Journalist Ericka Sóuter joins Zibby to talk about her first book, How to Have a Kid and a Life: A Survival Guide. The two talk about the six questions Ericka believes all women should ask themselves at least once a year, how to make and maintain mom friends, and what countless mothers have told her about loneliness and burnout. Ericka also shares how she formed her own tight-knit circle of friends and how she makes space for herself every day.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Ericka. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss How to Have a Kid and a Life: A Survival Guide.

Ericka Sóuter: Thank you. So excited to be here.

Zibby: Does this mean you have survived having a kid and that you do have a life?

Ericka: I’m surviving right now because they’re both actually in school.

Zibby: I usually have at least one kid at home. Tell listeners, why did you decide to write this book? You’re a People magazine reporter for a million years, interviewing all these celebrities, red carpet, blah, blah, blah. Next thing you know, you’re writing a guidebook to how to survive being a parent. What happened?

Ericka: I was a celebrity journalist for a very long time. Great job. Amazing. Worked at People magazine, then Us Weekly. Once I had kids, it just didn’t jive with family life. I found myself at the office at two AM waiting for Kim Kardashian to call back to say how her body looks so great in some Emmy dress. I’m thinking, oh, my god, my kid is going to be up in three hours. I’m dying here. It, in my twenties, was the best job ever, but once you have kids, it just became really hard. I decided to completely switch gears. I went into parenting. I became an editor for a site called CafeMom. I just dived full-on. Still used all those skills I had as a journalist, talking to people, being incredibly nosey and inquisitive and turning their stories into really amazing reads for people. It was a schedule and a life that was just more conducive to being a mom.

Zibby: I totally understand. I also liked how you said you just kind of had gotten over the lying. You had interviewed some celebrity gushing about her marriage. Then two weeks later, they got divorced. You were like, I’m done.

Ericka: I know. I was like, okay, enough. Why lie? Just don’t talk about him at all. She was talking about how amazing it was and how they are so meant for each other. Literally two weeks after we printed the interview, she filed for divorce. I’m thinking, oh, my gosh. Celebrity life is just so different than everyday life. I think once you have kids, it really drives it home. You want to focus on other things. I just wanted to focus on stories and articles and interacting with people that I felt contributed something bigger to the world.

Zibby: I loved your section, though, “Stars are not just like us.” You’re like, they don’t eat. You’re like, you don’t ever want a carb, ever?

Ericka: I know. I was talking to one star who’s amazing and beautiful and kind. She was talking about, she doesn’t eat carbs. She doesn’t like carbs. I understand if you just don’t eat them because you don’t want to bulk up or bloat or whatever. I’m like, you don’t like carbs? I was like, this is insane. I live for carbs.

Zibby: Me too. Life without carbs, no. I don’t even know what I would do. I would also topple over from lack of energy. Anyway, whatever. Back to mothering as a content vehicle for you, so you moved over to CafeMom. Then at what point you decide you had enough information and that you wanted to write your take on parenthood?

Ericka: I was the editor of their news and entertainment section. I also would spend a lot of time at conferences, mommy meetups. I spent time with the curator of the Mommy Museum. There is a Mommy Museum. I was doing that to get a better grasp of what moms wanted and needed and what life was really like for moms. I didn’t want the stories to just be surface. I really wanted to dive in. I decided to write this post on this research that came out of Rockefeller University here in New York. It was that there was a mom gene, an actual gene that they found in mice that determined how nurturing a person was. Their hypothesis was that human women have the same gene and that at certain times in your life it’s activated. It can determine, basically, how good of a mother you are. I thought, wow. I was fascinated by it because I was never that girl who craved being a mom. I never played with baby dolls. I never played house. My Barbies were in the Amazon having adventures. When I went to college, I had roommates who, they couldn’t wait to get married and have kids. I thought, my god. That was the last thing on my to-do list. I thought, is this mom gene the reason some of us don’t crave having kids? That was actually the title of the post.

The reaction was amazing. There were so many women who wrote in who were like, oh, my god, I don’t think I have the mom gene either. I’ve always felt this way. I felt weird vocalizing it. I thought, you know, there are so many topics that we’re not touching on that resonate with women. When we become parents, we’re so focused on the stuff. I’m going to get that bassinet and this stroller and this car seat and a wipes warmer. We focus so much on everything our child needs and how our life is going to change in terms of how to take care of a baby, but we don’t think about how our lives change. We’re so dynamic. We have so much going on. That stuff still exists even though we’re busy moms. I wanted to write a book about all those other changes. The book really isn’t about how to deal with cradle cap or milestones or anything like that. I’ve spent years interviewing women all over the country to find out how their love life changed, how their relationships with other women changed. What was it like for them when they went back to work? What is it like when they feel like they’re burned out and they need something for themselves? How do they find that? I put it together. It’s really a book I wanted and needed when I was a new mom and I didn’t have.

