Cover Story: Holly Robinson Peete
Every hour of every day, working moms everywhere engage in the never-ending odyssey of balancing their demanding lives on the job, with their even more demanding lives at home. In a world full of pressures, deadlines and obligations, how do they manage to keep it all together?
In Hollywood, there are few, if any, working moms who do it better than actress/author/philanthropist Holly Robinson Peete. The gorgeous wife of sixteen years and mother of four first burst onto the scene in 1986 when she landed a starring role on the FOX television drama “21 Jump Street” opposite a then-unknown Johnny Depp.
Since then, she has gone on to star in many other successful television series, and she is one of only a handful of actresses to star in four shows in syndication.
Recent stints on CBS’ The Talk and NBC’s Celebrity Apprentice gave audiences fresh insight into her effervescent personality. And when we caught up with her, she shared some of her secrets for holding down the toughest job on the planet and made us reevaluate the popular notion of “having it all.”
“First of all, ‘having it all’ is subjective. It’s a myth,” she said. “Something always suffers. What it means to me is the ability to exist freely and happily with your health intact. Defining happiness in simple terms is where I encourage my four kids to start. Did you wake up healthy? Shoot, did you wake up at all? [If so,] then today is already a good day! It’s when we start factoring in the material stuff that the goal of ‘having it all’ becomes unattainable and complicated.”
Speaking of kids, Holly confided that, much like Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy – the mother of another famously busy brood – she relies on a bevy of strategically placed notes and reminders to help her keep the family organized and on-schedule.
“I use Post-its and they are EVERYWHERE- in the kitchen, in the bathroom, in the car, on book bags – everywhere! The Post-its are color-coded for each specific child. It’s pretty effective.”
And while she’s quick to point out the many joys of motherhood, the shoot-from-the-hip Holly is not one to sugarcoat the sacrifices that also come with the job.
“[Being a mother] is a sacrifice, but so is anything worth doing,” she told us. “The rewards are so infinitely greater than any sacrifice. But it’s a daunting task, and I admire women who give it careful thought ahead of time.”
So, with a busy career and an equally hectic home life, how does she manage to maintain her own sense of self?
“NOT easily,” she shared. “I am blessed to have a family who knows that I function better as a mom when I get an infusion of ME time. They see that I am more clearly focused and connected after I have taken a moment for just Mommy, and THEY encourage that.”
Encouraging one another, it seems, is a core value in the Peete family. In 1996 – inspired by her father’s courageous battle with Parkinson’s disease – Robinson Peete and her husband, former NFL quarterback Rodney Peete, formed the HollyRod Foundation, with the mission to help improve the quality of life of people with Parkinson’s.
After their oldest son was diagnosed with autism in 2005, the HollyRod Foundation’s mission was expanded to provide access to treatment, support and other resources to disenfranchised families affected by autism.
“Initially [the autism diagnosis] was devastating. I could not see past it,” she shared. “Hubby and I were on different pages. Men process autism diagnoses differently than moms. I used to say he was stuck on ‘Denial Street’ and I was speeding down ‘Kick some Ass Avenue.’”
As she candidly shared the emotions that any parent must cope with in a similar circumstance, she also stressed the need for parents to move past their emotions, as quickly as possible, for the sake of their children.
“The reason parents must move swiftly through that phase is simple: time. You need your time and energy to be proactive in order to get your child the services they need.”
To say that the Peete family became proactive is an understatement. The first step on their path to taking autism head-on was, despite the stigma, shining the spotlight on their son’s condition.
“It was a difficult family decision, but we didn’t see many folks with the platform that we had sharing their autism journey,” she said. “Had we seen more stories like [ours] in the media, it would have given us hope that we did not have in those dark early days. Hope is powerful. We must provide hope to others since we have the opportunity.”
One might think that navigating life in the limelight has given Holly the indomitable spirit she’s needed to overcome major obstacles; but, as she told us, that fortitude is absolutely in her genes.
“[Growing up], my mother stressed values like independence and perseverance. Knocked down? Get back up! I have witnessed people trying to crush her soul and dash her dreams so many times and yet, she never wavered. [Those were] powerful lessons I am passing down [to my children] as we speak.”
The legacy that began in 1996 now continues with the Peete children, as they have taken up the mantle of autism advocacy in their own unique way. In 2010, Robinson Peete released her second book, an Image award-winning children’s picture book about autism from the sibling’s perspective entitled My Brother Charlie (Scholastic) which was co-authored by her 12 year-old daughter Ryan Elizabeth Peete.
Like any proud parent, Holly beams about her daughter Ryan’s incredible accomplishment and, even more, her loving and generous nature.
“My daughter has been such an amazing advocate for her twin brother. I am so proud of her – especially since she got short-changed because so much of our attention was focused on Rodney,” she said. “She missed out on ballet classes, and had shortened vacations. She had to make so many sacrifices because her brother’s needs trumped hers. Yet, without bitterness, all she wants is his happiness. Writing My Brother Charlie with her was a revelation.”
Holly Robinson Peete’s philanthropic efforts have earned her numerous awards and honors, including: Ford’s Freedom Sisters, Gerald R. Ford People Helping People Award, The March of Dimes Healthy Babies, and the Anheuser Busch John E. Jacob Community Service Award – to name only a few. Yet, despite the tremendous recognition she’s received, she’s quick to emphasize just how much more work must still be done.
“I just returned from a trip to Israel where they seem to be light years ahead of the United States in terms of treatment, facilities, awareness, care, inclusion and employment of people with autism. They actually have a program that allows for adults with autism to work in the government,” she shared. “In this country, we are still chipping away at insurance reform for just the basic services. With the prevalence of autism rising to 1 in 88 people, we have much, much more work to do.”
Like any non-profit organization, HollyRod Foundation relies on the public’s support to achieve its mission. In addition to monetary donations, the organization accepts used iPads for its “Gift of Voice” program which works to help non-verbal kids with autism communicate.
And for those who have neither the money nor the technology to donate, Holly assured us that we can each join in the fight against autism – with kindness and compassion.
“When you see an autism family in public – smile, make a connection, and help stomp out the stigma. Remember: a child with autism doesn’t know how to be anything else but sincere.”
For more information about how you can support HollyRod Foundation, please visit:www.hollyrod.org.