What Surprised Ellen Pompeo Most About Becoming a Mom for the First Time 

It’s virtually impossible to think of badass women in Hollywood without Ellen Pompeo coming to mind. Not only is the Grey’s Anatomy star a master of her craft, but she’s also a big fan of owning your shit and getting what you deserve out of your job. And what’s not to love about that?

InStyle caught up with Pompeo at the launch of the Young Living Essential Oils new Seedlings line of baby care products (her personal favorite is lavender oil, in case you were curious) to dish the dirt.

Read on for her thoughts about what clicked for her when she turned 40, parenting her three kids Stella (8), Sienna (4), and Eli (1), and how to get past self doubt to get what you want in life.

Let’s just say this: It’s an interview you won’t want to skim.

What’s something that your kids have taught you?

That every mistake and every moment is a teaching moment.

I make a lot of mistakes. You just learn. Kids are just so open and honest, and you could get down on yourself a lot as a parent, like ‘Oh I’m not there enough.’ It’s easier to beat yourself up and feel guilty. But you can’t adopt a sort of victim’s attitude, you have to adopt an optimistic, can do, ‘how do I fix it?’ attitude with kids.

You can’t sort of wallow in your own self-pity. ‘I should have done this, I should have done that,’ there’s no time to do that if someone’s life is in your hands. 

How do you find solutions when those moments come?

You just look for them. You don’t worry about the problem; you worry about how to fix it.

What surprised you about becoming a mom for the first time?

Oh my God, how my feelings would get even more intense. I’m already a super emotional person, and life can be quite painful for me sometimes because I feel things so deeply, and I feel things even more deeply now that I’m a parent. And it’s hard. You know you worry so much about them, and it’s really hard. We’re living in a crazy, polluted, violent, angry world. There’s a lot to be fearful of for them.

Michael Loccisano

What do you want your daughters in particular to know about kind of navigating today’s world?

To not be afraid. When something doesn’t feel right or seem right, or you see something that isn’t right, speak up. Whether it’s your own body or your own experience, or you see someone else doing something to someone else, speak up do not be silent. Don’t worry about what people think of you.

I wish someone had told me that when I was young, but you can’t worry about what people think of you, because they are too busy wondering what you’re thinking of them. 

How’d you learn that lesson?

I lived 48 years. You learn some things. I didn’t always know that, by the way, I didn’t really start learning to shit until I was like 40. Stuff clicks and you’re like, ‘Oh! Fuck you.’

What is it about turning 40 that made it click?

Unfortunately, I think when we’re young—I can’t speak for all women obviously, but for myself … I lacked confidence. The older I got, and the more experience I had, the more confident I got, and the more I was able to stick up for myself, the more I was able to speak my mind and was able to stick up for other people.

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How do you kind of help your kids have that confidence?

I try to get them involved in a lot of things because I think if you know how to do a lot of things—dancing, riding horses, whatever—I mean that sounds a little fancy because my kids are fortunate and they’re able to do a lot of things, but even if it’s kicking soccer ball, even if it’s learning how to jump rope, that’s how you get confident.

That’s how you get confidence—when you’re good at things. Whether it’s making pancakes, whether it’s learning double dutch, whether it’s drawing—whatever it is, just try a lot of different things. When you’re good at things, you have confidence. Whether it’s swimming, whatever it is, jungle gym, you know your math problems in school, if you’re good at things you’ll be confident, and the more things you’re good at, the more confidence you’ll have. Because you’ll see, ‘Oh math was hard. But I mastered it.’ Great. ‘Oh, soccer was hard, but now I’m good at it, I’m doing it every day.’ So hard work and get good at stuff.

What advice would you have for someone who wants to be active, but has self-confidence issues?

I would go back to what I tell my kids when they start the first day of school. Like you’re nervous, but remember every little kid in here feels the same exact way you do right now. In Hollywood, it’s like we all go to big awards ceremonies right, and you’re like, ‘Oh my god I’m so nervous, I’m going to have to get up and talk in front of all these people.’ Everybody that gets up is nervous.

Everybody except guys. Most guys don’t really care. I feel like maybe it’s a sexist thing to say, and maybe I’ll get creamed for it tomorrow, but I don’t know. I certainly know this; I know men don’t give a shit about what they look like. Way more than women. I said that in my interview [with InStyle], ‘Look at Bill Cosby and Harvey Weinstein, two disgusting pigs who look like disgusting pigs.’ Hillary Clinton couldn’t get elected president because she was unlikable … if Hillary Clinton looked like Melania, I don’t think we’d be here right now, do you know what I mean.

But I’m getting a little bit away from your question. I think it’s all a matter of self-confidence and I think if you can remember that everybody feels probably the way you do, everybody feels nervous, everybody that’s going to do that cheerleading squad is feeling not confident. They’re so worried about thinking what you think of them. You’re worried about thinking what they think of you, but they’re worried about what you think of them. That girl feels the same way you do, so why not just try to look in another human being’s eyes and just connect and be present in the moment and stop worrying. And also, an attitude of gratitude is always the best, too.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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