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Vanessa Williams: Holidays Are About “How thankful and blessed you are to have family and friends.”

Monday, December 15th, 2014

By social-media demand, M&M has brought back M&M’s Crispy to satisfy your holiday chocolate cravings. Parents caught up with Vanessa Williams—singer, actress, former Miss America, mom to four kids, plus the voice of M&M’s Ms. Brown—about her family’s holiday traditions, what she wishes she knew when her kids were younger, and raising confident daughters.

P: M&M’s Crispy are a great holiday snack. What’s your holiday snack to make with your kids?

VW: I love Christmas cookies no matter what they are—sugar or Linzer Torte or chocolate. My parents were both music teachers so they’d always get cookies from their students. It’s one of the things that always makes me feel like I’m in the Christmas spirit.

P: You’ve had an illustrious career in acting and singing and now your daughter, Jillian, is a singer. Is Christmas a super musical holiday in your house?

VW: We listen to a lot and I’ve been lucky enough to do two Christmas CDs. I’ve done Christmas on Broadway and specials and always am delighted to have the music component. But Christmas starts too early now. It’s so commercialized. You barely make it through Halloween and then it’s the tunes. It’s nice to concentrate and focus on what the time should really be about: how thankful and blessed you are to have family and friends and to appreciate what’s happened through the year. The music for me is more reverential than commercial and that’s what we try to do with playing the music in the house and singing as a family.

P: Of your four children only Sasha is still at home. Is there any tradition that brings everyone back with childhood memories?

VW: We have a Christmas Eve pageant. When the kids were young they would each get a part depending on what class—second graders could be angels and if you were Mary and Joseph you were the stars. We still go to the children’s mass because we love seeing the kids. It also reminds us of how long we’ve been together and the roles they had. Then we come back to the house and I make a lasagna and the kids open one gift. Christmas Eve is the one we try to make consistent every year.

P: Your kids are growing up quickly, but is there anything about parenthood that still baffles you?

VW: I think it’s just the adolescent years. It’s a mixed bag every day. You don’t know what the mood’s going to be, the hormones are raging, their bodies are changing and their attitudes change as well. The biggest thing is to not take it personally. You have to be there and be consistent and set limits and [give] advice, but be steady.

P: What do you know now about being a parent that you wish you had known about those early years?

VW: I know so many parents are hyper-focused on achievement and test scores. It’s almost like you’re in competition with other parents, and the kids are overwhelmed and stressed out. Life will turn out the way it’s supposed to turn out. I think it puts too much pressure on the parents who micromanage their kids. It’s anxiety-causing. Within [kids who have the] same parents you’re going to get four different personalities, four different studying types, four different skill levels, and you have to tailor your energy toward each child. If you get a bad test score in 7th grade, guess what? You can still be the CEO of a company because if that’s what you’re good at and you work hard and life happens to bring you that opportunity, they’re not gonna know what you got on your 8th grade geometry test.

P: You have three daughters and there is a prominent dialogue today about raising women who are not defined by their appearance, yet we cannot deny that how you present yourself matters. How do you navigate this challenge as a mom?

VW: I think it’s getting worse, particularly when you have social media and the opportunity to take images of yourself and correct them. You’re presenting a perfection constantly and you’re always trying to live up to the perfect example on a day-to-day basis. Luckily for me and luckily for my kids I emphasize what they do, which is talent.

I’ve also had the luxury of taking my kids all over the world so they see the different body types and the different genetics that are different in Brazil than they are in Egypt than they are in Austria. Instead of trying to squeeze yourself into a box where you don’t fit, that’s the great thing about traveling the world. They can appreciate [differences] and I think it really helps in term of self-esteem and really feeling comfortable.

How to Make Sandwich Cookie Snowglobes
How to Make Sandwich Cookie Snowglobes
How to Make Sandwich Cookie Snowglobes

If cookies aren’t your favorite, find enough cupcake recipes for a year here!

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Jennifer Hudson: “I just want to keep making music and being with my family”

Thursday, December 4th, 2014

In the spirit of the holiday season, singer-actress Jennifer Hudson went to work with Johnson’s Brand as they launched their new initiative More Hands, More Hearts on #GivingTuesday. As a mom to 5-year-old David, Hudson was thrilled to assemble babycare kits to distribute to families in need nationwide as part of the campaign. Here, the Grammy-winning artist gets real about her desire to give back, her proudest moment as a mom, and the latest star David is trying to emulate.

P: What drew you to this particular project on #GivingTuesday?