Zibby: Interesting. I loved how you touched on this notion of loneliness, especially during the pandemic when you rely on your village, and yet it was stripped away from us, and even not during a pandemic. Even just in the course of everyday life, you’re suddenly plucked from what you were doing before and going through matrescence, if that’s how you pronounce it.

Ericka: Yeah, matrescence.

Zibby: There’s one quote, you said, “What is happening to moms is actually endemic of a larger problem, the epidemic of feelings of isolation and disconnection the world over. If you doubt that, consider this. The British government has appointed a minister for loneliness to deal with the nine million citizens who often or always feel lonely. Similarly, the US insurance company Cigna conducted a research study that revealed that nearly half of Americans report sometimes or always feeling alone or left out.” That’s so sad. Then you think about the slice of moms in there. At the very end of this section, you said, “Most parenting books, magazines, and blogs offer a deceptively simple solution. Just go out and find moms, any moms. I have to caution that this is not about finding people. This is about finding the right people.” Amen to that. That is so true.

Ericka: Almost every mom I talked to expressed there are times when she feels really lonely. What was really shocking is that people who even had huge mom groups that they hung out with still felt feelings of loneliness. One of the reasons is that they didn’t feel particularly connected to the moms they were hanging out with. It’s not really about quantity. It’s about quality. I interviewed this woman, Shasta Nelson. She’s a friendship expert, which I found incredibly fascinating in itself. She says there are three basic things you need to feel connected and feel like you have a real friendship. That’s positivity, consistency, and vulnerability. I always massacre that word. Do you feel like you can talk to these people that you’re with and share the ups and the downs? Are they consistently there for you? Do you speak to them regularly, whether it’s texts or emails or video calls? Are they positive? Do you leave interactions with them feeling better about yourself and feeling happy? All of those things are really important. A lot of women don’t have those things with their female friendships, or at least not all their female friendships. Those are really important aspects. I wanted to write about this. It’s not just about having friends. It’s about having the right friends.

Zibby: I feel like so often, it’s a product of the school you’re in or the class you’re taking with your kid. You’re thrown together by whatever your kids have common, not necessarily you. It’s fine. I’ve met some amazing people along my journey with all the different kids. Would I have necessarily sought out every one individually? No, but then you also have this overlay of the bond that you’re in the trenches together. Even that alone can fuse you in some way for the short term.

Ericka: It really does. There’s another researcher out of the University of Kansas. He said that it takes a hundred and fifty hours to cement a real friendship. My first reaction was like, who has a hundred and fifty hours to do anything? That’s insane. It really isn’t about sitting down at the workday and working on your friendship like it’s a task. It’s taking walks, volunteering together at your kid’s school. I met tons of wonderful mom friends while I was volunteering for the school benefit or the Christmas fair at my kid’s school. Over time and over the years, it cemented real friendships. These are women I go to and I talk to about everything that’s happening in my life and my ups and downs. They’re very supportive. They’re wonderful people. It takes time. It’s not like you see someone and it’s this instant kinship just because you both have kids the same age. It really does take time to develop that bond.

Zibby: Do you feel like you’ve found your people now?

Ericka: I have found my people. I am very, very lucky that I have. It took a few years to cement this group. There’s a group of six of us. Our kids aren’t all friends. I think that’s also incredibly important. For a couple of us, our kids were in the same grade, so we were there for playdates and seeing each other at the park and things like that. Over time, we developed our own bond so that if our kids stop being friends, we’re still anchored in how we care about each other. I think that’s also really, really important. We meet for coffee three times a week. Well, before the pandemic we did.

Zibby: Three times a week? That’s amazing. Wow.

Ericka: Three times a week after drop-off. Not all. Some stay at home. Some work from home. Some work in an office. Just twenty-minute coffee right after dropping the kids off at school. Catching up, a quick laugh, and then we’re off. Then during the pandemic, every night at five PM, whether we’re making dinner or whatever we were doing, we would Zoom for thirty minutes. What are you cooking? How are you staying sane? Who got on your nerves today? That was just an amazing support. You don’t have to be in someone’s physical presence to feel their support. I really want people to embrace that and make time for that.

Zibby: That’s amazing. That’s a lot of time to carve out. I’m so impressed. I just did a Zoom with my girlfriends from college this weekend. It was the second time, maybe the third time I’ve tried to ever Zoom with my girlfriends as this particular group instead of just waiting for the next girls’ trip once a year. Wow, hats off to you. That’s really great.

