Gabrielle Union Brings It

The actor and entrepreneur opens up about mommying now, date nights with Dwyane Wade, and her new baby skincare line, Proudly.

Photographs by Gizelle Hernandez
Styled by Thomas Christos Kikis

You can trust Gabrielle Union to be real with you. In her candid memoirs and must-follow Instagram account, the 49-year-old has never shied away from the tough stuff: divorce, therapy, her surrogacy journey, parenting in a blended family that includes a shady baby and an activist teenager. So it’s no surprise that when we got Union going on the topic of pandemic parenting burnout, she went there. After all, she’s acting and producing (the Cheaper by the Dozen reboot is streaming now on Disney +) while juggling a curl care line, a children’s snack company, and a baby care line — built from the ground up by Union and her husband, retired NBA star Dwyane Wade, with Black and brown children in mind. (She’s supporting four households, people!) For Scary Mommy, Union found time for one more Zoom, this one with Jessica Curry Morton, New York Times bestselling author of the NAACP Image Award-nominated children’s book Parker Looks Up: An Extraordinary Moment.”

Valentino clothing, Oma the Label necklace, Talent’s own rings

Jessica Curry Morton: You have a lot of stuff going on; how are you mommying in a pandemic and managing all these projects?

Gabrielle Union: I’m working from home, but I’m on Zooms, starting at 9 a.m. and they can go all the way to 6 or 7. By the time I’m done with work, I am exhausted. But now we’re at bath and book time, and I’ve missed everything else. So I drag my tired self and go be present for [a] bath and book and song.

But it’s guilt -ridden and it feels weird. I assumed that, working from home, I would see them more, and I physically see them, but they’re like ghosts, you know what I mean?

JCM: How do you do it all?

GU: I support three households outside of my own household, so I just don’t have the luxury of not working and just being as present as I would like to be. So I have to go to therapy in whatever other little extra time I have to deal with my guilt and my anxiety. And I depend heavy, heavy, heavy on our village: my sisters, my niece, my mom, my husband’s mom. My mom at 60 adopted three children. They’re other family members, but they’re now my siblings/cousins, we call them the Unions 2.0.

It’s all hands on deck. I moved my little sister in to help with us. We have nannies, of course, but it’s a lot. All these kids need to go to cheer, to all the activities, dance and karate, and all of the things. And we still have to go to work, be present, tend to our health, our mental health. I drop balls all day every day, and I just have to hope people give me grace in the same way I give them grace.

“I depend heavy, heavy, heavy on our village: my sisters, my niece, my mom, my husband’s mom... It’s all hands on deck.”

JCM: We have a nanny, too, and I get a lot of flack for it in my family. But the village matters. I don’t know why there’s this notion that as moms we need to suffer to be doing a good job.

GU: My dad is forever giving me grief. And I’m like, “Sir, you dropped me off at your parents’ house with a can of SpaghettiOs for the whole day and didn’t come back until y’all got off work. So what are you talking about? And you didn’t pay anybody.” So if you exploit familial labor, that’s perfectly fine, but if I actually pay someone who’s certified, qualified to be in child care, then I’m a bad parent? What?

Valentino clothing and shoes, Oma the Label necklace, Talent’s own rings

JCM: How did Proudly, your new baby care line, come to be?

GU: So probably when Kaav was like a month or two, the diaper rash… I’d never seen anything like what my daughter had. So of course, I reached out to my mom friends, most of whom are moms of color. And they were like, “Oh, that’s nothing.” And I’m like, “This looks very scary. What do you mean this is nothing?” They sent me pictures from their phone of their babies’ diaper rash. And I’m like, “OK, let me see something.” I reached out to my white mom friends. And I’m like, “Have you dealt with diaper rash?” And what they described sounded more like a rash. And I was like, “OK, something is up here.”

The more I started talking to my mom friends, the more I realized that there are a lot of skin-related issues that are impacting families of color way more than anybody else. My cousin is a pediatrician, and I was like, “Is this a thing? Should we just make our own skin care products?” And she was like, “You have to lead with Black dermatologists. Every part of what you do needs to be led by, formulated by, and for us, it has to really truly be like FUBU, otherwise you’re making the same mistakes as other folks that have thought about this.”

It’s FUBU. For Us, By Us. You can’t make something for us if you don’t have the lived experiences. They don’t care about how this product is actually working for the people you claim it’s for. Like the people who make straight-leg jeans with no stretch!

We started when Kaav was only a few months old and Proudly is just now coming to fruition. We took our time to build the company, not just the products, but the company in a FUBU style. Our company, our board, our investor deck actually look like our consumers, full of people of color, full of parents of color, because we wanted something different for our own kids. And it really addresses the unique skin care needs of melanated children.

Brandon Maxwell dress, Jennifer Fisher earrings, Talent’s own rings

JCM: How does your relationship with your mom shape your relationship with your daughters?

GU: I try to remember my teen years so I can relate better to Zaya, just trying to think back on what worked in me and my mom’s relationship and what didn’t. When I get nervous that Zaya’s in her room too long, or she’s not sharing, I’m like, “Lady, you didn’t share shit. And you weren’t plotting a world takeover.” She’s 13 and it’s OK to give them space.

But what I wish my mom did do was check in a little bit more. I mean, the police weren’t coming and no one was pregnant, but there’s a lot of shit in between. Now watching my mom, who turns 75 next month, trying to learn how to get into somebody’s DMs, what an eggplant emoji is… I’ve watched her evolve and be humble that she doesn’t have the answer. I understand her more now. I like her more now. I mean, I’ve always loved her, but I love her in a completely different way. I get it now. And I don’t know how she did not fight me in the street.

