I'm thrilled to be interviewing Lyss Stern today. Lyss Stern is the author of Motherhood Is a B#tch and If You Give a Mom a Martini. She’s the CEO of Divalysscious Moms, DivaMoms.com, a national, New York City-based marketing and event company. The former editor-in-chief of The Observer Playground, which was the parenting magazine of The New York Observer, which by the way I used to write for, Lyss has served as a media correspondent for CNBC, The TODAY Show, MSNBC, and others. A graduate of Syracuse University with master’s degrees from NYU and Hunter in both communications and early childhood education, Lyss is now the ultimate NYC parenting connector.
Welcome, Lyss. Thanks so much for doing the show.
Lyss Stern: Of course. Thanks for having me on. Love the podcast.
Zibby: Thank you. I love your book. How did I not read this before? It’s the steps to making my life livable.
Lyss: I always say I think every mom needs to read this book whether you're a first-time mom, second-time mom, third-time mom, whether you're in the beginning stages, end stages. Whatever stage of parenthood you are about to go into, everyone should read this book.
Zibby: Whenever I read a book to prepare for an interview, I dog-ear a page where there's something that I want to remember, I want to come back to. You should see the book. Every other page is now turned over. It looks like some sort of Asian fan of some kind.
Lyss: [laughs] I love hearing that. That makes my day. Thank you.
Zibby: Let's start with how you even decided to do this book and everything. You did such a great job in the book explaining how you hit bottom. You had a mom on the street who thought you were pregnant when you weren’t -- which I'm sure every mother has had happen to her, I know I have -- and how you decided to live your life differently afterwards and how you basically just decided to be a bitch.
Lyss: We define what the word bitch in the book means. We’ll do that after. Basically, three kids, three different ages. One’s going into high school. One’s going into middle school. One’s going into pre-K. In my mind, I'm always in three different places at all times. After my baby was born, [indiscernible], I didn't lose all the baby weight. Exercising and eating properly was not at the forefront of my list at that time. I had other things going on. I had two kids. I had my business. I let myself go a little bit. With that being said, when this woman on the street who [indiscernible] who had these perky breasts, just had a breast job -- no, I didn't have a boob job -- she had liposuction and all that. That's all good. I'm not judging. She wanted to know when I was due. I had that gut-punch feeling in my stomach. This is not okay. People think you're pregnant. You've got to get yourself together.
At that point though, within that week, I remember also meeting my girlfriend at Starbucks, who was my cowriter, Sheryl Berk, who I love, who is a dear friend of mine. She has a teenage girl. We were just talking about motherhood. She's like, “Write these things.” I was talking about how I have to get on track with my weight and my eating and all that stuff. I just blurted it out. “Motherhood’s a bitch.” She looked me. She says, “That's it. That's your next book. You are going to take a journey. You are going to learn to take care of yourself first. You are going to learn how to say no to people. You are going to become a bitch, b#tch.”
Everybody tells you [indiscernible] motherhood, as we say in the book, is a beach. We cross that beach and we put b#tch. It’s really hard. Every day is hard. We as mothers need to take a step back and learn that self-care for us is equally as important as taking care of our kids. Sometimes it’s really hard to [indiscernible] when we’re working and we’re in the mix of everything. People are going through divorces. People are starting to date again. People are married, but unhappily married. People are married, and they’re happily married. Whatever it may be, there's always something going on, a family member getting sick, what days kids go to school, getting the kids to [indiscernible]. It’s always constantly something we’re juggling. I know it’s so cliché, but I always says we’re juggling a hundred and one balls at once trying not to let one drop. That's where the book came from.
Zibby: I love it. Your book, the subtitle is 10 Steps to Regaining Your Sanity, Sexiness, and Inner Diva. For step one of these ten steps you have this really cute acronym for bitch, which I feel bad saying over and over again like I'm going to be in trouble with my kids. I have to put money in the jar after this interview. B is “Be the woman you want to be.” I is “Initiate.” T is “Time-out.” C is “Care.” H is “Help.”