Ericka: You have to be intentional. You have to feel like you deserve the time. For me, I needed it. I needed to connect with someone who didn’t live in my house during the pandemic because my husband and my kid were all home. It can drive you a little nuts. You do need interaction with other people. It didn’t work every time. There’s some times some of us were busy, but it was that standing time. Whoever was available just logged on. Maybe you logged onto the tail end because you were busy helping your kid with homework for the first twenty minutes. It was that we were there. There was someone that was there. That was important to have.

Zibby: That’s great. What do your kids have to say about this book?

Ericka: My four-year-old could care less. I had to stop him from drawing on it the other day. My thirteen-year-old, he’s really proud. He wanted to know if he was in it. I said, “You’re in it a little bit.” He started reading it. I think it was a little too boring for him, of course, because he’s thirteen. I’ve also been very open and honest with them about what Mommy needs. When I started off motherhood, I wasn’t like, this is what I need to survive, or this is what I know. I was clueless. Now I know that — there are so many parts of my personality. I’m still interested in my career. I’m still interested in my friends. I’m still interested in my hobbies. We often put that on the backburner when we have kids because kids are the top priority. They should be at the top of your priority list, but they don’t have to be the only priority. You matter too. All those interests you had are still there. They’re just sometimes buried under laundry and stress and work and kids and dinners. We have to start being intentional about making time for them. I have worksheets in the book about how to find that thing that you’re interested in because sometimes we also forget. We forget that we love to run or read or cook, cook not for kids, but maybe explore different kinds of menus. Maybe we want to pick up a hobby. Whatever it is, there is something out there that can feed you in a way that maybe your kids and your family don’t. You deserve to make time for those things.

Zibby: I feel like no matter how many times people told me this or how many times I read it, I still didn’t internalize it when I had really little kids. I was like, yeah, yeah, yeah, I know I should do that, but I can’t do that because it’s bath time. I can’t do that because — I don’t know. I feel like there’s so many excuses women make. Maybe it was just me being totally obstinate. How have you found the reception? Do you feel like people listen and that they’re willing not just to hear it, but to actually act on it, internalize the advice and take the time they need? I feel like it’s a challenge.

Ericka: It’s always a challenge. It’s even a challenge for me many days. I feel like people have reached a point where the burnout is just so extreme. People feel so overwhelmed. They’re so tired. They’re so depleted. They’re just looking for a little bit of relief. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to this. In order to start relieving that burnout and that sense of overwhelm, you have to start working on things. If you are a young mom, a mom with little kids and you are just at your wit’s end because you feel like you do nothing for yourself, it’s time to start doing something for yourself. That doesn’t mean ditching your family and moving to Hawaii to surf. It does mean taking an online class or figuring out if you want to switch jobs or go back to work or start volunteering. These are baby steps. Then it could lead to bigger changes in your life. Maybe you love reading. Start reading again. Then maybe you want to write a book. It’s not impossible. These dreams are within grasp. You just have to make time for them.

One of the things I ask every single woman who I talk about this sense of overwhelm and finding space and time for yourself — I ask six very basic questions. One, am I nurturing my marriage or partnership? A lot of people, you focus on kids, but your partnership is still really important. It needs time and care too. If you have a career, is it headed in a good place? Are you doing the things you need to do to move ahead? Do you have supportive friends to turn to? These are friends who help with the highs and lows, not just the girls’ nights out. Do you feel good about yourself? What does that mean to you? Feeling good about yourself could mean that, are you fit? Are you doing something that interests you? That has different meanings to different people. Really ask, do you feel good about yourself? and what it’s going to take to feel good about yourself. Do you nurture the interests and passions that you had before you had kids? A lot of moms say no because they don’t have time for them. Then have you created a social life that has nothing to do with your kids? Of course, we meet moms through playdates and school events. The next step is doing things with people when your kids aren’t involved. That’s also really important. Those are really the six questions I think every mom should ask herself in 2022, and actually every year. If you say no to any of those questions, start making little changes so that you can put yourself back on top of your to-do list because you’re important.

Zibby: Okay, okay, okay, I know. What’s a hobby that you force yourself to make time for because you love it but easily gets thrown off the list?

Ericka: Running. I love running. I’m not a competitive runner. I’m not going to run a marathon. It’s more like a trot. A hardcore runner would say, you’re trotting. You’re not running. I love it. Even if I can do it for twenty minutes, it makes me feel better. It makes me feel good. There are lots of things that I get from it. I try to make time for it. Does it happen every day? Is it happening when it’s fifteen degrees? No, it’s not, but it’s something that I try to be very intentional about and focus on. That means, my husband will get home from work and I’ll be like, look, I’ll be twenty minutes, and I’ll be back. If I have one of our moms visiting, I make time for that. That’s very important. Also, I’ve just really made a point of connecting with my girlfriends. This is not every woman I know. This is just this particular group who have that same need of connection. Those two things, I try to be very intentional about and I make time for when I can.

