I'm really excited to be interviewing Biz Ellis today. Biz is a former stand-up comic and corporate event planner. She now cohosts the comedy podcast that happens to be about parenting called “One Bad Mother.” She, along with her cohost Theresa Thorn, wrote a parenting, sort of, advice book, You're Doing a Great Job!: 100 Ways You're Winning at Parenting. Her sister Helen Ellis, by the way, is the author of Southern Lady Code and American Housewife. She also recently came on my podcast. Biz currently lives in Pasadena, California, with her husband and two children. Welcome to Biz.
Welcome, Biz. Thanks so much for coming on “Moms Don't Have Time to Read Books.”
Biz Ellis: Thank you so much for having me.
Zibby: How did you get the name Biz? I have to start with that.
Biz: My real name’s Elizabeth. I got the nickname at summer camp. There are two competing stories as to why I was given the name Biz at summer camp. I will stick with the nicer one in which a guy named Matt Johnson, his little niece couldn't pronounce Elizabeth. She would say Biz to his cousin. That's why he claimed that they called me Biz. Then I moved to the school where all those people were. I just walked in the door with the name Biz. Then no matter how hard I tried to maybe change it, somebody inevitably calls or sees me and says, “Hey, Biz.” Then everybody around me goes, “Biz?” Now that I've got kids, I had to start a whole new email, all this stuff. I'm forty-five. I'm doing preschool and elementary school stuff. I'm not sure I want to go by Biz at the PTA or any of that. I try to keep my lives separate. The other story is just that we’d get busy at camp. Don't tell anybody!
Zibby: Oh, my gosh. You're so funny. I have a similar story. My real name is also Elizabeth.
Biz: Oh, is it? Zibby, that's great.
Zibby: One girl in my playgroup who ended up being my maid of honor actually, for my first wedding, couldn't call me Elizabeth and called me Zibeth. My parents shortened it to Zibby. Like you, it seems to have stuck. I cannot get rid of it.
Biz: It’s good for the podcast persona because then you're somewhere and you want to be Elizabeth, people might not link it.
Zibby: I can go incognito. I want to hear all about your podcast, “One Bad Mother,” and also your book, which is so fantastic. Let's start with the book. In your book, you say right away that it is not designed to make parents feel bad. You feel other books might make parents feel bad even when they try to give us advice. Why do you think that happens? Talk to me about that.
Biz: You have four children.
Zibby: I do.
Biz: [laughs] I know this about you. You may have experienced this. I really felt like a lot of the books I read with my first child made me feel not necessarily comforted or confident about what was about to happen. A lot of books also made me feel like if you were nervous about it, then you were probably doing it wrong. After I had my daughter Katy Belle and even Ellis, I felt like I kept running into all these situations that were never spoken about in a book. Theresa, who cohosts the show with me, she and I would come in and start talking about something. More than once we'd say, “Why is this not in a book?” No book ever told me my kid was going to poop in the tub at some point in time and how I was supposed to respond to that. No one told me that, yeah, they’re going to cry at night, but that it might go on forever.
There's always that book that's like, “Just let them cry. They’ll stop.” What if you have the kid that never stops? What if that instinctually doesn't fit with your instincts of how you want to parent? We were realizing that books tended to make you feel like you shouldn't trust your instincts and there was only one way to do it. Of course, there were a million books, so there were a million different ways you were supposed to do it. The reality, all the ways are actually fine. Whatever works, you should do it. We wanted to make a book that reminded you no matter how you were doing it, if it was working, good job. [laughs] You’ve done it. You've discovered how to parent. That's basically why we made the book.
Zibby: That’s great and so refreshing. Everybody needs that, even just telling you all the little things. Some of the things you point out in your book, first of all, waking up. Great job.
Biz: That should be it. We should be done for the day.
Zibby: That's it. Surviving a baby shower in which your cake was shaped like a vagina. Awesome. Thank you for putting that in your book. Are there some things that moms do well that you think they don't get enough credit for?
