The “Santa Clarita Diet” star has two daughters ― 7-year-old Olive and 6-year-old Frankie ― with her ex-husband, Will Kopelman. When schools shifted to at-home learning, the famous mom found herself navigating some new and surprising challenges.
“That first week, I honestly didn’t think I was gonna make it. Week one was nuts,” she told HuffPost while promoting her work with Baby2Baby and Shutterfly to help deliver emergency bundles with basic essentials to families affected by the global crisis.
“It’s not always easy when your children don’t see you as the teacher and more as the punching bag parent at that moment,” she said. “You’re searching for every piece of leverage to get them to do their schoolwork. That’s not a dynamic I thought I’d be in.”
Like many parents, Barrymore felt pressured by the Pinterest-perfect homeschool schedules and organization charts that felt ubiquitous in the early days of social distancing.
“I already have so many expectations on myself,” she said. “I was like, if I’m not following the hourly chart, why don’t we just pile on the self-deprecation a little more? My biggest challenge was ... what a failure I felt like. I was failing as a parent, a teacher, a mom, a caretaker. I felt like I was failing on every single cylinder, so that first week of school was the hardest week of all of this.”
Still, the Golden Globe winner and her daughters got through that initial transition shock and developed good systems for their family.
“Homeschooling is getting better, much better,” she said. “It’s actually become a pleasure. My kids’ rooms look like classrooms now, and we’re getting into the joy of it. And the rest, I consider myself lucky every single second and I shan’t complain.”
Barrymore was quick to acknowledge her good fortune as a celebrity parent who doesn’t have to worry about finances, resources and job security right now.
“The thing for me that made the situation the most real and devastating was the closing of schools, because I’m someone writing on my blog about how important school is to me after a lifetime of no school and what a traditional parent I am, ironically,” she said. “But if that’s my reality, I’m in a very privileged sector.”
The actor’s candor about her privilege comes after she told the “Today” show earlier this month that she “cried every day” while trying to homeschool her daughters ― and received some backlash from commenters with little sympathy for wealthy celebrities.
Barrymore acknowledged the range of circumstances parents are facing across the country, adding that she believes the best thing to do is find what systems work for you. Expert advice can be helpful, but parents know their families best.
“When things were first starting, it was like, ‘You should do it this way, you should do it that way.’ My advice is just, screw all of that and do it the way that works for you,” she said. “Everybody’s values and economics and traditions and expectations and dynamics and challenges ― they’re all different. So there can’t be this one size fits all.”
As time goes on, the actor said she’s heartened to see how much more accustomed she’s become to the situation and how much less intimidating it feels as her family adapts and thrives.
“But that’s for parents who are able to maintain some level of job,” Barrymore said. “If that’s not the case, then this is totally out of touch. That’s why I’m trying every week to do as much as I can to raise money for families and food banks and contribute what I can.”
“When I compare myself to corporations and billionaires, I feel incredibly ineffective, and I don’t even know if I will make a dent,” she continued. “But it’s better than sitting idle and feeling terrible and helpless. I think the best way to get out of any psychologically, spiritually, emotionally difficult time is to put one foot in front of the other and do little things, to know something seemingly little can still make such a big difference.”
Barrymore is trying to instill this philanthropic spirit in her daughters. The Flower Beauty founder said she makes an effort to include them in the process of giving back and talk about the differences people can make — and the importance of doing it throughout the year, rather than just around holidays. She’s also mindful about seeming self-aggrandizing or framing philanthropy in a condescending “people are needy” way.
“I try to take it as that this is something we should do, and ultimately, I think it’s the only sane thing to do in times like these ― try to reach out and think beyond yourself if you’re in a position to do so,” she said. “I always say to my daughters, ‘The more you have, the more you have to give.’ I’m very bullish with them on the philanthropic mindset and being a giver, not a taker.”
Beyond homeschooling and philanthropic lessons, Barrymore has enjoyed observing Frankie and Olive as they navigate their new normal together.
“This is an extraordinary time for siblings,” she said. “The connection that I see with my daughters right now, it took all these years to build up to it, but I always told them, ’You are what each other has in this world.’ And right now, whether they can articulate it or not, I know they feel it.”
“That is one of my greatest life’s missions accomplished, because that is exactly why I had them ― for each other, not for me,” she continued, adding that she is also a “greedy lucky recipient” of their love and energy as well.
Barrymore said she is in awe of her daughters’ dynamic in part because she felt she never had that close sibling experience in her rocky childhood.
“I didn’t have parents, and it was fine. I didn’t have siblings, and it wasn’t fine,” she said. “I just so idealize that sibling relationship. You’re going to see everything at the same time, and you may not see it the same way whatsoever. But that connection to another person, that type of relationship is just something that, if I was going to be a parent, I was somehow gonna accomplish that for them. Seeing this time with them is just proof that siblings are just so awesome.”