I’ve always wanted to be a mom. I dreamed about it and planned it since I was a little girl! The day I found out I was pregnant with my daughter Maxwell was one of the best moments of my life. Having Maxwell and now my son Ace changed my perspective completely. Suddenly, I am responsible for these little lives and want all the happiness in the world for them.
My pregnancy with Maxwell, specifically because she is a girl, made me realize that I wouldn’t be able to protect her from everything I had been through as a woman. I wonder each day how I can shield her not only from the critics in the world, but from the criticism we all dole out to ourselves. My pregnancies (especially my first with Maxwell) were well documented and my struggles with my weight and body image have played out in front of the world. As hard as that has been, the hardest part is to realize that with all the hurtful and harsh criticism from others, I have been the hardest on myself.
Raising Maxwell makes me realize that I don’t want her to see me beat myself up for things like food choices or numbers on a scale. I don’t want her to learn anything like that from me. Those things don’t determine who we are and instead make us feel terrible about ourselves. I want to teach her to value herself, listen to herself and tune out the world. I want her to know her value, rather than spending her energy fighting negative voices from within. I want to teach her to figure out what is truly right for her rather than worrying about what anyone else thinks.
Becoming a mom has helped me realize I’m actually proud of myself for a lot of the things I have done in my life. Having my kids has made me feel so much more at peace with myself. I see how loving and kind we can be to our children, while never noticing all the things we have done well ourselves.
I am happy that Maxwell and Ace will have each other to rely on in the magical way that only siblings can! I feel very complete with the two of them in my life and as they grow up I hope they remember these few things from me:
Build a great support system. A strong family and wonderful friends keep me headed in the right direction every day!
Learn to accept compliments as graciously as you give them. Don’t dismiss them – soak up the positivity and give it back as often as you can!
Find a partner who really supports and listens to you in the good times and the bad.
Be original. The world will try to fit you into a mold, but carve your own path.
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Actor James Marsden has starred in a variety of movies and television, from superhero epics (X-Men) to drama (Lee Daniels’ The Butler) and comedies (30 Rock, the upcoming Anchorman 2). But chances are your family probably recognizes him from one of his many kids’ movies, including Hop, Cats and Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore and my personal favorite, Enchanted.
We recently caught up with the 40-year-old star when he was hosting “SWAPtoberfest,” the launch party for Skylanders SWAP Force in Times Square. He told us all about making family movies, raising his three kids, and even showed off some of his video game skills.
How did you get involved with Skylanders? My kids have always loved the games. My 12-year-old boy and my 8-year-old daughter will play together, so it’s good to find a game we can enjoy as a family.
Are you a big video game fan? I have been off and on through my whole life. I have to watch myself because if I get into a game, I’m not very productive with other parts of my life. But I played a lot back in the ’80s, and now I usually will play with my kids.
You’ve been in several kids’ movies. Is that because of your own children? Completely. I’m not that interested in staying in one type of genre, so I do like to diversify the work a bit. But I like that with kids’ films, I’m making something that my own can enjoy. I get to experience the movie with my kids.
Do your kids like watching your movies? Films are very real to young kids, so they didn’t get the concept of seeing Dad on TV or on the movie screen. It was a little uncomfortable for them. Kids don’t want their parents to be anything but their parents. So I never introduced them to my films until they were old enough to grasp the concept of “Daddy’s playing pretend.” But they’re wonderfully underwhelmed with what I do. They think it’s cool, but they’re interested in movies I’m not in. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Would you encourage your children if any of them were interested in acting? If their heart was into it, then I would encourage it no matter what. But I would probably make them wait until they were 18 to professionally get involved. Kids should be kids. You’re a kid for such a short period of your life, and you’re an adult for a large period. A lot of kids start in this business too soon, and they grow up too soon, in my opinion. So while they were young, I would encourage my kids to take acting classes, and to be in school drama, musicals and plays.
What’s your best parenting advice? Consistency and boundaries. I know that sounds very discipline-oriented, but I think that kids need to know what to expect. Set very specific boundaries for them, and within those boundaries, they can do whatever they want and embrace their individuality and their spirit. They need very clear ideas of what’s right and wrong and when they bump against that boundary, it’s not a hard moment. You want them to know what to expect and try to create a consistent environment for them.
We’re not far from where you filmed the infamous bus stabbing scene in Enchanted. They couldn’t close off Times Square, so we were doing it in front of tourists. It was the first time I thought, ‘This movie is either going to kill my career or it’s going to be really great.’ Luckily, it turned out to be really great. But it was an exceptional experience. Who else can say they’ve stabbed a bus in the middle of Times Square while wearing tights?
