Inside Julia Roberts' Busy, Blissful Family World as a Mom of 3 Teenagers

Already a movie star for the ages, Julia Roberts has spent the last 18 years playing the lead role in an epic known as the Moder Family.

By Natalie Finn Oct 28, 2022 12:00 PMTags
Watch: Julia Roberts' Twins Phinnaeus & Hazel Turn 17!

It's no secret that Julia Roberts put acting on the back burner the minute she became a mom almost 18 years ago.

Of course, even Roberts' back burner was the stuff Hollywood dreams are made of. But there was no point following the birth of her twins, Hazel and Phinnaeus, on Nov. 28, 2004, at which her children were not at the center of her universe. (And that really started ahead of their birth, a chance to play "pregnant Julia Roberts" having been written into 2004's Ocean's Twelve.)

"By the time we had kids, I had accomplished things and felt secure about that part of my life," the Oscar winner told the Wall Street Journal in 2014, the "we" being she and cinematographer husband Danny Moder. "I was so joyful moving into the family phase of my life in a sincere way."

In fact, "for a long time," she continued, the kids "weren't even aware that I had a job because I was home so much."

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The late Mike Nichols, who directed Roberts in 2004's Closer and 2007's Charlie Wilson's War, attested to her starring role as Mom, telling the Wall Street Journal, "That's what Julia has been best at, maintaining their real life. It's the little things that tell the tale. When you visit them, there is nobody working at their house, sweeping their hall. There are toys all over, and it's just Julia and Danny and the kids. She always slips away from the center."

Acknowledging that taking a step back from work to focus solely on motherhood was an "incredible luxury," Roberts told Gwyneth Paltrow on The goop Podcast in October 2018 that she had felt, after 18 extremely busy, lucrative years of making movies, that "I had earned that time to do whatever I want to do with it, with these new people in our house."

Her kids got wind of what she did for a living eventually—but even so, if you didn't witness the Pretty Woman, Notting Hill or Erin Brockovich days firsthand, the storied nature of her career might have been hard to grasp. 

Stefanie Keenan/Getty Images

"I don't think they will ever have a true sense of that," Roberts, who turns 55 on Oct. 28, acknowledged to Oprah Winfrey in a sit-down with the media mogul for Harper's Bazaar in 2018. "I think I told you once when they were starting to figure it out, it was like, 'You're famous?' And I said, 'I think a lot of people might have seen the movie that I'm in or might know who I am."'

Roberts recalled that the kids chewed on that for about an hour, before asking her, "Are you more famous than Taylor Swift?"

Kids really do say the darndest things. And we're guessing their minds were pretty blown when Roberts took them to Swift's 1989 Tour in 2015 and their mother was invited to share the stage with the headliner. ("She was very sweet with my children who had never been to a show before, they are all big fans," Roberts told Extra about the experience. "And she said, 'Would you mind coming on stage during the song and dancing?' and I said to my children, 'Well, what do you think?' And they all said, 'Oh, Mom you have to do it!' and my youngest son said, 'Only do it if you want to, Mommy.' It was so sweet!")

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Not that Hazel, Finn (as Mom and Dad call him) and their brother Henry, born June 18, 2007, didn't have a variety of clues starting from a young age that their parents didn't have typical 9-to-5s, whether it was all the travel or playing on film sets and in Broadway theater dressing rooms or having the occasional Oscar winner (aside from their mom) stop by their house in Malibu, where they've lived since they became a family of five.

"We're just grateful for the sense we have of being like any other family down the street," Roberts told the WSJ. "I don't question it, frankly."

Unlike their neighbors, though (or, maybe just like them, Malibu being a pretty nice place), they have a few other homes as well, including the 30-acre ranch near Taos, N.M, where Roberts and Moder tied the knot on July 4, 2002, and where the actress historically loved spending as much time as possible. But since the kids go to school in Southern California, that is where the majority of the magic—the family meals, the holiday baking, the mah-jongg with friends, knitting and needlepoint, birthday parties, soccer games, surfing and skateboarding—takes place.

