If you’re a mom feeling burned out, overextended, or just in need of some extra day-to-day joy, entrepreneur and Goal Digger podcast host Jenna Kutcher has answers. She also has plenty of practical tips, parenting hacks and some really creative ways to engage with your kids — but we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
Kutcher penned the upcoming book How Are You, Really? which is packed with helpful life how-tos, from unlocking your creativity to building an authentic, supportive community around you. SheKnows chatted with Kutcher about her favorite strategies when it comes to navigating parenting, and you might want to whip out a pen and paper because it’s all great stuff.
SheKnows: In your book, you mention having a little more of Aretha Franklin’s R-E-S-P-E-C-T for your emotions, no matter how small they are. When it comes to being a mom, what are some of the emotions you’ve learned to have more respect for?
Jenna Kutcher: Oh my gosh. 8 million. I have a three and a half year old and she’s a deep feeler. If people come over to our house, sometimes they’ll hear her say, ‘Mom, I’m really frustrated right now,’ or ‘I’m mad.’ And it’s like, hey, that’s okay. Your feelings don’t scare me. It’s okay to feel them. On the flip side, when I get frustrated, I have to say, ‘Honey, I’m really sorry, but I’m getting frustrated right now.’ I think it’s really important as parents that we model feelings are welcome here, and it’s okay to express them without feeling like you have to get back to a state of happiness as quickly as possible.
I’ve recognized that happiness is not always the goal — it shouldn’t always be the end result. I actually think the most healed people allow themselves to process their feelings, work through their feelings, and accept their feelings.
SK: You tackle the subject of burnouts, which parents can certainly relate to! If your reader answered the “How are you, really?” question with “Totally and completely burned out,” what would be your suggestion?
JK: I think a lot of people are burnt out right now. It’s really incredible that all of us as human beings have been resilient and adaptable in a world that was filled with uncertainty for the last [few] years. One of the things that I recently heard during a meditation was…so many people used to feel this fire in their lives and right now they feel like ashes. In this meditation, it said, ‘All you need is one tiny ember to fan that flame again.’ I loved that because so many of us feel burned out. We don’t feel passionate anymore. I would say invite the right people and voices and influences into your life to fan your flame again.
But also remember that it never left you. It’s always been there. For me, burnout has often been broken by figuring out what I’m passionate about, whether it has to do with work or career or life or motherhood. How can I find something that I care about that, I’m curious about, that I’m excited to do again and how can I invite that back into my life?
SK: I love how you discuss finding an outlet for your creativity, whether that’s making ceramics or learning how to knit. What would you suggest to a parent who is struggling with finding a work/life balance but wants to add some creativity to their life?
JK: I mean, your children are the best teachers when it comes to this. We are so obsessed with output that we’ve forgotten the simple art of playing. If you’ve ever played with Play-Doh or Kinetic Sand next to your child and then at the end of creating some epic castle or a snowman, you shove it all back into the box so that it doesn’t dry out, you recognize that the art of playing is enjoying it while you’re doing it, not the end result.
So, I would say, how can you and your child play together? This morning [my daughter and I] were drawing at six in the morning. By the time six o’clock rolled around, we had three paintings and ice skates made out of paper plates. I think it’s a really beautiful invitation for us to assess: where is my childlike curiosity? What would my ten-year-old self be sad to know that I no longer do in my life and how can I bring that back?
SK: In one section of the book, you talk about focusing on the patterns in life that you want and what choices you can make to get them. As a parent, what healthy patterns have you adapted that might be useful for other parents to try out?
JK: Every time that we sit down for a meal, we do some sort of question. We used to tease my mom that she was the queen of 21 questions. We were so embarrassed when our friends would come over growing up because they would get drilled with questions. But now as an adult, I’m like, ‘Oh, this is how we facilitate conversations and get to know each other even better.’
[Some questions have been], ‘What’s one food that you are really excited to eat this summer? or ‘What is one thing you want to try as a family?’ or ‘What was your favorite part of your day today?’ They’re so simple but it invites conversation. I think it teaches our children that mealtime is a sacred space. It’s not just about the food, it’s about gathering around the food.
On top of that, every night when I say good night to my daughter, I tell her three things I’m really proud of her for. I think it’s really important as parents to call out very specific things like, I’m really proud of the way that you picked up your sister’s toy when you noticed and no one was watching or I’m really proud of the way that you invited that kid to come play on the playground with you. It shows our kids that we’re paying attention. It also invites us as parents to be super present and remind them that we notice their efforts.
SK: The four-letter word you say that you used to always hate to ask for was “help.” What would you tell a mom who needs help but hates that word just as much as you did?
JK: I think that we feel like asking for help is weak. But if we flip the script on that, asking for help gives somebody else the opportunity to be strong. Has there ever been a better moment in your life when somebody asks you for help and you can give it? They always say, giving is far better than receiving. I’ve had to really reframe what asking for help looks like, in the sense of it’s not me being weak, it’s me giving someone else the opportunity to use their strengths.
If you really struggle to ask for help, get super specific about what sort of help you need. I think we move through life with these generic, ‘Hey, let’s get together soon, okay?’ or ‘Hey, let me know how I can help you!’ But one thing I’ve found in motherhood is getting so specific – ‘Hey, I know you’re having a rough day. I can do one of three things. You pick your option. A) I’ll bring over a casserole and I’ll leave it outside your door and you don’t even have to see me. B) I’ll come over and watch your kids while you go on a date night or C) I’ll grab your laundry, bring it home, do it fold it and return it.’ Like, getting so hyper-specific because a lot of times the people that need help don’t even know how to express what it is that would be helpful for them.
SK: You offer lots of journal prompts throughout the book. Is there one that you think would be particularly beneficial for a parent to try out?
JK: There’s this one line that I keep thinking about and it says, ‘What makes you snort laugh? What makes you belly laugh?’ It’s funny because even sometimes with my husband — we’ve been together for 13/ 14 years — sometimes I’ll have to say, ‘Hey, when’s the last time we just giggled together?’
There’s nothing better than hearing our children giggle. When was the last time as adults we did that? Just think: when is the last time you felt so alive and present, so joyful that you were laughing so hard your belly aches and how can you invite more of those moments in? I think the world feels really heavy these days, especially as moms. So, how can we invite in some of that lightness that we’re craving?
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.
Childbirth is nothing like in the movies, as these beautiful photos show.