Idina Menzel Opens up About Parenting During a Pandemic

Idina Menzel

“Kids know when you’re lying to them.”

Idina Menzel has a lot going on right now — her new movie Cinderella will be released on Amazon Prime next week and she just finished filming Disenchanted (the Enchanted sequel we’ve been begging for!) — but any parent can relate to her biggest project currently: Her 11-year-old son Walker is about to go back to school in-person for the first time in a year and a half. Or that’s the plan, at least. 

“What I’m realizing is we can’t control things,” the actress and singer told KCM. “Every minute, every day, every two weeks is a new situation for all of us — we try to plan and it just goes out the window. So for this moment, he’s going back to school.” She’s referring to how the Delta variant has some schools and parents reconsidering a return to school in the fall. 

“Last year, at least it felt like the kids were for the most part OK. But now this variant is affecting kids more, and so it’s just so freaky,” she said. “We try to hide those dark places in the world from our kids, but kids know when you’re lying to them.” She’s struggled with figuring out how much, when, and what to share with her son regarding the pandemic. “I find it exhausting, but really important,” she said. 

While most adults can’t get Covid off their minds, Menzel has seen how the pandemic has affected her son, too. “I watched the weight of the world just kind of melt away when he found out that camp was going to safely resume this year, and that he could run around with his friends and jump in the lake and play basketball all day,” she shared. Of course, she recognizes how lucky she is. “I know I’m fortunate to be able to do that for him, and that there are so many people struggling to have some semblance of normalcy. But it was my way of seeing that my son was probably thinking about a lot more than I realized, because he was good at faking it,” she said. 

Here’s how Menzel is handling back to school, what encourages her every day, and what to expect from her version of Cinderella’s evil stepmother: 

KCM: You’ve partnered with Rice Krispies Treats on a campaign about encouraging kids every day. What’s something that encourages you every day?

I think being a parent makes you think outside of yourself. When I’m feeling sorry for myself, having a child that relies on me brings me the encouragement to embody all the right things — to bring sunshine to his life. I got a bunch of letters from him from camp just saying how much he missed me and the little things that we do together. Or if I’m feeling down, I can let him see that in a healthy way, so he understands what’s normal and real and human. I feel really supported by him and my husband Aaron, who’s a very soulful, communicative person. And my family: I’ve been really lucky that ever since I was a little girl and said, “I want to sing, I want to perform,” that they always provided me with the resources to do that. I’ll forever be indebted to them.

Why did you want to contribute to this campaign?

I’ve always written little love notes to Walker in his lunchbox. It’s what my mom would do for years, even up until high school, which was embarrassing. And Rice Krispies Treats has created this wonderful campaign that gives parents space to write encouraging notes to their kids on the actual packages — and lets parents reflect about what our kids need in this chaotic time. We’re going back to school, which is very anxiety-provoking for all of us, but kids are so resilient that we take for granted sometimes what they’re experiencing. And I think there’s the weight of the world on their shoulders. And you can enter to win these great support kits with parenting journals and also get a free year supply of Rice Krispies Treats.

Switching gears, what can you tell us about how your portrayal of the Evil Stepmother in Cinderella will be different from previous versions?

Well, first of all, I’m walking in the footsteps of some of the greatest actresses — women that I worship. So I’d be a fool to try to do what they did. What’s cool about it is that Kay Cannon has come up with a completely different world and tone. It’s a modernized version of the classic — she wanted a less-archetypal version of the famous “evil nemesis” character and wanted her to be more human and have more complexity. So that’s great for me, because I always gravitate to characters that are perceived as evil in some way, or are misunderstood. Through playing them, I’m able to express or reveal that people have wounds and journeys and life experiences and pain that inform why they do the things that they do. And it’s important to remind ourselves of that when we find ourselves quick to judge others.

What was it like working with Camila Cabello?

It was inspiring — I’m always in awe of young people. They have such a strong sense of who they are, and yet there’s no bravado or arrogance whatsoever. She’s completely down to earth, she asked lots of questions, she remained open and vulnerable, and she’s super funny. I adore her. I think people are going to be really moved and surprised by her performance. 

Broadway is reopening soon! How are you feeling about that? Do you have tickets to any shows yet?

I have mixed feelings, because the sooner my friends in the Broadway community can get back to doing what they love and bringing joy to the world with their incredible talent, the better off we’ll all be. I want everyone to get back to work and have jobs — behind the scenes and on stage. I just want everybody to be safe. But yes, I would love to go back to New York. I’m in LA right now — my son goes to school here. But I’ll figure out what’s the best time to get there and support my friends. I’d love to see The Music Man with Sutton Foster.