Alicia Ybarbo and Mary Ann Zoellner sure don’t seem like sh*tty moms. I meet Alicia’s kids in the hallway outside her apartment. “Are you here for the interview?” her son politely asks. “Let me show you my apartment,” he says as he leads the way inside. Clearly, they’re doing something right.
Alicia and Mary Ann are gracious and warm and funny. Talking to them feels like a casual chat with two fabulous new friends. They’re also two extremely accomplished NBC producers with nine Emmys between them and two children each (ages six and eight for Mary Ann and seven and nine for Alicia). Their new book, Sh*tty Mom: The Parenting Guide for the Rest of Us, is the latest laugh-out-loud read that you’ll be quoting to your husband or best friend for months to come. Written with journalist Karen Moline and comedian Laurie Kilmartin (who brought all the funny), Sh*tty Mom covers all-important parenting topics, like “How to Sleep in Until Nine A.M. Every Weekend” and “How to Get Rid of a Mom Who Wants to Stay Over During the Entire Playdate.”
But before you bust out laughing and go buy the book for yourself, meet two of the lovely (and hilarious) ladies behind the nationwide movement to drop the mom guilt and get on with life.
What is a sh*tty mom?
Alicia Ybarbo: We like to start with what a sh*tty mom is not. A sh*tty mom is not a mean mom, a finger-pointing mom, or a mom who doesn’t love her kids. A sh*tty mom is one who acknowledges her less than perfect parenting moments—the moments you can either stress about or laugh about, and we choose to laugh about them.
Are there moms out there who are living up to all the how-to-parent guide books?
Mary Ann Zoellner: There’s too much guilt in mommyhood. If you’re supposed to buy a manual to raise your kid and you don’t live up to it, you’re a bad mom. When you’re first having kids, there are those moms you idolize and think, “God, I’m so sh*tty compared to them.” Then you realize that if you went to live in their house, there would be more problems than you think. The message of our book is really that you’re not as terrible as you think.
AY: I think they’re not allowing themselves to step down. They’re putting way too much pressure on themselves. Sometimes it’s really the first-time mom who’s doing that to herself, and once that second kid comes and there are way more sh*tty mom moments…you have to laugh and let it go.
MAZ: There’s a picture of me in Central Park with my kids playing and me bent over my Kindle reading Fifty Shades of Grey. So we’re telling moms, after you’ve read all three Fifty Shades of Grey, you’re definitely a sh*tty mom.
AY: We work full-time, so it’s hard to take a moment to breathe sometimes. For my son’s birthday, he wanted to bring cupcakes for his class. It was a busy workweek, but Thursday night, 10pm, I’m making the cupcakes—out of a box, of course. I was so proud of myself, and my son was thrilled. The next day at work, I get a phone call from my son’s teacher: “Are these cupcakes gluten-free, peanut-free, dairy-free, etc?” “Um, I don’t know,” was the only response I could give her. They’re from Food Emporium! My son came home so upset that there were five kids who couldn’t eat the cupcakes at school that day, and that just broke my heart. I missed one little thing, and that’s the one little thing you just want to beat yourself up over.
Your first book was so different—you wrote TODAY’S MOMS: Essentials for Surviving Baby’s First Year with collected advice from “TODAY Show” anchors, producers, and experts. How did you go from that book to this one?
MAZ: We have a Twitter account, @TodaysMoms, with about 278,000 followers—and we started hearing from moms who were feeling guilty and bad about their parenting skills. Particularly in today’s economy, women are trying to be the breadwinners, take care of their kids, look good—everyone was really running ragged. We sat around just talking about these sh*tty moments—the times when you don’t care if your kid brushes her teeth in the morning, or when you give your kid candy so you can just make that work phone call in peace—and that’s how the book evolved.
AY: We should mention that the “aha” moment came while we were out to dinner at a Mexican restaurant, having margaritas and chips and salsa. We were being sh*tty moms who weren’t with our kids but yucking it up in some taqueria.
This book feels like a very funny backlash against ideas like Tiger Moms. Do you feel pressure to be that mom, especially in NYC?
AY: Absolutely. There’s so much language around that mom: helicopter, attachment, extreme. It’s hard to be that kind of mom, and I don’t want to be that kind of parent. My kid is entering fourth grade, and everyone is like, “Where’s your tutor?”
Are there ways that you’re a non-sh*tty mom?
AY: Don’t mess with me and Halloween. My kids have to have a full-on homemade Halloween costume. I keep those outfits and cherish them. I got upset with my daughter because I made her a red crayon costume and she wanted to wear it three years in a row.
MAZ: Everything comes with a yin and a yang. I breastfed my girls for a year each and that was nearly impossible to do. I was going to Dubai for a segment and I’d left my mom literally 5,000 bags of breast milk. But the minute I left, my daughter got sick and my mom was going through the stuff like nobody’s business. There I was in Dubai, dumping this liquid gold in a sink, feeling absolutely sh*tty.
How is being a sh*tty mom different in NYC?
