Rowan was like,Don't let the door hit you on the way out.'"
Brooke Shields’s career began when she was featured in an Ivory Soap ad at the tender age of eleven months, and it hasn’t let up. Over the years Brooke has grown up in the public eye, starring on Broadway, in film, as well as in Suddenly Susan, her own TV series. Along the way she also found time to graduate with honors from Princeton. But the cornerstone of her life is her family. She married writer/producer Chris Henchy in 2001. This union has produced two adorable daughters, Rowan (born in 2003) and Grier (born in 2006).
When she’s not in front of the camera or enjoying some quality family time, she’s at her computer cranking out books that wind up on the New York Times Bestseller List. In her memoir, Down Came the Rain: My Journey Through Postpartum Depression, Brooke discussed her very personal struggle with PPD after Rowan was born. Since then, she’s penned a more lighthearted children’s book, Welcome to Your World, Baby, based on little Rowan’s preparation for her baby sister Grier’s arrival.
Brooke spoke with Babble about the joys and challenges of being a working mom and her newest children’s book, It’s the Best Day Ever, Dad! – this one a personal glimpse of her girls’ special relationship with their dad – hitting bookstores April 21. – Mary Ann Cooper
You have two young daughters – the perfect set up for writing a mother/daughter children’s book. Yet, you wrote your newest children book about father/daughter relationships. How come?
I told my editor that my girls have a different language with their father. And it’s something I’m not a part of. That was something new to me. I didn’t grow up in the same house as my father and when I watch my girls with their dad it’s so sweet and it’s so heartwarming. My editor and I talked about the special bond that fathers do have with their daughters and that they don’t get that much attention, because everything’s about mothers and daughters. But looking back, I think some of the best relationships I witnessed in the course of my life have been between fathers and daughters. For our girls, he’s sort of their first love in a sweet, innocent kind of way. So when we talked about it, we felt that we wanted to give dads their due.
What’s different about your husband’s relationship with Rowan and Grier as opposed to your relationship with them?
I feel like they need me, but I feel like they’re able to be more self-sufficient and their real personalities come out with their father. For my girls, mom is sort of laden with emotions. When they’re sad, they want Mom. When they’re hurt, they want Mom. So much of it is based on them needing me. And also, because I’m mom, I’m more of the disciplinarian. It feels like they need their dad in a sort of more independent level. My older daughter Rowan really loves watching any type of sports with her dad. She’s not really interested in the sport, per se, but she has this unique bond with him about it. It’s almost like she has this inside joke with her dad. They’re friends; they act like buddies.
Were the girls the inspiration for the copy and illustrations?
When I wrote the first children’s book, it was about a little girl anticipating her baby sister being born and what comes with that. We included Rowan in all preparation for her sister. The first book practically came verbatim from Rowan. All of the things she said are in the book one way or another. So the copy for sure was Rowan’s in the first one. The second one had other elements to it because it was more my words picked up by observations. Harper Collins paired me with illustrator Cori Doerrfeld. I gave her the copy and we sort of boiled it down to what could be said in pictures and what could be said in writing. Cori got it in the first drawing. The whole idea is that the illustrations are supposed to be similar to my kids even though they have different names. Of course, I described them to her and she saw pictures of my two little girls, but she also really understood the essence of these two little girls.
So when the book was completed did you test market it on Rowan and Grier to see if you nailed your target audience?
My girls are so funny. They love the second book. It took Rowan a while to warm up to the first book. I think she was a little bit embarrassed by it. I think it’s because the first one was really all on her. But Rowan is now past the embarrassment. She asked if we could take a copy of it and bring it to her class, and that was a big validating moment. I was a little wary, because I didn’t want her separate from the rest of the kids, but it came from a good place. The second one was based on what they do with their dad. Rowan is a bit more proud of the second one, because she gets to show her dad off. The dog is in it because the dog is about the most important thing in the girls’ lives. Grier loves both books, but she doesn’t really have the concept that it’s about her yet.
Rowan went off to school this past year. Did you suffer separation anxiety with Rowan? Grier is just coming out of her terrible twos. How terrible was that?
