In recent years, Maggie Gyllenhaal’s heartbreakingly intuitive film performances and gawky beauty have catapulted her onto Hollywood’s A-list. She also has the honor of being one of Babble’s most-searched celebs, thanks largely to the many photographs of her breastfeeding her daughter – Ramona, now two years old – in public. Although we imagine that the paparazzi weren’t a welcome addition to feeding time, Gyllenhaal’s “my-kid’s-hungry-photographers-be-damned” attitude – not to mention her obvious joy at bonding with her daughter – earned her wide admiration among mothers everywhere. Recently, Gyllenhaal was on hand at Fisher Price’s unveiling of their new “Precious Planet” line, to present a check from Fisher Price to the Wildlife Conservation Society – a cause she feels strongly about supporting. Babble spoke to the Batman: The Dark Knight star about navigating subways with a toddler, sleep training, and her valiant effort to split parenting duties equally with her husband, actor Peter Sarsgaard. – Gwynne Watkins
You were talking about how important it is for kids to connect with nature through the zoos and parks when they live in the city. What has your overall experience of raising your daughter in the city been like?
There are things that are great. Like, I imagine that if I were living in the country, it would be very difficult to meet other kids, to meet other mothers. I think it’s easier in Brooklyn. We live pretty near Prospect Park, and when we go to the big meadow in Prospect Park and just let her go, she’s so happy. But I have trouble with, “Oh, don’t pick that up, that’s digusting! No, you can’t put that snow in your mouth, you can only put this snow over here in your mouth!” I don’t like that.
And at the same time, she goes to this lovely ballet class with other two-year-olds, and she has another lovely little music-and-movement class in Brooklyn that’s taught by a real New York dancer with a great mind. Not that you can’t find that if you’re not living in a city, but it’s everywhere in the city. And I do love that.
But I think it’s hard. The subways I find so difficult. She’s not quite big enough that I don’t need to bring a stroller, but she’s big enough that I cannot lift her in her stroller by myself. My subway station on the weekend closes its gates, so you can’t even open the special door and put her through it. You have to take everything out of the stroller, fold the stroller up, pick her up . . . And if I had another kid, like the women that I see with a couple – I don’t know how you do it alone on the subway. I don’t know why that should be so hard.
I didn’t pay any attention to the elevators on the subway before I had a baby.
Now I know where all of them are.
And for me, it’s about ten blocks out of my way on both sides. It’s a big deal to do that, when you could go three blocks instead. I remember trying to transfer at Columbus Circle at rush hour with her, and everyone just rushed in front of my stroller for three trains! And then I just out and left. I just thought, forget it, I’m not going uptown anymore, I’m gonna go home. So that’s tough.
What do I like about the city? I mean, I have done some really cool things with her. At Symphony Space, and I’m so far from there, but Symphony Space has that Saturday morning series, and – whats-her-name, that great singer – Elizabeth Mitchell, who I love – I took Ramona up to see her. I’ve done a couple things at Symphony Space with Ramona, which is great. And I like Time Out Kids, where they give you all the things that are happening. That stuff’s great.
Another thing you’ve talked about is trying to split parenting equally between you and your husband – which is something that’s really challenging, but that I think our generation is really, really trying hard to do.
Yes. Yeah. I don’t think it’s possible. In our case, maybe it’s because I have a daughter, the mom is the mom. There is something about that. But we try. I think we both just fundamentally, from the moment I was pregnant, from the moment she was born, believed that we needed to share. And we do. But, it’s still always – I mean, Peter took her out to this little class she takes in the morning, and he said, “No, you don’t come – this is when I’ll relieve you.” Because when we’re together – if we’ve been away from her a lot – she just wants to be with me. That’s kinda how she is at the moment. But I was raised that way too, where my parents were trying to split things equally. It’s a good effort to make. But it’s hard.
Is there any conventional wisdom on parenting issues – breastfeeding, sleep training, and so forth – that you found just didn’t work for you?
I mean, everybody says so many different things. I do think you just have to figure it out for yourself and go with your instincts. I’m not a leave-them-in-their-crib-to-cry kind of girl. Fundamentally, I didn’t find that worked. Everyone’s got their own thing, you know? You can’t tell another person when it’s right to stop breastfeeding, or how to put your kid to sleep. Every child is different.