"There are some days when as soon as you've finished cooking breakfast and cleaning up the kitchen it's time to start lunch and by the time you've done that you're doing dinner and thinking there has to be a menu we can order from," Roberts told the U.K.'s Telegraph in 2009. "But then there are some days when it's just so creative and so much fun and my kids will help me and, as with anybody who's a mom or a wife, it just become a part of your day. Some days it's super-fun and some days it's a chore."

And while the kids got steadily bigger, certain things didn't change, other than to become even more important to Roberts as a mom.

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Eating together is "really meaningful, and that is the time that we have had some incredible conversations," Roberts told InStyle in 2017. "I usually have breakfast and dinner with my kids every day. I think it really punctuates, you know, starting things together and sort of processing and winding it down together."

They're good eaters too: The actress told E! News (and an impressed Owen Wilson, her co-star in 2017's Wonder) that Finn actually enjoyed salmon with brown rice and she hadn't had any problem getting her brood to eat their greens. "I don't think I ate a proper salad until I was maybe 20—which I don't share with them," Roberts noted.

She partially attributed their non-fussy palettes to all the traveling they do—"when you travel you have to eat what you're kind of given"—but at the same time, their mom happens to be a really good cook.

And though Roberts also logged time as the highest-paid actress in Hollywood, her kids are getting the full regular-mom treatment at home.

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"My husband and I are very aligned on that front and I think that we live a very normal experience with our children," Roberts explained on ITV's Lorraine in 2019. "I mean, obviously we have advantages that we didn't have as children, but I think that's the unique part of it, coming from the kind of childhood that I had. I raise my kids now—I don't want them to have some of the struggles that I had, but at the same time, you do need to know how to make your bed and how to do your laundry, and how to be able to make one meal."

She continued, "These are important life skills, and so you have to weigh the differences between what you look at as some of the hardships that I had, or things that I missed out on as a kid, but also they have to run their own race. They have to have their own experience."

Meanwhile, Roberts' experience of so many things for the past 30 years hasn't been entirely her own, as much as she tries to not let the feedback of strangers affect her at her core, whether the commentary is negative or positive. She told Paltrow, "There's something very humbling when you have kids and you come home from some event and you have on this big dress and heels and diamonds, and it's like, 'Can I have a snack?' And you go, 'Yeah.'"

Paltrow agreed, "It's very grounding."

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Hazel got a more up-close look at that glam life in July 2021, though, when she made her red carpet debut at 16 at the Cannes Film Festival alongside her dad at a screening of the Sean Penn-directed Flag Day, on which Moder served as director of photography.

The outdoorsy L.A. native shares the occasional (and often very cinematic) photo or video of the kids on Instagram, but this was easily Hazel's most prominent outing to date—though we knew from her mother that the kid had poise beyond her years.

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In 2017, Roberts shared with InStyle that her daughter had just donated her hair to make wigs for children with cancer. "That's a big deal for a girl who's about to be 13 and has this cascading blond hair that gets commented on a lot," the actress said. "But she's so good and brave. She sees it as something else."

Earlier that year she had brought Hazel to the inaugural Women's March in Washington, D.C., both mother and daughter a little distraught after Hillary Clinton lost the 2016 presidential election.

"I wanted her to feel like she still had a place in the world," Roberts told Winfrey in 2018, "that she could still believe in what she believed in, even though someone else was now president. It was very powerful for me to have her in a way be my leader into this space of marching and participating in being a citizen of this country."

Having lost her own father when she was just 9, Roberts has clearly relished watching her kids come into their own, cherishing all the moments, be they mundane ("I always loved back-to-school shopping, and I realize that I still love it!" she told People) or milestones.

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"There's no way to describe it without sounding sappy or ridiculous because everything in my mind ends with an exclamation point," she told InStyle. "And the thing is, we have these three human beings who are just a complete reflection of the affection we have for each other." 

Roberts and Moder met on the set of the 2000 action caper The Mexican and have been close to inseparable ever since.

