Maybe you linger over that text message before getting up to intervene in the playground. Or you are tempted to drop your sick kid off at daycare. You might be, in the lexicon of a new book on parenting, a “Sh*tty Mom.” Don’t worry: That’s a good thing.
It’s about shortcuts and parenting with 40-per-cent effort, and when something inevitably goes wrong, choosing to laugh instead of cry, says Alicia Ybarbo, one of the four authors of Sh*tty Mom: The Parenting Guide for the Rest of Us.
We caught up with Ybarbo and co-author Mary Ann Zoellner, both impossibly chipper the morning after their New York book launch.
You’re in the epicentre of uber-parenting. Is the book a response to that milieu?
Zoellner: We don’t want to judge other moms at all for the parenting choices they make. Because the Tiger parents and the helicopter moms are going to have their Sh*tty Mom moments too. Theirs might be: Oh my gosh I didn’t take my kid to their fifth hour of gymnastics today and instead I decided to go to a dinner party.
My husband found these pictures of us this summer. I’m in Central Park with my kids on a beautiful afternoon and I have my Kindle and I’m all wrapped up – as my kids are merrily playing away – reading my Fifty Shades of Grey and completely not paying attention to them.
Life is tough and we’re telling moms to relax.
You two are both producers at NBC in New York. Is that where you hatched the idea?
Zoellner: Back in 2009, we wrote a parenting book called Today’s Moms, a book about the first year. Along with Karen Moline, we had our aha moment drinking margaritas, out at a Mexican restaurant. The thing we heard most from our Twitter followers was how they like their information dished out with a bit of humour.
We came up with Sh*tty Mom. The three of us did our darnedest and our agent said, no, you’re not funny enough. So that’s when we brought in Laurie Kilmartin, who is absolutely amazing, a stand-up comic and a writer for Conan. We’re so Sh*tty we can’t even write a funny book.
But you can sleep in on the weekends. You boast about it.
Zoellner: My kids have learned from an early age how to turn on the remote and close our door on weekend mornings so we can sleep. I try to wake up by the 12th episode of Hannah Montana.
Ybarbo: A true Sh*tty Mom will have DVRed all the best-quality shows for their kids.
And left out a cooler with breakfast in it, you suggest.
Ybarbo: We like to call it our non-advice, advice book. The chapter I own up to is how to not hear your child in the middle of the night. You’re so exhausted. You feign sleep. The kid’s slapping you in the face, poking your eyes out, ‘Mommy are you awake?’ Now my kids have been trained to, honestly, go right to Daddy’s side of the bed. Which is great.
And take your sick kid to daycare if you have to? In the book, you have a 10-step process.
Zoellner: If you don’t actually take their temperature, you can honestly feign ignorance. Knowledge is not power in this case. The less you know the better.
You suggest it could toughen kids up for a world in which we all go to work sick.
Zoellner: It’s the same, even with our 10-second pacifier rule: Stuff is going to fall on the floor. You can do two things. Either put it right back in the kid’s mouth; it’s never going to kill the kid. Or if somebody is watching, you should definitely take the hit and clean it in your mouth. Even though what’s in my mouth is a lot worse than what’s on the street!
Ybarbo: When you think about being perfect, it is downright exhausting.
In the parenting-book genre, where do you fit among the slacker moms and the three-martini-playdate moms? I notice the cartoon mom on your cover is holding a coffee, not a cocktail.
Zoellner: We really fought for that. Our publisher wanted a martini glass with a binky in it. This book is not saying go get drunk and have fun. It is not that book. We just want everyone to forgive themselves and their less-than-perfect parenting moments and know that the kids are going to turn out just fine.
And you say it’s also about not worrying what other people think. Like in the chapter about planes.
Ybarbo: I grew up in Northern California. And NBC has a tremendous mat-leave policy: eight months total. So I’d fly to see family often by myself, because my husband was working. One time I saved up enough points so I cashed in for business. It was an 8 a.m. flight. Here I am. They’re all looking at me. There’s Jackie-Boy in a BabyBjorn. I had stares like you wouldn’t believe. It makes you feel so uncomfortable.
Zoellner: My mantra is as (travel expert) Peter Greenberg likes to say: A good flight is one that lands. This plane will land. And that’s when corn syrup and every trick in the book – you have to pull it out. And the people giving you dirty looks? You’ll never see them again.
Ybarbo: Just smile and wave.
What about the Sh*tty Dads out there? Do they deserve a book?
Zoellner: Alicia and I are really lucky that we have wonderful husbands. They have their moments for sure. We can’t say anything personally about Sh*tty Dads. We need ’em right now – we’re travelling for the book. We need them on our side.
This interview has been condensed and edited.