Jesse Tyler Ferguson on Parenting, Potty Training and Pride

The Modern Family actor gets real about what it’s like to parent a baby and toddler—potty training mishaps and all.
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By Natalie Gontcharova, Senior Editor, Lifecycle
Published June 12, 2023
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Image: Jesse Tyler Ferguson | Instagram

With the birth of their second son, Sullivan Louis Ferguson-Mikita, in November, Modern Family star Jesse Tyler Ferguson and husband Justin Mikita officially joined the toddler-and-baby parent club: Their first son, Beckett Mercer Ferguson-Mikita, will be 3 in July. If you ask Ferguson, it’s a fun (and chaotic!) club to be a part of—complete with endless bottles of formula, potty training accidents and even a little sibling rivalry.

The Bump recently chatted with the Tony Award winner about his surrogacy and parenting journey. Read on for his thoughts on raising two kids with love and pride.

The Bump: Sullivan recently turned 6 months—what a big milestone! How did you celebrate?

Jesse Tyler Ferguson: Sullivan turned 6 months [the day after] Mother’s Day, so we spent the day with my mom and Justin’s mom and a few of our other friends who are moms. We took him out to his very first restaurant—it’s the first time he’s been to a public restaurant for dinner. He did not partake in the sushi we were eating, but he did have a nice bottle of Enfamil ready to go for him. It’s so interesting, when it’s your second kid you kind of forget all these milestones. Someone asked me, “What was Beckett like at 6 months?,” and I truly don’t remember because you’re just so invested in the moment, and these moments go so quickly. Sullivan is a completely different person. He’s a lot quieter than Beckett was, a little more inquisitive. It’s almost like he knows that he needs to lay back a little bit and not overtax his exhausted parents.

TB: Speaking of milestones, you recently potty trained Beckett. How was that experience for you? Do you have any potty training advice for parents who are starting out?

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JTF: I read a few different books—I’m big on research, if you can’t tell. I kind of feel like every kid is different, and they all respond differently. I plan on trying the same system with Sullivan because I know it worked for us, but who knows if it’s actually going to work for him. He had spring break so we stayed mostly at home and we put him on the toilet. We set a timer for every 15 minutes. Once he was on the toilet, we set a timer for four minutes. He just sat there, and if he didn’t have to go then we’d try it again in 15 minutes. Then we stretched the 15 minutes to 30 minutes, then 45 minutes, then an hour. And it really worked! He’s had a few accidents, of course. He’s very sweetly disappointed in himself when he has an accident. We tell him everyone is going to make mistakes, we all mess up sometimes and it’s okay. My advice is, if one method doesn’t work try a different one. Also, kids kind of tell you when they’re ready. He started talking about the bathroom a lot, so it’s something we knew he was interested in.

TB: I would love to hear a little more about your formula feeding experience with Sullivan. Have there been any struggles? Also, how have the boys’ feeding experiences been different from each other?

JTF: When we had Beckett, we were given Enfamil in the hospital, and so that’s what we took home with us. It was a great experience. When we had Sully, I was a little bit more prepared. I did my research and I saw that Enspire Optimum, which is Enfamil’s closest formula to breast milk, is now available. We started using that, and it’s been great. We’re still doing the bottle [for Sullivan], but we’re starting on solids and supplementing with other things now. He’s also downing these bottles like a maniac. Everyone who sees him thinks he’s older than he is! So he’s definitely more of an eater than Beckett was. But it’s great to know that there’s now a better version of that trusted formula brand that we can give to Sully. Enspire Optimum has been great for us—it’s the only leading brand with lactoferrin, [which is also found in breast milk and colostrum].

TB: How has starting solids with Sully been going? What are some of his favorite foods?

JTF: It’s been good. He inherited my sweet tooth, I think. We’ll try something like cucumbers or peas, and if he’s not enjoying it too much, we’ll add a little bit of fruit to it and he’s like, “Okay, now I’m in for it.” A lot of mixing of foods is what we’re doing right now—what they call “fusion” in the culinary world.