Image: James Marsden plays Skylanders with young fans, courtesy of Activision.
Parents caught up with tennis star, humanitarian, father (and now snack-creator) Andre Agassi upon the launch of his new snack line for kids, Box Budd!es. Agassi teamed up with V20 Foods to create snacks from milk boxes to granola bars.We particularly enjoyed the fun new Peachy Apple Fruit Pouch as a twist on traditional applesauce. The chocolate granola bars win the Parents vote since they’re the perfect size for a lunchbox treat, with only 100 calories and 5 grams of sugar each. Not to mention, all of the proceeds from these foods benefit the Andre Agassi Foundation for Education. But aside from this endeavor, as dad to Jaden, 11, and Jaz, 9, this pro has plenty to say about healthy eating, kids and sports, and teaching your child kindness.
P: What got you started on the nutritional front for kids?
AA: The impetus was about education and it morphed into educating on two fronts. All the money goes to my Foundation for Education, so we can educate our future, and we also educate parents on how to make better choices for their kids.
P: The snacks are a bit healthier and the proceeds support education, but I have to imagine taste was a factor. Were Jaden and Jaz your taste-testers?
AA: They were two of them, let me put it that way. Their cousins were four more and their friends. As we got closer to the end product it became a fun thing in the house. We would line up all these blind taste tests and cut them into little tiny squares so you could compare them and then they would all do their little notes about them. It was actually a pretty fun process.
P: So are applesauce and chocolate milk some of their favorite foods?
AA: We have the same dilemma every parent has in that you keep your kids living a well-balanced health lifestyle and it starts with educating them on their choices and forcing them to eat something healthy before they eat something that’s not as healthy.
P: What are you tricks of the trade in getting them to choose that healthier option?
AA: Well, it’s a mandate. If you want something that’s unhealthy for a snack, you first have to eat an apple. You want to go to dessert, you have to finish this on your plate. It’s filling them up on the good stuff before they choose the bad stuff. If they ask for snacks, as long as they eat something healthy they can have the snack. We don’t discriminate against the snack as long as they start with the healthy option.
P: I know that you are involved with the Boys and Girls club, an organization that mixes education and athletics. Do Jaden and Jaz play sports to keep active and healthy?
AA: Yeah. My son plays baseball, full stop, and my daughter’s on two hip hop dance competition teams. She is rock hard now and she’s nine. I didn’t even know bodies could do those movements. It’s crazy to watch her do it.We’re there at competitions and games cheering all the time.
P: In your autobiography, Open, you talk a lot about how tennis felt pressurized for you. How do you keep athletics, or dance, or physical activity in general fun for your kids?
AA: Well, we’re not the kind of parents who expect them to do this for a lifetime. We try to nurture what they gravitate towards and they both found their niche pretty quickly. We just support it. There’s nothing to push them at. They just have to see through their responsibility. It’s really smiple: You’re going to fulfill your responsibility. Jaz is part of two dance competitions. She doesn’t have to do it next year, but this year I say, “You’re going to every practice, you’re going to go to every competition.” Same with Jaden—he can make his choices year to year if that’s what he chooses, but I harp on being responsible.
P: Through your Foundation and all of the wonderful causes that you’ve been a supporter of, giving back is clearly an important value to you. How do you go about instilling that value in your children?
AA: All of those things I did that led me to education. I got tired of sticking band-aids on issues and I wanted to give the tools for real systemic change. But I will tell you this, and one thing I’ve learned most profoundly as a parent: children will learn from what they see way more than what you tell them. So the fact that I’m in New York right now for two days and I’m not home with them, they want to know where I am and why I’m going. I walk them through what I’m doing, as an example, with Box Budd!es. They all of a sudden realize that I’m not really doing something I want to do—I don’t want to travel, I don’t want to leave them—but I have to because it is the right thing to do. So they see that more than telling them. Next thing you know on the weekend they’re having a lemonade drive for the ASPCA to save pets and animals. It’s remarkable how that correlates.
P: I know that Jaden has a birthday coming up, he’s about to turn 12. Do you have birthday plans?
AA: Both of them actually. Jaz wants to take her entire dance team to the Jabberwockies. So that would be the third year in a row she wants to do that. They’re better athletes than anyone I’ve ever seen on a tennis court. They’re remarkable what they can do. Jaden, his birthday is late October so he’s still sort of morphing back and forth between a very understated barbeque with just a few friends or a big movie night with his entire team.
P: Will you serve Box Budd!es at the birthday party?
