Sara Evans, BORN TO FLY

Sara Evans, BORN TO FLY

Zibby Owens: Welcome, Sara. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.”

Sara Evans: Thank you for having me. I love this title.

Zibby: Thank you. I loved your book. I literally woke up really early one morning and took it outside and sat in my favorite chair with no one bothering me and read it cover to cover and loved it.

Sara: No way!

Zibby: Yeah. Usually, I’m interrupted. I have four kids. I’m usually interrupted all the time and things happen, but I just was able to do it, I guess because I got up so early.

Sara: That’s awesome. What did you think?

Zibby: Oh, my gosh, I loved it. I really loved it. I have to say, I feel like I keep making mistakes because especially the parts about the parenting, I’m like, oh, no, I think I’m going against one of Sara’s rules today. I don’t have a napkin.

Sara: Do not let them sit down and eat without a napkin. Otherwise, they’ll wipe it on their pants. Then you’ll miss a grease stain and it’ll set in their shorts and stay there forever.

Zibby: I know. I know. I know all the things you say are so right. Then sometimes I don’t do them.

Sara: As long as you’re not spoiling your kids to the point where people don’t like them. That’s the main thing.

Zibby: That’s true. People still like them, I think. There were so many things to talk about in your book and your career and how you built your life and your family and all of this inspiring, amazing stuff. What I was particularly drawn to was your whole blended family, perhaps because I’m remarried. I have four kids. I loved all the stuff you talked about about being a stepparent and how the role of a stepparent is not to act like a parent and how you say the press likes to think that you’re a mom of seven, but really, you’re a mom of three and a stepmom to four, and how there’s such a big difference. I was hoping you could talk a little more about that.

Sara: That part was really important to me to write because having been a child of divorce myself and knowing how difficult it was when my father moved out and then he remarried — he had a stepdaughter that was the same age as me. That was incredibly hard for me to know that I wasn’t able to live with my dad and have him all the time, but this other girl who was my same age did. It was heartbreaking to me. My dad did not handle it right. My stepmother did not handle it right. Then they ultimately divorced. He remarried and had two stepchildren. Here it is, two other sets of families got to have my dad and I lost him at twelve because of their divorce. It’s been one of the most painful aspects of my life, anytime I think about my dad and the way that I felt so abandoned by him. I really wanted to write about stepparenting.

I knew that when Jay and I got married, his kids would be having all of those feelings. Our dad is now raising three other children and living with three other children. He’s going to be closer to them than he is with us. I really wanted to make sure that that was not something that they felt. I talk about how one of the things I did was get all their names embroidered on their pillows so that when they came to our house every other weekend and every other week in the summer and holidays, that they would know, this is my space, my spot, it’s got my name on it. Having that visual for them, I just tried to do little things like that. Mainly, I never tried to be their mom. I wasn’t looking to have four more children, raise four more children. I have three children. I never wanted to assume, I’m your new mom. When you come here, I’m your mom and you need to call me mom and act like I’m your mom. I really didn’t want that. I wanted it to be exactly what it was. I’m married to your dad. It’s my job to facilitate you having an awesome weekend with him.

Zibby: That’s so nice of you. You should be the spokesperson for stepmoms.

Sara: I really should. I really could be. Also, I never had the situation of my kids because my ex-husband never remarried and my kids almost never see him and saw him. I didn’t even have to go through that experience of having my kids be with another woman, but I was sensitive to that. It did bother me every time the press would try to paint this picture that I’m raising seven kids. How do you do it? I’m like, I’m not raising them. Their mom is raising them. Jay and I have them every other weekend. It was something that I didn’t want to offend their mom. That was a tricky situation to navigate through. The main thing I did was just play sports with them and have fun with them. Also on the flip side of that, it’s hard to be a stepmom because you don’t ever, ever get the nod that the real mom gets. No matter how much you do for them or try to make them feel loved and try to let them know that you’re not trying to take their dad, that your kids aren’t trying to take their dad from them, you never will ever get the true nod that they give to their own mom, which is perfectly normal. But sometimes you feel like, wow, I’m doing so much and making such an effort and getting nothing in return. There were those emotions too at times. Everybody, and especially the children, are innocent victims. The bottom line is divorce is just a very destructive thing, very destructive. You should avoid it all costs.

