though, is an excellent swimmer.

Do the kids have any other hobbies?
Maurice is a scout, but Odile is still too young to join; he'll start next year. Odile has a different personality compared to Maurice, so I'm not sure if scouts will suit him, but we'll see how it goes. Maurice thrives outdoors and keeps quite busy. Despite his packed schedule, he's always eager to stay active. He plays soccer three times a week, has tennis on Wednesdays, and attends scouts on Sundays. On Mondays, I tried to encourage some creativity by sending him to drawing class, but that didn't really work out. His drawings were often discarded before I even got there.

Do you and your husband have any hobbies?
Actually, we have far too few hobbies. My husband recently ran a marathon, so he dedicated a lot of time to that. He also continues to swim regularly, just like the kids. Rain or cold weather doesn't stop them from getting into the pool. As for me, I must confess that my own activities have taken a back seat since we had children.

But you have turned your hobby into your job, right?
That's absolutely true, and I'm really happy about it. It started as a hobby and has truly grown into what it is now—a full-fledged brand. I never had grand plans for my jewelry brand. I'm more of an intuitive person who thinks, "Okay, let's try it this way now and see how it goes." And that approach works for me. So, I'm very grateful for that, and I still enjoy it tremendously every day.

My work is the ultimate form of creativity for me. It's nice that the boys see that too. My studio is out in the garden, and my youngest often joins me there. When there are no customers around, he sits beside me. I have a double workbench that fascinates him with all its techniques and materials. Sometimes, he even tries to make something himself. I keep a tray of testers and inexpensive materials for him to experiment with. It's incredibly rewarding to share these moments with him.

How does your husband feel about your career change?
He thinks it's fantastic. I'm the creative one, while Hendrik is entirely different. He works in real estate, so we're really in two different worlds. But I think we've both found our true calling. We don't have much interest in each other's work, and that's fine. We share so much, and it's good that we also have our own passions.

That doesn't mean we don't talk about work in the evenings; we definitely do. But we can't imagine doing each other's jobs — they're really the opposite.

So yes, he supports me enormously and is often amazed by what I do. When I talk about an exciting project I've worked on or when I'm featured in a magazine, he sometimes thinks, "She's really good at what she does, isn't she?"

Your family will soon be welcoming a baby girl. Are you excited?
I'm really happy, though it seems those around me are even more thrilled. Whether it was a girl or a boy didn't matter much to me. I've grown up and still live in a mostly male-dominated environment. With two brothers, I've been the only woman in our household so far. At work, I also find myself predominantly surrounded by men, almost 99% of the time. It's not a conscious choice, but I do appreciate the directness that men often bring.

I work closely with my older brother, and I've noticed that communication with men is often more direct compared to with women. There's a straightforwardness that I find reassuring. This clarity also influences how I raise my boys. In parenting them, the expectations are clear: if they make a mistake, they're held accountable, and they understand the consequences without getting bogged down in emotional ups and downs afterward. Of course, I also have close female friends whom I cherish dearly.
How do the kids feel about it? A little sister coming soon?
I think they're looking forward to it, though they might not show much interest yet when I ask if they want to feel the baby. But that curiosity will come with time. Occasionally, the youngest looks at my belly with awe when I mention it's moving. However, that's as far as it goes. They're starting to notice the preparations; we've finally got the rooms ready, and sometimes something arrives for her. They know something exciting is happening. For instance, Maurice recently suggested making a countdown calendar, but it's still a bit abstract for them. I think they'll fully understand once the baby arrives.

Must be exciting, this changing family dynamic
Absolutely. Each family is different and special, yet there are many shared experiences. By the way, the boys had a blast taking photos and filming during this School Run. They were truly in the limelight. It was amusing to see them pretend to wake up. They really put in a lot of effort, and I found it incredibly sweet to watch.

Watch the full school run video with Melanie Van Dooren here.

Idea/copy: marnixandally