Zibby Owens: I'm really excited to be welcoming Leslie Anne Bruce today to “Moms Don't Have Time to Read Books.” Leslie is a five-time New York Times best-selling coauthor and an award-winning entertainment journalist formally of US Weekly and The Hollywood Reporter. She's the founder of Unpacified, an online community for modern women to discuss motherhood through an unfiltered, judgment-free lens of honesty and humor. Her latest book, You Are A Fucking Awesome Mom -- should I say fucking or f-ing?
Leslie Anne Bruce: Whatever you prefer.
Zibby: -- continues the online conversation. She lives in Laguna Beach with her husband and her two children. Thanks for coming on the show.
Leslie: Thank you so much for having me.
Zibby: First, the title, do you say f-ing?
Leslie: It depends on the audience. I try to be respectful. Not everybody was born and raised in the South Side of Chicago and has that word as part of their vernacular. In a comfortable setting, I'm happy to say You Are A Fucking Awesome Mom because I believe it.
Zibby: You just met me, and yet you know. [laughs]
Zibby: Can you please tell us what You Are A Whatever Awesome Mom is about? What inspired you to write it?
Leslie: It is You Are A Fucking Awesome Mom. I say it’s a mama book. It’s not a baby book. It is a book for women who are transitioning into motherhood. It is a book that focuses on that journey. So much of preparing for becoming a mom is baby-centric. We plan for the nursery. We plan for the hospital and our diaper bag and what kind of crib mattress to get. We’re not planning for what happens when we become mothers, that moment when your child is born and you realize you're the least important person in that room. When I had my daughter in 2014, I really struggled with that transition. On top of the hormone shifts and the body shifts and all of that, I was going through a real identity crisis. I had spent so much of my life being one person. Overnight, I was becoming someone new. I didn't have the foresight to really honor that change. This book talks about that journey and largely about my journey. Its goal is to help women, support women who are going through it as well and also offer them a little bit of guidance. I don't like to say so much advice because I think that only you know what is best for your child in your home. I like to have little tips and tricks along the way.
Zibby: That's awesome. You do it in such a funny way and in a new way. There are a lot of parenting books out there and lot of women empowerment, “You're great at this. You're a badass,” whatever. This was the perfect blend of tips, what I wish I'd known. I was trying to say to you before but I was like, “I'm not going to say this now. Let me save this,” in truth, I really wish I'd had this book before I had any of my kids.
Leslie: Thank you. That means a lot.
Zibby: Even still with four kids. Who's your target? Any mom? Is it better for the first-time mom? What's the best part for experienced moms?
Leslie: It works for all moms. It’s one of those things that I want to give to all women the moment that they get pregnant. From that moment, from conception, the train has left the station. All moms can pull something out of it. It wasn't until I had the ability and the time to sit down and really think about, in the creation of this book, think about what I was going through and what it was meant. After having children, we become so busy with our lives that we don't take the time to sit and appreciate the journey that we went on. For moms who do have four children and who have been moms for a while, it allows you to give yourself a little bit of grace and a little bit of forgiveness for your less-than-stellar moments, which we all have.
Zibby: Is it that obvious already? I'm kidding. Of course, everybody goes through it.
Leslie: It’s for all women. Still, it’s one of those things where we still feel guilty. We still feel that pang of, I wish I could have been all things to all people. Reminding yourself that you're doing everything with the best intention with your kid’s best interests at heart, that's what makes you awesome.
Zibby: I loved all the lists. One of the best parts is “Shit You Should Know: A List of Things You Might Cry Over.” One of the funniest ones was you told your husband not to touch you, so he doesn't touch you. [laughter] That's so perfect because you don't know what you want.
Leslie: Right. It’s the essential paradox. I want you to want me, but don't touch me. Especially in those early postpartum days, all reason and logic has left the building. For me, I wanted to still be wanted, but I didn't feel, especially early on, necessarily great in my skin. I had either baby feeding on me or someone needing me. I want you to want me, but don't you dare come close to me. I want you to sit next to me not touching and just give me that support.
