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Cass & Ali Bird Get Real about Parenting

If you read one thing on the Internet ahead of Mother’s Day, make it this.

Cass & Ali Bird Get Real about Parenting

If you ever need a serious dose of the warm ’n’ fuzzies, we suggest you promptly set yourself to creeping Cass and Ali Bird’s respective Instagram accounts. The mix of lip-synching videos, family vacations, and glimpses into their everyday lives with their kids will have you swearing up and down that if the perfect family exists, they’re it—which is precisely why their accounts of motherhood feel so refreshing. TBH, our phone conversation felt a little bit like eavesdropping on an incredibly open, honest conversation about what it takes to raise children while working (and, to be precise, killing it) in creative industries—and we loved every second of it.


Where they were at in their careers when they decided to have children:

Cass: “I had none at the time.”

Ali: “That’s not true! I think the honest answer is that I’d been at The Wall Group already for seven years, and Cass had moved to New York probably four years earlier, from L.A., and was trying to establish herself as a photographer. Did you have an agent yet, Cass?”

Cass: “By the time I got pregnant, yes. I didn’t get my first real commercial paying job until I got pregnant. There’s a Jewish saying that babies are born with a loaf of bread under their arms. I was really banking on that one.”


How the reality of being moms went way beyond their expectations:

Cass: “My head is pretty much in the clouds. I probably wanted to distract myself from my career and not having one at that point. I was under a really false impression as to the impact of having a child. I had no concept.”

Ali: “I think you don’t know what you don’t know. That’s the best way to put it. When you don’t have children, you don’t know what to expect. You have nothing to measure it against. There’s no other experience like what having a child does [to you]. I think the difference is Cass does have her head in the clouds a little bit, and I am more of a ‘realist.’ I think we balanced each other well in that beginning stage of not knowing what it was going to be.”

Cass: “I thought a baby would just be a rad human accessory.” [laughs]


The difference between fitting your child into your life versus shaping your life around your child:

Ali: “We thought that we would be able to bring our son to events, and he was just going to fit into our lives. We didn’t realize that we were going to have to fold our lives around him.”

Cass: “Or work around their needs. I thought I was going to have a Baby Bjorn attached to me and show up to set. That was really not how it went down in any way.”


How having children actually made them better at their jobs:

Ali: “I think the interesting thing to note is, for me, professionally, I got really clear and focused. I have never been able to get more done in a day. Your motivation, it changes, and it really focuses you. And I think the same for Cass. Her career instantly took off, and that’s because you’re partially living and creating stability for another life.”


On the maternity leave question:

Cass: “I never expected to take time off work. I was in a fantasy that this person could just be integrated into whatever professional demands would come up. I had three weeks postpartum with Leo, and I was taking jobs. It was the first time that these opportunities were presenting themselves for me. I had wanted for decades to have options coming my way, so when they finally came, I had the fear that if I passed on anything, I would lose the opportunity, period, to grow professionally. As a result I had a really, really challenging time emotionally.”

Ali: “It felt really hard for me, being the director of the agency. I wanted to take more time than I actually took. Because I felt the demand to come back to the office, I ended up being out for eight weeks. But I think that I worked every day from home.”

Cass: “You only took a couple weeks off.”

Ali: “Yeah, with Leo, I only took two weeks off. I really don’t like our system around leave of absence and maternity leave. I could have done it differently, I’m not saying that I had to by any stretch, but from the perspective of what is required at a certain level professionally here in the United States versus countries where you can take a year leave. We’re also two moms, so no one thought that I would also want to take as much time off as when Cass had a baby. It was her maternity leave when she delivered the child versus when I did. I wasn’t getting paternity leave.”


How it really does take a village:

Cass: “I think Ali and I have had this incredible perspective when these children come into the world. We had this concept that we were going to allow our children to manifest and attract a support system for them. By luck and grace, at that moment in our lives, we attracted a support that is still, eight years later, the same support. You hear about people that cycle through nannies or cycle through caregivers, and we regard ours, Stacy, as a third mom. And she’s been such an incredible...

Ali: “...force in our children’s life. She is such a part of our family to the extent that she had her wedding in Cass’s sister’s backyard.”

Cass: “We lucked out. And Stacy at the time had a four-year-old who is now a teenager.”

Ali: “And has been in our children’s life every single day. I think that for us…”

Cass: “ made it bearable for us to go back to work and pursue the ambitions that we had professionally. In the earlier years, when the kids were babies, my office was in our house, so we had our studio managers and interns who were staples every day and that are still around.”

Ali: “I went into labor at our house, and we had a full house of friends and coworkers while I was in labor.

“It’s the same people. It’s not an open revolving door; we have people that we’re very close to, that are extended family to us. It’s the friend-family that we know we can count on, and yes, sometimes when one of them is sick, one of those people can pick up Leo from school because we’re at home with Mae. And those are the people that are our friends, but the kids think that they’re their friends, too. They’re role models. They’re at their birthday parties; they’re a part of our lives like family. You have to build a family if you don’t have it in your same city. You need that support.”


