The singer and mother of three Ciara has just turned on her camera for our Zoom meeting in mid-November, looking radiant and calm despite the crying newborn she’s holding to her chest. It’s feeding time for her four-month-old son, Win, and things aren’t going exactly as planned. He’s refusing to latch, making for a slightly chaotic first few minutes to our interview. Ciara turns away from the camera to readjust him, then steps outside the camera frame, speaking to someone nearby to help. When she’s back Win is tucked away snugly, completely hidden underneath a black shawl. She looks perfectly at ease, like a working mom who knows a thing or two about multitasking meetings and breastfeeding. Soon a very cute baby emerges from underneath the fabric, a mop of hair and huge blinking eyes. As Ciara hands Win off and reorients herself, it seems like the perfect time to start talking—what else?—parenthood in a pandemic.
“I don’t even know if you can call it organized chaos, but it is to some degree. Sometimes not even the most organized, to be honest,” she says, once the flurry of activity dies down. “But I’m enjoying it all. I found my way to embrace it all. I just decided, Hey, this is a unique time. It is a challenging time. And the world is changing. But rather than letting the world change me, I’m going to figure out how to change with it. That’s been my mentality. How do I adjust? How do I really work and find the silver lining in the midst of it all?”
That Ciara faces down the challenges of a global pandemic with a mix of optimism and steely determination will not be news to anyone who’s a Ciara fan. Ever since 2004, when she released the multiplatinum album Goodies at the age of 18 and wowed everyone with her impeccable dance moves, it’s been clear that this is a woman with a work ethic. “I’ve always been a planner, always, since day one, even back to the start of my career with having a goal sheet. You can’t get to where you want to get to in life without a compass,” she tells me. “I really believe that in order to get to where you want to get to in life, you got to envision it, you got to speak it, you got to plan it, and you got to write it down. I believe in those affirmations.”
Seven full-length albums and 22 million singles sales later, Ciara’s accomplishments prove that her affirmations are still working overtime, even in lockdown. Prior to our Zoom call, her publicist at Beauty Marks Entertainment—Ciara’s own all-encompassing business enterprise—sends me some information about a few projects in the works. There’s R&C, the fragrance released in November that Ciara and husband Russell Wilson had spent much of the pandemic quarantine perfecting (featuring intertwined magnetic bottles of his and hers scents). There’s their new fashion line, The House of LR&C, a collection of sustainable streetwear that debuted last month with its Human Nation line. There’s her involvement in the Why Not You Foundation, founded in 2014 by Wilson and dedicated to fighting poverty and empowering youth. And that’s before we even get to the music, which includes “Rooted”—Ciara’s single celebrating Black womanhood, Black culture, and Black resistance that was released last summer on the heels of the first George Floyd and Breonna Taylor protests—as well as a resurgence of the viral #LevelUpChallenge that accompanied her 2018 hit “Level Up,” this time featuring health-care workers on the front lines of fighting COVID.
It’s a lot for any year, but it becomes even more impressive when you add to that the layer of parenting in a pandemic. Like many parents, Ciara and Wilson, the starting quarterback for the Seattle Seahawks, had to decide whether to enroll their older children, Future, age six (Ciara’s son with rapper Future), and Sienna, three, in in-person or virtual school. They decided that fully remote learning was the best decision for their family. “With Russ and football, they have to take COVID tests every day—there’s so many people on a football team. Our babies have intermittent asthma, so we have to be super cautious,” Ciara explains. “We don’t know how this virus performs. There’s so many reasons why we have to take super-high measures to make sure we’re being as safe as we can be considering everything.”
Because of that, Ciara turned into a self-described teacher’s assistant. She created a schedule for Future that felt like school, including one-hour blocks of virtual learning with his private tutor mixed with “P.E.” time for basketball, baseball, or football, as well as a designated lunch break. “I was literally in class every day making sure he had all his stuff he needs,” she says, which included setting up an iPad at his desk so his teacher can see what he’s working on. With Sienna she had a different challenge; the toddler was more content playing hide-and-seek underneath her desk than sitting for a 20-minute weekly lesson with her preschool class. For her, it was about “making sure she’s not missing out on the fundamental things that she would be doing if she was in school,” Ciara says. “They learned about the letter A and we made homemade applesauce the other week, which was really fun. She’s following along with some of what her classmates are doing at school, but we’re just doing it at home.”