There was no separation anxiety on her part, just mine. She was like, “Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.” It was almost as if she was saying, “And you are . . .? Oh right, my mother. We’ve met, haven’t we?” Even though she’s about to turn three, Grier never really went through the terrible twos. She hasn’t reached that phase yet, but I can tell she’s about to enter that phase. Then again, she would almost like to get back into the womb as well. Rowan and Grier are the antithesis of one another. Rowan is very analytical; she needs to think things through. She needs all of the information. Grier is pure emotion. She’s just raw emotion, and I don’t think it’s just her age. I just think she’s very sensitive, very emotional and very dramatic in her emotions. You can’t really raise your voice to her to prove your authority, because she’ll just crumble. Rowan will sort of smarten up and look at you and think, “Okay, I get it. The stakes are really high. I’m going to now listen because Mom’s serious.”
So, who is more like you, Rowan or Grier?
I’m really a blend of the two of them, but I’m more like Rowan because both of us are very aware of how things sound and how they seem. Like me, Rowan is self-aware at a very young age. Grier could care less about being liked. Whatever she wants is what she wants and it’s the most important thing. She doesn’t believe in softening her response. Rowan is like, “Okay, how do I navigate this?”
You’ve got so much on your plate. You have to juggle a demanding career with being a great mom. Do you relate to Wendy, the character you played on Lipstick Jungle? “Like me, Rowan is self-aware at a very young age.”
I definitely identify with her. But her kids are older and I look at my kids and think “Oh God, I hope I’m more equipped than she is by the time they’re teenagers!” I have to say I am anticipating it with fear – abject fear!
So, what has been your greatest challenge in trying to do it all and be the best mom you can be?
Slowing my brain down long enough to hear them. I’ll go into function mode as long as they’re fine. I make sure the school projects get done and the play dates are scheduled. The time is never an issue with me as much as my focus within the time that I’m not trying to do ten things at once. Sitting down and actually slowing down enough to color the coloring book, rather than giving them the coloring books while I’m doing emails. They are starting to get to the stage when they say, “Nevermind” or “You don’t understand.” And I’ll think, “No, I do mind and you have to talk to me”; “No, I don’t understand and you need to explain it to me.” But it can’t be rushed. It takes time, and I’m used to being on the move all the time and being busy all the time. So I need to be mindful of that.
When you do slow down and you and the girls play hooky together what’s a typical day like?
It usually involves something outdoors like the park. Sometimes we’ll go get our nails done. It’s usually the park and a movie or some kind of fun meal. We try to make a day of it and not come back for hours.
You caused quite a stir when you talked about your struggles with postpartum depression after Rowan was born. Did you experience the same thing after Grier was born?
I had none of it with Grier. The circumstances were so different. During my pregnancy I was able to find a medication in my third trimester that sort of kept me hormonally balanced but was totally safe for the baby. The doctors also monitored me. Plus, I got pregnant naturally. I was physically and biologically stronger. I’m convinced people still need to talk about PPD more. There is still a sort of shame surrounding it, and that’s so sad. But there are always people coming up to me saying somehow my story helped them, and that’s a good thing.
You’ve been in show business since you were a baby. What would be your reaction if Rowan and Grier came to you and asked to be models or actresses?
I realize they don’t understand how difficult it is. And I certainly would not make it easier for them, insofar as take them around. I think it’s a really difficult world to go into, and what they don’t know now is that they wouldn’t want it. I work with kids a lot of the time and they don’t to want to be doing it. They’re not having fun. They’re just not enjoying themselves. But if they grew up and wanted to be actresses after they went to school, then I would be much more amenable to helping them. The important thing is that they have to go to school first.
Has being a mother yourself made you view your relationship with your own mother in a new light?
There hasn’t been any great epiphany in any of it. It just gets you to this place where you have a better understanding of the difficulties of being a parent. My mom was with me all the time and it was just us. And she didn’t have any kind of work aside from me. I don’t think I ever realized how hard it must have been to be a single mom, because I rely on my husband so much.
Having children can sometimes test a marriage. How has parenthood affected yours?
I don’t think children can ever be considered to fix a marriage, but boy, it can give you a whole new level of respect for your partner. I realize there’s so much in the point of view that he provides that I wouldn’t have if I were alone. My husband makes the time for our daughters. He works a lot, but what he does with the time he does have is pure. I’ve watched this since the girls were born. It’s really something special.