She shot to international fame as Elle Woods in the movie Legally Blonde and went on to win a Best Actress Oscar for her role in the Johnny Cash biopic, Walk the Line. She’s now also a renowned producer and founder of several businesses including the clothing company, Draper James. She has two children with her former husband, actor Ryan Phillipe, and a son with her current husband, Jim Toth.
1There’s nothing wrong with being brutally honest
In an interview last year, Witherspoon said she felt many parents tried to make their kids’ lives ‘golden and magical at all moments’ and this was unrealistic. There was bound to be disappointment sometimes, and children should be prepared for it. She recalls a time when her daughter, Ava, was eight or nine years old and crying in bed after a basketball game.
“She was the only kid on the team who didn’t score. I said, ‘Aves, maybe you’re bad at basketball.’ She thought was mean. I said, ‘Mean or true? ‘Cause guess what? Your mom’s bad at basketball, too,’” she says.
2It’s ok to yell sometimes
There are rules in the Witherspoon-Toth house that the kids have to live by. There are times when the actress feels she spends her life telling her family to clean up after themselves – to put dishes in the dishwasher, clothes in the laundry. It can get a little fraught at times.
But she feels that’s ok: “I always say if you aren’t yelling at your kids, you’re not spending enough time with them!”
3Your roots affect your parenting style
Born in New Orleans and raised in Tennessee, Witherspoon sometimes ‘gets southern’ when it comes to parenting her kids. When she’s really mad, she gives them a ‘sit-to’ – which means they have to sit down and listen to what she has to say, no matter what. If she’s exceptionally mad, that evolves into a ‘what-for’ – which, according to Witherspoon, “is a whole other thing you don’t want to get involved in”.
And it seems Ava, her eldest, is picking up on her mother’s ways – even though she was born in California. Witherspoon says: “She said, ‘And I gave that person a sit-to, and I told them what-for.’ It’s seeping in. I’m so excited!”
4Weird is good
Witherspoon communicates with her kids in funny ways. She’ll send them Snapchats of her doing funny voices or trawl the web for odd pictures to send Ava, now 19, and eldest son Deacon, 15, during the day.
“Once you start to have teenagers and they became more adult, you have these relationships that emerge with them,” she explains. “My daughter said the other day, ‘It’s like we look like Dad, but we got our weirdness from you.’”
5Remember nobody is perfect
As well as the stress of actually parenting our kids, we put extra pressure on ourselves worrying that we’re not doing it ‘properly’. Everyone else seems so much better at it, don’t they? The truth is, they’re finding their own way just as much as you are.
Witherspoon believes it’s important to remember that all any parent can do is their best: “No-one’s really doing it perfectly. I think you love your kids with your whole heart, and you do the best you possibly can.”
6Kids listen more than you think
We might feel we repeat ourselves. That we tell our children something and it goes in one ear and out of the other. So we tell them again, and again. But actually, says Witherspoon, the chances are they’re absorbing what we say – even if we don’t think so.
The actress was amazed when, one day, daughter Ava threw a bit of health advice back at her mother. “Ava said, ‘Well, Mom, you said that drinking water with lemon is good for my body.’ I burst into tears, going ‘Oh my God, you listen to me!’”