James Van Der Beek knew it was time to leave Los Angeles when his 8-year-old son, Joshua, started running laps around their house.
"We were living on this tiny little lot with a tiny backyard," Van Der Beek, 43, told TODAY Parents in a phone interview. "He seemed to be like an animal in a cage that was too small."
Joshua has more than enough space to burn off energy these days. Earlier this month, Van Der Beek, and his wife, Kimberly, who are also parents to Olivia, 10, Annabel, 6, and Emilia, 4, and Gwendolyn, 2, relocated their family to a 36-acre property in Austin, Texas. The move came after a year of intense challenges that included two pregnancy losses within seven months.
"We're so happy right now," the "Dawson's Creek" alum revealed. "It's been really good for all of us."
At the moment, the family's favorite activity is identifying animal droppings on their property.
"We'll be like, 'OK, that's probably from a fox and those are probably from a deer,'" Van Der Beek said "They're really interacting with nature. I love that we can open the screen door and they have all this room to explore."
Of course, it's only natural that the kids miss parts of their life back in California.
“We’re three weeks in and they’re starting to miss their friends. The permanence is hitting them,” Van Der Beek explained, adding that he and his wife and trying to let their kids express their feelings rather than deny them. “We aren’t going, ‘Yeah, but isn’t this place great? We’re allowing them to express their emotions and giving them the space to be heard, and to be felt."
A new chapter
When Van Der Beek announced that his brood was starting a new adventure in the Lone Star State, he cited personal tragedies and the ongoing coronavirus epidemic as reasons. He also referenced his elimination from "Dancing With the Stars" in 2019.
The surprising elimination affected the entire family — especially Van Der Beek's eldest daughter, Olivia.
“She came to every taping in a dress she made herself,” Van Der Beek said. “It really became our thing."
So Olivia was understandably heartbroken when her dad, a season 28 frontrunner, was voted off the show during the semi-finals.
“People were screaming ’No!’ Ally (Brooke), who the judges saved, was trying to give her spot to me,” Van Der Beek recalled. “Then we were off the air and I heard my daughter crying. Our special thing was now suddenly done.”
Van Der Beek was just as devastated. But he was also determined to turn the experience into a teachable moment for Olivia.
“Sometimes life doesn’t work out the way you think it should, sometimes things aren’t fair,” he said. “But you need to respond with grace.”
When Brooke, 27, offered to surrender her spot in the final, Van Der Beek said he wouldn’t hear of it.
“To have Olivia witness that, for her to hear me respond, ‘No, no, no, Ally, you’re going to crush it. You deserve to be here,’ that was the gift of that moment,” Van Der Beek said.
Van Der Beek opened up to TODAY Parents while promoting his partnership with Tom’s of Maine "silly strawberry" kids toothpaste.
He likes that it’s natural and said his kids like the taste.
Each year, Tom’s of Maine gives 10% of its profits back to helping people and the planet. Employees also give 5% of paid time to volunteer.