I’m gonna push this as much as possible. I hope this brand builds. I hope that when people see that seal, that logo, that this is really going towards our future, that they trust the source, and that 100 percent of all my proceeds are going directly to our future.
Nick Cannon is in the dog house, literally! The America’s Got Talent host and husband of Grammy Award–winner Mariah Carey owns eight Jack Russell terriers. It’s no surprise, then, that Cannon teamed up with IAMS So Good to teach pet owners how to keep their loveable pooches happy and healthy. Parents.com caught up with the famous TV star to find out how he and his famous wife teach their children (2-year-old twins Monroe and Moroccan) about animal safety.
How did you teach your toddlers how to pet the dogs? Did you and Mariah rely on a book or watch a video to teach your children how to pet the pooches?
Mariah was the one who taught them, because not only is she a long-time dog owner, but we had our puppies and kids at the same time. She demonstrated over and over how to pet the dogs nicely and with care. She would take our kids’ hands and let them do it so they really grasped the concept of how to be kind to the dogs. Over time, they got it. The kids are really good to the dogs and treat them like precious babies.
Do you and Mariah give the twins any jobs when it comes to caring for the dogs?
The kids love to help feed the dogs. They know when the dogs are hungry. When they see the bowls are empty, they say, “Daddy, we need to feed them, so put food in.”
When you and Mariah read books to the children, do they gravitate to stories about dogs? What’s their favorite book that has an animal as a main character?
They love stories about animals in general. They love stories that have to do with dogs, bears, and lions. They especially love lions right now! Goodnight Moon, by Margaret Wise Brown, is their favorite.
How do you get your children to play with the dogs?
The kids love to run around in the backyard with the dogs. Not only are they getting exercise, but they are really bonding with the dogs. As the dogs try to keep up with them, the kids laugh because they are having so much fun.
As a family how do you, Mariah, the children, and the dogs like to spend time together? Pets are known to get jealous sometimes when their owners have children. Have you experienced that?
We all go swimming, play with the ball, or go for a walk together. We do a lot together as a family. When we do family activities that include the dogs, they never feel left out.
In addition to pets being a big part of your life, I assume music is, too?
Music is on all day long. The kids love when we sing them lullabies to sleep. During the day, we play a lot of soul music. The kids are naturally musically inclined and they love listening to it.
Last month, Chris Noth presented a generous donation to Nourish Now—an organization that brings meals to families in need—on behalf of BV Wines. Parents spoke to Chris about how his work (both on-screen and on the hunger relief effort) impacts his life as a father to his 5-year-old son, Orion, from dealing with dinnertime pickiness to spending time together before Orion heads off to full-day school.
P: How does being a father impact your perspective on the issue of hunger relief?
CN: As a father your instinct kicks in and you want to make sure your kid is safe and well-fed. People don’t really know that 1 in 6 Americans don’t have access to food, that 17 million children are living in food-insecure households. Like me—I didn’t know that. It’s inconceivable to me that if you have a child that they would be food insecure.
P: Speaking of nutrition and healthy eating, your son is at that age when it can be difficult to feed your child, not due to lack of resources but due to pickiness. Is Orion a picky eater?
CN: All kids have their own peculiar tastes, I think. For instance, Orion doesn’t like spicy foods. He loves strawberries. He’s a big cheese eater, too, by the way. I was surprised at that. He loves cheese. Loves Parmesan cheese [laughs]. We’re just now getting him to eat meat; he wasn’t attracted to any kind of meat. But, then, he loves certain seafoods.
I try to trick him of course because he’s in that superhero-fascination age. I say, “You gotta eat this if you wanna be like Spiderman, kiddo. You gotta finish this up.” It’s an ongoing challenge. We’ve made vegetables kind of fun for him to eat. But we also use the old tricks of the trade. My son, for dessert, he doesn’t like chocolate—believe it or not—but he likes mochi. He’s crazy about mochi. So if he knows that he’s gonna get his two mochis at the end of the meal, he’s gonna clean that plate.
CN: She [my wife] is very good at that, at chopping vegetables up and blending them into things so he thinks he’s getting a French Fry but maybe it’s beets. I mean he does love those salty things that can be a little dangerous.
P: What about school lunches? What are you most excited or most nervous for with him going off to full day kindergarden?
CN: We just had our kindergarten meeting, so he starts next year. It’s a huge huge step. He had a very tight community at his preschool and so did we—with the teachers. It was just such a nourishing environment. I hate to say this, because it’s ridiculous, but it’s like from that [preschool] environment to kindergarten it’s kind of like he’s going to university in his eyes. He’s nervous. But, it’s still a really small community.
