Katherine Heigl: working outside the home “makes me a better mother”

Katherine Heigl wisely took a bit of time off after she and husband Josh Kelley adopted their daughter, Naleigh. Of course, I’m not judging the timing of said time off other than to say that it was convenient for Katherine to become a first-time mother at a point when she was quickly reaching a saturation point in Hollywood romcom territory. She needed a break anyway, and her daughter certainly must have appreciated the extra bonding time with mommy. Then a few months ago, Heigl surfaced to promote New Year’s Eve and commenced chipping away at her “ice queen” image with a couple of rather candid interviews and a Funny or Die video that poked fun at her image. Now Heigl is promoting One for the Money, and she seeks to humanize herself further with an iVillage guest blog about balancing life as a working mother. Why yes, she has a nanny, but she does make a valid point or two regardless:

I have always known I wanted to be a mother . . . I have also always known I wanted to be an actress . . . I could not have known when I was 10 years old holding other women’s children and playing the greatest game of make-believe on earth that I would one day have to reconcile my two great loves. I didn’t realize that having it all would not look and feel as I imagined. I knew, of course, as I prepared to welcome my daughter into my life that it would be a bit of a juggling act but I had no doubt that I could do it. After all, it’s 2012 and women have been told that we can have it all if we want it. I went into it full throttle, ready to buckle down and make it all work seamlessly as I always imagined I could. The thing is I couldn’t.

No matter how great my intentions, how lofty my goals, how passionate my commitment, I was failing. I was failing my work, I was failing my daughter, I was failing my husband. I was stressed out and exhausted. I was worried and afraid it was all slipping through my fingers no matter how tight my grip. I couldn’t appreciate or enjoy the moments with Naleigh because I feared they weren’t enough for her and knew they weren’t enough for me. I couldn’t enjoy the work because I was so distracted by the little being in my trailer waiting for me. I couldn’t help but wonder what I had gotten myself into and if the choice I made to be a working mother was the most selfish decision of my life.

I spent months wondering if I would have to let my career go, if I could even let it go. Telling myself that Naleigh is and should be all that matters to me now, I started to scale back my work commitments and stay home more with my child. I was there every night to make her dinner, give her a bath, put on her jammies, read her a book and put her to bed. I was there every morning to get her up (though, let’s be honest, I’m not much of a morning person so having a nanny and a husband happy to do mornings is a huge blessing!), make her breakfast, watch The Little Mermaid with her, go on play dates and so on and so on. I was there and I loved it but when the next job came around I jumped like a fish starving for water.

I asked myself what was wrong with me. How can I want to leave my child to go back to work? How can I miss all those important little moments with her to do nothing more significant then make a movie? I mean, at least if I were a renowned scientist working on solving world hunger I might have an excuse. The simple truth is that I love my daughter passionately and as most mothers do, think she is the smartest, funniest, prettiest child in the whole world — but she cannot fulfill everything in me.

After months of being a full-time mom, the prospect of going back to work thrilled me, brought my mind and creativity into sharp focus and made me feel that old familiar drive that has inspired me my whole life. I needed to put this gift I’ve been given to perform back to use. To do that, I had to come to terms with the fact that my definition of having it all had changed. Having it all meant that every time I take a job, my heart will break a little when I come home too late for bed time, when I miss something funny or clever or charming she has said, when I am not there to comfort her when she gets hurt. Having it all meant constantly beating myself up for compromising my mothering to be an artist and my art to be a mother and then finding a way to let the guilt go. I began to understand that the blessing and the curse were one in the same, that nothing great comes without a price.

Now when I take a job, I look my daughter in the eye, screw up my courage and try to explain to her that Mommy has to go to work. And when she looks back at me and says, “But why?,” I tell her the truth: that work makes me a better person, a better woman, a better mother. Then I pray to God that she will understand one day and that my example will encourage her to find and follow her bliss as well … after I’ve paid for all the therapy, of course.

[From iVillage]

Katherine signs off with a nice little dose of humor, which makes her previous paragraphs seem less — how do you say — judgmental than they might otherwise be construed. After all, very few topics are quite as potentially inflammatory as a celebrity telling readers (many of whom are mothers) the best way to raise a child. Here, Heigl is saying what works best for her instead of getting all preachy in manner of Goop.

As a side note … can you imagine Goop writing this sort of essay? You know it would be a total nightmare and end with a requisite prescription for a $450 colon cleanse.

