Shriver talks therapy, friendship and Eunice at Darien luncheon
Updated 12:59 pm, Friday, March 2, 2018
STAMFORD — For all that’s been said about Maria Shriver’s family, career and personal life, the journalist and former California first lady argues few people know her beyond her name.
“I think very few people know me. I think very few people know anybody,” Shriver told an audience at the annual Center for HOPE luncheon — a fundraiser benefiting an arm of Family Centers, the Greenwich-based nonprofit that serves Stamford. “People think they know me, but they don’t know. That was actually a struggle for me growing up — that I was part of this large family. I was a Kennedy. I didn’t even have a first name. That was a driving thing for me. It pissed me off.”
Shriver, 62, told the mostly female audience at the Country Club of Darien on Thursday — which fell on Fairfield County’s annual Giving Day — that her new book, “I’ve Been Thinking ... Reflections, Prayers and Meditations on a Meaningful Life,” is as much of a window as she’s given the public into her thoughts.
When the book, comprised of short chapters offering digestible life lessons, veers into personal territory, it’s to discuss her children, family (her uncle is former President John F. Kennedy) and faith. Beyond writing that she no longer believes divorce is a sin, she steers clear of her public separation from former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, with whom she has four adult children. Among the book’s universal lessons are empathy, listening and gratitude.
“Sometimes people think that in a setting like this you don’t have any problems,” she told the audience. “If you’re in a perfect marriage, you don’t have any problems.”
The Emmy and Peabody award-winning journalist continued, “I’ve met a lot of really successful businessmen and business women who are really miserable, who have no concept of how to deal with emotional pain, no concept of how to deal with failure, and completely warped concepts of power and success. Being able to talk about grief and stuff that happens is a really great ability.”
Therapy, which she once shunned, became one of Shriver’s greatest tools for dealing with life’s challenges.
“I grew up with the idea that people went to therapy when their fathers were shot,” she said. “Certainly it’s a different time. I had a friend who said, ‘You need to go to therapy.’ So I went and I learned a lot about myself, and I talk openly about it because shame is a crippling thing, and it can destroy the best of us.”
She also touched on friendship and choosing who’s worth keeping close: “It’s OK to weed people out and it’s OK not to keep people in our lives who don’t deserve to be in our lives. It’s hard for people ... but I really believe you are the company you keep and you have to surround yourself with people who lift you up because the world knocks you down.”
She even discussed her evolving relationship with her children (“I want them to be afraid of me,” she jokes) now that the oldest is at college. “My parents raised me to look people in the eye and introduce myself, no matter how many times I’ve met the person, and I require that of my children and my children’s friends,” she said, adding that they’re also asked to greet her standing and to put away their phones at the dinner table.
Shriver had an especially close relationship to her late mother, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, founder of the Special Olympics and a “formidable” woman who expected a lot from her children.
“I don’t ever remember sitting when my mother was still alive,” Shriver said. “I’ve definitely learned that I deserve to take a break, that I can sit and take a minute, take a breath, and that’s OK.”