Wendy Wilson is known by some of us as Gen-Xers as the foxy one in early-’90s (and still extant) pop band Wilson Phillips. “Hold On,” anyone? Now, she’s bravely become (in the company of her husband, Dan Knutson, and her bandmate/sister Carnie) the first celebrity to appear on ABC’s Supernanny. The show airs tonight, Wednesday, February 20th, at 9 p.m. EST.
We’ve long had an obsession with the show, on which Jo Frost comes into the home of a family in trouble and teaches them techniques for improving sleep, discipline and togetherness. Wilson’s family is remarkably neurosis-free compared to most of those who appear on the show, and the couple’s relative sanity in the face of their full house (two toddlers and newborn twins!) allows for fine-tuning: getting the toddlers to sleep in their own beds, dine out peacefully and surrender the pacifier; examining how being raised in the way Wendy was made her the parent she is today.
Wilson’s father is Beach Boy Brian Wilson, and as fascinating as it is to hear about her experience growing up in a celebrity home, it’s even more notable to see how Wendy’s rebelled against her distant father by becoming a loving, attentive mother and marrying an affectionate, involved, down-to-earth guy. She spoke with Babble about what Brian Wilson is like as a grandfather, what she thinks about Britney, and why she stopped breastfeeding. – Ada Calhoun
What’s it like being on Supernanny?
It was actually pleasant. Jo knows what she’s doing. She’s extremely creative in the way she goes about those techniques and she’s very perceptive. She knows how to – I don’t want to say assess – but kind of look into people and just know what they’re all about right away. I’ve just never seen anything like it.
The “paci-fairy” stunt Jo pulled to get your son Beau to give up his pacfiers was pretty fantastic.
That was a cute moment. Poor little Beau! I felt so bad. He had no choice but to put that pacifier in the envelope. He was on the spot. And that was it. He never looked back.
Has he missed it?
Well, he asked for it for the next couple of weeks, but he would just say, “paci,” and we would look at him and go, “Beau, you gave it to the paci-fairy.” And he’d go, “Ohhh” and he’d move on, and that was it. He hasn’t talked about it for a long time.
On the show, you talk about how your parents’ limitations affected the way that you are as a parent.
My household was not the typical household, because I grew up with a celebrity father and he was a musician. My mother was a very dedicated mom, and a very young mom, so she was learning as she went. She gave us so much love; we never went without her love. And my father loved us very much, but he wasn’t hands-on, because he was doing his own thing. And we were raised basically by my mom and my aunt. It lent itself to a less structured type of a lifestyle. It wasn’t your everyday family that sat down at 6:00 and had dinner. We just weren’t like that. It was more like nothing was scheduled completely or regimented, but my mom made sure we had lunches when we went to school and that we got to school. And she disciplined us when she thought it was necessary. She did her best, but it just wasn’t what you normally see. So I tend to be more relaxed about parenting than my husband.
Who is fantastic, by the way. Sometimes on Supernanny, you see the husbands kind of waft in and out, but yours seemed so hands-on, which was refreshing.
Oh, that’s wonderful. That’s great. Yes, he is very hands-on and he adores the children. And you know, we’re really a solid, united front and we love our children more than anything and that’s our life. That’s our whole life. We hardly ever go out or anything. It’s all about the kids and we love it. That’s the way we want it.
He’s also a musician?
Yeah. He’s not in a band right now, but he wants to form another band. He used to be the lead singer of a band. The band was called Death Valley Jupiter and he’s produced, and he writes – he’s a great writer – and he’s a sound engineer. “I feel bad for Britney, I do.” That’s what he does on a daily level, but he wants to go into doing sound for television. That would be ideal for us.
I’m wondering about your take on the celebrity baby craze, like the frenzy around Britney, and the sale of baby pictures for millions of dollars?
You know, I want to be careful when I speak about anybody else, but I feel bad for Britney, I do. I feel really bad, because it breaks my heart to see any mother have her children taken away from her. That’s the hardest thing for me to see, but I realize obviously she needs some guidance right now. But I don’t really know her situation. I know what the tabloids say is usually not right, so I don’t know, I don’t even know what to believe, to be honest. I just, as a mother, feel bad for her. As far as the baby-photo-selling, that’s almost like exploitation. That seems a little strange to me, people selling pictures like that. I think it’s kind of creepy, actually.
I’m wondering if you experienced any kind of pressure about breastfeeding or sleep-scheduling or anything like that.
You know what? I’ve realized that, now that I’ve had four kids, I’m at the point where I’m not really going to care what anybody else tells me. You just have to go with what works for you. For instance, I really wanted to breastfeed, but for some reason, I don’t know if it was being too anxious about not producing enough milk or just that I was just too frazzled or whatever, but with each child, I only breastfed for three weeks. That was it for me and then I went to bottles. Sometimes I beat myself up for that, but at least they got colostrum and I’m okay with that, because that’s what it was and I can’t change it now. But they’re fine. They’re all good. Everybody does it differently, and that’s what I did.
Do you have any favorite parenting books?
Well, we have that Sears book, we really like that. I like that What to Expect the First Year one. There’s a book called The Toddler Years that I like. There are so many books, and I leaf through them, but I don’t live by the books.
Did you watch Supernanny before you were on it?
Yeah, I did. I watched it a few times and I really liked it. I was really a fan.
Did anything get cut out of the show that you kind of missed or were surprised by, or anything about the way that it was put together?
I have no idea, because we haven’t seen it.
Really? It’s great. You seem like you don’t need much help at all.
Thank you very much. I’m glad we came off well. I was more concerned that our parents were going to be portrayed in the right light, than us.
So are you concerned what your father might think because you talk about your experience growing up with him?
Yeah, I was concerned about that as well as my mother. Sometimes things get twisted around in the editing and that’s my fear that it’s going to look like they were bad parents and I don’t want them to have any negative light on them.
What kind of relationship do you have with your parents right now?
I have a good relationship. “My mother and I are extremely close. We talk about ten times a day on the phone!” My mother and I are extremely close. We talk about ten times a day on the phone! We’re actually co-dependent. My father, we’re just getting a relationship back, you know. We went to his house on Christmas Eve, and it’s good. Everything’s good. We’re at peace.
Is he a good grandfather?
He’s not a hands-on grandfather, like he wasn’t a hands-on dad, but he loves them. He just doesn’t know how to express it yet, so you know, I don’t know exactly how to put that.
That makes sense. It seems really mature to say it that way, like you did on the show: he meant well, but just didn’t necessarily know what to do.
Yeah, exactly, what else are you going to say?
Well, usually people get really emotional about what their parents did or didn’t so, and they aren’t able to forgive and see that they just had certain limitations.
Oh the funny thing is, on the limitations board – did she show that in the show?
Yes, Jo had you and Dan list your limitations as parents on a board.
Well, when she left, she said, “Pull them off when you’re ready. In time, you can pull them all off.” And I still have it up there. It’s all still up there.
You haven’t taken anything down?
That’s funny. Do you still have the daily schedule up on the wall too?
We do, but it’s now in the office instead of over our living room fireplace.
Are you still following it pretty closely?
Not really, because the babies’ eating times have really changed, so we had to really adjust our schedule. I will say that I still cannot be completely, one hundred percent regimented. I guess it’s just not in my blood or something, but I love having that as a guide. Whenever I feel frazzled, I try to go back to it. It’s something to work toward.