Katherine Heigl: Motherhood Brings Out My Emotional, Protective Side

04/16/2010 at 11:00 AM ET
Cheyenne Ellis/AP

As her daughter Naleigh takes her first steps and begins talking, Katherine Heigl is learning a lot too – about herself and motherhood.

“I’m a lot more strict than I thought I would be,” Heigl says, laughing, at the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals ball in New York.

“I really feel like discipline and manners, a good schedule, a good night sleep and a good nap are really important. I didn’t think I would be quite so like that.”

Heigl, 31, who was being honored at the event for her service to animal rescue, is also surprised to find herself getting emotional while watching a movie or TV show involving a mother-daughter relationship.

“It is so gut wrenching in a way that I could have never predicted,” she says. “You have this empathy suddenly -– this compassion for a mother going through anything complicated or difficult with a child. It’s something that I understand now –- that unbelievable drive and instinct to protect.”

Not that she’s doing it alone.

“I really could not have imagined a better father for [Naleigh]”, she says of her musician hubby Josh Kelley.

“She’s the luckiest little kid. We call him “Disneyland Dad” because as soon as he comes in it’s just fun and happiness — and she rides around the room on his shoulders.”

Adds Heigl: “He’s [also] fantastic with diapers, food, naptime, playtime – he’s got it all.”

Heigl’s mom, Nancy, concurs: “Both her and Josh are wonderful, wonderful parents,” she tells PEOPLE. “They just adore her.”

As for her granddaughter, “Naleigh has a real strong personality,” she says. “She’s really a wonderful little girl. We all squeeze her and kiss her on the cheek. She’s very round and very adorable. She’s almost edible!”

Sixteen-month-old Naleigh, meanwhile, has started to walk and talk on her own. Her first word? “It was ‘hi,'” Heigl says. “And then she would go, ‘Oh yeah!’ all the time. She would be playing with her toys and go, ‘Oh yeah!’ in that inflection. It’s genius!”

— Paul Chi

FILED UNDER: News , Parenting

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Showing 29 comments

nettrice on

I like Katherine Heigl and I never watched her former show!

Lorraine on

Sweet. Just like my experience with motherhood for the first time. Unbelievable feeling. Like nothing you ever imagined.

And sooooo satisfying to be able to meet every need and witness every precious moment. Good for you, Katherine Heigl for prioritizing motherhood. And sharing it all with us.

ecl on

I find the exact same thing. I have a baby boy and I have trouble watching anything where a little boy or his mother gets hurt. I always had trouble watching stuff like that, but now it’s worse and much more boy-specific.

hayley on

awwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww sooooo cute xxxxxx and may i add me too lol lol , any timei read or hear about another mother and their child goinh thrugh something tough i feel such compassion and it like you alomost go through it too xxxxxxxx

such a lovely bit about her daughter xxxxxxxx

Heather on

It has been stated in the media on several occasions that Naleigh is a special needs child…I’m curious as to what her disability is given that so much was made of it, yet she is walking and talking. Just curious.

Val on

I miss having a baby in the house. My boys are in their late teens and the only cuddles I get are from my pugs. Little Naleigh and her parents are all very lucky.

Asia on

@ Heather

It was reported earlier that Naleigh was born with a heart problem. Naleigh was born with a hole in her heart and had to have an operation as soon as she came into the world to fix her heart. IIRC she had two operations.

Naleigh is an adorable baby. And I think Katie Heigl is a loving mom. I wish this family the best.

harriet on

it’s true the only other feeling that wonderful is becoming a grandmother for the first time,all the love to you all

kimberly on

Heather to answer your question you only need to read that the child is 16 months old and has JUST learned to walk and to say her first word, when most children are leaps and bounds past that at 16 months old. Im guessing its a develomental delay of some sort, both in Speech and Motor Control. I am a therapist but it is just a guess. 🙂

Jess on

I love seeing picture of this family they all look so in love with each other. We recently adopted a little and it shocked me the incredable instant love and protectivness I felt was just overwelming in the best way. Congrats to Katheryn, Josh and Naleigh. I hope your happiness continues for years to come.

Traci on

I loved Katherine Heigl in Love Come Softly.

Allison on

Adorable little girl.

Heather: this shows what the special needs are. Not the kind of special needs I was thinking of when she first said it.


