By Mia Weber
It’s fair to say that, in pop culture, nostalgia is a big mood (as the kids are saying) right now. This means 90’s fashion trends are back, your old favorite movies and TV shows are experiencing a major renaissance, and the Backstreet Boys are back on tour.
And it means that it was the perfect cultural moment to catch up with early-aughts Disney Channel darling Christy Carlson Romano. Of course, you know and love her for “Even Stevens” (where she played the high-achieving big sister Ren Stevens) and “Kim Possible” (where she gave voice to the title character), but, with a new YouTube cooking show, a newborn baby at home, and a new and authentic sense of control over the self-esteem and mental health challenges that once daunted her as a young actress, Carlson Romano is having a moment right now that is much bigger than a nostalgic flash in the pan.
“I’m just living my best life now,” she says enthusiastically during our interview, before giving me the scoop on where she was in the process of sleep-training her youngest daughter Sophia, who was born in February.
“[My daughters] are 26 months apart, and last night I sleep-trained Sophia with the RN who I’d had with [my older daughter] Isabella—and she did a fantastic job, and Izzy is a fantastic sleeper—but also, the experience wasn’t as traumatizing as I thought it would be,” she says. “I’m really excited about having a really great night last night with sleep training because what it will allow me to do is kind of feel as though I can have hope to have more of a balance.”
The balance she mentions striving for is one that every parent knows the push and pull from. It’s the balance of pursing passions and career goals as well as prioritizing family time. Right now, for the 35-year-old Carlson Romano, the balance equation consists of caring for her newborn, her 2.5-year-old, and a new YouTube cooking show called “Christy’s Kitchen Throwback” (savvy veteran of the entertainment industry that she is, Carlson Romano is keenly aware that nostalgia is a vibe right now), which she’s producing with her husband, Brendan Rooney, through their production company Thinking Cap.
“I was raised in a second-generation Italian-American home and a lot of things were done by eyeball and a lot of recipes were handed down and altered but they always tasted great,” Carlson Romano says of her lifelong passion for cooking. “I have a lot of family recipes, and I’ve done some of those on Hallmark Home & Family…and when I started doing that I was like: ‘We really need to lean into my love of cooking and my love of the home and décor and also bridge the gap between my fans engaging with me online.’ It’s about that intersection.”
During a free moment between filming her show, caring for her kiddos, and thinking forward to future projects she might want to pursue (we can only hope for an “Even Stevens” reboot on Disney+), we caught up with the thriving actress about, work, life, motherhood, and how she really, truly is living her best life right now.
Congrats on the arrival of your second daughter, Sophia, earlier this year! How has it been adjusting to life with two kids?
It’s not something anyone can give you advice for. People give you advice when you have your first child, and some of the time it works—though, sometimes you don’t want to take that advice because you want to do it your way—but, I think, with the second kid, there are a lot more factors. Different kids have different personalities.
How is your 2.5-year-old, Isabella, adjusting to being a big sister?
It’s interesting, I read when I was prepping for bringing the new baby home, and trying to make sure Isabella wasn’t upset, I read an analogy…[that said, for the first child] it’s as if your spouse was bringing home another person, and is now married to them. A second partner, if you will. So, they come home with that new spouse and everyone is giving that person gifts and saying how wonderful they are and you’re sitting there thinking: “I want to injure this person!” The point was, this is what my daughter Isabella could be feeling, but that being said, she has been making the adjustment fantastically. She is giving, she is just thriving with development, and she is dealing with her emotions really well. She calls [the new baby] Baby Sister—I think she knows her name but she prefers to call her Baby Sister. It’s super cute and beautiful.
What have some of the biggest joys and challenges of motherhood been for you so far?
I think wanting the best for your child is dual parts of joy and of the harder parts, because you’re running up again your inner critic and you’re also probably acknowledging that you don’t want to allow your inner critic to dictate how you’re experiencing parenthood. I know myself, and I know that, as of right now, I’m looking for preschools for my daughter, and there are a lot of people who are even more type-A than myself who have their kids on waitlists and all that stuff, especially in LA. It can be competitive, but, it’s preschool! [But]…I’m not going to rush her into preschool, I’m going to make sure that she is emotionally ready to go someplace without us and be able to not rush her potty training and not rush anything, and just take it a day at a time… Rushing through [the process] for the sake of competitiveness is something that parents should definitely shy away from.
In a very moving Teen Vogue essay this past spring entitled “My Private Breakdown,” you opened up about your journey with mental health and finding your way in Hollywood. Was motherhood a part of what made you want to live as authentically and openly as possible?