JH: Well, in general giving back is very important to me. We founded the Julian D. King Gift Foundation in honor of my nephew a few years back because we wanted to be able to think of him and know that something positive was being done in the world. And with Johnson’s More Hands, More Hearts it’s that same idea of helping others. You never really think of how many needy babies there are in the world, but they need our help. Julian’s Foundation exists to provide positive experiences for children of all backgrounds so that they will become productive, confident and happy adults, but you need healthy, happy babies first. They need diapers and bottles to grow and be healthy and so I’m thrilled to be involved with this project.

P: You mention the Foundation in honor of your nephew. How has the Foundation progressed since you started it six years ago?

JH: Oh my goodness, so much. When we first started it we just wanted to honor my nephew and help kids in the community. It started with the toy drive for gift-giving around Christmas, but now we added a back-to-school supplies drive. The line was around the block. It just keeps getting bigger and bigger. I can’t even keep track.

P: Does it work through scholarships or is it more event-focused?

JH: Well, we do have the dinner around Christmas each year and kids in the community can be nominated by their teachers to attend. They don’t have to be getting all A’s, but they do have to be trying. It’s the effort we want to encourage. It’s not a scholarship, but we reward that effort by granting their Christmas wish around the holidays. Our mission is to be something positive, a catalyst for change in children’s health, education, and welfare. We have the Toy Drive and Hatch Day each year and sometimes other events—we do as much as we can but we are local [in Chicago].

P: Let’s talk about your son, David. What is your favorite thing about this age?

JH: He’s 5 now and I think it’s just how creative he is. His mind is just going going. He started building a tent area at home, gathered materials and built this huge tent area and then I found out he has a garbage can in there. He throws trash in it and then empties it in the kitchen trash. He’s keeping it clean. It’s so funny to see him create his own little home.

P: It sounds like he’s very much his own little person. Is there a parenting rule that he always gets you to break?

JH: Bedtime. That’s probably the toughest because he always wants to stay up late and hang out. He’ll fake being hungry, like “Oh mom, I’m hungry, I can’t go to bed yet.” And I let him have a snack, but then I realized Wait. He’s not hungry, he’s just trying to stay up.

P: What has been your proudest moment as a mom?

JH: I mean, I brought a life into the world. That in and of itself…. But he’s also so smart and creative and thoughtful. He really cares about others. Like if I’m cold, he’ll curl up next to me and cover me with a blanket. He’s very aware of others and how they feel.

P: So is he like his mama? Does he like to perform?

JH: Ohhhhhh yes. He loves to dance and he just loves Michael Jackson. I took him to see Usher and told him Usher is like Michael Jackson. He had the best time. When we got home he said “Mommy! Turn on ummm ummm what is his name?” And I said “Usher?” And he said “Yeah, Mommy. Turn on USHER! I’m gonna dance for the camera!”

P: Through your Foundation you encourage kids to express themselves and accomplish things with this idea of Hatch Day. It’s so important for kids, but it’s also important for adults to mark their accomplishments. What do you hope to accomplish in 2015 in the essence of Hatch Day?

JH: Oh wow. I never thought of it that way, but I feel so blessed. I just want to keep making music and being with my family. If I can keep making music that people enjoy, I really hope for longevity in my career. I want to work towards that.

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How to Buy Baby Gear on a Budget
How to Buy Baby Gear on a Budget
How to Buy Baby Gear on a Budget

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Christie Rampone: A True Female Superhero

Friday, November 14th, 2014

To her teammates, professional soccer player Christie Rampone is “Captain America.” But to Rylie, 9, and Reece, 4, she’s simply Mommy. As the leader of the U.S. National Women’s Soccer Team and a 3-time Olympic medalist, Rampone has proven her athletic prowess, and after being diagnosed with Lyme disease she proved how truly tough she is. Parents caught up with Rampone to talk about her unique schedule, how she addresses her health with her kids, and what she hopes her girls learn from Mommy.

P: You’ve been an athlete your whole life. Are your daughters also naturally athletic?

CR: They are. They’re both playing soccer right now. Rylie is obviously more competitive, Reece just played small season with small goals and was fun to watch. Rylie’s playing basketball and they’re both dancing, so very active.

Will your child take after you? Find out what career she’ll have!

P: So it seems they have no problem running around on their own. What do you do to stay active as a family?

CR: In the spring and summer we do a lot of bike riding. When I do some of my workouts Rylie will come along with me and try to understand what it takes to be where Mommy is—she always says she wants to be like Mommy. We do fun activities in the backyard where I make obstacle courses. I don’t have a hard time with them getting outside; it’s more getting them inside that’s the question for me.

P: Playing on the Women’s National Soccer  Team what is your travel schedule like? Do the  girls ever come on the road with you?