P: Since you split time between New York and L.A., when you and Orion get to see each other and you are in the same place, what are some of your favorite things to do together to celebrate that father-son bond?
CN: He’s into baseball. A Yankee game has got to be on the list. He’s obsessed with Derek Jeter; he’s very upset about his injury [chuckles]. You know, I love taking him, believe it or not, I want to see a couple of shows on Broadway. He digs that. He’s seen Spider-Man twice. I’m trying to see if Matilda is the show for him. Although, I desperately don’t want him to be an actor.
P: Why is that?
CN: There’s enough…entertainment isn’t one of the things we lack. Actors are not something we lack. Do we need another actor? G-d no.
P: Obviously charity work is very important to you. Is volunteerism and giving back something that you hope to encourage as Orion gets older?
CN: Thanksgiving we went to a local church that I found through the food bank. I think it would be a nice thing for him always to know about these things. He didn’t really quite get it, he was having fun, you know, asking to serve things, but he will get it. I think it’s important for every child to understand what’s around them, what the problems are and to be a part of the solution as they get older. I didn’t do it as a kid, frankly. I wasn’t aware of it. It is about awareness and then action.
P: Aside from volunteerism and helping out those around you, what would you say is the most important value you hope to instill in Orion?
CN: Generosity. I want him to be strong, but a gentle man. I want him to be able to see the difference between something that has real value and something that doesn’t.
Photo credit: Amy Sussman/AP for Johnson & Johnson Consumer Companies, Inc.
Last week, Parents caught up with Maggie Gyllenhaal at the 125th Anniversary celebration of The First Aid Kit by Johnson & Johnson. After hearing from Safe Kids Worldwide about preventing childhood injuries, we spoke to Maggie about how she keeps her two daughters, Ramona, 6, and Gloria, 14 months, safe, and what she does to stay relaxed even in scary moments.
P:When you first became a mom, were you the nervous type?
MG: I was young when Ramona was born. I was 28 and still kind of a kid in a lot of ways. I wanted to be cool about everything and easygoing. I didn’t realize that the way to be easygoing is to do some preparation, to actually have a diaper bag with the things you need! Because if you do that then you don’t have to constantly be worrying, “Oh G-d! They need a snack and where am I going to get something?” I know all that now! Also my second daughter is much more easygoing with her own bumps and bruises. She’ll fall over and kind of get up and be fine. Not always, but she’s a different personality than my first.
P:Who puts on the Band-Aids at home? You or Daddy? Does Ramona or Gloria have a preference?
MG: I’m not sure Gloria has ever had to have a Band-Aid, yet. And Ramona definitely prefers me for that kind of thing, although Peter is happy to do it, too. She’s definitely more of a mama’s girl.
P:Have you had any scares with Ramona?
MG: I look at my girlfriend who has three little boys and they have been in and out of the hospital. They have gotten broken bones and stitches and my kids haven’t had any of that stuff…yet. It’s partially to do with their personalities. Ramona definitely is super active, but she’s also cautious.
There was one time when Gloria was about 4 weeks old that Ramona slipped. We were staying at a friend’s house in upstate New York and I was downstairs with our newborn. All I heard was a big thud and crying. I went upstairs and Peter was holding Ramona’s ankle in this way and looking at me in a way that I thought, “Oh my G-d she broke her ankle, and we’re upstate, and I have a 4-week-old, and it’s like 100 degrees.” And I really thought something terrible had happened and, in fact, it was nothing. But I think the way that she’d fallen he just thought, Ok sit down. Let me check it out. Peter was a soccer player, so he knows all about injuries. I remember that as a really terrifying moment, because when you have a tiny baby you are so sensitive, and my heart was just so open in those first six weeks in particular. So I still was not fully functional. I didn’t know how I was going to manage taking her to the emergency room with a newborn. Thank G-d I didn’t have to.
P:You mentioned that your husband is great with these sports injuries. Is Ramona going in to sports or dance?
MG: I think she’s just active the way a kid is active and loves to do cartwheels and round-offs. In her school they do a lot of that stuff. She’s very strong. But, I don’t know yet what she’s going to be.
P:If you end up on the sidelines, how do you make sure she’s safe being an active kid?
MG: Well, like they say, some injuries are part of being alive. It’s just the same as…I think about heartbreak for my children or even the social stuff that goes on between friends. It prepares you for being an adult where you get hurt all the time—not as much physically. I think about that sometimes, too. If you ever fall as an adult—slip and fall—how incredibly jarring it is. As kids they’re doing it all the time, just falling over.
