How Alyssa Milano Teaches Her Kids About Equality and Giving Back
The actress and mom-of-two shares her biggest struggles, wins, and passions when it comes to being a parent.
Alyssa Milano is as real on social media as she is in real-life. She isn't afraid to tweet about politics or post about her entire family getting lice on Instagram or share her thoughts on equality. She opens up about the sweet, tough, uplifting, and every emotion in-between that comes with being a woman, actress, entrepreneur, activist, and mom of two young kids.
Since her breakout role in "Who's the Boss?" and later "Charmed," Milano has designed a sports clothing line for women, written a graphic novel series, and hosted "Project Runway: All Stars." We sat down to talk about her life as a parent to Milo, 5, and Bella, 2; their summer family plans; and what she really thinks about raising a son and daughter in today's global climate.
Parents: What's your biggest parenting win?
Alyssa Milano: Parenting can be so unpredictable. You can have the best plans in the world, but they don't always work out as magically as you plant them in your mind. Every day that our kids go to sleep and we're able to feel good about their happiness and health is a parenting win to me.
Being a mom is hard. How do you handle those tough parenting moments?
Listen, I think every parenting moment is tough. There's more hard than easy times, but as parents, we have to be kind and forgiving of ourselves and really look at every moment as if it's new. We have to let go of those things that didn't go our way and really embrace the moment and our kids for who they are—even if who they are isn't the ideal of what we planned for them to be. Once we adapt to those changing moments, the good and happy and easy moments are icing on the cake.
I've always been very honest when saying that parenting is the single most frightening thing I've ever done in my life. It's super rewarding, but it's terrifying. I'm raising human beings! That's not an easy gig. People make it seem like it's such a romantic thing, and we're not honest enough about how difficult it is and how difficult balancing it all is. Being a working mother, I struggle with that every day. Luckily, we have support. Every day is a new adventure and we get through it the best we can. My parents are with the kids every weekend and are very hands-on. I just filmed a movie in Toronto for two months, and my parents stayed the whole time to take care of them. Having that support system makes a big difference in being able to feel like I'm capable of doing my best job at work.
Between backyard BBQs and pool parties, summertime can come with a ton of junk food. How does your family work in healthy meals with all that's going on?
Honestly, and I wouldn't say it if I didn't feel it, but Atkins makes it very easy to stay on a healthy lifestyle. Especially for me, if I look at a diet, I'm screwed. I'll be like, 'Oh, I'm dieting. I'm going to eat this ice cream sundae!' I don't know what it is about my psychology, but I need to feel like I'm making healthy lifestyle choices, so I consider Atkins a lifestyle. In the summer, it's almost easier, because so much of the meal plan is centered around barbeque—fish, chicken, steak, grilled vegetables. I need to eat this way to feel like I can power through the day without crashing at 3 o'clock when women often get that feeling of being so tired.
As for my kids, they can eat whatever they want, whenever they want. They have to be kids. Of course, they have to eat the healthy foods first, but they get dessert every night. If we go out for a special occasion, they get a soda. They're kids, and they deserve that. Plus, they're constantly moving and running, so they don't have that issue that adults do of not burning enough fuel.
What other summer plans are you and your kids looking forward to?
Every single summer we go to New York for two months to shoot "Project Runway: All Stars." My son, Milo, does a few sports camps and my daughter, Elizabella, is enrolled in preschool. My husband's parents live in New Jersey and my cousin lives in Brooklyn, so for two months we're surrounded by East Coast family and friends that we get to see almost every weekend. We've been doing it for five years, so the kids know that during the summer we go to New York and we cram together in a little apartment and have a great summer. It's always an amazing trip.
This year, we're especially looking forward to the end of summer. Milo will be 6 years old on August 31 and Bella will be 3 on September 4, so we're going to celebrate their birthdays in Florida at Disney World. We have a house rented, and the whole family's going. We're all so excited!
You're an activist and involved in working with multiple charities. How are you teaching your kids about giving back to others?
I'm raising them to know that there is no other option. To be a productive member of society, you have to help and give back. I tell them that we're very blessed and there are people in this world who are not, so we need to share our blessings with those people. It's not a choice.
We clean out the closets every six months to get clothes and toys together for kids who need them, and they get really excited about this gesture. Every year at our church, we hand out wrapped Christmas presents to children who need them. But this isn't a special occasion. It's just a part of Christmas, and I hope that notion carries on with them forever.
While they're a little too young to be politically active, I hope as they get older I'll be able to take them to campaign offices to show them how people fight for candidates and what's best for the country. We can't just wake up and expect a teenager to care. We have to instill these values at a young age. I was brought up with music from the 60s and 70s like The Beatles and Bob Dylan, which was about hope and making change. That was so much a part of family, and it's different now. You can't really turn on the radio and find a song like "Imagine" unless you're purposefully searching for it. It's a very different time and it's up to us as parents to instill these things into a child at a very young age—from birth, really.
You're also an author of a graphic novel and a huge sports fan—two things that were once deemed for boys only. Why do you think it's so important now more than ever for girls to stand up for themselves and their interests?
When I came out with my sports clothing line for women almost 10 years ago, you'd go into a stadium shop and only find pink clothing. I was so offended by the pink. The same thing was happening with graphic novels. Women that are high up in that industry are there because they had to work so hard to be there. It's really about taking advantage of the opportunities that are given—and I'm well aware that my opportunities came because I am an actress—but along with that comes a certain responsibility of making it easier for women to write a graphic novel or enter the sports licensing world. Women in every industry feel that way. We always have to work a little harder to try to make it easier for the women coming after us.
What's the one thing you want to teach your son and daughter about equality?
Kids learn from play, so it starts with allowing your son to explore things that might be considered feminine toys or watching Dora the Explorer or liking Beauty and the Beast. Exposing them to everything and giving them the freedom to make a choice on what they play with is huge. If we're saying, 'Boys don't play with that,' or 'Girls don't play hockey,' what are we teaching? We're telling our daughters at a young age that they can't do everything they want to do.
If someone says something misogynistic, my son just can't wrap his head around it. Last week, he heard someone talking about how girls can't play baseball, and he said, "I don't understand, Mom. Girls are great at baseball!"
Every Saturday, we take him to play ice hockey, and one day my 2-year-old daughter said, "Mama, I want to do it!" We put our son's old skates on her—she didn't want figure skates—and helmet and gloves and she was so happy to be out there. It was never like, 'Aww, look at our little girl playing hockey.' No, that's normal. She should want to do that. Hopefully, this next generation will raise kids with no gender divide. It's crazy that we're still talking about it! My son plays with dolls, and my daughter plays with trucks. How refreshing is that?!
What's one thing that was done for you as a kid that you want to pass down to your kids?
Family Sunday dinner. No matter what was going on in my life or how hard I was working at 12 or 13 years old, my mom would wake up every Sunday and make a feast. People would come over from everywhere—family members who were in town, friends who needed a place to go. The house on Sundays always smelled delicious and was filled with love and friendship and music. We now do the same thing for Bella and Milo every Sunday, and I hope that's one thing they carry on with them. It's like a reboot and the one day that we all come together and surround ourselves with love and food.