Charlize Theron is technically a single mom—but she doesn't see herself that way.
"I knew that I would have to have my mom help me if I was going to do this as a single parent," Theron, who adopted children in 2012 and 2015, says in ELLE. "To not acknowledge her in co-parenting my children would be a lie. She has jokingly said, 'Being a grandparent is what I was born to do.' I was like, 'Yo, bitch! What about me? Was it not to raise me? I'm your kid!' But I'm so lucky to have that. I would feel pretty alone if I didn't have a partner in crime in all of this."
When the 42-year-old Tully actress first became a parent, she pressured herself to be a supermom. "In the beginning, I wanted to do it all and didn't reach out for as much help as I actually needed. I felt, 'If I don't do all of this, then maybe I am a bad parent,'" she says in the May issue. "The second time, I realized I am happier and my kids are happier if I ask for more help. People think I have a staff of 40, but I don't. I have one nanny and my mom up the street and amazing friends and family. I call them my village. But I've learned to balance things out more. I look at my fuel gauge and think, 'Is it full or is it empty?' Then it's up to me to decide how to fill that tank back up or just remain empty. But what can you do on an empty tank?"
Long before she welcomed a son and a daughter, Theron knew she would adopt her children. "When I first filed, my mom showed me a letter I'd written when I was little; I asked if we could go to the orphanage. In South Africa, orphanages were everywhere, and I wanted a brother or sister. I was always aware that there are so many children in this world who don't have families. Adoption is a very personal thing—I know people whom I love dearly who don't feel that they could raise another child as their own. I respect that. But for me—and I can't be the only person out there—I never saw a difference in raising an adopted child versus my own biological child. I don't feel like I'm missing out on something. This was always my first choice, even when I was in a relationship. I was very honest with my partners that I was open to having my own biological kids but that adoption had to be a part of my life," Theron reveals. "I felt that strongly about it."
When Theron was in a relationship with Stuart Townsend, she was up front about her desire to start a family one day. "My twenties were everything I wanted them to be. I had a partner. He was an adventurer, and I was an adventurer. We would pack backpacks, go to a country for five weeks, climb mountains, stay in people's homes. I partied. I did it all. We didn't have a care in the world. Then, when I ended that relationship, I had a strong need to be a mom. It was all-consuming," the actress recalls. "I didn't need to travel or go out constantly or drink anymore."
"But I struggled mentally through the adoption process," the actress tells ELLE. "Some of the lowest points in my life were dealing with the first time I filed; it really took an emotional toll. There were many situations that didn't work out, and you'd get attached and have all your hopes up and then just get crushed. So I was in a different mind space. I had different needs."
Now, life is nearly perfect. "I have never loved an age more than my forties. Forty to me feels like Goldilocks," she admits. "Like I've finally found the perfect-size bed, the perfect-size mug..."
Becoming a mom has given Theron "perspective," she adds. "I just see things clearer. A child in my twenties was the scariest idea I could think of. When I got to my thirties, I was so ready. But there's a moment where you're like, 'Oh God, I hope once I have my kids, I'm still going to want to be a parent this much.' I have bad days. I make mistakes. Going through the tantrum stages when they're such little a--holes. And they choose the worst moments. It's a lot for one person. But after six years of having my two nuggets, there's not a day when I wish I hadn't done this."
Theron doesn't presume to have all the answers, but she's doing the best she can. "I've had a lot of moms come up to me and tell me I'm screwing everything up. Both my kids grew up on formula, and I remember a mom saying to me, 'You should really buy breast milk.' And I was like, 'What?!' That's a line you just don't cross. My oldest just started big school. She's not even there a full year. So I've not gotten into the whole [judgmental moms at] school thing yet," Theron tells the magazine. "The good thing about me is, I've never given a s--t about what people think. That's the only quality I have that has probably helped me in being a mother."
For more from Theron, pick up the May issue of ELLE, on newsstands Apr. 24.