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“I wish I had the luxury of spending more time than usual with them so that on Mother’s Day, I can take off and hit the spa,” the Marvel Cinematic Universe star, 40, told PEOPLE Friday in Beverly Hills, California, at the launch of the Tiffany Cafe at Beverly Hills.
“As a working mom, you live with that conflict of having to go to work and wanting to go to work but also wanting to always be with your children,” she added. “So on Mother’s Day, I’m just going to be a mother.”
While Saldana — who shares son Zen Anton Hilario, 2, and twin boys Bowie Ezio and Cy Aridio, 4, with husband Marco Perego — admitted she experiences “mom guilt,” she also recognizes it’s a part of what “makes us human.”
“If [you don’t] feel guilty, then something’s wrong with you,” she told PEOPLE. “It’s difficult for [the kids], and as they grow older they’re able to grasp the concept of time and they’re able to really feel your absence.”
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When Saldana’s sons express that they miss her when she goes to work, she said she tells them, ” ‘It hurts me too when I don’t have you.’ “
“I get emotional because it is hard,” she said. “But the moment that you empathize with them, we become this team of like, ‘You go to school, I go to work. But when we come home, we’re going to be together.’ “
“Also, I don’t want them to feel that work is what takes you away from everything that gives you happiness,” she continued. “Work is part of life. So we never use work as an excuse. We have to work, that’s what everybody has to do. That way we’re creating this sense of duty, like work is part of life and life is part of work. But it is hard.”
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Though her kids are getting older and starting to understand more, Saldana told PEOPLE they don’t quite grasp what she does in her career as an actor just yet.
“They know that I work and that I dress up for a living,” she said. “They’re still trying to grasp why they see me on screen, but I’m sitting right next to them. It’s the same way when they visit me on set and I’m all green or I’m all done up because of Avatar. Even though we explain it to them, I don’t think they quite get it.”
But that doesn’t mean Saldana and her husband will avoid being honest about what they do with their kids as they grow up, and even concerning her other projects outside of acting.
Before the Tiffany & Co. event, which supported the organization Baby2Baby, Saldana said she told her boys, ” ‘Mommy is going to go work at a store and they sell jewelry and they’re partnering with an amazing organization that helps babies your age to give them diapers.’ “
When it comes to parenting with her husband, Saldana said she’s the more “rigid” one of the relationship — but she’s learning to let go more.
“[Zen] is terribly 2,” she said with a laugh. “His body has this agility to do so many things, and yet he’s unable to convey with enough speed what he wants and how he’s feeling and his frustration. His molars are coming out so he’s just terribly 2 right now.”
“So when that happens, I always put [on] my Mommy strict [voice]: ‘Don’t do this and don’t do that,’ ” the actress went on. “Then I find myself telling my husband, ‘Is it me? I feel like I’ve said more ‘No’ in the last hour than I’ve said in the last two.’ He’s like, ‘Well, then, flip that. This next hour, just say “Yes” to everything.’ “
After taking Perego’s advice and saying “Yes” to her sons, Saldana said she was met with a positive response.
“My husband is always like, ‘Very good!’ ” she said. “Because he’s such a ‘Yes’ papa. He’s learning to assert himself. I’m learning to be a little more fun because I can be very strict. But it’s thanks to me that they brush their teeth!”
Not only is Zen in his terrible twos, but he’s also taking after his older brothers — for better or for worse, because “everything is a fart joke and a fart sound,” Saldana told PEOPLE.
The twins, on the other hand, make their mom laugh because of the way they “gang up on” her and Perego, 40. “We see them always sitting in a corner congregating,” she said. “Oh my God, they’re hustlers.”