Pregnancy + Parenthood

Artist and Podcast Host Elise Peterson Isn't a Regular Mom, She's a Cool Mom

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"It's definitely a Mean Girls reference," laughs Elise Peterson of the name she and cohost Lizzie Okpo chose for their podcast, Cool Moms. Suddenly, as a Juicy Couture-clad Amy Poehler dances across my mind, the joke of that title becomes clear: While the blogiverse and social media alike have told us many times over what the perfect, Cool-with-a-capital-C mom looks like, Peterson and Okpo have made it their mission to shatter that veneer. This is a podcast that features moms who are doing cool things in the world, for sure. But they also talk about the real stuff you don't see on Instagram—the crusty food stains, the challenges of raising a child in a long-distance partnership, a Gen-Zer negotiating life as a single mom.

This is what motherhood looks like in 2019, and no one knows that better than Peterson. "I've lived a lot of life in a short amount of time," she says—a nod to her very eclectic career path, which culminated in an opportunity to illustrate two different children's books. The first features a sex worker parent; the second, two brothers with a single mom. "I thought it was really important to share honest narratives around parenting and motherhood," she says.

As fate would have it, Peterson learned she was pregnant while working on the first book. And as one of the first of her friends to get pregnant, she found that she had a lot of questions. She and Okpo launched Cool Moms to find some answers—because who knows better than other women who have gone through the same thing?

Below, Peterson talks breaking down stigmas, redefining self-care, and the power of community.

How did the idea behind Cool Moms come about?

I was one of the first of my friends to get pregnant—[we’re entering] that time as millennials, now that we’re in our thirties. And all of my friends were like, “How are you having a kid? How do you do it?” Especially being in a nontraditional relationship—whatever that means—and choosing to put my career first versus maybe settling down and living with my partner and instead following the work. I started Cool Moms to answer all these questions that I was getting because I didn’t have the answers and I didn’t want to act like I did. And there were all of these women that I found myself surrounded by that are super encouraging and I really admire. I really started to better understand the resilience and warmth and love of women, especially mother-to-mother.

Lizzy [Okpo, her cohost] got together and just started doing it for fun. We just wanted to create community because even though both of us are super alpha women—very ‘I can do it myself’—we realized there was no way that you can raise a child alone. And by alone, I even mean just with a partner—it absolutely takes a village. We honor women who prioritize their passions even while prioritizing motherhood, which is fucking hard.

What do you think it means to be a “cool mom?”

The title is definitely a Mean Girls reference! But I think there’s a deep fear for many women (including myself) that you’ll lose yourself in motherhood and become consumed by it. I made this promise to myself that I would honor myself always first, and then also honor motherhood after that because the greatest thing you can do for your child is live your truth and fully live for yourself in a lot of ways. It inspires kids to do the same for themselves. Those are the women I wanted to talk to. Women who are really passionate about something, something greater for themselves, something outside of family. Just being a mom is totally valid and enough, but it’s saluting women who chose to do even more than that because it’s a heavy load to bear.

What does motherhood mean to you in 2019? How are stigmas around motherhood changing?

One of the biggest things that’s changing is that there’s more accessibility to varied narratives—like Cool Moms, like Jodie Patterson and her new book, or LaTonya Yvette and her new book. Women are sharing stories that are honest and without any sort of pretense—just, “I’m doing all this and I’m a mom. And it’s okay.” And women have been doing that forever—I was just watching the Maya Angelou documentary and she was constantly traveling, sometimes with her son, sometimes not. Marrying men, divorcing men. Living her life in the most authentic way. Women have been doing this forever, now it’s just becoming more accepted because we are not letting up. We’re not letting people tell us what we can do and how we can do it.

Do you think there’s a unique pressure to parenting in the age of social media?

It’s a new, really superficial pressure: How does my kid look? Are we always presenting ourselves in the best way? Kids get messy, and look crusty, and have food on the side of their face. Sometimes you don’t have a clean onesie so you put the one on from yesterday and it’s not a big deal. But then there is this underlying anxiety of, “Oh god, I hope I don’t run into someone and my kid looks a mess, or I look a mess.” There’s so much privilege in it, to be quite honest, when it becomes about what I’m feeding my kid of what clothes I’m putting on his back. We all want to do the best for our kids, but what you do is enough, and it may not always be organic and locally sourced and locally made, and that’s okay too.

Do you think there’s a positive side to all that connectivity as well?

Absolutely, because social media also allows us to be in control of our narrative and in control of what my story is. Especially not living in the same place as my partner… it’s important to me to be honest and share to a certain capacity. It’s very sacred to us, but it’s also important to share a look at a different kind of partnership to show that there is more than one way for a family to work and to work well.

And also in general, galvanizing community. I’ve moved to LA now, which is a huge leap, and now I get to make art with a bunch of new moms and kids and get to know a whole new group of people. And that’s all because of the internet.

How does self-care factor into your routine?

Self-care is difficult. It changes [after becoming a mother]; it makes you value the small things that qualify as self-care. Sometimes, [self-care] is just when I put him to bed and I get to watch an episode of Law & Order SVU. And sometimes the best self-care because I just moved is when my friends from New York come to visit and we can just hang out, and it reminds me who I am.

Is there anything you wish you had known about motherhood when you first got pregnant? What advice would you offer to yourself, knowing what you know now?

To be kind and patient to myself. There’s nothing anyone can tell you to prepare you for motherhood because it is the same and different all in the same breath for everyone. But it’s about not being hard on myself, and knowing when to ask for help. That can sometimes be a scary thing to do.


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