Julie Bowen may play a totally Type-A mom of three on Modern Family, but, when we caught up with the actor just ahead of Mother’s Day, it became clear almost instantly that this real-life mom of three doesn’t share her character’s trademark neurotic nature. Bowen’s a cool mom whose idea of perfection is way more chill, and it involves playing four-square in the backyard with sons Oliver, John and Gustav.
“I used to always plan activities, and they’re never as fun as what happens instead of the activity or before the activity or when the activity falls apart,” she shared with SheKnows. “That has taught me so much about just being in the moment with them. It doesn’t have to be this picture-perfect day.”
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Adopting this relaxed approach to motherhood is precisely what led Bowen to discover her kids’ love of four-square. Hot on the heels of a flopped plan to squeeze in quality time at the local park, the actor taught her kids the backyard sport on a whim. Much to her surprise, they instantly declared it the best game ever. That’s the trick, says Bowen: “It’s just sort of being there and getting the good moments when they come along because they are usually by accident. Very rarely are they planned.”
But Bowen points out that parenting — like most things in life — requires balance. We live in a lightning rod of a time when it comes to socio-political conversations, especially where men are concerned. For all her spontaneity, the star admits that a lot of thought goes into how she approaches raising her three sons to be good stewards of humanity.
“They know that I’m a very strong and independent person, and I hope that I’m raising them with enough respect. Their dad’s a super-kind guy, so I hope we’re baking it in and it doesn’t have to be a sea change where one day we’re like, ‘Hey, guys, turns out being racist is bad, and you’re not supposed to rape either!’ Like, I hope we only have to do minimal course corrections,” Bowen said, laughing.
The bottom line for Bowen is treating motherhood (and her kids) with honesty. For example, her kids get the blunt truth from her, no matter what. “If they ask a question, I’ll answer it. I don’t offer other information that they’re not looking for, but they know how babies are made, where they come from, what sexual violence is and how people are supposed to behave and not behave,” she revealed, adding, “It was never, ‘We’re gonna sit down and have this conversation’ — as soon as I felt they were old enough, I included these conversations in everything. You know, watching a movie and you go, ‘I don’t like the way they’re treating that lady; what do you think?’”
Bowen gives her own mother, Suzanne Frey, much credit for helping shape her into the mom she’s turned out to be. She also can’t help but marvel at how truly committed Frey was to being a great parent. A stay-at-home mother during the ’70s in conservative Baltimore, Frey (despite not being a natural cook) made sure her kids had three home-cooked meals a day on the table — often vegetables she grew in her own garden. “It was just all on her, and that was a full-time job. I’m not saying it’s any easier to be a parent now, but there are a lot more conveniences. I definitely hit InstaCart yesterday, you know? Because I didn’t have time to pick up the kids in all different places and go to the grocery store. She didn’t have those options. It was her whole job all the time,” Bowen said.
The Modern Family star will get the chance to express some of that gratitude this Mother’s Day in a big way. She is partnering with Hallmark and Improv Everywhere for a special project inspired by mothers everywhere. As families walk through a park, they’ll come across a huge, 12-foot-tall Mother’s Day card that appears to be a public art installation. As the mothers approach and read the giant inscription on the card, it will slowly dawn on them that the message inside is for them.
Making the project even more poignant for Bowen is the fact her own mom will be among those surprised. “The note I wrote I did with my kids, because I thought it would be cuter if it was in their old scrabbled-up handwriting,” she told us of the sweet surprise. But what would Bowen’s message to her own mother be?
She confessed, “If I was writing it for her and no one else was going to see it, I would just say, ‘I learned all the important stuff from you.’”