Jordana Brewster on Parenting Judgment: ‘I’m My Own Worst Critic’

Parents are constantly shamed for their choices. From how we feed our children to how we educate them, everyone has an opinion on how to raise kids. The result? Moms and dads feel endlessly judged for the choices they make — even if they have no other options. This week, families around the country are sharing their inspiring, funny, honest, and heartbreaking stories with Yahoo Parenting in an effort to spark conversations, a little compassion, and change in the way we think about parenting forever. Share your story with us — #NoShameParenting

Actress Jordana Brewster never expected how much she would change after welcoming her son, Julian, two years ago. “Having a kid just cracks your heart open, it makes you vulnerable,” she tells Yahoo Parenting. But the 35-year-old star of the Fast and the Furious franchise is the first to admit that motherhood is a learning experience, which she says surprised her at first.  “I thought I would have parenting down the minute I held my baby,” she says. Allowing herself time to figure it out, and learning to silence the self-judgment, has been one of the most important parts of the journey, she says. The actress, who will star in the second season of ABC’s Secrets and Lies, opened up to Yahoo Parenting about the challenges of using a surrogate, her trick for “doing it all,” and her surprise at not being the “super-mellow” mom she thought she’d be.  

Our #NoShameParenting initiative is all about ending the judgment that is so rampant among moms and dads these days. Have you experienced any of that since Julian was born?

When it comes to judgment, I’m my own worst critic. We live in a culture with so many books, so many ways to parent. People who believe in no screen time, those who think it’s OK, that sort of thing. But going into motherhood, I had this preconceived notion that I had to have it all figured out. I’m pretty type-A and pretty organized and when I had Julian that all went out the window. There’s no way to prepare. The minute you’ve got one thing down — like he’s sleeping though the night —  there’s something new to deal with. We just had our two-year checkup and the doctor started talking about giving up the bottle and potty training, and I was like, What? But he’s just a baby! You’ve never got it down. You are constantly shifting, and trying to find a graceful way to do that is the only way to stay sane.

How do you manage that?

Every time something shifts, I remind myself that this is how it’s going to be for the next 20 years, so I have to have fun with it.

Jordana Brewster with her son, Julian, and her husband, film producer Andrew Form. (Photo: Instagram/Jordana Brewster)

It seems like a lot of our self-judgment comes from seeing what other parents are doing. Do you ever compare yourself to other moms?

Just by virtue of someone giving their opinion, we often look at ourselves and wonder, Am I doing it wrong? When we switched Julian to his big-boy bed he didn’t seem to like it, and other moms were like, “Oh, it’s way too early.” But he was jumping out of his crib, so we didn’t have a choice. And ultimately it was OK. I would imagine it gets better as a second-time parent, but the first time around I think it’s easy to feel judged.

Luckily, I have a really good group of friends. My mommy friends are chill. I’ve seen it where it’s like mean girls, but mean moms instead, and I purposely stay away. Who needs that?

If you are your own worst critic, how did you learn to go easy on yourself?  

I rely on girlfriends a lot. Sharing those moments when you feel you’ve failed as a mom, or you’re doubting yourself, helps to make you feel less alone. I also have to remind myself that this is the first time I’m doing this, so I can’t possibly know everything. Plus, the advice changes so much from person to person, so you have to trust your kid to let you know what works for them.

I’m still trying to learn, though. Before Julian was born I did a lot of reading, but now I want to spend that time actually being with him, instead of reading about him! So I listen to books on tape in the car.  I’m currently listening to The Whole-Brain Child, about brain development. Books on tape are a great way of multitasking in an efficient way when you’re trying to do it all.

Jordana Brewster says she does her best to stay away from judgy “mean moms” while parenting her 2-year-old son, Julian. (Photo: Getty Images)  

It seems like all parents, before they actually have kids, have an idea of what kind of mom or dad they want to be. But sometimes things change when their children are born. Have you experienced that?

