“So Far, So Great” is the theme song to Disney’s popular TV show "Sonny With a Chance," starring actress-singer Demi Lovato. It also could be the theme for Sharla Sumpter Bridgett, the show’s executive producer.
The three-month job she got about a decade ago as an assistant to director Brian Robbins turned into a working partnership with him and a happy career. The Los Angeles native has been pivotal in the theatrical releases of "Coach Carter," starring Samuel L. Jackson, and "Wild Hogs," starring Tim Allen and John Travolta. She has also been behind some of Nickelodeon’s beloved TV shows — ”All That," "Kenan and Kel," "The Amanda Show," "The Nick Cannon Show" and "Cousin Skeeter.”
A little over four years ago, Sumpter Bridgett took on yet another role — mom, a role she repeated barely two months ago when she gave birth to a second daughter.
She, husband Pardé Bridgett - an advertising copywriter - and daughters Hunter and Hendrix live in Los Angeles.
In many fields, women who rise to the top are either single or childfree. What has been your experience in Hollywood before you had children and once you became a mom?
I’ve been really lucky to work at family-friendly companies since I started in the industry. I never felt like having a family was problematic, not that that’s, unfortunately, everyone’s experience. I’ve always worked for people who’ve had families, so it’s been great.
When you’re choosing films or TV shows to produce, does the fact that you’re a mom, and a mom to girls, ever influence your decisions?
Absolutely! I think that’s why I enjoy working in the kids’ space. Because when we were developing “Sonny With a Chance,” my daughter and my nieces (I have three nieces) were my target audience so it actually was appropriate for me to bring my work home with me. And we could watch shows together and they could give me their feedback. If I can get all of them in a room and giggling, I’ve done a good job.
Some women say they could never work full time, others say they could never stay home. Where do you see yourself in that spectrum, and why?
I enjoy working. I think you have to be happy as an individual first in order to be a happy mom. To be a present parent you have to be a happy parent. I have friends who fall on both sides, and what we’ve all agreed on is that the challenge is figuring out what makes you happy, and for every woman that’s different. Most important, we moms can’t judge other moms.
What do you think you’re sacrificed as a working mom, and what have you gained?
Working moms probably don’t sleep as much as everybody else, and you just don’t spend quite as much time on yourself. If you get a 15-minute regimen in the morning, you probably don’t spend a lot of time thinking about what you’re going to wear, but in a way that’s become a strength because you find a way to be more comfortable in your skin and you just can’t be as self-conscious as you used to be. You realize once you become a mom, it’s really not about you, anyway. Your goal is to get up, get everyone dressed and out the door, and not how well coordinated you are.
In what ways has motherhood surprised you?
The warning before you become a mom is the lack of sleep, and it’s tough. The challenge is the balance of work and home. But what surprised me is how much we laugh and what a good time I have. I’m surprised at how much I laugh at myself. We really have a good time, and I’m surprised at how a 4-year-old can have such a great sense of humor.
What’s the best advice you got about mothering?
When you’re trying to balance, rushing becomes your daily speed. So one day when I was rushing out the door my daughter was trying to tell me something and I was just ushering her to the car and she stopped and said, “Mom, if you listen to me, I’ll listen to you.” And I recognized that she’s right, that I don’t always rule the moment and I have to stop and listen. I make a conscious effort to listen to her, and listen to her stories. You can learn a lot from your kid; they’re view of the world is completely original and it makes you think.
How do you manage the home-work balance?
It’s a day-to-day achievement. My husband and I manage it as a team, absolutely, and we’re really lucky to have our family nearby. My dad is actually the carpool captain for the family.
What are the things you refuse to compromise when it comes to your family?
Our quality time. When the weekends come, we turn off our home phone and turn off our Blackberries and often disappear, to family’s and friends’ frustration, but it’s important to us to have that, at least, two days of quality time and undivided attention with one another. And obviously there are exceptions when you have to work certain weekends, but we really make an effort to be home and be present to spend time with each other.
One of your films, "Coach Carter," really emphasizes role models. Who are your role models?
My two grandmothers and my mom are my role models. As working moms and also as black women, they were extremely successful in much more trying times than our work environment today. I do, on a daily basis, feel that my success is a direct result of their hard work and sacrifice. We just celebrated my grandmother’s 90th birthday, and when you see the generations together, you realize you’ve been carried on the backs of women who worked to get you where you are today. I’m very appreciative.
Do you think you are a role model to your daughters, and, if so, in what ways?
One thing I do know is what I say definitely comes back to me. I have a 4-year-old, so this is present on a daily basis. I do try to watch my words and teach both my daughters through my actions, which, living in Los Angeles and driving the freeways on a daily basis, can be a challenge. I try to stay patient and represent what I hope they will become, so we’ll see.
How important is it for you have “me” time and how do you spend it?
With the youngest being just two months, I don’t really have it right now. And I’m OK with that because when I’m done working I’m eager to get home and be with the baby and my daughter. And so “me” time becomes couple time, and if we can get out to have a date, that’s great. Eventually I think I’ll get back to having hours free throughout the week for myself. Right now, I’m kind of far away from that.
The Hollywood lifestyle can be hard on adults, let alone children. Is it important to you to give your daughters as normal a life as possible, and how do you make that happen?
It’s extremely important for us for them to have a really happy, healthy childhood. I think everyone in Hollywood has their struggle. But I’ve come to believe it isn’t where you live but how you’re parenting that makes a difference. I grew up in Los Angeles so I can say from my experience, the majority of the people working here in the industry are hard-working people for their families. It’s no different than any other community; there are certain families that face setbacks. The difference here is that the families will sometimes end up in the tabloids! But I really believe that it’s surrounding yourself with family and friends that have common values.
When your girls look back on their childhood, what do you hope they’ll remember most?
I hope they remember me as a happy mom. Laughing. I think every mom wants their kids to remember the victories as a mom, the awesome Halloween costume or the planned birthday party that we pulled off just right, and not the days when you forgot the lunch or didn’t bring the tutu to dance class. I hope that they remember that I tried really hard to make them happy, and I was happy doing it.
Executive Producer Sharla Sumpter Bridgett was interviewed by Vicki Larson, Around the Watercooler  contributor. She is a journalist and single mom.