Zelmira Crespi & Maria Luisa Montt, HAPPY MOM, HAPPY KID

Zelmira Crespi & Maria Luisa Montt, HAPPY MOM, HAPPY KID

“We wanted to give you that final nudge and the permission to understand that you are not alone.” Zibby is joined by Zelmira Crespi and Maria Montt, co-authors of Happy Mom, Happy Kid. The three talk about their experiences as working moms, the research Zelmira and Maria conducted for this book, and what they found to be the best solution for striking the healthiest work-life balance. Zelmira and Maria also share their most impactful finding: kids just want to be around happy parents, regardless of how that happiness is achieved.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, ladies. Thank you for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss Happy Mom, Happy Kid: How to Reconnect with the Best Version of You for Your Kids. I have Zelmira Crespi and Maria Luisa Montt. Did I pronounce those right?

Zelmira Crespi: Yeah. Hi, how are you? We’re so excited to be here.

Zibby: Introduce yourselves. Tell us where you’re from, all the good stuff about you.

Zelmira: We’re both from Latin America. I’m from Uruguay. Maria’s from Chile. We’ve been living here in Miami, specifically in , for almost ten years, or eleven. Our motherhood has taken place here and not in our home country with our family and our entire people group around us. We’ve been having this ongoing conversation during the years about both being professionals and wanting to do more with our lives, but we have the kids. We don’t have families close by. How to make more out of the life that we have? We just kept on talking about the same subject of what really happens when you become a mom. Something really does shift. Something really does move you around. It’s not easy. It’s not too simple. When we used to be professionals or work at an office or she would have her child psychologist consultations, things were more organized before. Now they’re not so organized. Can we get back on track? What happens then? That’s when we decided to write a book about it because we really wanted to, first, answer our own questions and, second, help any other mom that was kind of feeling the same thing.

Zibby: I love that. Awesome.

Maria Luisa Montt: As Zelmira said, I’m from Chile. Mom of four. Zelmira has five kids, so that’s pretty amazing on itself. We are experts by experience. As a child psychologist, it was very frustrating. Coming to this country, I couldn’t work as a child psychologist because I had to validate all my studies and whatever. Then I had four kids. With this book, I could really get into the things that I saw all this time happening with me, with Zelmira, with all my friends, and women that we talk about. It’s been a challenge, but it’s been a real good adventure and something really cool that we did.

Zibby: Wow. How old are all your kids?

Zelmira: I have Josephina. She’s eight. Then I have four boys who seven, four, three, and five months.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh, wow.

Zelmira: I’m doing that.

Zibby: Amazing. Yes, you are.

Maria: Oldest one is twelve. The littlest one is six.

Zelmira: She’s a little bit better than I am.

Zibby: Not better. Just a little ahead.

Maria: I’m out of the tunnel now. I can see things clearly.

Zibby: I have four kids from fourteen to six, so I’m even further along. It does get better.

Zelmira: I hope so.

Zibby: Part of why I picked this book — I get a lot of parenting book pitches all the time. It was so open, honest, and just real. You could tell that you are doing this from the goodness of your hearts to help other people. I even loved how you examined this concept of matrescence, or mom essence or whatever, and how this is a life stage. People spend so much time talking about, now I’m a mom, but it is a whole nother physiological — everything about you changes from your heart, literally, your mind. Everything is literally physiologically changing, and of course, emotionally. You addressed it and interwove your — interwove? Is that a word? — your own experience throughout. Tell me a little bit about the more science-y stuff, the life stage part of it that your body goes through as a mom. Then I want to hear more about your own experience.

