'Little Mosque' Star Dishes on Life With Teens, Hyper Parenting and Shiloh Jolie-Pitt
Sheila McCarthy is one of Canada's most accomplished actors. She's won the trifecta of Canadian commendation: Two Genies, two Geminis and two Doras (for film, TV and theatre, respectively). From her celebrated performance in the 1987 film I've Heard The Mermaids Singing, to her tenure on the much-loved TV series and L. M. Montgomery adaptation Emily Of New Moon, to her current role on CBC's hit comedy Little Mosque On The Prairie, McCarthy has built a successful career on Canadian soil without sacrificing family. Her husband is actor Peter Donaldson (of the acclaimed Soulpepper theatre troupe), and she has two daughters, Mackenzie (21) and Drew (17).
Q: What is the best parenting advice you ever received?
A: To bend down and look at kids eye to eye. It makes them feel equal instead of being talked down to. It also helps you see from their perspective.
Q: What advice would you give a new parent?
A: My parents are great, and their mantra was always, 'You know how we feel about it, but use your own judgment'. When we were teenagers we would think, 'Oh, great.' But you know, they really let us fall and pick ourselves up instead of micro-managing us. And I've really tried to do that with our kids, offer the advice and then say, off you go. It gives them support but it lets them make up their own minds at the same time.
Q: What do you find most challenging about being a parent?
A: There's no day off! Seriously, when I first brought Mackie home from the hospital I'd been an actor all my life and I said, 'So what's my day off, Sunday or Monday?' As an actor, you'd always got Sunday and Monday off. Pete looked at me like, 'Yeah right. Never.' It's tough, and even though one of my kids has launched and is at McGill, she still keeps coming back! And I have actually found the teenage years more challenging than when they were little. I ask myself, 'What did I not tell them yet? What did I miss?'
Q: How do you combine working and parenting?
A: When I had children, I went from doing a lot of theatre to doing a lot of film and TV, and I was very fortunate to have that opportunity. I'm in one of the only professions where my children could be with me. I got to have my cake and eat it too. I can very distinctly remember the years doing Emily Of New Moon out in Prince Edward Island and my whole world was in a studio. My kids were upstairs going to school with the kids of the other actors, and I got to be an actress downstairs. My kids' playground was my playground, and that's very rare. Now, in saying that, I did go to Los Angeles many times without them and that was heart-wrenching. But financially, I was able to afford a nanny for many years, and it was great to have someone alongside. So really, Pete and I got to keep working -- We really got away with murder.
Q: What is your favourite family activity?
A: Sharing a meal together. Even with lessons, and god knows there were a lot of them, somehow we always did dinner together and we still do. I know so many famillies that don't do that, but we do and it's great. It's even more important now with Mackenzie at McGill and Drew about to go to university. Any chance we get, whether it be at home or out, dinnertime is always a great big party for us.
Q: What is (or was) your least favourite activity with your kids?
A: Transitions. With my children, any kind of transitional moment was a nightmare. The comings and goings. My mom always said, putting kids into snowsuits, it's like dressing an elastic band, isn't it? We'd be exhausted by the time we got them ready. And then someone would have to pee. I remember it being very stressful.
Q: Teenagers these days are glued to their cell phones and laptops -- How did you deal with that?
A: All that came in when my kids were teenagers so I didn't have to worry about seven-year-olds with iPods or laptops. As a matter of fact, those golden years were when we were out in P.E.I. and we didn't even have cable. I think they are making up for lost time now, but when it comes right down to it, we're just as bad. Pete and I will watch TV with our laptops, and we'll actually email each other when we're in the same room!
We never had a Gameboy in the house. I said, you can go over to someone else's house and play video games, I just never brought them into the house. But really, I'm not the strict one in the family. I find sometimes when you make such strict rules about things, the opposite happens. Kids want to do it more.
Q: Like the forbidden fruit?
A: That's exactly it. You go on a diet, you want to go to Tim Horton's. So I didn't really parent that way.
Q: CBC recently did a documentary about "hyper parenting," the boomer parents who overprotect and over-schedule their kids - Did you encounter this trend raising your kids?
A: I do remember that. There were times when we were too busy for sure. So many lessons, it was crazy. It's very difficult because you want to expose your kids to everything and you want them to have every single lesson, and it's also very easy to become influenced by other parents. You say, oh my god, they are doing 10 classes a week so my kids have to. Financially too, those dance competitions, wow! We have an attic full of thousands of dollars worth of costumes that they wore once. But we always tried to keep our weekends free from so we could go up to the cottage, go skiing or whatever. We never ever did lessons on Friday or Saturdays, and that helped.
Q: Recently there's been a lot of ink spilled about Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie's 3-year-old daughter Shiloh, who has been sporting short hair and wearing "boy" clothes - What's your take on the brouhaha?
A: Kids need to do what they have to do. I could care less what my kids wear. I also find it smacks of a homophobic thing, very American. I thought we were so past that. When I saw that little girl I thought 'Wow, good for them, they're just letting her do her own thing'. But I knew someone was going to start talking about it. Being in my industry, my kids have grown up with the entire gay thing, it was so natural. It's such a non-issue in my family. So when I hear about stuff like that it's like the dark ages. But I imagine they'll handle it's okay because they're pretty cool, I'm sure they are laughing about it.