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Julie Bowen: Parenting Isn’t About Keeping Kids Happy

08/07/2013 at 11:00 AM ET

Julie Bowen Working Mother Scott Kirkland/PictureGroup

As a mom-of-three, Julie Bowen‘s got a good grip on motherhood, but that hasn’t stopped her from picking up a few parenting pointers from her Modern Family character, Claire.

“[I've learned] that being your kids’ best friend is not always the best parenting choice. It’s not about everybody being happy all the time,” the two-time Emmy winning actress tells Working Mother of raising her sons, Oliver, 6, and fraternal twins John and Gus, 4.

“It’s about setting limits. In my house that makes my kids very unhappy, like tantrums-on-the-ground-twice-a-day unhappy. But the limits are set.”

But while juggling three boys isn’t always easy — she likens the task to “running a small army” — Bowen, 43, admits one of her greatest challenges came after welcoming her first son.

“I think going from zero to one was hardest because of the mental difference between all of your time being your own to there being a living being you now have to consider first,” she explains.

As her kids continue to grow, Bowen has been spending less time away from home, concentrating on mandatory commitments while opting out of extra activities. “I’m discovering that my kids now notice more when I’m gone, that they want more time and attention,” she says. “So I shorten trips to a bare minimum or just don’t go at all.”

Fortunately for the family of five, when Mom is away, Dad is always up to play! “He writes software so he has an office in our house,” Bowen says of her husband Scott Phillips.

“Essentially he’s always there for the kids, even when he’s off duty and the door is closed and he’s working. He’s definitely the element of consistency our children need.”

– Anya Leon

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Showing 19 comments

Katie on

Limits are so important to give children because even as adults, we are given limits and it is vital we learn how to accept them. It’s fun to give children a little more than they need once in a while (extra cupcake, later bedtime, one more toy, etc.), BUT it is also vital that they hear the word no and learn to accept it so they don’t flip out when they get a traffic ticket or lose out on a promotion or raise in the future.

mobile20 on

Sounds ideal! Go, Julie. Great job.

KEB on

Cue the sanctimommies.

debbie on

Finally a mother who admits to being a childs best friend is NEVER going to turn out well. Kids need structure and a balance in their lives. I’ve had a daycare in my home for 18 years and i have encountered far too many parents who want their kids to experience DisneyLand daily and it is ALL about their precious wonders having fun 17hours a day and they are quite delusional to say the least. Way to go Julie and enjoy your family.

Callie on

Love her!!! What a concept, not being friends with your kids and being a parent. I wish more parents were like her these days

Megan on

FINALLY a celebrity says it!!

Sarah on

The only things kids want is structure and love, and with both comes boundaries. Kids like to express free will, but they also like to know there are consequences and limits to their actions, because that means order and stability and those are the things that make their world functional.

There’s always a fine line, and balance, and you want your kids to enjoy spending time with you, but you also want the to feel safe.

As a teacher, my classroom always functioned best when there were clear expectations and consequences for students. It’s not so different at home.

mama3 on

I love her honesty! Being a parent is extremely difficult….It is refreshing to hear other parents admit to this and state that its not all ice cream and roses.

Tux13s on

Congratulations, she seems to be such a down to earth mom. If only “some other” celebrity parents would follow her exemple, hello Jada, celebrity kids wouldn’t be as crazy as they are when grown up.

Jill on

One of our limits… my daughter use her words not tantrums-on-the-ground daily. She knows that that kind of behavior won’t be met with anything but a negative outcome. Other than that I agree with this post.

C-Bear on

Way to go, Julie!! You’re children will certainly thank you for it in the long run! I’m not a mom but have many many nieces and nephews and they all know that Auntie’s love is without limit and boundaries but their behaviour is certainly limited to what is acceptable and what is not. They can do as they wish for the most part, provided they remember rules and boundaries. I’m proud to say we can take these young ones almost anywhere and they will behave. If they don’t, they know I’m just going to load everyone back into the car and we head home. No one has fun then. I’ve only ever had to threaten with this once and thankfully, never again.

Nannyto1 on

Limits are definitely important, but I believe that you can be a friend too. My daughter was definitely my best buddy when she was growing up… she’s 26 now and still one of my best friends. She knew her limits and I knew when I needed to kick in and be Mom and not a friend. A huge benefit of the friendship was that as a teenager, she shared things with me that she would never have shared if I was being a parent 24/7.

Anon on

Her kids throw tantrums. She didn’t say she gives in to them. Her children’s tantrums don’t make her a bad parent. They come with the territory.

Gigi on

I am so happy to read this!!! Finally a celebrity that takes being a parent seriously! You shouldn’t be your child’s best friend you should be their parent and setting limits and goals is the best things a parent can do for their children.

Anonymous on

You are a parent not their friend. They will have plenty of friends.

Bonnie on

I’ve always been my children’s friends. This is simply nonsense that keeps getting passed on that parents don’t even think about. I’ve never had a problem with any of my children and I’ve received many compliments on how nice they are. Believe what you want parents. Working with your children instead of being adversarial because you think that is the way to parent will get you nowhere. I work with my children to get what they want because life is full of choices. Mine are way past the temper tantrum stage but I rarely experienced that when they were little and when I did I knew it was a small person’s way of expressing frustration. It would be so nice if some of you would quit buying into every little parenting myth that you hear.

guest on

From what is written, this mother seems to have a good understanding of parenting. Good for her and her family. I’m a mother of 4 kids. The oldest is 20 and the youngest is 11. These past 20 years have been the greatest and hardest of my life. My husband’s and my parenting skills started out naive but evolved into one basic mindset… “I love you too much to care what you think about me”. There were times of lieniency and times of being strict but most times set rules were followed. We have never been “friends” with our children. They’re too important for that. We respect them and they in turn respect us.

Loralee on

I believe that being the parent is not adversarial. It is my role to guide them toward the right choices. Doesn’t mean they don’t make mistakes. They will have many friends in their lives, best and otherwise, but they will only have one mother. Likewise as I get older – my mother is still my mother, even though she is no longer mothering me.

Anonymous on

I agree with her she is so right about this

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