Zibby: Too late for me.

Sara: Me too.

Zibby: And half the population, so I don’t feel that bad, I guess.

Sara: You shouldn’t feel bad. I’m just saying it’s definitely something that should not be taken lightly and not be done quickly.

Zibby: Yes, I completely agree with you. It’s really horrific. One of the other things in your book that I thought was so awesome was your complete ownership of the fact that you’re athletic because so often, women just don’t talk about that. You could either be some sort of a female athlete and then the athletes talk about that in their books, but somebody like you who’s basically a rockstar, it doesn’t always come out that, hey, you know what, I’m a really awesome softball player or I can play tennis really well or whatever. I just loved that.

Sara: Thank you. It’s kind of a running joke because I do always brag about what a great athlete I am. It’s funny because people tend to box you in. They think of me as being a singer, and that’s it. You’re a great singer. It’s fun to sometimes say, I have other talents too. I absolutely love playing sports. I love to play tennis. I love to play basketball. I love to play softball. I was doing an interview about an hour ago. I talked about how I’m such a great athlete. The guy was like, “And you’re very humble too.” I’m like, no, I don’t see it as bragging. Like you said, it’s just an unknown fact that is fun to tell people about.

Zibby: That’s not very nice.

Sara: I know. I hate when people say that. Oh, and you’re humble too.

Zibby: Right? Oh, my gosh, I think it’s amazing. My little daughter is in here with me now, and she hears. It’s great. I want to raise daughters who feel awesome about being athletic. It’s really important to have role models who don’t just sing. There are plenty of role models who are amazing in that regard. To do both, that’s amazing. It’s just great.

Sara: I find that a lot of athletes and musicians, they kind of are connected. A lot of times, if you’re a great musician, you’re also a great athlete. If you’re a great athlete, you have a lot of musical talent. My husband is a former NFL football player. He’s the most amazing athlete I’ve ever seen, but he also is very musical. He can dance so well. He has perfect rhythm. He can sing. I think there’s something in the brain that says, my brain is telling my body, do this. You do it. Being a singer is being an athlete. I just went and got my vocal cords checked last year to make sure everything looks good. He was like, “Your vocal cords are pearly white. They look like the vocal cords of a twenty-year-old.” He said, “You’re basically a professional athlete because your vocal cords are a muscle. It’s just like a throwing arm. Your vocal cords are doing something basically athletic.” It’s just interesting to me, the ties to that.

Zibby: Yeah, for sure. The brain is such a funny thing. I’ve found other things. I’ve found a lot of writers are also great photographers. There are all these things that kind of go hand in hand.

Sara: Exactly. Like if you’re a makeup artist, usually you’re an incredible painter and you can draw. All the connections there, fascinating.

Zibby: It’s kind of not fair. It’s like, really, your husband gets to be an NFL athlete and also all the rest of it? Maybe he could’ve scattered those skills around to other people who can’t do either thing.

Sara: But you know what? Those are really the only two things I’m good at, music and athletics. Also, I think I’m a great mom.

Zibby: That’s great. I bet you are a great mom. You certainly, not shamed me, but you’ve given me great advice in this book that I feel like I needed to hear.

Sara: I’m so glad. What’s the biggest piece of advice that you feel like you needed to hear? I’m interviewing you now.

Zibby: I know. Your whole keeping the kids humble doing chores around the house, not letting them just sit around, you go get stuff, don’t let them be complacent, all of the — like I said before, just even something as simple as a napkin or sitting down and having a meal and enforcing all of that. I mean, I know it all. It’s just, I don’t know.

Sara: I can’t remember who, what speaker it is, or if I got it from the rules that George Washington wrote. What were those called? Do you know what I’m talking about?

