Lisa Ling on motherhood, ADHD and raising kids in America

After covering some of the darkest corners of the US for Oprah, journalist Lisa Ling opens up about becoming a mom in America and being diagnosed with ADHD.

1Lisa Ling Photo courtesy of OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network.

If the name Lisa Ling rings a bell, you might recognize her from her stint at The View, where she was co-host for more than three years after a very public search for a young Gen-X host. She left to pursue more serious journalism, quickly becoming Oprah Winfrey’s go-to reporter, bringing world issues to Oprah’s predominantly female audience. She now hosts Our America with Lisa Ling on Oprah’s OWN network, which investigates topics such as the foster-care system, sex trafficking and, recently, the explosion of ADHD diagnoses.

After two miscarriages, Lisa had a daughter, Jett, last May. My interview with Lisa Ling was delayed because her one-year-old was sick with a very high fever. So when I finally did talk to the broadcast journalist, my first question was, of course, mom-to-mom about her sick baby girl.

How is Jett?

So much better, thanks! She’s a pretty tough girl. You would never know she had a fever!

I saw a few articles with headlines like “Lisa Ling reveals baby girl to the world.” What’s it like for you to be part of the “celebrity mom” culture?

I don’t see myself as a celebrity per se. I’ve been working in television for a long time, and I take what I do as a broadcast journalist very seriously. But my work has been seen on TV for long time. So people seem slightly interested in my personal life. Also, I talked about my two miscarriages before I had my baby. The miscarriages made me feel alone and defeated. No matter how confident a woman you are, they can really affect you. And when I talked to people I realized it’s OK and it’s quite widespread. So when I was about to have my baby, there was interest as to whether she was going to be all right.


Does it bother you to see pictures of yourself walking in the park with your baby?

If I thought that there were photographers around, I would definitely have put some makeup on. That is what happens when your work is going to be in the public eye. I put it out there—I can’t begrudge people in being interested in seeing my baby.

Now that you are a working mother, what do you think about the idea of balance?

It’s incredibly difficult. I think the idea that women can have it all is an impossible notion. Any mother who works has moments of guilt because they are not with their baby all the time. Every time I walk out of the door, it kills me—every time. I miss her. More than I ever miss anyone, more than I knew I could miss anyone. But I feel so strongly what I do, I’m so passionate about it. I hope one day that my daughter feels proud of me and my work. And she looks and thinks: "She is doing what she is supposed to do." I’m lucky I have great help. My husband doesn’t travel that much. He is amazing; he cooks for everyone and bathes her every night. I feel so fortunate that I have a partner that is so spectacular, because without a support network I wouldn’t be able to do it.


Your show means that you have a lot of travel. I read that you try and travel 10 days a month and spend 20 at home.

I try hard to adhere to that schedule. But as a journalist you report on stories as they happen. Sometimes the interviewees don’t have the same schedule I do. So, sometimes we are successful, and sometimes we are not. I have to be kind of flexible. When I’m not travelling, most of my work can be done at home. We have a nanny here when I’m gone, and when I’m home I give her time off. So if I’m gone for 10 days, then I want to be here for Jett 10 days at a time—exclusively. (laughs) That’s when you will see pictures of me looking very haggard.

Your Santa Monica home is LEED-certified, and you try and buy organics for Jett. Is being green an important value to you?

When we built the house, we tried to adhere to green design, but not all things are totally green. We tried to create an environment that is safe for our child. We use products that are natural and non-toxic. It’s not that easy, and it’s fairly costly. I’m an Amazon junkie. You just don’t know what is in stuff, so I try not to purchase things with unpredictable chemicals, but we are not as green as we wish we could be. As a journalist I have reported on so many stories on gross exploitation of resources around the world. So we are trying to leave as small a carbon footprint as possible.


Your show really delves into some dark pockets of the US. How does that make you feel about the world Jett is growing up in?

I have been a witness to the worst examples of humanity. I almost always find that when I am experiencing the worst in humanity then I find the best in humanity at the same time. When I interact with people who live in those dark worlds, inevitably there are others who want to find solutions to those problems. I want to show my daughter that darkness exists but that people tirelessly try to inject light into the world. That’s what keeps me going. In my work, I provide a perspective of non-judgment and compassion, with the hope that all people will get a sense of how others live.

Your latest episode of Our America with Lisa Ling dealt with the growing epidemic of ADHD, and your own diagnosis of ADD. Do you think your attention issues have helped or hurt your career?

In a strange way I do feel like it has helped me. I can hyper-focus on things that I am excited and passionate about. I would never have said that as a kid, though. I had trouble concentrating in school, and it really affected my grades and self-confidence I had to work and try very hard to get ahead. I think that learning those skills and pushing myself helped me become the person that I am. It inspired a work ethic in me that I may not have had, if I hadn’t had those struggles growing up. Increasingly, we are so overstimulated: a phone in one hand and a remote in another, all while being in front of computer. If you don’t know how to handle yourself it can be overwhelming.

What methods are you using to deal with your ADD?


You have to figure out solutions for yourself. Medication is one route, which I think is worth considering if the holistic approach doesn’t work for you. I really recommend that people see a specialist in ADHD. The number of diagnoses is exploding, perhaps by doctors who aren’t specialists. If you suspect that your kids have some kind of attention disorder, you need to see someone who can accurately diagnose, and prescribe a regime that is suited for you. I do things that help me focus. I have a quiet time every day. I have learned when my mind has gone off in every direction that I need to focus. I also exercise regularly, which helps. Even though I was recently diagnosed, I always had suspected that I had attention issues, so I had strategies. For whatever reason, I am the way I am, and I’ve tried really hard to not let it inhibit the things that are important me.

Will you be watching Jett for attention issues?

Of course we will be watching her. At this point she has more of my husband’s characteristics. She loves to sleep and eat. Which is unlike me in my inability to sleep, and I eat only when I have time.

This is your last season for OWN. How do you feel about moving to CNN?


I’m really excited about it. The show will be more international and will have similar storytelling. CNN is the premier journalism platform, and I am thrilled and honoured to be part of it. My show deserves that kind of platform.

New episodes of Our America with Lisa Ling air Thursdays at 10 p.m. ET on OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network (Canada). Lisa’s new show will be starting sometime in the fall on CNN. In the meantime, Lisa hopes to bring Jett to Canada and show her around one of her favourite, and in her opinion most compassionate, countries.

Emma Waverman is a writer, blogger and mom to three kids. She has many opinions, some of them are fit to print. Read more of her articles here and follow her on Twitter @emmawaverman

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