Sullivan Photo Courtesy of Skip Bolen/Bravo Media
Curious about what happens when East Coast edge meets Southern charm? Viewers can find out by watching Jersey girl, Jaime Primak Sullivan negotiate an Alabama suburb in the new unscripted comedy, Jersey Belle, which premieres Monday, August 4th at 10 PM ET on Bravo (Click here for a sneak peek courtesy of Bravo).
Sullivan, a high-powered entertainment publicist, made the move to Alabama because of her now husband of 7 years, lobbyist, Michael Sullivan. After her first date with Michael she told her mother: "I have good news and bad news. The good news is I just had dinner with a man I'm pretty sure I'm going to marry. The bad news is he lives in Birmingham, Alabama."
The couple now has three children: A 6-year-old girl, Olivia; a 5-year-old boy, Max; and a 3-year-old girl, Charlie. In a straightforward Q&A with Sullivan, I had the opportunity to get her incisively funny take on parenting and motherhood and all that it entails when Jersey meets the upscale burbs of Birmingham.
How do you think raising your kids in Alabama is different than it would be in places like LA or the East Coast?
Children in the South are groomed for appropriateness and etiquette from the time they are able to talk. That's not to say people in New Jersey don't teach manners, because they do, but I never knew one person growing up who went to an etiquette class or knew what a cotillion was. By the way, I thought a cotillion was a troop in the army. Everything from saying 'yes ma'am' and 'no sir' to smocked dresses and john-johns -- I mean, we just don't have those things in New Jersey.
What is your parenting style? Does it match your husband's style?
If I was a parenting superhero, my name would be The Hoverer. I am a type A control freak in every aspect of my life, parenting included. I like to micromanage because it makes me feel safe. My husband's parenting style is fun first, safety last, and it gives me agita -- that's an Italian word that means aggravation.
What is your daily schedule like with kids and career?
I work until 3:00 p.m., when I leave to pick up my kids. Then the real craziness begins because I am emptying backpacks, changing kids out of uniforms, signing teacher forms, making snacks, all while taking conference calls, editing press releases and answering emails. Then it's dinner, baths for the kids, prayers (very important), bed, and then if I'm really lucky, I have sex.
What are the worries that keep you up at night as a parent?
Bullying, how they will grow up, are they eating a balanced diet -- I worry that I work more than I should. I worry that they'll never know the loud, vibrant, lively childhood that I had. I worry that somehow the insecurities I have will be passed on to my kids -- I wonder if all parents worry about that. I worry about acceptance in general, for who it is they are meant to be.
The only thing that I do not worry about is if my children know how much I love them. Part of being that hovering parent is also being a smothering parent, and I kiss my children probably more than I should -- and tell them I love them in four different languages every single day.
Have your girls encountered "mean girls" yet? What do you tell them? How do you deal with "mean girls" in your life?
As a former mean girl myself, I am able to spot that behavior and immediately understand where it's coming from. So while my daughters, at 6 and 3, have not had very many experiences with mean girls, any time we have seen children being mean to other children, I try to teach my children two things: 1) that behavior says more about that person than it does about you, and 2) if you witness it... intervene.
Cast of "Jersey Belle" Photo Courtesy of Skip Bolen/Bravo Media
Is there something as a mom that you're doing that you don't see other moms doing--something that's unique to you?
Teaching my children the words to every single Bon Jovi song on Slippery When Wet (the album). I know it seems silly, but it's a little piece of home that I feel like I can share with my children, and they love it.
The other thing I do that no other mothers in my social circles do is role-play with my kids all the time. I call it charades, but it's really role-playing. Like I'll say, "Okay, let's play charades. Let's pretend you're outside in the front yard playing and a neighbor comes and asks you to come help find his dog. What would you do?" I give them space to answer without interjecting, and sometimes the answers terrify me, but it allows me to educate them without scaring them.
What is the best advice about parenting you have received?
The first one is, no matter how hard it is, be the parent first, not the friend. The second one is to be consistent. My mother told me that if you set expectations for your children's behavior and clearly identify the consequence but don't follow through, essentially what you are telling your kids is, everything your mother tells you is bullshit.
What are the values you most want to pass on to your kids?
My mother was Italian-Catholic and my father was Jewish, and from both sides, I got the same message. Family is everything. Blood is thicker than water. You protect your own -- I know that sounds very Jersey.
The other one that I found more on my own journey is acceptance. It is imperative to me that my children see everyone they meet with eyes of acceptance because life is hard enough without constant judgment from other people.