Laila Ali 'Overcompensates' with Her Kids After Growing Up with Nannies: 'I Didn't Want That Same Lifestyle for My Children'
"You can't be fighting for the world and be home for dinner with your kids," Laila Ali tells Refinery29 of dad Muhammad
Laila Ali may have retired from the ring, but she’s still fighting — to be the best mom she can possibly be.
The retired professional boxer, 39, spoke to Refinery29 about how her time has become prioritized much differently since she welcomed daughter Sydney J., now 6, and son Curtis Muhammad, now 8½.
“I think motherhood impacts everything. You know how it is. When you have a child, everything changes,” she says. “Your whole thought process in the morning when you wake up changes, and it’s okay. It’s a part of being a woman, and it’s a different experience for moms than it is for dads.”
Continues Ali, who has been married to former NFL wide receiver Curtis Conway since 2007, “That’s why I think it’s so important to speak to women about, even though you have a child, never let your dreams or aspirations die. You might put ’em on hold, but you can get back to it.”
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The mother of two stresses the importance of said aspirations, touching on the unfairness of how once a woman has kids, it’s sometimes assumed that parenthood suddenly makes up her entire identity.
“I think in general people assume that when you have children, that’s all you are — a mom, and that’s actually not true,” she says, “You can be a mother and still pursue your dreams.”
Ali explains that the big shift with parenthood comes more in time management and prioritization — a re-framing as opposed to a redefining.
“When you become a mom you realize you don’t have time to fool around anymore,” she says. “Your time is more valuable, and you’re more selective about how you spend it, and you really get focused because you’re not doing it just for yourself, you’re doing it for your children.”
As the daughter of the late Muhammad Ali, the athlete shares that her own experiences as a child have helped to shape the kind of parent she wants to be — notably, in that she wants to be extremely present for Sydney and Curtis in a way her dad couldn’t because of his career.
“I had a whole different lifestyle than I have provided for my kids. I had nannies; my dad was traveling all the time. You can’t be fighting for the world and be home for dinner with your kids,” she says. “So I didn’t want that same lifestyle for my children.”
“It was really important for me to be there; I overcompensate probably in that way, but I want to raise my children,” Ali adds. “It’s a big responsibility to me, and I want them to grow up a certain way, and have certain values and morals, and I don’t want anybody else – I want to be there for those moments.”
Those moments include family dinners every night at the table and a schedule that “doesn’t stop,” which is the norm for Ali and her brood — but she still strives to take time for herself when she can.
“I make sure every two weeks I get a mani and pedi; that’s one thing I’m going to stay on top of,” she says. “I don’t think there’s any woman who’s successful that won’t tell you we still need to find more time for ourselves.”
And that balance, plus her dedicated work ethic and commitment to being the whole person she is, is setting the type of example Ali wants to see in her kids and their futures.
“I never put a limit on them of what they can’t do, and I think that’s the most important thing right now: To let their imaginations flourish and support it, and give them unconditional love,” she says. “The world is your oyster, go for it. As long as I can keep them thinking like that, and keep people away from them that are going to shut that down, that’s my job as a parent, and I’ll be happy.”