Getting back to Heigl’s words, I completely understand what she’s saying about feeling more complete while spending some of her time on a film set while cutting back the scale of her work. Obviously, the question of working outside the home is a personal choice for every mother to make on her own. Sometimes and in my own mind, I think we do the opposite of what we grew up with as children. Since I grew up as a latchkey kid, I was determined to not have my daughter go through that experience, so I now work from home. Financially, it can be a struggle at times, but it’s worth it … for me. And Katherine has found what works best for her as a mother even if, as an actress, she’s really not the “artist” that she seems to believe herself to be. At least, most of the movie and television work that she’s accepted hasn’t required any great stretching in that regard.

Still, I do love this photo of Katherine and Naleigh together. It should be on a greeting card.

Photos courtesy of Fame

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46 Responses to “Katherine Heigl: working outside the home “makes me a better mother””

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  1. Dee says:

    Naleigh is SO cute! Katherine Heigl running her mouth is not the problem anymore. Like you said, she wisely took time out…but she also needs to make that person who does her hair take some time out too!!! There’s no justification for that. None.

  2. SoCalGal in FL says:

    Working outside the home makes her a better mother because she’s a high paid actress. The statement might not be so true if her job was a low paying daily grind.

    • Franny says:

      because God forbid she was lucky enough to find a job where she feels fulfilled. how dare she! she better quite the job she loves to work in a factory, just to make the rest of us feel better about ourselves and the fact that we weren’t fortunate enough to have our dream job.

  3. MB says:

    This article has really changed my opinion of Katherine. I used to dislike her as a person(even though I think her to be quite a talented comedic actress when she makes an effort); however, I agree with everything she has written. I am in my 30′s and just about all of my friends have kids, and most of those friends who are mothers return to work either because they have to (for financial reasons) or simply for their own sanity.

    Many of us identify ourselves with what we do for a living. When you are passionate about your job and have built a career over time ( whether you are in retail or are a doctor) you don’t just switch that off because a baby comes along.

    I am hoping to have a child within the next 12 months, and although I am looking forward to spending lots of quality time with my baby I will return to work because it provides me with the mental, professional and social outlets that make me happy.

    • Nan209 says:

      Smarty pants! I totally agree because it was true for me, as it turned out, which is not what I’d planned after having my son. I wanted to be a stay at home mom. Cripes! What a bad idea. I was miserable and feeling guilty over it. Going back to work saved my bacon. Even working a crappy job makes me a better mom. I do wish I didn’t have to be away for 10 hours out of a day…that sucks…but I have an awesome partner who is an excellent co-parent.

  4. Cel says:

    Anyone else find it annoying that mothers still feel they have to justify their choices to outsiders?

    When was the last time a father felt the need to tell the world that to be the best dad he can, he needs to sort out his work/home life balance.

    The media put far too much pressure on women to behave in a certain way.

    • marge says:

      to cope with the guilt, you try to convince yourself (“if you say it enough, it’ll be true sort of thing)

    • Embee says:

      Cel – Exactly! I was thinking along those same lines. Do we EVER expect a father to only stay home with a child? Do we denigrate his decision to continue to work after starting a family? No? Then why the mother?

    • Lindy says:

      I’m a college prof who’s taught a few gender studies courses in my time (my research is in religion and philosophy but as soon as you start talking about religion, gender issues crop up).

      The point you just made–that this whole burden of work-life balance is almost always shouldered by women while men don’t even think about it–is one of the biggest obstacle to creating a just, ethical, society, IMO.

      Not trying to deny the reality of biology–I have a 2.5 year old myself and have worked outside the home the entire time. And there were definitely surreal and exhausting moments, when I went from breastfeeding and baby talk at 7 am to lecturing on German philosophy of religion at 8:45. I thought my head would explode sometimes!

      But imagine how great the world would be if both men and women saw family life *and* professional life as things that needed to be balanced. Together.

    • CooCoo says:

      ^ this – amen, sister. Men rarely worry about this. I don’t know any working mom who doesn’t feel this way. Even moms like me who work from home.

    • Ida says:

      It’s not just the media though, is it? It’s society at large. And yes, you’re right, the so-called “guilt of the working mother” – which is largely a mythical construct, although there is no question that working mothers often face great difficulties and are disatissfied with their lives, both the family and working ones – is completely chauvinistic and reactionary. As a counterpoint, I was born (and raised – up until I was 14) in a formerly communist country where women *had* to work and let me tell you that to this day I have never heard any sentimental nonsense about guilt etc., from those women, i.e. my mother, my grandmother, my aunts, their friends, etc. Also, as the child of a woman who ended up being housebound due to severe illness, I cannot stress enough the importance for a woman to have an identity that extends beyond her children and her partner. (And no, mere hobbies do not count. It has to be more substantial than that.)

