"It's a delicate balance, and there's not enough hours in the day to pay attention to all of them in the way they need," she says

By peoplestaff225
Updated December 03, 2020 04:06 AM

After three children, Melissa Joan Hart‘s discovered there is no one-size-fits-all approach to parenting, and getting the balance right isn’t easy.

The Melissa & Joey star tells PEOPLE she and her musician husband Mark Wilkerson have had to embrace the fact that their three sons often require a different style of parenting, depending on their individual personalities and the stages of childhood they happen to be in at any given moment.

“They’re all at different points, but they’re all best friends and worst enemies, so that’s fun,” jokes Hart, whose sons Mason, 9½, Brady, 7½, and Tucker, 3, are all experiencing very different moments in life.

“Brady’s losing a lot of teeth and still struggling learning to read — he’s working on the reading skills,” she says. “Mason is starting to get more social — it’s the ‘he doesn’t want to kiss me at the bus stop’ thing. At the Halloween party the other night, [he] disappeared to the ‘VIP room’ where the older kids at the school do karaoke. And then Tucker is just a runner … he likes to run away!”

“My husband, his ulcers were just a mess, and so he left me for two days in Disney World with three kids: one that drags behind and wants to be carried, one that runs ahead and disappears and then the older one, who’s actually a wimp and won’t go on the rides. So it was a little bit of a disaster.”

Melissa Joan Hart Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation

Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic

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But in the process, she’s learned to change up her parenting approach and tailor it to what each of her boys need as best she can. “I feel like with Mason, I gave him so much attention,” Hart explains. “Everything was about making sure that he knew his colors, his numbers, his this-and-that.”

She adds, “Brady got a little left behind. We expected him to be the same as Mason, and he’s not the same as Mason. He’s very different, personality-wise, and he’s reward-driven. And so we really have to change our focus with him, and it’s been a challenge.”

“And Tucker is very independent, very stubborn,” she reveals, “so we have to go back to the way we were with Mason with him. It’s a delicate balance, and there’s not enough hours in the day to pay attention to all of them in the way they need.”

“I want to have a fourth,” she shares, “but right now, with those three … As my husband says, ‘We’re at capacity.’ ”

Making what has become an annual appearance at the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation‘s 26th Annual “A Time For Heroes” Family Festival, Hart — who wore items from her boys clothing collection, King of Harts — was also counting her blessings. While she’s never had to face a serious health crisis with one of her children, even little scares have reminded her of what parents facing major, frightening challenges must endure.

“I’m very blessed,” she says. “They’ve always been extremely healthy. But even things like eczema, it’s so troubling when your child is sleeping at night and they come in your bed with you because they’re so uncomfortable, and you just feel their scratching all night long.

She continues, “I had a child that had to have tonsils out and just going through surgery — a surgery they’ll do in five minutes — knowing that they’re going under and they’re in someone else’s control [is hard]. That’s your baby. There’s nothing more upsetting than when your child even has a head cold, and you’re like, ‘What’s wrong with my kid?’ So I know how blessed I am, and I know I have to come out for things like this and be a part of the answer for people that don’t have the answers.”

“I’ve been coming to this since it started, and it’s always such an amazing event,” she says of A Time For Heroes, which is dedicated to raising funds to benefit children affected with HIV and AIDS.

“I love charities that have to do with children, and especially children that are sick and innocent victims, and so this one is definitely on the top of my list of things that you really see the strides they’re making. You see in the AIDS community of how they’ve been able to make strides, and Elizabeth Glaser’s got to take a lot of credit for that.”

— Scott Huver