The 'Southern Charm' star and 'Southern Hospitality' boss opens up to PEOPLE about life as a mom to 6-year-old son Lamar Jr. — and just how hard she worked to have him
Leva Bonaparte is a self-described "smotherer" when it comes to parenting son Lamar, Jr. — and it has everything to do with her journey to motherhood.
PEOPLE sat down with the Southern Charm star during a trip to her booming Charleston nightclub Republic — the setting of her successful Bravo spinoff, Southern Hospitality. And during the long-ranging chat, Bonaparte got candid about her tight relationship with her son, who turns 6 on Monday, and why she prioritizes time with him over everything else.
"My parenting style can really be traced back to my struggles with infertility because it really had an effect on my outlook on how I wanted to raise my child," says the 44-year-old entrepreneur. "I don't think I'd be the type of mother I am today had I not gone through that."
Leva shares her son, whom she calls "Little," with her husband and business partner Lamar Bonaparte.
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Getting pregnant, Leva says, wasn't easy. "I had five years of undiagnosed infertility — just poking, prodding, poking, prodding," she recalls. "It was horrible. And there were times I worried it would never happen. I struggled for many, many years."
“It got to the point where it was hard to be around my circle of friends because they were all having kids and every time someone would say, ‘Oh, I accidentally got pregnant,’ I would want to burst into tears,” she continues. “And then there was this stage of my friends hiding their pregnancies from me because they were so worried about me being upset. Which was then followed by the stage of, ‘Oh, we can't ask Leva to host the shower because we know she can’t get pregnant.’ And it just got so awkward.”
Finally, a friend recommended a doctor who suggested Intrauterine insemination (IUI), the process also known as "artificial insemination" in which the sperm is placed directly in the uterus. "That wound up being what helped me conceive," says Leva. "That's how Little was born."
Becoming a mom was the beginning of a chapter Leva long dreamt about. But looking back at the process, she's keenly aware of how difficult a road it was in ways she never anticipated.
"There's a lot that people don't talk about," she says. "You're basically being treated like a turkey, and then you're blasted with all sorts of hormones and drugs — coming off of which are hard."
"Your body's so out of whack after being through all the testing and the 'Clomid crazies,' which are the side effects you get from the medication used to treat infertility [such as insomnia, irritability, mood swings, and PMS-like cravings]. And because no one tells you about it, you can feel nuts. Like, 'What is happening to me?'"
"I could talk about this stuff forever," she adds. "I don't think the medical system is equipped enough with this information. So you really have to educate yourself about these things and unfortunately, when I learned, it was only after I had experienced it."
Still, climbing that mountain taught her how to cherish each moment with her son.
"I definitely am very present [as a mom]," she tells PEOPLE. "From the minute he was born, I just wanted to soak it all up and keep it all. He didn't even go to preschool, you know what I man? Because I just wanted to savor all of it and I was like, 'I don't know if I'll even get it again.'"
"So in the sense, I feel like my infertility issues and the struggles I went through to have Little were a little bit of a blessing in disguise because I never took anything for granted," she adds. "The worst days, the hardest days. I was just like, 'I'm just so glad this little guy's here.'"
Of course, balancing motherhood with running four different successful nightclub/restaurants in Charleston and managing several investment properties while also starring on two reality shows isn't easy. But Leva says she's made the most of her time with her son by limiting screen time in the house.
"I actually bought an old school flip phone without internet that I use around him," Leva says. "My son calls it 'the dumb phone.' And I wanted it because he really wanted to get on my phone to play games, and whenever I told him no he would say, 'But you're on your phone all the time.' And he was right, I was! So I really changed my habit because you have to lead by example."
Now, Leva will batch her time on her smartphone — either first thing in the morning or later in the evening, after Little goes to sleep. The change, she says, has helped her be a more present mom.
"Time goes so quickly," Leva says. "You can sit on your phone and you don't realize you just wasted 40 minutes doing nothing, That's 40 minutes of learning, 40 minutes of quality time, 40 minutes of bath time or meal time or art time you could have had with your kid. So I'd much rather do that than be on my phone, consuming God-knows-what toxicity on social media. It's much more rewarding."
Little, Leva tells PEOPLE, takes after his parents in the sense that he's "a little bossy."
"He cracks me up because he really absorbs everything and tries to act way too old for his age," she says. "He'll come in the room and say, 'You're fired and you ned to go over there and you need to park it.' And I'm like, 'Bro, this is a little much. You're way too young to be saying that.' Or he'll tell my mom about something that happened at Republic because he listens to every conversation. So you'll see this little kid going, 'Well last night, Joe and Maddie got into an argument...' It's hilarious."
What hasn't sunk in yet for Little is just how famous his mom is. "He knows when the cameras com around, he calls them the picture frames actually — which is just so cute so I haven't corrected him," she shares. "So when we're filming he'll be like, 'The picture frames are coming,' or 'Mom's on the picture frames.' But I don't think he really understands it in the grand scheme of things."
"I don't know, he's a kid who I think will be very ambitious in life," Leva says. "He's like, 'I want to be on my own picture frames.' I'm like, 'All right kid, relax, we've got time...'"
And as for whether she and Lamar will add another to their family, Leva's still not sure.
"We've talked about it here and there," she says. "I know that it can't be in my body, so it would be a surrogacy. But I'm not sure I'm ready to do that again. It's hard those first years because there's a lot of sleepless nights. And it's like, 'I'm in my forties. I need my sleep now!' Especially with all going on with the businesses and the shows. And what my husband doesn't understand is how much more pressure there is on mom in the beginning. They really require all of your attention."
"I don't know," she ponders. "Maybe if I can back off a little bit and really not be such a helicopter mom. But we both know I'm not going to do that."
Southern Hospitality airs Thursdays (9 p.m. ET) on Bravo. All episodes can also be streamed on Peacock.
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