  5. Agnes says:

    Good for her that she’s not all Goopy about this. Most of us have to work (although her financial situation is clearly not the norm), and so many of us want to work. It’s good for people to normalize that attitude – I want to work, I love working and I need it in order to develop as a full person. :)

    • Lindy says:

      YES! And that women who do enjoy working outside the home (or working from home) and who also love being a mom, and want their lives to include both, should not have to feel guilty or made to apologize for that. The whole Mommy Wars thing is so damaging–to everyone!

  6. Original Tiffany says:

    And to think I had to tell my kids, Mommy has to work because someone has to pay for the house we live in.

    I was a latchkey kid too. It sucked. I didn’t want that for mine, either. Pretty much, it’s been one parent or another working in our home. One of us is always an at home parent. If it was me working 3 12hr or 4 10hr shifts and Dad working the other days or now I am the stay at home (tour).
    Ms. Heigl sounds like her normal self. Ugh.

  7. Marjalane says:

    The hair! What is she doing with that hair? I know, small thing to focus on, but I can’t get past it. It’s ghastly.

  8. Scarlet Vixen says:

    Damnit, this makes me like her a little bit. I understand what she means. I have 2 young children and choose to work 3 days a week. I love my kids like crazy and love my time with them, but also need a reason to take a shower, put on nice clothes and go somewhere I can have conversations with grownups and feel like I’m accomplishing tasks (I’m a librarian–I really like organizing and it calms me down). It may sound silly, but I think having that ‘grownup’ outlet does make me appreciate my mommy-time more.

  9. Angie says:

    I like her even less, if that’s possible.

  10. J O'C says:

    I like how she’s not trashing stay-at-home moms and she’s not trashing working moms.

    It drives me nuts when I hear women make (oh-so-subtle) cruel comments about another woman’s parenting choices. What works for one person doesn’t always work for another.

  11. Boo says:

    I’m just jealous because I would have LOVED to have to make the painstakingly difficult choice of whether to stay home with my baby or go back to work…but my reality removed that choice when it said I needed to work. But how fortunate for her that after a few months ON SET, she can take a few months off–or not–before her next multi-million dollar payday. I’m sure her bank statement helps to comfort her when she is having angsty twangs about not being there 24/7 for her “little being.” I so hope that writing this piece allows her to “enjoy” her work again…I’d hate to think she had to do anything she didn’t enjoy 100%. That would be tragic for her.

  12. lucy2 says:

    I still find her very unlikable, and when her resume is stacked with mostly horrible romcoms, she might want to ease up on the word “artist”.
    But I like her honesty about this, and the way she didn’t Goop it up. Her daughter is adorable.

  13. Girl says:

    Calling what she does “art” is a bit much but I totally agree with her otherwise. Glad she realized it. It almost seems like some people expect a child to complete them. Maybe for some people it does but that’s a pretty high expectation to put on another human being.

  14. melanie says:

    I liked the essay a lot…I work from home and have a great mix of work and mommy time. I hate actresses / mothers who judge other mom’s for the decisions they choose to make. Cue that bitch Giesele – eye roll.

  15. irishserra says:

    I can totally identify with what she was saying. I’ve fluctuated quite often in the past few years between working outside the home and working from home. There’s always this “grass is greener” mentality for me. When I’m working from home, I get to spend much more time with my children and the house always looks much better. But I get bored easy and find I need the stimulation I get from co-workers, so then I’ll transfer my office out of the home. I then find myself pining for the home situation. (*Maybe I need a nanny*) :)

  16. Naye in VA says:

    I totally wish work was a place i enjoyed and not a way to pay the bills. im bored (obviously since im here; Hi Guys!) and sleepy, and i miss my munchkin. Unfortunately this is the only time i miss her.When we finally get home i just want a nap, the nap that never comes and im all “Someone please take her!”. I did get to spend most of my first year with her though. KH was lucky to have the baby 20ft away in a trailer just waiting to throw a pretty smile.
    I dont want to do the opposite of my mom i want the same. She was a teacher so we had 2 1/2 months of uninterrupted mommy time in the summer.

  17. Lindy says:

    Gotta say, I never got the hate for this woman (well, except for her terrible, terrible hair decisions!). I think she was punished for being outspoken on issues that people in the entertainment industry don’t want to deal with.

    And now that I read her interview, well, I think I kind of love her. I’m 35, work outside the home, have a toddler, would like one more before I get too old (so, like, anytime now, please!), and even with a spouse who is hand-on and pulls 50% of the domestic weight, it’s still hard. I think, for me at least, I completely get what she’s saying about wanting to be a wonderful mom and also wanting to excel professionally. I do think it’s possible.

    • CooCoo says:

      Kuddos, my dear :) . From one mom to another, it sounds like you’re doing a great job.