Zibby: No, not really. I don’t know what the name would be.

Sara: It’s a famous little book that he wrote as a kid. It’s basically good manners and what to do and not to do, common sense. One of the things is, don’t make extra noise or whistle or tap your fingers on something when you’re around people because that’s annoying. That’s something that George Washington thought was important. One of the other things was, I think this is where I heard this or read it, but he said don’t ever stop doing the things that are important. In other words, it is important to get a plate and sit down with a meal. Do things that are proper as often as you can so that you don’t just totally make your life be so basic that — not basic because I almost want to go back to the basics, I guess is what I’m saying.

Zibby: In your book, when you were saying — I’ll just read you a passage that was particularly relevant. You said, “So all you’re doing when you refuse to discipline is ensuring that your precious child will have a hard time in life and in relationships. Why would any loving parent do that? Because they are being selfish, in my opinion. They are being lazy and parenting in ways that make them feel good, like letting your child play Xbox all day. Why do some parents do this? Because it’s easier than making them stop.” That’s just so true. At the end you say, “When kids are little, they’re going to cry. So let them cry. You’re doing your JOB,” all caps. “They will thank you for it later. When you don’t push back on a child who’s being willful or disrespectful, they sense that you don’t care, and that is heartbreaking.” Meanwhile, I read this, and my son was playing video games all day. Now he’s back in school, so I feel better. I was literally like, oh, gosh. She sees that I’m now letting my kid .

Sara: It’s so true. Your child is born this blank slate. It’s so sad to me when you see parents who won’t discipline their child, afraid to upset their child. They are parenting in ways that make them feel good. With so many divorced families in the world, there are so many divorced dads who aren’t raising their children when they have them in the time that they have with them, who aren’t raising their children the way that they would’ve. Now they’re raising them out of guilt, out of, I don’t get much time with them, so I want everything to be great. That’s selfish on your part because the child did not ask to be raised in a divorced situation, and so you still need to be that dad. Be hard on them. Discipline them. Spank them if they need a spanking, all of those things. You can’t parent in ways that just benefit you emotionally. You have to parent in ways that benefit your kids long term.

Zibby: It’s so true. Another part of your story that I related to a lot was how you talked about your weight gain when you had kids and the pressure to get fit again and just your lifelong relationship with your body. Where do you stand on that now?

Sara: I’m not any better. I have a daily struggle with food. I feel like I really do have somewhat of an eating disorder in the sense that every time I eat, I’m mad at myself. Every time I eat, I guilt myself, even if I’m starving and just about to drop over from hunger. Then every time after I eat, I have this remorse and fear. I hope I didn’t just gain weight. Now am I going to look fat for the rest of the day or tomorrow? It’s a very unhealthy relationship with food and a very unhealthy body image. I work on it a lot. Since I wrote this book, this past May, both of my girls decided to sit me down and confront me about it. It was very difficult for me because I had to swallow my pride. I can’t be a hypocrite. I talk in the book about, you have to apologize to your children when you’ve done something wrong. You have to not be afraid that that will undermine your authority because it won’t. It will make them trust you more. They basically said, “You have to stop talking bad about yourself. You have to stop talking about, I’m fat or I’m skinny.” They really got onto me hard. They said, “You have two teenage daughters. You cannot do that. You’re beautiful. You’re our mom. We only see beauty when we look at you. Every time you criticize yourself and criticize your body or criticize that something about you is aging, that hurts us. It’s also probably causing harm to us psychologically, so you have to stop.” I really have tried a lot. I try to be so mindful when I’m around them not to ever say, ugh, I feel so fat or I’m trying so hard to be skinny. I’m a work in progress. I’m not at all where I should be.

Zibby: There are no shoulds on this journey. It’s a lifelong thing. Most women are struggling in some way, shape, or form. It’s easy to say I should be over this by now, but that’s not the way it works. I think that’s amazing. It shows what kind of mom you are to raise daughters who would then sit you down to have a conversation like that. That’s really self-aware and mature of them to be able to talk to you about it. Were you sort of proud of them at the same time? I feel like I would be hurt and proud.

