The popular actress has a lot to celebrate these days, including a starring role in this month's Disney film, The Odd Life of Timothy Green, and a new addition to her family (little Samuel). I recently spoke to the mom of three about adding a baby boy to her house full of girls, balancing work and family, and her best parenting advice.
Nancy O'Dell: The couple in The Odd Life of Timothy Green is dealing with infertility issues. Do you hope that the movie brings attention to infertility and adoption?
Jennifer Garner: I do love that the movie is so positive about adoption and has something to say about how a child can come into your life in so many ways. Once they're yours, they're yours, and you never look back. I think that is a really important message to have out there, and it's important to recognize what struggles women have. I have several friends who are going through, or have gone through, incredible issues trying to have a child. That's a story that deserves to be told, and these women need to be hugged because that's heartbreak right there.
How are you juggling your three children and your work?
I think I probably have it much easier than most. The only difficult thing about my work is that it involves so much long-term travel. Other than that, people make time on sets for me to stop and feed the baby. They'll set up a little spot for me to nurse right off to the side. My kids came every day to my trailer when I was doing this film, and I have a husband who does what I do, so he can travel and take the kids to the set. So, as far as being a working mom goes, I can't complain.
Are you a pro this time around with the third child? Have you had any mommy surprises?
Oh, it does get easier. You do get more confident as you go along, but I think a lot of that has to do with expecting less perfection from yourself. Perfection is unattainable and not important. I'm definitely more comfortable in my skin as a mom with a third baby. I wish there was something we could all take when we're pregnant with our first child to make us chill out and pretend like it's our second, because it's so much more easygoing. But you are who you are, and you can't judge it. You just have to enjoy each phase.
What's the best parenting advice you've gotten that you like to pass on?
Gosh, I'm always looking for parenting advice, so I'm not one to throw it out. I really feel like you have to find what works for you, and stick to it. For me, it's books. I can always calm my kids down or get through something that's tough if I've got a good book in my bag. [Take a look at Jennifer's favorites on next page.]
Since you have kids, are you seeking out more family-friendly roles?
It's exciting to pick things that your kids can see sooner rather than later, and it is definitely nice to do a movie that speaks to where you are in your life right now. I'm so in the thick of everything that this movie is about: the love of family; appreciating your life as it's happening instead of wanting something in the future or looking back; and just really living in the moment. Doing the film was a great reminder for all of those things. But I would do an action film tomorrow if the right one came along. The next film I have coming out is definitely the naughtier side of me instead of the nice side, so that's the fun of being an actor.
How did being a mom influence how you played the role [of Cindy in The Odd Life]?
I don't know if it did. I think more than anything it influenced my relationship with C. J. [Adams, who plays her son, Timothy]. I just loved this kid so much, and I was very aware of ... has he had a snack? Has he gone to the bathroom? Does he need some water? Is he too hot? Stuff like that. A movie set is a business place, and even though his parents are right there and everyone treated him beautifully, people aren't on kid time ... they're on grown-up time.
Are we all going to cry when we see it? Do I need to bring tissues with me?
I took two mom friends to an early screening before it was done, and they both -- even during the happy scenes -- cried their heads off. I watched them more than I watched the movie because they were so funny. But in a good way -- it made them realize how much they love their kids and their lives. It's reaffirming. It really is something that everyone who reads Parents magazine should make a point of going to see. If it doesn't make you cry, call me and I'll give you a dollar.
Jen's Fave Kiddo Films & Books
"I just found this book that I read when I was a little girl; I think it was my first chapter book: The Best-Loved Doll. But I can't wait to read Anne of Green Gables, all the Little House books," says Garner. For movies, "if anything, we watch a lot of musicals: Mary Poppins, The Sound of Music, Oklahoma!, Singin' in the Rain. Anything with a good song-and-dance number."
Watch Nancy on Entertainment Tonight (etonline.com). Chat with her directly at facebook.com/nancyodellspage.
Originally published in the September 2012 issue of Parents magazine.