That’s a beautiful question. And yes, 100 percent. I think we take a long look in the mirror at ourselves when we become parents. Being a mother, being responsible for someone else’s life, and birthing a child—you’re stripped away from any pretenses or notions that you think you have—you are just raw. I think that article, for me, was a long time coming. I stopped drinking alcohol when I got pregnant and my life has never been better, not only because of the pregnancy, but because of the decisions I’ve been able to make about my life. I’ve had a clear head… There’s a fine line and a gray area with having [a relationship with alcohol] in your life and having a relationship with it that’s toxic. For me, over the years, I got tired of making bad decisions…it’s just given me the perspective I needed to live an authentic life. But also, I don’t have the time or the energy—let’s be real—who has the time or the energy to be hungover as a parent? No one! I know a lot of moms like to talk about “wine o’clock” and I’m not judging them in any way, shape, or form…but I don’t have it in me and I will never have it in me.
How would you describe your parenting style?
I just read something about Dolphin Parents: “Dolphin Parenting is a balance…parents are firm but flexible, they have rules and expectations but also value creativity and independence; they are collaborative and also use guiding and role-modeling to raise their kids.” So, that’s where I’m at. It’s so funny that you asked that question because I just read that, and I’m at that stage where I’m becoming a lot more conscious about my parenting style.
How do you make the parenthood balancing act—with work and family—work for you and your parenting style?
I think, with motherhood, we’re in a constant state of balance. And as women we’re able to multi-task and that balance is found every minute of every day between life and work, but if we lose the balance within ourselves, we’re sacrificing our mental health or our ability to eat a proper meal.
It seems like you have a great partnership with your husband, who you also work with. How do you approach the parenting equation, as well as being producing partners?
My husband, Brendan [Rooney], deserves a lot of praise for his attitude towards co-parenting. And also, he’s my co-producer and my producing partner. We created a production company [Thinking Cap] about three years ago. We started working together and producing content together and it felt really good to have someone in my work who knew me intimately. We’re obviously mutually benefitting by working together, but it a way that is really healthy because he’s the one who knows how to pick up the slack for me if I’m tired from a night with the babies. He knows me better as a co-worker than anyone else possibly could. Our wins are together. That’s what makes it that much more exciting when something happens, like our YouTube show approaching hitting 100,000 subscribers. When we hit that mark, we will be just so excited that we achieved something outside of Hollywood and on our own. It’s something we built from the ground up—very mom and pop, literally, mom and pop!
Tell me more about “Christy’s Kitchen Throwback”!
“Christy’s Kitchen Throwback” comes out every Thursday—#ThrowbackThursday—on my YouTube channel and it’s where nostalgia meets food, and we bring on celebrity guests to make a dish in their honor. I can’t tell you too much about our future guests because it’s always a fun surprise for people watching, but we recently had Mara Wilson from “Matilda” come on and bake a tart based on her character, and we had Will Friedle who plays Ron Stoppable [on “Kim Possible”] and we made a Naco which is a nacho-taco from “Kim Possible” and a lot of people have enjoyed making it. What I love about the show is that it’s not just a cooking show, it’s got a lot of variety to it. A lot of times my guests are so talented so we’ll improvise together and we’ll sing songs and we’ll recreate scenes and we’ll just have a great time. I have a great time filming it and we get to film it in my kitchen, so I get to decorate and we have a lot of laughs and, on top of that, I get to have an adult conversation!
Are there any other projects on the horizon for you? You spoke on a panel this year at Disney’s D23 Expo—can we expect to potentially see you on Disney+?
Disney+ is the wild west right now. I would hope that my fans would love to see one of my shows come back in some way or another, or just for me to work with Disney again. I’d be totally open to that. I’ve been busy with my newborn, but I’m looking forward to working with Disney in some way in the future… For now, until that happens, I am pitching them. That’s all I can say… In the meantime, I’m not going to wait to keep working. I’m going to do my own projects with my production company and hopefully start directing again once I get my daughters on a schedule.
There’s a lot to admire about your classic Disney Channel characters—Ren from “Even Stevens” and Kim from “Kim Possible”—and they have really stood the test of time. What do you hope your daughters see in those characters if they ever come across reruns on TV?
I am super-grateful to have played strong female characters because I have a legacy at Disney and I built something up, even at a young age, and I worked very hard for that. The fact that it still exists in some way is a big point of pride for me. I take it very seriously. Even at the time I thought that being a role model was important. There were a lot of girls out there who wanted to completely isolate themselves from their brands, and from Disney, and I kind of always leaned into the fact that my characters had nothing wrong with them, so why would I want to [distance myself]? I did feel a lot of pressure from Hollywood to be a sex symbol. I feel like it took me for a ride for a long time, but now, being a mother, I have come full circle with the brand that I had and have always had. It’s part of who I am. I feel like my daughters will see a lot of me in those characters, so those characters will be even more influential to them.
To learn more about Christy, visit christycarlsonromano.com!