By Yuki Hayashi
I’ll be honest: Talking with Sophie Grégoire-Trudeau is exhausting. Through the phone comes a staccato torrent of opinion and ideas, one segueing to the next, all emphatically pouring out at lightning speed. If anything, I find myself transported back to university, when we all talked like this: Like we believed, heart and soul, in what we were saying — that we would fix the world.
Montreal-based Grégoire-Trudeau, 35, wears her heart on her sleeve. She’s fiery and passionate and it would be easy to rue her for all she has (you know that she’s beautiful too, right?), were it not for the fact that — besides making her corner of the world a better place — she’s also incredibly down to earth. Busy moms both, we divide our interview into an email Q & A session, lots of phone tag and two phone interviews, including one where she repeatedly reminds me to check if it’s time to break for my daughter’s swim class. When we chat, it’s between an eTalk taping, emergency dental appointment and quality time with the kids, Xavier, two-and-a-half, and Ella-Grace, one. She’s as time-crunched as they come. But, as they say, if you want something done, ask a busy mom.
In the case of Grégoire-Trudeau, her demanding schedule isn’t complete without advocacy work for three Quebec-based non-governmental organizations (NGOs), all geared at improving the lives of women and children. (See end of article for info on each.) We talked with Grégoire-Trudeau about what why volunteerism is so vital, and how she manages to balance it all.
CF: Like most of our readers, you’re a busy mom. And yet you’re also currently volunteering with women’s shelter The Shield of Athena, a drop-in centre for at-risk expectant moms called La Maison Bleue, and you’re the health fundraiser for Girls for the Cure. In the past you’ve been active around bulimia awareness and clean water access in the developing world. I think the question our readers have is: How do you find the time?
SGT: I prefer balance, so I try to build a family rhythm. We have a routine with the kids. Justin isn’t here during the week, so I have a new “husband” named Dominika. She’s my friend and partner in helping with the kids. I’m blessed to have her — I feel we’re part of the same tribe!
The day starts around 6:30 a.m. with sippy cups of OJ in bed, hugs and kisses, and then breakfast. Xavier goes to daycare three times a week and loves his group of friends! I spend my days with Ella-Grace, working at CTV or at different meetings for my charity work. I also read books on women’s issues to prepare for upcoming speeches. I get in an hour of walking and yoga each day, if possible. And then it’s time to pick up Xav from daycare and head to the park — or out for frozen yogurt!
Next comes dinner and bedtime around 7:30. The kids know what’s coming and they’re used to it. I bet they could do it themselves. I take my bath every night with both kids. I wouldn’t change that for the world.
All this to say, I’ve built a routine that works for us. There’s always downtime and silence in some parts of the day. I think our spirits and bodies are refuelled by those moments. If you have some quiet time, things seem less hectic.
CF: How does Justin fit into this routine, since he’s in Ottawa Monday to Friday?
SGT: I plan for the weekend so Justin has quality time with the kids. Our family time is so precious. We miss him when he’s gone but he works so hard and it’s all part of the choices we made, and the life mission we support.
CF: Has parenthood affected how you and Justin view your engagement with the world?
SGT: Parenthood has awakened the sleepy parts of me…parts that were in me, but just not conscious enough. Justin and I have always felt we have to give back to society. Having children gives us more moral tools to do so. I’m not sure you can teach your kids moral lessons if you don’t practise them yourselves. The way I interact with others in my everyday life — at the grocery store, in a restaurant, with my friends, or at an event — the kids see it. They absorb it. I try to have respect for all, and to have compassion for all.
CF: Do you think moms have a particular stake in making the world a better place?
SGT: To me, parents have a moral obligation toward the children they bring into this world. That’s the whole purpose of becoming a parent — to love kids and to make them feel what’s wrong and what’s right with respect to themselves, others and the planet. And mothers will always be the nucleus of the family. They are the carriers of life and serve as the “outer placenta.” All the choices a mother makes — as a consumer and as a lover or a friend — will affect the child.
