…The most important element is attention — when I am with my kids, I set aside my smart phone and focus on what we are doing together. I don’t want the kids to grow up thinking it’s okay to always be distracted by the constant bombardment of info on my phone.
As a part of our series about “How extremely busy executives make time to be great parents” I had the pleasure to interview award-winning actress, TV host and producer Alison Sweeney, who is currently co-creator, executive producer and star of “Chronicle Mysteries” for Hallmark Movies & Mysteries. The fourth movie of the series premieres on August 25 and continues to combine her passion for true crime podcasts with serial storytelling. Sweeney, who began acting at age 4, is also known for her longstanding roles as Sami Brady on “Days of our Lives” and as host for 12 seasons of “The Biggest Loser.” She’s an Ambassador to American Humane Association and Stand Up 2 Cancer, as well as on the Entertainment Council for Feeding America.
Thank you so much for joining us Alison! Can you tell us your “childhood backstory”?
I grew up in LA. My childhood is actually quite normal, except that occasionally I would take days off from school to go on auditions and for filming. I am very lucky to have two great parents who worked hard to keep the trappings of ‘Hollywood’ distant from me. I started filming commercials when I was 4, and I’ve worked pretty consistently my entire life.
Can you share the story about what brought you to this specific point in your career?
I’m not sure there is one specific story that brought me here. I always knew I wanted to be an actor. And even as a child I knew I wanted eventually to direct and produce my own projects. The first movie I produced for Hallmark was such a breathtaking moment — standing on the set of Irresistible Blueberry Farm, knowing that I had brought the project together…I was making my dreams a reality and it was pretty incredible.
Can you tell us a bit more about what your day to day schedule looks like?
I don’t really have a set schedule. When I’m in production on a project, the hours on set are long and focused on doing the best work possible on both sides of the camera. When I’m not in production, I’m sometimes up early for a media appearance, getting my hair and make-up done, doing a block of phone interviews and promoting my next project. As an actor, it’s always different. Thankfully, my schedule allows for many days where I can also be a stay-home mom — making lunch, taking my kids to school and lessons and activities. I try to keep a consistent eating and workout routine for my health, but other than that, it can be a bit all over the place.
Let’s jump to the core of our discussion. This is probably intuitive to many, but it would be beneficial to spell it out. Based on your experience or research, can you flesh out why not spending time with your children can be detrimental to their development?
I think it’s really important for kids to get the attention, support and love they need. Parenting is a complicated business, for sure. I try to focus on the positive side of this question — the quality of time my husband and I spend with our kids is a crucial element to their development. But it’s important that we focus on being positive role models in their lives, to inspire and encourage them to be the best possible humans they can be.
On the flip side, can you give a few reasons or examples about why it is so important to make time to spend with your children?
It’s really important to also allow the kids time to be themselves. They need to learn to play alone or with their friends too. It’s important to strike a balance between engaging the kids, and not overwhelming them — allowing them free time to play and be creative on their own.
According to this study cited in the Washington Post, the quality of time spent with children is more important than the quantity of time. Can you give a 3–5 stories or examples from your own life about what you do to spend quality time with your children?
The most important element is attention — when I am with my kids, I set aside my smart phone and focus on what we are doing together. I don’t want the kids to grow up thinking it’s okay to always be distracted by the constant bombardment of info on my phone.
I draw the kids into talking about their day. It’s harder with my son than my daughter but I try to engage them with specific stories about what happened at school and I include specific stories about my day so that it is a two-way street. They need to hear the example of how people communicate to understand their role.
Also, I really like to engage in physical activity with the kids. We go on hikes or play games together. It’s a great way to get competitive in a healthy way, but also to show the dynamics of fair play and being a good sport.
We all live in a world with many deadlines and incessant demands for our time and attention. That inevitably makes us feel rushed and we may feel that we can’t spare the time to be “fully present” with our children. Can you share with our readers 5 strategies about how we can create more space in our lives in order to give our children more quality attention?
As I mentioned above, for me setting my phone aside is the first, best advice I’d give.
Spend time interacting with them — playing Shoots & Ladders, Jenga or Heads Up, all are great conversation starters and fun ways to stay engaged.
How do you define a “good parent”? Can you give an example or story?
It’s important to not judge other parents. You don’t know their story or unique situation with their kids. For me, being a good parent is doing what’s best for my kids even/especially when it’s not fun or when it’s inconvenient for me. The best example is coming home from work, tired after a long day, and my kid starts in sassing me. Instead of ignoring it because I’m tired, I had to step in… discipline my kid because I couldn’t let it pass without consequences. Taking away the tv or electronics, even though that requires more effort on my part, is just part of what I signed up for as a parent.
How do you inspire your child to “dream big”? Can you give an example or story?
I think Dave and I both try to inspire the kids by demonstrating that anything is possible. We want our kids to believe in themselves by showing them by example that we do just that.
How do you, a person who masterfully straddles the worlds of career and family, define “success”?
I guess ‘success” is a complicated idea — it means different things to different people. For me, success is about being the best wife/mother/me I can be. It’s about balancing all the different parts of my life the best I can every day to feel fulfilled making my dreams come true.
What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a better parent? Can you explain why you like them?
There are a lot of great parenting books out there that can help with specifics of your parenting style and what your gut tells you is best for your kid. I’ve found that the unexpected inspiration comes from sharing my favorite childhood shows with my kids — like Little House on the Prairie, Anne of Green Gables, or Family Ties — shows I grew up with offer so many great life lessons that aren’t on TV these days. Plus, I love watching them again with my kids.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
One of the best parenting tips I received when I was pregnant with my first child — imagine if you already had a child how would you react? The idea of already having a toddler in your arms when your infant cries or something helps you take an extra second to think things through, realize there is more time than maybe you think there is to handle the situation. It gives you a moment to breathe in a new stressful situation.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I think these days it would be great to inspire a movement towards friendship. Even just driving in LA makes you feel like a lone warrior fending off every advance. It would be nice to remember once in a while to let someone lane change in front of you or remember there are other people on the road and it’s not just you against the world.
Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!