Danielle Fishel Has Stopped Trying To Be a Super Mom: 'I'm Only Human'

The mom of two and Boy Meets World star talks parenting advice, why she’ll always be a working mom, and having a real-life Gerber baby.

Danielle Fishel
Photo: Gerber Childrenswear | Danielle Fishel

Most people remember Danielle Fishel best as Topanga Lawrence—the hippie-chic smartie pants love interest on ABC's hit family 1990s comedy Boy Meets World.

In real life, Fishel is just as charming and focused. Nearly 30 years after the show's premiere—and five years after starring in the spin-off series, Girl Meets World, on Disney—she's determined to meet the world on her own terms, as a director and founder of her own haircare line—because she's always been known for her lovely locks—as well as a mom to two.

Fishel stopped by to chat with Parents about TV motherhood lessons, managing pandemic parenting and work, and having her own real-life Gerber baby.

You're partnering with Gerber Childrenswear on a new line of onesies. Iconic.

I've been telling everybody I now have a Gerber baby, even though he's a Gerber Childrenswear baby. They're both iconic. But this year, Gerber turns 40, and I turned 40, too! Gerber inspires a lot of nostalgia—and I like to think that I inspire a lot of nostalgia, too. I mean, Topanga and Boy Meets World are so nostalgic. Gerber decided to put out an awesome decades pack and asked if I would help celebrate their fortieth anniversary, and I was thrilled to do it because Gerber onesies are like a staple in my house. They were a staple for Adler. They're now a staple for Keaton. The classic whites, but now they've got colors and patterns in prints. I love my Baby Meets World onesie! You can find it in the decades pack.

Have you had fun dressing up your kids?

I love it! Keaton wore his Welcome to My Crib onesie over the weekend. I was a little bummed when I found out I was having boys because of the clothes! But it has not stopped me. My boys look incredible all the time.

What has it been like parenting through the pandemic?

When I had my son Adler, was June of 2019, he was four weeks premature, and he had a lung condition. So they said, "You really need to make sure that he stays healthy, and it's going to be flu season." My plan was that he was going to be an indoor bubble baby until the spring of 2020, and then we all know what happened in the spring of 2020. In some ways, it's been an incredible blessing because we were all home together. My husband used to work mostly out of the house. I used to work mostly out of the house as a director, and we had this young kid that now had mommy and daddy home with him all the time. And we really got to bond, to connect. That's probably the best thing that came out of the pandemic, that we got to spend so much quality time together. But it was also the hardest part, you know, being inside a lot with a small kid. There was so much fear around it. It's been a long journey of navigating and making your own rules and finding out what you're comfortable with.

Being in your pandemic baby bubble, so to speak, did you have a support system?

Yes! Luckily, my mom and my dad live in Orange County, and [my husband] Jensen's mom lives five minutes from us. And we have a wonderful, fantastic nanny, who I literally wouldn't be able to do anything without. And at the very beginning part of the pandemic, she moved in with us. So we had our own little bubble here, and she was here with us so that we were still able to have meetings on Zoom, and do things and know that our son was safe.

Your younger son, Keaton, was born last year. Two under 3!

I remember when I found out I was pregnant with Keaton. One of the first things I thought was, "Adler's little brother is probably going to idolize him." Keaton absolutely thinks everything Adler does is funny and wonderful, and he can't take his eyes off him. Keaton just turned 7 months, and we're working on crawling. I love watching them together. I can't wait to see how they grow together. They're a little bit more than two years apart, so I know they're going to have their moments of fighting, and all that, but I also just can't wait to see the love develop between the two of them.

With a 2-year-old and a baby, you're a relatively new mom. But even before you had your boys, you played a mom on Girl Meets World.

When I did Girl Meets World and I was playing Topanga as a mom I didn't have kids, so I didn't know what I was doing. But I knew that I had always been maternal, and it felt like it came naturally to me on the show. The thing I learned the most from that show is that it's really about having fun with your kids. I think about how much fun Topanga had with Auggie, and how much she let his personality dictate what they were going to do that day, let him guide the conversations, and let him really lead. I try to do that with Adler now. He'll be 3 in June, and I feel like I get to know him so well when I just sit back a little bit and take my hands off the steering wheel and let him direct what we're going to do and what we're going to talk about. I learned that from being a mom on Girl Meets World. I didn't know that that was an important thing to do until I did it with Auggie on the show.

It's been nearly 30 years since Boy Meets World first aired, but rewatching it recently with my daughter, one thing I noticed was how much of it was about family. What did you learn about parenting from the show and the sequel, Girl Meets World?

I learned so much from everyone on the show. Rider Strong has kids that are about the same age. Trina McGee also has kids, but her children are older. She was pregnant with her third child in the sixth season of Boy Meets World! Her daughter just got married last week. When I found out I was pregnant with Keaton, I asked her about how to welcome a new sibling into the family and how to help Adler adapt, and she had some good advice. And Rider's son Indie is a few years older than Adler, so he's been able to tell me, "Oh, here's what's coming next." The last time I saw his son, Indie was super into dinosaurs, and said to me, "Let's see how many dinosaurs you can name." And I was like, "Tyrannosaurus Rex." And both Rider and Indie looked at me like, "How do you not know a million dinosaurs?" And I was like, "Guess I better start brushing up on this." And now I can name 50 dinosaurs because my son Adler is completely obsessed with dinosaurs.