CF: Were you inspired by your mother?
SGT: My mother wasn’t someone who did lots of charity work, but she’s a nurse, so she’s always been very caring. I think that helped me have empathy for others.
CF: Many would agree with your characterization of mothers as the carriers of life and the nucleus of the family. Yet at the same time it’s astonishing how much violence is perpetuated against women on a global scale, whether in Darfur or Canada. Why do you think this happens?
SGT: This is a conversation that could take hours. There are different sources. It comes back to the feminine and masculine balance of divinity in our society — the feminine divine isn’t valued. I think we live in a patriarchal world…but there’s a level of awareness and a shift of consciousness going on. I’m one of those people who think optimistically. We don’t get anywhere with pessimism.
Violence comes from so many different sources. The individualistic society doesn’t help: It’s hard to see what’s happening outside ourselves. I think we could be more spiritual, connect more with others. We lack a cultural volunteering spirit. We lack a connection to elders who are losing their purpose because there’s no real legacy between elders and youngsters. We’ve gone wrong with all that.
CF: Do you ever worry about getting emotionally burned out?
SGT: Volunteer work is a blessing. The simple act of helping another human being stimulates a hormone release that makes you feel good!
CF: Your eTalk reportage focuses on the philanthropy and activism of celebrities. Why are so many public figures now vocal about social and political causes? This wasn’t the case 15 years ago.
SGT: I think more celebs see they have a responsibility to inspire and influence. There’s such a frenetic rhythm to our society, and it’s difficult to get your voice out there, so people who do have a voice are taking the responsibility more seriously.
CF: Which public figures have really wowed you with their dedication?
SGT: I’m impressed with the work that Matt Damon, Brad and Angie are doing. Michael J. Fox is also a fierce one. David Suzuki, Bill and Melinda Gates, and Bono are doing such amazing work, too.
CF: Have you ever declined an interview because you doubted someone’s sincerity?
SGT: A personality might be doing it for the wrong reasons, but I don’t care. They’re the ones living with their moral hypocrisy and people are still being helped. I’m not the kind of person who tries to find the negative — what’s the point? And most do volunteer out of compassion and idealism.
CF: What one takeaway idea do you want to leave with Canadian Family readers about volunteerism and philanthropy?
SGT: Think small! Think small because that’s how you create something larger scale. You can have big dreams, but your first actions should be small. And when you’re stuck, think of small things you can do. When you start doing something, it’s contagious. You meet people who are inspiring, and dreaming together is the way to build something big. That’s why I do it — you get closer to people, and unite.-CF
Sophie Grégoire-Trudeau has made it her mission to improve the lives of women and children around the world and close to home. For the Montrealer, that means advocating and raising awareness, donations and volunteer labour for these three charities close to her heart
The Shield of Athena (shieldofathena.com) This non-profit offers emergency shelter and professional services (in 16 languages) to women and children fleeing family violence in Montreal and Laval. “I truly, truly believe the way we treat mothers is a reflection of the respect we have towards humanity. Women will always be the nucleus of the family and play a humongous role in the development of self-esteem in children. Any woman who suffers from domestic abuse needs [a way out.] These women are so isolated, and we need to reach out to help,” says Grégoire-Trudeau.
La Maison Bleue (maisonbleue.info) This non-profit drop-in centre helps pregnant women in at-risk groups such as young moms or those fleeing domestic violence. Pre- and post-natal care, counselling and help locating housing are examples of the support available. “La Maison Bleue’s a home away from home for mothers and children. Their team includes family doctors, nurses, social workers and midwives,” says Grégoire-Trudeau.
Girls for the Cure Thousands of girls from six Montreal private schools participate in an annual walk to raise money for patient care and research into cancers affecting women. Since its inception in 1995, over $2 million has been raised. “I love interacting with young girls. If I can encourage them, bring positive energy, and connect, that’s a blessing for me. It’s a wonderful opportunity and I’ll be speaking at Girls for the Cure again this September 23,” says Grégoire-Trudeau.