Biz: Moms and parents, everybody who’s got children, there's so much about what we do every day that is completely unacceptable to talk about anywhere. The most mundane things become so important. I decided I wasn’t going to battle meals and foods with my second child. I decided it wasn’t working. It was super unpleasant. I was miserable. The other day -- he’s five, my daughter’s nine -- I made a garlic lemon pesto that I knew he liked. My daughter tried it and liked it. For the first time ever, all four of us ate the same meal. It was amazing. I felt like it was pure joy and elation come through me. Now, who am I going to tell? I can't go to work and be like, “Guys, guess what? Everybody ate the same thing today.” People would be like, “What's wrong with you? That's not how I was raised.” It’s those little, tiny moments that no one seems to care about. It’s those hidden secret levels of parenting that Theresa and I both talk about all the time are so overlooked. That's one of the hardest things about parenting. Every time I see somebody with kids and groceries, I think, you did it! You just did that! Good job. [laughs]
Zibby: My husband and I were on an airplane last night. This woman was by herself with a toddler and the car seat and the stroller and the whole thing. I was like, “Can I help you?” She's like, “I'm okay, but thank you.” She was walking down the aisle. I was like, “It gets easier.” [laughs] My husband was like, “Every mom? You have to talk to every mom?” I was like, “I just have to let her know.”
Biz: [Indiscernible] here. You can change your mind. I will still help you.
Zibby: Totally. The other day, both my kids ate the scrambled eggs without complaining that I made for breakfast, my two older kids. Even that, I was like, “Do you know how much it means to me when you both eat it? I know scrambled eggs, I do this every morning, but it makes me feel so good.” Your book is so validating, so thanks. You have this funny part too in Partnered Parents. This is about your relationship. You write, “You didn't choose a total jerk to have this family with. Good job. Having a kid puts tons of pressure on everyone. That means you might sometimes experience anger, confusion, or resentment toward the person with whom you chose to make a family, but if you think back to the person whom you chose to say “I do,” or “Sure, you can move in,” or “It’s okay. We don't need a condom,” or whatever, that person wasn’t a total jerk. They were pretty good. They are pretty good. They're just tired and stressed right now, and so are you. Neither of you are jerks.” [laugh] I loved that. Talk to me about dealing with partners and kids. Do you have any secret sauce? Any tips worth commiserating about?
Biz: Therapy. [laughs] That helps a lot. Theresa and I have done some shows about resentment a couple of times. One of our mantras is you didn't marry an asshole. Some people did. Sometimes you wake up and you realize you did. Then we’ve got to take steps and take care of that. In a partnered parent situation in which everything seemed to be okay, two things happen. The first level that we discovered happening was if you are a mom and you are the primary caregiver, the moment your partner takes over, like “I’ll take the baby for the walk,” or whatever, we basically set it up so that we don't allow them to fail, despite we fail all the time. We've all gone out without the diaper. We've all gone out without the socks or the hat or the keys or the credit card. No one is shaming us. The moment poor Stefan, my husband, would take Katy Belle out without a hat, I'd be like, “You forgot the hat. You're a monster,” as opposed to just shutting up and letting them discover parenting the way that they need to parent.
It’s really hard. It’s usually you. [laughs] It’s usually me. I don't have to say anything. I discovered recently now that my daughter’s nine -- he and she got into one of their first total fights. We’re not a yelling house. As much as we are, they were having that kind of morning fight, and Ellis, the five-year-old, screaming and crying. It’s the day he's got to take both of them to school. I'm loading crying children into his car. He was yelling “The hat!” Later my mind was like, “You stepped in that. All you had to do was just not saying anything.” I had all this advice for him. Then instead of saying any of that, I just said, “I love you. You're doing a really good job.” That's all I texted him because I knew he knew.
Zibby: That's so nice.
Biz: If I was sitting around thinking about it all, I'm sure he did too because I didn't marry a jerk. That's a really hard thing. The other thing I would say is that sometimes when we’re so busy, at least for us, I’ll sit on stuff for a long time before I say anything. Then I’ll explode. For me, if I don't sit on it, if I say it right away, that seems to really help. I don't have to have a solution before I tell him what's going on. That and if all you've got is remembering to yourself, “He’s not asshole. She’s not an asshole,” then we’re okay. Sometimes, that's the best we can do.
Zibby: That should be your new series of shirts. “I didn't marry an asshole.”
Biz: [laughs] There's an arrow that’s like, “I'm not with an asshole.”
Zibby: “He’s not an asshole,” arrow. That's so funny. You started “One Bad Mother” in 2013. Tell me about what made you start this podcast. I know you were a stand-up comic before. You originally said it was a podcast that happens to be about parenting. Tell me about how it got started.