Zibby: You also have the list “Shit You Need to Stop Feeling Guilty About.” Lots of stuff on this list. How do I stop feeling guilty?
Leslie: You stop feeling guilty by accepting your guilt. It’s all about reframing it. What's the alternative? The alternative is not caring enough to feel guilty. You feel guilty. The motive of feeling guilty is because you love your kids and you love your family so much that you wish there was more of you to give. You wish that you had more time. You wish you were able to be better in some capacity. The motivating factor is the fact that you love so much. Instead of focusing on the shit that you're not doing, focus on the fact that you're trying so hard to do it all. Your kids feel that. They know that. They know they're loved. That's ninety percent of it all.
Zibby: I was just telling this story to somebody. I had forgotten. A few years ago, I had coffee with a girlfriend of mine. I was like, “How's everything going? What's up?” She's like, “I've decided I'm going to stop feeling guilty, so things have been great.” I was like, “What do you mean?” She's like, “Yeah, just like that.” She was a working mom and commuting and all this stuff. She's like, “I'm just not going to feel guilty anymore. Now everything's fine.” All right, I've got to figure this one out. That seems to be the secret. The guilt is the biggest hinderance to successful parenting because you keep getting in your own way.
Leslie: Especially for successful parenting for modern women because a large number of us have careers or interests or things that are identifying factors beyond motherhood that are really important to us. Being able to take that time to fill all of those cups is near impossible. Realizing that guilt is part of it, but don't wallow in it. Don't let yourself get so down about it. Just appreciate that you feel guilty because you care. What’s the alternative?
Zibby: You wrote in the book, which I thought was so great, “Women today are more unprepared for motherhood than at any other point in history, save for the stone age.” Then you said that we are “ill-equipped to transition from independent boss lady to mommy- mommy-mommy.” Tell me more about this.
Leslie: When I was figuring out what the hell had happened to me during the first year after having my daughter, this was my aha moment. There are three important factors in a head-on collision. One being that women today, for the most part, are more educated, more career focused. We’re having children later, so we’re spending a large portion of our adulthood creating our identities. My mom was married at twenty-two. Her mother was married at nineteen. Oftentimes in generations past, they're going from their family home to their marriage home. They don't have that period of time to develop who they are as independent people. Women today are. As I had said earlier, when we’re forced to give a lot of that up -- and you are. You are forced to give up parts of yourself when you become a mother. The idea of you can have it all, I really push against. I think that it’s important to hold on and fight for the things that are really important in your life. Learn to accept that there are certain parts of your life in becoming a mother that are just going to be in your past. I wasn't at all prepared for that. I never had grieved the passing of my independent self.
Then that coupled with more women today, and more millennials today specifically, are further away geographically from their families. My mother grew up in Chicago. On the street that she grew up was her mom, obviously, her three aunts and her grandmother. There was an incredible community. There's those native tribes where every woman came to pitch in to help as women are going through these transitions. In certain countries, it still exists like that today. In the States, a lot of women are further away from home. When I had my daughter, I was in one of these LA canyons with no sidewalk. I didn't know my neighbors. My husband was back to work because he now had a family to support. I was left alone. My parents lived only ninety minutes away, but that's not a pop-in-from-around-the-corner kind of drive.
Here I was, this woman going through this crazy identity loss left alone all day with a baby who I couldn't figure out. I felt like I was failing her. I was failing what was the most important thing to me. It was a high-stakes game. It was the biggest thing that I was ever going to do. I felt like I was failing her. That was crushing, which then brought in the third component, which is social media. The only access I had to the outside world, the only barometer to be able to see how I was doing at motherhood was blogs and Facebook and Instagram. From where I stood, it looked like everyone else was nailing it, and I was failing her. I felt so horrible that my daughter got saddled with me. I say in the book she picked the short straw in the lottery because I couldn't give her magic-hour photo shoots with springs of lavender and boho braids.
Zibby: As you point out in the book though, you have a beautiful Instagram.
Leslie: I do. I'm my own hypocrite.
