Mindy Kaling Says It 'Takes a Village' to Raise Two Children: 'We Carry Guilt About Needing Help'

Kaling launches a network of support for women with T.J. Maxx's The Change Exchange pen pal program, telling PEOPLE, "It's really nice that I get to speak really frankly about my vulnerabilities"

Mindy Kaling Shooting a TJ Maxx Commercial
Photo: Michael Simon for T.J.Maxx

Mindy Kaling is opening up about the incredible support she has received as she navigates getting back to work as the mother of two young children.

The Mindy Project actress and creator, 42, admits it "absolutely takes a village" to raise her 3-year-old daughter Katherine "Kit" Swati and 10-month-old son Spencer Avu, especially as she is back to producing and developing multiple projects.

"I wouldn't be able to keep my full-time professional career and have two children under the age of 3 without the incredibly strong relationship I have with my nanny," she tells PEOPLE. "Also with my dad, who comes over to the house at least twice a day to take my son out for walks and to pick up my daughter and bring her home. My village is small and I wish it was bigger."

Kaling feels "incredibly lucky" to have the resources she needs, but admits it took her a while to get to a place where she felt comfortable asking for support.

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Mindy Kaling/Instagram.

"We carry guilt about needing help and most women in the country don't necessarily have the same resources," she reveals. "A lot of people are lucky because they have family who can help them, but my mom passed away in 2011, so I really didn't have a choice. Particularly during the pandemic, we really got to see how precious and how indefensible childcare providers are."

The Never Have I Ever creator depends on the "feedback and advice" she receives from other moms in her life, both famous friends and those she's had since college and childhood. She explains that it was only heightened when she welcomed Spencer amid the COVID-19 pandemic and realized how much of her support network had been stripped from her.

"If I didn't have the advice and comradery of other women and other moms, I would not be able to do my job as a mom, as the breadwinner in my house, as a writer, as a performer," she admits. "It's particularly indispensable for someone like me."

Now the star is hoping to provide that comradery for a network of women with the help of T.J. Maxx. Kaling and the retailer launched a new pen pal program entitled The Change Exchange under the brand's purpose-driven initiative, The Maxx You Project. The empowering letter-writing program is designed to help women connect with each other and feel supported as they navigate moments of change.

For Kaling, who has undergone major changes in both her work and personal life in the last few years, this was a chance to "open up authentically" with other women and create a safe space for them to feel candid and vulnerable without judgment.

"Particularly as a single mom, I think on social media, we're supposed to always present as the perfect mom, the perfect wife, the perfect entertainer, all these things," she confesses. "I fall victim to that as well and I want to seem like I'm having this amazing life, so what's really great about this is I get to be vulnerable and talk about changes that I've gone through and bond with other women."

Mindy Kaling T.J. Maxx The Change Exchange Kit
Michael Simon for T.J.Maxx

She recalls having an international pen pal as a kid and how much she loved having that outlet to talk about things that are more private, saying "there's something really freeing about this format." Now, the former The Office writer and star is excited to provide that opportunity for other women.

"I love getting my hair and makeup done, I love wearing fancy clothes and go to fancy events, but I think it's really nice that I get to speak really frankly about my vulnerabilities and hopefully get to share that with anyone," she adds.

Kaling surprised fans with the news of Spencer's birth during an appearance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert in October and calls the last 10 months a "modified maternity leave." Nearly a year later, she is now debating how to celebrate her youngest child's first birthday.

"You can go two ways: you can do a small thing at home because they don't remember it or care," she says with a laugh. "Or, you can have a big blowout, just show what a great mom and entertaining hostess you are."

RELATED VIDEO: Mindy Kaling Reveals the Sweet (and Subtle!) Hollywood Inspiration Behind Her Kids' Names

She describes her son as an "incredibly cheerful kid" who is always on the move, regularly irritating his older sister by getting into her stuff.

"He is so smiley, not neurotic at all, not high strung," Kaling gushes. "He doesn't have a lot of the similarities that me and his older sister have, but it's just a delight to be around someone who is totally comfortable in his skin. But the truth is that he loves to eat. He's a very fat baby!"

When it comes to sleep-training, she reveals her first efforts were "a disaster" and that she has become far less soft the second time around: "With my daughter, I couldn't handle her crying even a minute and not take care of it, but I was just so incredibly methodical and cold-hearted with my son. So he's been trained great."

Kit started in-person preschool earlier this year and while the toddler is struggling with the current mask mandate ("I get sent mortifying photos of her at school with her mask pulled beneath her chin!"), both mother and daughter are enjoying the process thus far.

"I can only describe it as unmitigated joy. It is wonderful," Kaling exclaims. "After the last year, to be able to drop her off with a bunch of other kids, have her relate to other children, and then come home exhausted from playing is amazing! To not be the sole source of entertainment, information, learning and all her emotional needs - it's fantastic to be able to spread that with other people."

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