"Mommy you're walking really good right now," Jamie-Lynn Sigler's 5-year-old will tell her from time to time. Or sometimes, "Mommy you're doing a really good job."
Sigler has worked to make sure her children, aged 1 and 5, understand her diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, received when she was 20 and starring on The Sopranos as Meadow, daughter of Tony Soprano.
"The way I kind of teach it to them is that mommy has a gas tank, like our car, and there's only so many things that I can give my gas to throughout the day before I'm kind of done and out of gas and need to rest and lay down."
She finds time and energy to go for bike rides and frozen yoghurt, but then explains that when they get home it will be time for quiet activities like LEGO.
Reflecting on her 18-year journey from that first diagnosis, Sigler tells Romper, "I think for a very long time it was about things that was taken from me and kind of feeling like the victim from it, but only as of late, I think in the past couple of years, I've kind of shifted that and thought about what it's actually given me."
She dealt with an eating disorder as a teenager, which she spoke openly about at the time, and on the far side of two pregnancies says that management of a chronic health conditions has given her "an opportunity to get very in touch with my body and have an understanding, and learning how to be kinder to myself."
"For me now, any kind of fitness routine or diet or anything is strictly to better my health. It has nothing to do with size or shape and your relationship with your body just changes I think through all the things that I've been through, I have a great appreciation of what my body can do."
I think for a very long time it was about things that was taken from me and kind of feeling like the victim from it.
Chronic illness affects 133 million Americans, according to the National Health Council, and the challenges of managing your health as a caregiver are obvious. Seventy-eight percent of mothers surveyed by HealthyWomen and Working Mother magazine said they put off their own healthcare appointments to prioritize family members. Sigler's work on this particular day is around a new Walgreen wellness app designed to help mothers in particular prioritize their own health — think pill reminders, online refills, and prescription delivery.
"As parents, especially moms, it's our instinct to put everyone in our household first and then we're the last," says Sigler. "But like I said, when you're dealing with a chronic illness you don't have that liberty most of the time and you need to be your healthiest self for not only you, but for your family and your children."
She says she practices what she preaches, finding time to invest in her physical health around acting and raising a family. "Having two young boys is physically taxing on itself and definitely keeps me moving, but during the week, the three days a week that I find time for me is always during nap time."
Part of the trap is that the behaviors we revert to in parenthood are those we learned from our mothers. And our own mothers taught us self-sacrifice.
I think that we're always just trying to be better versions of our parents.
I'm reminded of the end of The Sopranos when Meadow, having fancied herself at one time free of her family's business with her law-school boyfriend, finds herself back in the neighborhood, dating the Italian-American son of a family friend — falling into the old grooves.
"It's like DNA, it's ingrained in you. It's family, there's lineage, you can't escape it," says Sigler. "Especially when I became a mom, I found just by instinct, not even me thinking about it, just finding myself sounding like my parents or instinctually disciplining like I was disciplined."
Still, she sees a true opportunity for improvement, and for learning. "It's in you and I think that we're always just trying to be better versions of our parents. We're taking what we liked and what we didn't like and we're trying to be more thoughtful and trying to figure out how to be the best that we can be."
Take her older son who, at just 5, is already light years ahead of many of us.
"I'm just really proud of, especially my 5-year-old, of how he takes care of me and is really understanding of it all."