Zibby: No, you're not a hypocrite. I look at yours, and now I feel like a failure compared to you. Look at how beautiful, and your kids, and the boards with the letters. It looks amazing. You address it really well in the book, I have to say.
Leslie: I address that in the book. I also try to be really upfront on my Instagram about it. It’s a slippery slope. In order to get the attention of people on any platform, it needs to be aesthetically pleasing. People, I find, don't necessarily love to look at photos. That's why Pinterest is so addicting. You want to see these beautiful things. I try to use the visual to bring people in and then quickly let them know that my life looks nothing like this. I recently did something with The Bump. My first thing that I said is, “My life looks nothing like this photo. Here's what was really happening behind the scenes.” I created the platform because I wanted to connect with women and let them know that this is just a picture. Anybody can make a beautiful picture. You have no idea what's being cropped out of the frame.
Zibby: Very true. Tell me about Instashaming, Instashame and Instamom. What does it mean to be Instashamed?
Leslie: To be Instashamed means that you are holding yourself to an unrealistic expectation. You are feeling guilty because you are not living a picture-perfect life. It is often things that we’re putting on ourselves. As I had said, the Instamom has a succulent wall. She only bathes her baby in a galvanized tub using, obviously, homemade soap that she made with organic products. Her whole life is tones of blush and mustard and crème and maybe a hint of a dark gray. I feel like a lot of women don't recognize it for what it is still. I try to use Instagram like a magazine or anything that has the ability to edit and crop in Photoshop. A lot of women don't see that. When women, especially these Instamoms, speak about their motherhood experience on Instagram, they’ll say something like, “I always want to acknowledge and remember this season of motherhood.” What are you even saying? Speak like a normal human. Just say, “I really want to remember, when he's grown, how it felt when he slept on me. He also had a diaper blowout today. I cried because I went to go get an Oreo and there were no more Oreos,” or whatever it is. Speak normally about motherhood. I find that's so much more relatable. It creates a community.
Zibby: Is this how you started Unpacified? Tell me about starting that.
Leslie: I started Unpacified because I wanted to connect with other women. I quickly realized after coming out of the fog of that newborn war that my experience wasn't uncommon. Actually, most mothers went through a similar experience, maybe not necessarily the same. They didn't struggle with the same things. When you're making that journey into motherhood, you have these hurdles. Everyone goes through them. Once I realized that I wasn’t alone in that -- I was educated. I had friends. Somehow still, I felt really alone in that. If I could feel like that, women all over could feel like that. My experience wasn’t in this vacuum. I wanted to make sure that if I could, to the best of my ability, connect with women so they wouldn’t be alone. They would realize that they're not failing. They realize you can have a really, really hard day and still be an incredible mom. One moment doesn't define you. One terrible day doesn't define you. You will get through it. It does get easier. You will learn to love and appreciate this stage and this chapter in your life more than you've ever thought humanly possible.
Zibby: If somebody wants to be a part of the Unpacified community and get the benefits of all that you have to share, what should they do? They just go to the website? Should they sign up?
Leslie: They go to the website. They sign up for the newsletter. They start engaging on social media. I have women who have connected and become friends as a result of engaging with each other through social media. It really is this wild platform. I have people who come to me. They’ve created these great friendships and support. They find women who've gone through similar experiences. I really try to create a judgement-free space. I do believe in my heart of hearts that if you are a person who is going to a website or social media or you're going somewhere to educate yourself either about childhood or your motherhood experience or whatever it is, that you're trying your best. If you're going to those places looking for resources and looking for information, you're trying to do your best or what you think is right, so not to judge anybody along the way and be open. Many roads lead to Rome. There's a lot of ways to raise really good kids.
Zibby: It’s so hard too because we get trained for so many different things aside from this. Then there's no metric. There's no, “You did great.” There's no performance review. There's nothing at the end of it. We’re used to, we study, we get grades. We work hard at work. You get a review. You get a promotion. I'm not saying anything original here. With motherhood, there are so few markers. It feels like this endless -- struggle’s the wrong word because there's so much joy in it. Sometimes it can feel overwhelming.