CR: The travel this year is pretty intense because it’s a World Cup year so I’m on the road for three weeks, off for a week. We’re doing a lot of overseas trips to Brazil, England, France, Portugal. I bring Reece, the little one, with me most of the time. My older one will come when she has a break from school or we’ll do a long weekend where she’ll leave Thursday night, miss Friday school and come back Sunday. We try to make it work. I don’t want to be apart for too long, but Rylie has a lot of activities and I want to make sure she’s there because she has committed to her soccer team and basketball. It’s kind of up to the girls if they want to come.

P: When you are home, how do you spend quality time with them but ensure that their routine isn’t compromised?

CR: Just planning ahead. They decide if they’re going to miss something what it will be and for how long. We don’t want them to miss too much school, but at the same time going overseas and getting that experience and culture is sometimes just as good in my eyes.

The Parent's Role During School Years
The Parent's Role During School Years
The Parent's Role During School Years

P: You were diagnosed with Lyme disease years ago. How did you share the news with your daughters?

CR: They’re aware that Mommy has good and bad days. There are certain days when Mommy needs a break or Mommy’s not feeling as well. They’re so independent and they understand. I just have to communicate with them. I try to explain to Rylie that Mommy does have some health issues, but you still push on and you have to fight through. The way [my husband and I] explained it is like when she’s feeling tired in a game, that’s how Mommy feels some days just waking up. It definitely wasn’t a scare for them. We explained it in a positive way.

P: What advice do you have for other parents who may receive a difficult diagnosis or have to deal with a chronic health issue.

CR: Take care of yourself as a mom and educate yourself. The next step is figuring out what works for you. For me it’s making myself more aware of my immune system, focusing on my eating and health, exercising, taking my EpiCor, and kind of pushing through the tough days. Education and awareness is huge.

 P: As captain of the team and with three Olympic medals, it’s no question you’re a role model for young girls. Who did you look up to when you were a kid?

CR: I always looked up to my dad who was into sports. He was just so active and always willing to go outside with us and play—wasn’t huge into TV. I was inspired to try to earn a scholarship and go to college and enjoy sports just how my dad did.

P: What do your daughters do that was just like you when you were a kid? 

CR: They are so competitive. I think of how stubborn they can be at times. It’s their way or no way. I would say that that’s how my parents had it. I would say that’s little Christie out there. It’s interesting seeing a lot of the similar signs of wanting to win and being competitive and learning how to lose.

P: We know a lot more about teaching kids to win. How have you taught her to learn to lose? 

CR: We’re working on that. For a little while she felt “I’d rather quit than lose.” We had to just refocus and make sure we don’t stop playing just because we’d rather say “I don’t care” than continuing playing. That’s in soccer, board games, practicing our spelling. Rylie doesn’t want to ever make a mistake or get anything wrong and that can’t happen. Sports is made of mistakes. Life is all about mistakes and how we overcome them and that’s the lesson we try to talk about.

P: What’s do you hope your daughters learn from you? 

CR: Just to persevere and believe in themselves. Life is tough and you can have people who don’t believe in you but I think as long as you believe in yourself you can keep pushing forward.

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Evangeline Lilly’s New Children’s Book and the Need for Some Darkness in Kid Lit

Monday, October 27th, 2014

You might know her as Tauriel the eflin warrior from The Hobbit trilogy, or as Kate Austen from Lost, but actress Evangeline Lilly may soon be known best for her writing skills. Her new children’s book series The Squickerwonkers hits shelves November 18 and it’s different from any kid’s story we’ve seen. Parents caught up with mom to 3-year-old Kahekili about her creepy new children’s book, upcoming Halloween plans, how she cultivates creativity in her son, and why she thinks we all can use a bit of Squickerwonker spookiness in our lives.

P: You first wrote a version of  The Squickerwonkers when you were a teenager. Tell us about the evolution of this story. 

EL: I read it to my mom when I was a teenager and she was like “Sweetheart, you really should try to publish that.” As a 14-year-old girl not only did I have no idea how to publish a book, I also was used to my mom thinking everything I did was incredible even if it wasn’t because she’s my mom and she loves me. Twenty years later I was working on The Hobbit in New Zealand with Peter Jackson and I went into the Weta Workshop—which is the creative arm of his where they create his armor and all these other things—and there was so much creativity going on in that place. I was like “I want to create something of my own, too.” I want to start this [book]. For about five years, I’d been really seriously intending to start a writing career. That was my dream. I had all these incredible people and artists and resources all around me, so I ended up connecting with Johnny Fraser-Allen at the Workshop and he came on board to work on The Squickerwonkers.

P: His illustrations are so fabulous. They compliment your characters so well.