Tell me what these mean and how they can change my life as a mom. What do I absolutely need to do to reclaim my sanity?
Lyss: [indiscernible]. One of the things that I do, I cover it with moms every day, look yourself in the mirror every morning, first thing in the morning, whether you're coming out of the shower, whether you're washing your face, brushing your teeth, look in the mirror. Look at yourself. Be present. Who is that person? Look in the mirror. Who is that mom? Who is that person that you want to be today? Do you want to be that hurried mom? Do you want to be that tired mom? Do you want to be that happy mom? Do you want to be that sexy mom today? Do you want to be that soccer mom today? Look in the mirror and say, “Today, I'm going to be… I'm going to do two more of my meetings. I'm going to write a book today. I'm going to write an article.” Look in the mirror straight on and say, “This is who I'm going to be today.”
For “I” we should be initiating. You’ve got to initiate who you want to be. You can't just say you're going to do it. You actually have to take steps to do it. For me personally, I don't know about you, but the “T” the time-out, is most important. Everybody, even if it’s just for ten minutes a day, all moms need to take a time-out, a mommy time-out at [indiscernible] and do something just for yourself, whether it is going for a walk down the block, whether it’s going to meet some friends at a coffee shop, whether it’s going literally into a corner and standing on your head and doing a handstand, whether it’s doing yoga, whether it’s meditating, whatever it may be, take ten to fifteen minutes. Everybody can do it. Something that my friend [indiscernible] always says, she says “Wake before the quake.” Wake up a few minutes earlier than all the kids are waking up and do something just for yourself. Perhaps it’s having a cup of tea and reading the newspaper. Do that something for yourself because the rest of the day’s going to be taken away from you. It’s really important to have that time-out.
The “C” is the care. We need to care for ourselves. We’re so busy caring about everybody else. We’re caring about our kids. We’re caring about our families, our mother, our father, our sister, our brother, our cousins, our aunts, our uncles. We, as mothers, are the caretakers. We care about everybody else. Sometimes though, we need to step back and say, “Whoa. What about me?” If I was falling apart, and I wasn’t feeling well, and I wasn’t taking care of myself -- the “C” is extremely, extremely important.
Again, the “H,” the help, you have to ask for help. I know when I first started out when I had just one kid fourteen years ago, I thought, in my mind, I could do it all. I could work. I could be super mom. I had a vision about what I could be. Reality is, I can't do it. I can't do it all by myself. I don't want to be that super woman, super person, super-human person. I want to be able to do the best that I can. I also want to ask for help and not be scared to ask for help. There's no reason that anybody should be ashamed or scared to ask for help. Not even just to have help with the kids, but it’s help with work, it’s help with the dog, whatever it may be. Ask for help. The worst that can happen is somebody's going to say no. Best-case scenario is somebody's going to say yes. Always ask for the help.
Zibby: I like it. I feel like sometimes when I ask for help, by the time I go through all the things that I need to make that help happen I could've just done whatever it was myself. Do you ever feel that way?
Lyss: Yes, I do. Sometimes people say, “I can't afford a nanny. I can't afford a babysitter. I don't have time. Then I can't go out at night. I can't go to a movie. I can't go to a dinner with my husband.” I always say, “It’s not [indiscernible] with that money part of it.” You can ask a family member, ask your neighbor. Somebody, I'm sure, would give you an hour, half hour, forty-five minutes of their time so that you can go out and do something. Especially as a new mom with those first few weeks when the baby’s home, it’s so important if you're married to go out on a date night and do something just between the two of you. That baby takes over your whole entire life. It’s really important.
Zibby: Good advice. By the way when you said, “Look in the mirror in the morning and decide which woman you want to be,” there are definitely days where I've woken up and I've realized when I'm at school drop-off that I have yet to look in the mirror. [laughs]
Lyss: Oh, stop.
Zibby: No, it’s true. Not all the time, but it has happened before where I run to the ladies’ room at drop-off. I was like, “Oh, my gosh. I haven't even brushed my hair.” Normally, I can get it together. Normally, I look pretty put together. Some mornings get the better of me.
