Reese Witherspoon won fans over with her iconic roles in movies like Legally Blonde (2001), Walk the Line (2005), Monsters vs. Aliens (2009), and Water for Elephants (2011), just to name a few. Although the actress has been in the industry since she was 14 years old, Reese’s professional success really took off after her portrayal of Tracy Flick in the comedy Election (1999), which earned her a Golden Globe nomination, and her role in the cult classic about teens without the best Intentions, released the same year.
Although the actress has continued to keep busy with many big-screen and TV roles over the years, Reese also has her hands full with her three children. The celebrity famously welcomed her first child, daughter Ava, in 1999 when she was only 23 years old. Reese had married her Intentions co-star Ryan Phillippe months before their daughter’s arrival. The couple had a second child, son Deacon, in 2003. Eventually, the couple split up in 2006. Reese went on to marry talent agent Jim Toth in 2010, and their son, Tennessee, was born in 2012.
Reese had children very young, and her life certainly changed after motherhood. Keep reading to see what Reese’s life looked like before and after kids.
20 Before: She's Never Loved The Spotlight
Reese with still a relative newcomer to Hollywood when she settled down with Ryan Phillippe. The couple was always very private, from the moment they began dating.
Reese has revealed that they bonded over their shared upbringing and distaste for the public eye, which explains how they fell for each other so quickly.
“Ryan and I didn't grow up like this at all, with this much attention. We'll just try to keep their feet on the ground and raise them with the values we were raised with,” she once said of how they were trying to raise their children out of the spotlight.
19 After: She Says She Doesn't Know What She's Doing
Reese definitely looks like she has it all together. She has a bustling professional life, a beautiful family, and overall genuinely seems happy with where she’s at in life. However, the actress hasn’t always had it figured out. When she first became a mom, Reese said that she didn’t know what in the world she was doing.
“I was 23 [when I became a mom]. I didn’t know what I was doing. I was young. It was...” very surprising, in so many words, she has said, Huffington Post reports. “When people ask, ‘When’s the best time to get pregnant?’ I say, ‘Pick the best day for when your entire life is gonna change.’ There’s no good time to have your world turned upside down.”
18 Before: She Always Knew She Wanted Kids
Reese may have been surprised to start a family in her early 20s, but the celebrity has always talked about how she knew she was going to be a mother. It sounds like being a mom was definitely the role she was born to star in!
“I think women are natural caretakers,” she once explained, warning that moms also need to practice self-care in order to be their best selves. “They take care of everybody. They take care of their husbands and their kids and their dogs, and don't spend a lot of time just getting back and taking time out.”
17 After: Reese Went Right Back To Work
Reese was already a mother when she starred in Legally Blonde. Here her then-husband Ryan brought their son Deacon to meet her on set. It’s hard to believe that one of Hollywood’s favorite couples is no more and Reese and Ryan have since had children with other people. But at least the exes say that they’re making co-parenting work.
“As a divorced dad, we trade off. Last year, my kids and I went to my parents in Delaware, this year they will be with their mom and I am shooting a movie up in Toronto,” Ryan explained to People in 2016. “I am going to fly down to Philly and just have a Thanksgiving with my parents and the kids get to be with Reese.”
16 Before: She And Ryan Got Together Too Young
This photo shows Reese with her then-boyfriend Ryan Phillippe at a Hollywood event. Reese was barely out of her teenage years when she started a family with her Intentions co-star. The couple married in 1999 when Reese was only 23 years old. Their daughter Ava was born the same year, while their son Deacon was born in 2003.
However, the young couple took fans by surprise when they announced their separation in 2006. In 2015, Ryan told Larry King that he blamed age for their divorce. "I think more of the problem was age. When we got together we were so young," he explained. “I think it can create issues with two people in this industry because there's so much noise that goes along with it."
15 After: Her Home Has A Lot Of Rules
Reese may seem pretty easygoing on the big screen, but the actress has revealed that she actually runs a pretty tight ship at home. Speaking to Entertainment Tonight, she admitted in 2016 that she makes her kids follow a lot of house rules.
