Keira Knightley Opens Up About The "Exhausting" Work Of Being A Mom And How Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Affected Her Career

A mother of two, Keira Knightley says it has been a struggle to balance work and family life. She says raising children is "undervalued" work that needs to be recognized.

By Gina Florio2 min read
Getty/Jeff Spicer

She's best known for her roles in Love Actually, Atonement, and Pride and Prejudice, but Keira Knightley has worked hard to find new roles in her acting career that allow her to show her range. Her latest movie is called Boston Strangler, and it's about a true story of an investigative reporter named Loretta McLaughlin who works with a colleague to uncover who has brutally murdered 13 different women. Keira says she was drawn to the script because Loretta struggles to juggle the life of a married mom and a full-time career. "I was struck by the pressure and the individual struggles of both Loretta and her husband for their own autonomy," she told Harper's Bazaar. "One minute you’re a team, then the next you’re against each other." She also opened up about her own experience of motherhood and how her career has transformed over the years.

Keira Knightley Opens Up about the "Exhausting" Work of Being a Mom and How Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Affected Her Career

Keira married musician James Righton in 2013, and they have two daughters together, Edie and Delilah. They have kept their family life quite private, but Keira spoke about how hands-on James has been so that she can continue her career. "It has to be a partnership," she said. "The heavy lifting of childcare has to be acknowledged. It’s hard work, it’s vital, it’s undervalued. And it’s so exhausting." They don't have a nanny at the moment, but in the early years of their children's lives, she and her husband were very busy with their respective careers and required a staff of help.

"During filming, the hours are unpredictable and extreme. I worked out I needed three people to do what one full-time parent did. When you hear somebody say, 'I’m just staying home with the kids', that’s not a 'just'. That’s a huge thing," she continued. She also said she doesn't like being constantly asked about what it's like to juggle motherhood with her work because men are never asked the same question.

"We’re constantly asking it," she said. "Because what we actually want to know is, how are you doing it? Because I don’t feel like I’m doing it."

She had a different family dynamic from a young age. Keira shared that her mother earned more than her father did, and that was "never an issue." She became famous at a young age, only 17 years old, and she felt many expectations placed on her early on. "There’s a funny place where women are meant to sit, publicly, and I never felt comfortable with that. It was a big jolt," she said. "I was being judged on what I was projecting." She was placed in very feminine roles, such as Elizabeth Swann in Pirates of the Caribbean. But she says she was "really tomboyish," so it felt strange to be portrayed as a very feminine figure.

After that breakout role, she was cast in a series of romantic roles, and she felt "quite powerless." At the same time, she was hard on herself and "so ambitious" about her career. "I was so driven. I was always trying to get better and better and improve, which is an exhausting way to live your life. Exhausting," she continued. "I am in awe of my 22-year-old self, because I’d like a bit more of her back. And it’s only by not being like that any longer that I realise how extraordinary it was. But it does have a cost.... burnout."

She was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and took a couple of years off from working. When she came back, she tried to take on more nuanced roles, such as The Imitation Game, which earned her an Academy Award nomination.

Keira's daughters are 7 and 4 years old now, and this photo shoot with Harpers Bazaar is the first she has taken on in a long time. Five years ago, when she accepted Harper Bazaar's Women of the Year Award, she talked about how unfair it is that women have such high demands in family life while also being expected to maintain a career. That's why she has enlisted the help of her husband so that there is more of an equal balance of parenting in the home.