Zelmira: My biggest aha moment when I was writing this book was that — we actually started the book, and we didn’t have the answers. It’s more like an investigative journalism journey. We did a study. We studied over six hundred women. Maria can tell you a little bit more about that. I kept on researching and researching and trying to find something that would explain what really happens to us moms. When the word matrescence came up — we still don’t know how to pronounce it, but we love it. The comparison of comparing a teenager with adolescence and a mother with matrescence, it makes so much sense. A teenager does have a direct impact to their brain, their body, and their hormones. Women have the same exact impact when they get pregnant and when they’re in postpartum. It makes so much sense. You have teenagers running around the world. Everybody like, oh, well, they’re a teenager. They’re going through some stuff. I don’t really felt like somebody was like, oh, you’re going through some stuff. You just became a mom. You were just pregnant. Maybe you can have a little bit of sleep deprivation, but not so much is allowed. You have to bounce back, bounce back with your body, bounce back to your job, bounce back to your husband, bounce back to everybody. Nothing really happened. That was the moment that I was like, oh, my god, thank you for this answer. I’m not crazy. I’m not so alone in this. The best thing about matrescence is that all moms go through it, every single person that becomes a mom, a hundred percent. You can navigate it in different levels, obviously. Not everybody’s hormones are the same, but nobody can escape it. I love that.

Zibby: I love that too. That’s amazing.

Maria: To complement Zelmira, I had a background in psychology. I’m a clinical psychologist. I needed to see numbers. I needed to do a real thing and to see what happens to moms. Where do we get our fulfillment? What happens to us that we are not fulfilled? We talk every day with different kind of moms here and there. Rarely, we see, oh, yeah, I’m good in every level. I’m super okay. I’m super happy. I don’t see that. Zelmira didn’t. We studied six hundred women from United States, South America, Europe, everywhere. We find little areas that you can work daily, weekly that will improve your life satisfaction. That was huge. When we think about happiness, you many times think about, big things have to improve. On our study, we saw that little things that you can change or do a week on your health, on your spiritual, on your community, with your family can improve greatly, your fulfillment and your happiness within you. That was a great part of this book.

Zibby: What are some of the things that you guys do to make yourself happier?

Maria: As in everything, it’s a balance, right, Zelmira?

Zelmira: Which is unreal, but we try to balance.

Maria: Have a mental check from different areas that you have to work, family, social, spiritually, or anything that can elevate you, work, of course, and physical health. If in a week I see that I’m not moving my body at all — I don’t mean going to the gym. Maybe take your to the supermarket as a physical . Pay attention to your kids. If you want family time, you already have it. Just be mindful on the time that you have with your kids doing homework or whatever. More than doing more things is being more conscious, more mindful of what you are already doing.

Zelmira: What we did is — here, I’m showing you the self-care planner. What came out of those studies, really, was that if you just put a check on each area just once a week — it doesn’t have to be a huge thing. It doesn’t mean that you did three hours of workout. Maybe you did ten minutes of walking over to your kid’s school instead of driving in the car, for example. If you can check the check, you can do that column, you’re going to start feeling more satisfied with yourself just seeing that check. Once a week, that’s not that complicated. Imagine if you do it twice a week. Then you’re going to actually start doing something more for your body. The good thing is that what we really came up — this is not so complicated. We did not want to do a how-to book. We did not want to stress out the mom that was going to pick up this book. I’m going to be a very, very obvious fan .

Zibby: Oh, my book!

Zelmira: I’m going to show you your own book here, Moms Don’t Have Time To: A Quarantine Anthology by Zibby Owens, which I’m absolutely loving. In an essay by you, actually, “The Weight of It All: In quarantine, all my body insecurities came roaring back,” you actually write the perfect description of the people that are going to read this book and enjoy it and use it. When you found out that you could do something about your weight, you were like, “Okay, something that worked. I couldn’t control the chaos of having twins. I couldn’t absorb the shock of going from being an overachiever to spending my days on the playroom floor longing for the time where I could just sleep again.” You found something for you, something to aspire to when grades and salary and all other external measures of success suddenly evaporated. I was like, hallelujah, that is the exact moment that we all go through. It’s just like, what happened? Who took my life away? Who took my identity away? So many women go through that. We really wanted to take care of that without the huge stress factor.

