“I find them so inspiring, because they just don’t care,” the actress, 45, tells PEOPLE in an exclusive conversation surrounding her latest New York & Company collection of the couple’s daughters Amada Lee, 3, and Esmeralda Amada, who just turned 5.
“They care, in the best way,” Mendes clarifies. “They’ll just be like, ‘Can I wear socks on my hands today?’ And I’m like, ‘Yes, of course you can wear socks on your hands today.’ So we make that happen.”
“Or they’ll get a Halloween costume that we have hanging out and they’ll wear that with pajama pants and a headband, and it’s so cool,” she adds. “It’s just such a freedom.”
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Mendes tells PEOPLE that her girls with longtime love Gosling, 38, are “still in that stage where we’re painting all day,” sharing that they participate in “a ton of activities” together.
But despite the mess painting and similar crafting projects can create, the star is “slowly starting to feel like a woman again” as Amada and Esmeralda get older.
“I’m slowly starting to feel like a person,” she says. “Now that we’re getting out of the toddler phase, I’m excited to not wear paint all over me, or food all over me. But we still have a 3-year-old.”
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Mendes tells PEOPLE that her experience looking at “old photographs” featuring her own mother’s “cool” clothes has inspired her to “save a bunch of stuff” for her girls.
“I look at my mom and I’ll be like, ‘Mom, where is that dress?’ And she’s like, ‘Oh my God, that dress. I didn’t even like that dress. I gave it away.’ And I’m like, ‘I would die for this dress right now,’ ” she says.
“I have so many of those moments that I definitely save a bunch of stuff, for [Amada and Esmeralda],” Mendes adds. “We didn’t have much money at all, growing up. So my mom’s clothes weren’t quality, but they were so cool. I’m like, ‘Why didn’t you save this for me?’ “