The 39-year-old actress and writer covers Glamour's latest issue and discusses how she came to be a mom, how it has affected her life and career and her hopes -- both professional and personal -- for her life.
While Kaling says that there was no right time for her to jump into motherhood -- she has a 1-year-old daughter, Katherine -- she is pleased that it happened when it did.
"I always knew I wanted to be a mom, but I would have put it off and put it off. I’m happy that it happened when it did. I would have put it off indefinitely," she admits. "I’ve seen firsthand the heartbreak of women who have waited to get pregnant [and then it doesn’t happen]. For me, my relationship with my mother was such an integral part of my life. Thinking back on our relationship is still such a huge source of my happiness day to day, so I’m so grateful for having Katherine."
Kaling is grateful for and obviously in love with Katherine, but counts her daughter and romantic relationships as the only parts of her life that she refuses to make public.
"I’m on social media and like sharing with people what my interests are and how my day’s going and all of that, but I do feel entitled to have privacy about my daughter and my relationships," she says. "It’s really essential to my life that there be something not everybody knows about. That’s a boundary, but it’s a very small boundary. Everything else I really don’t have any issue sharing."
Though she's not keen to share pics of or too much information about Katherine, Kaling is all for discussing how motherhood has impacted her life, career and interests.
"I used to love photo shoots and getting hair and makeup before I had a daughter... Now, though, it’s a little less fun, because it means less time that I can spend with my daughter," she says. "Because I’m my own boss, I can make it very easy for myself -- I could bring my daughter to a photo shoot, and I’m sure they’d find a room for her and my nanny. But I do think of what else I could be doing with that time."
Despite the impact Katherine has had on her life, Kaling hasn't slowed down when it comes to work -- she wrote and co-starred in Late Night, is producing projects for Amazon and Netflix, and is working on a new essay collection, among other things.
"I usually want to be working on three different TV or film projects while writing something, like a book of essays. That hasn’t changed so much, the amount of what I want to do. I think it eventually will," she says. "My baby is so little and takes such long naps. She sleeps more than half the day, so I’ve found it to not be too much of a deterrent. Plus, I’m privileged enough to have child care. In a couple of years, I probably won’t want to do quite so many things at once, but right now I still find the work energy giving, not energy depleting."
While she finds her job energizing and has taken to motherhood with seeming ease, Kaling makes it clear that persistent hard work is a key component of her success.
"I think there’s been a tendency for people to conflate my characters with my personality. The fact of the matter is, I wrote 24 episodes of The Office. That’s more than any other person on The Office, but no one can really picture me sitting and doing the hard work of writing the episodes," Kaling says. "It’s like it doesn’t compute to people because I can wear all pink and recreate Beyoncé videos. Do you know what I mean? There’s an outdated version of what some people think of me because of the characters I’ve played. That isn’t consistent with who I actually am. I find that a little disappointing."
"... I would love for her to admire and try to emulate the way I work, while also not feeling some of the anxieties I have around it," she continues of her daughter. "I feel so lucky to give her a comfortable life. Obviously my preference would be that she not go into my career choice, because of how hard it is. You need to harden yourself to get through it. I would love it if her interests lie somewhere else."
"But the difference is I had my mom and my dad. She just has me," she adds. "I know at some point I will have to do less, because it’s not like there’s a dad at home picking up some of the slack. I think that’s another reason I work so hard; because I know that when she gets a little bit older, I want to be able to take off more time to spend with her."
Those anxieties that Kaling mentions is something that has affected her both personally and professionally for years, with events like the Met Gala and Hulu upfronts causing her great stress.
"I do have a little social anxiety. Going to parties where I don’t know most of the people is stressful to me. I’ve always had four friends," she says. "... I love the Met Gala, but the no-plus-one thing has always been a real stressor for me. Luckily Anna Wintour made it so that you’re going to a literal museum, where there’s so much to take in. If we weren’t going to a museum and just to an event space, I would need to take a Valium or something before I go because it’s so stressful to me... If I had the patience or the time to see a therapist, that would be something I’d talk about with them."
Professionally, Kaling often thinks about the kind and caliber of women she's associated with -- Reese Witherspoon, Oprah Winfrey, Sandra Bullock -- and works to remind herself that it's not a competition.
"It’s really refreshing to work with women who don’t have to conceal how hard they work," she says. "... Women don’t have to be these alluring, mysterious cats who get things done and you don’t know how hard they work, how hard they work out, what they’re eating. We now celebrate the fact that women can say, 'Yeah, I sacrificed this, I have to do this…' It isn’t effortless."
"... I’m always thinking that people see me in the context of other people who are way more successful than me," Kaling continues. "No, they’re just looking at me. It doesn’t make me feel bad or insecure -- I think it’s a good thing. It makes me feel really grounded."
Though she's in a good place now as she approaches her 40th birthday, Kaling has not always been comfortable in her own skin. While hard at the time, that experience has made Kaling approach aging with grace and ease.
"Because I never had a career based on my physical beauty, I’m approaching aging without much dread," she says of her upcoming milestone. "... As a young person in Hollywood, I wasn’t skinny, and that made my twenties so unnecessarily difficult. It was such an emotional roller coaster, sometimes, of how I looked on screen compared with what other people looked like... The upside of having that difficult time in my twenties is that now I approach my forties without this huge expectation that I need to maintain some sense of beauty. I was never put on a pedestal because of my looks."
Kaling does "not feel the pull" of wanting to return to star in a TV series any time soon, but her other career possibilities remain wide open and leave an infinite about of room for growth and development.
"Even if I die at 120 years old, I want people to say it was too soon because of what else I could have done," she says. "I think that’s why I work on five different projects at once. I have this real feeling that life is incredibly short, and I want to do as much as I can."