'Grey's Anatomy' Star Caterina Scorsone on Raising 3 Daughters of Different Ages and Abilities: 'I Would Never Perpetuate the Myth That It's All Easy'
Caterina Scorsone has no plans to live on a commune, but for the record, she wouldn't hate it. As the Grey's Anatomy star navigates raising three girls—9-year-old Eliza, 4-year-old Pippa, and 1-year-old Lucinda (aka Lucky)—she's done quite a bit of thinking about how it takes a village. "I have a friend who's a single mom, and she moved into a house with two other single parents so they could all share child care," she says. "It just makes sense! Nobody can do it themselves."
"One of the women in that house is a midwife," she adds dreamily, as if enraptured by this vision of a women-led Southern California tribe of earth mothers. "And they have chickens!"
A glimpse into her Los Angeles home, a 1920s bungalow filled with books, plants, and Eliza's painted canvases, reveals an atmosphere of happy hubbub guided by a coterie of nurturing women. "I am lucky enough to have a lot of help," she acknowledges. Her sister Deb moved in for a bit during the pandemic; another of Scorsone's sisters, Jovanna, visits regularly to pitch in with everything from Scorsone's schedule to coordinating therapy appointments for Pippa, who has Down syndrome. The actress also relies on a babysitter, Sam, and a nanny and former restaurateur, Frances, who does much of the cooking. "I would never perpetuate the myth that it's all easy," says the actress, who shares custody with her ex. But she's quick to count blessings, especially for the "ridiculous salary" that comes from playing Dr. Amelia Shepherd on the famed Shonda Rhimes show since 2010. "COVID-19 forced people to acknowledge how hard it is to work and parent. My sister and nanny lend their talents to our family while I lend my skills to the show. My kids see that it's all important."
Scorsone grew up in Toronto, where her mother, an anthropologist, and her father, a social worker, raised her to be a freethinker. Still, she says, having a child with Down syndrome was a profound awakening. "Through Pippa, I discovered the gifts of community," she says. "At first, I was scared. But parents of other kids with special needs became like instant family. It's in moments of vulnerability that we either become insular or accept that we need others."
At "Camp Coven," as Scorsone jokingly dubs her home, she and her girls share meals, watch movies (My Neighbor Totoro and Ponyo are on repeat), and chill out on their brand-new deck, which Scorsone built with a friend. Thanks to the well-oiled Grey's production schedule, Scorsone makes it home for bedtime on workdays. ("Worth its weight in gold!") She also carves out one-on-one time with each daughter on weekends. "I make sure to check in with each individually," she says. "Besides, it's more peaceful. If we spend an entire weekend as one pack, there's a lot of fighting and crying!"
Eliza: Age 9
What she's into
"It's important for women to be financially independent, so for Eliza's last birthday we got her a bank account. She saves her allowance, she knows how to use a banking app, and now she's interested in starting a business. The other day she harvested vegetables from our garden to sell. She says for Christmas she wants a card reader, because nobody carries cash."
"Eliza loves Minecraft, and she's taken up horseback riding. My friend Kevin McKidd—he plays Owen Hunt on the show—and his wife, Arielle, have a farm in Ojai, where they have rescue animals. On Sundays, I'll often drive Eliza to the farm for a riding lesson. We might help feed the calves or hang out with their pig, Patrick. It's an hour-and-a-half drive, so we have time to talk. I read Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain, by Daniel J. Siegel, where he talks about the fact that as kids grow, they open up more when you're not looking directly at them. Some of our best conversations have been in the car."
"She reads chapter books like Harry Potter and graphic novels like the Dog Man series, by Dav Pilkey. Sometimes we do Mad Libs."
Pippa: Age 4
What she's into
"She pretends that she's a doctor and wears a lab coat and glasses and gloves to give me a checkup. We also go around the neighborhood, walking and talking about her school and about the flowers that we see. One thing many people don't understand about Down syndrome is the hypotonia the decreased muscle tone. The musculature of Pippa's mouth and tongue is less developed, so it took her a little longer to develop expressive language. But we taught Pippa sign language early on, and sometimes she'll still sign to get her point across. Her receptive language has always been strong, so she understands more than many might assume, and now her vocabulary is starting to blossom."
"We got a trampoline, and Pippa loves it. I had resisted buying one. I mean, I work on a medical show! But I always supervise. Sometimes I'll jump, too, and let's just say it tells you a lot about your pelvic floor. Pippa likes to 'fly,' which means I will lie on my back on the trampoline and she'll go up on my feet. Pippa is teeny-tiny—she weighs only 29 pounds, practically the same size as Lucky! But she's pretty fearless."
"We read stories by Robert Munsch and Mo Willems, listen to music, and do a meditation before settling down to sleep.
Lucky: Age 1
What she's into
"Lucky might be my most chill baby. When it's just us, we go into the garden where she'll sit and play with pebbles, or on the deck where she'll play with leaves and flowers."
"She is super into opening and closing jars and boxes right now. She gets very focused and determined. With two older siblings, Lucky has to be tough. She has a little scowl to let you know when you've crossed her boundaries. I think she's going to have a wicked sense of humor."
"We rock in a rocking chair and read stories, especially Leslie Patricelli books. I breastfed all three girls. Lucky is still nursing, but it's mostly down to at night. She just got molars and also had Coxsackievirus, which she passed on to me … so that was fun. She's probably going to self-wean soon, and despite all that, I know I'm going to miss it. But I'll still relish the incredible sense of peace, love, and accomplishment I have when I get all three girls down to sleep."
Facts About Caterina Scorsone's Family
My medical background: I once trained as a doula and then as a midwife assistant. I considered midwifery school, then in 2010 got cast in Private Practice and was like, "I guess I'll be a pretend doctor."
Lesson learned from the disability community: Ask for support. It allows others to give. Then those givers feel free to ask for help when they need it.
My trick with veggies: I change their name! Brussels sprouts are green yummies. It totally works. It's marketing!
Wish for this school year: That the girls get to play and laugh with kids their age again.
This article originally appeared in Parents magazine's August 2021 issue as "Sister Act." Want more from the magazine? Sign up for a monthly print subscription here