For most parents in 2020, Kristen Bell‘s voice is familiar. If you’ve sat through Frozen or Frozen 2, you know her as the voice of Anna. Which, on some level, makes her the coolest mom in America. But Kristen Bell wants you to know, she is not aspiring to be a cool mom. She is just a mom.
Nowadays, Bell happily posts sweaty, grinning photos of her quarantine pod on a recent trip to Sedona. There’s one caveat: Her kids’ faces are blocked out. Always. Period. You can spot her girls splashing around in the water. Or celebrating their dad’s racing-themed birthday party, held outdoors. But you have no idea what they look like. And that’s entirely by design.
Bell’s daughters, Lincoln, 7, and Delta, 5, with fellow actor and podcaster Dax Shepard, have never been the subject of press scrutiny of any kind because Bell and Shepard offer no access. Will they talk about teaching their kids about conflict resolution? Absolutely. Will they discuss their different approaches to discipline? For sure. But share cutesy photos of their kids in some misguided effort at building their brand? Don’t bother asking. Won’t happen. Bell is private in public, but this is not some coy actorly bit. It’s a commitment she made to herself —something she takes extremely seriously. And we’re not talking about someone who takes everything super seriously. Bell is effortlessly funny, but, when it comes to her family, she is also not messing around.
This comes through clearly when she talks about co-parenting, a big subject with her. She and her husband give each other what directors call “notes” on their interactions with their kids. The help each other improve while holding each other to a standard. Does that put a strain on the relationship? At times, but that’s okay when the priority isn’t mom or dad.
“We don’t always agree at all,” says Bell. “But the number one rule we hand-shaked on is that we would never defy each other and never go against each other.”
Well before the world went into COVID-19 lockdown, Fatherly spoke to Bell about teaching her kids resilience, building self-esteem, and how she and Shepard make sure they have each others’ backs (even when it’s hard).
You’ve taken on a sort of public role as America’s Cool Mom. You’re outspoken, you’re funny, you’re real. That’s nice. But is there a downside to taking that on?
Hell no! If any mom aspires to me like me, my self-esteem goes through the roof. It’s been two days since I showed. I’m wearing two different socks. I’m a mess. I’m a wreck. The only things I post on social media are things that actually happen to me. To me, life is not really worth it unless you’re looking at it through the lens of being able to laugh at yourself. I try to laugh at myself and maybe that’s why I appear cooler than I am. My kids do not think I’m cool at all.
Alright, so let’s get you to answer the big question: How do you raise good people, kids who aren’t jerks?
We go to the store and we tell them we don’t have money to spend on that. We don’t tell them we don’t have money. We specifically tell them we don’t have money to spend on that piece of junk from the drugstore.
We have a three-bedroom house. I keep the front bedroom for when grandmas come to stay. They share a room, my girls. I heard from someone once that you should always have your kids going through something or overcoming something. Their lives are going to be so easy. They’ll be able to go to what college they want to. So they’re going to share a room. They will have to learn to share space. When they are 16, we can talk about privacy. But, right now, that’s their cross to bear. The front bedroom is not theirs.
Do you explain to them how their own lifestyle is different? How they’re more fortunate?
We’re very candid with them about the state of the Los Angeles homeless crisis because we live in an area where you can drive under a lot of viaducts and see tents. We talk to them very candidly when they ask about why those people live on the streets. We tell them those people have a lack of opportunity. The reason mommy and daddy go to work every day and work so hard and spend hours away from you — we are lucky enough to have opportunities.
How do you and Dax support each other as parents?
It’s constant communication and giving each other the benefit of the doubt that we’re on the same page. Even if he sets a boundary that I think is too strict and the girls come to me, I ask, what did daddy say about it? I never trump him. I’m usually in charge of food. He’s much better with boundaries than I am. He’s also very good at staying out of it but not in an absentee way. I’ve said to him, ‘I’m really overwhelmed and I’m not nailing bedtime.’ I tell him that I want him to butt in more. He’ll come in and say, ‘Did everyone hear what mommy said? I did and I think we’re going to stick to it.’
Late at night in bed, when we’re doing the gross thing that parents do — which is showing each other the pictures we took of them — we maintain a very open and coachable attitude should the other parent need to say something critiquing. I’m open if my husband says, ‘Can I give you a note? When you give them so much sympathy for injuries, I’m worried that they will start to want attention for injuries. Which is a very victim way to live.’ I hear that from someone who cares about me and that our children grow up with good character. I’m able to hear it with loving ears. It’s reminding yourself every day that you’re on the same team.
That’s admirable. Parenting can definitely become a battle of wills.
He said it very early on: ‘I think kids see tension and they don’t ever see resolution.’ Let’s say we snap at each other in the kitchen. The kids can sense that. They go to bed. We go to bed. In our bedroom, we say, ‘I’m really sorry. I had a long day.’ But the kids don’t witness that so how are we supposed to equip them with problem-solving skills? So he said, let’s role-play the next day. So at breakfast, I would say, ‘Hey daddy, I’m really sorry I was so crabby with you yesterday. It wasn’t about you, it was about me.’ He says, ‘I agree mommy. I was pretty tired and I’m sorry I snapped back.’
You’ve kept your kids entirely off social media, and in fact, out of the spotlight. So I commend you for that. Do you have any thoughts on how you might introduce it into their lives as they get older?
My daughters know social media exists. I always talk about it as a helpful tool. Social media can be what you make of it. It’s a little like LA. You can live in a nightclub or you can live in suburbia. You can craft an existence on social media that is positive and helpful. I don’t want to make it seem like the devil.
At this age, at five and six, they’re not allowed to use our phones. We just taught them how to call 911 and then press send and call our phone numbers. Other than that, they’re not allowed to touch our phones and they know it.
So no screen time at all?
Just the TV and only on weekends.
You have a new book out called The World Needs More Purple People. What got you into kid lit?
I’m sure you can deduce what the purple metaphor is. What could it possibly be? It’s about hard work. Laughing. Listening. Being able to talk and use your voice. It’s about a girl named Penny Purple who desires to make the world more purple and more peaceful.
And you’ve also got Hello Bello which, I have to tell you, I use myself. That’s big business, not so much a side hustle.
It’s a company that my husband and I, with two other partners, began. It came out of the idea that — when we had kids, we were going to fancy LA boutiques and not looking at price tags of baby products. We grew up in Michigan with very strict budgets. The luck of our situation is not lost on us. We focused on accessibility and price points. There are a lot of parents who have to wring out diapers at night to put food on the table. To me that is unacceptable. It’s something that’s important to us because of how frugal we had to be growing up.
I assume your girls know you’re Elsa and treat you with the utmost respect and adulation.
They know I’m Elsa and they do not give a rip. They literally will not let me sing in the house.