In her latest role on the ABC sitcom Single Parents, Leighton Meester trades the Upper East Side for after-school pickups. Perhaps it’s not as glamorous a role as the one that made her famous, but it’s one she can relate to. In real life, the former Queen B is raising a four-year-old daughter with her husband and fellow aughts television icon Adam Brody (who makes a guest appearance playing Meester’s character’s bad-news ex on this week’s episode). Here she chats with Refinery29 Canada about falling into “the vortex” of parenthood, the pressure to be perfect as a mom, and why it’s a good idea to marry your crush.
Your show talks about “The Parenting Vortex.” Can you explain what that is and whether you’ve experienced it in real life?
The vortex is the place where you sort of lose yourself in being a parent. On our show it’s presented in a comedic way — you’re singing “Wheels on the Bus” or “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” over and over in a baby voice. I have definitely had those moments in my own life. One of the things I’ve caught myself doing is I’ll be standing in a group at an adult hang and I’ll catch myself swaying my hips like I’m holding a baby, but there’s no baby. Or I’ll wave to someone like a baby bye-bye [tiny hand gesture], rather than a normal wave. A few times I have actually said “I gotta go potty, I mean, to the restroom."
What does your former self think of this behaviour?
I think when you become a parent in some ways you become a shadow of your former self. I think of myself before I had my daughter and I don’t know her anymore, but I don’t know that I’d want to be her anymore either. So I don’t see it as totally negative. I’m terrible at making plans to go out. Usually I’m ready for bed at 8 p.m. And then even if you can get out, you still have to be up in the morning. My kid doesn’t have a late call time.
The show highlights the importance of finding supportive parent friends. Is that something you’ve managed?
I have my old group of friends that I’ve had since I was a teen into early adulthood. Those are my deep girl friendships. And then there is this whole new group of women who I’ve met through being a mom on the playground or at school. It’s funny, just because your kids are friends, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll want to be friends with the parents, so I really lucked out.
Was it weird making normal mom friends as a celebrity? I feel like if you were a mom in my kid’s class I’d be targeting you as my new BFF.
No, I think because we live in a small town, there isn’t as much of that. If they are that way, they don’t show it. They’re playing prettttty cool.
Refinery29 Canada recently surveyed a bunch of new and newish moms about the things nobody told them about becoming a parent. What has surprised you most?
I mean, people tell you you’re going to love your kid and you’re like — yeah, obviously. And then you do it, and it’s so much harder than I realized, but also oh my god I love this person more than anybody. I don’t care about anything else. The other thing is that being a parent has made me reflect on my own upbringing. Even the time before I can remember. Hanging out with my daughter, I don’t think she’s making permanent memories yet, but she has a full personality and likes and dislikes. I think it’s this realization that who takes care of you and who loves you during that time is very important whether you remember it or not. Some people say it gives them an appreciation for my parents. I don’t feel that way. I’m more like, you could have done better.
I think that’s mostly because I’m in the public eye. I want my daughter to be considered completely her own person who can do whatever it is that makes her happy not because she has anything to do with me. That being said, I was trying to do that first day of school picture just for my own collection and she wouldn't stand there. I don’t know how people get their kids to pose for pictures!
As a celebrity mom do you feel the pressure to set a perfect example?
Well that’s the funny thing is that people ask “celebrities” for advice on parenting, and I’m like, I don’t know, I don’t have the answers. I do what’s right for me and I will refer to books or maybe look something up on line, but I don’t know anything. When you’re looking to a celebrity, remember they don’t know anything better than you do.
Comparing ourselves with others has become a bit of an epidemic in the social media age. Is that something you struggle with?
I think if you spend too much time on social media looking at everyone’s perfect kitchen and perfectly folded clothes and it’s like you’re looking at a magazine about your friends. Comparing yourself can be inevitable, but I try to disconnect from that. I feel like I have the lucky mindset and also a support system that allow me to mostly focus on what’s going on in my own home. I also have a therapist who I talk to about all of this because it’s such an emotional journey.
Your husband, Adam Brody, is currently guest-starring on Single Parents. You guys met on a movie project. What’s the different between working with someone you have a big old crush on versus someone you’re married to?
Well I mean, I still have a big old crush on him, so that’s nice. That’s the advice: Just marry your crush, it’ll all be good. We had actually met a bunch of times [before we got together], and I always respected him as an actor and a friend. I still have that, but when you live with somebody day in and day out and you’re only are doing life with them — it’s like you only see the person in this very close up kind of way. Getting the chance to work with them, it’s like seeing him from a far, and it’s kind of refreshing.
That’s funny. A few of the women who took our survey talked about how important it is to get out of the house and do something not-kid-related with their partner. It’s like you get to remember that you’re actually into this person.
Right, like, oh yeah, I really like you. That’s exactly it.
Do you guys do date night?
We have date night sometimes. Not that often, but sometimes is good.
Single Parents, Season 2 airs Wednesdays at 9:30 p.m. on Global.