“We have rules around the house. I always say if you aren’t yelling at your kids you’re not spending enough time with them,” she explained. “Just telling everybody to clean up all the time. I feel like I’m always telling people to clean up. ‘Clean up, clean up, put your dishes in the dishwasher, put your clothes in the laundry, come on now.”
Hey, with three kids you’ve got to be a bit strict!
14 Before: She's Been Acting Since She Was 14
Reese was only 14-years old when she starred in her first film The Man in the Moon, which tells the tale of a 14 -year-old who falls in love with her 17-year-old neighbor. Needless to say, Reese is a veteran when it comes to acting and she’s had all sorts of roles where she’s shown off her acting chops.
Nowadays, the celebrity says she’s a lot choosier about the roles she takes on. “My whole drive to be an actor was finding roles that I really believed represent modern women, the struggles that we deal with,” she once explained. “Women who are strong and capable and in control of their own lives.”
13 After: Parenthood Isn't What She Expected
Anyone who’s had kids can tell you that things will take you by surprise, no matter how prepared you feel.
From the dissolution of her first marriage to juggling work commitments, Reese has had to deal with a lot during her time as a mother. That’s probably why she’s not afraid to admit that this whole parenting thing did throw her for a loop.
“Parenthood is not at all what I expected it to be. I thought you make little people in your image. But they are just nothing like me or their father. They are their own individuals,” she has said, Huffington Post reports.
12 Before: She Didn't Think She'd Have Kids Young
Fans were all surprised when Reese gave birth only three months after her wedding at the age of 23 years old. But it sounds like the actress was surprised, too. Reese has hinted that she didn’t expect to start a family so young and admits that it caused her to grow up quickly.
“When I had a little girl... I was even more determined to, I don’t know ... I went from just surviving to, ‘Who do I want to be for this other person?’ That’s what happens when you have a child,” she once explained, Huffington Post reports.
She added, “You kind of look inward. [When you have three], your eyes cross. You look so far inward that your eyes cross. No, you’re just confused all the time.”
11 After: Her Kids Are Always On Her Mind
In this photo, Reese is posing with her entire family. Not only does she share Ava and Deacon with her ex-husband, but she also has a younger son, Tennessee, with her current husband Jim Toth.
Given how hectic her work schedule is, we imagine Reese has a million things on her mind at once. But the actress once says there’s never a moment that goes by where she’s not wondering about her children.
“I don’t think there’s been an hour of my life since Ava was born that I don’t think of my kids. I call it my CNN ticker tape: Is Ava OK? Yes. Is Deacon OK? Yes. Is Tennessee OK? Yes. Back to Ava,” she once explained, Huffington Post reports.
10 Before: She Wasn't As Confident Before Kids
Given how famous she already was in her teens, it’s hard to imagine Reese feeling insecure as a young woman. But the celebrity has admitted that she didn’t begin to feel more secure and confident in herself until after she had children.
In fact, she once explained that her newfound self-confidence came from wanting to be a good role model for her daughter.
“Having kids made me clearer about who I was as a woman. I just wanted to exhibit good qualities for my daughter,” she said, NY Daily News reports. “I was a little competitive before I had kids ― probably really competitive, to be honest. It really made me let go of that.”
9 After: She's Had To Make A Lot Of Sacrifices
Reese has still managed to have an incredibly successful acting life despite welcoming children so early on in life. Still, the star has been open about the sacrifices she had to make as a young mother. No after-parties for her!
“There are some sacrifices you make, and it hurts your heart sometimes, but my kids tell me they’re proud of what I’ve accomplished, and that just means everything,” she told Southern Living. “I grew up with a working mom, and I have so much respect for the things she did as a nurse and a teacher. I would never begrudge her that.”
8 Before: It Wasn't Happily-Ever-After
Here’s another photo of Reese and her future-ex-husband before they welcomed children together. Reese has also echoed Ryan’s reasoning that their marriage fell apart because they got together when they were too young.
“I got married when I was 23 and I had two kids by the time I was 27. So I don’t know, you know, sometimes it’s good to know yourself,” she said during a 2017 interview, InStyle reports. "I would never change anything," she continued, explaining, “I've said to my daughter, I think, you know, [at] 25, you start to know yourself a little bit better."