Of course, Ciara has resources that many working parents can only dream of, so her pandemic experience surely has been much different than most. But still, trading parenting stories with her feels the same as it does whenever I meet moms with kids of similar age to my four-year-old daughter. We share breastfeeding woes—I tell Ciara that I barely made it to six months before my supply dropped; she nods knowingly and says she usually breastfeeds for three to four months before needing to stop because she has to ramp up her fitness routine (she is, however, aiming to breastfeed Win for nine). She gives me a recommendation for a learning app for my daughter that Sienna likes (Lingokids, for anyone else out there also juggling childcare with working from home). She playfully commiserates with me about the “life of a mama” as she adjusts her clothes once Win is done feeding. That’s the thing with Ciara: She exudes genuineness in everything she does, whether she’s enthusiastically sharing mom tips with a stranger or appearing in ABC’s Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve With Ryan Seacrest, which she just cohosted for the fourth year in a row.
Part of Ciara’s signature warmth comes from that feeling that you’re a part of her family life; she routinely shares the Wilsons’ day-to-day routines and silliness with her 26 million followers on Instagram, including documenting her pregnancy in real time since announcing it at the beginning of last year. But what was it actually like behind the scenes, navigating family life and pregnancy with pandemic uncertainties?
“In the beginning, for us, it was really trying to wrap our heads around it,” she says. In March, when those of us in the United States were learning that many parts of the nation were about to go into lockdown, the Wilsons were in their house in California, where they live during Russell’s off-season. Ciara was six months pregnant. “Just trying to understand all of it, trying to figure out how to balance life with the school and the Zoom sessions.” She watched Pandemic on Netflix to cope and thought of ways to entertain the kids.
“It was just not being able to do things to really, truly free your mind. That was just, by far, the greatest challenge of it all because it was like these four walls. What do I do?” she says. “Thank God, with Russ and I, we held on up. We did alright. We still have the same level of love for each other. If anything, it makes you have even more because you literally are going in circles, the same thing over and over, but figuring it out.”
Doctor’s appointments became surreal—Wilson, who Ciara said sometimes had to miss previous ultrasounds because of his football season, wasn’t able to accompany her once again, this time for a different reason. “That was just such, wow, an out-of-body experience,” she says. “He drove me all the way down to my doctor’s office, an hour drive to my doctor’s office, to sit in the car and FaceTime with me to see the screen.”
Luckily the rest of Ciara’s pregnancy with Win went pretty much without a hitch. Besides searing hip pain at the end, she says, it was much like the others. “I’ve been very fortunate enough to have pretty easy pregnancies,” she says. When it came time to deliver, Wilson was able to be in the room, although COVID restrictions meant that no one else was around to help. “Russ was literally everything in one,” she jokes. “He was my husband. He was the photographer, the videographer. He was so cute because he set up the cameras. He was looking at the camera, checking the angle, and [saying], ‘The baby is going to come out this way, so I’ll be right here, and this camera will be right here.’ And then he also got to help pull the baby out, which was really sweet.”
The other difference, of course, was having to labor with a mask on. “My obstetrician, who’s delivered all my babies, was not playing any games about this COVID. I literally made my first push with Win and then he was like, ‘She needs a mask on. Get a mask on.’ It happened so fast, so I still had my mask [down]. But he was like, ‘Oh, no, no. She gon’ put that mask on.’ My mask was pretty good. I could still breathe alright through it, so that was good. But it was like, ‘Wow. This is crazy. I’m having to deliver a baby with a mask. What in the world?’” In another stroke of luck, the birthing part of her labor was incredibly fast—20 minutes, she thinks, maybe less. “It was literally three pushes, good ones. Three good pushes and he was here,” she says. She welcomed Win into the world by singing a perfect rendition of “Happy Birthday” and posted the video on her Instagram a day after giving birth.
Ciara’s willingness to invite the public into the most intimate aspects of her life is perhaps one reason why so many people feel so invested in her relationship with Wilson, her husband of four years. There’s also the fact that they are just cute together. Besides the fairy-tale courtship and wedding, there’s also the sense that they have each other’s backs, that they’re rooting for each other’s success, deeply entrenched in their faith and thoroughly in love. But 2020 threw many couples for a loop, and I wondered if it had a similar effect on Ciara’s relationship. It turns out the opposite is true.
