Hi Elaine! You and your husband Stephen are both in the acting profession, so how do you find handling a successful and busy career with parenthood – where’s the balance?
It’s a bit of a juggle but you just have to be a bit more organised. To be honest I think it’s the same for any parent who is still working – you’ve got an extra role to juggle and the more organised you are, the easier it makes it. So yes, you just really have to pull together as a team and try, and also have the right support around you.
Unfortunately for us, we don’t have family close by which I envy my sisters of because they all really work together. But we’re in London and Stephen’s family is in Manchester, we obviously visit as much as we can, so we have to get outside help. But, we’re very hands-on as parents, we don’t really like handing our child to someone else unless we’re working and it’s physically not possible to look after our daughter.
And you divide your time between England, Ireland and the US, how difficult is that constant movement on family life?
You do a lot of packing, a lot of unpacking (laughs) and a lot of planning. But it’s quite nice because you never get bored, do you know what I mean? There’s people I know and they work, kind of, whatever normal is, but they work normal jobs, so when you want to meet up with them on the odd weekend that you might have free, you find out that they’ve sort of got all their weekends booked up for the next 12 weeks or something, because they’re able to plan! We can only do things last minute and that definitely makes life exciting – there’s never a dull moment.
And you have a three- year old daughter and are expecting your second child soon. What has been the most difficult parenting skill for you to learn?
Oh that’s a good one! Well patience, yes. I think that’s where ‘time-outs’ are more for the parents than the child. I find it’s a really good technique because there would probably be a lot more times that I would lose my patience otherwise. But if you just follow those really simple rules, you know that you’re dealing with the incident in a really productive way for both you and the child, and you both have that time to step away from the situation and go back in after the minute, the two minutes or three minutes are up. It gives you a new start each time which I find to be a really helpful technique so that you don’t lose your patience as much as you probably would.
But, you know, being a parent is very testing. It tests every single area – patience and tolerance, and then when you haven’t had enough sleep, and when you’re working; your child doesn’t understand that. But why should they, because they are, in their eyes, the centre of the universe until they get to a certain age and realize ‘oh the world doesn’t revolve around me’. But yes, patience is a tricky one.
How would you describe your parenting style?
I’m big on discipline because I believe that, that gives you security and makes you feel loved because, sometimes, in that moment, it can be easier to turn a blind eye rather than address the situation. I think when you use that energy and you address it, you’re nipping it in the bud, and with children everything is about repetition so sometimes it takes 20 times telling them something and then they get it! So, I’m really big on discipline.
I love my job and I love my family, and I love my life. And I’m not defined by one thing [...] it’s all those things contributed together that make up who I am
But, also, I owe responsibility to society and to the world to do the best job that I can do with my child because they are the future generation and they will be mixing with other children. And if I’m a lazy parent, well then that’s not fair on the person next door to me, do you know what I mean? So I don’t take it lightly and I think it’s crazy that you need a TV license but you don’t need a license to have a child (laughs). I’m really aware of my responsibility and try and do my bit.
What’s more challenging – being an actress on set or a full-time mother at home?
They’re both very challenging in certain areas. Obviously when everything’s going well with work or at home then isn’t life brilliant?! But when things don’t go to plan, that’s when it gets difficult. I find that hard to answer because I love both, and when you love something, yes it can still be a challenge, but you don’t ever consider it work because you’re doing it for the love.
Before we had our daughter - when I was pregnant – Jon Turteltaub, who was the exec producer on a series I did called Harper’s Island, and he’s done all the National Treasure films, he said something to me that really resonated and really helped, because I was just imagining the worst becoming a parent. I was thinking ‘Oh my God it’s just hard work and there’ll be little glimmers of gold in between’ but I expected it to be a lot harder than what it was, which I think is the better way round rather than not really thinking about it. You know, I never understand people that go ‘Jesus I didn’t’ think it would be this hard’ and you go ‘Well what did you think’? (Laughs). I mean, this defenseless little creature is dependent on you for everything.
But yes, Jon sort of said, ‘You know you love your job and you work long hours and it is really hard work. But you do it because you love it!’ and he said, ‘It’s very similar with a child and parenting but on a greater level. Yes you don’t want to get up in the middle of the night but you do it because you want to and also you have to – otherwise you’ll have social services coming round’ (laughs).