EL: I can’t say the story is completely independent of him and he can’t say the illustrations are really independent of me. We really collaborated. I knew the Squickerwonkers were what I would call human but not human. Johnny came on board and he had this idea that they should be marionette puppets on this traveling wagon. And I gasped, “Oh my gosh that’s exactly it.”

P: Part of your intention with this book is to purposefully put something out there for children that is a little darker and creepier. 

EL: I do think that there is beauty and value and meaning in having very uplifting, sweet, innocent stories for children. But I’m a great believer in balance and I think that everybody, children and adults alike, needs balance in their life. The good and the evil, the right and the wrong, the truth and the idealism. That’s important to me. I look around me and I see a lot of young people who are very entitled and who are very confused when life isn’t perfect. I think that often comes from some of the messaging we receive as children from our stories, but that’s really not life and especially not on the playground.

The Squickerwonkers is really a playground drama. How many times do mischievous little kids do something mean or unfair to a kid that’s just minding his own business or being perfectly kind? How does a child learn how to deal with those situations? How do they learn to deal with the side of life that maybe isn’t as pretty, but is very real and prevalent? And then very importantly for me: How does a child makes sense of “the devil within themselves?” Or when they do something and they know it’s wrong but for some reason can’t stop, how do they accept and love themselves with the good and the ugly? That’s important to teach children also. That nobody’s perfect. Mom and dad aren’t perfect. You’re not perfect.

P: You’ve said previously that acting is your day job and you said earlier that writing was your dream. Is this a transition period for your career? 

EL: I’ve always been an opportunist. Lost and starting acting…that was really just opportunism. I didn’t want to be an actress, but I saw this opportunity. I think I will always live to a certain degree that way. I will probably always take an acting job if it comes about in a way that feels like it was meant to be or if it’s a great idea, but really my focus is to transition to writing. It’s truly a dream come true for me.

P: How does being a mom affect how you pick your projects? Were you drawn to write a children’s book because you have a child?

EL: I started writing The Squickerwonkers immediately after he was born, so maybe? Nowhere inside of me was I consciously writing for my children. I can say that is one of the reasons why I took the first film job I did after LostReal Steel with Hugh Jackman. I remember distinctly thinking “You know, I’m gonna have kids one day—and hopefully one day soon—and this is a movie I would really love my children to watch.” It’s the kind of entertainment and the kind of film that I believe instills beautiful, incredible values in kids—to stand up against adversity, that if you’re the underdog you can make it in the world. What’s interesting is I’ve sort of continued on in that thread. The Hobbit is great family entertainment. Ant-Man will be great family entertainment.The Squickerwonkers is for the whole family. I think that’s the kid in me coming out. I never really grew up.

P: Your book takes place in this spooky alternate puppet world. The Hobbit is a fantasy. Even Lost was sci-fi. So you seem to be attracted to fantasy and imagination. Do you find that your son is imaginative?

EL: He’s learning it. It’s fascinating to me as a mother to realize that imagination is not innate. You have to teach it. I was a very imaginative little girl. I always assumed that was innate and that every child is born with a massive imagination that takes them to all different wonderful worlds. As a mother I’m learning Oh! You actually have to teach children about what it means to play imaginary worlds and invent imaginary characters. My son is 3-and-a-half and he’s starting to blossom into the little boy who has an imagination. It’s heaven to watch.

P: What do you do to encourage his imagination

EL: I play with him. And it’s funny because I don’t necessarily subscribe to the notion that parents need to play with their kids. In my generation, nobody’s parents played with us. Nobody. There’s a pressure nowadays to play with our children and I think it’s unnecessary, but I can’t help myself. I want him to have the gift and the joy of an imaginary world the way I did. Maybe not to the extent that I did. I had more imaginary friends than real-life friends. He’s a much more grounded little man. He’s a very practical, responsible, grounded little person. Very unlike his mother.

P: Is he more like his dad?

EL: A little more like his dad and, honestly, just his own person. I sort of go Where did this come from? He just sort of came out that way. He’s a little Taurus. He’s a little bull so I wonder if that has anything to do with it.

Horoscope for a Taurus Baby
Horoscope for a Taurus Baby
Horoscope for a Taurus Baby

P: Speaking of all things spooky and creative and playful, Halloween is coming up. Do you do anything special? 

EL: Now that I have a child and my partner’s kind of into it, he makes sure the three of us have costumes. As we speak I’m at a consignment store, we just finished finding his costume this year. He picked it out himself.

P: What will he be?

EL: He’s gonna be a Depression-era child. [Cracking up] We were thinking of maybe a minion or something because he loves the minions from Despicable Me, but he picked out this crazy concoction of old used clothing. He put it all on and he LOVED it. He just looks like a little street kid from the 1930s.

