Reese Witherspoon opened up about parenting and why she encourages her children to embrace failure.
In case you didn’t know, Reese is a mom of three. She shares a 24-year-old daughter, Ava, and a 19-year-old son, Deacon, with her first husband, Ryan Phillippe.
She is also mom to an 11-year-old named Tennessee, who she shares with her ex, Jim Toth.
While promoting her new children’s book, Busy Betty and the Circus Surprise, Reese made an appearance on the Good Inside With Dr. Becky podcast, where she and the host talked all about the “power of letting kids struggle.”
Reese — who often shares insights into mom life on social media — began the chat by saying that all three of her children have very different personalities.
Without specifying who, the Oscar winner said: “I have one very introverted kid, very quiet. I have a very social kid. And I have a kid who’s very talkative, very inquisitive, and like, almost endlessly curious.”
Though Ava and Deacon are grown up now, Reese reflected on raising her kids over the years and said it’s a parent’s job to “know your players.”
“Each one of your kids is gonna be totally different… As parents, it’s our job not to make them conform to who we want them to be — it’s our jobs to figure out who they are and help them play to their strengths,” she explained.
Talking about the inspiration behind her new book, Reese said she found a lot of joy in combining her kids’ different qualities into the main character, Betty, who is also based on herself.
“Little Busy Betty is who I was as a girl — high-spirited, lots of different ideas, learning from failure, which is a big piece of the book,” she said. “And a lot of it is literally things that have happened to my children or questions they’ve asked me.”
In response to this, Dr. Becky asked Reese to expand on why “learning from failure” is such a huge part of the project, and why it’s “so important” to kids’ development.
“I see this a lot with parents. I don’t know when we stopped letting our kids fail,” the actor began, before reflecting on lessons from her own upbringing.
“I learned so much from the paper I didn’t turn in, or the demerits I got so I got a detention,” she said. “I was suspended from school when I was in fifth grade for talking in class and being disruptive and writing creative notes and passing them to my friends.”
Looking back on her suspension, Reese said her mom and dad didn’t attempt to defend her actions or fight back against the school’s decision, but instead, they forced her to “sit in it and feel uncomfortable.”
Despite being difficult, this experience helped inform how Reese would eventually raise her own children.
“I think learning from failure is actually a valuable tool that you can’t take away from kids,” she said. “You rob them if you don’t let them sit in the discomfort of the experience.”
After this, Reese gave a specific example of how she put this into practice when her daughter, Ava, desperately wanted to be good at basketball.
Despite practicing hard, she recalled that Ava found the sport really difficult. “She couldn’t do the layups, she just couldn’t get the coordination with the dribbling — she just didn’t like it,” she explained.
After her last game of the season, Reese recalled that Ava “went home and laid down on the bed and started to cry” because she was the only person who didn’t score any points.
“‘I didn’t score one goal, and everybody scored goals this entire season and I didn’t score any goals,’” she recalled her saying.
When dealing with this, Reese decided it was best to be honest and show her daughter the importance of accepting failure.
“I said, ‘You know what… maybe you’re not good at basketball.’ She was like, ‘What! How can you tell me I’m not good at something?’” she remembered. “I was like, ‘It’s actually really important to learn what you’re not good at.’”
In case you didn’t know, Reese gave birth to Ava when she was 23 years old, and in the past, she’s talked openly about how scary it was to learn she was pregnant at just 22, before her career had fully taken off.
“I didn't know if I was going to have steady work — I'd made movies, but I hadn't established myself as someone who could demand that it shoots close to my kid's school,” she remembered. “I didn't have any real power or leverage within my industry.”
“I think I was just trying to figure it out like every other mom, dad, partner, or grandparent who's raising a child,” Reese continued, adding that there’s “a lot of compromise…but every bit of that sacrifice is truly worth it.”