Lyss: Listen, there are many mornings [indiscernible] where my hair is in the bun [indiscernible] at drop-off. That's the way that it is. It’s not necessarily even about how you look in the morning. It’s about that person inside that we want to be for that day.
Zibby: I like it.
Lyss: Setting a goal early in the morning.
Zibby: Even just not letting the day happen to you, but from the outset trying to have a strategy, how you're going to approach the day.
Lyss: Which happens a lot. I also talk about in the book too, I know it’s so hard, but keeping a calendar and keeping a family calendar. We have all these different schedules, especially if you're a working mom. You got to keep to it. You have to keep focus. Learning to say no -- we’ll talk about that later on -- is also really key.
Zibby: You're absolutely right. In your “Time for a New Mind-Set” section you wrote something I have to read out loud so people can hear this. “I spent a few years in therapy. There. I said it. Although not a lot of women will talk about it, so have they. How many women do you know who are popping antidepressants and/or Ativan like candy? More than you think. Why? Because we’re unhappy. We’re stressed to the breaking point. We may smile, but’s all bull. I'm grinning from ear to ear right now, and I'm pissed as hell that my kid is interrupting me while I'm trying to write for five freakin’ minutes, but I'm smiling.” I thought that was hilarious. I could see you sitting there doing that whole thing.
In your mind, what you do think? Why do you think moms like us are so stressed these days? I don't feel like my mom and my grandmother were this stressed at all. Who can we blame for this? Let's point some fingers.
Lyss: Let's blame Kim Kardashian.
Lyss: How ‘bout this? Let's blame social media. A lot of pressure comes from social media. I’m constantly talking to especially my older kids, the fourteen-year-old and the eleven-year-old, about social media. Not all of it, but a lot of it’s smoke and mirrors. So many women and moms, just like our teenagers on Facebook and social media, they go to Instagram. They go to all these different things. They see these perfect families and these perfect lives, which we all know are not perfect, and the perfect meals that these mothers are cooking, and yet they work long hours, but yet everything is their home is perfect.
There's a lot of extra pressure today that women are putting on themselves. Our mothers didn't have that. There was no social media back in the day. I hate the word “perfect.” It’s the worst word in the world. It should be taken out of the dictionary. So many women today, they look at the magazines. You look at the cover of the magazine. Beyoncé just had a baby. Three weeks later, she's back on the cover of a magazine. This reality star had a baby two weeks ago and yet she’s in a bikini again with perfect, perky boobs on the cover of a magazine. This isn't real. There's a lot of social pressure for moms that don't feel like they're living up to what they're seeing, whether it’s on TV or on social media. It’s a lot to deal with it.
Zibby: You're right. I'm going to throw my two cents in here because I was trying to evaluate this myself. All of the electronics, not just the social media, but the fact that so much can be done so quickly means that we have to do it that way. My mom had a date book. I just wrote an article about this. My mom had a red leather date book. She kept it on the kitchen counter and scribbled in it when we had a playdate. She didn't have the ability to bring her phone places and sync it fifteen times and make playdates and send playdate requests. It was all slower and easier. Now, we can email. It’s too much.
Lyss: I agree with you. It’s too much. You're on these group texts with parents. Everybody has an opinion about something. One group text can go on for hours and days about something [indiscernible]. It’s too much information being thrown at us all the time. Yes, I agree with you. Technology has a lot to do with it. I don't know about you, but at night I try and put my phone in either a different room like in the kitchen, or I try and put it on the other side of my bedroom. I know from back when I first started out with my iPhone [indiscernible] the kids, I would sleep with it next to my bed. It’s not normal. You get up at two, three in the morning, check my emails. It’s not healthy. The brain needs to have a little bit of detox. It’s really important for us moms to sometimes put that phone down. I know it’s hard. Sometimes we have to do it.
Zibby: You're absolutely right.
Lyss: We need to be present. I know it’s so much easier for me sit here and say -- I'm not saying everybody put your phone down. There are a lot of articles being written about it. Kids need to see that their parents are present, not just sitting there on a beach on their phone the whole time, talking to their friends or looking at Instagram or whatever they're doing, or [indiscernible] the park with their kids. You can bring the phone, but we have to be present there for our kids.
