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Elisabeth Röhm has plenty to celebrate these days: her recent engagement, her 13-year-old daughter Easton's long-awaited return to in-person classes and her 2021 directorial debut, helming the Lifetime movies Girl in the Basement and the upcoming IVF drama Switched Before Birth. The star — whose acting credits include Angel, Law & Order, American Hustle and the just-released Notorious Nick — is also embracing her new role as a celebrity supporter for Special Olympics, working with athletes before and during the 2023 World Games in Berlin.
"Being that I am originally from Germany and I'm a dual citizen, it was a great opportunity to sort of blend my background with our shared mission for the future of Special Olympics, which has grown so much since Eunice Shriver established it," the German-American actress and founder of The Respect Project tells Yahoo Life, explaining that it was Shriver's son, Tim Shriver, who connected her with the global inclusion movement.
Though she's since learned that a distant aunt was once a participant in Special Olympics, Röhm tells Yahoo Life that what drew her to the movement and its year-round programs was both its empowerment of athletes with intellectual disabilities and its guiding principles.
"All of us can benefit from the full philosophical point of view of Special Olympics, which really are the JEDI principles: justice, equality, diversity and inclusion," she says. "This really is the conversation of our time. So I was moved because the athletes inspired me with that sense of leadership and resilience, and their story is so applicable to all of us, really. We all could get a dose of that athletic excellence that the athletes of Special Olympics portray."
She hopes to bring Easton along to the 2023 Games, and in doing so spark "a lifetime of her participation with the Special Olympics." Here, she shares the other ways she and her daughter spend quality time together — and why it's also important to give teens their space.
How is it having a teenage daughter during this time? How are you coping?
Well, I'll just say I'm really glad they're all back in school for now. And I'm very happy that the L.A. USD school system recognized how important it was for mental health that the kids [are] back to school. It was definitely a very difficult year. I think mostly for Easton, it was very isolating. I was very lucky; I got to direct two movies during COVID and became a director during this time. But for Easton, it was very isolating and very hard. I felt very bad for the children, because growing up in my generation, we were so free and to be not only isolated by social media, but also then through this pandemic, there's just a social awkwardness. I feel very bad for Easton's generation, so I'm glad to see them back in school.
What does quality family time look like for the two of you?
Easton loves to travel, so we love to take road trips. I was happy during COVID that we were able to take off and still go see beautiful places like Yellowstone and Cambria and the coast and just continue to get out there and have adventures in nature. We love to cook together, and we both love horseback riding and tennis. So we have a lot of good ways to hang with each other, but we're kind of rounding that bend where we're now 13. We have a beautiful friendship too, but you know, most of it comes [laughs] from me giving Easton the space that I think that all teenagers need. I've had to learn to stop being a hoverer parent according to Easton. I've adjusted. I was really good when Easton was little, and then Easton said like, "Now you need to evolve into this next chapter of my life — I've got this, Mom, I've got this."
That must be hard, though.
You go from being necessary for everything to having to learn to adjust to stepping back and letting them have their freedom to discover themselves and their own personalities and leadership and opinions and personalities. You have to accept that they're not a little version of yourself [laughs].
You recently directed Switched Before Birth, and you've been open about your own experience with IVF. Did that play a role in you wanting to be involved with this project?
Yeah. I'm really happy to have done this film because I think that this is a topic that remains taboo. I don't understand why people with fertility issues still [act like] it's a dirty little secret that they've done IVF or used a surrogate or donor. So I'm really glad that we've made a movie that continues that conversation and hopefully challenges issues with federal government; a lot of these medicines are not federally regulated. So it has a mission to it, but it's also beautiful story of friendship between Justina Machado and Skyler Samuels, and it's a story of love between these two couples and has a great sort of legal twist in it. But it does [address], at the heart of it, issues of where are we now with fertility? Not being federally regulated causes a lot of problems, and we get into some of those problems in the film. Hopefully, much like breast cancer, as we continue to push the envelope, we can advocate for change and make progress for, really, our own selves — to be good advocates of our own health.
Is there any advice you would give to someone about to embark on that process?
I always think when I'm talking to any woman that is of the reproductive age, that it's really important to, again, be your own advocate and knowledge is power. And so if you can freeze your eggs early and still have your career and take your time to meet that person you want to start a family with, you put yourself in the power seat... Continuing to have the conversation just creates an awareness. So I would just say, be an advocate for yourself, ask for your FSH [follicle-stimulating hormone] levels to be checked, ask for your hormone levels to be checked. And I'm an advocate for freezing your eggs because we have careers and lives and time is not always on our side when we want to create our family.
What has being a single parent taught you?
I was lucky and unlucky in the sense that my mom was also a single mom for a vast majority of my life. I have a father, but it was really my mom's friends... it is all about community and it is all about supporting one another. You may not feel close to your biological family and you create your own family through friendship. Still to this day, my mom's best friend is my "aunt" and I turn to her for comfort and guidance. To really get back to the principles of Special Olympics, [it can help to] surround yourself with support and surround yourself with community so that you have that strength around you to be able to handle the difficulties and have the resilience you need in your life.
I think women are very good at building their tribes and creating those communities. And by having them for ourselves and taking the time and valuing friendship and relationships, we give that to our children by extension, because those relationships that we have become their relationships too. They may not feel connected to their biological family, but they may feel connected to your friends. And so I always really turned to the women in my life to create not only support for me, but support for me and Easton.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
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