Sara: I was. I was hurt. My feelings were hurt. I was tempted to be defensive. I wanted to defend myself and be like, you have no idea what it feels like to be in your forties. You guys can eat whatever you want and you’re skinny. Both of my daughters are stunningly beautiful. They have very naturally skinny bodies. I wanted to be defensive. You don’t know what it’s like. I basically just was pinching myself the whole time. This response could mean everything. I responded with, “You’re right. You’re right.” I don’t know why this makes me cry. Sorry, I’m probably just exhausted.

Zibby: I understand. Look, it’s hard to admit our vulnerabilities. It’s hard for our kids to see our weaknesses. Yet they’re on display in front of them more than anybody else.

Sara: That’s right. In some ways, I feel like I’m just entering this. I feel like I’m losing even more control of how my body responds to food as you age and your metabolism slows down. In some ways, I’m like, oh, my god, I’m just beginning this fight. Now it’s a whole new fight. I used to be able to say, I’m going to starve myself for this video shoot so that I look great. It’s hard because models and actors are rail thin, yet women are told two things at the same time. You should look like this in order to look like this model does in this Free People dress. At the same time, we’re shamed for talking about our bodies. Oh, you shouldn’t talk about that in front of your daughters because it might cause them to be anorexic or whatever. We’re given two messages at the same time. It’s not fair. If they really want to make young girls have a healthier attitude about their body image, then they need to use more realistic models for their clothes. They’re not going to do that because the clothes won’t look as good. It’s a really, really tough thing to overcome and figure out.

Zibby: I couldn’t agree more. I’m forty-four years old. I’m like, I used to be able to eat this cookie every night, or whatever it is I’m currently treating myself with. I used to be able to go a couple days without working out and nothing would happen. Now I’m like, huh, everything is tight today. Really? Just because of that same cookie?

Sara: Absolutely. I feel like in all these years of not eating and then eating and not eating, my metabolism is really shot. Honestly, two days of overeating or even eating like a normal person can potentially undo any strides I’ve made and just make me feel totally fat. Again, it’s a really, really tough thing. I don’t know that I’ll ever be over it. All of my best memories in life were times when I was skinny. All my worst memories in life were times when I was fat. That’s how I divide it. It’s terrible. It’s crazy to think that way. When I’m skinny, life is great. I love clothes. When I’m skinny, there’s no stopping me. I’m on top of the world. If I feel fat or I am fat, then I feel like a complete loser. I probably need therapy.

Zibby: I could recommend a few people. I’m really interested in all of this and have had close friends and everybody really struggle with inpatient eating disorders, to be honest. In college, I worked at the Yale Center for Eating and Weight Disorders and almost became a psychologist. Of course, I’ve had my own struggles with my own body forever. I’m not like you, I’m not on stage. How I look, who cares? I’m behind a microphone here. I don’t have a public persona like you do, so it’s totally different. Just as a woman, I’m kind of like, you know what, am I happier thinner? I’m pretty happy right now. I’m definitely not at my low weight. Maybe that’s not the answer. Maybe I am going to be this way. Maybe now I’m thinner than I’m going to be. Maybe eventually I’ll wish I looked like this. I did this whole study a couple years ago for an article I was writing where I — because my grandmother is still — she’s ninety-seven. Until a couple years ago, now she’s starting to have dementia, but we would be having dinner and she’d be like, “Oh, god, I shouldn’t have that cake. Oh, my gosh, do I look as fat as that woman?” I’d be like, “Gadgi, come on. Does this never end?” Then I started wondering, does it ever end?

Sara: I don’t think it will ever end for me. I was raised that way too. My granny was always talking about, stay thin. Don’t get fat. My mom would say, you’re just ten pounds away from being famous. That, of course, was a joke. Have you seen Marvelous Mrs. Maisel?

Zibby: Yes, of course.

