Photo Credit: Cheyenne Ellis
In her first blog for the iVillage blog series CelebVillage, actress Katherine Heigl (who stars in the upcoming action comedy One for the Money, in theaters Jan. 27) shares the challenges of balancing family and career. Married to singer-songwriter Josh Kelley, their daughter Naleigh recently turned 3.
I have always known I wanted to be a mother. When I was maybe 10 years old, I would ask the mothers at church if I could hold their babies during the service: Since so many of them had several children, they were happy to oblige me. I would skip Sunday school to go play with the kids in the nursery. I volunteered when I was a teenager at a local daycare and fell in love with a little girl named Melanie who I couldn’t help but pretend was my own child. There was just something about the weight of a child in my arms -- their soft cooing, their sweet milky smell, their giggles and even their tears. I loved that I could soothe them, comfort them, play with them and I loved that they needed me on some very basic level.
I have also always known I wanted to be an actress. From the moment I walked onto my first set when I was 11 years old, I knew I had found my passion. I loved everything about making movies: the wardrobe that made the character come alive in me; the hair and makeup that could transform me; the cast and crew that became like a family for those few short months; and the craft service where there was never a shortage of sodas and Slim Jims. I loved the feeling of reward I got from hitting my mark, knowing my lines, finding the camera, and not blocking the other actors’ light or angle. There’s nothing more thrilling than when the director is pleased with the job I’ve done and calls out, “Cut, print, moving on!”
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.