"I understand [my mom] more now. I like her more now. I mean, I’ve always loved her, but I love her in a completely different way. I get it now. And I don’t know how she did not fight me in the street."

JCM: So, how are you managing shifting gears when it comes to raising the girls and managing their different ages and emotional needs?

GU: Their age gap allows us to not cluster parent. With the older two, everything was clustered, even though they’re so different, and we did them a disservice. So we had to learn from the mistakes that we had with the older boys.

Kaav is also the only child we just parent together, so we don’t have to factor any other additional adults into a parenting plan. And Zaya has more input into how we raise her. It never occurred to us to ask the other kids, “How can we do better in how we raise you? How we speak to you, how we regard you, how we communicate about you? What can we do different?” The humility has to lead.

Hanifa dress, Talent’s own rings

JCM: How is your family processing the legislative attack on trans children in this country? Is Zaya aware of it?

GU: Zaya’s absolutely aware of it. She’s very politically astute. Her life literally depends on it. And our whole family, not just the people who live in our house, but our entire village has to be up on everything. We task folks every day with knowing how to protect our kids when they’re in their presence and knowing how best to advocate for our kids when they’re out in the world. In our family, we just don’t have the luxury of burying our head in sand or not knowing that it’s not just Texas or Florida and “Don’t Say Gay,” states are passing these laws with a reckless abandon, sometimes in the dead of night.

“We task folks every day with knowing how to protect our kids when they’re in their presence and knowing how best to advocate for our kids when they’re out in the world.”

It’s not just the kids in Texas who are literally under threat. You see the trans community speaking out in Ukraine about how they can’t cross the border because their gender on their passport doesn’t match who they are today. It is a worldwide issue. You can’t escape from it. And it just feels like the walls are closing in.

But these are the conversations you have to keep having every day, because the second you look away, it’s on your doorstep and you can’t claim ignorance. In our house, it’s just honest, direct conversation, because we have to arm her with everything, and information is the first weapon.

JCM: Has Zaya inspired you to take any risks in terms of your personal fashion sense or anything like that?

GU: Zaya’s fashion sense — she is fly. It’s very much hers. She owns it. And her school has uniforms, so she tries to express herself, but there’s only so many combinations that won’t get you sent home. So the weekends are really her time to really shine. She’s really into it. Edward Enninful [British Vogue’s editor-in-chief] was like, “Just send her to London. Yep, she’s ready.”

She gets all the offers and she’s like, “No, I have a quiz.” I’m like, “I just want to make sure you saw the fee, what they were going to pay you.” But no, no, no. Quiz, quiz quiz. She’s not pressed. She’s not thirsty. She had turned down covers of huge magazines, magazines her father and I have never even been approached about, much less to be on the cover of. And she was like, “Oh gosh. Well, I’ve got dance.” She is her own person and she has her own boundaries, and she’s just very clear about what is important to her.

Bevza top, Interior pants, Oma the Label necklace, Talent’s own rings, Tamara Mellon shoes

JCM: So, where does that sense of security, that confidence come from? I know you’re big on affirmations.

GU: With Kaav, we do affirmations at bedtime. I discovered positive affirmations with Josie Ong; I find her voice very soothing. This is not an ad. I don’t know this lady, but this is what has gotten me through the pandemic.

So Kaav gets them at bedtime and she likes a crowd at bedtime. And we’re like, “Dream big, you can do anything. We all love you. We all support you. You’re beautiful. You’re amazing. You’re so talented. You’re so smart.” And she’ll repeat the affirmations with us. And then at the end, I do my favorite affirmation, which is from Old School, the movie. I point to her and she points back. I say, “You’re my boy, Blue.” She does it back with the same voice. I don’t know if that’s a positive affirmation…

JCM: It is. You and Dwyane seem to work as a team. What is it that you guys are doing to keep the spark alive?

GU: We do this group date night [with friends] when we’re all in town at the same place, usually every Saturday night. We do drives up the coast, just drive down the street, top down, laughing, playing old-school music. One day he took me to this overlook thing, we opened the doors, took the top down, blasted the music. And we were just chilling up there. But we’re just constantly like, “Let’s just go; let’s get in the golf cart and go to Kim Kardashian’s house,” or go see one of our other — like, DeMar DeRozan is another neighbor. We just try to do things together.

We’ll go sit on our patio with a bottle of wine, put the music on, we slow dance in the bathroom, which we did last night. I don’t know; we just try to find it. We genuinely enjoy each other. I don’t know, the things that sound awesome to us would be like, “We had the best time in 7-Eleven.” Like, getting candy.

Hanifa dress, Oma the Label rings

JCM: Are there any things you guys started doing or any new traditions during the pandemic you think you want to take forward with you when it’s over?

GU: Family movie nights. That has actually been quite fun. We weren’t all in the same place to do that. I thought Selah and the Spades was amazing and my family was like, “You have lost the ability to choose the family movie.” And then D chose Sylvie’s Love. And of course, it’s amazing and the whole family loved it.

We’ll probably keep movie night, but nothing else. I don’t want to work from home. And we moved in the middle of a pandemic, so I just felt like we haven’t been settled. A lot of the things that we’ve been doing are just like survival mode shit, not really something I would like to continue with, but movie night can stay.

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

Top Image Credits: Hanifa dress, Talent’s own rings

Hair: Larranisha Russell & Liz Rich

Makeup: Fiona Stiles

Manicure: Thuy Nguyen

Set Designer: Daniel Luna

Art Director: Shanelle Infante

Talent Bookings: Special Projects

Video: Peter Elliott Eaton