Mary Connelly, executive producer on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, and her wife, Julie Silver, a beloved singer-songwriter of contemporary Jewish music, are raising two down-to-earth daughters amid all the glam and glitz of LA. We spoke with the duo to learn about the challenges they encounter as a same-sex couple raising children and how their lives are changing as their eldest approaches her teenage years.
Do the two of you ever disagree about parenting tactics?
Julie Silver: One of the things about my marriage that I love the most is that we really reel each other in and let each other go. When Mary makes a decision that goes against what I would choose at the time, I will trust that she has a reason, and I’m open to her opinion. I would say that’s a strength of my marriage that when I disagree with Mary, I trust her.
Do you tend to take on different roles in terms of being the disciplinarian versus the fun parent?
Mary Connelly: We both try to approach discipline as learning situations. Our kids are both really funny so we try to use humor to steer them in the right direction.
Julie Silver: Mary is a producer and I’m a performer, so she’s behind the camera and I’m always in front of it. The skills I’m not as strong at, where she picks up, are organizational, big picture, alternatives, possibilities. She’s just really, really organized, and it’s not that I’m more fun than she is because I think Mary sets it up so we have this incredible runway to take off from. She really does do a lot of the disciplining, reeling our kids in a little, shortening the leash when it’s necessary.
You both travel a lot for work. How do you balance your family and your careers?
Julie Silver: We have help. We have two wonderful people who work for us; they have been with us for years, and they are just amazing people, and we are really lucky and grateful. I work Friday-Monday, and Mary works Monday-Friday. The great thing about my schedule is that Monday-Thursday I’m around; I have a studio that I go to in Venice, but I’m around and on call, and I pick the kids up from school.
Now that your oldest daughter, Sarah, is nearing her teenage years, are you at all worried?
Mary Connelly: Well, I’m always worried about the eye-rolling. At this age, what I want to lay the groundwork for is that my kid can tell me anything. I beg them not to lie to me. I work really hard to try to teach them that we are going to be their biggest advocates and their biggest protectors, even if that means a little punishment along the way for some bad behavior.
Do you consider yourselves strict parents?
Mary Connelly: I wouldn’t consider us terribly strict parents, but we feel like we have certain structures that we try to have in place for certain things to happen regularly to keep the order of the day. Sometimes our children feel like we are the meanest people in the world, but we just try to keep that order. For instance, Sarah does not have a cell phone, much to her dismay and chagrin. She finds it an abomination that she doesn’t have a cell phone. Everyone who has come before us says stay off it as long as you can. And Julie and I have very differing opinions on this. We have talked about getting her one just before the start of middle school.
Julie Silver: I think it’s a good thing for her to have one. The ship has sailed in terms of the Internet and phones, and that’s just reality. I want her to know how to use devices responsibly.
Do you worry about raising kids around all the wealth and fame in LA?
Mary Connelly: I grew up in New York City going to private school in the NYC version of wealth and fame, and I think that it’s the parent’s responsibility to parent your family through that. When I was a kid, we didn’t have these extravagant things that people that I was going to school with had, and in many ways we maybe had different value systems. I think the same holds true in LA; you just have to parent to it. Every house my kids go into is bigger and fancier than the house they live in. Sarah will say, “I have the smallest room out of any of the kids I know.” And we have a house that we are very comfortable in; it’s not huge, and it’s not too small, and we can find everybody in it. We think that’s important, to be able to know where everybody is in the house so you get a sense of what they are doing.
Have you faced any challenges as a same-sex couple raising children?
Julie Silver: I’m standing in line with either daughter at the grocery store, and the checkout person says—and this happens all the time— “Oh my gosh your daughter looks just like you; does her father have big blue eyes?” Or “Oh, you two look just alike.” These two children are not biologically related to me; Mary carried our first one, and our second one we had via surrogate. So when people make comments, I have an obligation to say, “Sarah has two moms” to gently steer the conversation. Both of our girls can describe our family to strangers in less than two sentences with a whole lot of confidence! So if people are going to be making assumptions, then it’s our job to politely reverse the assumptions.
How does Sarah feel about having two moms?
Julie Silver: She’s never uncomfortable. She is an advocate for her moms. We are just incidentally lesbian for our kids. Sarah has gained a real perspective from watching us both work in our respective fields and seeing how we maneuver through life how we are. She’s never rebelled against it; she’s never said to us, “How is it possible?” Well, last year she asked where she came from, but it was such an easy conversation to have with her because you talk to your kid about how desperately wanted she was. And she knows it.
Do you think children of same-sex couples tend to be more grounded?
Julie Silver: We can’t speak for all of them, but we are surrounded by all kinds of families all the time–every shape and size under the sun. We believe it’s that exposure and those personal connections that strengthen our daughters and ultimately, all our families. We want our girls to be confident, honest, creative problem solvers. We can’t wait to see what the future brings.
Interview by Susan Borison, editor of Your Teen.