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Poker Star Annie Duke Aces Motherhood

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Professional poker player Annie Duke, of "Celebrity Apprentice" fame, is the single mother of four kids -- ages 14, 11, 9, and 7. How does she juggle it all? She shares her tricks of the trade with momlogic.

Annie Duke

momlogic: How does being a good poker player help you in being a good mom?

Annie Duke: When you play poker, you have to get a feel for your opponent, to see if they're lying or not. Most of the things you're doing at a poker table involve looking for signs that your opponents are uncomfortable. You get good at doing that in a very quick timetable. So my kids have a very difficult time lying to me. I have a very good lie detector! And they get a much bigger punishment for lying than doing the thing itself. If you lie to me about it, you have a very big consequence.

Poker also teaches you a tremendous amount of patience. There are hours and hours where most of what you're doing is folding your hand, and you're not playing most of the hands you're dealt. So that patience really comes in handy when raising four kids!

Lastly, poker really teaches you that there are things you can control and things you can't control. I can't control the cards that I'm dealt, but I can control how I play the hand. That really helps you be a better mom. As mothers, we spend a lot of time focusing on things we can't control about our children, so poker helps me do that less.

I learned a long time ago that all my kids have four very different personalities. My job is to make them be polite and respectful within their personality type.

momlogic: Can you tell us about your daughter who has ADHD?

Annie Duke: She's twice exceptional -- which means she's profoundly gifted, but she has executive functioning issues. She wasn't diagnosed until sixth grade. We thought at home that she was just high-strung. She had some impulse control stuff, some issues with organization of information. But she was able to continue to do well in school. When she got into sixth grade, she had to switch from one classroom to the next, and that's when things sort of started falling apart at school.

The profile is very common -- a lot of profoundly gifted kids have this. So many parents pull their hair out: "I know my kid is smart ... why are they getting Bs and Cs?" That was where I was at.

Once she was diagnosed, the pieces of the puzzle started coming together. Her ADHD is mild enough that we don't have to medicate. But we have to be careful not to escalate arguments with her. Her brain has to get back to thinking with her frontal lobe.

There was this moment I could see two paths she could go down. She was miserable at school, but my other three kids go to that school and thrive there. My daughter was teaching herself Japanese so she could read manga and anime. She was teased really brutally. As she went through puberty, she started internalizing it. She was unhappy, she started crying, and she started to believe she wasn't a worthwhile person.

Now we have her in a school for twice exceptional kids, and her whole behavior has changed. This is her right path. She's getting straight A's, and has become very socially successful. It's like a total transformation. Our relationship is thriving. When you have a child that's unhappy, it creates some anger and you end up butting heads all the time. I was spending a lot of time walking away from arguments so she could calm down. Now we are getting along better than ever.

What did your kids think about you being on "Celebrity Apprentice"?

Annie Duke: My 11-year-old and 9-year-old were very interested. On the very first episode, "The Apprentice" made me look very bossy, and my kids were totally my cheerleaders. They were like, "Why did they do that? You're doing the best of everyone!"

momlogic: How was it for you to have to be away from your kids during the filming of "Celebrity Apprentice"?

Annie Duke: I didn't see them for about three weeks, and it was very hard. There was one night I just broke down in tears. I'm very lucky my ex-husband is extremely involved, so they were with him during the filming. They did come out and visit me once. We went to the Natural History Museum and the Statue of Liberty. They loved it.

momlogic: Do your kids like to travel?

Annie Duke: They are interesting kids. They love both kinds of vacations -- the beachy ones and the more educational trips. We took them to Boston and they loved it. We did the Freedom Trail, went to Quincy Market, Salem, and the Museum of Science. They loved it. This summer, we're going to Washington, D.C., while I'm there doing some lobbying, and are going to do the whole White House tour. They're excited.

momlogic: How is it being a single mother?

Annie Duke: I've had a boyfriend for five years and we've lived together for four, so he's an integral part of the family. My ex is extremely involved, and he has the kids half the time. When we were getting divorced, I made a decision that I got to choose the father of my children, but the kids didn't get to choose their parents. No matter how much we were wronged, our kids deserve to feel like both of their parents walk on water. That's how I felt about my dad. They deserve to have the same feelings about their father. I told my parents, "If you ever say a bad thing about my ex in front of the kids, you will not be around the kids."

