Scott Foley on being a 'pragmatic parent' and letting his daughter watch 'Felicity'

Scott Foley reflects on his mother's battle with ovarian cancer and his life as a father of three. (Photo: Getty; designed by Quinn Lemmers)
Scott Foley reflects on his mother's battle with ovarian cancer and his life as a father of three. (Photo: Getty; designed by Quinn Lemmers)

Welcome to So Mini Ways, Yahoo Life's parenting series on the joys and challenges of childrearing.

Actor Scott Foley was 37 when he became a dad, welcoming daughter Malina with actress wife Marika Dominczyk in 2009; the couple is also parents to sons Keller, 9, and Konrad, 6. But he was much younger when he became a caregiver, supporting his mother Constance through her battle with ovarian cancer for close to four years, and then helping to raise his two younger brothers, two and four years his junior, following Constance's death when he was just 15.

His mom's legacy has impacted both Foley's activism — he's currently starring in GSK's "Not on My Watch" campaign urging ovarian cancer patients to take advantage of the maintenance therapies now available — but also his parenting. Here, the Felicity and Scandal star opens up about sharing memories of his mom with his kids, how he plays both "good cop" and "bad cop" and why it's important to not just "watch and wait."

How did taking on a caregiver role at such a young age impact how you are with your own kids? Do you feel more protective, or want to prepare them to be resilient?

All of it. I think that's just basic parenting. Obviously, I want to protect them. I want to prepare them for life and make sure they are resilient, but one of the things I learned when dealing with my mom is that there's not always an answer. Sometimes you just work and work and work and you go with God after that; you don't know what's going to happen. And that's sort of my philosophy when it comes to parenting. I do everything I can, I'll give them all the tools they need, hopefully, for whatever life they choose to have once they're out of my house, but aside from that, you know, you can only cross your fingers. Life happens, and I'm sort of a pragmatic parent when it comes to that. I do what I can in my house. Outside of it, hopefully, they're prepared to deal with things.

How do you describe your parenting style? Are you strict, are you the good cop... ?

Both. My wife Marika and I have really found a great balance of both being good cop and both being bad cop. I am fairly strict, I think, when it comes to respect and the way we treat other people. You can't walk around throwing attitude off or pouting. I expect certain things of my children, but I'm quick to play the good cop when my wife's screaming and yelling. I will pull a kid aside and be like, "I know Mommy's a little crazy right now. Just give her some time." But I'm also the bad cop. There are times when I'm like, "What the hell is this?!"

I see that your kids are back at school now.

We moved to Connecticut over the summer from Los Angeles and the kids almost immediately went back to school. It was hybrid for a little while; they'd go in the mornings and then come home and have homeschool in the afternoons. But ever since around the holidays, they've been in school full-time and it's been good having them in school. It's great. I think the social interaction is really important. My kids are 11, 9 and 6, so that's a big deal for them these days.

But it's come with its challenges. My 9-year-old, one of the kids in his class tested positive [for COVID-19] a few months ago, and that means the whole class had to quarantine. He was going to be home for 10 days, and this little boy, my son, looked at me and he said, "It's OK. At least I'll get to see my classmates on Zoom without their masks." And I thought, Oh, he wants to see their faces. It's just so sweet. It's things you don't even think about.

How do you share those memories of your mom with your children so that she's a part of their lives?

It is important to me and it's hard because she passed away when I was a kid myself, so long before I had my own children. I had to deal with grief and loss in my own way, and I think we all to a certain degree put those feelings in a drawer and closed it up. And once you have kids that drawer can rear its ugly head every now and then. [In terms of] keeping her memory alive, one of my sons' names is Konrad. We call him Konnie, and my mom was called Connie, so every day I hear that sound.

There's pictures of her around, the kids ask about her and we talk... They're very aware of how she died, how she was sick, what cancer is. They know words like "oncologist" and "chemotherapy" at a young age, and we're not hiding anything from them. I think it's important that they understand life and its fragility, and the fact that there's hope around everything, even when you lose someone. My wife is great. Although she never met my mom, she's also great about talking about Grandma Connie and what she might've done in this situation. It's hard sometimes, but we do our best.

You've been in some quintessential teen shows: Felicity, Dawson's Creek, even Step By Step. Now that your daughter's 11, have you thought about when she'll be able to watch the full Scott Foley archive?

I hope she wants to watch, that's the thing. I remember my dad talking about television he used to watch and I was like, "That's an old person, old-timey show. I want nothing to do with that." Granted, half the shows he was mentioning were in black and white. But my wife and I've talked about it and we think she's a year or two away from being able to really enjoy and understand Felicity. When she hits her teenage years, I think that's a decent time to watch it. Dawson's Creek she could probably do now, although in some ways Dawson's Creek was much more mature than Felicity was, with the way they talked and everything.

I have a show on right now, the reality show Ellen's Next Great Designer, and the kids love that. They love a competition reality show, whether it's Top Chef or Blown Away, so the fact that their dad is hosting one... They've seen me build stuff in my garage before, so they understand that it's something I'm passionate about.

Tell us about your "Not on My Watch" PSA.

It's very personal... One of the challenges that we ran into when dealing with my mom's illness was that we seemingly had exhausted all of our resources. She'd been through chemotherapy and we were told to just watch and wait, making sure everything worked, who knows what's going to happen. That was an extremely frustrating and hopeless way of feeling.

This partnership allows me to talk about some of the new therapies that are out there right now, like maintenance therapies for women, which actually delayed the recurrence between cancers. So if your doctor says to you, "Hey, we've done all we can, now let's just sit back and see what happens," it'll drive you crazy. But in the old days, we didn't have the options, and now we do. I think what we really want to do is empower women to stand up and take control of their own health and to see what else is out there...

You've got to take control of your own life and be the master of your own destiny and do everything you can, not just for yourself. If you have a family, it's really important — they want you around. And man, what I would give to have had these options available when my mom was going through everything.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

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