Brooke Shields on Being the Kind of Mom She Wished She Had Growing Up

Brooke ShieldsBrooke Shields loved the mornings best. That's when her mother was still sober as she walked her to school. By the time the afternoon bell rang, Teri Shields would be three sheets to the wind, leaving her daughter to clean up her messes.

But when the child star turned adult actress and mother of two sat down to write There Was a Little Girl, a memoir about growing up with an alcoholic single mom, she didn't want to pen another Mommie Dearest. If anything, Shields says she wanted to explore the complicated dynamic between a mother who is imperfect and the child who loves her.


Written on the heels of a New York Times obituary that came perilously close to accusing Teri Shields of pimping her 11-year-old daughter out when she allowed tween Brooke to star as a child prostitute in Pretty Baby, the memoir is a look at how a woman becomes a good mom having grown up with a mother who wasn't always so good.

The Stir sat down with Shields to find out what it is she hopes she's doing right with her daughters, 11-year-old Rowan and 8-year-old Grier, and how she's doing it in Teri Shields' shadow.

On why she wrote the book:
It was after she died -- it was a monumental aspect of that and how public our lives have been. It was a rite of passage for me. I didn't really think that it necessarily merited my telling a story about my mom. I didn't think there would be that much interest, but when [the obituary came out], when that whole experience occurred, I realized that the symbol of that relationship had a bigger reach, not just my mother and my life, but the concept of that dynamic, that relationship ... I thought, I wonder if the story can be a point of departure for a bigger discussion.

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Then I had an incident happen with my daughter where I was shocked that my reaction was that I wanted her to look at me the way I look at my mother -- when I spent her whole life trying not to be looked at like that. Those two events were the two stories that I brought in to Penguin and pitched to them. 

On finding herself after her mother's death:
I think until you lose a mother, you remain within the context of a mother. Whether you talk to your mother or you don't -- you're still in a relationship to that entity.

Now when you take it away, you're really on your own, I think for the first time really in your life -- no matter what your relationship is.

On how her mother shapes the mom she is today:
Either I'm trying to imitate her or I'm trying to do the opposite of her.

The only knowledge I have [of how to be] maternal [comes from her]. That's the only model I've ever had. What I appreciated about her humor or her attention to manners or her understanding for protocol and how you get rewarded in the world and the silliness and the creativity. Those are the things that, when I was a kid, I had the cool house, I had the cool mom because she would take us to the Circle Line for a group, she would make all of our costumes. People wanted to come over to my house because my mom would do all that stuff.

I love that kind of stuff. I love taking my kids to the theater and museums and off-Broadway and all of that sort of odd stuff that a lot of parents don't take their kids to, like Mummenschanz or The Fantasticks or seeing a Broadway musical at age 5. And manners whether it's looking people in the eye or inviting the kid who doesn't get invited anywhere to your house and not being one of the mean girls, avoiding the mean girls, going for the kind people, respect. I think that I learned more from my mother than anybody.

Brooke Shields There Was a Little Girl On being a better mom than her mother:
Obviously I'm more organized and I'm neater and I don't get drunk every day [laughs]. I ask questions to my daughters about how they feel.

I'm not always right, and she was always right. At least, I thought that she was right. My daughters make it very clear that I'm not always right! I think that's healthy. 

On how sheltered she really was ... and isn't sheltering her girls:
The problem was I was living a paradox. I was the one who was a virgin until age 22. I never, ever did drugs. If anything I had that reputation.

They're never going to be able to say you are "do as I say, not as I do" because I never did it!

I want them to not be so tortured by fear of their sexuality and all of that ... we've already started talking about that. They have to understand their period, and when I say "that's inappropriate," and they ask why, I have to have an answer. What they'll say is, "Moooom, don't say that word, don't talk about it!"

I say, "If you can't say the word penis, you obviously are not old enough to deal with the concept." They die when you start having the conversation with them. It's funny. Boobies is still a funny word to them.

On forgiving "bad" moms:
My mom did the best she could. I may not have been the optimal at times -- as I know I'm not -- but she wasn't capable of any better, and I don't have anger about that.

I hope that my daughters, whenever they start getting really angry with me, I want them to talk to me and at least understand where I'm coming from and then I can understand them and maybe we can improve a little.

I hope they read that and say, Oh, wow, we're all just doing the best we can.

On the most important thing to give your daughters:
Self confidence, something I just did not have at all growing up. I was sort of exalted, but it didn't come from inside.

I want to help them hear their own voice. What do you think? What are your feelings about these certain things? Without being too Kumbaya or anything, but just going, Let's look at that. Why? When you ask me should I be skinny, why are you asking me? Is it because other kids are saying it? Is skinny bad? Is skinny good?

Engaging in these conversations allows them to realize they have their own hypotheses. It didn't occur to me to do that when I was a kid. It was easier to just follow what other people wanted from me, and I got approval from it and she was my whole reason for being. I would just do whatever she said. It never even occurred to me to question it.

What's your relationship with your mother like? How has it affected your parenting? 



Images via Chris Henchy; Penguin

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