Sara: You know how she would get up every morning and measure her waist, every morning, to make sure that she had not grown an inch or gained any weight whatsoever? My weight and my body is probably what I think about more than anything all the time on a daily basis. It’s not debilitating in any way, shape, or form, but it’s definitely distracting.

Zibby: We all have our things. Everyone has their things. All we can do is just work on it. It doesn’t mean we’re going to fix it. It doesn’t mean that sometimes our innermost struggles aren’t publicly showing. That’s the thing with weight too. Maybe addiction or other things, you can hide. Weight, if you’re having a bad week or three or eight months or whatever, people see it.

Sara: Exactly. Being in front of the camera all the time definitely adds to it, and having to be on stage. If I see a bad picture of me on stage, I talk about this in the book, it can ruin my day. I’ll never forget — I’m sitting here with my manager right now. One time, he and my stylist and I were on the tour bus. This Country Weekly magazine came out with a photoshoot that I had done and an interview for the magazine. They didn’t give us final approval on the pictures. One of the pictures in there was absolutely terrible. It was from the back. I had on really tight jeans, so I had back fat. It was so devastating to me. They both couldn’t really grasp why. I think even my stylist kind of laughed about it. I went back to the room in the back of my bus and sobbed. I sobbed in my bed because I was so embarrassed, so embarrassed, by that.

Zibby: I think that it’s so important to be talking about this because here you are, we started off talking about how great you are at sports and how athletic a body you have. You’re so good, your vocal cords and your athleticism and your singing. You have all these amazing skills and things your body’s given you. Yet a little thing like a bad picture — I understand why it gets to you because I feel the same way. I get it. It’s just such a shame that so many of us feel this way, especially given all you’ve accomplished. I feel like so many people out there would be like, if only I could be Sara Evans for a minute. Here you are looking at one picture and crying. It breaks my heart, honestly. What do it mean to be a success? What does it mean to be a successful woman? All that stuff.

Sara: There are definitely different aspects and different levels. Your life is like a big circle. You’ve got all these points to your life and then all the stuff in the middle. That is just one aspect of my life. Overall though, honestly, I’m incredibly grateful for having been given this talent to sing and this life that I’ve had. My children are the biggest blessing in my life. I am incredibly grateful. Again, like I said, it’s not debilitating. It’s just something that will probably always be a part of who I am. I want to be skinny, and that’s it. I think so does the world, so do ninety percent of the women in the world. I felt it was necessary to talk about in the book to say to other women, I get it and I’m right there with you.

Zibby: That’s amazing. It’s great. I’m so glad that you did it and that you’re opening up the conversation. It’s really, really important. In addition to all your other stuff, you’ve written this great book. It’s a really great book. It helps people relate and feel less alone and all the rest of it. Having written the book, would you have any advice to aspiring authors out there?

Sara: Oh, gosh. I don’t know that I’m qualified to give advice to an author because I can’t even imagine writing an amazing novel. I recently just read East of Eden again. I’ve read it like four times. I can’t even imagine the talent that it takes to do that. I would just say, with an aspiring anyone going into anything, my biggest lesson that I’ve learned in life is that you have to be fully committed to something and willing to work very, very hard. Also, you have to surround yourself with great people, people who truly understand you and get you and love you and want to support and advance your career, but at the same time understand who you are as a human being and what your priorities are. Whatever you aspire to do, make sure you connect to really great people.

Zibby: That’s excellent advice. That’s really great. Sara, thank you for talking. I’m sorry I made you cry.

Sara: Oh, it’s fine.

Zibby: I’m really happy that we got a chance to talk. I find your candid thoughts about this personally just super helpful. It’s something that doesn’t get talked about enough, really, especially for women our age. Thank you for opening up. Thanks for writing the book.

Sara: Thank you. This was like a therapy session. Thank you so much. Thanks for having me.

Zibby: Of course. It was my pleasure.

Sara: Have a great day.

Zibby: Bye, Sara.

Sara: Bye.

Sara Evans, BORN TO FLY