As I go to shake Kathie Lee Gifford’s hand hello and introduce myself, my phone rings. When I take it out of my purse to put it on silence and turn it off, she inquires, “Is that your mom? If that’s your mom, you should take it.”
It was not my mother (for those who may be curious), but the interaction is a clear example of just who Kathie Lee is. She’s a successful TV anchor, receiving 11 Emmy noms during her time on Regis and Kathie Lee and currently appearing on the Today Show, a business woman and author, and first and foremost, a mom to her two children Cody, 20, and Cassidy, 17, with her husband, Frank.
Kathie has regaled television audiences with stories of her family throughout her childrens’ entire lives. She let us in on what Cody and Cassidy are doing now, how to raise well-behaved kids, and her thoughts on letting kids join the Hollywood scene.
Your son, Cody, is on the Today Show this summer as an on-camera film reviewer. How has it been working with him?
It’s going great! He had asked if he could do an internship at the Today Show. He did one last summer at my production company and was bored to death. But he said, “There’s more going on at the Today Show, Mom. Can I write movie reviews for the website?” [When I asked], our producer said, “Cody, why don’t you try doing [the reviews] on camera. It will be fun, and our audience will like to see you.” Cody [is] 20 years old and 6′ 4″. He’s become a man, a very fine young man and very serious film student. [When they asked him to go on-camera], he was scared to death and didn’t want to do it, but [we] talked him into it and he’s gotten better and better at it every week. I hope he’s learned that he has potential in front of the camera.
What advice have you given him?
Be yourself. Do your homework.
How is your daughter, Cassidy, doing?
She is about to film her second film role. She just did her first, which was a small role in a comedy called Serial Buddies that’s going to the Sundance Film Festival this year. Then it will be a complete turn, and she’s taking a role in the movie version of The Big Valley with Jessica Lange and Sam Neil. We leave next week for that. She’s shooting in Louisiana.
Are you nervous about your kids being in the Hollywood scene?
I think every child deserves [his or her] own dream. It was up to them to decide what made them happy in life. Cody wants to write and direct films and Cassidy wants to act in them. She’s been studying since she was young girl at classes and privately and she’s very serious about it. [I'm fine with it] as long as they treat it as a craft and not as a summer lark. [Acting/directing] isn’t an easy thing to do well, and I told them that they’re not going to do it unless their reasons are right. I wanted to be an actress when I started out, so Cassidy and Cody come by it genetically. But [first and foremost] I just want them to be fine human beings, and then it’s up to them to decide what they want to do.
We hear a lot about celebrity kids behaving badly, but we’ve read so much about how polite and well-mannered your children are. Any tips?
We didn’t live in L.A. or New York, which helped. We live in Connecticut, so the kids went to school with children whose parents are in other walks of life. They’re not just surrounded by show-business people, which is healthy. [But] the most important thing I did was raise my children in a home with God. So often we leave God out of the equation of our lives and we wonder why we’re not happy or fulfilled or we don’t feel like we belong. My kids have been raised to understand they’re not the center of the universe. They don’t have a sense of entitlement, which so many rich kids do, but rather, of obligation. They feel like because they’ve been so blessed they have an obligation to bless others. I just had a children’s book called Party Animals, so they took a copy of it to Cassidy’s Place [a non-profit dedicated to disabled children] and they hang out with the kids there and read to them.
I held my first AIDS baby three months after my own son was born. That little baby died soon after I held [him or her, yet] my son has known nothing but opportunity and privilege and health in his life. That really inspired me to get much more involved, even politically. My children meet people in the work that I do and [realize] it’s about who you surround yourself with and what you consider valuable in life. So far, my kids are growing up to be wonderful human beings, and that’s my job as a parent. God makes children beautiful on the outside but it’s a parent’s job to make them beautiful on the inside. When a child comes into the world, [he is] selfish: me, mine, no, down, out. It’s our job as parents to try and teach them how to love, give and forgive.
What’s been your biggest parenting challenge?
Keeping them grounded. I grew up poor; [their father], Frank [Gifford], grew up dirt poor. We’ve been blessed financially, so we’re trying to teach our children the same values under very different circumstances. Another hard part is deciding as parents that you’re going to be unified in the way you raise your kids. So often kids know they can pit parents against each other. They know what they can get out of mom, what they can get out of dad. You have to put up a unified front.
After the end of the formal interview, Kathie mentioned that she had been reading to children from her new kids book. “Only one kid said thank you to me. Only one. Kids are not taught the basics anymore. I said thank you to every one of them. But only one, just one child. It’s amazing.” I guess we know what manners she has instilled in her own kids – their Ps and Qs.
Kathie has been a long time supporter of Childhelp, a nonprofit dedicated to ending child abuse and treating its victims. She and the charity are currently doing a promotion with Hayneedle.com, an online furniture retailer that sells everything under the sun, that will be donating funds from the sale of hammocks. To support Childhelp, customers can use the special promotional code “FORKIDS” at checkout when placing their order for a hammock or hammock accessories. A special section of the Hayneedle.com website has been created to raise awareness of the campaign at http://www.hayneedle.com/hammocks.