Like all Moms, Jennifer Garner is 'Trying So Hard Just To Keep Up'

by Donna Freydkin
Originally Published: 
Jennifer Garner, sitting in a pumpkin field, holding a bunch of pumpkins in her hands and smiling
Courtesy of Once Upon A Farm

Jennifer Garner doesn’t pretend to be perfect. Or all-knowing. But amidst the chaos and fear out in the world, the toxic politics surrounding masking and vaccines, she unapologetically strives to put a little clarity and joy out into the universe, and we’re here for it.

“The school year starts in dribs and drabs, but today’s the real deal for my family—we are back. 3/3 masked, 2/3 vaxxed (soon, please, 11 and under), every one eager, tentative, bold, vulnerable and—as far as I can tell—smiling under the 3-ply. Thank you teachers, thank you administrators, thank you school staff—for being on the receiving end of a year and a half of feelings (kids’ and parents’)—big and loud, quiet and deep. Thank you science for getting us this far and this much closer to health and freedom. Thank you for moms in your corner and gallows humor and the sun that rises, no matter what. And please, God, hold us in the palm of your hands,” she posted, as she sent her three off to in-person learning.

Garner, once part of one of Hollywood’s most high-profile marriages, has grabbed her fame with both hands and wrestled it into a force for good. There’s her work with Save the Children, which has her advocating for needy kids in America, the kids who don’t have access to organic produce or artisanal clothing or even books. And there’s the company she co-founded, Once Upon a Farm, which has launched its Million Meals initiative to benefit Save The Children, promising to provide one million meals to kids in need in America by 2024. It kicked off with her limited-edition Farmer Jen’s Pumpkin Oatmeal Cookie flavor pouch, a blend of organic pumpkin, banana, oats and coconut milk.

Courtesy of Once Upon A Farm

“Very early on, I knew that part of my reason for wanting to be a co-founder of a business was to be part of something that, should it actually work, could be meaningful to Save the Children’s work. But man, little did I know that this was going to be a whole team of people totally driven by their hearts, totally driven by mission and purpose. It’s just been the coolest thing ever,” she says.

By any measure, Garner — who also just inked a production deal with Netflix — is a force of nature. Only don’t tell her that. “I laugh, really. You’re going to call this a brand? It’s a struggle bus. I do not view myself as a brand. I don’t feel like a powerhouse,” says Garner, 49.

Initially, she was leery of even promoting her charity work because of the inherent ickiness factor of basking in her own self-created glory.

“I was really reticent to talk about it publicly because then it feels like it becomes self-serving. But Mark Shriver, who’s been my mentor at Save forever, said that part of the reason that you exist is so that you can tell the stories and if you’re not using every platform you can to tell a story, then you’re not really doing your job. So I thought I’d better get comfortable with it,” she says.

She’s doing this afternoon Zoom interview while intermittently hiding her face. Botched plastic surgery? Not so much. “I’m just back from the dentist and my mouth is numb. I don’t have a cavity. I just want you to know there’s no cavity. I just had a thing on this side he wanted to fix,” she says.

Not even glossy celebrities are perfect, which is something Garner strives to get across — and somehow does so without being pedantic or annoying or precious about it. It’s a lesson she’s striving to teach her kids, Violet, 15, Seraphina, 12, and Samuel, 9, from her marriage to Ben Affleck.

“They see me working my tail off. What matters to me is that they see me as a beginner. I’m a neophyte in every way and just struggling with my own ego, with how ignorant I am and how willing I am to say, ‘I don’t know. Can you teach me?’ And that I just keep showing up no matter what, even if I get frustrated with myself for not remembering every single thing that I’ve heard before or how it all fits together,” she says. “That’s what matters to me, for my kids to see. And I think they are taking that in.”

Unlike other quote-unquote celebrity moms, Garner — thankfully — never calls her kids her best friends. To her, there’s a big differentiator between watching The Office with her children or having them taste-test her new Once Upon a Farm pouches, and viewing them as her peers.

“I have a lot of friends. I don’t need my kids to try to be my friends. They need to focus on themselves,” she says. “My kids are totally my buddies and I love a date with just one of them more than just about anything. I raised my own travel buddies who like to go look into old churches and like to find the bookstore and like to just get lost in having to adventure and eat. I just enjoy them so, so much, but I don’t want them to have the burden of having to be my best friend.”

Her life is messy enough already, thank you very much.

“I’ve got three kids in three schools and it is just a shit show. It’s all forms, all the time. Just keeping up with emails and COVID this and that. I am not type A, like people think I am. They assume I am, for some reason, because of the characters I’ve played or whatever. I kind of scramble — sometimes I overcompensate because I’m trying so hard to just keep up,” she says.

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