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Exclusive: Maggie Gyllenhaal on What It’s Like to Raise Preteens in NYC

While most of us know Maggie Gyllenhaal from her roles in Mona Lisa Smile, The Dark Knight, or her most recent TV endeavor The Deuce, she is also the Brooklyn mom that I aspire to be.

At an event hosted by LensCrafters on Wednesday about the importance of eye care, SheKnows had the opportunity to sit down with Gyllenhaal to talk mothering in New York City — and, you know, share our parallel tales of discovering we needed glasses when we could no longer read the chalkboard. (Gyllenhaal admits she was actually “psyched” to need glasses, because her mom and brother, Jake Gyllenhaal, already had them, and she “wanted to get in on that.”)

In addition to sporting stylish frames during our interview, Gyllenhaal also exuded Brooklyn-mom chic by referencing her brownstone and the fact that she makes elderflower syrup from scratch. Yeah.

Mother to 12-year-old Ramona and 7-year-old Gloria, Gyllenhaal is enjoying having kids who are just a bit past the little-kid phase. She admits she was “never that good at playing,” and much prefers bonding with her kids while participating in seemingly boring tasks like going to the grocery store or cooking dinner together.

“I loved taking them with me to do things and teaching them about the world while we were running errands,” Gyllenhaal tells SheKnows.

As a fashion enthusiast (Gyllenhaal jokes that she always remembers things based on what she was wearing at the time), Gyllenhaal loves shopping for clothes with her daughters and finds that that’s where their individual tastes come through. Taste that, often, is not the same as their mother’s.

“I’ll be like, ‘Oh my god, this is so cute!’ and one of my kids will be like, ‘No.’ I love that. I love seeing what they actually like, what they’re drawn to,” Gyllenhaal says.

And while she makes a conscious effort not to impose her sense of style on her kids, she does use her own experiences to help inform them. Whether it’s drawing a bath when they’re feeling stressed or offering tips for powering through those difficult preteen years, Gyllenhaal says she just tries “to teach them all the things I’ve found work for me.”

Gyllenhaal remembers one particular proud-mom moment: “We were staying at my mom’s house, and I walked in and my children, who were sleeping on the couch, had folded up their sheets and made up their beds by themselves. And I thought, Yeah, I taught them to do that, because it’s nicer to walk into the room when the bed’s made.

But when it comes to making it through middle school, parenting lessons aren’t quite so simple. Gyllenhaal remembers her time as a preteen all too well — which helps her have empathy for the drama her own 12-year-old is going through. Even though passing notes in class has been swapped for group texts, being a preteen is still…well, being a preteen.

“I find that many of the things my daughter is going through are things that I can really relate to,” Gyllenhaal explains. “I found [the tween years] very difficult. Who doesn’t, I guess? But I do remember it. And being around someone going through that time, it reminds me of my own experience of it. I get it.“

Gyllenhaal has also found that New York City, itself, can be something of teacher. Speaking to the advantages of raising kids in the city, the actor notes that access to art, theater, food, and a diversity of people plays an important role in her children’s upbringing.

“Where we live, my children have seen people of every different color, socioeconomic background, and immigrants from all different places… And that’s something that they expect to see and have respect for because that’s how they grow.”

For now, Gyllenhaal and her girls are gearing up for back-to-school and dreading those early mornings. When asked about her school morning routine, she replied simply, “Well, we wake up at the last possible moment we can wake up.”

Same, Maggie. Same. Here’s wishing your kids a successful new school year (hopefully they can see the board better than we could at that age).

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