Garner relishes her role as mother to her daughters and considers herself lucky that her line of work allows for plenty of flexibility -- she can pass on movies she doesn’t feel passionate about or develop a project entirely on her own. She recently founded her own production company, Vandalia Films, which has given her more control over what films she tackles and has allowed her to tap her inner strengths. “With producing, I’ve really liked learning to trust my own voice,” she says. “I do have an opinion, and I feel like that has bled over into my acting work more, where I feel more confident speaking my mind and feeling like I have something to offer.”

She’s also learning to trust that same voice to guide her through the land mines that can arise with raising two young kids while still nurturing her own needs and desires. Like many working moms, Garner struggles with balancing her home life and career. “I feel like a working mom who has the tug of, when I’m working, feeling like, is this selfish? But then I think, ‘I have the right to make a living,’ “ she says. “I don’t know. I’ve been home now for a long time, and I feel the tug of work, and then as soon as somebody says, ‘You have a day of press,’ I’m like, ‘What? Are you crazy? I’m with my kids!’ But it’s a good tug, and it’s worth struggling through. It’s just my heartstrings being pulled.”

Her compromise is to work less and to travel only when necessary. Gone are her grueling 100-hour weeks from her Alias days, and when she’s away from her children, it’s for as little time as possible. In fact, now that she’s planted her roots so firmly at home, the one thing she might go back and change if given the chance would be how much globe-trotting she did in years past. “I think I would have taken advantage of being able to travel more when I was younger and done a summer in India and a semester in Rome,” she says. “Travel now is always squished by the idea of my family waiting for me, so I go as fast as I can and come home as fast as I can. If I go anywhere really beautiful, I’m hardly there 12 hours.”

When Garner made the decision recently to devote more time to charity work -- a choice no doubt influenced by her husband’s outspoken advocacy for the crisis in the Congo -- she kept her focus close to home. She became an ambassador for the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF), a nonprofit advocacy group that works to provide children with access to health care and quality educational programs. “I did a lot of research; I read a lot of books and met with people,” she recounts. “I think rural American kids are underserved. I grew up where there was so much poverty, and nobody ever talks about it. There’s illiteracy. There’s no health insurance. The CDF provides exactly what the world that I grew up in needed. I want to be a part of that for kids in our country.”