‘The Deuce’ star may not have your typical 9-to-5 job, but actress Maggie Gyllenhaal is still a working mom who knows all about the challenges of balancing family and career.

Maggie Gyllenhaal
Credit: Loacker/Mike Shane

May 14, 2019

Like most new moms, Maggie Gyllenhaal admits she didn't know much about parenting before welcoming her first daughter nearly 13 years ago. She had to learn a few things the hard way, including the crucial need for a diaper bag and the chaos of traveling across time zones with kids.

Mix in a fruitful acting career, which often requires early morning wakeup calls and shooting far from home, and exhaustion is a daily thing. "Sleep is huge. And just like everybody else, I don’t always get enough," Gyllenhaal told Parents.com at Loacker USA's third annual PowerMom Day event in New York City over the weekend, where she was honored as 2019's inspirational PowerMom. "But I find if I’m tired, everything is worse, everything is harder."

The Deuce actress, who lives in New York City with her husband, actor Peter Sarsgaard, got her first taste of balancing motherhood and a career shortly after her first daughter, Ramona, was born in 2006. She was in the middle of doing a ton of press for the film Sherrybaby—with a closet full of clothes that no longer fit her, she said during the event's Facebook Live. Posing for photos at that time, she added, was less than ideal. And so was ripping off her couture after the Golden Globes to nurse her tot. 

Work didn't slow down the second time around either: When Gloria was born in 2012, Gyllenhaal struggled through an audition just 10 days later. She didn't get the part.

The balancing act has its up and downs, but Gyllenhaal has put a few rules in place to help. She makes sure work doesn't keep her away from home for more than four days at a time (it was less when her girls were younger). And she refuses to miss their first day of school, even if it means turning down a good role.

The actress spoke more with Parents.com about being a working parent, raising girls, and learning there's no such thing as a perfect mother. 

On how motherhood has changed her career: "So often it has happened to me, maybe three school years in a row, right before school started, someone offered me a pretty interesting job in Australia and I was like, 'There’s really no reason for me to even read that because I’m not going to do it.' I can’t start the school year off working in Australia! There are, I would say, two or three directors for whom they would become the exception to that rule, but for the most part I really try to work in New York or during the summer. I just can’t be cavalier about it. If I’m going to make a decision that’s going to ask my children to sacrifice, I have to be seriously thoughtful about how to do that."

On making time for herself and her husband: "My husband and I, we can feel when too much time has gone by without a little time for ourselves and then we try to make [some]. And yes, I do make time for myself. I find exercise just makes me feel so much better. Sometimes I’ll go workout and my kids will be like, 'Why are you going?' And I’ll say, ‘I’m going so that I’ll be in a good mood!’ It’s just creating a little space and time for myself. But at the same time, there are times when something has to give and if I’m working and I am responsible for myself as a professional person and then my kids need me, sometimes the time for myself is the thing that goes. And also the time with my husband—he can handle it if he can’t have alone time with me. My 7-year-old can’t."

On the biggest joy of raising girls: "Oh I love having two girls! I mean, I’ve never had a boy so I don’t know, I’m sure that’s great, too. But sometimes I see people with little boys running around and I’m like, 'Aw, suckers!'

I remember when I got the call from the doctor and I was so sure I was having a boy, maybe because in my family, I have me and my brother [actor Jake Gyllenhaal] and I [already] had a girl. I was just sure that my second baby was going to be a boy…And then they tell me XX and I was so happy. I didn’t even know how much I wanted to have another girl. I’m sure I’m missing out on something beautiful by not having a boy, but it doesn’t feel like that."

On the biggest lesson she's learned about being a mother: "There really is no value at all in the fantasy version of mothering; the only value is in the reality, which includes mistakes, failures, and confusion, because through those things you learn, you grow...It’s just about being human and being there."