MAZ: Our kids go to public schools and we’re super happy; we love our schools. But we’re NYC middle class families, and we’re not going to sacrifice having food on the table so we can send our kids to private schools. Does that make us sh*tty? No, I think it makes us realistic.
Growing up in the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s, our moms were the Betty Drapers or the working moms of latchkey kids. Did they get anything right?
MAZ: Absolutely. Our parents are the ultimate sh*tty moms and dads. I grew up as one of six kids and my mom would literally lock us out in the morning. We’d use the hose for water and then come back at the end of the day, and she’d put out some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches out for us.
AY: I grew up in rural Northern California. When I was growing up, the streetlights on either side of the block were our parents during the summer. You did not cross those streetlamps or there would be consequences, but we were out there all day. And especially during “As the World Turns” or “Guiding Light,” you were not going to go into the house during those shows! My parents lived their lives and I don’t think I’m suffering for it. With security issues, it’s a different world now, but there’s still a way to separate mom and child.
What about from your kids’ perspectives? How do you take stock of your kids’ happiness to know when you’re being a truly sh*tty mom?
MAZ: I’ve had to give myself many a timeout. I lose my temper and it just gets to be too much for me. I go screaming into a room that Mommy needs a timeout. Am I proud of those moments? No. Do I think I cross a line at times and get a little too angry? For sure. But then I calm down and I walk out a better person. I think most moms are like that.
I love the chapter “Play Trains or Dolls with Your Kids Without Sticking Your Head in the Oven.” Do you play with your children?
MAZ: I gave that job to my husband [when the kids were younger]. I’d come home and my husband would have all the puzzles and toys out—and I’d be shaking because it’s a small NYC apartment and I’d think, “Who’s going to clean this up?” So I left the playing to him and he was excellent at it. I was not a baby mom or a toddler mom, but now that they’re six and eight, I take them on adventures like water skiing or going across the Brooklyn Bridge or to trapeze school.
AY: Fathers do so much now. My father was the traditional father who came home and relaxed. Now dads come home, and they’re in it like the rest of us.
Do you think sh*tty moms are learning something from dads? Or from the dads of the past?
MAZ: Alicia and I are both so lucky. We have tremendously great husbands, and in my case, my husband is a much better dad than I am a mom. And maybe that’s why I can call myself a sh*tty mom, because I’m acknowledging that I’m less than perfect in that department, whereas he is pretty much perfect as a dad.
AY: I don’t think it’s gender-based, it’s just that no one is allowed to recharge batteries—ever. We’re basically saying it’s okay to be selfish, and that’s taboo in our society. I can’t say I’m a selfish person, much less a selfish mom. For my mom it was “Guiding Light.” And for us it might be Pinterest or Facebook or Twitter. You’ve just got to find whatever is going to inject new life or new energy into you. There’s nothing wrong with being a little selfish.
There’s the idea in the book of moms having to prove themselves in the workplace. Was that your experience? Care to weigh in on the idea of “having it all”?
AY: No, we don’t have it all. We work really hard at our jobs and really hard at parenting. And there’s always something that falls through the cracks. You could always say, I should have been at work until midnight last night or I should have been making dinner, but that’s the mentality we’re trying to get out of. NBC and “The TODAY Show” are great working environments, but so much is what you put on yourself as a career woman and a mom.
MAZ: It’s a competitive world and sometimes, definitely, my kids take second fiddle to my job. I think of what Jean Chatzky said in our first book, TODAY’S MOMS, about vegetables; she said it’s not what they get every single day, but it’s what they get in a month. It’s about the cumulative amount. And that’s how I think about parenting. Some weeks are working non-stop and some weeks are slower and I can spend more time with my kids.
Who are some of your favorite sh*tty moms – fictional or real?
MAZ: Sofia Vergara’s character from “Modern Family” is a sh*tty mom. She looks good all the time and she fusses over her son, but she doesn’t stress over him. Roseanne is the original sh*tty mom.
AY: I like Sharon Osbourne. She’s lived her life and she and her husband indulged and they made no apologies. Their kids have had their issues and they’ve had their struggles, but now she seems clear and completely transparent with how she is as a wife and a mom.
What message do you hope your kids take away when they eventually read the book?
MAZ: I hope they take away that we did the best that we could and that even if the mantra is “sh*tty mom,” maybe they’ll think I wasn’t as bad as I felt I was.
Tali Rosenblatt-Cohen is a New York City sh*tty mom of three children. As she writes, her children are watching TV.
Ways To Rationalize Your Child’s Increase In Screen Time—Courtesy Of Sh*tty Mom
You have a bad feeling about your toddler and screens. In the back of your mind something isn’t right. Well, there’s only one thing you can do about those fears: Rationalize them away.
He is learning how to:
*Use a touchscreen.
*Count things with a touchscreen, then kill them.
He is not:
*Putting sunglasses on the dog.
*Making scratch marks on his sister’s leg with his fingernails.
*Trying to duplicate the scratch marks, but this time with his toenails.
And, he may grow up to be:
*An app developer.
*A computer programmer.
*An overweight gamer who never moves out of the house. Wait, who said that? Oh shut up, “back of my mind.”