"TWENTY...#can'tstopsmiling...#can'tstopkissing!" Roberts captioned her July 4 Instagram post marking their 20th wedding anniversary, the photograph taken mid-smooch.

And at the Sept. 7. premiere of her new romantic comedy Ticket to Paradise, she wore a black Alexander McQueen dress customized with hearts surrounding her children's initials, "JR + DM," the momentous years "2002," "2004" and "2007," and the words "Hope," "Darling" and "Love" embroidered in crystals.

On The goop Podcast, Roberts called getting together with Moder the real "seismic shift" in her life. Meeting him "was the first, my life will never be the same [moment] in the most incredible, indescribable way," she shared. "It's some kind of alchemy. He truly to this day, to this minute, is just my favorite human...We're so lucky in that way, we just really, really like each other."

Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for CORE Gala

Over the course of their marriage, the longest they were ever apart was seven weeks—and they made sure that only happened once. Talking on the phone was the more common way of communicating back in the day, so the first time they got on Skype and she showed then-4-year-old Finn, "Look, there's Daddy," he burst into tears, Roberts recalled. 

When they reunited, "I just remember we were all hugging and just in a big pile, and Danny said, 'Ok, so let's not ever do that again.' And I was like, 'Yeah.'"

For the most part, they do not work long jobs at the same time—unless they're working together.

Among their half dozen collaborations was the 2015 thriller Secret in Their Eyes, in which Roberts played the grieving mother of a murdered daughter. Asked how she got ready for such an intense role, she told Working Mother, referring to her husband, "I had an enormous amount of blind faith in my preparation because my safest place in the world is right there."

And while it had the potential to be a haunting experience, Roberts said she had no choice but to leave her work on the set at the end of every day. "It has to [be finished]," she explained, "because as much as you put your heart and soul into it and you want to make it so real and you want people to have an emotional experience, it's acting. It's all going to be okay and I'm going to be able to get in a car with my husband and drive home and have dinner with our healthy children and have a lot of gratitude for that."

Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP

In addition to being aligned about building a solid foundation of life skills for the kids, she and Moder have had to think more in recent years about how to talk to them about what's going on in the world (again, in what can seem like a contrast to their rather idyllic-looking home life).

"Our country is not at its best right now, and that can be very discouraging and frustrating," Roberts, who encouraged her 10.2 million Instagram followers to vote in 2020 using a Notting Hill-inspired mememused to People in 2017. "You have to not give up hope. This is the time you have to rise as a community and as a household and as a country and try to make voices be heard. And that's what I have to instill in my children, who are certainly old enough to be aware of politics and things going on in the world.

"It's very important for my husband and me to be honest with them and help them feel like they still have a voice for the things that they believe in."

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And while she's careful about what she posts on social media ("I am private, but I am also friendly," she told Winfrey in 2018), Roberts has marveled over how easy it is to weigh in on global affairs without ever leaving the house—for better or worse.

Asked by Winfrey if she thought "unconditional love" would be enough to carry her children into today's world, she replied, "It's different than when I might have said to my mom, 'Mom, you don't know what it's like to be a teenager today,' even though she probably did. Danny and I really don't know what it's like to be a teenager today. Sometimes my kids ask me things and I just say to them, 'I'm going to say no, and I'm going to look into it because I don't even know what we're talking about.'"

But Roberts insisted she remained optimistic, explaining, "If you're raising young humans in this time, and if you really want things to change and get better for everyone, you have to believe that it will, and you have to participate in that belief on a regular basis."

Reflecting on the overall ride that's been parenthood, she said on The Ellen DeGeneres Show in 2017, "You get through it and you figure it out. Everybody does, and it's a trial and error and a whole lot of tears. And it's amazing. I have three incredible kids, and to think about when they were teeny tiny. It goes so fast."

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Let the Good Times Roll
Growing Up
Mama Bear
Just Like Dad
20 Years Strong
Hazel's Red Carpet Debut
Speed Racers
Life's a Beach
Pucker Up
Family Affair

(Originally published Oct. 28, 2021, at 3 a.m. PT)

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