How they give their kids a sense of stability with their insane work schedules:

Cass: “We also have to believe that the universe was supporting that decision for us, because it did. It came into place, and our children luckily have had so much consistency. Even in the face of my crazy, unpredictable traveling calendar, and Ali’s intense demands at work, our kids have always existed in a schedule that doesn’t seem too strict.”

Ali: “It has stability. And I also think it’s that you are freelance, Cass. So there are plenty of times when Cass is not working and can go on a field trip or can pick them up from school.”

Cass: “Take them to Disney World!”

Ali: “Yeah, take them to Disney World when I have to be working and don’t have some of the flexibility. She does have the flexibility, even though she is away sometimes for stretches of a time.”

Cass: “My agency now is really supportive of me taking time off. I think I’m in a better position now than I’ve ever been to take care of my own needs, and my family’s needs, with the support of my agent. My agency is really protective and caring for other demands I have in my life. Whereas in the beginning, I had an agent who was like, ‘Don’t tell people you’re pregnant.’”


The reality of the hard, less-glamorous times:

Ali: “I think that’s the hardest for any working parent. I think you feel a constant sense of guilt. I think we rely on the supportive people around us that are in our children's lives, and then you make the difficult decisions. Is this something that you absolutely can’t get out of and you can’t stay home with your sick child? Our daughter is so extremely physical, and she’s had stitches five times in her life. I’ve been there for all except for one. When the phone call comes, you drop what you’re doing, it doesn’t matter where you are, in what business meeting—it doesn’t matter. You go to the emergency room. But when you wake up and your kid has a stomachache and a little fever, you might decide you can’t stay home that day with them. But you’ll feel racked with guilt that you should be there making them chicken soup.”

Cass: “When my kids are sick when I’m out of town, it’s really…”

Ali: “That’s when it’s the hardest obviously, when Cass is out of town, because she feels upset, and then it’s harder for me because there isn’t another parent there to balance it out.”


On whether the guilt ever gets easier:

Cass: “It’s gotten easier for me, because I feel a lot more in control of my life. I don’t have to take jobs out of fear at this point. I did when I was starting. I can place demands, like I will take the job if it stays local. My experience has gotten a hell of a lot better.”

Ali: “I think that a mother’s guilt is just part and parcel of being a mother. It’s relentless, and it’s never-ceasing. I really believe this; it doesn’t matter if you’re a stay-at-home mom or if you’re a professional, I think you have it to a degree all the time because you can never do enough, be enough. You want to usher your children through this life. You want to teach them all the lessons, you want to give them all of the attention. You want to help them, you want to protect them, you want to set them free into the world.”


Why five is the magic number:

Cass: “People tell us they have children under five, and I’m like, ‘I’m so sorry, it’s so hard!’”

Ali: “You might want to get a divorce, but don’t right now. It will get better once your kid turns five.”

Cass: “Someone once told us that. Five is the magic number.”


Why that elusive work-life balance doesn’t really exist:

Cass: “I hear moms who are like, ‘As soon as I walk in the door, my phone is turned off,’ and I’m like, wow. That’s not my experience, but I do strive for it.”

Ali: “With work-life balance, I think there needs to be a third. Like, work, your personal life, and then your family life. You can’t work, rush home, take care of your kids every single day, and leave zero for yourself in that, for your relationship, or for your own needs outside of your relationship. If you don’t attend to that, then you don’t have the balance.”

Cass: “Then it’s a whole system failed.”

Ali: “And it’s whatever that means to you! If it means waking up early to meditate or leaving work early to go to the gym before you go home. For me, it’s going to dance class. What am I going to do that is just for me in that day or in that week?”


What makes it all worth it:

Ali: “It makes it so much better to know that this is hard. This is going to be the hardest job you’ll ever have. It doesn’t mean it’s not fun and the most amazing. I say that the second I had a child, I had another heart in my body. I exist now, I have three hearts.”

Cass: “What about me?”

Ali: “Four, I’ll say four. The love that you feel is of a magnitude that you can’t describe.”


Their advice for new moms:

Cass: “Get a really amazing therapist, and don’t strive to be anything above being an average parent. That is good advice that I got once from someone. Anything beyond an average parent is just neurotic and narcissistic. Create a support system, and invite a community in so that your children feel a part of the world and it’s not just shouldered by you as a parental unit.”

Ali: “In my experience, having a child makes you more productive and more focused at work. Don’t be afraid that you’re going to be half-assing it at work and half-assing it at home. What I find is you come in and you have the energy and drive and desire there to really make something. This is for myself, but also for every other woman who works with us who has had a baby, it’s the same thing. Everyone’s productivity increases, and that means you want to get out the door at 5:30 and leave early and go. Run home and be with your kids. That’s what makes it feel doable.”

Cass: “Ali is Superwoman.”

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