Melissa Joan Hart Talks Motherhood, Fitness and Surviving Life as a Child Star

Filed under: Celeb Kids, Celeb Parents, Celeb News & Interviews

Melissa Joan Hart hugs her face-painted son, Mason Wilkerson, who may also have the performer bug. Credit: Alberto E. Rodriguez, Getty Images

Melissa Joan Hart grew up in the spotlight, with starring roles in movies and TV series like Clarissa Explains it All and Sabrina, the Teenage Witch. And, defying the child star downward-spiral trend, she made it to adulthood just fine, thankyouverymuch.

In fact, she's better than fine -- since her days as a Nickelodeon star, the actress has added director, producer, candy entrepreneur, wife and mom to her long list of accomplishments.

Now, she's balancing her role as mom to sons Mason, 4, and Brady, 2, with some new stage and screen projects. On April 1, she hits the off-Broadway stage for a run in Nora and Delia Ephron's Love, Loss and What I Wore. And come the summer, she'll be back on TV in Melissa & Joey, where she plays a local politician from a scandal-ridden family who hires Joey Lawrence to be her live-in manny.

ParentDish caught up with the busy star between rehearsals.

ParentDish: You seem so together, yet you started in the entertainment business at a young age. How did you avoid becoming a classic Hollywood train wreck?
Melissa Joan Hart: [Laughs] I have to give a lot of credit to my mom and my family around me ... I really think it was the sense of responsibility to my family that kept me on the right path.

PD: You were certainly the Miley Cyrus of your generation. What were the paparazzi like back in 1990s?

MJH: There were numerous things for me that were very different. I did my first show in Florida, not Hollywood, so I wasn't around the scene or dragged to parties. ... Also, at that time when you had a TV show, you didn't also have a clothing line and a perfume, you weren't on tour and putting out an album, all at the same time. It's like a machine now.

There's a lot of pressure, and I saw that first with Britney Spears. She had so much pressure on her at 17 that it's no wonder she cracked and had a moment where she lost it. ... Back then there wasn't TMZ, there wasn't Twitter, I wasn't leaking things to Facebook about my bad behavior [Laughs].

PD: Have you tried to keep your kids away from the spotlight?
MJH: No, not at all. I'm pretty open with them, because if you try to hide them, it becomes this big secret. 'Who are these children? What's going on? We've got to see them?' Then you get problems, I believe. If it bothers them, I wouldn't do it.

PD: You're about to start a run in the off-Broadway show Love, Loss, and What I Wore. How does it feel to be back on stage?
MJH: Yeah, I haven't really done theater since I met my husband seven years ago. I did The Vagina Monologues and I haven't been on stage since. But I came from a lot of theater. ... I did a lot of theater between the ages of 10 and 13, and that's how I got discovered for Clarissa [Explains it All].

PD: Have your kids shown any interest in following your career path?
MJH: They have no idea what I do. They just know that Mommy goes to work. But Mason is definitely showing signs of wanting to be a performer of some sort.

PD: You're reuniting with Joey Lawrence in the ABC Family comedy show, Melissa & Joey. When will that air?
MJH: It will probably be on the air in August.

PD: Sweet! And speaking of sweets, any plans to open another location of SweetHarts?
MJH: We do. We're still working out kinks, it hasn't even been a year yet, but maybe at the end of the summer if things are going well in Los Angeles, we'll be able to open a few more.

PD: Clearly, you're not overindulging on the inventory. After your People magazine cover, you got a lot of attention for getting back in shape after pregnancy and doing it on your own. Do you feel a lot of pressure to look a certain way, especially after having kids?
MJH: I don't mind the pressure because it keeps me in check, I think. I'm really upset -- in the new year I haven't made it to the gym. It's really hard -- you have to schedule it into your week. I just started last week walking with my neighbor, after we drop off our kids at school, just walking with the babies in the strollers. So, I'm going to start there, start small. I'm just not doing anything right now except chasing the kids around, which is quite a bit of a workout, but it's not keeping me feeling strong and healthy right now. But I'm trying to eat well and make sure that I eat enough so I don't lose energy.

PD: With acting, your production company, your candy store and a family, how do you handle it all?
MJH: That's the trick to parenthood, really: The balance. I, literally, at one point sat down after I had Mason and wrote down my priorities and realized that the one that should be at the top of the list that I was severely lacking was playing with my child. Even though I spent a lot of time with him, I wasn't playing with him. I was on the phone while pushing him on the swing, always trying to find ways to do all these things. So now I make sure now to just play with my kids, and that's the first priority on my list.

Related:
Celeb Clan Close-Up: Joey Lawrence & Melissa Joan Hart - Whoa!

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.