Our total lawyer fees in the divorce were under $15,000. I refused to fight for anything ... it was just not going to happen. We ended up maintaining a very good relationship through the divorce. We communicate. He comes over for Christmas dinner.

I tell my kids they are very unlucky -- most parents of divorced children do not communicate so they can get one over on them, but not us! We communicate all the time.

I have a relatively easy single parent life -- we do support each other so much in our parenting and really do co-parent in every sense of the word.

I am lucky I have the support of my ex-husband and I have a nanny ... I think that might be the toughest job in the world! I don't even know how you'd do it. So when people ask me to speak about being a single mother, I often say I couldn't even begin to speak upon those issues!

I wish that every divorced couple would remember this: You chose your partner, so take responsibility for that decision. Your kids did not choose their parents. Whatever wrongs your ex did to you (unless they were abusive) ... don't make your kids suffer from those mistakes.

momlogic: Why did your marriage break down?

Annie Duke: I think I was overly focused on the kids; I think that's what happens a lot to moms. Maybe I wasn't as nurturing of the relationship. My youngest was 1 when I divorced. I found myself staying at work longer to avoid the problems at home, and that was taking time away from my kids. I wouldn't have gotten divorced if I didn't think what was going on in the marriage was affecting my kids negatively. When I realized that it started to affect the way I parent, that's when it was over. It's not that he's a bad person -- we just had a bad marriage. The kids are so much happier now that we've split.

momlogic: What do you think about the Jon and Kate breakup?

Annie Duke: I wouldn't put my children on a reality show in the first place. If you look on my twitter feed and my website, you will see zero pictures of my children. On my blog, you will see very few mentions of my children. Yesterday, I deleted 1,000 friend requests on Facebook because there are pictures of my kids on there, and I will not accept you if I don't know you. I feel like, "Yes, I'm a public figure, but my kids aren't." A few people have approached me about doing a reality show about being a mom of four who plays poker. I always say, "I hope you don't mind if my children are never on camera!" They always say, "I really respect that" but then they never come around again!

With cameras on 24/7, you lose that private part of you. I don't see how a family is supposed to survive that. The Hogans didn't survive it, so why would Jon and Kate? How surprising is it, really? It's stressful enough on a marriage to have eight children. We were raising 4 kids and we lost our marriage. You have to really maintain focus or that gets lost. I wasn't putting focus on having private time with my spouse. I think it's already hard if you have eight children to NOT lose that connection ... and then you put it on TV?

I can't imagine how a marriage would survive. I think it would be much more surprising if their marriage DID survive. My recommendation would be not to put your children on camera, period.

momlogic: Can you tell us about the charities you're involved in?

Annie Duke: Ante Up for Africa benefits Darfur, and the World Series of Poker is our main partner. We've raised 2.1 million dollars so far, and 100% of the money comes from the poker community -- I think people saw on "Celebrity Apprentice" how generous the poker community is.

The Decision Education Foundation improves the lives of young people by empowering them with effective decision skills. In schools, we focus so much on academics -- but we don't teach kids how to make good decisions. But when teens make bad decisions, you've got kids getting into a car with someone who's drunk, teens getting pregnant, kids dropping out of school. It's time someone taught good decision-making in our classrooms!

Our curriculum can be incorporated within mainstream subject areas such as English, history, and math. For instance, you can talk to kindergarteners about what bad decisions Goldilocks made with the three bears. You can discuss better decision-making with teens reading Macbeth. This is something I'm very passionate about, because I've spent my life making money off of people who make bad decisions!

next: 5 Things Your Mother-in-Law Will Never Admit
61 comments so far | Post a comment now
John214 July 11, 2009, 6:54 AM

Very nice site!

jill July 25, 2009, 11:40 PM

Ms Duke-If you are so against exploiting kids and doing the “right thing” why do you gamble, talk about your daughters learning disability and have a “live-in” boyfriend. To me, that seems a bit hypocritical don’t you think? Don’t rip Jon and Kate when you have issues yourself.

Shannon M Cassin September 23, 2009, 8:38 AM

Annie Duke is the best! I live in Vegas and I need to buy her book. I would also love to see her play live here in Vegas however unlike some people believe we all do not live on the strip. I totally support the way she is handling her children and her life.

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