Melissa Joan Hart, mom of 3, on how she handled at-home schooling in the pandemic: ‘There's a reason I'm not a school teacher'

Melissa Joan Hart opens up about parenting during the pandemic and how she handles criticism online.  (Photo by Getty; designed by Quinn Lemmers)
Melissa Joan Hart opens up about parenting during the pandemic and how she handles criticism online. (Photo by Getty; designed by Quinn Lemmers)

Welcome to So Mini Ways, Yahoo Life's parenting series on the joys and challenges of child- rearing.

Melissa Joan Hart is no stranger to the joys of motherhood. Despite the upsets brought upon by the pandemic, the actress says she turned lockdown and school closures into opportunities to bond as a family and grow as an artist. With a string of cult classics to her name, like the 1990s sitcoms Clarissa Explains It All and Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and most recently Melissa & Joey, Hart continues to challenge herself by diving into new roles, which now include producer and director.

And, just in time for World Emoji Day on July 17, Hart has teamed up with Eggo for its all-new Eggoji waffles which, from now until August 1, will be donating 100 breakfasts to the organization No Kid Hungry for every post with the hashtag #EggojiNoKidHungry until they reach half a million meals. For the mom of three — sons Mason, 15; Braydon, 13; and Tucker, 8, which she shares with husband Mark Wilkerson — it was a perfect opportunity to give back to those in need.

What was life like for you and your family during the pandemic?

It was freaky at first, but the kids knew they were safe at home. We were doing puzzles, going on hikes, constantly getting outside, taking the dog for a walk and household activities. There were a lot of games, a lot of movie nights. We tried to make it [feel] like a very long vacation. Luckily, we were in the mountains so we weren't in a place where we had to be around a lot of people or that didn’t wear their masks a lot… We looked at it as a good time together. I was able to write a movie script, which I've always wanted to do, and we were able to paint the whole house and spend time together. We did a lot of John Candy and Tom Hanks marathons. We played into the pandemic a little bit. We watched all the Maze Runner movies. I was like, "This is kind of similar to what's going on now and you guys love Maze Runner. Let's watch all of them again! And while you're watching that, let's watch all the Hunger Games movies."

What were the biggest challenges in dealing with the kids at home?

At the beginning, school was the most difficult part of the whole thing. I was not meant to be a school teacher. There's a reason I'm not a school teacher. To be honest, trying to get my first grader to sit down and do his schoolwork was the toughest thing. And then you find out later that the middle schoolers just didn't do it. So, that was exciting news to get in the report card.

Why is this Eggo partnership important to you?

I'm so happy that Eggo has now launched the Eggoji waffles. They have all these really fun faces and you can get them in the store pretty much nationwide, anywhere. You get to spread the word and get everybody to hashtag #EggojiNoKidHungry, so it's an easy thing for us to do. And it's going to help so many because right now with the pandemic and with the world in the state it is there's just a lot more children going hungry these days and No Kid Hungry is out there trying to help as best they can.

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Do you have a favorite emoji?

I like the laughing-crying one. I also love the heart eyes! I use that a lot.

You’ve recently starred in a string of Lifetime Christmas movies and have had the chance to direct other TV projects — including three episodes of the current season of CBS’s Young Sheldon. Have your years as an actress shaped your eye as a director?

My acting experience has everything to do with my directing, just being on set and taking it all in. From the time I was on Clarissa Explains It All, I was studying other directors, I was studying the cameras. The one thing I don't really understand is probably lighting — although these days with selfies and having to Zoom, I'm learning a little bit more. I feel like I'm an actor's director. There are some directors that do not know how to communicate with actors and that can be really frustrating. But then there are some that make actors feel safe, feel like they can be creative, or understand a little bit more about what they need for this scene — for this edit, for that. I try to be like that.

Has starting as a child actor given you a unique perspective about directing children specifically?

I feel like I'm really good with my kids. Well, I'm good with other people's kids. I'm the oldest of eight children so I feel like I've had a lot of experience communicating with kids. In a scary movie I was directing, I had to try to get a girl [to act scared] and turn really fast. But she was doing it kind of slow so I said, “OK. I want your hair to spin all the way around your whole body. This is gonna be a hair moment.” Then I got that moment. It's probably not the most authentic acting, but it gets the job done!

Your mom has been your agent since the beginning of your career. Have you picked up any attributes from her that you recognize in yourself now that you’re a parent of teenagers?

I'm starting to hear myself screaming things like, “Get in the car!” or “I'm leaving you behind!” or backseat things that my mom used to do and I'm like, “Oh my gosh, I’m my mother.” My mom raised [eight] kids and it was not always easy, but I somehow think my three boys are more difficult than her six girls and a boy. I rely on her for great advice. She's around a lot to help us out and to be around for the kids, which is amazing. It's a real blessing to work with my mom. She was my producing partner for all these years since Sabrina. It's great having her around and it brings us closer.

You’re also producing Lifetime’s Christmas In Tune alongside Reba McEntire as well as starring in a new movie set in Montana. Can you tell us more about that?

We had the [Christmas in Tune] script written a while back and when we were thinking about the perfect actress to play the part, we thought about Reba — and Lifetime loved the idea. We were able to make this fantastic movie about her and John Schneider as a divorced couple coming back together over a Christmas concert for the troops. There's original music in it as well. She wrote a lot of music for it, so we'll have some new Christmas songs coming out this year. I’ll also be in Montana all month shooting a movie. I'm playing a wrangler who owns a dude ranch, so I've been taking horseback riding lessons and glassblowing lessons. It’s called Mistletoe of Montana. My friend Kellie Martin is directing. Look out for both of those!

You’ve used your platform to shed light on important issues you care about — like gun control, for example. What motivates you to use your star power in this way?

The country's gotten more polarized, but I also feel like it's a dangerous place right now to even voice your opinion. Sometimes you get so slammed for it so you have to have a strong thick skin to be able to stand up for the things you really believe in. But I also feel like I'm learning every day. I try to take in other people's point of views… to get an understanding [of their views]. It's difficult though because sometimes you just don't feel like being yelled at. It's funny because when you do controversial posts, you get the most likes and engagement ever and your numbers grow in some weird way. But you're also hearing all that hate — and there's a lot of it coming out. And there are a lot of people, a lot of trolls, a lot of keyboard warriors, so it can be really tricky. But, you know, there are things that I definitely hold firm to and I do try to love them. When I feel like I have a voice in that space, or I have something really close to my heart, I stand up for it.

How do you handle those kinds of criticisms?

I am trying more and more to use social media as a positive place and maybe keep politics out of it a little bit. I think it's funny, too, because a lot of people say, “Why don’t you just stick to acting and stop being political?” or stop talking about this or that and things you don't know about. I thought about it recently and I was like, I'm having to learn how to ride a horse and be a cowgirl. I've also had to learn how to be a doctor or a witch. I was once a drug-smuggling smoking mortician. I had to do all these variables to learn things. You learn about a lot of different people… As actors, we find these backstories and we find ways to relate to these characters and see where everybody comes from… There's a lot of actors out there doing good stuff and are out there spreading the word about what they believe in. But it’s also important to understand that there's numerous sides to every story and to try to stay open minded and listen. Never push anyone away.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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