Zibby: Totally. But don’t put the phone down now listeners or you won't be able to hear this podcast. Do it later. You can toss it out the window, but not yet. [laughs]
To switch gears a little, I found the part that you wrote about your dad and your relationship with him and how he was undergoing chemotherapy when you were growing up to be so moving and so open. I really, really appreciate that you shared that in the story. It opened up a whole new side of you. I've known you for such a long time. I didn't even know that. I'm really glad you shared it. Thank you. You say in your book you learned that life wasn’t fair from an early age. That was your takeaway because all your friend’s dads were there. Why was your dad the one coming home throwing up, which is heartbreaking.
Although he overcame that part of the disease, he eventually succumbed to esophageal cancer years later when he was sixty-six. You ended up going away on a retreat after he passed away. You say in the book that you hadn’t mourned properly. I feel like that, by the way, is putting so much pressure on yourself. I'm thinking, “God, is there a right way to mourn?” You started having all these physical, medical type issues as a result because our bodies, we can't fool them for that long. Sorry. That was a really long introduction to this question.
How do you think that your dad’s sickness has shaped you into who you’ve become?
Lyss: Let me backtrack. When he was sick and I was younger, it was hard for me. Again, my friends’ fathers were healthy. Everyone's dads were around. My dad was [indiscernible]. I was spending a lot of time as teenager. He was sick when I was younger [indiscernible]. I have very few memories of that [indiscernible]. [indiscernible] I remember vividly spending a lot of time [indiscernible]. I remember he would come home very sick. That affected me. I called one of my girlfriends after a hospital visit with him. I was hysterical crying. She said, “I know. I had a really bad day too. My nail polish chipped,” and blah blah blah. Again, that was her mind that she had a bad day, at the time you're fifteen, you're going on a date, and your nail polish chips.
I remember going up to my mom. I was hysterically crying. My mom’s like, “You know what? Life isn't fair. You're going to get through this. It’s going to make you stronger.” Back then, I didn't understand it. When you have a sick parent -- I had a younger sister who I needed to be there for. I needed to be strong. It made me a lot stronger. Going back to the mourning part, there's no right or wrong way to mourn. What happened to me was as a parent, I always knew he was going to pass away. The question was always when. He got much sicker as he got older. [indiscernible] when he passed away, we had the funeral. We sat shiva. In the Jewish religion, that's what you do. Then it was back to the kids, back to work. Personally, I don't think I took enough time to really mourn, if that makes any sense. There's no rhyme or reason. Everybody has their different ways of doing it. For me personally, I think I needed just a little bit more time. I went back to, boom, everything just the way that it was the day that we were done sitting shiva.
To make a long story short, also what happened to me was I started -- again, I wasn’t properly eating. I wasn’t exercising. I wasn’t taking care of myself. I wasn’t feeling well. I was getting very, very, very bad urinary tract infections. No, it wasn’t from sex. Everybody thinks you're probably having a lot of sex. I believe it’s the stress that was building up inside. I was keeping it inside of me. They say that urinary tract infections can be caused by a lot of stress. When I started going to these different doctors, they sent me to a specialist. I’d get one. It would go away. I’d have another one the next day. I know that UTIs, they supposedly do come back once you get them, but this was not normal the way that they kept coming back. I went to another specialist. He said, “Let's send you for a CAT scan. You need an MRI. You need this. You need that. You're going to need to come in. We’re going to need to put you under. I'm going to need to do more tests on you.”
I'm saying to myself, “Let’s take a deep breath. Why don't you go on a retreat by yourself? Before you do any of this, which you're probably going to have to do, just go on a yoga retreat.” To make a long story short, my friend from college actually just started [indiscernible]. It’s called [indiscernible]. It’s up in the Berkshires. It’s yoga, wellness. I said, “Sign me up. I'm going. I have to do this for myself.” I went. I sat down with somebody. I told them how I was feeling. I was sluggish. My foods that I was eating that were terrible, that weren’t healthy, too many sugar foods. I wasn’t exercising. After a few days there I felt so much better with the healthy eating, with the walking, with the exercising.
