Actor Max Greenfield Shares Top Parenting Rule: "Be Kind"

This is the big family rule that actor Max Greenfield and his wife, casting executive Tess Sanchez, live by at home, where they’re raising Lilly, 11, and Ozzie, 6.

It was a classic early aughts love story. Max Greenfield, an unemployed actor, was out with his friends in a Hollywood bar. Tess Sanchez, a casting director, was there having drinks with girlfriends. He got her number, and after their second date, wooed her with a mix CD titled—yes—Cool Jams. "He actually said, 'I have this extra one, if you want it,'" recalls Sanchez, laughing.

Their meeting led to love, marriage, two kids, and some serious career growth. Sanchez rose to cast shows such as Empire, The Mindy Project, and Brooklyn Nine-Nine. A year after their daughter was born, Greenfield won the role of Schmidt on Fox's New Girl, nabbing an Emmy nod in 2012, and now he's back for his fifth season of CBS's The Neighborhood. Starting from scratch and finding success together has helped their union. "We were there to root each other on," Sanchez says. "We started on a level playing field and got to ride the highs and lows together."

Now raising daughters Lilly and Ozzie, they're a united front on their parenthood journey, even as it was tested during a year of remote schooling. Helping his kids read mandated books brought back Greenfield's childhood memories of being a reluctant reader. That led him to pen his first children's book, I Don't Want to Read This Book, for all the kids who think of reading as a bit of a punishment. It's hilarious and thoughtful, just like much of their parenting. And though Greenfield and Sanchez are serious about raising kind kids, it's also clear from their banter that they're also still like twenty somethings in a bar, trying to make each other laugh.

Max Greenfield with wife Tess Sanchez
Eric Ray Davidson

Was meeting love at first sight?

Greenfield: Definitely chemistry at first sight, but as our relationship has progressed, it's just gotten better.

Sanchez: I wear well. You wear well too. We've grown so much together, and we've become better partners.

Greenfield: Thank God we had each other through this pandemic.

Sanchez: We know some couples who didn't make it, but we loved spending more time with each other.

Greenfield: We also knew we'd band together against our common enemy: the kids.

Sanchez: That sounds a little harsh.

Greenfield: Okay, we knew we'd band together against our common foes: the kids.

What's the secret to a happy marriage?

Greenfield: It's about priorities.

Sanchez: That's true. Max always puts me first—smartly—which makes for a happy home. And because we're thoughtful with each other, we've ended up with empathetic, nice kids, because that's what they see all day.

Greenfield: We communicate well too. You're better at voicing things, but I'm a great listener. If we haven't spent enough time together, you'll say, "I need to see you," and I'm there!

Did you both always want kids?

Sanchez: I was career driven and felt, if it's supposed to happen, it will.

Greenfield: When Tess was pregnant with Lilly, I definitely didn't think I was ready. You're a psychopath if you're about to have your first child and you're like, "I'm ready for this!" But after Lilly, I knew I wanted a second. I was an only child, and I wanted her to have a sibling.

Sanchez: I was fine with just one. But then one day, we were about to take Lilly to Disneyland, and I told Max, "I think I'm pregnant." We weren't trying. He came home with four tests, and I could hardly get myself to take one.

Greenfield: I said, "But this will determine if you can ride roller coasters!"

Sanchez: No roller coasters for me, but on the Ferris wheel, I threw up in Max's baseball cap.

Greenfield: That's one of my favorite selfies of us, pre-throwing up, because we were the only two people in the world who knew that she was pregnant.

Sanchez: Now, of course, I can't imagine life without two.

How did you adjust to parenthood?

Greenfield: I was out of work and ready to stop acting altogether. I'd started applying for regular jobs, but I was not qualified to do anything. So I told Tess, "I've got the baby. You do your thing." Of course, there were many moments when I guiltily had to ask her for help but only after lots of tears—my own. I remember sleepless nights, crying in the laundry room, thinking, "This is how they torture war criminals."

Sanchez: By the time Ozzie was born, Max was pulling crazy hours on New Girl, so I was the one who was up all night. Even now, Ozzie still climbs into our bed at 2 a.m. Along with the dog.

Greenfield: When I go on location to shoot a movie and lie in bed alone, it is scary! So if the kids want to climb into our bed, c'mon! Get on in!

How do you divide duties?

Sanchez: I hit the jackpot with Max on the dad front. He's playful with our kids.

Greenfield: Point me in the direction of having fun, and I'm there. But I'm terrible at all the other stuff.

Sanchez: I'm the nuts and bolts of the operation.

Greenfield: I can take them to the playground, but I need directions on how to get there.

Sanchez: And I'll make him a laminated map.

Greenfield: Now that we have an 11-year-old, parenting is more than just making sure they survive. It's more emotional. If Lilly comes to me with something I don't know how to handle, I'll say, "Let's go ask Mom." It's not that I avoid difficult questions. It's that I don't trust my initial instincts. I move slowly and parenting moves at warp speed. By the time I process everything, Tess has solved it.

Sanchez: We have one "must" we stick to: Don't debate me in front of the kids. Back me up.

Max Greenfield with two children and wife holding their dog
“I move slowly and parenting moves at warp speed,” Greenfield says. “By the time I process everything, Tess has solved it.”. Eric Ray Davidson

How would you describe your parenting style?

Sanchez: We are pretty relaxed about everything, except how they treat and talk to other people. The only time we ever get mad is if we see the kids being thoughtless. They know they always have to be kind and have compassion.

Greenfield: We tell them­ that your friends, your teachers—everyone you meet—has a story, and you should be interested in it.

Are you looking forward to in-person school?

Greenfield: Yes, after last year. I remember sitting down with Lilly at the start of remote school and saying, "Nobody has ever done this before. Don't judge yourself. Allow yourself to feel it all. We'll get through it together." Then, about a month into it, she sat me down and had the same conversation with me!

What's next?

Greenfield: Who knows? We don't even know what tomorrow will look like.

Sanchez: We just enjoy every day.

Everything You Need to Know About Max Greenfield and Tess Sanchez's Family

Halloween costume plan: This year we'll probably be some kind of Minecraft or Star Wars characters.

Halloween candy rules: A significant amount of candy goes into the freezer and disappears by February. A strict "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy is in place.

What we watch as a family: The Dog House: UK, on HBO Max.

Music we play in the car: Hamilton. And yes, we all sing.

Best part of the day: Breakfast, which because of our schedules is the one meal we have together every day. Anything seems possible at 7:00 a.m.

Secret to sibling peace: Write us as soon as you find out!

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