Find your child’s Halloween costume at Shop Parents.

P: What is your favorite part about being a mom to Kahekili?

EL: Discovering the human being that is within him. I feel like parenting is such a wonderful unearthing. It’s like archaeology. It’s all in there already and it’s just a matter of what you uncover and what you dig up. You get to meet this human being and you go “Oh my gosh, that’s who you are. You’re your own person.” It’s so much fun.

Photographs: Evangeline Lilly / Sarah Dunn, courtesy of Warner Bros.

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Ali Larter’s Relaxed Approach to Mommyhood

Wednesday, October 1st, 2014

Sweater season is here, and we’re going to need hot soup to keep warm as the weather turns brisk. Dole—typically known for their fruit—just launched ready-to-serve Dole Garden Soup. Actress and cookbook author Ali Larter will judge the Dole Souper Gardener contest to find America’s best gardener (could be you). Parents caught up with Larter, mom of 3-year-old Theo with one on the way, about her childhood gardening memories, cooking for her family, and why she eats what she wants while pregnant.

P: You’re no stranger to trying new recipes since you came out with your cookbook. What is it about food and cooking that excites you?

AL: You know, I grew up cooking with my mom all the time and she always would have dinner parties. I remember sitting at the top of my stairs and hearing all the laughter and the incredible smells that came from her cooking. As I got older and started moving into different cities I realized that that was my connection to people. It’s how I make friends and how I like to spend my time. There’s no happier place for me than at a farmer’s market or in the kitchen cooking and feeding my family and friends.

P: Do you incorporate your son in the cooking process?

AL: I do. He’s an amazing sous chef. He’s got his own measuring cups. He has his little apron that he wears. Yesterday we made gingersnaps and buckwheat scones, which he loves. I always include him in the process. He just loves to make a mess. I have to keep him from dumping things into the bowl.

P: What is your favorite recipe to make for your family?

AL: I love my ricotta meatballs. I often double batch it and freeze one batch. Then I do one night of meatballs with a beautiful cauliflower puree and the next night do meatball subs. There’s no way I just cook for one meal. We either freeze one or eat it for lunch or dinner the next day.

P: When you don’t have time to cook, what’s your son’s favorite go-to snack?

AL: He loves hot dogs, but he does not get them often. When you read the ingredients in a hot dog it can make you kind of sick. I let him have them on special occasions.

P: With such a passion for food, is this season and Thanksgiving just your favorite?

AL: Well I just starting cooking with the ginger flavor, fresh ginger and cloves and nutmeg. Getting all those flavors out. I love cooking in the fall. Fall and spring are probably my favorite times to cook. I do a gingersnap crust with my pumpkin pie that I got did for my grandma because she used to love gingersnaps so much she’d put them in her coffee. So, I created that pie for her. All the fall flavors are just so rich and delicious.

P: You’ll be judging the Dole Souper Gardener contest. Do you have a green thumb?

AL: My grandfather was a big gardener and also my aunt. When they asked me to judge America’s Best Super Gardener I was really excited. We’ll looked at all the pictures, and someone will win $5,000 for themselves AND $5,000 for their local community garden. I’m excited to see everyone’s passion.

P: Aside from gardening, what is your favorite outdoor activity with your son?

AL: Right now I’m just into laying outside because I’m pregnant and I enjoy laying around more than ever. This morning we played construction trucks so we’re out in the morning with all his trucks and I sit there and pick up rocks with the dump loader.

P: Are you nervous about having to introduce him to a baby sibling?

AL: I’m actually not. I think everyone has different issues with their kids, but he seems extremely receptive and is very very excited.  I feel really lucky with that.

P: How have you managed to stay healthy during your pregnancy and what’s your craziest pregnancy craving?

AL: I wouldn’t say I’m the healthiest pregnant girl. I try my best, but I definitely crave a lot of carbs and cheese when I’m pregnant and I allow myself to have them. I just tell myself that the baby needs it. I’ll be like Paleo as soon as the baby comes [laughs].

Use Parents‘ quick app to track your pregnancy weight gain and body changes.

P: Theodore was born in December and you have this new baby coming in the winter. How do you make sure that a birthday is still a special day without being overshadowed by the holidays?

AL: That’s definitely hard. It gets to the point with presents where it becomes silly. There are so many kids out there who need presents. I think we’re gonna start introducing experiential birthdays where he’ll be able to choose an experience instead of just a ton of gifts. Whether it’s traveling somewhere he always wanted to go—the Grand Canyon—or apple-picking, or going on a boat. It’s figuring out ways to do it where we can have an adventure as a family rather than gifts at the house.

