Six months ago I gave birth to a healthy baby daughter (in an Uber en route to hospital no less -more on that little twist later) and thus I suddenly had Children -plural! It felt wonderful to round out our family, but even during pregnancy I wondered how much of my life I would still be able to devote to my acting and creative careers, whilst doubling down on duties at home and being present for my growing kids.
The reality is, a year on after telling people I was pregnant with baby no. 2 I can honestly consider myself more successful and at ease in the flow of my acting career - having made more money in the past 12 months than at any other time, enjoying a better relationship with my agents and manager, and feeling more prepared than ever to jump into a self-tape, meeting or a job at a moment's notice. All of which have proven to be pressure points for me in the past.
But why is this? And could I have prepared my non-mama self for what lay ahead - proven to her that yes, there would be chaos and boundless love at home, but also plenty of upsides from a business perspective?
I’ve found remarkably few articles or blogs about raising children and co-parenting whilst navigating an acting career. Our fine co-founder Michela Carattini wrote one such piece as our very first post on AGG and I'd like to add to her conversation with some of my own findings and recommendations.
Side note: This post is intended not just for actors who have kids or are considering becoming parents, but anyone with an interest in finding new hacks for their own career path. Hope it's useful food for thought..
"But who the hell am I anymore??” I've blearily cried to my husband more than once. On becoming a mama it's easy to feel torn in several directions in a way no one can prepare you for. (And that fatigue doesn't help..) My identity began shifting when I had my son Amory three years ago and I stumbled through some necessary steps to navigate it all. My passion for acting and a fear of losing traction in the industry probably led me to say yes to a couple of projects postpartum a little too quickly. I was still getting the hang of my survival jobs in NY and the hustle and flow of building my acting career, and worried that people might forget me if I stayed out of action and out of class too long. So there was a strong urge to stay relevant as the 'Me' I'd carefully cultivated on my website, headshots and on social.
But during the first year I recognized that having children in my mid 30s meant that the notion of 'who I ought to be by now' and whether I had reached milestones I’d previously expected of myself – was completely unhelpful and simply went out the window. I was no longer the most important person in my life, and the work I took on would have significant ripple effects around me, so the old ways just weren't relevant anymore. Pulling back the lens on my creative journey, I found a delicious letting go of the ability to control as much as I thought was necessary, and suddenly a certain low grade anxiety melted away. I started to evolve in ways that would have surprised my 25 year old self.
|ABC and NETFLIX's 'The Let Down' - AACTA winning show about new parents adjusting to their new identities.. Highly recommended viewing for new parents!|
Whenever I’ve compartmentalized my new life too much – rigid boundaries between ‘parent me’ and ‘actor me’ (down to dividing my wardrobe) it’s bitten me on the ass. The adult woman who makes decisions about the day to day aspects of my kids’ lives, and co-parents with my (also freelance, entrepreneurial) husband - is now the same the woman who faces the industry and engages as such. As my old Meisner coach used to say, "It's All In." There are countless ways in which the parenting lessons I've learned in parenting have enhanced my acting Chutzpah - flexibility being the key component.
Another upside of this new fluctuating identity? Increased confidence, which results from being responsible for the physical and emotional wellbeing of two little humans, day after day after day after day, whilst (hopefully, mostly) staying on the right side of patience. This is character building stuff and allows me to acknowledge my self-worth and positive impact on others, even when my creative output has lulled. As a result I’m now often more grounded in moments that seem beyond my control.
One way this showed up for me just the other day: setting up and completing a self tape within 40 minutes, after a nursery run and while my infant daughter napped. I didn’t know if I’d be capable of it (the former me would have luxuriated in a couple hours’ taping time) but it needed to get done in 40 minutes and so it got done. I took the note, "Don’t let 'perfect' be the enemy of 'good'; don’t let ‘good’ be the enemy of ‘good enough' or plain 'done'!" Of course it’s not just parenthood which keeps people busy juggling but personally it’s been the best leveler to get the hell out of my own way..
Another occasion, on set: after a series of overrunning shoot days another actor found it hard to keep his cool with the directing team, and lashed out a number of times. He afterwards quietly shared that he found it impressive I was able to stay so diplomatic and patient with proceedings. Don’t get me wrong – the day’s work was a nebulous grind with its fair share of ego clashes, but somehow it rolled off me in ways it never would have done earlier. I stayed focused on keeping my side of the street clean, showed up as the best actor I could and then left work life alone when I got home. (See end of the post for some resources I use to say detached like this!)
And so I’ve kept collecting those experiences and my confidence has grown. Many parents I've spoken with agree that having kids makes you tougher and resilient than you could have known was possible. And believe me, this hardiness stands you in good set on challenging sets, night shoots and late running techs..
ONLY CONNECT – your enhanced community!
When we had our son Amory, it took me awhile to find role models in the industry from whom I could learn the ropes, e.g. get practical tips on staying connected during the pregnancy and postpartum, etiquette on auditioning with a baby on the scene, and so on. In the intervening years I’ve met other actor mums and numerous friends and colleagues have started families, and that has been a game changer for feeling engaged and more supported this time round.