08girl on

They’re all so cute! I’m glad all Kat’s haters seem to have found something better to do than rip her to shreds over “assumptions” they have on her personality. She’s seems like a great mom to me, and her and her family seem so happy. Good for her.

noam on

the special needs are heart related.
as for her just learning to walk and talk-in many cases, children who spend their early years in orphanage settings are somewhat delayed developmentally, simply because they did not recieve as much interaction and freedom as they would have in a home. when my nephew came home from his orphanage in russia, he was 18 months and was struggling to crawl. my brother explained that high staff-to-child ration meant the kids spent most of their time in cribs. however, after about six months and a bit of therapy, he became right on target with walking and talking and now, at age eight, you would never know.

Michelle on

Most single parents call father’s Disney World Dads because they only come around once in awhile and when they do it to bring gifts and vacations!!!! Not to take them to the doctors or dental visits! You might want to change that!

Sarah K. on

Heather, not all special needs permanently delay a child’s development. Naleigh was born with a heart condition, so it probably didn’t really effect her mental development. It seems like it has taken her a little longer to start speaking, but that might be because she hasn’t been hearing English since birth.

stacey on

She’s 16 months old…how many of your children were speaking aptly at 16 months? She’s beautiful and it appears her parents are doing a wonderful job loving and taking care of her! God bless them!

Phoebe on


YOU need to learn to read; it doesn’t say Naleigh JUST learned to walk and say her first word. Furthermore, Asia already answered why Naleigh was labeled as a “special needs” baby. Also, my brother didn’t start walking until he was 15 months old and there is/was nothing wrong with him. I certainly wouldn’t want you as a therapist.

H on


Melisa on

Uhhhh Kimberly, lots and lots of kids aren’t walking until they are 16 months old or past. My sons were 16 and 18 months respectively. Every child is different….by no means special needs because they don’t hit a milestone at what age society deems fit.

Jenn on

I love the fact that Heigl has chosen to be a hands-on mother as opposed to having nannies raise their daughter. I like that she talks about her daughter in positive ways but doesn’t parade her out in front of the cameras and paparazzi for all the world to see and market. She doesn’t seem to market her daughter or her marriage and that’s incredibly rare and important nowadays. I might not always agree with her comments as they appear in regards to her career choices or decisions, but I will continue to support and respect her as a mother and a wife in this bizarre Hollywood world. It’s nice to see some “normalcy” and return to proper parenting. Good for them all and I hope they continue to grow as a family!

Good for Katherine on

Yeah! Finally a parent in the news who understands that loving your child also means rasing them to be loving people – good manners and discipline does matter and is just as important as unconditional love for future success in society, relationships and personal happiness. I too do not agree w/ some of her indescreet comments about her work life, but at least you have to give it to her that in the world of fake Hollywood, she’s brave enough to be willing to be original and authentic.

Lee on

@ Jenn, why bring up nannies? Not every parents wants to stay home with their kids 24/7. It’s silly that some women have nothing better to do than bash working mothers and fathers.

Sarah on

Jenn, Katherine Heigl does have a nanny for her daughter. While she’s working on a movie (like she did a few weeks ago) or in New York like at this event, who do you think is taking care of Naleigh back in LA?

Jenny on

My daughter was 16 months old when she started to walk and she is NOT special needs. She is a normal, healthy 6 year old. All kids progress at different rates and what someone said about orphanages is true as well. Great family! Wish them all the best.

Sara on

Sarah- Actually her father or grandmother could be watching her. I have never seen a nanny hanging around with them. There is a big difference having a nanny who stays with you and watches your kids constantly then having someone watching your kid while you’re working.

That being said my healthy, normal brother didn’t start walking till he was eighteen months old. He has no disability.

CelebBabyLover on

Sarah- Relax! Often times the other parent or family members will watch the child when one parent has to work or go somewhere. 🙂

marina on


Chill out! Kimberly said it was JUST A GUEST! Nothing more. Anyway cute baby!

helena on

my little brother didn’t start talking proparly until he was almost in pre-school. We took him to speech therapy and he is know fine. He used to stand at the kitchen bench for hours waiting for someone to pour him a drink. But me and my older brother used to talk for him as well so that could of delayed his speech.
Naleigh is such a cute kid and she has the best parents