P: You and your husband have a very special relationship. With a 3-year-old and one on the way, how do you keep the romance alive?

AL: I feel really lucky that I do have help and that gives us the opportunity to go out to the movies or dinner. It is busier than ever, but [my husband] loves being a father and that’s a huge part of it. We love parenting together and I feel really lucky to have found someone who is such an incredible father to our son.

Horoscope for a Sagittarius Baby
Horoscope for a Sagittarius Baby
Horoscope for a Sagittarius Baby

Photograph: Courtesy Ali Larter

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Samantha Harris: Looking Good Feeling Better

Wednesday, September 24th, 2014

After being diagnosed with breast cancer and undergoing a double mastectomy, Samantha Harris (former host of Dancing With The Stars) has had a year of change. A ball of energy, she celebrated her cancer-free status last night at the 30th annual DreamBall for Look Good Feel Better, an international organization dedicated to boosting the self-confidence of men and women dealing with breast cancer through beauty and style workshops. A mother of two—Josselyn, 7, and Hillary, 3—Harris sat down with Parents to talk about surviving breast cancer and the delicate balance between looking good and feeling better.

P: What does it mean to be the Look Good Feel Better’s 2014 DreamGirl?

SH: It’s such a special organization and to be honored by them for being inspiring through my diagnosis almost seems wrong because I’ve been inspired by so many other women. I feel that I’m really representing all these other survivors who reached out to me through social media to share their stories and open up to me about getting through the treatments and living through the diagnosis and coming out the other side. There was this elusive “other side” that everyone talked about and now I can officially say I am on the other side and I am a survivor.

P: You didn’t undergo chemo or radiation, so did you take advantage of LGFB?

SH: I did attend one of the LGFB workshops in Northridge, CA at one of the hospitals there [before my decision about chemo]. The women in the room were so tremendously inspiring because they had the strength to come in and sit in a room of strangers and take off their wigs and headscarves and be clean-faced. But the point of the workshop is to be able to give women and men tools to find normalcy at a time in your life that is far from normal and help regain some of that confidence. Even though on the one hand you say “Health is all that’s important who cares what you look like” what you look like is what gives you the confidence to be able to focus on only taking care of yourself.

P: You chose to tell your daughters about your diagnosis separately. Where did you come up with that plan? 

SH: Knowing that I needed to communicate that Mommy was undergoing something pretty intense but not scare them was a daunting task. One website said it’s important that the message is delivered in a different way depending on their age. My mom had had back surgery recently and it was the first time my older daughter experienced seeing someone laid up in bed. So I said “Just like Grandma had back surgery and she was in her bed for a little while getting better but now you see her running around Mommy also has to have some surgery.” I also wanted to make sure that the first time she heard the word “cancer” it wasn’t some deep dark scary thing to whisper in a corner like years past. I was really open with them.

P: How did your diagnosis change your perspective on motherhood?

SH: It made me feel sad for my daughters because now they are at a higher risk because their mom had cancer. But I turned by perspective on that to say that my girls have a leg up because they will be checked and monitored much more closely than had I never had cancer. Hopefully, G-d forbid if cancer is in their path, we’re gonna find it earlier and get rid of it faster. Or hopefully G-d willing we’ll have a cure. That would be even better.

P: The idea of Look Good Feel Better is such a poignant one, yet the focus on women’s appearance is a hot-button issue. As a mom of girls, what is your approach to this seesaw?

SH: It’s hard in a very modern feminist world to justify that I feel defined by my looks, because I’m not defined by my looks. But you are very much yourself when you feel like you like yourself.As for my girls, my 7-year-old has started to become more body aware and it’s sad to me that it’s starting so early. She’s noticed that she has hair on her arms and her legs. She’s been wearing pants in the hot weather. I thought, you know what I can’t believe I’m going to be shaving my daughter’s legs this early (not with a razor, just men’s clippers) but there are enough things to be self-conscious about I didn’t want her to be self conscious about body stuff.

It’s a double-edged sword because how you present yourself in the world influences how people perceive you. As women we have an asset because we can use products to make us feel better outwardly and if that little bit helps your confidence on the inside then you’ll be more successful in everything else you do. I think it’s important for girls to know it’s ok to care about your appearance—it’s important—it’s not ok to obsess about it. That, I think, is the distinguishing factor.

One great way to look good and feel better? Check out our pregnancy fitness workout below!

Celebrity Pregnancy Workout: Total Body Tune-Up
Celebrity Pregnancy Workout: Total Body Tune-Up
Celebrity Pregnancy Workout: Total Body Tune-Up

New to working out? Check out our mommy exercise tips.

