How Jessica Alba Is Teaching Her Kids to Pay It Forward

Jessica Alba, actress and founder of The Honest Company, is not your average working parent. Yet her family life does sound surprisingly familiar. Just like the rest of us moms and dads, she's working to shape her kids' behavior.

Chances are, you know about the earth-friendly diapers, safe baby and home products, and clean beauty line from The Honest Company, which Jessica Alba, 37, launched after giving birth to her daughter Haven, now 7. Alba has hustled so hard since then that her business has approached the $1 billion mark, which in tech circles would make it a “start-up unicorn.” But there’s more to her success. Behind the scenes, Alba’s company funds research on environmental toxins and donates millions of products to families. Alba also involves her girls (including Honor, 10) in the nonprofit Baby2Baby, for which she is a board member. She and her husband, entrepreneur Cash Warren, had their third child, son Hayes, 11 months. And in 2019, she’ll return to Hollywood as a star and an executive producer of a TV show, L.A.’s Finest, with Gabrielle Union.

Despite her increasingly busy life, Alba is determined to do more good and raise her kids to do the same. Says the Golden Globe nominee, who started acting at age 12, “All the odds were stacked against me. I’m a girl from a blue-collar family. My parents were teens when they had me. I had no silver spoon in my mouth. But I still found a way to be successful in a business that wasn’t open armed to a Mexican girl. So, my whole life I’ve always just wanted to pay it forward.” We asked her how her parenting style reflects this fierce and bighearted attitude.

Demand Your Worth

“I’m getting back to acting because it’s my first love and part of my identity. Hollywood is different now from when I semi-retired ten years ago. There’s a new awareness of how important it is for women to be paid well and represented in front of and behind the camera. The #MeToo movement, for all the heartache and trauma it has churned up, enlightened people. For L.A.’s Finest, I didn’t even think about what a man would be paid. I said, ‘This is what I’m worth.’ Gab and I know our value, and we’re lucky to be comfortable enough that we could have walked away if we’d had to.”

Show the Hustle

“I bring my kids with me on business trips. I recently took Honor with me to Milan. We went two days early so we could have some together time. When I had meetings, she’d wait for me in another conference room. I can’t be at every school drop-off and pickup, but I’m showing her my time is valuable and that she has value to me. I also want her to see that my work is important and that I’m trying my best to make a difference, and maybe she’ll absorb it.”

Mei Tao

It’s a mama-in-the-middle cuddle! From left: Cash, Haven, Jessica, Honor, and baby Hayes.

Count on Your Squad

“I didn’t really have close girlfriends until I became a mom, and now we talk about everything—relationships, work, parenting, an asshole at our kid’s school. It’s nice to complain to someone other than my husband, because I was in that mode once. I’d lay it on him every single day! Girlfriends are great for a chat or a cry or a giggle or a glass of wine.”

Let Kids Fail (But Not Quit)

“Kids want to give up when they’re not naturally good at something. It’s easier to quit than try. My parents did tough love with me. My mom, a swimmer, put me on the swim team when I was 10. I was so miserable that I’d cry doing laps. At meets, my parents would say, ‘You have to finish, even if you’re last.’ They taught me that failure is not about losing; it’s about not trying. It stuck, and now I have the discipline to push through even when I want to give up. I try to teach that to my kids. Honor wanted to quit coding camp, but I wouldn’t let her, and after a week, she was so proud of herself. I was like, ‘See? Remember how you didn’t want to go, and now you’ve coded this cool pet?’ ”

Mei Tao

Encourage Honesty

“Teaching kids to tell the truth is an ongoing lesson. I’ll say, ‘If you did something wrong but you tell the truth, it’ll be okay. I got you. But if you lie to me, you’ll definitely be in trouble.’ I’ve been in that situation with my eldest, and I’ll ask, ‘What would you want me to do as your parent to make sure you never do that again?’ She comes back with, ‘Not fair! You can’t ask me that!’ Usually they get their iPad taken away or they have to sit in their room and be bored for, you know, ten minutes.”

Trade Your Guilt for Pride

If my kids complain when Cash and I go to work, I say, ‘Do you like your life? Because it’s not free. Your dad and I work hard so you can have everything you have. That’s why you take care of your stuff. And guess what? If you don’t work hard, your life won’t always be like this. You’ve got to figure out what you want to do. Go to school, do well, treat others well.’ I’m hard-core about that.”

Mei Tao

Expand Their Vocabulary

“I don’t like the word hate. Haven’s said it a few times, and I’ll say, ‘How about “I don’t like that right now”?’ Honor’s in fifth grade, when kids test out what’s cool. She’ll say this or that ‘sucks.’ I’ll let it slide once in a while because I don’t want her to feel like she can’t talk to me. But I don’t need to hear that word more than twice in one day. If my kids overuse any word, I’ll tell them, ‘Find another word. That one is getting on my nerves.’ ”

Keep Talking Because Kids Listen on Some Level

“Sometimes Haven grabs something of Honor’s, and then Honor decides she needs it, even though she was ignoring it before. I have different tactics when this happens. I might interject and say, ‘You figure it out, but you should treat your sister how you’d like to be treated.’ Or I’ll say, ‘Fine. Then, Honor, you go take whatever you want out of Havie’s room.’ All of the time, though, I feel like the grown-up in ‘Peanuts’ cartoons: ‘Wah wah wah.’ I’m constantly reinforcing the same ideas, hoping they’ll sink in.”

Mei Tao

“Baby Hayes has been good for all of us,” Alba says. “He glued us all together.”

Make Them Apologize

“If my kids do something wrong, I make them say sorry. If they say it like they don’t mean it, then I make them hug. That’s both the worst and greatest punishment I can give to them.”

Raise Feminists—And Marry Them Too

“I’ve been a feminist my whole life because I’ve always believed in equality. My husband and kids believe in it too. It’s so basic. Be kind. Be fair. And stand up for anyone who is not being treated with fairness or kindness. It’s not complicated.”

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