Leslie: Yes, it can be wildly overwhelming. It is a struggle. It is a struggle because everything that's really worth doing comes with struggle. Having a beautiful family and raising good people comes with struggle. You're going to have to go through some wild times. You're right. It would be nice if at the end of the day I got a gold star and my husband handed me a frozen yogurt and said, “You did awesome today.” What I think and what I try to tell myself is that the reward is seeing my child succeed, which sounds like something I would never say five years ago. It is really is. It’s a really rewarding thing when you see your child living a fulfilling life. It fills my heart in a way. I'm living vicariously. It’s my own win, so to speak.
Zibby: I also feel like now that I've had four kids -- this is just my own anecdotal observation. I tried so hard with my first kids. I'm a perfectionistic. I wanted to do everything right. I wanted to read every book, everything. Not that I'm not trying hard with my other two kids who I adore just as much, but my philosophy, almost, is first do no harm. They're all born the way they are. I see it now. They're all so different. There's not that much I can do. I can mess them up, but maybe there's not that much I can do to make them that much better. It takes some pressure off.
Leslie: You're right. We’re innately who we are. I see that with my daughter. My son is only a year, but I can see their personalities. The variables are the same, same parents, same environment, same whatever, but so different.
Zibby: So different. It’s so nice to be able to encourage other moms. There's also this whole community of, not community, but I think a lot of moms get very self-conscious and down on themselves and respond by being snarky and trying to build themselves up in front of other moms. It’s so self-destructive to the whole mom community.
Leslie: A hundred percent. That's a huge thing with the mom shaming. We’re putting other mothers down in order to make ourselves feel better. We want to believe that we’re making the best possible decision for our kids. The fact that somebody else is doing it differently makes us question whether we made the right choice. It’s a slippery slope. That's what I keep saying. There's so many ways to do it right. As long as you love them and you show up, there's not a lot that you can royally screw up.
Zibby: I loved how in the book you recommend that as a form of self-care and taking care of your own intellectual inspiration that you listen to podcasts while you're doing your chores or whatever. Aside from mine -- I'm sure you listen to every single one -- what podcasts do you like?
Leslie: I love your podcast. I'm really into “Revisionist History.” I love Malcom Gladwell. I love the way that he speaks. He's atrociously smart. His storytelling is remarkable. The first ten minutes of every podcast, you're like, where is this going? It’s always this little window into this big world he explores. You don't always know what you're getting from the description. It ends up being wildly enlightening. I have to stay away from all those murder podcasts. I got on a deep well of them for a while. I would walk into the house and I would be on pins and needles. My husband would be like, “What's wrong?” I'm like, “Just don't talk to me for a second. I'm really sorry if I did anything to you. Please don't put me in the backyard.” [laughter] Then my best friend actually released her podcast in May, the first season of “Asking for a Friend” with Lauren Conrad. It is a really fun, really uplifting, really female-empowerment podcast of all things, tips and tricks for making your life a little easier and a little more fulfilling.
Zibby: You've written five best-selling books. Tell me about that. How did you get into writing? When in the whole timeline of the kids and whatever did this all happen?
Leslie: My first book is called Drinking and Tweeting. I coauthored it with Brandi Glanville who was on Real Housewives. That happened in 2013. It happened organically out of our relationship. She trusted me. I was there through her whole story. She trusted me with it. It did really well because she also has no filter and connects with women by being willing to open up about her journey and her struggles in a really open and raw way. Then I wrote her follow-up book. I did Down the Rabbit Hole with Holly Madison about her life inside the Playboy mansion, which was fascinating, one of my favorite stories ever because it really pulled back the veil on this world that we all thought we had an idea of what was happening, and then her follow-up. I wrote Celebrate -- I coauthored that with Lauren Conrad -- which is a party-planning book, which was a very nice diversion from what I had previously done. It’s different because you're writing someone else's story. Especially with the first two books with Holly and Brandi, I took a leading role in writing those because they were new to that world. They did a lot of the writing the second books. For this book, I'm now putting myself out on the table. I'm laying myself vulnerable. Its wins and its setbacks are on my shoulders.