That’s why we’re so happy that our study came up that just once a week, you sit down with your four-year-old, ten minutes, and really just play with him. If you did that once a week, you’re going to feel much better about yourself. It’s going to put you in the best headspace to then go on and make larger goals and really go after what you really want. If you really want to take care of your weight, you have the Zibby Owens podcast of “Moms Don’t Have Time to Lose Weight.” The answers are there. A lot of people have really worked on answering all the questions that you have inside. What this book does, we wanted to give you that final nudge, that final push, and above all, the permission to understand that you are not alone. You’re not abnormal. You’re not a bad mom. You don’t feel great. You don’t think that this is absolutely beautiful and Disney World. It’s okay. We all went through it. You’re going to have good days. You’re going to have bad days. Don’t worry. Pick up this book. It’s an easy read. It’s really fast. It kind of has essays like yours. You could do it in a short way. We tried to put in our own personal essays in there to give it more movement and to show you that you’re not alone. We have your back. We put phrases from very unknown people and phrases from very known people like Adele and Amy Schumer. Everybody goes through this. Just pick up the book. We want you to feel the momentum. With a couple of weeks of going through our planner, you’re going to start to be able to refocus and kind of find yourself.

Zibby: I love it. I totally love it. Thank you for quoting me back to me. I think that’s a first. I love, by the way, these italicized passages of your own personal experience. Sometimes I found myself lingering more in those. I’m like, wait, I want to know more about these girls, especially because you have probably — if I had an award, which maybe I’ll add to the Zibby Awards, for best chapter headings, yours were so clever and funny. I was just like, oh, I totally get these girls. I want to read one passage that you wrote, but just to agree with everything you’re saying, when I was a mom at home — I am a mom at home, as you saw. My kids keep running in. In the trenches, in the really early days when I was not wanting to admit that maybe I wasn’t the happiest I’d ever been, I felt like an injured athlete a little bit. I had been training and training. Then all of a sudden, everything stopped. I was like, okay, even though something new came in that was amazing. What I tried to do was, I felt so stressed that I kept taking things off my plate. I think that was a huge mistake. I kept being like, I’m overwhelmed. I have this, this, and this. I’m going to have to just stop doing that. That’ll make it better.

It turned out that was the wrong thing for me. Taking things off made things worse. You have to put the right things on your plate. You can’t just keep taking things off because then what is left to enjoy? Deep thoughts from me in the morning. I just wanted to read this part. It’s in “The Little Things, By Z.” I was twenty-three years old when I lost my mom to cancer.” I am so sorry. “She was my everything, my home, my true companion. We had moved around so much because of my dad’s job. Losing mom was almost like losing home. I thought it was just me until I started to talk to other people in mourning. I realized that often when you lose someone close, the thing you missed most are the small, daily details, or the usual. I realized that in a rush to keep my kids entertained and stimulated all the time, I was doing a lot of extra, unnecessary things.” Then you have a bunch of examples. “But I saw that what I missed most about my own mom was simply being with her, seeing her laugh, and feeling her hands.” Aw, so beautiful. It’s the moments. It’s not the classes. It’s not the structured whatever. It’s that connection time. Tell me more about this whole thing.

Zelmira: My mom died to cancer. My four years of college, we had her in and out of chemotherapy and everything. By the last year that she was already — the breast cancer turned into bone cancer. Bone cancer broke her hip. Hip canceled the chemotherapy that she was getting at that moment. Then she really couldn’t recuperate. That’s when everything started going downhill. Basically, I was taking care of her. I was her home nurse, my dad and I. I’m the youngest of four, but all my other siblings were studying abroad or they were working abroad. I noticed that when she finally was much more in bed and just not really there and starting to go into a coma, in and out and stuff like that, I kept on looking at her hands. I kept on touching her hands. I was like, her hands, I can’t live without her hands. She used to play the piano. She had these beautiful, long fingers. I spent days and days just holding her hand, putting her hand up against my face. Oh, my god, let me keep this moment of her hands. That’s when I realized with my kids — I remembered one day I was running from the Frost Science Museum into the Children’s Museum to the park to the whatever. Then one day, everything started to get a little bit more chaotic. I had four. My husband was doing a master’s at Kellogg.