It's great to have friends that have kids that are a little older than yours so that you can start talking about the things that you're anticipating, and be like, "What's coming next? What do I need to know? What do I need to prepare for?"

Speaking of which: What's the best parenting advice you've ever gotten?

I think the best advice I got is that you're human, and you're always going to be human. I'm a perfectionist, and it's very hard for me now with kids to not feel like every mistake I make [is huge], letting it eat me alive. That I'm going to ruin my kids, like, "Oh, my gosh! I shouldn't have snapped the 700th time he said my name."

That can be really hard to remember in the moment.

And you're going to make mistakes. The important thing is how you admit and repair the mistake after it's happened, and I keep that in mind. I apologize to Adler all the time. I'm learning, and I'm teaching him, too. When I have done something that wasn't my best moment, I'm able to calm down, and then I get eye-to-eye with him, and I say, "Listen, Mommy raised her voice, and she shouldn't have done that. I'm really sorry, and I'm going to work hard to not do it again. Mommy needed to take a time out, and she didn't." I've noticed now with Adler, when we start to feel like a tantrum is coming on, or we start to notice a meltdown happening, I'll say, "Do you want to take a few moments in your room to take some deep breaths and get yourself together?" And he will. So now, when I feel myself start to get overwhelmed, I will say, "Mommy needs to go take a minute and get herself together." It's like it released this feeling off my shoulders of like constantly needing to be super-mom. I'm not a superhero. I'm not a super-mom. I'm only human.

That's really good advice!

I need to take my own advice. You have to know what works for you. I am definitely a schedule person. I know what time the kids are ready for a nap, and I like to stick to that nap schedule, and I don't like to let them nap in the car. Some people really just need to be able to go about their day, and their kids will nap where they nap and whatever. But that's not how I do things. So whenever people ask me for advice, that's always my number one go-to: the first couple of years of their life, revolve your life around your kids. Then you can start to have a life again.

But you're very much a working mom. Tell us about Be Free.

Yes, it's a haircare company, and I love being able to do that. I work from home with that, constantly testing products. I'm the only guinea pig for the company, because we don't test on animals, and I'm the test. I work with the lab, and we create our different products, and then they send me things and I try them out. I write my pros and cons list, do the research on all the ingredients, send back what I'd like to change, and they send me a new one, and I test that out, and we go back and forth with it until I'm happy. But the company was inspired by my first pregnancy. Truthfully, when I was pregnant with Alder, I realized I had never thought about what was in my hair or skincare. Then I heard my son's heartbeat for the first time. And I came home and was like, "That's it. I'm going to pay attention to every single thing that goes into my body. And I used an app to scan my haircare products and it was like, in red fiery flames, this is terrible for you. I thought there's got to be something healthier out there that also works. But there wasn't. That's when I created the line. Now we have eight hair care products, and we just launched our first facial face wash. It took two years to come up with a face wash and I'm so happy with it.

You've talked before about mom guilt. How do you deal?

I am very fortunate with the way my work schedule is as a director. I work for a week at a time, sometimes two weeks, but then I can take time off. But for me, there was a lot of guilt. As a preemie, Adler had to be fed medicated formula, because he was born with a lung condition. But Keaton was an exclusively breastfed baby, and because I didn't get to have that experience with Adler, I was afraid to give Keaton a bottle because I was worried that it was going to mess with our feeding schedule. So, it wasn't until Keaton was 6 months that I was like, "Oh, it's time for him to start having a bottle." And he refused the bottle. Then I asked my pediatrician. He said, "You're going to have to go to work and trust that he won't starve."

I felt awful. Thankfully, kids are very adaptable. I think that's the thing about mom guilt. It's still hard when you're in the moment, and you're overwhelmed by it. But what I've realized is that it is a big scary ghost. When you remove the sheet, what's underneath it is practically nothing. So much of the guilt is wrapped in fear and anxiety that's completely unnecessary and unwarranted. When I have those mom guilt moments now, I remind myself that I've had them before, and they ended up being for nothing. And this will probably be the same. I also remind myself, when I feel guilty about my work, that one of the main reasons I work is because it makes me a happier person. And when I am a happy person, I am a happier wife and a happier mother. I'm a more present mother. It's good for me, and that's good for my kids.

You've transitioned from acting to directing shows like Sydney to the Max and Raven's Home. What has that experience been like?

I started directing when I was on Boy Meets World and did four episodes. After the show ended, I spent a lot of time shadowing other directors on sitcom sets, letting people know that I was serious about directing. And it took some time for people to take me seriously. But an amazing executive producer named Mark Reisman was doing a show called Sydney to the Max for Disney, and he decided to take a risk, and he let me do three episodes in their first season and I ended up doing about 12 or 13 for him. Since that time, I've done almost 30 episodes of TV. I'm going to be directing my first movie later this year. It's been a great a second career I never knew I was going to have, and I love it just as much as I used to love acting. It is even more fulfilling to me because I get to bring out amazing performances in kids, and I see myself in them. I've been in those shoes; I know the pressure that's on their shoulders. It's like a way of giving back to my young self. It's been amazing.

So, will we see you on the screen any time soon?

I have no plans to go back on camera. I mean, if something like great came up that I wanted to do, I would be open to it. But I'm really loving directing. It's just where my heart is at. I have my hands full with the kids and the directing and Be Free, and I don't have any plans for acting.

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