I remember going on a hike up to the mountain. We got to the top of the mountain. Someone was following me, trailing me. I remember saying, “I need a moment here.” It saved my life. There was this big rock up there. I sat down on the rock and just started crying. It was my breaking point. I hit rock bottom. At that moment [indiscernible] all these emotions and feelings coming out of me. At that point it was like, “I need to be taking better care of myself. I can't do this. I need to become that bitch. I need to learn to say no. I need [indiscernible]. I can't be everything to everyone at once all the time anymore. Lyss needs to go on long walks. She needs to go take an exercise class. I need to start eating healthier.”
I remember walking into my apartment a few weeks later and talking to my husband. He's like, “How was it?” “It was amazing.” I said, “I have to make changes here in the house.” If I'm not happy inside, then the kids aren’t going to be happy. I want to give them happy life, happy wife, happy mom, happy kids. I need to make [indiscernible] better for myself and for the kids. He's completely supportive of it. I started eating better, going to sleep earlier, saying no, not being there saying “Yes, yes, yes.” I can't be yes-ing everybody. Made some concrete changes. It really helped.
Zibby: That's so inspiring. Thank you for that. I needed that.
Lyss: We just get so consumed with everything and everything. We as mothers need to take care of ourselves as well. It’s really important. I hear this so many times from moms. “I don't have time. I wind up eating all the kid’s food. I don't keep a healthy refrigerator.” It’s just as easy when you go to the food store to buy healthy food as it is to buy the junk food. I'm not saying to cut out all junk food and not to eat their grilled cheese crust or their half a pizza or whatever’s left of the pizza. I'm not saying that. Start making little changes. It changes eventually. I started feeling so much better. I have the energy again. I wasn’t always wiped and tired and exhausted. Once I started eating a little bit better, I really started to see changes.
Zibby: That's great. My recent nod to trying to get everybody to eat healthier is instead of having snacks from the grocery, I'm only going to buy snacks from the health food store. If they come from the health food store, they can't be that bad, right?
Lyss: It’s a great idea. Our children learn from us. We’re the role models. If we’re eating healthier, they're going to eat healthier. People are thinking, “How can you stuff your kids with more fruits and vegetables?” Because that's what we always have in the house. That's what we keep in the house. My kids have always learned eating fruits and vegetables because we’re always eating them.
Zibby: I’ll try to do that too.
Lyss: I'm not saying get rid of everything else. If you eat fruit, they’ll eat fruit.
Zibby: Yes, I agree. Let’s switch gears before you dig too deep into my terrible diet these days.
Lyss: In the summer? Don't worry. Please. I've been on an ice cream [indiscernible]. It’s summer.
Zibby: You have another chapter called “Get Your Shit Together.” I now owe another dollar in the cursing drawer. You talk a lot about men and their limitations. You say in particular, I'm going to quote here, “Men are not meant to be multitasking. Their minds just don't work that way, so that leaves me and only me to cope with a mountain of to-dos that must get done. Is it fair? Of course not. No one said motherhood was fair.” That was your quote.
I have to say when I read that two nights ago, I was sitting on the couch with my son, who’s eleven. I had read him a couple of my recent articles, which he was enjoying listening to, which was shocking to me. At the same time he was watching Monday Night Football on TV. I said at the end, “That was so sweet of you for listening to my articles tonight.” He's like, “You know what? I call it multitasking.” I was like, “Are you kidding? You're sitting on the couch watching football. I'm literally reading you something. You're doing nothing.”
Lyss: In his mind, he was multitasking. That's beautiful.
Zibby: He was. I could see that was a challenge. I really do think that is harder, not for all men, but for some men to really master that ability that as a woman a lot of us have to do. There's no choice. There's eight million things going on all the time. You also go on to say how, ironically, the more you depend on the men to do some of the stuff around the house or that you need to get done, one of the things on the task list, the more they actually feel valued. You call it “chore play,” which is adorable and so funny and how it can actually help your sex life too. Tell me more about this whole thing.