I won’t lie – it’s incredibly tough sometimes, and when you're on mama duty it can feel disheartening and quiet on the career front, like the industry is somewhere 'over there' doing its thing and passing you by. But Rule no. 1 in parenthood has always been to build that supportive village around you. And creatives can organize like no one else...
Moms in Film - Mathilde Dratwa and Christy Lamb set up this group to provide parents in the film and television industry with community, funding and advocacy. Alongside organizing regular meet ups for parents and carers, they created The Wee Wagon - a mobile childcare unit designed for use on film sets. There are chapters in NYC, Los Angeles, Washington DC, Chicago, San Fransisco and Vancouver. Get in touch if you're interested in starting a new chapter in your town.
NYWIFT - New York Women in Film & TV have a Moms Network for its members. This group hosts regular meetings with the aim of helping members on their current projects, holding panels about motherhood in this industry, and alongside screenings, and they always welcome children!
Mindr.com – Mindr creates development opportunities for working parents, and works with companies across a range of industries to attract, engage and retain women and parents. For example they partnered with the United Nations to host the first baby-friendly event in UN history, bringing 600 new parents and their babies to United Nations Headquarters on International Women's Day. They also host numerous smaller relaxed events and I've met more than one friend at one of their get togethers in a NYC Bluestone cafe..
These are examples of established New York groups and new communities are bubbling up all the time. Hands down the best resource to start with will always be your new parent friends. Through the births of both my children I’ve met wonderful folks who are getting to grips with parenthood whilst supporting their freelance careers. I now have a small but vital list of reliable, trustworthy friends with whom I can navigate anything from feeding questions, networking tips to last minute babysitting needs. It’s also a great way to join forces with like-minded people on your own projects; chances are you’ll all be singing off the same song sheet when it comes to working efficiently and flexibly.
IF IT'S NOT A HELL YES, IT'S A HELL NO
This phrase has been attributed to many and gets bandied about so much its impact has almost worn off. But it's worth reconnecting to its essence when you're feeling overloaded and fatigued– because yes, it's tough to navigate career opportunities alongside familial duties – and pleasures! - at home.
‘Hell yes’ doesn't require a loud shouty voice - it's about connecting with what your values are, and what opportunities and challenges would create growth. What turns you on? And how can you remain empowered in the face of overwhelm? I'm still figuring out my way with this but when I’m stretched and an idea, favor or invitation comes my way I'll check in with my newly honed BS detector. I want to keep the drama for the actual work and I’ve lost tolerance for ego trips, lackluster blather or endless navel-gazing. Oh, and hour long conference calls. If an opportunity is unlikely to add real value to my life, I’m content to pass and play Lego Batman with my son instead. Certainly I've found saying ‘No’ more liberating than I’d dared hope, and it’s paved the way for more focus and enjoyment in my life.
This also means – when I do commit, I need to make it count! I rarely get to half-ass things anymore, and honestly the knowledge that it’s taken quite a bit of organization and possibly child care to allow me free reign in work mode, I'm not going to wile away those hours like I once did. Outside of auditions I prioritize which screenings, classes, and networking events I can attend. And then I give myself permission to show up fully and when I'm there.
As with many mothers, I've developed a leonine roar since having kids that has made me a more powerful advocate, and possessed of a clearer voice.
I’ll do what I need to support and protect my loved ones and my 'tribe' and by extension I now use my voice more frequently to stand up for myself as well. The BS meter comes into play here – when it calls for it I’m far more likely to wade in to the thick of things and have a challenging conversation. This is something I’d previously shied away from – what with the people pleaser in me and a ‘never complain, never explain’ motto. But life really feels more visceral and simultaneously less precious now - I have to be clear about my goals for me and my family, and to ask for them. This goes hand in hand with apologizing a lot less than I used to.
And all of that has led to much better communication team with peers and my team. I’m not sorry to ask for better pay (for example asking for a higher pay scale in order to cover additional childcare) or more prep support, or to book out designated family time. I have created firmer relationships with my agents because it’s more vital than ever that I’m honest with people about expectations, boundaries and navigating what we all bring to the table. There’s nothing like having a hands-on family routine to expect effective time management from myself and the people I work with.
"MOMENT BY MOMENT"
A cliche that bears repeating! Actors spend oodles of time in class honing their natural skill to be present staying in the here and now. In lieu of getting to class as regularly as I'd like these days, it's safe to say I regularly stretch my acting muscles by getting down on that play mat and staying with what the little guy has planned, which for a three year old can change in a heartbeat. It's quite a ride to go along with the experience - and 100% commitment to every emotion, 100% of the time…
If you don't have a toddler in your own home - go find someone who does and give them a break whilst letting your playful freak flag fly!
|Ready to play 😛😍|
STAYING PRAGMATICIn most conversations I hear about 'Wellness' these days, what’s getting a lot of airtime is the idea that just doing something, even for a few minutes daily is powerful. Previously we've been inundated with grand scale concepts around detoxing, healthy sleeping, clean eating and exercising habits. If you don’t personally have a child or haven’t guessed this yet let me break it to you: little people who need you desperately for most hours of the day (I don't know when this need does or even should stop?!) make it very hard to have anything like the daily routine you may have enjoyed previously. I once prided myself on getting up fresh from 8 hours sleep, enjoying a 30 min journaling session followed by a hard core spin or barre class and fulfilling beauty routine etc. Those days are O-VAH (for now), and in their place I've found massive benefits from realizing that five minutes here and there really do add up and make a difference.