I think the ways that you hurt yourself both physically and emotionally as a kid are ways of preparing you for dealing with those same kind of things as a grownup. So, I don’t think it’s the end of the world for people to get hurt, but I do think that you have to be careful. I think you have to keep an eye out for them and you have to keep boundaries.
I thought before my kids were born that I was just going to be so easygoing. In fact, I find that it’s easier for me and it’s better for them to be really clear about what’s safe and what’s not. What’s okay and what’s not.
P:When they’re with their Grandma Naomi, do you leave behind instructions?
MG: My mom has said, “I’m allowed to give her more treats than you do. I am allowed to let her stay up late. That’s my job.” It’s part of the gift of being a grandmother.
Click here for tips on how to be prepared in 12 scary situations.
“First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes baby in the baby carriage,” I used to sing gayly on the blacktop at recess as I jumped rope. It all sounds so nice and simple, like a present wrapped in a bow. But as we all know, life is not as easy as the jingle had us believe when we were young, particularly the part about having kids.
More women are beginning to discuss the struggles and more serious medical side-effects of giving birth— specifically postpartum depression—but the subject still feels taboo. Director/writer/producer Jon Avnet hopes that his new YouTube series Susanna on the WIGS channel will help eliminate the stigma associated with the condition. The drama tells the story of Katie (Anna Paquin), a new mom suffering from acute postpartum depression, and her younger sister Susanna (Maggie Grace), who must step in to care for her newborn niece when it is clear that Katie’s illness is dire.
According to Postpartum Support International, 15 percent of women experience major or minor depression after the birth of their child. Yet, so many of us are in the dark about the condition and its symptoms. Like Katie, women experiencing postpartum depression often feel a lack of connection to the baby they were so looking forward to meeting. As a new mom, Katie feels rejected, like her baby is a stranger to her. Avnet combines Katie’s feelings of insecurity with the sleep deprivation and uncertainty that every new mother experiences to create a relatable and powerful story.
Each episode is a quick but impactful 10-minute view into Katie’s world, showing suffering mothers that they are not alone, postpartum depression is more common than we think, and there is no shame in talking about it and seeking help.
Susanna starring Anna Paquin and Maggie Grace debuts with six episodes Friday, June 14 on WIGS.
NCIS: Los Angeles star Chris O’Donnell has joined with The ConAgra Foods Foundation’s Hunger-Free Summer program to raise awareness for kids who depend on free or reduced lunch meals during the school year. Now in its fourth year, the initiative has delivered over 2.5 million meals and snacks to children struggling with hunger over the summer. The goal is to reach at least 25 percent more children in need during the summer than before, over the course of five years.
We spoke with O’Donnell about the program, his career, and what it’s like to raise five children.
How do you manage raising so many kids? Do you ever have peace and quiet? On a normal day, peace and quiet doesn’t begin until the last one goes to sleep, which gets later and later as they get older. My wife Caroline and I do try to find time for just the two of us, run out for a glass of wine or a quick dinner. The noise feels like the new normal at this point. If it gets too quiet, that usually means trouble.
What’s the best part of having a big family?
In terms of our children, we try to encourage each of them to explore their individual interests since they are each so unique. It is fun watching them as they dabble in all types of sports and extracurricular activities.
You took time off from your acting career to focus on your family. Was that a scary decision to make?
I had a couple moments early in my career where it was more about re-examining my life. I started young and had a lot of success out of the gate. I would go movie, to movie, to movie, and would never see the people I worked with again. I was really getting burnt out on a personal, emotional level. And that’s just not who I am. The road I wanted to go down was to be married and have a family.
Did raising kids ever get easier for you? By the time you were on the fifth baby, did you feel like you had a handle on things?
I think going from two to three kids was the most difficult, but it does get easier. The older kids start to behave and help out, and we are more experienced as well. We don’t stress out over small things that may have freaked us out in our first couple years as parents.
What’s your best advice for busy parents out there?
From my perspective, it’s important for parents to set a good example for their kids, and impart on them that they should think about and help others.
Why is the Hunger-Free Summer Program particularly important to you?
I was shocked to learn that one in five children in the U.S. faces food insecurity—and that the situation only becomes more worrisome during the summer months. It can be an invisible issue, so as a father of five, I want to do something to help.
Want to help O’Donnell and the Hunger-Free Summer initiative? Check out www.ChildHungerEndsHere.com and watch O’Donnell’s message below. For every video viewed and shared, ConAgra will donate one meal to Feeding America, the country’s largest domestic hunger-relief organization.