Brooke Burke: The 'Naked Mom' On Challenges Of Balancing Career, Blended Family
Just listing Brooke Burke's many accomplishments is a little exhausting: she's the co-CEO of ModernMom.com, the President of maternity outfitter BabooshBaby.com, and of course, the co-host (and past winner) of Dancing With The Stars. Now, she's also an author: her new memoir, The Naked Mom, hit bookstores last month.
In the book, Burke unpacks the joys and challenges of balancing career with blended family (she has two girls from her 5-year marriage to Beverly Hills plastic surgeon Garth Fisher, with whom she shares custody, plus a 2-year-old son and 3-year-old-daughter with her fiancée, actor David Charvet). But unlike many mommy memoirs, this one is blazingly honest ("Repeat after me," she writes in the first chapter. "There is No. Such. Thing. As. Balance"). What's more, Burke isn't afraid to puncture some widespread myths ("I'm convinced that every Brady in the Bunch had to have been smoking crack," she says in a hilariously candid moment that will ring true to any member of a step-family). Below, Burke shared more thoughts on the subject on the phone from her home in L.A.:
You write that the idea of balance is kind of a myth. How so?
I think it's a really high expectation that most mothers put on themselves. For me, raising a blended family is an everyday challenge. It has its ups and downs. It's difficult. I realize that the image that I had of how my family was going to be was only an illusion in my own head, and if I strove for balance every day, I would just be disappointed. I've learned to just listen, to accept what everybody's going through. I've learned to sort of manage the chaos.
After you got divorced, what were the biggest challenges for you?
Learning how to communicate and finding those right words, especially when you're dealing with children. My daughters Sierra and Neriah were 3 and 5 and I actually went to go see a child psychologist which was invaluable. She really helped me find the right words to answer some of the really important questions that the children had, and to help them sort of deal with it. I think what happens with parents when they go through a divorce is they get so focused on their emotional state that it's difficult to really take care of the emotional needs of children. I don't think that I really neglected that but I think that was probably one of the most difficult times.
Do you remember when you told the kids that you were getting a divorce?
They were too young to really know what divorce meant. In general, though, I think the older the children are when they go through divorce, the more difficult it is. I think under 3 is a much easier psychological process.
So it was more the questions after the fact?
Yeah it was a slow transition. But truthfully, divorce is forever for children, and so even to this day there continue to be question marks and painful moments. There are good days and bad days.
Can you tell me about some of those bad days?
There are so many! There were days when my kids thought they were they only children in the school whose mommy and daddy were divorced, which is actually not true, but it's when they start realizing that their home looks different than other homes. There are also moments when my children realize, "wow, we have two homes and two bedrooms and two families, and I get a step-dad and a step-mom and I get new brothers and new sisters," which is a very positive thing. They process things differently at different stages and different ages.
You've said blending families is "really hard." How so?
Well, you see a show like The Brady Bunch that and it's, like, picture perfect and everybody's happy and getting along, with the exception of the obvious sibling rivalries. Something I wrote about in the book--and this was a very truthful revelation for me--was that everybody in my family had a certain dream, or a certain image of what their family and life would look like, and the only common denominator in the whole picture is me. Which puts a lot of pressure on me. And I've learned that what really defines our family is love. And it isn't about step-parents or step-brothers or half-brothers or sisters or where mom and dad lives. It's just that we are a family. I try to define our household along those guidelines.
So is the idea of a happy blended family a total myth?
I think it's possible. I think it takes a lot of compassion and a lot of love. And a lot of patience.
Is there a specific couple of things that have really helped you have a successful blended family?
I think learning how to listen and speak different languages. And by that I mean really learning how to communicate with my kids on a level they each can comprehend. For example, finding the right words to explain to my 2-year-old Shaya and my 3-year-old, Rain to tell them why their older sisters leave half the week. There are so many questions and challenges.
When my children come back from their father's house every Wednesday, I call it "hurricane Wednesday," because there's this new energy that rolls in. And what I've really learned to do is really embrace those difficult days and to understand what everyone is going through. As a younger mom, on those Wednesdays I was always disappointed--I felt, "why can't we have this beautiful, harmonious family dinner where everybody is happy?" Well, everybody is not happy every day. I think for any parents that are going through a divorce, they have to understand that their children are going through their own divorce as well.
What's been the hardest thing to deal with as a divorced parent? As a blended family?
Realizing that my older children that share custody with their father never get enough "mommy time." So when they do come home, there's that very needy energy. My biggest challenge going through the divorce was learning how to share my children, because my kids were never without me for the first five years of their life. Ever. Not one night. That's not for everyone, it's just how I raised my family. So I was giving them up just as much as they were giving me up for part of the week, and that was really hard. So I was always trying to make up for that time when we were together. And now I have a greater acceptance. I've had to learn to simplify things and communicate in a very matter-of-fact way when it comes to things that can't change.
You mention one of your biggest "smack-downs" as a divorced mom was when your two eldest girls rejoiced about spending Christmas "at home" with your ex Garth Fisher. Why was that so hard?
This was an important life lesson for me. Rather than being hurt by the reality of what they were expressing, I had to really take it in and understand where they were coming from, and actually it was a bit comforting that the home I created for them and that we once shared still had that wonderful energy for them, which I'm very happy about. And I also had to understand that they interpret things differently, and that my idea of home maybe wasn't their idea. They hold onto that home we once shared together. I had to take my emotional reaction out of it and understand where they were coming from.
You must have had to develop Herculean levels of patience.
I didn't always have it, but I try!
You write about friction between David and your oldest daughter, Neriah. Can you tell me about that?
In her tender, ten-year-old mind, the best-case-scenario in her mind would be for her mom and dad to always be together in the same house so that she doesn't have to miss one parent all the time. So there's resentment attached to that, which I think is natural and fair and justifiable in a child's mind.
You're a fan of Kate Gosselin. Why are you a fan of hers, and why do you think she gets such a bad rap?
The press is brutal. I think she's lovely, and I felt that she was very warm and I had a lot of respect for her for being able to [raise] 8 children. And I just felt that I was compassionate about the fear she felt on the show. And having danced on Dancing With The Stars, I know how scary an experience that can be. I could really relate to that--I've been there.
Does the fact that you've been divorced have anything to do with your decision not to remarry right away?
No, not at all. I didn't lose faith in love. I still believe in it.