Mental and physical health is a game of inches. We don’t need to feel we’ve failed if we’re not getting to a yoga class for the whole hour, or making plant-based meals from scratch every other day. Little nudges in the right direction every day pays off dividends and feels good. Be that some simple yoga stretches, a simple veggie pasta, a short walk, 5 minutes meditation if I can't make the full 20, some simple gratitude journaling or simply making smarter decisions after taking a calming box breath
And this is so useful for us actors to put into practice because as we know, it’s almost impossible to predict your schedule during a given week. By regularly pursuing positive practice, no matter how small the baby step, this serves to keep you engaged, open and flexible. In an unreliable business you'll be more likely to keep your wits about you and your sanity in check!
As parents and actors, with the best will in the world you're not going to get it all done or done 'right' - instead you can focus on doing the right things, bit by bit. The perfectionist in me hates to admit it but the mama-me appreciates it does all add up. We're also building reserves of patience and empathy, flexing on a dime if need be and getting incredibly efficient in very short amounts of time. And who doesn't want an actor like that on set?
|How many minutes, you say?|
Staying pragmatic doesn't have to be a sombre affair. In fact quite the opposite, as was brought home to me in a casting office the other day. Before doing the slate I unzipped my jacket and exposed my breast to the CD, assistant and camera, thanks to my bra having gotten stuck after nursing my daughter in the waiting room moments earlier. All good - the casting director could relate and offered a similar story of her own! We shrugged and laughed and yes I'm guessing they'll probably remember me in there for a little while 😌
Trying for a baby, pregnancy and having a child can all prove challenging. And then as a parent you’re suddenly in a whole new mode of nurturing and navigating and endless stream of twists and turns - often without external direction or approval. As actors we can learn from this. Do the work, trust your gut and take action. Then leave it alone and move on.
TIPS & TRICKS
Here are some things I love!
My line learning game have become crazy strong. I now regularly stroll wearing the baby carrier and learn as I go. Hands down the best way to get blood cells pumping, and awaken the memory cells, whilst getting the little one fresh air!
I repeat, Self-tapes can be done whilst a child naps in the next room.
Whether you had a baby last week or twenty years ago, emotions often come much more easily. Enjoy what you get for free!
Build a stable of back-up support and babysitters. Love the idea of a WhatsApp group connecting with other actor parents and sitters so we can all draw from each other in a pinch!
Shout out to Ziva meditation and their daily routine of mindfulness, meditation and manifesting.
Remember that You don't have to do it all perfectly. It's not possible for anyone. Be kind to yourself. There are times when you'll want to enjoy child-free time doing absolutely nothing, and other times when you’ll intend to effectively power through those hours.
One recommendation for the latter: I've enjoyed mindful goal setting and learning to manage my precious time like a pro with The HandelGroup last year. There is no doubt in my mind that the rigorous work I did with my HG coach led me to get crystal clear on my desires, and oh yeah, earning more income whilst pregnant (e.g. fulfilling Voiceover and commercial goals) than I had in the previous five years.
Happy relaxed parents make for happy relaxed children. The little ones are as resilient as their parents and those core loving ties to my family really do go both ways. I bring that love to my work and I know that kiddos thrive on seeing contented parents in their element!
I’ve written this post more ‘on the fly’ than any previous article. During an unexpectedly intense month I’ve had to snatch moments on planes, in waiting rooms or whilst juggling a teething baby on my lap to pen this blog. I’ve certainly had to take my own advice when it comes to being kind to myself, tapping into reserves of patience and using time wisely.
As we know, this life thing, this parenting thing and this acting thing is a work in progress. When I was starting out I thought I had to get myself into the right kind of package so that when I was ‘discovered’ I’d be ready. Well there’s nothing like parenthood to blow that notion out of the water – Ready or not, your kids have discovered YOU and they probably prefer you all in.
A basic case in point for us mamas: we don’t choose when labor starts and very often a birth doesn’t go to plan. My daughter was in such a hurry and her parents perhaps a tad naïve, that she ended up being born on Route 24, driven by a kind Uber driver whose main job is being a New Jersey pastor!
This segue aside, for many parents there’s an instantaneous realization that you might as well expect the unexpected and you’ll never be ‘done.’ This is a good thing folks. So savor the moments you can, enjoy getting out of your own way and don’t forget to breathe..
|One MF uncomfortable Uber ride later...|
|...and then there were Four!|