      • Lindy says:

        Thanks! :) That’s really kind to say so. I think at the end of the day, 95% of moms (and most dads, too) are trying to do the best they can for their kids. Sometimes when mothers are slinging mud at each other, I wish we could all just step back and acknowledge the common ground, which is probably twice as big as the things that divide us.

        P.S. I love Celebitchy and pretty much never go to any other gossips sites anymore, because this is such a fun blend of witty, gossipy goodness with the occasional debate about real issues as well.

  18. operagirl says:

    I have always had in the back of my mind that KH’s face reminded me of someone, but I couldn’t remember who. And now, thanks to that last photo and a blind item I recently read, I’ve thought of it: her face reminds me of a blonde and younger Sela Ward.

  19. normades says:

    She can’t dress herself, but she sure can dress that kid. I love Naleigh’s little uggs, blazer and Julius monkey sac. TOO CUTE!!

  20. Miss Thang says:

    Good for her that she feels satisfied with the decision she’s made. I hate seeing mothers torn when they want to work or have to work, but still have that guilt and want to be home at the same time. I especially hate judgement from either side of the situation.
    I know women who are very happy staying at home all the time and have no desire to be working, and I know women who were miserable when they had to be home for 6 weeks after birth and couldn’t wait to get back to work. I see nothing at all wrong with either of these situations.
    I just wish we could all agree that every mother out there working and every mother out there staying home is doing what they feel is best for their family and we all deserve kudos just for making it work. Mothering is HARD despite where the majority of your hours are spent. No one needs guilt or judgement from people outside their family making it harder.
    I hope this essay she’s written helps ease some of that in some way.

  21. Alarmjaguar says:

    I think that she did a good job of talking about her own choices and feelings about her own situation without bashing other women. I appreciate that and I, myself, know where she is coming from — I have 3.5 year old twins and I work full time. It is insane, but I love it and without my work time, I think I might just go crazy. That said, I’m lucky enough to have a supportive partner and to love my job. I get that other women have different experiences and priorities. I totally second all the posters above who emphasize choice – women should be able to choose, and frankly, there should be good day care options for all women *if they want them*. That was one of the issues that the feminist movement raised that never really came to fruition. I work in a University where there is at least some concern for this and there is day care for students, staff, and faculty, but the waiting list is 2 years long! Clearly this should be a much bigger priority than it currently is, but because it involves (primarily) women and children, it won’t be unless there is a major push for it from us. Anyway, just my 2 cents, and I wanted to tell all the moms here that I’m really in awe of what you do, no matter what your choices!

  22. spinner says:

    I have always valued my professional life. It brings me happiness. I also enjoy being a Mother. It is so funny that the only one who held my working life against me was/is my own daughter.

  23. KateNonymous says:

    I think she expressed the whole concept pretty well. I always thought I’d want to be a stay-at-home mom, like my mother was. But you know what? I like working.

    We might be able to scrape by if I stayed home. But I like working, and she likes day care. Now, if I could find a way to work part-time and still make our mortgage and day care…

  24. Blue says:

    I definitely agree with her. I have been home with my daughter for 2 years and it’s hard, eapecially being a single mom. I feel more depressed now than I ever had before. I wish I could go back to work (I’ve been looking long and hard) just so I could get some peace and sanity back. I feel I could be a better mother. Right now me and my daughter are on top of each other and as much as I love her I can’t with her 24/7. :(

  25. SamiHami says:

    It’s a reality that many mothers have no choice but to work outside the home to put a roof over their heads and food in their kids tummies. That’s a rough situation for all involved.

    But someone who has the means to stay home as a full time parent (that goes for the dads too) and still chooses to have their child(ren) raised by unrelated strangers is inexcusable. If you want to work, either don’t have kids or work things out with your spouse so that one of you is there to actually parent your kids (again, I’m talking about people who have that luxury, not ordinary middle class folks who have to work to survive, not to just pursue their “art”).

    Heck, my brother and his wife were so determined that their girls wouldn’t go to daycare that they worked opposite shifts for several years. It was difficult for them and took a lot of juggling, but it was a priority for them and people usually manage to find ways to make the most important things happen for them. As my brother often said, “I didn’t have children just to hand them over to someone else to raise.”

    • Alarmjaguar says:

      SamiHami, that’s the great thing about choice — people can have different ones. Frankly, I think there are some upsides to having my kids in daycare/preschool. They’ve made a lot of friends, learned to interact with other people, and have access to a great group of teachers. At the same time, I have a fulfilling job that makes me a happier person and therefore a better mother. Now I recognize that not everyone has as good a situation as I do re: enjoying my job and having access to good daycare. But you need to realize that what works for you and your brother isn’t necessarily the best thing for other people and get off your high horse.

  26. Lavender says:

    Her daughter is adorable!