Jamie-Lynn Sigler on navigating motherhood and her relapsing MS: 'I really try to focus on what I'm still able to do and what I try to do and show up to do'

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A photo illustration shows actress Jamie-Lynn Sigler gazing off to the side.

Welcome to So Mini Ways, Yahoo Life’s parenting series on the joys and challenges of child-rearing.

The start of a new school year has ushered in a whole “new phase of life” for Jamie-Lynn Sigler and her family of four, including sons Beau, 10, and Jack, 5. “My little one’s in kindergarten now, so [my sons are] at school together, and they ride the bus together,” says the Sopranos alum. “So, I have a lot more ‘me time’ during the day, because they’re gone from 7:30 to 3:30.”

Even with the additional time to herself, Sigler admits that “parenting is hard.”

“We’re all trying to do the best we can,” she adds. “Every time I think I’ve figured it out, I realize I don’t have it figured out at all.”

One trick up the actress’s sleeve: her ability to see herself in Beau, while her husband, Cutter Dykstra, relates to Jack. “[Our kids] are our greatest teachers, they are my greatest mirrors,” says Sigler, noting that each boy both looks and acts just like one parent. “So Beau and I, we get each other completely, I understand him and where he’s coming from, and my husband completely understands where my little one is coming from, so at least when parenting gets hard, we know who to defer to.”

In addition to those everyday parenting challenges, Sigler is navigating relapsing multiple sclerosis (RMS), the most common course of the central nervous system disease, which she was diagnosed with 20 years ago. Since then, the actress says she’s reached “a place of acceptance,” which she owes to three key steps she’s incorporated into a guide for people with RMS she’s developed in partnership with Novartis: Reflect, reframe and reach out.

Sigler is intimately familiar with each step. When it comes to reflection, she recalls allowing herself time to move through “the difficult feelings that can come with a diagnosis” like MS — “anything from grief, sadness, fear [and] really giving myself permission to process that and giving myself a right to feel that.” Reframing involved asking herself questions like, “How [can] I still be the mom [my kids] want me to be? And the actress they want me to be, and the wife and the friend?” and “What are the things that I need to do to live my life to the fullest?” That led Sigler to the third step: reaching out.

“As humans and women, it’s really hard to ask for help,” says Sigler. “We never want to be a burden. For a long time, I really thought that I could do this on my own, [but] I always say MS gave me my superpower, my greatest lesson in this life, which is to be vulnerable. I’ve really learned to tap into the beautiful, deep connections I can have when I am vulnerable.”

For the mom of two, vulnerability involves nurturing a support system of close female friends. “My girlfriends once literally sat me down one day and said, ‘Jamie, it is our honor — we will carry you on our back if we need to. We don’t want you to remove yourself from hanging out with us,’” recalls Sigler, who explains that when the pals go out together, they’ll drop her off at the front of the concert venue or the restaurant. “They will go find parking, and then give me their arm or help me hang on to them.” They’ll also pitch in if Sigler is having trouble carrying her elder son’s sports equipment or struggling to run after both of her boys at once.

Not only does Sigler practice reaching out herself, but she encourages her sons to do the same. Specifically, it’s important to her that the boys know they can express their feelings about her RMS. “This does affect their life,” she notes. “They have two very different reactions to it. My older son [Beau] is really empathetic. He’s really sensitive, protective of me. Never wants me to feel bad, never needs me to explain, always tells me, ‘Oh, no, Mom, I got it. It’s OK.’ My little one [Jack] is 5. And he knows no other way than to be his honest, true self, which I love him for, but he is upset about it.”

According to Sigler, the effects of RMS can be hard on Jack. “He compares me to other moms,” she says. “He doesn’t like it. He doesn’t like that I can’t run with him, that I have to sit down and take breaks sometimes when we play.” She’s proud to hold space for her sons to share their emotions, Sigler says. “I don’t want him to ever feel like he has to feel a certain way for me,” she adds. “But it’s something that we navigate, and we try to be open and honest with each other.”

All the while, Sigler is striving to be as healthy and strong as she can, “mostly” for her boys. “They’re so young, they have so much life ahead. They are so active, they are so into sports,” she says. “I want to be there for every game cheering them on. They are at the forefront of my fight every day, no doubt.”

By spending time by their mom’s side through her fight, Sigler’s boys will have a leg up when it comes to expressing empathy for others, she believes. “My kids are just going to probably be way more aware of other people and their needs, and, hopefully, be a little more understanding than they would have been without it,” she says.

And on days that are more challenging than others, Sigler aims to be as honest with herself about her emotions as she encourages her sons to be, reminding herself that she’s “OK with not being OK sometimes.”

“It’s not always going to look perfect,” she says. “It might not always be easy, and I think [you need to] allow yourself to have some room — even if it’s to walk in the other room and have a good cry for a couple of minutes. Ignoring those feelings can add up.”

Ultimately, while the proud mom knows it’s easy enough to focus on what the disease is taking away and what she can’t do, she’s determined to zero in on the positives. “I really try to focus on what I’m still able to do and what I try to do and show up to do,” she shares. Her family has also learned to “make it work” when it comes to quality time together, whether they’re at a baseball game or out trick-or-treating.

“What matters most is that I’m there,” Sigler says.