Photograph: Samantha and family

 

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The ONE thing James Van Der Beek Would Do With 45 Minutes of Free Time

Wednesday, September 17th, 2014

Flu season is coming up and actor James Van Der Beek is not taking any chances with his growing brood. The longtime TV star (Dawson’s Creek anyone?) and father of three, Olivia, 4, Joshua, 2, and Annabel, nearly 9 months, is spreading the word on fighting influenza with FluMist Quadrivalent, a needle-free flu vaccineParents took some one-on-one time with James to talk TLC, how being a dad to daughters has changed him, and the one thing he would do if he had 45 minutes to himself.

P: We’re here for FluMist. Vaccines have been a big buzz topic. What is your take on vaccines and what do you say to parents who might not be with you?

JVDB: I totally understand the debate about vaccines. They certainly have a utility. My wife and I went back and forth on the whole vaccine issue, quite a bit, but when it came to the flu vaccine specifically it was something we decided to do. Initially I was afraid you could get the flu from a flu vaccine. You actually can’t. It’s impossible. That was new to me. When I found that out, I realized there are a lot of myths about the flu that even I had—as health-conscious as I am. When I found out that it hospitalized 200,000 people a year and that it’s responsible for the hospitalization of more children than any other vaccine-preventable disease, that’s when I thought this is something that I can really get behind and help spread the word. And [FluMist] is needle free. Kids don’t like when you stick needles in them. Go figure. My 4-year-old did it and didn’t cry and was really proud of herself. We did not vaccinate our kids last year and I had two kids with the flu and my wife was pregnant. And G-d forbid it can lead to some bad complications.

Click here for Parents recommended vaccine schedule.

P: With vaccinations your home will be flu free, but there are always the typical coughs and colds. What is your go-to thing as a dad to make your kids feel better on a sick day?

JVDB: We take a very holistic approach to it. We make them some special tea with some good homeopathics in there. We give it to them with a lot of love. I think that counts for a lot.

P: You have two girls and a boy. There’s been a lot of talk about how having a daughter, specifically, changes a man. Is that something you feel?

JVDB: Well my first kid was a daughter, yeah you do start to be more concerned with the world in general knowing your kids are going to go out in it. You start to really look at other people’s attitudes towards women especially, and you’re a lot more hyperaware.

P: Have you seen the YouTube videos of the daddy-daughter dates? Would you take Olivia or Annabel on a father-daughter first date?

JVDB: I feel I do that all the time. It’s tricky with three, but I really do try to make sure they all have some good one-on-one time because that’s when you really get to see who they are outside of siblings and outside of the environment that they’re usually in. You get some really great clues into their personality. And they just love it. It’s a really big priority for me to take those moments.

P: Speaking of personality is there anything that any of your three do that makes you think “That’s just like when I was a kid?”

JVDB: All the time. Whenever they make goofy faces or love to dress up in their Halloween costumes or tell me a story that’s a complete fallacy that they’re making up but they’re doing it so well.

P: Were you a little fibber?

JVDB: I just loved stories. I loved to have a story to tell and my kids will tell me a story and the only way I’ll know that they’re making it up is that there’s a dragon in it. Everything else is really believable until a dragon makes an appearance and I say, “Oh ok you’re making this up.” I turn to my wife and go, “Sorry…my bad.”

P: You’re three kids in, what do you think you’ve learned and you’re doing better with the third than the first?

JVDB: I’ve come to just realize how important it is to embrace the chaos. There might be parents out there who are able to manage everything neat and tidy, but that’s certainly not us. Fighting to really find that appreciation in all of those moments is so important because it really does go by so quickly. It’s a big cliché and it’s so true. There are those times when you’re just so frustrated and you just think to yourself “Really?!” Especially those moments: sit there and think I’m gonna miss this when it’s not happening.

P: What still continues to baffle you? Is there anything you wish someone would tell you the secret to?

JVDB: How do kids have that much energy?

P: I think we should institute adult naptime.

JVDB: I would LOVE adult naptime. I would endorse that in two seconds.

P: You recently had 45 minutes to yourself and you didn’t know what to do. If you had 45 minutes again, do you know what you would do?

JVDB: I should work out because that’s catch as catch can. What I would love to do is to see if I’ve got a football game recorded that nobody has ruined the score for me and just spend 45 minutes going through that. That would be something…. That’s so pathetic. Better than doing the dishes, which is what I think I did last time. I find myself doing dishes saying, “Why am I doing dishes right now? I could be doing anything.”

P: Despite the lack of free time, you seem to be very happy as a father. Was there one moment when you went “Wow. I’m a dad.”

