Becoming a mom has definitely been the biggest defining factor of my entire life. Elizabeth Stone said becoming a parent is "to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body." It's true. There are so many wonderful, intense, scary and beautiful emotions that go along with parenthood. Every decision I make now is colored by how it will affect my children. For me, one of the hardest things about parenting is making sure that in the middle of my hectic working-mom schedule, that I find a way to do what's best for Ben, who is six, and Megan, who is two. Part of parenting, I think, is showing them how important it is to give something back to the world.
As Ben is getting a bit older, he is noticing more and more. It's one thing to explain to a three-year old that firemen "help people." But now Ben has started asking about kids getting sick and homeless people wandering the parks. He is realizing that people need help. Working with the charities that are important to me is a good way to educate my children about philanthropy. The "do as I say, not as I do" just doesn't cut it in most areas of motherhood. If, for example, I have fries on my plate, my kid is going to want some. So I need to choose healthier entrees—with vegetables, no fries. That's a big part of my message in my new book, The Mommy Diet. And it applies to community involvement, too.
I know that getting started in philanthropy can feel overwhelming. There are so many people who need help, so many issues out there that need to be addressed. How do you even begin? When we rescued our two dogs, Winky (a Boston terrier) and Jorge (a Chihuahua mix), we were so tempted to take home every dog at the shelter. But you can't do it all! One thing that's worked for me is picking a few charities—causes that are important to me and that inspire me—and really committing to them. I am an Ambassador to Stand Up To Cancer, I'm on the Entertainment Council at Feeding America, I also help with the MDA and donate to several animal charities. Focusing on a few organizations that really matter to me helps me feel like I am really making an impact, even though I'm not tackling every problem in the world.
My husband and I talk to Ben about what we can do to help those we know—and don't know. Ben was involved with our decision to rescue dogs from a shelter, and he helped us pick them out. I have also begun to include Ben in my experiences with Feeding America. He accompanies Dave and me when we go to shelters to serve meals, and he helps fill the backpacks for the Feeding American program for kids. (Megan is still too young, but when she reaches six years old, she'll help, too.) I was introduced to Feeding America through The Biggest Loser. General Mills has partnered with Biggest Loser in a nationwide challenge, encouraging those in America who are struggling with weight loss to pledge each pound they shed to the Pound-For-Pound Challenge: General Mills will donate a pound of groceries to Feeding America for every pound Americans pledge to lose. I leaped on board with this program for so many reasons. Meeting the people who run Feeding America made me confident about lending my name to the cause and encouraging others to donate. Meeting the hard-working parents and their children who are at risk of hunger compelled me to do something about it.
Now that I have my own kids, I can really imagine what it must feel like to struggle to support children, and to worry about how you will provide for them. Organizations like Feeding America, that make sure that kids are getting the basics they need, are a crucial part of my community service.
My dad always taught me to be part of the solution, and I think we can all do that. And if our kids see us doing it and we include them, they'll learn to do it, too.