July 2013 Profile: Julia Sweeney
RESIDENCE: Outside Chicago
RELATIONSHIP STATUS: Married
CHILD’S NAME/AGE: Mulan, Age 13
I am an actress, writer and stage performer and sometimes director. I am planning to write another book and direct a movie in the future. Here are two urls I’d like to share: Momsrising: Momsrising. This is a great activist website for moms who want children and child care to be a bigger part of the national conversation. The other url is because of my interest in film. It’s a wonderful website with a lot of smart film writing: parallax-view
Julia Sweeney began her career with The Groundlings in LA, and was a cast member of Saturday Night Live from 1990-1994, where she created the infamous androgynous character “Pat.” She has also written and performed in several successful, critically acclaimed one-woman shows: God Said Ha!, In the Family Way, and Letting Go of God. She has written for, acted in and done voiceover work for countless television shows and films, including the forthcoming Monsters Inc. prequel for Pixar. Her latest book is If It’s Not One Thing, It’s Your Mother.
What does your child think of your work? She hasn’t read my whole book, she’s read maybe a third of it. I am not particularly encouraging her to do so. I think she has oscillating feelings about me talking about her on stage and when I write. Sometimes shes loves it. Sometimes she really hates it. I have the same feelings!
What led you to write your new book, and what is the message you want readers to take away from it? I wanted to write about how my family came together. I knew there were some great stories in there. I wanted to see if I could write about them well. It was a challenge. I’m not sure I have a message I want readers to take away. I think what I get out of reading people’s personal stories is a deeper understanding of the human condition. I guess I feel the same about my book. I became a mother in an uncommon way. I married later and changed my whole world after I became a mother. I guess I wanted to get that down, for myself, and hopefully so others could come along with me as I remembered it all.
What do you see as the positives and challenges of having a child at age 35 or over? I am really glad that for me, I became a mother exactly as I did, at age 42. I had a big thirst for the urban competitive artistic world that had to be sated before I could really turn my attention to a child and enjoy parenting fully. Also, I had enough money for the things I needed and I had a mature idea of what it took to raise a well-rounded, informed kid. I was ready to retreat from my social world and the world of my career. After I had Mulan in my life, I kept those things up, (career and social life) but in a much reduced way. I don’t think I would have been so eager to do that when I was 25 or 30. I think I would have resented my child for holding me back.
On the other hand, I now see how difficult and rewarding it is to raise a child. If I had to do it again, I would probably have three children, or maybe four. I would be a full-time mother. I would try my best to get into a situation where I would not have to work outside the home. I would have the children when I was in my late twenties or early thirties because that is when it would be best to have them biologically.
When I give Mulan advice, which I expect she will listen to about as much as I listened to my own mother’s advice – which means not at all – I say – find a field that you really love and get some credentials in it before you are in your late twenties. And if you have kids, just stop and do that. That’s a very lovely way to have children. Then when they are grown up, you can resume your field and go for it intensely. If you finish raising children when you are fifty, you’re likely to have twenty five or thirty good years to enjoy mastering your skills in the field of your choice.
Has anything about being a mother surprised you? If so, what? What do you love the most about it? Yes, how absorbing, demanding and all consuming it is. Also, how enjoyable. I like hanging out with Mulan. I like driving her to her classes and being there when she comes out. I like hearing about her school day right after she gets home from school. I like cooking with her. I like knitting with her – doing creative projects. I like travelling with her too – hanging out at cafes and wandering around museums. I like bike riding with her.
What do you most want to teach your child? What have you learned from her thus far? This is what I thought of first off: I want to teach her to have good critical thinking skills. And I want her to know how to movitvate herself. And I want her to have solid self-control management skills too.
I have learned from Mulan how to be patient and accept how short life is and how much of it should be spent just being, not doing. I have learned that from her.
What influence, if any, has your own mother or father had in your life and in your parenting? My dad was a great one for hanging out in a leisurely way, and being available for interesting talks should the subject of interest arise. My mother taught me to not take each dramatic event in a child’s life too seriously. And how to hold your opinions in, in order to maintain harmony in the family. That’s a delicate dance, and very difficult to know when to say something and when not to.
Where do you turn for support as a mom? How important is to connect with mom peers? How do you think an organization like Motherhood Later…Than Sooner can be helpful to later families? I turn to my husband mostly. Now we are in this together. He often has a perspective I haven’t thought about. He’s a lot more patient than I am. And other moms I know from my daughter’s school. I have a few friends who I can commiserate with, or celebrate with, or just get information from. An organization like Motherhood Later could be helfpul to women who are older mothers who want to connect with other mothers who are like them.
What words of wisdom would you most like to share with others contemplating becoming a parent, particularly if they’re 35 or older? I would urge someone at that age to adopt. It’s not easy or even safe for every woman to bear a child at an older age, and there are lots of children out there that desperately need parents. Short of that, I would equally encourage people not to do it! Don’t become a parent! It’s a huge commitment, and people should think deeply about what they are willing to give up in order to parent successfully and pleasently. Parenting is not a must-do lifetime experience. There are lots of ways to connect with younger generations and have a huge impact. Maybe overall, an even greater impact than parenting just one child. So, think about it!