JVDB: Yeah. First moment my first one was born. That was it. It was pretty instantaneous. I’d wanted that for a long time so when it did happen it felt like the resolution to a lot of unanswered questions in my life.

Photograph: Via Instagram with permission from James Van Der Beek

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Hilary Duff: “I don’t want to rush him through life and the stages that are going by so quickly.”

Tuesday, September 16th, 2014

Hilary Duff Announces Each Pack of Trident Gum purchased This Week Is A Donation to Smiles Across AmericaYesterday, Hilary Duff celebrated Trident gum’s 10-year anniversary of their sponsorship of Oral Health America’s Smiles Across America campaign. (The campaign provides oral disease prevention to uninsured children.) This week 5 cents of every pack of Trident gum purchased—up to $200,000—will go to the cause! Parents sat down with the actress-cum-pop star and mom of 2-year-old Luca to talk dental health, why she’s more afraid of the terrible 3s than the 2s, and her own mommy monologue—Lizzie McGuire-style.

P: You’ve been involved in a lot of charitable work, what drew you to this cause?

HD: I think I just got inspired knowing that Trident has supported Oral Health America for the past ten years and they’ve raised over 2 million dollars doing such good. I’m starting to work with my son, taking care of his teeth everyday and trying to teach him how to brush. I’ve always had teeth issues so I know how painful it can be. I want to teach him how important it is to keep healthy teeth and brush after meals. And it’s my gum! This is actually my gum that I buy.

P: Speaking of teaching your son to brush, is he brushing his own teeth? Does he ever complain about having to do it? 

HD: He wants to brush his own, but I brush him first and then I let him “brush.” We started brushing when he had two little nubs sticking out just to get him used to it. My friend told me, “Get a toothbrush in there as soon as you can and make it a habit and routine.” We try to make it fun. I’ll be like “I bet you can’t stand on one foot while I brush your teeth” and he goes “I can! I can! I can!”

How to Brush Baby's Teeth
How to Brush Baby's Teeth
How to Brush Baby's Teeth

Aside from brushing, healthy eating habits are important, too. Check out Parents’ Toddler Nutrition Quiz to see if he’s eating right.

P: Now that Luca is 2 years old, tell me: Are they terrible?

HD: No. Not at all. I’m worried for 3 because 2 has been a breeze.

P: What’s your favorite part about 2?

HD: I think just all the vocabulary that happens. He’s getting so vocal and now he can put 4 or 5 words together. It’s a big thing when they can start joining words, but it’s sad too because some of the really cute things that you love go away quick. He’s starting to sing. He loves to sing the ABCs and The Great Big Spider—he does not like The Itsy Bitsy Spider he likes The Great Big Spider.

P: So you changed the words?

HD: Yes. And I guess…just how capable he is with everything now. He knows what he wants, but he’s a very sweet little boy and he has a really good spirit. He has the best smile. I’m lucky, but I’m a little afraid for 3 because 2 has been great.

P: Is there anything that he does that makes you think “Oh my gosh, he’s such a little mini-me?”

HD: All of his vocal-isms. He says “oh!” all the time because I say “Oh.” I’ll say to him “It’s time to go!” He’ll say “OH!” The other day I put something on instagram where he sprayed me with the hose. I didn’t think he could pull the trigger because they’re really tough. I just say “sure” all the time and I said “You can’t spray me” and he said “SURE!” and then pssshhhhh blasted me with the hose. He also says “No way” which is bad. I usually say it in a good way when I get excited like “no wayyyy”  and now he says it in a bad way. I’m like “Do you want to change your diaper?” “No way!” Excuse me? The sass.

P: This year has been a year of transition for your family. What has been the key to maintaining a positive parenting relationship for you and for Luca, perhaps as an example for other moms that might be going through harder times?

HD: I think the key thing for us is that he’s our main priority and we love and care for him so much and so everything else will straighten out eventually. We’re just trying to move forward with as much love as we can for him and our family. And we have a lot of respect for each other.

P: You’re most famous for your portrayal of Lizzie McGuire. She always had that inner monologue running through her head as a cartoon. What’s your mommy inner monologue like?

HD: I wish I could be funny right now, but I really don’t think it’s funny. I think a lot of the time I remind myself to count to ten. Take a breather. Their little legs can’t always keep up with ours and I don’t want to rush him through life and rush through the stages that I notice are going by so quickly. My life is so busy and so hectic and I move so quickly that it’s like, take it down a notch. It’s all good. So I think Ok count to 10. Sometimes it’s so easy to say “I’m just gonna pick you up and we’re gonna go,” but I want to be really patient with him.

Photograph: Michael Simon/StarTracks

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