January Jones Talks Parenting

The 'Mad Men' star reveals what she really thinks about Betty Draper

Filed UnderCelebrities, parenting styles
Photograph by Frank Ockenfels/AMC

Mad Men is back for a sixth season this Sunday, and we can't wait to watch the two-hour premiere. Has Don Draper gone back to his womanizing ways? Will Pete leave behind his suburban life? And more importantly, what will become of Betty Francis this season?! We spoke with January Jones, the former Mrs. Draper, about working on a hit show, being a mom, and what it's like to portray one of the show's most controversial characters.

You went back to work after you had your son, Xander. Do you have any advice for working moms?

I had to go back to work when Xander was 6 or 7 weeks old, but I’m lucky that I have a job that I can bring him with me. I was able to bring him to work and nurse, and I could see him when I missed him, which was often even though I was only feet away. Mad Men has such long hours, and then you go home and you don’t sleep. So it was hard. But I think that as hard as it is, that if you have something that you love outside of being a mother, you should definitely maintain it, because it makes you a better mother. I think in America … we are often judged partially [for going back to work], but I think we should always remember that it's OK. It doesn’t mean that you are a bad mom.

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Has being a mother changed your opinion of your character, Betty Draper?

I try not to judge her. It’s like she's a relative you are embarrassed about. I disagree with her a lot … I don’t think I’d be her friend, but I defend her fiercely when someone says something about her. You know, they don’t see the struggle and I think that she is judged so harshly. I remember at the end of season 2 she had that affair in the bar, and the reaction by fans: "How could she have an affair? How could you do that to Don!" Do you watch the show? I mean, the guy had been sleeping with so many other women!

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Do you ever find yourself influenced by Betty Draper when it comes to being a mom?

Well, I certainly don’t take anything from Betty home. I have nothing in common with her when it comes mothering. I don’t see it as a burden or irritation. I feel very lucky and I feel like it was something that I was meant to do. I’m at the right age and the right time in my life where it’s just so much fun. And I don’t think Betty sees the fun in that … I think she sees it as an inconvenience.

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How is it working with the young actress Kiernan Shipka, who plays your daughter Sally.

It’s been such an amazing thing to watch Kiernan—who she is as a person, and who she has become as an actress has been so beautiful to watch. We have had a lot of emotional and sometimes difficult things to do, whether it’s getting slapped or pulling her by the hair … I’ve said awful things to her. But I’ll talk to her beforehand and explain the physical aspects of how it is going to work and if I am ever going too far. We make sure to communicate. But she is just a very mature, well-parented, put-together young woman and I think that it has been a privilege watching her grow.

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Speaking of the slapping scene, is it strange to play a parent in a time when things like that were acceptable?

Yeah, I think people are quick to forget that it wasn’t that uncommon. I mean, I was spanked as a kid, and I wasn’t born in the '60s. [It was 1978, in fact]. I think that the show addresses things like that to remind people of their past and how far we come. It’s a good reminder of what not to do. At the same time we are so rigid and so worried about every little thing now. I had no idea how many warning labels are on kid's stuff. Everything is warning, warning, warning. You just kind of do the best you can.

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