Actress Jen Lilley of Los Angeles is a woman of many talents. Not only has she had starring roles on "General Hospital," “Days of Our Lives” and in movies, but she’s also a singer, children’s book author and strong advocate for foster care. In fact, she and her husband, Jason, recently became foster parents to a now 1-year-old boy. In honor of National Foster Care Month in May, we chatted with her about her career, being a new parent and why you should consider fostering.
You left “Days of Our Lives” in 2016. What can your fans look forward to seeing you in next?
I have two movies coming out later this year. One is called, “The Wedding Do Over” for Pixl TV, and one is tentatively called, “Off the Menu,” starring Santino Fontana and Dania Ramirez. I play Santino’s girlfriend at the beginning of the movie, the one who got away. And beyond that, I’ll keep you posted. I’m sure I’ll have updates as the year progresses.
You’re a singer, an actress, a children’s book author and a foster mom. You seem very busy! What led you to start fostering?
In short, my faith and conviction. James 1:27 says that caring for orphans in their distress is the purest form of religion. Proverbs 3:27 says, “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it.” And it is in my power to help orphans in their distress, so I absolutely must obey that conviction.
What would you say to encourage others to become a foster parent?
Fostering is the most worthwhile and selfless act of love you can ever imagine. The children will teach you so much about your own life. Yes, they’ll change your whole world and it won’t be convenient (is parenting ever convenient?), but your love will have a ripple effect for generations. I can say so with absolute confidence, because the foster system is broken and cyclical. Currently, 80 percent of children in foster care will have children who also end up in foster care. Furthermore, 80 percent of the prison population once was in foster care, girls in foster care are 600 percent more likely than the general population to become pregnant before the age of 21, between 50 and 98 percent of identified child victims of commercial sexual exploitation have previously been involved with the child welfare system, and nationally, 50 percent of the homeless population spent time in foster care.
We see these horrifying statistics, and often wrongly assume that it’s because foster children are difficult or wild. That couldn’t be further from the truth. These statistics are true because there is a lack of love and consistent parenting in their childhood. Children who grow up in broken foster homes often commit crimes in hopes of going to jail simply because at least in jail they’ll have shelter, a bed, and food. They don’t know how to survive otherwise because no one is preparing these children for life. A great foster parent can end the cycle of abuse and neglect, and impact not just the foster child’s life, but also that child’s future children’s lives, the lives of people who would otherwise be victims of a lost foster child’s crimes, and help end human trafficking and homelessness. It’s outstanding! It’s the best return on an investment I’ve ever witnessed.
How has becoming a foster mom affected the way you approach your roles?
It’s caused me to prioritize which projects I will or will not invest my time in, because every job takes me away from them.
Do you have any advice to other working parents in regards to juggling and balancing a positive home life?
I’m a workaholic. I get how important work is, and I understand that the work we do often provides us with our own sense of value and self-worth. However, I think most parents would agree that there is no greater work than parenting. I knew that even before I became a parent. I was well aware that I would whole-heartedly throw myself into mom-mode as soon I got my first placement, which is why, in part, I put off parenting for as long as I did. In regards to juggling and balancing a positive home life, I would say perspective is key. There truly is no need to cry over spilled milk. Let’s say your child spills his or her milk, and it’s the only milk you have left, and it seems you’re at the end of your rope, just remember: that milk is already spilled. There is no sense in making a sad situation more stressful. Yelling at your child is not going to put the milk back in his/her cup. Stress is a downward spiral, and you can only overcome it with a positive perspective. At least you had milk to give your child. Hey, your child just learned Newton’s law of universal gravitation! And thank God your child has the ability to and mobility to spill his or her milk. Being a bit of neat freak myself, I have learned that a happy home, is not always perfectly clean home. I can wash dishes tomorrow if it means I’ll have time to read a bedtime story with my little one.
What do you do for your own Mommy time to unwind?
My husband Jason and I try to go on a very inexpensive weekend getaway every few months to recharge. We just went rock climbing in Idyllwild and disconnected from social media for 36 hours. It was short, but lovely.
Craziest thing you've done because you were sleep-deprived:
I consistently brew my cup of morning coffee, only to find it hours later, under the Kuerig, untouched.
What’s the funniest thing your son has ever done?
My husband taught him how to yell “Ah!” and shake his head to and fro while screaming. He thinks it’s hilarious, and now does it non-stop. Especially when he’s in his high chair and I’m trying to feed him. He’s also obsessed with the song “Barbara Ann” by the Beach Boys. Plus, his favorite food since he was 9 months old is Indian Chicken Saag. I mean, what?! He’s such an odd baby, I love him!
What’s your favorite thing about being a foster mom?
What’s your favorite charity and why?
Childhelp, because they have a flawless and proven track record, giving over 90 cents of every dollar donated directly toward the cause. In the nearly 60 years since they opened their doors, they have rescued over 11 million children here in the United States from abuse and neglect.
Your son is asleep. What are you binge watching?
Are you a morning person or night owl?
Since having a kid, I have no clue. I used to be a night owl. Now I work as fast as I can after he’s asleep and then go to bed myself.
If your parenting style was a book, what would it be called?
What a hilarious and awesome question! Kudos! Either “1:27 Parenting” in light of James 1:27 or “How to Raise Your Firstborn like a Thirdborn.”
Do you ever catch yourself doing things as a mom you thought you'd never do?
Not so far.
What can you tell us about your children’s book? Is it still available and where can we find it?
It has not been published yet. We are currently shopping it around, but it’s a children’s story created by my grandfather, who told it to my mom, who told it to me and my siblings growing up, which I have modernized and chocked fun of puns for every parent who will have to read it a million times, since we all know, children have the tendency to want to read the same book over and over and over again.
What is your favorite family ritual?
What would surprise people about you?
I had zero intention of becoming an actress til midway through college.
What has surprised you most about being a parent?
Nothing about parenting surprised me, because I have a lot of hands on experience with children. However, navigating the foster care system in all its brokenness, and playing middle mom has been more challenging than I imagined.
One thing that always makes you laugh is...?
What is something important life has taught you?
Life is fleeting. We only have a finite time here on earth, we better use our time wisely, and leave a worthwhile legacy for good.