Jennie Garth: “It’s always family before friends, and the girls respect that….Family first.”

Set your DVRs, ladies, because tonight is a 90210 reunion! Well, kind of. Jennie Garth and her longtime gal pal Tori Spelling are teaming up again in the new ABC Family series Mystery Girls, premiering tonight. Parents caught up with Jennie a few weeks ago and then met her at a special Mamarazzi screening event, hosted by The MOMS of SiriusXM fame. The actress and mother of three daughters, Luca, 17, Lola, 12, and Fiona, 8, opened up to us about raising her girls to be confident women, recovering from divorce, working her latest volunteer project, and filming her hilarious new sitcom.

P: Your girls are growing up so quickly. Is it tougher to be a parent to toddlers and preschoolers or tweens and teens?

JG: Oh my god I would have to say younger is tougher because they cannot articulate what they’re thinking or what they want or need so well. The language barrier is definitely a problem.

P: What traits of yours do you see in each of your daughters?

JG: All of my best ones [laugh]. I can definitely see qualities from myself as well as qualities of their dad. Good and bad from both of us. Luca today was listening to the same exact music that I was listening to at her age, which was The Cure. She didn’t listen to it today because of me, she listened to it totally on her own. So we have similar musical taste. She’s also beautiful. She has very similar body, dance, movement style. My middle one, Lola, is very organized and very much an organized thinker, a list-maker and she likes to have tasks and complete them—that’s how my brain works. My little Fiona, she’s very competitive. So when we play board games she likes to win, and she’s very quick-witted and those are definitely both qualities of mine. You definitely see yourself in them for good and for bad sometimes.

P: Is there a childlike thing that you get excited to relive through Fiona, since she’s your youngest?

JG: All of it. Easter egg coloring, and you know, she loves to play board games. Coloring. Coloring book coloring. I love just sitting and coloring. She loves any kind of game. Puzzles. We do all that. And reading with her. We still snuggle in bed together, where the other girls do their own thing at bedtime, you know. The book-reading at that time is one of my favorite times of the day.

P: Having three girls is no easy task, and you’re a single mom. Do you have any best piece of advice for women dealing with the same situation and transition?

JG: I have so much encouragement and wisdom to pass along to people. When I first was on my own, everything was so challenging. Everything was stressful. Everything was more than I could handle and I didn’t know if I was gonna be able to get through it on my own. I felt like I was swimming upstream all the time. And at some point it just changed. And all of a sudden, mornings are pleasant again. The morning rush isn’t stressful. It isn’t like “I can’t do this,” it’s like “Yeah, we got this guys.” Me and my girls will handle it and it will all be great. It rounded a corner for me and I think that that happens when it happens for everyone and nobody can force that, and it’s really hard to believe when you’re in it. Hold on to that faith and knowledge that it will get better.

From a kid’s perspective, it’s an ongoing condition. My kids are never going to not be sad that their parents aren’t together. And me acknowledging that and holding that really gently and tenderly is the best thing that I can do. I can’t change the situation unfortunately, but I can hold the fact that their feelings about it are always gonna be right there at the surface no matter how old they are.

P: It sounds like you are all so close. With such a busy career it can be tough to keep that “family unit” feeling going. Are there any routines to carve out family time?

JG: We do dinner every night together. It’s tough because my teenager’s got a full schedule. But it’s always family before friends and the girls respect that and they take that seriously, which is cool. I just keep it really tight. Family first.

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P: You’re involved in a new campaign that starts July 24 “Get an A+ in Eye Care” to help other families. Tell me about your work with this cause.

JG: Well with the three girls, two of them are now in glasses. I wear glasses. Eye care is something that’s a part of our family. I see when we provide vision care for the kids that don’t have access to it what a difference it makes in their lives. It’s pretty profound. I love being a part of it and this campaign is a very simple one. For every “like” on the Eye Solutions Facebook page Alcon is donating a dollar and that money goes directly to free exams and eyeglasses to children in need. I’ve been there and I’ve helped kids get fitted for their very first glasses.

P: Is activism and volunteerism something you hope to cultivate in your girls?

JG: Absolutely. It’s something that’s been instilled in me since I was a little girl. It’s something I’m just naturally handing down to my girls. It’s not something I really thought about. You pay it forward, that’s just what you do in this lifetime.

P: Mystery Girls with your longtime friend and co-star Tori Spelling premieres tonight. Tell me about the show and how you help your girls create solid healthy friendships like the one you have with Tori.

JG: Tori’s and my friendship is a pretty unique situation because we were on [90210] for ten years together. Not a lot of people get to experience what we did. So we have this crazy bond together and we are so blessed by that and able to carry that into our next job together. This is very a special love for each other. For my girls it’s just about teaching them their self-worth, first and foremost. Teaching them to love themselves and respect themselves and to gravitate toward other people who do the same and also to give them that same respect.

P: How did being a mom affect your decision to go back into the studio full time with Mystery Girls? 

JG: For me it was location. It’s very close to my kids’ school and our house, where we shoot it. The hours of the day that we work, sitcom hours, are much less than any other show you can shoot, and we work three weeks on, one week off. So I can have a solid week with my kids. And also, our kids come to the set and it’s so close to their school that they just come right after school. If this was a show that shot in West Los Angeles or something, it would be a totally different decision to look at. When you have kids, for me, they come first and my job comes second. So I have to look at all those factors, location and traffic and drive time all that stuff.

P: Your character, Charlie, is a bit concerned about being perceived as a cool mom by her daughter. How concerned are you with being a cool mom?

JG: I try to be not cool. I’m the mom with the tattoos. My kids admire the fact that I am kind of edgy personally, and they actually try to keep me in line. But I try to be not cool because I don’t want to be their friend. I want to be their mother.

P: Your book Deep Thoughts From a Hollywood Blonde puts it right out there: don’t stereotype me. How do you help your girls be confident young women and defy stereotypes?

JG: I think just in my actions and them seeing me function, you know. I’m so independent and capable that they have no other way of seeing a woman. I set an example not by choice but because that’s how I have to live. It’s so easy to stereotype women. Even my 16-year-old daughter is cast in plays as the “pretty girl,” the cheerleader, and she does it beautifully and she does it with depth and a certain depth I wouldn’t think they were expecting, but I’m already cognizant of what’s happening with her. It’s something that we’ll be facing and working on and discussing I’m sure for the rest of all of their lives.

Mystery Girls premieres Wednesday, June 25 8:30/7:30c on ABC Family. Check your local listings.

Photograph: Courtesy of Jennie Garth

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