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Charlize Theron talks about her 'very personal' connection to the mom in 'Tully'

The Oscar winner, star of 'Tully' and mom of two used to try to do everything herself. Not anymore.
Premiere Of Focus Features' "Tully" - Red Carpet / Charlize Theron stars as Marlo in Jason Reitman's TULLY, a Focus Features release.
Getty Images / Focus Features
/ Source: TODAY

Here’s a universal mom truth: It’s perfectly OK to ask for help. And here’s an even bigger and more universal mom truth: Most moms don’t.

Two years ago, you could have added Charlize Theron to that list of parents going it alone.

She’s raising son Jackson, 6, and daughter August, 2. And the Oscar winner used to be a firm believer in being a super-parent with no dents in her maternal armor.

“The first time around, I wanted to do it all myself because otherwise I felt like I was a failure. And I would think that people would tell me I didn’t deserve this kid,” Theron told TODAY Parents. “With my second, I became more aware. It was so overwhelming. When the second one came around, I had that overwhelming sensation that I had to make sure that this little thing doesn’t die and I have a four year old down the hall who’s expecting me to be a human and a mother. The second time around, I realized that I can’t do this alone.”

Related: If you saw 'Tully' and you're looking for help, here are mental health resources

Theron also talked to the TODAY Parenting Team about her biggest challenge as a mom — the dreaded tantrums. Share your own parenting challenges on the TODAY Parenting Team: You can sign up and contribute here.

Theron is co-parenting her children with her mom Gerda, and the two have a tight circle of friends in Los Angeles, where they live. So now, when Theron needs a mental break, she calls on one of them to take the kids to the park or the playground for even an hour. And she doesn’t feel guilty about needing a time-out or allowing herself to take one.

"I would lie in my bed and listen to the silence. They would come home and I’d think, ‘I’m crushing this mom thing now. I’m an awesome mom.’ If you fill your own tank, you’re a much better parent. I’m a better parent when I’m not emotionally or physically exhausted,” said Theron.

Marlo, the overwhelmed mom she plays in the upcoming film “Tully,” could use a spoonful of that wisdom. Beaten down in every sense by the pressures of raising two older kids, and now with a newborn in the mix, she has no sense of joy or balance in her life. Nor does she view her infant as anything other than a crying burden. So she turns to a baby nurse for help, and for balance.

“I read the script and it was no-brainer. I was myself coming out of that dark tunnel. My second baby was around six months old. I was coming out of waking up every two hours so this was very familiar to me,” said Theron. “A lot of it felt very personal.”

She gained 50 pounds to look like a postpartum mother complete with unsightly rolls and bulges, which comically (or not) horrify her movie children after she takes off her soiled top during dinner. “I got to work and tried to get my body physically feeling as close as I could to looking like Marlo,” said Theron.

The message of the film resonated with her: That none of us is an island, despite how isolated and forlorn so many of us can feel at times — especially during those early morning hours when the only people awake are you and a screaming infant.

“I have felt that as a single parent. When you’re in it, it feels so alone. We don’t talk or share enough about how messy it is to raise kids,” said Theron. “There’s a whole tribe of us! We are living in a time when we share so much and we’re honest about so much, whether it’s the medication we’re taking or what’s happening in the bedroom. But for some reason, being a parent or feeling conflicted about how you are as a parent, we don’t talk about it openly. It’s so strange. A lot of mothers feel a sense of guilt or shame.”

She doesn’t have a solution, but says opening up a dialogue that motherhood isn’t all rainbows and unicorns and coos and cuddles is a start. Some moms don’t immediately bond with their kids. Others crave being back at work. Yet others joyfully spend hours pureeing organic food and putting together puzzles. Yet some are sobbing on the inside, with no one the wiser because all we see are those filtered Instagram, photos.

“I’ve never had these kind of conversations before. It’s up to us to start the conversation. A lot of dads will say they had no idea. All right, I hear that. Maybe we need to say it more. The more we do it, the more it will become the norm and some of the shame and judgment may be gone,” she said.

Related story: Charlize Theron opens up about the emotional toll of the adoption process

She’s certainly gotten her share of mom-judging. Theron particularly rejoices when one of her two has a public meltdown, some of which have been captured by paparazzi lenses. The kids’ timing, joked Theron, is “amazing” and “impeccable.”

Theron said her kids never seem to scream and howl and flail around in a private play area. “It’s in the middle of a road. There’s 17 paparazzi. They’re taking photos of every moment that’s taken out of context. You’re just making sure your kid doesn’t run across the street. That’s the toughest thing. It’s so difficult yet we all share it. We still talk about it with such judgment,” said Theron.

And then comes the inevitable dissecting of her “body language” by so-called experts, she said, and the ensuing and highly invasive judgment of her parenting. “My moments tend to be the ones that are shared in a way without my ownership and that’s always hard,” she said.

Make no mistake: Theron revels in her children. During an interview in 2015, her son sat with her while she had breakfast, and quietly played at the table. She doted on his every move. But no, she’s not planning on expanding her family.

“Oh god no. No. Hell no. I think one of the smartest things you can do as a parent is know what you can handle and I can handle this. I can’t handle any more,” she said.