By Jessica DuLong, CNN
We have all heard ad nauseum about the necessity of life balance for mothers — including the assertion that it will make you a better parent. But adding self-care to your mile-long to-do list can feel impossible when you’re already juggling too much.
Zibby Owens, author, publisher, podcaster and mother of four, has a different take. Instead of calling it self-care, she says, let’s think of it as reclaiming time for life.
Owens’ mission throughout her podcast “Moms Don’t Have Time To Read Books“ and Zibby Books enterprise is to promote community, connection and solidarity among parents and caregivers. Instead of offering quick-fix strategies, Owens centers the camaraderie that can fuel real-life sustainability.
Her latest anthology, “Moms Don’t Have Time to Have Kids,” features short essays on sleep, sex, sickness, writing, weight loss and friendship that she hopes caregivers can pick up whenever they need a quick reset.
Owens sees this anthology as a tool to help ease the strain on pressured parents, mothers in particular, mid-pandemic and beyond.
This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.
CNN: You make plain that you’re not an activist working to change the realities of modern motherhood. What is your goal?
Zibby Owens: Even if I can’t necessarily change the workload, I want to bring a sense of humor and community to what we’re going through. I’m not trying to make light of how heavy it can feel or the weight of responsibilities, particularly during this time of Covid-19. I’m advocating for making tiny tweaks in our daily path toward regaining our sanity.
Sometimes that’s all we can do in a day. It might not work, it might not work every day, but it’s essential to try. I manage my own anxiety by connecting to others through writing, reading and podcasting. That’s the work I’m looking to share.
CNN: What do you want readers to get out of your latest book?
Owens: I want to acknowledge what we’re going through, reminding us we’re not alone and that we will get through this.
We may need to laugh a little more and use whatever little pockets of time we can to read, write, listen or whatever will help us restore ourselves. We can respect ourselves enough to demand our sanity back.
CNN: How can parents and caregivers strike a better balance between acceptance of their current reality versus settling?
Owens: The way modern parenthood — particularly modern motherhood — is set up is almost structurally impossible. We can stress ourselves out nonstop, which I’ve tried, or we can acknowledge what we can’t change.
I can’t stop the rain from coming down, but I could buy an adorable umbrella and start singing, right? That’s what I’ve decided to do, because life is short. That may sound hokey, but I come to this from a place of loss.
CNN: You recently wrote about a close friend of yours who died during the September 11 terrorist attacks. How has her death impacted your life and work?
Owens: My day-to-day frame of mind is shaped by the sense that we have this ticking clock and we have to make the most of life. People ask me why I’m always working so fast. I’m trying to fit it all in.
Not to be to macabre, but when life ends, we don’t get to do this again, as far as we know. If we don’t spend time with friends, have sex, sleep, work out, take a walk or make time to breathe, we’re really going to regret that. Without those, what is life?
Even in the depths of grief, on the hardest day, you need to turn to humor and your community and make connections or it’s just unbearable.
CNN: Parents, particularly mothers, struggle to care for everyone else. Now don’t you think there is added pressure because they are supposed to squeeze self-care into their jam-packed days?
Owens: I don’t really buy into self-care. I don’t even call it that. Instead, this is about using our time differently and taking even just a few minutes to regroup. What we do in really small doses can have a huge impact on our day-to-day lives.
Part of why we kept the pieces in “Moms Don’t Have Time to Have Kids” so short is that taking five minutes to read an essay might change your whole outlook on your day. That quick reset is right at your fingertips in a way that’s easier than taking 45 minutes to schedule a time to see a friend, and then the 20 minutes you’re actually going to spend together once either of you is 10 minutes late. … You could have just opened the book!
A lot of people aren’t in the habit of reading in the middle of the day, or reading for self-care, but taking a few minutes to reset through literature, an essay, a podcast or an article can be a great way to get out of your own head.
CNN: Many of us feel conflicted because we recognize our blessings and privileges, yet we’re genuinely overwhelmed.
Owens: I’m the first person to discount my own struggles, prefacing whatever I’m feeling with “woe is me” or “cry me a river.” I wrote a whole essay called “Too Lucky to Cry on Easter” after a crying stint on the bathroom floor thinking, “How can I do this? I’m blessed and so lucky in ways big and small.” But you can’t measure my pain relative to your pain. They are all different. Punishing yourself for crying doesn’t help.
If your child is sick, if your friend is dead, if your family member is in the hospital, if your family is splintering apart, it’s going to hurt. It doesn’t matter what brand you’re wearing or what’s in your bank account. Human pain is something that we all share.
CNN: In his essay in your anthology, Richie Jackson applies his experiences as a gay man living through the AIDS epidemic to the Covid-19 pandemic. He had learned that “taking care of yourself is a sacred obligation so that you can be healthy enough to take care of others.” Do you see that play out in your own life?
Owens: One of my jobs as a parent is to be a good role model. The other day, I mentioned seeing a friend and my daughter said, “Mom, you don’t really have any friends.”
“What do you mean?” I asked. “I have so many friends.”
“Well, you never see them.”
I realized then she doesn’t see me emailing, texting or calling my friends, or making them a priority. What am I really teaching her? I’m inadvertently showing my daughter that friendship is not super important, when it is.
Part of reconceptualizing how I spend my time also shows my kids what’s important — more important than some of the mundane things they see me do as a mom.
CNN: The wide range of perspectives featured in this anthology cement the reality that there is no one best way to raise kids. How do you manage the uncertainty?
Owens: We will make a million mistakes, but that’s OK, because we’re trying to solve an impossible puzzle. While we’re at it, let’s have a drink or a warm chocolate chip cookie and laugh about it.
We’re in this together. Whether you’re a mom with a screaming baby or have a teenager with a really complex problem, even if it’s going to be a bad day, you’re not going to be doing it alone.
We may be physically separated but hopefully, thanks to my content, people will feel that we’re all on the same page.
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Jessica DuLong is a Brooklyn-based journalist, book collaborator, writing coach and the author of “Saved at the Seawall: Stories from the September 11 Boat Lift” and “My River Chronicles: Rediscovering the Work that Built America.”