TB: What is Beckett and Sullivan’s relationship like now? How has your family dynamic changed since Sullivan was born?

JTF: We’re still figuring that out! Sullivan interacts with people, he smiles and coos and is reaching for things—but Beckett’s so active right now. I think he’s expecting more, and toddlers don’t have a lot of patience, so I think he’s kind of like, “When is this kid going to get up and start playing with me?” But Beckett definitely loves the mantle of being an older sibling, which is really sweet. He likes setting an example for Sully. We’re running into the same thing that I think a lot of parents who have a second kid have, which is jealousy. If you’re paying too much attention to the baby, he wants you to put the baby down. It’s a great chance for teaching them about sharing and being a family unit. We’re learning as we’re going. Yesterday I put a pair of sunglasses on Sully, and Beckett immediately wanted his sunglasses. So he spent 10 minutes looking for them. It’s a lot of stuff like that.

TB: You had both Beckett and Sullivan via surrogacy. Do you have any advice for other parents who are embarking on that journey?

JTF: There’s a lot of things that sort of have to fall into place, and a lot of people who have to be involved. For us, we used a separate egg donor: The woman who carried Beckett, our surrogate, wasn’t our egg donor—we used an anonymous donation for the egg. With that step alone, you can get very caught up in the minutia of it all. My advice for people looking into surrogacy would be to take time to make the decision and don’t get caught up in any single step. For us, we had talked about adoption but this seemed like the best choice. My husband survived Hodgkin’s lymphoma when he was 14, and his parents had the foresight to have his sperm banked before he underwent chemotherapy and radiation. That was something we wanted to honor.

Image: Tony Rivetti/Disney General Entertainment Content | Getty Images

TB: I’d love to talk about your upcoming projects. You have a fun podcast coming out called Dinner’s On Me where you go to restaurants with other celebrities. Can you tell me a little bit more about it? Do you plan to have any celebrity parents on the show?

JTF: Dinner’s On Me takes the podcast out of the studio and into restaurants. We’ve gone to restaurants in both Los Angeles and New York, and it’s just a conversation over a great meal. I’ve been lucky enough to bring on a lot of people that I already love deeply, and I hope to [also] interview a lot of people that I don’t know yet. It’s been a wonderful experience. The conversations have ranged from impostor syndrome to mental health to culinary appropriation, [which] I talked about with Padma Lakshmi, who’s also a fantastic parent. I’ve actually had a lot of parents on the show: Julie Bowen, Jesse Williams, Kristen Bell, Niecy Nash-Betts. We’ve talked a lot about kids, and I’ve certainly asked them for advice. Julie Bowen [from Modern Family] is someone who I have on speed dial, and if I have a question about something, I go to her first usually.

TB: Speaking of restaurants, do you have any advice on successfully going out to a meal with a baby and toddler? (Asking for a friend!)

JTF: We practice at home. Maybe Beckett’s dinner’s done, and he would like to get up, but we sit and talk and ask him questions about his day. We have a little bowl of toys on the table that we talk about. We haven’t gotten to the point where we use screens at restaurants, and who knows if that will change. We let him do some art at the table if he’s getting fidgety, and we try to keep him engaged for as long as possible. We’re very lucky that we have a big extended family who all adore him and he adores them, and so [he’ll be] sitting on Grandpa’s lap for a little while and then sitting on Grandma’s lap, for a different perspective of the table. But we’re still figuring it out! Some days he’s great about it, and some days he just doesn’t want to do it.

TB: What does parenting with pride mean to you? How do you plan to raise your kids to uphold the values of pride?

JTF: I think pride starts with yourself and being proud of who you are, and being vocal and open about your pride. Those are certainly things I hope to pass along to Beckett and Sullivan. I hope that they’re proud not only of themselves, but of the family they’ve been born into. I hope to teach them compassion. I hope to teach them about inclusion. I hope to teach them to be great feminists. I hope to teach them that there are all different types of families. We have friends who are single mothers, we have friends who are single fathers, we have friends who are in same-sex couples, we have friends who are in traditional families—and all those families are valid and lead with love.

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