Gabrielle Union Opens Up About Her Approach to Raising Zaya and Kaavia (Exclusive)

Gabrielle Union chats with ET about her new film, 'The Inspection,' and parenting daughters Zaya, 15, and Kaavia, 4.

Elegance Bratton's The Inspection follows his own heart-wrenching true story of a young man who, spurned by his home, decides to join the Marines and do whatever it takes to succeed in a system that would cast him aside. Stars Jeremy Pope and Gabrielle Union beautifully tackle the tumultuous relationship between the onscreen mother-son duo, Ellis and Inez French, respectively.

Union -- who shares 4-year-old Kaavia James with her husband Dwyane Wade, as well as his 20-year-old son, Zaire, 15-year-old daughter, Zaya, and 8-year-old son, Xavier -- told ET that it was especially difficult to separate being a mom, producer and actor after Bratton's mother died during production.

"As a mother, I just wanna be part of healing for a child. I wanted to be there as a mother except that wasn't my job and it was kind of difficult to separate me as a mother, me as a producer and me as an actor because I just wanted to hold him," she admitted. "I just wanted to make everything OK as most mothers want. But I had a job to do and I had to stay focused on the task at hand."

"There were times it felt cruel but that is the truth of the story and it was our job to tell the truth," Union added of the Inspection cast. "But I also needed to find her compassion and find common ground that we share. I used to be a judger of my characters and I would act out that judgment on screen and here, I didn’t want to do that. I needed to know that there is some kind of common ground that we could find and that is the fact that we've both been willing to sacrifice things that are very important to us -- whether that be our children, whether that be our scruples and, at times in my life, my soul, for an opportunity, for money, for a relationship, for access, to be seen, to be chosen -- we will all barter with something and just because bartering with my children was not my ministry, I still found that common ground."

Union has been very open with her fans about her journey to motherhood, sharing how becoming a biological mom wasn't an easy journey. The actress previously revealed in her memoir, We’re Going to Need More Wine, that she suffered nine miscarriages and three years of unsuccessful IVF treatments. She and Wade eventually made the difficult decision to have a surrogate carry their baby.

The couple have become very prominent figures as allies with the LGBTQ+ community, after the family introduced the world to Zaya back in February 2020, with a touching video featuring Dwyane and then-12-year-old Zaya on a golf cart together talking about being true to one's self. 

Union and Wade -- and the rest of their family --  have proudly supported Zaya throughout her endeavors, from sharing sweet messages about unconditional love to using their platform to honor her journey and stand as allies, the Wades are never shy about showing love for their own

Playing a mother who rejected her child for living his truth was a markedly different experience for Union. 

"Zaya's still a child of this world and we try to create a loving safe bubble in our home, in her school and community with our extended family but she's still a queer person in this country, in this world and she has to fight every day to be seen, to be loved, to be nurtured, to be thought of as worthy," Union noted, adding that it's a fight Zaya battles every day. "I’m glad that [fans get] a a snippet of the joy that exists but always know that it is a struggle, and she is not completely unlike Elegance in the sense of the yearning for loved ones to see them and love them completely without condition."

When it comes to her youngest, Union shared that Kaavia has taught her "you can have all the wants and dreams for your children but they are who they are and it is your job to love them and guide them and and try to give them the world."

"You're not in control. Like, I wanna make sure she has good manners, she's kind, she's compassionate, she's a student of the world and that she's got a world perspective, but if she's gonna be shady, she gonna be shady," the mom joked. "If she wants to dress [in] full accessories to tennis it's gonna happen... This is who she is."

The Inspection premieres in theaters on Nov. 18.