I was like, where’s the answer? I remembered my hands. Then you know what? I just plopped myself on the floor of their playroom. I put baby number four on my breast. Then I let them just be around me. They just wanted to be around me and smell me and be able to touch me. I was like, this is it. This is what they need us for. I want to concentrate when I’m with them like this. I can’t be like this all day. It’s going to drive me crazy, obviously. That’s unreal. Let’s do more of this when we’re together and just be, cell phone aside. Let them be around me, smell me, touch me, talk to me, play around me. They were all pretty little. I think that’s going to really stay with them. I would see them turn into this peaceful little group of people just knowing that Mom was there. That’s all they need. That’s why the book is called Happy Mom, Happy Kid. Once you really understand what you need and what your kids need, you’re in a whole different ballgame. If you’re running behind the bus all the time and just trying to find this balance and this beautiful ideal and the expectations that you’re trying to satisfy, you’re going to go crazy. Just really pay attention to what you need and what your kids need. What you needed as a child, connect with that. Get to know yourself. Put those two puzzles together. I swear to god, your kids, they’re not going to need much more. They’re going to be everything you need them to be and want them to be.

Zibby: That’s so beautiful, that whole thing, start to finish. I feel like you need to write a memoir, Zelmira. What do you think?

Zelmira: This is my first. This is something that I do want to tell other writers. I’ve been wanting to write a book since I started college. I started to write a memoir about my mom’s death. It got too complicated. It got too hard. I was trying to move forward, and it was keeping me back. This is a goal that I’ve had for a long time. I wasn’t really able to get the moment and sit down and do it. What I did, because I’m a mom and I wanted to have a lot of kids but I wanted to write a book and I wanted to feel satisfied, was I teamed up with a mom friend. Hello! The good thing about my mom friend is, she’s not a writer, but she’s an entrepreneur. She would be literally kicking my writer’s butt saying, when are we going to have this chapter? When are we going to have this? When are we going to have that? That accountability partner was so important to actually get this book out. We actually decided to write it in February of 2010 and at the time that the pandemic came.

Maria: 2020.

Zelmira: 2020, sorry. We started writing this book in 2020 in February. We met once. We sat down and were like, we want to write about this and about that. A week later, everything was shut down. Everybody was inside their apartments. We live in . Everybody usually has apartments because you’re all day outside. You don’t really need a house. Everybody was stuck like sardines with our thousands of kids inside. That’s when I told Maria, “We’re doing this book no matter what. We’re moms from eight to eight, but we’re doing this book because I will go crazy if I don’t write this book. I need my time during this time.” This book was written in the wee hours of the morning or the wee hours of the night, but we got this through. It’s been amazing to give birth to my fifth kid and a month later, give birth to my first book and have that. I would’ve never thought that this was possible, to actually be having such a big project while having a baby, while having other four kids. I was telling Maria, it feels so amazing to be able to have the baby, be with him, connect with him. The whole family part is beautiful. Then to have something so mine, so precious, so shiny to look forward to, that was amazing. That was the best thing.

Zibby: That’s awesome. This could not be more inspiring, by the way. You’re making me want to go — I don’t know. It’s all possible. As long as you keep your thing, you’re a much better mom. I think that’s essentially what you’re saying. The more you focus on just being the mom, you’re doing your kids a disservice. Not to say you’re not supposed to stay home. That’s totally great and fine. That’s not what I mean at all. I mean somehow keeping part of you alive while you’re doing it. It’s the best gift you can give your kids. I think that’s what you’re saying.

Zelmira: I work from home. So does Maria. We sometimes go to a Starbucks. She has a small office for one of her thousand businesses. I’m around. If anybody has an accident, if anybody needs to go to the pediatrician, I’m there. When I have moments, I carve them out and I respect them. I take care of me because I realize it has a direct impact on the way that I treat my kids, the way I treat my husband, the way that I treat myself, how I see myself in the mirror every morning. Maria has the same situation.

