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Our (Full) Interview with Ericka Sóuter, Author of How to Have a Kid and a Life: A Survival Guide

Updated: Oct 29, 2021

We are delighted to highlight Ericka Sóuter’s new book, How to Have a Kid and a Life: A Survival Guide. Ericka graduated from Georgetown in 1997 and took classes with both of us. She had planned to go to law school, but at Georgetown, her extraordinary talent as a writer began to take her in a different direction. She majored in English and became the youngest student to intern for the DC Bureau of People Magazine. Over the last twenty years, Ericka and I have spent many hours talking about motherhood. How to Have a Kid and a Life is not a how-to-parent-self-help book; the stork on the cover is carrying a bomb (a shocking representation to some), and the book is a survival guide for mothers. See our interview with Ericka below and you can buy Ericka's book from Amazon or bookshop.org.

 

You can listen to our interview here, or read it below

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Elizabeth Velez: Ericka, we’ve talked a lot about the desire to write a book about mothering, motherhood, and the way it’s situated in this culture. So that’s what we’re going to talk about today. Your book is called How to Have a Kid and a Life: A Survival Guide. How did this cover photo come about?


Ericka Sóuter: I kind of looked at motherhood as this crazy life change for me. And it was like this--you know, you picture in all of the popular images of motherhood and in artwork, this little bundle of joy just sweetly, calmly, quietly entering your life--it really was like a bomb dropping into your existence. And not necessarily in a terrible way, but it just changes everything about your life and your environment. And so, when I was working with the book publisher and we were coming up with ideas, the artist actually suggested, “Let’s have a stork do that. Let’s have a stork drop a bomb.” And I was like: that’s perfect.


Actually, I have to say--the stork dropping the bomb came before the title. So we were still considering the title, playing around with different phrasings and different words, and it really kind of--and this wasn’t actually the original title that we had decided on; I changed it a little late in the game because I wanted to be straightforward and honest because that’s what it is--how to have a kid and a life. That’s what I thought was missing from all of the books on motherhood and parenting. This book has nothing to do with how to raise a child, it’s really about how to raise yourself when you become this new person and this new mother.


Velez: I love that. I love the idea of--right, how to raise yourself because I think you’re right. There’s so much focus on “good mothering, bad mothering, this is what you do,” and I really appreciate that.


Pam Fox: How would you describe your intended audience for the book? Were you thinking about women writ large, were you thinking about mothers, were you thinking about a particular generation?


Sóuter: When I started interviewing mothers for this book, I wasn’t quite sure what the book was going to be. It went through a bit of an evolution, and the more interviews I did--I did about 150 total, which includes experts, therapists, researchers, moms, I sat in mom groups, I held focus groups in my apartment--it evolved into this, it became this message to people who are relatively early in motherhood. As I was writing, that’s what it felt like, but as I gave it to mothers who had more experience to read, they kind of liked those issues that I touched on that they still are dealing with. Motherhood is really this constantly evolving process because you mother a newborn one way, you mother a teen another. You’re kind of dealing with these shifts all throughout motherhood. So the intention was originally for new mothers because we’re kind of hit with the reality of a lot of these things that I talk about in the book that nobody else talks about, but then it’s also for people who are in the thick of it because there’s a lot that they can relate to, ad a lot to feel like, “Okay, this resonates with me.”


Fox: So how did you choose the people that you had in these focus groups inside your apartment, that you interviewed? Were these people that you knew? How were you able to attract all of these different types of women to talk about their experiences as mothers?


Sóuter: You know, my husband asked me the same thing! He’s like “Why are these people telling you these things?” And I said, “Because a lot of people don’t necessarily ask moms about how they think and feel outside of the day-to-day of taking care of their children.” So when I started the conversation, first I went to mothers I knew because I wanted to see if there were some real nuggets there, if there were things they wanted to talk about, things that were--not plaguing them, plaguing isn’t the right word--but things that were weighing on them. Then I started going to conferences. I went to the museum of motherhood conference. I went to the Not Mom Summit. I went to bloggers. I started just talking to mothers wherever I was, and then I just joined lots of mommy groups. Tons. Any mommy group that would let me come along, I joined. That’s how I started amassing all of this information and all of these insights. And sometimes, people were completely clueless about what they wanted and needed, and other times people had some great insights about what they would do differently or what they think they may have done wrong. I kind of pulled that all together and decided what to put inside.


Fox: Yeah, because it’s a really nice range. I really liked--and this is something I will ask about later--the way you would go to the Not Mom conference, women who are not interested in being mothers and that you were just as interested in getting their perspective as you are women who always wanted to be mothers or mothers under duress who did it anyway.


Velez: We have the same experience, Ericka, of having a teenager and a toddler at the same time. It’s interesting to me when I look at books that come out about motherhood, they are so focused on infancy. Sometimes I look at these books and think: when is somebody going to write a book about raising a nine-year-old or an eleven-year-old? I would imagine that you’re finding that each of your children have very different needs from you, from your partner, so how is that going?


Sóuter: I’m a different mom to my four-year-old than I am to my thirteen-year-old. Because you have to be, right? They’re barely in the same generation! It’s so strange! And that wasn’t necessarily my intention going in, I was really one of those people who was going to be one and done. I didn’t enjoy pregnancy, it was a very difficult pregnancy for me, I was very ill, so I thought, “I’m going to have this one kid, and that’s it.” And I got to this point where my older one was so easy. He was like eight, and he was such a quiet, bookish child, I thought, “Ah, we can do this again, and he should have someone to complain to when I’m old and annoying.”


So we thought, let’s see if we can have another child and we had Aiden. Aiden is a completely different child. I kind of thought I would have a similar, quiet, bookish child. Aiden is the most rambunctious--we had to bolt down every bookcase and mirror in our apartment once Aiden started moving. I found myself having to use different skills, and it’s hard, right? It’s like code-switching for motherhood, in this weird way because the older one needs something completely different--it’s not just his age, it’s his personality--than the little one does. I find it very difficult, but at the same time, I have found I’m having a lot more fun now that I’m a little older and I have a little bit more perspective.