Biz: I was living in New York with my daughter and Stefan. I used to be cool. I did stand-up and sketch and went out at night and was reading cool things on the subway and smokin’ cigarettes. I was so cool. Then I had this kid. I suddenly did not feel cool at all. In fact, still nine years in, having a real struggle with identity. I started looking around. I felt like there was nothing out there that validated that I used to be a person. At the time, there weren’t podcasts. There were just blogs and stuff. Everything was these picture-perfect experiences. I enjoyed looking at those. They were great. It wasn’t the experience I was having.
Then we moved to LA. Stefan and Theresa’s husband, Jesse Thorn, were like, “You guys would probably really hit it off.” We were both like, “Ugh. We have small children. We’re tired. We don't want to make new friends,” but we did. We started walking together. We started doing walks together. I told her about the idea. She liked it. Then I realized she should cohost it with me because we did nothing alike. We really approached parenting super differently. I thought that might also be a good element for a show that's out there, not just showing perfection, but showing that we can both feel strongly about our different choices but still be friends and still be okay. This was knee-deep in the mommy war stuff, which I don't think is a real thing. It’s just made up to make us all mad at each other.
I wanted to create something cool for people and something honest. What's been really great is that Theresa and I have actually become friends on the show. We weren’t friends, really, before the show started. It’s been really interesting talking about these different experiences we’re having as parents. I say we’re not a parenting podcast because nothing we say could be really helpful. Once you become a parent, people forget about you. We wanted to be like, no, we’re people. We’re really growing as well. We’re really struggling too. It’s not so much about the kids. It’s how we’re reacting to our children and how our children are making us feel. That's what the podcast has wound up being about, just being as honest as we possibly can without ruining our children's lives by sharing too much.
Zibby: Now of course, podcasts have exploded. You're in the right place at the right time. You should be giving each other high-fives every day.
Biz: I know, except we listed ourselves under Comedy on iTunes. Now there's a million parenting podcasts. We’re like, “We’re a comedy podcast.” People don't know how to find us.
Zibby: It is crazy how you have to define yourself in these limited categories in the beginning. I was debating too. Parenting or Arts and Culture? I don't know. Parenting, the way you think about it sometimes, it does feel prescriptive like, “This is going to be a class. This is something I need to know.” I think a lot of moms, when they just want a break, would gravitate to comedy. I think you made the right call. Tell me what you said a minute ago that you're still struggling with your identity and that's still something that you are dealing with. Tell me a little about that because I'm sure everyone can relate.
Biz: I've never felt a hundred percent like a mom, whatever that's supposed to be. There are days where I've got one foot in motherhood, one foot in work, one foot in social -- sorry, social, that went right out the door -- one foot in trying to reconnect to anything I once really enjoyed as who I used to be, and then having to discover that having my feet in so many places isn't good. I may not want all the things I used to have like whatever I used to be that may not be who I should be now. We did a show recently on haircuts. I recently got a haircut that was an awesome haircut five years ago. I got it again, shaved side, pullover. Whoa. As soon as they did it, I was like, “That is not who I am anymore.” It doesn't look right on me anymore. Now I just look like old mom with a weird haircut. It totally represents how I feel all the time like, “I'm going to get back into such and such.” Then I start trying to do it. Maybe I don't like this anymore.
I don't think any of us step into motherhood really easily. Everything changes. You're supposed to be this other person. Everybody sees you as another person, whether you wanted them to or not. You suddenly have these people in your life that need you. You instinctually want to take care of them. There's that partner, possibly, around that you would like to connect with. Maybe you're solo parenting, you're a single parent and you're trying to remember what -- any relationship would be great to have. Maybe you adopted kids. Boom, they just pop up. They just show up in your house with no warning in the adoption world sometimes, or the fostering world. Then you're stuck being like, “Who am I?” I'm still not there. There's some days that I'm like, “Yeah. I am a mom.” There are other days where I'm like, “Don't use that word around me.” I don't know. Maybe it’s just me.
Zibby: It sounds like mom, to you, it just does not jive with anything else. I feel like mom, to you, is something very conservative or traditional or something else that you --
Biz: -- That's a great way to put it. It is. It’s whatever my connection is with the word mom.
Zibby: Is that what your mom was like?
Biz: No. Helen Michelle said it best, who was on your show recently. Mama and Papa raised us to be feminists in a time where that was just becoming okay in the deep South. I often am like, “How did she do this?” She went to law school when I started first grade. That's intense. It wasn’t that traditional. Probably for me, when I think of Mom, I think of all the restrictions that media and imagery put on Mom. Then we fed into that ourselves. My mom didn't have the internet. She didn't have Facebook and Instagram and perfection or Land of Nod catalogs coming making you feel like, “If just painted everything white, my children would be so happy and want to play in that room.”