Maria: Yeah, same exactly.

Zibby: I wish I had met you guys fourteen years ago.

Zelmira: Me too. I wish I would’ve written this book ten years ago.

Zibby: This is what I would’ve loved to read. Even the fact that it’s not so long, it’s great. I feel like the two of you are a powerhouse team. This is just the first of many projects to come out of the two of you.

Zelmira: We want to. Talking about inspiration, you are a huge inspiration. When we saw that you gave us the blurb, I started to look at everything that you’ve done. You’re dangerous. It’s listening to you — I have so many books now that I have to read at my house. I mean, I don’t have time. I can’t listen to one more podcast until I finish the other book. It’s just horrible. You reminded me of the beauty of essays. I’ve been an essay fan for my entire life. I bought the book. It’s a book that’s just absolutely huge, the Phillip Lopate. Oh, my god, that just came in yesterday. It’s huge. I opened it up this morning. I read one essay. I was like, geez, that was a life lesson right there. I wasn’t prepared to read it. Amazing. Everything that you’re doing to help authors and people move their things forward — if you have tips for us, please do. We have a lot of kids. We’re trying our best with this book. This is amazing, what you’re doing. Thank you.

Zibby: Of course. Thank you for saying that. Yeah, I feel like we need to regroup offline after the podcast or something. You both are obviously super smart and have all these ideas. I feel like what you have to say — yes, there’s this book already, which is amazing, but I do feel like there’s so much more you guys can do. You’re already doing it. It’s exciting. The potential is exciting. The combination of you guys is really great too. It’s really awesome. First of all, what you need to do is you have to write an essay for Moms Don’t Have Time to Write. Just do something really short. Even, just tell us more about the rubric. How do I check off one thing a week? Does it really count that I’m walking to my garage?

Maria: Yeah, it does.

Zibby: Does it count that I walked to my gate at the airport? I don’t know. Write an essay. We just have to keep in touch. Imagine all that you can do. Your kids are so young, and you’re already doing all this. I’m putting a “check back in five years to see what these ladies are doing.” You could start something amazing. Let’s stay in touch. It’s amazing.

Zelmira: We will. Do you have any other questions about the book?

Zibby: My last question is, do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

Zelmira: What I told you, get a buddy. If you’re a mom and you’re an aspiring writer, just get a buddy. Get a friend that is really interested in what you want to write. They’re out there. Go to the park. I swear you’re going to find somebody, an accountability partner. Sometimes I didn’t really feel like writing, but I knew that she was waiting for me on the computer. We would have Zoom calls at night about the book. It’s just having somebody there to respond to you and make you feel important and make you feel that what you have to write and you have to do, somebody needs it.

Maria: Even less than that, if you don’t have a buddy, just tell someone you’re going to write a book. With that said, people is going to ask you back. Oh, when are you finishing it? Aren’t you going to write a book? That sets you the, I don’t want to say pressure, but accountability to finish what you started.

Zibby: Yes. I started telling people I was writing a book after business school. It’s finally coming out next year. I have been working on this stupid memoir for — it’s going to be almost twenty years. I could finally be like, okay, it’s done.

Zelmira: Finally. This is a great start. This is a great example, also, of just starting out. Maybe you don’t have time to actually finish the book. If you have something to put together and work on, let’s use it. Writing really does help a lot of people. It’s just snippets of information at a time, like essays or like our book, trying to keep it concise and fast. You can really change a life.

Zibby: Love it. Amazing. Thank you, ladies. Sorry that the kids were running in. How informal.

Zelmira: No worries. It was great meeting you. We’ll keep in touch.

Zibby: You too. Okay, we’ll be in touch. Bye.

Zelmira: Thank you so much. Bye.

Maria: Bye.

Zelmira Crespi & Maria Luisa Montt, HAPPY MOM, HAPPY KID

HAPPY MOM, HAPPY KID by Zelmira Crespi & Maria Luisa Montt

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