Zibby: Are you nervous?
Leslie: I am nervous. It’s a really personal part of my life. I had my friend tell me early on when there was certain things I wanted to pull back on that I felt were too raw to put in the book, left me too open for criticism or judgement, my friend said, “If you're going to talk the talk, you have to walk the walk.” So I did. I put it all out there. So far, the response has been overwhelmingly supportive. I'm really blessed with that.
Zibby: It’s great. I agree. I'm so glad you didn't hold anything back. When you were saying that, I was like, what did you hold back? Tell me, tell me.
Leslie: I went for it. I really threw my husband’s phone out of a second-story window. [laughter] I did it all.
Zibby: If everybody hadn’t been there, people wouldn't be appreciating it so much. Everybody has been there. Childrearing can be the most crazymaking endeavor. It’s so great. You do all this for other women. Have you always wanted to give back in some way? Is that just who you are as a person?
Leslie: I'd like to say yes. That would be wonderful. I'm fortunate to have really strong and really amazing friendships and a really amazing tribe of women that have been around me since before having children. Like I said, I think it’s harder. I think women have a harder time today. It’s this very special period of time that my mom didn't know how to prepare me for because she didn't know what the world would look like. Now we’re here. If I can help and connect with other women so they don't have to wake up and feel like shit because they feel like they're failing their kid when they're not -- there's no need for that pressure to put on yourself. If I can do that for other women, I'm honored to do so.
Zibby: Tell me about the actual process of writing the book. Where did you do it? At your desk? At home? Did you go to coffee shops? Where do you like to write? How long did it take?
Leslie: It wasn't pretty. I’ll tell you that. The writing of proposal to take out, it was years. It was like giving birth. It took me forever to do because I wanted to figure out exactly the best way to reach women. Then when we started the actual process of writing the book, I was wildly pregnant with my son. I had a challenging pregnancy with him. There wasn’t a lot I could do besides sit in front of a computer. I have a home office. Then the other second half of the book I wrote after he was born. I was nursing, so I couldn't be that far. Luckily, we’re fortunate to have a wonderful caregiver who helps us. I did it from home. I did it when I could squeeze it in. I'm very strict on setting deadlines for myself, which is a blessing and a curse. I created, “This is when it needs to be in.” From getting a deal to writing the book, having it delivered was four or five months. It’s a pretty quick turnaround. I had to set those deadlines and power right through, but knowing in the back of my mind that I had written books before and I know that in the editing process I have opportunities to come back and revisit. Much to the dismay of a wonderful project editor named Michael, I was going back and forth and re-shifting things and moving it over the course of the last year.
Zibby: What do you have coming next? Book publicity?
Leslie: Book publicity for the next foreseeable future and then hopefully taking some time with my kids over the holidays. This book largely focuses on that early journey in motherhood and the mom’s journey through motherhood. There's so much left to explore. I'd love to move on with focusing more on those toddler years and then going through preschool. Everything in the moment that you're going through, it feels so intense, so being able to speak to women as they continue on their motherhood journey.
Zibby: Do you have advice to aspiring authors out there?
Leslie: My advice to aspiring authors, know your work. Know what you're writing. When I did Down the Rabbit Hole, I poured myself into everything I could find, biography, documentary, everything about Playboy and Hugh Hefner. I'm in the mansion itself. Then with this book, I try to be really conversational. I want it to be like you're speaking to a girlfriend. I went down these wells of research, whether it was for complex protein development in formulas or cortisol levels in crying babies or statistics of women returning to work postpartum and what day they do. I knew my subject. I felt like in order to give women the best and appropriate advice, I needed to be really well-versed in it myself. That's with anything. JK Rowling is the bar we all strive for in some degree. The language is the magic in her series. She studied language, so knowing what you're writing.
Zibby: Excellent. Thank you. It sounds like you are a fucking awesome mom too and certainly a fucking awesome writer. Thank you. Thank you for coming on the show. Sorry for cursing.
Leslie: [laughs] Thank you for having me.