You may recognize Andrea Canning from her six years on Dateline, but behind the scenes this New York mama keeps busy between raising five girls—Elle, 3, Georgia, 4, Kiki, 6, Charlie, 8, and Anna, 9—her correspondent title on the show, and a penchant for scriptwriting. She spoke to New York Family about how she and her husband balance caretaker roles, how she takes time for herself, and what kind of Dateline stories stick with her the most.
Have you noticed differences when raising each of your children?
They’re so close in age—I mean, they’re all within six years. I would say they kind of all have sort of a similar experience so far. Even the 3 year olds these days are on the iPads. I have to take the phones away from them from time to time, and the iPads. It’s too much. I’m like, go outside, go play a game. Go do art, go read a book.
You and your husband are super busy—how do you divide chores and time with your kids? How do you manage?
We definitely have our roles. If I’m not traveling, then I’m always with them in the morning getting them up, getting them ready for school, breakfast. I also try to do all day after-school stuff before he gets home from work… and then he’s getting them dinner, getting their homework done and things like that. He comes home from work and then he also does homework, and he’s like the Super Dad at night. I’m totally running out of gas and he’s Mr. Energizer Bunny. He does the pledge of allegiance, and they’ll sing the National Anthem, and they’ll read books. He does his Marine Corps song and he does all these things with them at night where I just kind of look at him in awe, because I’m like “I don’t know how you have the energy to do that.” And I’m also so grateful just for our children that he puts that time in with them at night. He’s a really special dad.
What are some of the things you like to do as a family?
We love going out to eat. We’ll go to the movies or we’ll have our family movie night at home. Now that the kids are getting older, we can find movies that are kind of the parents and the kids like. We just watched Honey, I Shrunk the Kids… Every Saturday we go to swim lessons as a family, we take them there. Both of us take them there. I don’t like to split us up, and I know that’s going to happen eventually with sports and what not, but right now I try to make it so we all go to things as a family.
What are the most challenging and rewarding parts of having such a large family?
I think the most challenging thing is they all gang up on us. When I’m trying to tell them to stop doing something, there’s a lot of times where they just won’t because they’ve all banded together. [Also] I’m kind of a neat freak and keeping the house tidy with five kids is really hard at this age. I’m trying to teach them, but they’re not there quite yet. I feel like I should have one of those holsters with a DustBuster in it because I’m just constantly cleaning.
But then, the rewarding part is just like I just look at them and just how special they are, just all of them together. When I see them all together, they’re so loving. We’ll pile into bed together and watch America’s Got Talent, and it’s just fun! They’re just such a pleasure to be around. It’s when they start getting out of control that’s when I’m like pulling my hair out. And it happens! Because my kids are not perfect. But then we have those really touching moments, when I see one of the girls help out another sister without being asked. And you know, you’ll look over and you’re like ‘Aw, that’s adorable.’ They really take care of each other.
How do you like to spend your personal time?
My husband and I try to go out like every other Saturday. We do that to decompress, and go see a movie or whatever. I started writing screenplays… that’s been really rewarding and has kind of given me something else to focus on in my free time. I go to the nail salon or if I can squeeze in a massage maybe twice a year that’s always nice. Most of my free time, to be honest, is spent with my kids.
How has your role on Dateline changed since you started in 2012?
I’ve become much more focused on the families of the victims, I would say; as I’ve gotten to know more and more people in the stories that I tell, I find myself caring about them. I’ve always cared, but I just care more and more and more. And I feel like I’m doing this for them in a lot of ways. You know, I want them to be happy. The last thing I would ever want is for a family to be upset after a show aired, and thank god that hasn’t happened. I tell them, “I’m going to hold your hand through this.” I’m an open book with these families. I tell them, “I’m available to you 24/7. If you want to call me at 2 o’clock in the morning, I’ll take your call.” Because I understand what they’re entrusting us with. I mean, we deal with life and death, so there’s nothing more serious than what we do on Dateline. Imagine you lose a loved one, you lose your daughter, your husband, your sister: It’s a very important thing that we do, telling these stories.
Is it hard to tell these stories and go home with them?
I think it depends on the story. I think I have such a solid marriage that if it’s something with a husband and wife, it doesn’t rock me too much. I mean, of course I feel horrible for what everyone around them has been through, but I wouldn’t say that I necessarily take that home with me. I think what I take home with me is when it’s a child, when it’s a teenager, anything that really hits close to home with my children.
I just did a story in Knoxville where the mom woke up and her 16-year-old daughter was dead in her bed. She had been shot. And you know, this was a girl who had her whole life in front of her…and her ex-boyfriend just couldn’t take that she didn’t want to be with him…that mom, I just really felt so much sympathy for. And that’s the kind of story I take home.
What is really rewarding about your role with Dateline?
After the story airs and you get a call from the mom or a sister, and they thank you. They say, “Thank you for portraying our loved one the way you did and for telling the story the way you did, and for telling it the way you told us you would tell it.” I think that’s always really rewarding. And also, I like to hold these suspects and these convicted killers to the fire. When I get the chance I grill them and the families do appreciate that afterwards, and the viewers do too. I think I come in there and some of these killers think that I’m just going to be this pushover, and they’re in for a surprise.
Anything else on the horizon?
I have a movie shooting in Ottawa, Canada this month. It’s called Homekilling Queen. Personally, it’s just more kid stuff. Before January , I think I have three movies shooting.
Are they all for Lifetime?
Yeah, so that’s just like my little side hobby: Dateline is my baby, it’s my bread and butter, definitely my No. 1 priority. It always has been, and it always will be. I picked up this hobby on the side just to fill the time on things and what-not.
I’m probably working on 10 stories for Dateline at all times. They’re just in some phase of the story—maybe they’re going to trial, or the trials been delayed, or we’ve done some interviews but we’re waiting for sentencing, or maybe there’s a hung jury and then you have to wait until the next trial. There’s always a lot of balls in the air. You’re just always on a number of things at once. It’s very rewarding when it finally airs. I have a little book for each of my girls with every single Dateline that I’ve done. DVDs are a little archaic, I understand, but it’s a good way to put them in a book… it’s nice for kids when they get older to have those mementos of their parents.
To catch Andrea on Dateline, tune in on NBC!