Wilmer Valderrama and Amanda Pacheco Share Why Sleep Training Their Baby Worked for Them: 'It Allows You to Focus On Your Partner'
It was just supposed to be coffee. NCIS star Wilmer Valderrama, 42, who rose to fame as a teenager on That '70s Show and now voices the dad, Agustín, in Disney's animated hit Encanto, made plans to meet model Amanda Pacheco, 31, at a Los Angeles café three years ago. Neither thought much of it. He was killing time before a flight. Pacheco, a certified divemaster and ocean lover, wanted advice about Miami, where Valderrama was born and where she was hoping to move. A friend connected them. But then something surprising happened: Their quick, casual coffee turned into a four-hour heart-to-heart. "The energy was just so right," says Valderrama. "We ended up telling each other our deepest secrets."
Valderrama is often on the way to the airport for his acting work. He has also made nearly 50 appearances as a USO Global Ambassador, greeting American troops the world over to help boost morale. He calls it "one of the greatest joys of my life" and a way to thank the country that welcomed him and his family when they emigrated from Venezuela in 1993. "I am so grateful that the United States makes the American dream possible for immigrants," he says. "The least I can do now is be of service to those who serve our country."
If Valderrama hadn't had to jet that day, his conversation with Pacheco likely would've gone into the night. Instead, they stayed connected via text while he was away for the week, and upon his return, they had their first official date. "He took me to the movies, but it wasn't just him," Pacheco reveals. "He brought his sisters, his mother, his best friend, and the friend's wife and kid!" They held hands watching Dumbo, and so began their romance.
"We threw ourselves into the deep end," Valderrama says. They were vacationing in Nakano, Japan, when "we made a promise that it would always be us," Pacheco says. "It's the craziest fairy tale you could imagine," adds Valderrama, who on New Year's Day 2020, nine months after that first coffee, proposed. Their wedding plans got postponed when the pandemic hit, but they had plenty of time to talk about family.
Pacheco was never sure she wanted kids because she had fears about giving birth. "I always thought of it as a life-or-death thing, like I could potentially not make it out alive," she says. But with Valderrama, she felt ready. "I realized it was something I could do—and was excited to do," Pacheco says.
It took the couple five months to get pregnant, longer than either had anticipated. "Wilmer thinks he knows the moment it happened," says Pacheco with playful skepticism. "Oh, I don't think—I know," Valderrama says. "I had the Flow app and everything. I was logging it all myself!" On February 15, 2021, after a blissfully uneventful pregnancy and birth, the couple welcomed their daughter, Nakano Oceana, into the world. She's named after the city where they promised to be together for life and also after Takeko Nakano, a female samurai. Her middle name is a nod to Pacheco's passion for diving.
As every parent knows, the newborn days are a challenge. "The first few nights we were like, 'We can do this!'" Valderrama says. "But by the sixth day, that sleep deprivation gets tough." Pacheco was breastfeeding every three hours, but she was never up alone. "Your job as a partner is not just to be there," Valderrama says. "If you're not doing anything, you're not doing enough. There are a million things to be done while your partner is nursing: Get the baby, change the baby, burp the baby, track the feeding, and keep the mommy hydrated, fed, and rested."
Whenever they needed a break, they had family nearby to call upon. In fact, all three of Nakano's grandparents are steps away. Valderrama bought the property next door, and his parents and Pacheco's father moved there. Pacheco's dad is Mexican, and all of the grandparents speak Spanish as their first language. "Our dads became best buds," Valderrama says. The older generation is teaching Nakano not only Spanish but also the family values. "She will grow up proud of her roots: our music, our food, and respect for where we came from," Valderrama says.
To that end, starring in Encanto has been especially gratifying. "It's brought me so much joy for my mother to see her native Colombia portrayed for its beauty," Valderrama says. "And now our daughter lives in a world where we've fought, in the entertainment industry, to change how Latino stories and characters are made."
Pacheco, who lost her own mother to ovarian cancer six years ago, appreciates having Sobeida, Valderrama's mom, close by. "It's hard to go through motherhood without your own mom, but Wilmer's mom has become a mother figure in my life." She seems to know just the right moment to swoop in with a home-cooked meal or a bedtime story and when to give them space. "It can be tough to ask for help, because as a new mom, you want to have it all together. But having family helps. It never feels like we're asking too much. I'm so happy Nakano will grow up surrounded by affection."
Having extra support also allows the couple to keep their own bond strong. "The baby is our priority, but you are mine," Valderrama says to Pacheco. "They tell you, 'It's all about the baby,' but when you're both with the baby, you can forget about each other and lose yourself there." That's partly why they decided to sleep train Nakano once she was through the newborn period. "I didn't think I had the heart for it, because it made me feel bad," Valderrama says, "but ultimately, it's so empowering. It allows you to focus on your partner. When you have a baby who sleeps through the night, it's a lot easier to stay connected."
This month, they're planning Nakano's first birthday. They know there will be cake and music, but they're leaving most everything else up to fate. So far, it's worked for them.
Everything You Need to Know About Wilmer Valderrama and Amanda Pacheco's Family
Nakano's First Finger Food: Bananas.
Nursery Inspo: Pacheco's dream room: whimsical underwater forest.
Sweetest Baby Gifts We Received: Anything with her name embroidered on it.
Valderrama's Fave Baby Task: Changing diapers. "I took it on, since Amanda does the feedings."
Pacheco's Fave Baby Task: Waking her up.
Tasks We'd Rather Not Do: We love all the tasks right now.
This article originally appeared in Parents magazine's January/February 2022 issue as "The Start of Something New." Want more from the magazine? Sign up for a monthly print subscription here