Working Mom's Spotlight: Elisabeth RohmSamantha Ettus
Over lunch with actress Elisabeth Rohm, I was struck by her down to earth nature, her clarity and her wisdom. She opened up about raising a strong daughter, her pride in being a working mom and her passion for education.
Why is education so important to you?
My mother who was going to a great college when she married my dad, had to drop out and have me. When I was eight, she went back to Sarah Lawrence and finished her degree. So I really saw her make that deliberate choice and manage all of that. Around that time my parents split but that (getting her education) wasn’t just to take care of me, it was for her own desire to have knowledge and feel good about herself.
What was your own education like?
I struggled academically a lot throughout my childhood. I feel very passionate about the child that gets forgotten because they are the difficult one or the one with the learning disability or the one you can’t figure out or why are they angry or distracted. Because I was that kid. And then I really came full circle and ended up doing very well at Sarah Lawrence.
What helped you through the early learning challenges?
My mother’s commitment to not giving up on me. The school thought, She has a learning disability and we are putting her in the learning disability class.’ My mom was like I am not so sure, just give me a second here.’ And she did her investigation. So it takes a parent not giving up and it takes the parent getting a plan and saving and really preparing for whatever their child might be. That is why I love Upromise.
How did you decide to work with them?
Upromise has been committed for a very long time to making saving for college something everyone can do as opposed to just the happy few. And through the program you can choose to save money not just for your own child’s education but for your best friend’s child or your niece. If I wanted to go back and get my Masters I could do it for myself. If I had loans still from Sarah Lawrence I could do it for that.
And it is easy. If this was a restaurant that was part of the program I could get a percentage of cash back for college. If I am home shopping online, I am getting cash back for college for my child. You just go to Upromise.com and sign up for free.
Did your parents’ divorce influence how you feel about women who leave the workforce?
When I was not a mother, I could never have imagined giving up my power to stay at home and raise my child. I thought, ‘Why would I disempower myself in that way? People stray. People tire of each other. Why would I put myself in the position that my mother was in where she was scrambling and then had to move out of the house I grew up in? I will always make sure that I am ok and that I have the ability to maintain the life that I want.’
Did that sentiment change once you had your own children?
Yes. When I had my daughter (Easton, now 5 years old) I felt like I absolutely want to be a stay at home mother. And I really gave up a lot of time to be with her but my mother encouraged me to not give up my career altogether. She said, “I understand how you are feeling but if you walk away for too long you are not going back to what you built. You are going to have to start from scratch.”
And the other matriarchs in my life said to me, “Your children will end up leaving you before you know it and you won’t have anything to return to other than to rebuild your career and to re-find yourself.”
How has it been?
I have struggled to work and be there for her and to not be distracted when I am with her and to not be distracted by her when I am at work. I try to grow and nurture a career that I hope will be in part something I can be proud of but in part will be something that I can share with her that she can benefit from.
How do you handle shooting a movie out of town?
I have built a village of mothers and friends that can help me with my daughter so that I can do something that is going to be fulfilling for me and help Easton and I move towards more security in our lives.
What was your experience making new mom friends?
It wasn’t something I looked forward to or anticipated. I was raised by a single mother. I went to a primarily female college… so I have great girlfriends. I didn’t feel the need for fulfillment in that way, but I have made some of the best friends of my life through my daughter’s friends.
Any tips for making new mom friends?
Stay open minded. Just walk into that new school with a smile on your face and an open heart.
What is one question about being a working mom that drives you nuts?
“How do you do it all?” As if anybody can. I feel like I am a mess half the time.
What does you as a mess look like?
I am lucky if I can get to the gym. I am lucky if I can get a comb through my hair. I am lucky if we both get to brush our teeth before we get out to school in the morning. And make it to meetings and have the refrigerator stocked. And and and and.
How do you build your daughter’s self-esteem?
Pay attention to her. Look in her eyes. Notice her and be there. Because they know when you are not there even if you are standing right in front of her.
If you are having a bad day, how do you share it with your daughter?
If it is something I can put away until Monday morning then I will do that. But if it is something that is happening currently right in front of her face then I explain to her in child’s terms – what is happening professionally that is aggravating me – because they are intuitive creatures. They feel you.
What is the one thing you hope she remembers from her childhood?
I hope she looks back and really feels the magic of each moment because I try really hard to make sure that it is an adventure for her. I want it to have been delightful. My cousin remembers when her mom would take her in their convertible and go pick wildflowers. I try to bring a bit of magic to the day.
You are a feminist. How do you think about raising a strong girl?
It has made me sad already to see Easton refer to her body as fat. I realize this is coming from somebody else’s child from somebody else’s home. I have a good extra 15 pounds on me right now because I gained weight for American Hustle. But that’s not a word I use about my body. I love my body and that is a microcosm of wanting her to love what she is and take care of it. If she is having too much sugar I don’t say “You are going to get fat, don’t eat that,” I say “If you love your body you will be good to your body” and “Nature’s candy is better than processed sugar.” It is all in positives.
How are you modeling a lifestyle for your daughter?
She knows that I work and she knows that I do a lot of the providing but she knows her father works and does a lot of the providing as well. She doesn’t know where it begins and ends. But I don’t disempower myself as a business woman and as a strong female in the home environment just because I play the role of mom when I get home. I want her to know that in order to be a mom at home I have gone out and I have worked in order to make that happen.
How do you explain your intense periods of work to your daughter?
I have said it quite simply to her: In order for me to have all of this time off with you this summer I had to work in Boston for a couple of months.” So she understands that was earned. We work so we can be with our kids as much as possible. It is not being absent, it is not ego. It is a means to the end of more joy.