"I thought I was educated and woke, thought I had it all. Guess what? I wasn't," she admitted on Red Table Talk.
Sandra Bullock appeared on Wednesday's new episode of "Red Table Talk" to speak with the cohosts about her journey with adoption and motherhood in more detail than ever before.
The Oscar-winning actress is parent to 11-year-old Louis Bardo -- who she adopted as a single mother when he was just three and a half months old -- and 9-year-old Laila, who had been in foster care before Bullock adopted her at the age of 3 back in 2015.
Speaking with Jada Pinkett Smith, Willow Smith and Adrienne Banfield-Norris, Bullock said she had "an extraordinary experience through the foster care system" and now has "the most glorious child to show for what exists within that system." The actress has been trying to shed light on the foster system for years, admitting that it's "a difficult thing to talk about" and can get "deep" and "dark" at times.
"When I first went through the process myself, you have to prove that you are a capable parent and you're in the judgement cage," she explained. "I got halfway through it and went, I can't do this. It was an out of body experience ... you're thinking, if I don't answer this right, you're unfit."
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Adopting a child who had been in three different systems before finding her forever home comes with some built-in trauma, something which Bullock opened up about navigating after Laila joined the family.
"I had my kids in my closet with their little beds because I was so afraid to not have them super close to me and I would walk in and I wouldn't be able to find her. She'd be in the closet with all her clothes on, on a book shelf, hiding, she'd always be ready to leave," she said. "She's always telling me she's leaving. It sometimes was hilarious, because she was just all power and she says, 'I'm leaving you' and I said, 'I'm going to be right behind you. You can leave, but I'm right here.'"
"My partner [photographer Bryan Randall, who she's been with since 2015] said to me, 'When she's been with us longer than she hasn't been, I have a feeling we're going to see a change and you love by leaning in and hugging and holding and letting them know they are not going anywhere,'" she continued. "I saw triggers happening on a daily basis that I could not identify because I took it personally ... it was really hard to separate yourself and not be hurt because all you wanna do is love, but your love is not gonna cut it then and there."
Adding that Laila would sometimes hide food, Bullock noted that it's a survival tactic. While her triggers and fears will "come up for the rest of her life," Bullock said her daughter's "spirit" has pushed beyond them the more time they've had together.
Bullock was 45 when she adopted Louis amid her divorce from Jesse James in 2010. Speaking about taking the adoption route, the actress said she was "so glad the universe had me wait" to have children. Noting that she was firmly focused on her career, she "just knew" being a mother was her "path" after she held Louis for the first time.
The "Blind Side" star met Randall, a professional photographer, after hiring him to take pictures at Louis' fifth birthday. They began dating and, shortly after that, she revealed that she was adopting Laila. Calling Randall "a saint," she recalled how she told him her family would be growing.
"We hadn't been together that long. I said, 'Remember that NDA you signed when you photographed my son?' I said, 'You know, that still holds. He said 'Why?' I said, 'I'm bringing a child home when I come back from Toronto,'" she explained. "He was so happy, but he was scared. I'm a bulldozer. My life was already on the track and here's this beautiful human being who doesn't want anything to do with my life, but the right human being to be there."
She went on to praise Randall as a great example for her children, one who is "very Christian" and offers up a very different way of looking at things than she does. "I don't always agree with him and he doesn't always agree with me," she added, "But if they can take away from that and that is where they feel drawn to, he's the exact right parent to be in this position."
Bullock also opened up about being a white mother to two Black children and the specifics that come along with that.
"As a white parent who loves her loves her children, I'm scared of everything. I know I'm laying all kinds of existential anxiety on them. I have to think about what they're gonna experience leaving the home. How can I make sure my anxiety is accurate, protective?" she explained. "With Lou, being a young Black man, at some point sweet, funny Lou is going to be a young man and the minute he leaves my home, I can't follow him everywhere. I will try. I don't know what I will do, but I pray, pray, pray I've done a good enough job, scared them sufficiently."
"I've been schooling Lou since he was 6 years old and popped that hoodie on his head. I let him see everything. I let him process it, he knows how the world works, he knows how cruel it is and how unfair it is and now Laila knowing it," she continued.
She then pointed out how she complained to her about Randall watching "Squid Game" -- not because it was violent, but because "there's no Black people in it." She said seeing her daughter not only come to that realization, but have it spark a "fire in her belly" and vocalize it, made her "so happy" as a mom. "I let them teach me, tell me what they need to know. I thought I was educated and woke, thought I had it all. Guess what? I wasn't," she admitted.
While Bullock said she knows it's hard for some people to get past a white woman having two Black kids, she urged them "let [our love] be the evidence" that they're a family. "To say that I wish our skins matched, sometimes I do, because then it would be easier for how people approach us," she added, "It's our anxiety, our fear, our cross to bear the minute you become a mom. Maybe one day we will be able to see with different eyes."
Toward the end of the episode, Bullock answered a few viewer questions -- including one from a mother who was hesitant about letting their adopted children meet their birth parents.
"What I will experience with Lou will be very different from what I experience with Lai," said Bullock. "It's a hard one because you're not a terrible parent, you love your child and you're thinking why am I not enough. It has nothing to do with you."
Another fan asked for her thoughts about welcoming more children with a new partner, without getting married.
"I am someone who went through the divorce process. I found the love of my life, we share two beautiful children -- three children, his older daughter -- it's the best thing ever," said Sandra. "I don't want to say do it like I do it, but I don't need a paper to be a devoted partner, devoted mother."
"I don't need to be told to be ever present in the hardest of times. I don't need to be told to weather a storm with a good man," she added, before urging the woman to think about what kind of parents they would be to a new child even if she and her partner didn't work out in the long run. "Think about the children first."
Watch the full episode above. See Bullock and Laila's surprise appearance on a 2020 episode of "Red Table Talk" below.