On caring for her aging mother and reconciling with the past
In other ways, her life has come full circle. Her mother, once the tough negotiator for her daughter, is now 75 and in declining health. During her time off from Lipstick Jungle, Shields has been caring for her—bringing her DVDs and cleaning up her cluttered house. “She’s unable to do it; she’s shifted into a more incompetent place,” Shields says. “I have the energy, I’m the only one that can do it, and it’s my . . . burden? Blessing? I don’t know. Somewhere, karmically, there’s a reason for this.”
And so Shields finds herself part of the so-called sandwich generation, looking after both her daughters and her mother. “I’ve spent a huge portion of my life taking care of my mother anyway,” she says. “As an only child of an alcoholic, you’re the caretaker; it just happens. Then you think you’re done with it, you have your family and priorities, and all of a sudden, I’m doing it a hundred percent all over again.” She shrugs. “There’s no martyrdom—it’s a pain in the ass, but it has to be done. I just think, you’re only given what you supposedly can handle.”
As she has sifted through her mother’s possessions (“She never got rid of anything”), Shields recently discovered old letters that her parents had written to each other long ago, before their split. “I never saw my parents together,” she says, “so to see any correspondence between them is really . . . ” She trails off, then adds that reading their words has been an intensely emotional experience. “My husband says, ‘What are you doing that to yourself for? Throw it away!’ ” she says. “But I can’t throw away me, or what led up to this. I love pieces of a puzzle, and knowledge gives you understanding. I’m trying to have empathy for my mother. Hers was an era without self-analysis, self-affirmation. Our generation doesn’t stand for that.”
Reconciling with her past has given her a clear idea of what she’d like to have in the future. “I wanted a two-parent household and all of that, and I basically got it,” says Shields, who was married to tennis star Andre Agassi for two years before tying the knot with Henchy. “I’m in a healthy relationship; I have two extraordinary kids. I’ve spent a good portion of my life with the goal being ‘husband, family—if I get that, then I’m normal and healthy and I won’t become a Hollywood casualty.’ And now that I can sort of check that off my really big list, I want to keep working and growing.” She’d love, for example, “to do a period movie. I haven’t done one in more than 25 years!” And offscreen, she is the spokesperson for Tupperware’s Chain of Confidence campaign, which celebrates women’s friendships and, through the Boys & Girls Clubs of America’s SMART Girls program, encourages young women to build their self-esteem.
As Shields gathers her things and gets ready to pick up Rowan at school, she winds up our chat with what could well be her life’s philosophy. “I just don’t want to miss out on anything,” she says with a smile and a hug.
Jancee Dunn has interviewed Ellen Barkin and Karen Allen for MORE .
Originally published in MORE magazine, May 2009.