Lyss: For most friends that I talk to and women in general about the men, the complaint is that they usually just can't multitask. We as women, we just do it all. We get it all done. I'm not saying all. We make the doctor’s appointment. We get the food, whatever it is we need. We meet with teachers. Yes, some husbands do go to meetings. Some husbands do food shopping. I'm not saying they don't do anything. As a whole, women do it all and never think about it. Oh, this needs to be cleaned. Oh, I need to do the laundry. Oh, I need to fix that. If we don't do it, it doesn't get done. At the same time, what I notice is when I would ask my husband to do things, little by little he kind of liked that I asked him. Could we give him some of the chores?
We need to make it more that not that it’s chores, but that we’re partners in this. In parenting and in the household, women can't do it all. Give them some things to do. Actually, they’ll feel good about it. They’ll like it. One of the things my husband does now -- he loves it. He works out in the morning. He usually goes to Whole Foods. He picks up food. Then he comes home and gets showered and gets ready for the day. My husband goes to Whole Foods. It's so cute. My friends are always like, “I see your husband in Whole Foods all the time.” I say, “[indiscernible] fruits and vegetables and whatever.” It’s great. Once you give them something to do and it’s something that they might actually enjoy, it makes things a lot easier. You have to give them, not give them, but say, “Hey, can you do this?” Then they’ll go, not “Great!” but “Yeah. I can do that.” Then they do it. They own it. That's something so important that we need to delegate to our husbands or significant other. Give them something [indiscernible] every person.
Zibby: I could really sit here and talk to you all day long. We’re coming to the end. I have to ask just another question or two before I pass my…
Tell me what's going on with Diva Moms these days. You started Divalysscious Moms, I can't remember in what year. I should've written it down.
Lyss: It’s okay, 2003.
Zibby: 2003. I should've known because your son is fourteen. What is it now? Where do you see it going? You have a bazillion members following you. You do events. You do everything. Tell listeners a little more about it.
Lyss: [indiscernible] marketing company to moms. We are hired by companies whether it’s the newest bicycle that's coming out, whether it’s the newest whatever it is, if it’s a restaurant, if it’s a movie, if it’s a book. We’re direct marketing to the moms through our database and/or on social media, or also whether we’re hosting an event for a company, whether we’re throwing a party. Also, I'm working on another book right now. I'm working on a children's book.
Zibby: No way.
Lyss: It’s about a daughter [indiscernible]. We’re trying to sell that. I'm working on another book for moms interviewing different mom moguls about what it’s really like being a working mom. We’re just in the beginning stages of that. We’re just writing the introduction and all that other good stuff right now, getting the proposal ready but we haven't [indiscernible]. I'm also working on two different projects actually with my sister and my husband. My husband’s in the entertainment industry. He's a manager and producer. One of which is a scripted dramedy, dramatic comedy, about my mother who’s a complete character. Her name is [indiscernible]. The show is called #[indiscernible] who we know in this day in age was married for forty-five years, and her becoming who she is today in this world of technology and social media, her relationship with her two daughters and her grandchildren. It’s quite something to say the very least. We’re working on that. We’re also working on a docu-style TV show about one of my friend’s daughters, which is really exciting. I'm not going to give it away yet. We’re starting to take meetings with that. We have things, but working more of getting into the production side of things. We’ll see what happens.
Zibby: Wow. That all sounds awesome. I'm totally watching that show. I have some pretty funny characters in my life as well. That sounds amazing. I won't even ask how you have time to do anything. Clearly, you have time to do this podcast. Thank you so much for doing it.
Lyss: Of course. Thank you so much for having me. I'm so glad you love the book. To all the moms listening, motherhood is a b#tch. Don't let anybody tell you differently. Become that woman that you want to be. Say no. Take care of yourself. Everything else is going to fall into place, hopefully.
Zibby: Aw, thanks Lyss.
Lyss: Thank you so much, Zibby. Have a great day.
Zibby: Thanks. You too. Buh-bye.