7 After: Her Daughter Is A Carbon Copy Of Her
Reese’s daughter Ava has always been her mother’s carbon copy since a young age. The mother-daughter duo keeps getting similar in looks as the years pass, in fact.
The celebrity has opened up multiple times about how close she and her daughter are. So much so, she isn’t afraid to give her the honest truth even if it might hurt her. Now that’s tough love!
"I remember Ava crying in bed in third grade,” Reese once revealed, W Magazine reports. “She was on JV basketball and she was the only kid on the team who didn't score. I said, 'Aves, maybe you're bad at basketball.' She thought that was mean. I said, 'Mean or true? 'Cause, guess what? Your mom's bad at basketball, too.'"
6 Before: They Were Just Kids Themselves
Reese and Ryan were together for the better part of their twenties, so in retrospect, fans shouldn’t be surprised they didn’t work out at a couple - but they sure looked cute on the red carpet, if this photo is any evidence!
Luckily it sounds like the two broke up on pretty amicable terms. In 2014, Ryan couldn’t help but gush to the media how proud he was of his ex-wife and all they’ve been able to accomplish.
“I think we’ve gotten to a really great place,” Ryan told Entertainment Tonight. “It’s going well, and she’s happy and remarried, and our kids are incredible. I’m proud of the way we’ve handled it and who our little people are.”
5 After: Her Daughter Does Her Makeup
Nowadays, it’s common for Reese to bring her daughter along with her to red carpet events and award shows. In fact, you’re more likely to see Ava accompanying her mom than Reese’s husband Jim!
Reese once shared that she and her daughter bond by doing their makeup before Hollywood events - and it turns out, she’s even learned a few beauty tricks from her 19-year-old.
“I learn a lot from my daughter [about makeup]. Her understanding of how to apply it is so extensive,” Reese told People of her daughter’s skills. “If I have to do my makeup for a dinner or something, I’ll be like, ‘Ava, can you fix my eyeshadow? I can’t remember what goes in the crease,’ because she has this intense knowledge about how to shade. It’s crazy.”
4 Before: She's Never Been Only Work-Oriented
Reese definitely hasn’t slowed down when it comes to acting since becoming a mom. Still, the celebrity has always talked about the importance of finding a balance between work and play.
Despite her hectic work life, Reese says she’s always craved having time to just live her life away from the spotlight, which may explain why she settled down so young.
“Many people worry so much about managing their [professional lives], but rarely spend half that much energy managing their lives,” the actress once explained. “I want to make my life, not just my job, the best it can be. The rest will work itself out.”
3 After: Her Kids Might Go Into Entertainment
Although there’s no official word on what Reese’s kids want to do when they’re grown, the celebrity has hinted that they might be interested in joining the entertainment industry. Specifically, Reese once revealed that her daughter Ava has a passion and talent for music. Clearly being on stage must run in the family!
"She plays a lot of different instruments and has been to lots of different music training camps," Reese said to E! News. "She can write a song, she can play any song on the guitar or piano or ukulele." While it’s unclear what Ava is currently studying in college, we guess fans shouldn’t be surprised if she pursues a musical path in the future.
2 Before: Her Parents Supported Her Dreams
Given how young she was when she snagged her first acting gig, it’s safe to say Reese’s parents must’ve been supportive of her ambitions from a young age. Otherwise, who drove her to all those auditions? The celebrity hasn’t been shy to praise her parents for doing all their best to support her acting - but that didn’t always make it easy.
“I had parents who believed I could do anything - and I know how that made me feel,” she once explained. “I think both my parents, [working] in the medical profession, feel they are helping people on a daily basis, and that was inculcated in me as a value. I had to struggle with giving up the idea of becoming a doctor myself.”
1 After: Her Kid Is Already In College
It’s hard to believe that it’s almost been a decade since Reese welcomed her first child, daughter Ava. Nowadays, Ava is 19 years old and already graduating high school. Last year, Reese and her husband threw her daughter an elaborate party to celebrate her graduation.
Nowadays, Ava is studying at college and clearly making her parents proud, if Reese’s quotes are any proof. “I’m so proud of her,” the mom-of-three told People. “She’s just an extraordinary young woman who is passionate about the world, and making a change, and helping people. I feel really privileged to be her mom.”