There’s something else within that drives you to make all those sacrifices that you don’t even think twice about. And as well, I am an adult and I have chosen to have children, and you can’t make that choice lightly. It’s the biggest life-changing thing; I think it’s bigger than getting married. You have to really think about the impact it’s going to have and whether you can do it, like whether you can afford it, if your lifestyle can take it, if you’re prepared to make those sacrifices. You have to be prepared to go there, I think, if you’re doing it responsibly.
What’s the best parenting advice you’ve been given – and who from?
I don’t know if there’s been one single thing. I think just having a united front, and I’ve watched Supernanny for years, but not even with the thought of ‘oh I’ll watch this as research for when I have a child’. I’ve just found it really interesting, the psychology of it all and it was always the parents going wrong because with children it’s all learned behavior and as the parent you’re the teacher and the guide, and yes you can be a friends, but you are first and foremost there to teach and equip your child with the skills that they’re going to need for life.
Having a united front as parents and backing each other up is important. Even if you disagree, you wait until after the situation when the child isn’t there and go ‘listen we need to talk about this because I didn’t agree with how you think that should be dealt with’. I’m very lucky with my husband that we’re very similar in how we raise our child, we never really differ on what we think is right. So that makes life easy for us.
Have you used any of Supernanny’s techniques?
The time-out I think is amazing. And really when you look at her techniques they’re really just common sense. It’s facing who is the boss and who is the child and I’m all for my daughter experimenting and having freedom and expressing herself, and I never want to inhibit that unless it’s to her detriment and her safety is at risk.
So all those things like when they’re learning how to go to sleep at night, and you have parents whose children get to the age of three and they’re still not sleeping through. Well, to me, learning to go to sleep by yourself is a life skill and it’s something you do need to know how to do by yourself. So, we did do the whole thing of when you leave your child crying. But, you know, they’re not crying, they just can’t speak and it’s the only way they can go ‘Get here! I want to play with you’ – yes they get angry and frustrated and they’re so clever, they will do their damnedest to, you know, as humans we can be greedy and we try and get as much as we can, so never underestimate a baby or child – they are super intelligent.
And with my daughter it took five nights, we would leave her for five minutes and then go back to calm her down to let her know that ‘we’re here, you’re safe, but this is something you need to be able to do by yourself, because when you’re 25, I’m not going to be able to get in bed with you!’ (laughs). I read that from the Gina Ford baby book and my mum also told me that it’s horrible for the parents, and you kind of have to put ear plugs in and you’re looking at your watch, waiting for those five minutes to go, to go back in and comfort them.
But, in the long-term you’ve given your child a gift, in that they know how to go to sleep by themselves. And you have to be selfless and teach them to be independent and not dependent on you; even if that’s what you want as apparent – to not let them go – it’s not in the best interests for your child.
What’s the best parenting advice you could give?
I think to be aware during the first two years of being a parent with your first child, to be conscious as to the impact it’s having on your relationship. Because all your patience and tolerance is going into that child and I think in other areas it can wear thin. I found that really useful to know, and if you’re aware of that it kind of explains a lot of things. You can go ‘oh ok I know what that is’ if you’re getting irritated with yourself. For me, it’s probably the biggest thing I’ve learned and hopefully the second time round that will be easier because I’ve experienced it before.
But, maybe there’ll be new challenges with having two children but the hope is that when the second child starts gaining independence, when they start walking, that’s when I’ll find it a lot easier; the siblings will play together and so the hard work in the first year will have paid off because both your children have someone to play with and they’ve got a family member for life even when myself and my husband pass away – which hopefully we go first. You know they’ll always have that bond and emotional support towards each other, and a friendship hopefully.
Which celebrity mums do you admire?
I think I just admire any mum who does a good job. You know, a lot of children go through the hitting phase, for example, and I’ve seen some mothers who turn a blind eye and go ‘oh that’s just what they do at this age’ – and yes I agree – but it’s your job then to teach them that, that’s not acceptable. That in society you have to be civilised to work and not be unruly. So your job as a parent is to teach them ‘no’. And you’ll see other parents who’ll go over straight away and they’ll teach their child. So I admire mothers who do a good job at raising their children and who put the time aside and do care.
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