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This Career Lasts a Lifetime
A Candid Interview with Actress Charlene Tilton
By Kathy Price-Robinson
Fourteen years ago, when Charlene Tilton dazzled television viewers as the young blond bombshell in the popular television series, "Dallas," many of her fans were unaware that she became pregnant while doing the show, and bore a child. "They didn't write it into the script," said Tilton, 36, during our recent interview. "They just shot around it."

But in "real life," Tilton, married to a famous country-western singer, gave birth to Cherish, and now raises her as a single mom in the San Fernando Valley. Charish is 14 and attends a performing arts magnet school. Her goal is to be a veterinarian for large, exotic animals.

According to friends, Tilton is a great mom. Here's what she has to say about parenting, which she considers to be the most important role of a lifetime:

Q: What were the early years like?

When I was pregnant, I was always talking to Charish, always playing classical music. I had my Walkman headphones strapped to my stomach. I don't have a nanny now. I did have one when I was doing "Dallas."

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But I have to tell you, I'm the one who put her to bed. I'm the one who got up with her. I went through Cherish's first year completely sleep deprived. And Cherish always came with me to the set. I'm fortunate. I realize that not all parents have that luxury.

Q: You married young and were only 22 when you had Charish. Would you suggest that for a young woman today?

Definitely not. I think it's better if you can get your career going first, do some of the things that you would like to do. Again, I was fortunate because of my position and my finances. But to be that age and to be struggling, which would be the norm? No. Get your life together first.

Besides, at age 22 I think your chances of having a good marriage and relationship are probably nil. And I think that's important, too--having a good family. I was an only child and I'm a single parent. I think it's not a good thing.

Q: Tell me about your childhood.

I was an only child and a complete latch-key kid from the time I was seven years old. I got myself breakfast in the morning. I got myself to school. I got myself home. And I got myself dinner. I was completely on my own when I was 15 years old. And I've got to tell you, I think that is disgusting.

Q: Did you say to yourself, this is not going to happen to my kid?

Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. I envy people who can call their parents when they have a problem. I was lucky, though, I had goals and dreams. I knew what I wanted to do. And that kept me out of trouble. But, boy oh boy, trouble was just out my front door. I grew up in Hollywood. I was certainly able to go out and get into all kinds of trouble.

But I didn't. I had dreams. I got myself on the bus. I got myself singing and dancing lessons. I went around Hollywood and got involved in plays and things like that at parks and recreation programs.

Q: What do you think makes a good parent?

Spending time with your child. Nothing replaces time. And being a giving person. That's the meaning of the word parent. You're putting your child's wants and needs completely before your own. After having a child, I did not give my career the attention it deserved.

I know there are other celebrity mothers. I know one who is on the cover of every woman's magazine, who has all these kids. And I have news for you. I know how much she sees those kids. She sees them when she's taking a cover picture with them.

Q: Tell me about a typical day with you and your daughter.

During the day, I'm reading scripts. I'm in meetings. But basically my day is over at three o'clock. I go pick up my daughter. We come home. I might still make some more phone calls. I supervise the homework. Dinner. Put her to bed.

Q: What are the advantages of spending so much time with your daughter?

You have to teach them. There's a lesson every time you turn around. How can you not be with these kids? Like the other day she was invited to a party where another friend was invited. Now this friend is a real character, a real corker. Cherish said she knew that friend would misbehave and throw some food at her.

I said, "Cherish, I'm telling you right now, do not get involved. Do not reciprocate. You don't behave like that at someone else's house."

Q: So what happened?

When I picked them up, the mother said, "Oh, a couple of the girls got wild." I knew what had happened.

I asked Cherish. She laughed and said she threw some food back. I said, "Cherish, I told you before that was inappropriate. The mother had to clean it up, didn't she?"

And Cherish said, "Yeah, Mom, I'm sorry."

So I made her go over there and apologize, and then I took away the phone for a while. You have to let them know you mean business and that you're consistent.


Q: What special challenges do you face in the teen-age years?

Every age has its problems. But in the teen-age years, boy, if you don't keep your eyes on them, they can get off track so easily. You have to watch their friends, watch who they're hanging out with. Like Cherish wanted to go with some kids to see a movie and I knew some boys were going that I hadn't met. I didn't know their families. And I said "no."

Q: Does Cherish have a lot of extra privileges because she's the daughter of a celebrity?

Oh, I'm very conservative. Cherish doesn't even have her own phone line. I've kept it like that for several reasons. One, because I know who's calling. Another, I can actually hit the speaker phone and eavesdrop. (I hope she doesn't read this article.) And I believe in it.

You need to know what's going on. You have to watch your kids. And reading [the kid's] notes is another thing, because you learn what the other kids are going through.

Of course, they need their independence, too. Sometimes I'll leave her at home for the evening with the phone.

Q: I hear that you're going to be the host of the new "Match Game" starting early next year. How will that affect your time with your daughter?

Well, it's only four days a month, so that will work for me. I'll arrange for someone to pick her up from school and take her to the set. Then, I'll check her homework.

Q: How do you think you're doing as a parent?

I've got to say, my daughter is an amazing young lady. She's got good strength of character. She's got good friends. She's involved with her church group. And she loves going to it.

Q: What does your daughter struggle with and how do you help her through it?

My daughter struggles with school work. However, she happens to be an amazing singer and dancer. Even though this is not what she wants to do, I have her in the performing arts school so she will have something that she excels in while she is struggling with the school work-- instead of just feeling defeated all the time.

She hears a song once and she can sing it. She became a choreographer. So she blossoms in her school.

Q: Is the dad in the picture?

Not really. He doesn't call regularly. He doesn't pay child support. And it's a shame because that is a big influence on where kids will end up. They take that as a rejection.

As a result, Cherish has these challenges with her self-esteem. It was very difficult. She idolized her dad. For a few agonizing years, I got the brunt of her anger. Now that she's older, she realizes that her dad is very irresponsible.

Q: How does television affect your daughter?

It's hard. I turn on these shows, these sitcoms, and god almighty, it's subtle. It's taken for granted that they can go and sleep around and there are no consequences. It portrays something as normal that is not normal. I think a big thing for girls is their self-esteem. [They're] always saying "I'm too fat" or "I'm not pretty enough." They all want to look like Kate Moss. They're bombarded with these images of what beauty is. So I constantly build her up.

There's nothing wrong with not having a television.


Q: What mistakes have you seen other parents making?

Listen to the way parents talk to little kids, on the street or in a restaurant. They say, "You stupid idiot."

Oh my god, words are powerful weapons. I think everything we say should be nurturing and uplifting. Kids are going to get enough out there to knock them down.

And If they do something wrong, teach them in a way that doesn't belittle them or demean them. Not to say that I never do that. But if I realize later I said something that really was not right, I will apologize and say that was wrong.

If you build them up, it's amazing how they respond.

Q: Do you have any regrets?

I'm so guilty of not reading with her more. When I was her age, I was a voracious reader. But she doesn't do that. I need to do that more. Read books out loud.

Q: Any last thoughts?

Of all the things you're going to do and accomplish in your life, there's nothing more amazing than being a part of forming a wonderful person. Careers come and go. "Dallas" comes and goes. The one thing that will always remain through my lifetime is that Cherish will always be my daughter.

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