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Jane the Virgin’s Justin Baldoni Is Having an Epic Wrestling Match With Dad Guilt During the Pandemic

One doesn’t necessarily expect to have a lot in common with a CW star. I’m a mom and writer in Brooklyn. Director, producer, and Jane the Virgin actor Justin Baldoni is a dad who is finishing his second movie as director while running a nonprofit, writing books, and making his YouTube show Man Enough, about redefining masculinity. But the sounds on both ends of the line when we spoke last week were much the same: ambient outdoor noises punctuated by little voices popping in at inopportune times. Yep, we’re both working parents figuring out how to do it all in the midst of a pandemic.

What’s more, both Baldoni and I had just recently come to the same conclusion: Doing “it all” simultaneously is a dangerous recipe for burnout. The only way to feel like good parents and productive professionals with everyone at home has been to set aside four hours in the middle of the afternoon just to be with our kids. Baldoni and his wife, Emily Baldoni, have 5-year-old daughter Maiya and 2-year-old son Maxwell.

And, OK, I took his call during my supposed work-free hours, but it was worth it. We talked about flexible work schedules, parental guilt, teaching anti-racism, and gender roles — the kind of conversations I’m used to having with fellow moms, not with dads. It gave me a tiny glimmer of hope that things might be starting to change.

SheKnows: I watched in an episode of Man Enough where you talked about adjusting your work schedule during quarantine, and I just did that myself recently. Why did you need to make that change?

Justin Baldoni: When quarantine hit, I kind of tapped into that masculine part of me, where I was like, “All right, I got this. I’m going to take care of my family. I’m going to keep working. I’m going to focus on my body and my health. I’m going to work out and eat well, and make the most of this thing. … And then I started to feel awake at night, because I could just feel the pain of the world. … So I started going live [on Instagram] just to talk about mental health. And then when I saw that people were writing me and saying, “I was going to take my life, and I didn’t because of what you said,” I started going live every night.

SK: That’s a heavy thing to take on.

JB: Super heavy. It happened six or seven times. So, on top of my work schedule and the family, I was going live every night, and I was showing up for people I didn’t know, but not showing up for my family. There was zero time for me. There was zero time for my wife and me … and I burned out really hard. Emily and I had a real conversation — a consultation, as we call it in our marriage. We decided, this isn’t working. So I asked my amazing assistant, Will, to figure out if he could reorganize my day so I would only work until noon, and then I would pick up again when the kids go to sleep. I still get bombarded with e-mails and calls and last-minute meetings during the time I’m supposed to be with my family, but the intention made a huge difference.

SK: I’ve been reading about how staying at home has meant the housework burden is still falling more on women than on men, but that men are beginning to realize more about how much work goes into raising kids and maintaining a home. Has any of that changed between you and your wife?

JB: Here’s the thing, as woke as many people might think that I am, I still struggle with all the same things that I did before. I’m finishing my movie in the middle of a pandemic. I have two companies with employees and the nonprofit [Wayfarer Foundation] that’s trying to take care of the homeless. So, we have had very traditional gender roles in the house, and as embarrassing as it is, we haven’t figured out another way right now.

We have help, thank God. But Emily, in some ways, has been the mother and the father. I have been trying to balance, figuring out how to provide … while at the same time supporting her in the best way that I can. What that looks like for us is I try to show up emotionally as much as I can for my wife and for the family. But understanding that, I’m not great at doing the dishes right now. I’m forgetting to take the trash out.

That’s something that I’ve had to deal with, [feeling like] I should be doing a whole lot more. But I honestly can’t right now, and that’s got to be OK. Emily and I talked about it, and she said, “I’m OK doing this. You keep doing that.” And we come together like a team.

SK: Is that division of labor something you talked about before starting a family?

JB: We did talk about things before we got married, but of course, when you have kids, work changes, everything changes. You can’t approach marriage and say, “Hey, you’re going to do this, and I’m going to do this, and that’s how it’s going to be,” because as we know in marriage and parenting, things change every five minutes. I think it’s important for parents to continually come together, like in a basketball game — you call a time out so that you can regroup.

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Quarantine hair, don’t care #DearMaxwell

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SK: Are you guys doing anything special for Father’s Day?

JB: Father’s Day is a little emotional, because I am wrestling and grappling with the guilt I have about not quite being the dad that I want to be. That’s something that I talk to my therapist about and I talk to Emily about. Being a dad is so much more than being a provider, but I do feel like I’ve been stuck in the provider role because, of course, I have to be. I’ll do Father’s Day for my dad.

SK: When you are with your kids, how do you manage to stay present with them? I know my mind is in a million other places, and I constantly feel guilty about that.

JB: Nobody really tells you how hard it is to just be present with your children. As an adult, it’s not always fun to live in their fantasy world. They could play for two hours, and and after 10 minutes, you’re just mentally exhausted. You’re like, “I can’t imagine that that pillow is a train right now because I’m dealing with a pandemic and the realization that we’re heading towards a civil war. But that’s great. You know what? Yes. Let’s go look at airplanes, and let me put my phone on airplane mode, and let me see if I can show up [for you].”

SK: How are you talking to your kids about race and the Black Lives Matter protests going on right now?

JB: I’m ashamed to say that,  even though we thought we were doing a pretty good job by reading the kids stories that were not not all white, we realized we’ve got to go farther. So, yeah, one thing we’re doing is talking about skin color and explaining to them how it would feel if somebody was mean to them because of their skin color. Or if somebody took away a toy just because of the color of their skin. … It’s probably not even the right way to do it, but we’re starting to be more aggressive in how we’re talking about it with them. While it might seem early to talk about race, it’s actually late in some ways. And that’s what we’re learning right now, is we’ve got to be more proactive in being anti-racist as white people than just simply not being racist.

SK: I hear you’re also involved in distributing masks to the homeless. How are you doing that?

JB: When the pandemic hit, I saw the writing on the wall that the masks are going to be a part of our everyday life. I just said, why don’t we do a partnership with a mask company and make like these “Be Love” masks so that we can spread some love while wearing a mask. The money goes to the Wayfarer Foundation. We have a partnership called Give Love, Be Love, where we are feeding people multiple times a week. We’re just constantly trying to figure out how we can be helpful in small ways right now.

SK: I’m looking forward to seeing Clouds (Baldoni’s second feature as a director, based on the true story of 18-year-old singer Zach Sobiech, who released a hit single of the same name just before dying of cancer) when it comes out on Disney+ in the fall. What else are you working on?

JB: I have a few books coming out next year, and I’m writing one right now for children, actually. It is based on things that I say to the kids each night.

No matter what happens when I’m working, I always figure out how to, at the very least, join the bedtime ritual. With Maxwell, I’m really focused on teaching him the importance of the use of his heart, so every night before he goes to bed, he repeats after me and we say, “The strongest muscle in my whole body is my heart. I love my body, my mind, my heart, and my soul. I love God. I love myself, and I’m enough.” I really want him to remember that no matter how big his muscles get, the most important and strongest muscle is going to be his heart because that’s where feelings come from. There’s a lot of feelings that we’re having right now during this pandemic that we don’t always know how to express, and that for kids are being expressed in maybe bad behavior.

And for Maiya, we try to reinforce her power and her strength. We try to reinforce that she is enough as she is and that she loves herself as well. And now she wants to say things that Maxwell is saying. But basically, it’s just loving themselves and having compassion for themselves, and that’s been really important and really helpful throughout this pandemic.

SK: I think we could all take on that mantra before bed too!

Here are more books by Black authors you and the Baldonis can add to your kids’ shelves.

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