Yes! I was so surprised! Before I had kids, I thought that I would be super-mellow. As a meditator, I thought I would be so calm for Julian, and that was a priority of mine. Then, I found that I was freaking out because I was like ‘Oh my God, I don’t know what I’m doing.’ Then I went back to work on [the TV show] Dallas pretty quickly, and was juggling having a newborn and the guilt of being away from him. Of course, now I can look back and give myself credit and think, ‘Oh man, I really was going through a lot.’ But in the moment, there’s no manual. You get hung up on the technicalities – like burping! Burping was traumatic for me. I was like ‘Oh my God, I’m not burping him on time!’ It was such a thing for me, and now I look back and I’m like, ‘Burping? Really?’ But it was such a challenge for me. You don’t realize the challenges that will come up – there’s nothing that can really prepare you.

And people without kids often seem to have an idea of how others should do it.

I feel like the people who give you dirty looks at restaurants are the people without kids. Yesterday I was at Trader Joe’s and Julian was screaming and this woman was like, ‘Oh my God,’ and giving me that look. I wanted to give her some choice words. It’s like, ‘How would you like me to handle this situation?’ Short of leaving the grocery store, which wasn’t really an option at that point, what was I supposed to do?

Sometimes it seems like the judgment starts before our kids are even born. People have opinions about expectant mothers and whether they plan to have an epidural, a hospital or a home birth, whether they conceived naturally or needed fertility treatments. You have spoken publicly about using a gestational surrogate to carry Julian. Have you faced a lot of scrutiny about that?

I didn’t really have a choice about being open, since it was obvious I wasn’t pregnant. And for me it wasn’t a choice, I needed to use a surrogate. But I didn’t feel judged, it’s more like I felt awkward. Even recently, we were at this baby group and the teacher made the assumption ‘Well, you all birthed your children’ and I couldn’t be like ‘Well, actually…’ So sometimes I feel a little left out when other moms talk about what their birth experience was like, and I feel the loss of not having carried or having been able to carry. But luckily I keep my circle tight and close, so I never feel judged.

In many ways, I feel lucky that I was able to be open. There are so many women who are young and have to go through IVF and feel like they can’t talk about it, and that’s really unfortunate.

Being a working parent is so hard — how do you manage? What’s your secret to juggling it all?

I’m really lucky in that I have a job — I just started filming Secrets and Lies — where my schedule is fairly flexible. But there are rare days when I’m away 12 to 16 hours and that sucks. It’s especially hard now that Julian’s older. He has started doing this thing where he flips out when we leave the house, screaming bloody murder. Then you don’t want to leave and you start worrying — is it separation anxiety? Is it a phase? It was hard to go back to work in the last couple of months, but I started reading him Llama Llama Misses Mama, and telling him that Mama will always come back and helping him process. I want to be there as much as possible, so it’s a juggling act, but I’ve been lucky as far as my schedule is concerned so I can’t really complain. Also, my entire extended family is all [in L.A.] — Julian’s cousins and grandparents, my sister, so he is always surrounded by love.

You’ve talked a lot about wanting more kids…

I hope it will be soon. If I could just visualize it and make it happen, that would be awesome. I badly want Julian to have a brother or sister, and God-willing it will happen soon.

You do a lot of charity work on behalf of mothers and kids.  Has that always been important to you or did that emerge since becoming a mom?

It really changed since I became a mom. I first got involved with No Kid Hungry because I personally was pretty obsessed with making sure Julian was eating the right things. I didn’t use products with parabens, I had a crib that was green and a mattress that was green and then when I did more research, I was reminded that some kids aren’t getting nutrition, period, never mind organic. That really put things into perspective for me. No Kid Hungry is amazing. They change kids’ lives, like they implemented school breakfasts in New York City to make sure no child is going to class without eating. Now I’m involved with Alliance of Moms. We’ve had our Raising Baby event twice this year, for young moms to go to workshops and learn about brain development and how you should talk to your baby and how to get them on a sleep schedule. It’s the basic stuff that you might get if you are in a baby group, but not everyone has access to that.

What’s your advice for new parents? You’ve got two years under your belt, so what do you say to those just starting out?

This morning I was looking at Julian — everyone says don’t co-sleep but sometimes in the middle of the night he comes in my bed and that’s fine by me  — and I was looking at how big he’s gotten already. I think about all the time I spent worrying and that was all time wasted. So it’s cliché, but just relish it, because it passes so quickly.

(Top Photo: Instagram/Jordana Brewster)

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