In the ’80s, I was a completely awkward, uncomfortable nerd with a mouth full of old-school silver braces and bangs that I never quite learned how to master into the perfect upward wave, even though I used so much hairspray my hair crunched when you touched it. Molly Ringwald was the cool everygirl I looked up to like a big sister: beautiful but somehow accessible, interesting but familiar. I didn’t kiss a boy until I was 16 years old, but through her, I lived a much more exciting high school career. She made me believe it was possible I would some day kiss my own Jake Ryan.
Blessedly, I grew up, and so did Molly. Now 47, she’s still acting (most recently in the new Jem and the Holograms movie adaptation), but she has established herself as both a critically acclaimed jazz singer and a writer of both fiction and non-fiction as well. She is also now a mother to three: Mathilda, 11, and twins Roman and Adele, 5. As it turns out, Generation X’s former teenage girl crush is facing some of the same dilemmas as the rest of us when it comes to this challenge of parenting digital natives and figuring out how to tell our stories in this brave new world.
A theme of Molly’s life and career has been storytelling, whether it was on a screen, a track, a stage or a page. Now, she shares her home with young raconteurs, too: tween daughter Mathilda has begun making short films featuring herself and her siblings.
I met Molly at Dove’s Beauty Bar #beautystories event at the Mom 2.0 Summit in Scottsdale on April 30. I’m not going to lie: I tried to act all professional and grown up and cool about it, but my inner 12-year-old was freaking out. It’s one thing to meet and interview a celebrity—it’s another to meet and interview someone you have loved since you were young. I worried that she might be aloof, that she might break my inner tween’s 1986 heart. I worried, frankly, that I might completely embarrass myself once I was sitting face-to-face and just inches from her in the tiny, if cozy, hotel lounge. What could I ask someone who has likely heard every question under the sun at this point in her life?
But my worry was for nothing. Molly was absolutely lovely, exactly what you would hope she would be: warm and kind and, well, a mom. A mom like me. So we talked about storytelling in its modern forms, and we commiserated about the challenge of raising our tweens in the age of iEverything.
Molly grew up appreciating the oral tradition of family memories: “So much of my interest in stories and storytelling comes from my mom, because she was a great storyteller,” she says, “and I was always really interested by that. I feel like there’s always one person in a family who is the keeper of the memories, and I am always the one asking all the questions and getting my parents and grandparents to answer. The stories from your family really inform who you are. They can teach you about yourself.”
There’s no doubt that how we talk about ourselves and our lives has changed in 2015, Molly acknowledges. “I think particularly with Twitter and its 140 characters—that has changed a lot,” she says. “I don’t think it’s such a bad thing necessarily, though. Yes and no. It definitely makes you streamline what you want to say, so I like that aspect of it.”
Molly is active on Twitter, documenting her singing tours and her appearances at The Moth’s storytelling events as well as the everyday moments of her life with her husband and children. “Sometimes I feel like it’s just too much,” she notes. “Sometimes I want to just live my life, in person, and remember what that’s like, to hang out with my friends and just talk.”
And like a lot of us, Molly is learning how to handle social media as a mother: “It’s hard for me, too, because I try to protect my children’s privacy as a parent, but so much of what gives me pleasure and so much of I find real gratification in are my kids,” she says. “I want to share that, but I don’t want to be that celebrity who is dragging their kids through the limelight before they’re ready for it. It’s just a constant conversation that I have with myself and my husband.”
Now, Molly’s tween daughter, Mathilda, is on social media as well.
“It’s a conversation, it’s a daily conversation,” the former teen icon says, “and I think the more we can talk to our kids about that and the more we can encourage our children to do stuff outside of that, the better.
“Mathilda’s making films, she’s doing theater, she loves animals, and still there are moments where we’ll do something together and she’ll say, ‘Are you going to post that? Are you going to post that? Oh, I can’t wait to post this!” Molly says with a rueful laugh. “So we just constantly talk about that, and I constantly try to show her something else.”
But daughter Mathilda herself can even see how social media affects her generation. Says Molly, “The other day, we were listening to some Andrews Sisters music, and she said, ‘Wow, they make war[time] sound like so much fun,’ and think about it—teenagers were dancing to this music. They were having fun because they were all out dancing.”
Mathilda said, “Yeah, this generation’s going to be so boring because we’re all just going to be on our phones,” Molly says.
Molly notes the way social media has changed adolescence: “You start seeing pictures of all the parties you weren’t invited to”—and that “back in the day, we used to deal with that at school, but when we went home from school, we had a little respite and you had a chance to recharge.”
“But that all continues at home now,” she says.
“The other day Mathilda deleted her Instagram account, without me even telling her to, and my first thought was whether something had happened. She said, ‘No, I just think I was doing it too much,'” says Molly.
She rolls her eyes and makes a face that any child of the ’80s would instantly recognize, and she smiles.
“I’m sure her Instagram account will be back next week.”
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