Mindy Kaling is familiar with the radical changes that come with parenthood. Since giving birth to her daughter, Katherine, in December 2017, Kaling has been learning the ropes of parenting.
The actress, writer and producer spoke to HuffPost about her adventures in motherhood while promoting her new partnership with Protein One. One lesson she has learned over the past 13 months is that annoying baby toys are an unavoidable beast when you’ve got a little one in the house.
“I tried to do that thing at the beginning where I only got her these, like, hipster wooden toys that are beautiful to the eye and don’t make your house look like it’s been overrun by children,” the “Mindy Project” creator said. “And she hates them, so I’ve had to give them all away. She only likes primary color, loud, beeping toys that are impossible to turn off.”
But beyond the loud, beeping objects, Kaling said, she’s proud that many of her daughter’s favorite playthings are books.
“She loves reading them — or pretending to read them. She loves eating them. She just finds so much pleasure in turning the pages of board books, so that’s what she does 70 percent of the day,” Kaling noted.
“The books I love for her lately have been the Sandra Boynton books,” she added, referring to the author of popular reads like Moo, Baa, La La La! and The Going-to-Bed Book. “I think there’s something really comforting about her illustration style, and she’s just really good at rhyming. And they’re really fun for a parent to read their kids.”
Kaling also shared what she wishes she had done to help prepare for the challenges of parenthood.
“Simply logistically, I would’ve strengthened my core muscles and my back and arms more, because the amount of leaning over ― my daughter is at that stage right now where she can’t walk but she really wants to, so I’m constantly just hunched over trying to help her walk around the house,” she explained. “And I have never worked on my back strength or core strength in my life, so I’m in a world of pain. So I would’ve strengthened those muscles a lot more before.”
“I’m constantly just hunched over trying to help her walk around the house. And I have never worked on my back strength or core strength in my life, so I’m in a world of pain.”
At the end of a long, exhausting day, Kaling chooses to unwind with something that feels very elusive to new parents: sleep.
“I used to have a lot of other hobbies or even wanted to watch new TV shows and things like that, but now, it’s just sleep,” she said. “And I’m really good at it too, so I can just close my eyes and, like, within eight seconds be asleep. So that’s my hobby now to unwind.”
Another hobby Kaling has leaned into since becoming a mom is making baby food for her daughter. The comedian has posted many DIY videos on Instagram Stories to show off her newest recipes.
“The reason why it’s a unique pleasure to cook for my daughter is that, as anyone with a baby under the age of 3 years old will know, they basically just eat heated-up ingredients, so you can’t really mess it up,” she said.
Still, making baby food comes with its own set of challenges ― like fickle baby tastebuds.
“Before Christmas, she was really into avocado. Then we tried to give it to her two days ago, and it was as though we were giving her like, dead spiders.”
“Before Christmas, she was really into avocado. Then we tried to give it to her two days ago, and it was as though we were giving her like, dead spiders. She looked at it like it was the most disgusting thing in the world,” she recalled. “So having to kind of ride the wave of capriciousness of how a child eats has been very funny and really tested my patience.”
Kaling offered some advice for parents who are interested in making their own baby food: “Don’t feel discouraged if you end up eating a huge amount of what you make.”
“I have made pureed butternut squash for her or bought eight sweet potatoes and roasted them, and she’s like, ‘I don’t like sweet potatoes right now.’ Well, she doesn’t say it, so I have to intuit it from the fact that she’s throwing it on the floor,” Kaling joked. “So you’re like, ‘OK, I guess the adult is going to eat sweet potatoes for the next two weeks.’ That’s my biggest tip ― that you will constantly have to improvise and come up with new things.”
Now that she’s teething, Katherine is apparently a big fan of frozen mango. Kaling said her daughter can “eat/play with” a piece of organic frozen mango for 10 minutes in bliss.
“It makes me want to have a healthier idea about food and not say things like, ‘Oh, I’m being bad, we’re having ice cream’ that instill too much of a fixation on food.”
Becoming a mother has inspired the “Office” alum to develop a healthier attitude around food. Because her parents didn’t keep junk food in their house, Kaling said she was drawn to it as a child and went to friends’ houses to eat unhealthy things.
“It’s a really tricky thing. I felt that keeping only healthy things in the house didn’t work for me because it’s not like I was drawn more to healthy eating,” she explained. “So for me, I think it’ll be about having a little more balance in the house. Food is not a reward for good behavior, because I often felt that that was the case growing up. It makes me want to have a healthier idea about food and not say things like, ‘Oh, I’m being bad, we’re having ice cream’ that instill too much of a fixation on food. I think that is something I’m trying to learn in front of my child, so it’s been kind of maturing for me as well.”
As a single mother, Kaling is working to build her “village.” She even started hosting a “mommy and me” music group at her house on weekends after realizing that, as a working parent, she was rarely able to make the Monday at 11 a.m. group she initially joined.
“I think having those relationships with other moms is really valuable, so I just kind of thirstily am going to force these friendships.”
“I just invited like 12 moms ― some of whom I knew, some of whom I didn’t really know,” she said. “I think having those relationships with other moms is really valuable, so I just kind of thirstily am going to force these friendships. Particularly because I’m a single mom, I think it can be really useful to have people to bounce things off of and also getting socialization for my daughter.”
She added that she wishes there were less of a stigma around having help as a parent, especially for working moms.
“I think that particularly women who are lucky enough to have disposable income are shy to show nannies or babysitters or people who care for their children, particularly on Instagram. You’ll notice almost no celebrity shows their nannies,” she noted. “I don’t show my child’s face on Instagram, so I won’t show the help that I have. But I do think that is something that I wish would go away as a stigma ― the fact that women feel embarrassed admitting A) that they have the means and B) that they have the need for hiring help to take care of their kids.”
“You’ll notice almost no celebrity shows their nannies.”
She continued, “I don’t know a single mom, no matter what their circumstances are, that would ever think that was shameful and think, ‘Yeah you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.’ But for whatever reason, it still exists, at least through the lens of social media.”
In other ways, however, Kaling said, she has been pleased to see the strides women are making toward empowerment and equality. As the mother of a girl, she’s especially heartened by the progress of the Me Too movement.
“It’s really exciting. I think we always are accustomed to change happening linearly and slowly, and it felt like in the first year of my daughter’s life, there’s been a huge amount of awareness for women’s rights in the workplace, as far as feeling safe in the workplace and then also equal pay,” she said. “So I feel really optimistic about it and excited that my daughter is growing up at such an exciting time.”