“What I think that’s been really great for us because it still makes us—we can be in the same house and still miss each other,” she says. “But also, because work still goes on, we’re not just kicking back like, ‘Oh, what we doing? Watching TV.’ We’re still grinding. We’re still working. He’s sometimes working in another room in another section of the house, and I’m just working in another section too. And sometimes we go hours doing that. So then, by the time the end of the day comes, ‘Oh, my gosh. I really missed you.’”
We’re still on the subject about her love for her husband when, as if on cue, Wilson wanders into the room off-camera, wondering what she’s up to. Ciara looks up from her screen and lights up when she sees him. “I’m doing an interview,” she says, smiling.
“Oh, I didn’t know that,” I hear him say.
“Hi, babe,” she replies, before shooing him away.
Ciara seizes on the interruption to talk about one of her pandemic silver linings: the fact that she and Wilson have had time to work together on several ventures, like their fragrance and their apparel line. “Us being able to pursue our dreams together and come together and build up things with love from the ground up together has been very special and has been a blessing and a gift in the midst of the chaos,” she says. “Just being able to do that has definitely brought us moments of joy.”
I ask her, since I also work with my partner and have spent the last few months sequestered with him, if she has any advice for other couples spending more time with each other than ever.
“Oh, my gosh, communication, communication, communication,” she says. “I do believe the greatest challenge is being able to simply communicate. If we had any challenges with anything, whenever we do, we go to communication. And sometimes it’s hard to enter into the conversation of communication, but then, you know it’s a safe place because we always talk about being equally yoked. I think that’s a game changer because we’re able to get back to ground zero pretty easily because we’re aligned in the ways that we think about things and approach things.”
She also says that, once again, planning goes a long way. For Ciara and Wilson, that means dedicating Friday nights as their date nights, which she says helps keep things exciting. “We do have to put ourselves first as husband and wife, and that’s a hard thing to really understand, I think, especially for women, moms,” she says. “We love our babies so much. But we got to make sure our love is feeling good too, our husbands are feeling good too.”
Recently their date nights have mixed business with pleasure; they would have their own “nosing moments,” she says, where they’d test out scents for their fragrance. Even so, she prefers this to trying to fit in relationship time without a plan. “When you’re winging it, you get backed up,” she says. “It can get a little tricky, and you can hit a little bit of a patch.”
Having turned 35 a few weeks before we speak, Ciara is in a particularly introspective mood about where she goes from here. She’s thinking about how to “level up”—a theme so strong in her life that she created a song about it. “How am I being the best mom? How can I engage more? How can I be aware of certain things so I’m really dialed in with my babies? As a wife, what can I do to make sure I keep the sexy? What can I make sure that I’m doing to be on my stuff, take care of myself? How am I loving on myself so I still keep feeling young?” These are all questions she asks herself as she contemplates her next five years. “And when I get there, what’s the next five years?” she continues. “How am I living my life? How am I maximizing my life? I ask myself these questions, and I’m just dedicated to it.”
With all the talk of leveling up in every area of her life, I ask her if she ever feels like she puts too much pressure on herself. Sometimes, she says, but—always looking for that silver lining—she’s quick to note that pressure is a privilege. “I’d rather have the pressure sometimes than not have anything to do or want for something to do. It’s all about perspective.”
So what, then, does she do for self-care?
This is the first time in our conversation that Ciara hesitates. It takes a few seconds for her to find an answer. Grooming herself, she says. Going for a solo run with her three Great Danes. Sleep training Future and Sienna so they go to sleep and wake up at the same time, which gives her a much-needed break. But even her self-care involves her children—she mentions taking car rides with them to point out some goats near their house in California. “That’s actually been good for the mind,” she says. Even when she’s thinking of herself, her kids take center stage.
No matter: It’s clear that Ciara loves being a mom, wife, and businesswoman. Perhaps part of her self-care is feeling content that the life she has is the life she has, after almost two decades in a grueling business and experiencing life’s ups and downs in the public eye. She tells me as much as we begin to wrap up our call.
“I feel like I’m in my best place ever in my life. I love where I am in every area,” she says. “I’m grateful for the wisdom that life has given me with my experiences. I love my confidence that I have as a woman.
“I’m loving every bit of me, and that feels good.”
Originally Appeared on SELF