Zibby: With a tepee.
Biz: How are they still selling tepees? Those aren’t okay. [laughs] It is true. What I'm wrestling with and still working on, thank you therapy, is connecting those two for me, is connecting what mom means to me with who I am. I feel like now that my kids are out of infancy and toddlerdom and preschooldom and they're kids, at least for me, there's some breathing room suddenly to have the time to try and make that connection again. The trick is allowing ourselves the time to do that because I don't think we give ourselves a lot of time as parents.
Zibby: And also that it doesn't have to be so black and white.
Biz: That's hard. That's hard to figure out too. [Indiscernible] very black and white.
Zibby: I'm the same way. I get it. These days, there's so many types of moms. It’s not the way it was with the 1950s beautiful skirts. Look at you. We’re on Skype, for listeners. You just got this massive tattoo on your arm, which is so badass. You're your own mom. It’s awesome.
Biz: I can do the tattoo. Then I can make a beautiful bunny cake for Easter.
Zibby: I'm sure you can. Enough of my prying through your inner psyche here. Do you have any advice from your experience? Moms who are worrying that they are not doing a good job, the moms out there who are similarly feeling victorious when someone goes down for a nap or the tantrum ends or a bad mood is redirected, do you have any advice for them?
Biz: That they are doing a good job. We have a hotline on the show that people can call. They can call and leave a genius moment, which would be the “Everybody ate. My kid slept for fifteen minutes.” You can also leave a fail. That would be everything from “I did all my grocery shopping and realized I didn't have my credit card,” or “I left with milk in the bottom of the stroller.” We've all done that. “I dropped the baby.” Babies have fallen off of changing tables. We have all accidentally, the car seat has wobbled or oh my god, I just got somewhere and realized I didn't buckle the kid in. I can say that because we get about three to four hundred calls a month. I hear the same things over and over and over.
While when we make those failures it can feel like we've really done something horrible and we shouldn't even be allowed to be parents, the reality is everybody's actually okay. You're okay. No one’s really watching. It feels like everybody's watching, but they really aren’t watching. Probably ten other people have done that today. It’s so rare to hear a fail come in that's stunningly original. The good thing to remember is you are doing a good job. Tell other parents you see out there that they're doing a good job. It feels weird at first. Then it gets kind of normal. The more you say it, the more you feel it. That's something we've discovered on the show. We’re all really tired, guys. You actually are doing a really remarkable job if you got up and got everybody where they needed to go, including yourself. There, you have pants on. You've done it. You did it. Be nice to yourself.
Zibby: I love that. I love the being nice to others too. That's really nice.
Biz: I’ll rant us off track so quickly, but man, I don't know when it came around that we’re supposed to not support each other as parents. I call garbage on that. That is insane. We've got to stop it. That's not something we’re supposed to be doing.
Zibby: I agree. These competitive moms, it’s the death of me, seriously. What about advice to aspiring authors now that you have this fantastic book out there, which is hilarious and helpful and everything else.
Biz: I don't have a lot of advice. You had my sister on. She's a writer. She is so amazing at that. I make jokes. I feel like for Theresa and I, what helped us when we wrote this was committing to time. That's the thing I hear from people who come on the show too. Make the commitment to meet or write or whatever it is that you're trying to create. Commit to it. I personally could never have done it if I hadn’t had a partner to write the book with. If there wasn’t somebody I had to be beholden to, that book would never have been written, not in the last nine years. It’s just committing to a time and trying to stick with it and putting yourself first to do it. I don't know. [laughs]
Zibby: You did it, so you're one step ahead of the people who didn't do it.
Biz: That's right. It’s done. I did it. It was really a lot of fun to do it.
Zibby: Great job!
Biz: Thank you.
Zibby: Thank you for coming on “Moms Don't Have Time to Read Books” and sharing all of your thoughts and everything. Thanks for your great podcast and the book.
Biz: Thank you so much. Thank you for coming onto ours. It was a pleasure. This show, it’s really great for those of us who really don't have time to read anymore and want to and help us find what we’re looking for. Thank you. You are doing a very good job.
Zibby: Thank you. [laughs] Have a great day.
Zibby: Bye, Biz.