Zibby: I love it. Now you have the book. What’s coming down the pike for you? What else is going on? What do you have coming up?

Ericka: I still talk to moms. I still do a lot of interviewing because I actively write. I write a lot of health pieces for WebMD. I do a lot of parenting pieces for The Bump, Parents. I’m still immersed in the world of health, emotional health, parenting. Right now, I have a couple of assignments that I’m working on. It just forces me to get out and interview people and stay connected to the world. The only way you know what’s going on is by talking to people. That’s the one amazing thing about being a journalist. You’re kind of forced to talk to people every day. You always learn something new from people. Everyone goes through something different. Everyone is struggling with something different. I continue to write and stay connected. I just love it. I love being a writer. It’s the best job in the world.

Zibby: I love writing too. You should write, by the way, for Moms Don’t Have Time to Write. I have a Medium publication. If you ever want to contribute, that would be awesome.

Ericka: I would love to. My husband is always like, “Why do these moms tell you this stuff? Why are they sharing so much with you?” I said, “Because I’m not asking about their kids’ milestones. I’m not asking, really, about their children. I’m asking about them and what they’re experiencing, what they’re worried about, and what they want and what they need.” I think that it just takes asking to really make someone feel seen and heard. It’s a wonderful thing to do for moms or women in general.

Zibby: What advice would you have for aspiring authors?

Ericka: I honestly think, write what you love. Write about things that you’re connected to and connected with. That will keep you energized and excited and focused. I don’t write about things that I — I kind of stay in my lane. I love writing about parenting and health because it’s something that energizes me. I don’t veer off. Sometimes people ask me to write about something whacky or a science topic. I’m like, no, absolutely not. I can’t do that. It’s kind of like any job. If you enjoy it, it doesn’t feel like such drudgery. It feels like something that you’re doing that’s good for yourself, but also some other people. I’d really say writers should, if you can, focus on something that you feel emotionally connected to.

Zibby: Last question. This is totally inappropriate, so you can ignore me completely. You have the best skin ever. What do you do? What are you doing? Your skin is just perfect. What’s your secret? What do you do?

Ericka: Oh, my god, I am a product junkie. I’ll read about something. It’ll be like, the newest skin regimen, try it. I’ll try it. I have tried every single thing you can imagine out there. That’s probably what it is. I constantly change my skin regimen. I think that helps because my skin doesn’t get tired of anything. Also, I have, probably, a really great concealer on.

Zibby: I feel like you need to make your own little Amazon influencer store or something where you sell all the products. People can come. Here’s my book, and here’s what I do to take care of my skin.

Ericka: Honestly, if you opened up my cabinet in my bathroom, there’s like eighty-five different products in there. I just, oh, my skin’s dry. I’m going to try this Kiehl’s thing today. Oh, my skin’s too oily. I’m going to try this La Mer thing today. I just literally try everything.

Zibby: I’m so worried. I worry. I have all this stuff that people give me. Lately, I mentioned people keep giving me wrinkle cream because I obviously have a problem. I’m so afraid. What if it starts peeling my skin off? What if I break out? I don’t know. I’m so resistant to change with my skin.

Ericka: Oh, no. I don’t know why I’m not afraid of that. I’m just kind of like, if the promise on the box is that it’s going to make me look like a million bucks, I’m like, oh, I’ll try it. I wash my face twice a day. I do use a toner and a serum and a moisturizer. In my twenties, I don’t think I did anything. I think I woke up and I just put some body lotion on my face and walked out the door. I feel like I’m finding time now. My mom, also, she’s sixty-seven, and she looks like she’s in her thirties. I think it’s also a bit of gene, so I feel really lucky about that.

Zibby: Well, now I don’t feel so bad. Anyway, sorry, not to undermine your intellectual contributions. I just had to ask kind of a girly question.

Ericka: I think that’s super important. Come on.

Zibby: Ericka, it was so nice to meet you. I guess you’re in New York, so maybe I’ll see you in person some time, right? You’re here.

Ericka: I would love it. As soon as Omicron stops terrorizing us, I’d love to meet you in person.

Zibby: Seriously. Oh, my gosh, yes. I can’t wait. It was super nice to meet you. Thank you for your time and your candid answers and everything. Hopefully, I’ll see you soon.

Ericka: Thank you. Buh-bye.

Zibby: Bye.



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