Sarah McLachlan on parenting, sex and the ‘have it all’ debate
Editor’s note: Kelly Wallace is CNN’s digital correspondent and editor-at-large covering family, career and life. She is a mom of two girls. Read her other columns and follow her reports at CNN Parents and on Twitter.
Sarah McLachlan, the Grammy Award winning singer and songwriter whose ballads helped so many of us through heartache, breakups and loss, was barely out of her teenage years when her first album was released back in 1988.
Now, she’s a 46-year-old divorced mom of two girls touring the country to promote her seventh full-length solo album, called “Shine On.”
“I’m a whole hell of a lot older,” she joked, when I asked her, during a casual conversation at CNN’s studios earlier this week, how much her life has changed.
McLachlan credits her success in the ’90s, fueled by memorable hits such as “I Will Remember You” and “Angel,” with allowing her to take time off, have children and be a full-time parent. Her girls, now ages 7 and 12, have traveled on tour with her since they were babies.
“They’re the great leveler because they couldn’t care less what it is that I do for a living,” she said with a laugh.
The three-time Grammy Award winner and Canadian-born singer didn’t quite set out on her career to empower women, but that’s what she’s done. She spearheaded the Lilith Fair, a concert tour comprised of only female artists and female-led bands in the late 1990s and again in 2010, which raised millions for charities.
During our mom-to-mom chat, we talked about her biggest worries as a parent, what she admires about the singer Lorde and why her sex life is thriving. The video above and this transcript of our conversation have been edited for length and clarity:
Kelly: What do you worry about most as a parent?
Sarah: Well, social media. I think Facebook is a really dangerous tool in the hands of kids. I really don’t think they should be allowed on it until they’re 18 or 20 years old because it’s a weapon, basically. It’s also a great tool but if you’re not psychologically evolved enough and aware and empathetic to other people’s issues. That concerns me a lot, which is part and parcel why (my daughters) are on computers because they have them at school but I really limit the time they’re on them and I say, “Let’s go live in the real world. Let’s go play. If you want to talk to your friends, bring them over to the house or go over to their houses and actually play.” I hear these kids hang out at each other’s houses and they just …
Kelly: They’re all sitting on their phones …
Sarah: I am the biggest jerk on the planet because (my older daugther is) one of the only kids that doesn’t have the iTouch or whatever. I say, “You know what honey, when you are out there in the world and I don’t know where you are and we have to stay in contact then you can have one. Right now, I’m a car service. I drive you everywhere and I pick you up from wherever you go.”
Kelly: You have commented about performers such as Lorde who posted unretouched photos of herself, basically saying here I am, flaws are OK. How important do you think that is for our girls?
Sarah: I think it’s imperative because when I grew up, I don’t think I even knew “Vogue” magazine or any of that stuff. I didn’t have any issues with my body. I wasn’t overweight, I wasn’t skinny. I have a fast metabolism but I just eat and I wear the clothes I wear and I never really even gave it much of a thought. There’s just so much pressure on these girls these days. They’re looking at all the different teen stars who are wearing hardly anything.
Kelly: How important do you think female role models are?
Sarah: I think they’re imperative. … Someone like Malala Yousafzai speaking out for girls’ education, getting shot and then not dying but rising up and becoming an international superstar and an international heroine. Those kinds of examples of strength, and strength of beliefs and just standing up for what you believe in and not backing down, I think are so imperative.
Kelly: Where do you think we are when it comes to the state of women in our world, in our society?
Sarah: There’s still a glass ceiling. I think we’ve come a long way. There are way more women in powerful positions (as) CEOs. There’s still a huge discrepancy between how many women are in power in companies and how many men, and inequality in pay … but we’re making strides, absolutely. But now there’s this whole thing of having it all. There’s no such thing as having it all. There’s no such thing as balancing it all. It’s a tricky, slippery slope. It’s a tightrope that we walk every day and some days we do it really well, and other days we fail miserably at it.
Kelly: So let’s talk about sex, shall we. (Sarah revealed in a recent interview that she’s had more sex this year in her new relationship than she’s had in her life, so I had to ask her about that!)
Sarah. Oh OK.
Kelly: I know we just met but you mentioned in an interview that that part of your life seems to be thriving in your relationship with former NHL player Geoff Courtnall.
Sarah: I mean, yeah, there was a long dry spell of a number of years where I didn’t date, didn’t have a partner, so I was just on my own, with my girls, and yeah I met Geoff.
Kelly: Many women in the latter half of their 40s are not necessarily enjoying that same kind of experience.
Sarah: No, and it was sort of like a resurgence for me, for sure, because I didn’t have sex for years and then all of a sudden, you sort of think, everybody says, what is it, you don’t use it you lose it, right, and I thought, oh no, it came back, really quickly. (She laughs.)
Kelly: Better than ever.
Sarah: Better than ever.
Kelly: I have to stop because I am being obnoxious and embarrassing. You have experienced so many things — obviously your divorce, you left your original management company, a new relationship, raising your children …
Sarah: Lost my dad.
Kelly: “Shine On” is about all of that, right?
Sarah: It’s about going through your 40s and all the changes. We don’t get to that point in our lives unscathed. We’re losing our family members. I lost my brother last November to bowel cancer so there are so many big changes that happen in our 40s, and it’s sort of that tipping point of I’m in the second half of my life. To a certain degree I get to choose what this is going to look like. How do I want it to look? And it’s sort of a reassessing of everything and I thought I’m so lucky, I’m so blessed. I have so many amazing things that have happened to me. I have my health, I have my kids’ health, I have great friends and family. I just want to suck the marrow out of every day that I have left because you just don’t know. You don’t know when your time is and I want every day to count.
Kelly: Absolutely and also important to you, The Sarah McLachlan School of Music for at risk and underserved kids in your community. How important is it to give back?
Sarah: To give of yourself, it’s like a drug. And when I did Lilith, I made a lot of money and I thought, what am I going to do? I don’t live a crazy lifestyle. I have all this extra money. I want to do something important with it. … We gave over $7 million to charity through Lilith over the three years and so I started the music school because I looked around in Vancouver and thought what do we need? What do kids need? What did I need? I needed music and there are a lot of kids that don’t have music in schools anymore. I guess it’s the first thing that gets cut from funding. And so we started a small project. It was about 200 kids and now we have over 700 this year. We’re going to have over 1,000 kids in the program starting next year 13 years in.
Kelly: A tour, a new album, how do you top this, Sarah McLachlan? And what is next?
Sarah: I have no idea. Like my kids, I live in the moment. I can’t help it. I have a very hard time looking forward, and thinking about what’s coming next. I’m just enjoying every moment.
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