LAist Interview: Jessica Denay of The Hot Mom's Club
Not knocking the strictly stay-at-home soccer moms of yesteryear with their mom jeans, feathered bobs and tuna casseroles, but Baby, we’ve come a long way. The sea change of the last decade has made Mom cool again, and not just because hipsters have appropriated their high-waisted pants and MILFs are TV plotline de rigueur (30 Rock’s “MILF Island,” anyone?). Parents in general and mothers specifically are throwing away the old books with their outdated rules determining what defines a stereotypical caregiver in favor of a broadened perspective that not only includes but embraces the non-traditional progressions to motherhood.
With women entering the baby-making game better educated and more career orientated than years past, the realization that childbearing doesn’t have to be synonymous with dowdy has been a welcome relief to those of us whose path has strayed from (or never even neared) that of our mother’s and grandmother's. No one knows this better than Jessica Denay, single hot mom and founder of The Hot Mom’s Club, a community-centered website and light-hearted (but indispensable!) book series dedicated to the re-envisioning of mothers everywhere. Lest you think Mom Talk is relegated to recipe exchanges and lice treatments, in the spirit of Mother’s Day I sat down with Denay to discuss the website, our kids, dating, her new book, The Hot Mom To Be Handbook, and a whole lot more.
So, for the uninitiated, how did HMC come about?
There’s never been a hotter time to be a mom then right now; it’s such an exciting time for mothers. The climate is just so accepting. My son is eight now, but nine years ago when I was pregnant and first had my son, people were like, “Oh, you’re a mom?" Suddenly I didn’t have anything interesting to say anymore. It just wasn’t cool and hip and as trendy as it right now. I really struggled to find that balance by between staying me and staying cool and hip and being a good mom. At the time when my son was first born, it was really frowned upon that if you didn’t give everything for your child, that if your world didn’t revolve around them, you were a bad mother.
And I fell into that rut. I was the stereotypical mom; I put my hair back in a ponytail, I wore the same thing three days in a row, I brought him to all the little Gymboree’s and all the little activities, and I thought I’m the best mom because I’m doing all these things. Then I started to realize I wasn’t as happy as I usually was. I was usually pretty outgoing before and I really felt like, “How can I be the best mom to him if I’m not the best me?” You really have to make your life bright so you have enough to shine on your children. What are you giving them? You have to be the best you.
Right. Getting rid of that guilt about having to do it all, all the time…
Yes. So, The Hot Mom’s Club actually started out as a joke in my living room with a couple girlfriends. I had my mom’s group and we just started calling ourselves "The Hot Mom’s Club” because it made us feel good. And by hot, we meant confident, empowered. So, what I realized was, through the years, any time I’d say, “Hey, do you want to be part of The Hot Mom’s Club?” they’d go “YES!” I’d say, “Do you want to know what it is, what we do?” And they’d say, “No, it doesn’t matter. I just want to be part of that Hot Mom’s Club. Just call me a ‘Hot Mom’.”
So, a couple years ago, somebody said to me, "You know, you should really go international with this. Everyone gets such a kick out of it." It never occurred to me to start it as a business. I had probably not even zero business experience, probably negative business experience. It was probably a good thing I had no idea what I was doing or no clue what we were getting ourselves into. [Laughs] So, we put up the website. I didn’t even know what a domain name was three years ago. I’m not kidding you. Within three weeks, we started to realize this was going to be a full blown job for me because we started getting flooded with emails. Within three months of having the site up, I had a book deal. Things just started happening. People were finding us, we didn’t even know how!
It’s just at the time, when The Hot Mom’s Club first launched, no one was really speaking to moms in this way. We couldn’t have timed it any better. Desperate Housewives had just come on TV, the celebrity baby boom was just starting, and we were the first mom site to really talk to moms in a cheeky, fun way that was cool and hip and really spoke to today’s mom about losing the guilt and that you’re not the best mom if you're not the best you. Now it’s commonplace, and that’s great. Look, we even have a mother running for president! I mean, it’s such a cool time. But at that time, it really wasn’t.
Brooke Burke | Photo courtesy of The Hot Mom's Club
Let’s talk about the handbook. It’s really a one-stop shop for pregnant woman. But while it incorporates all aspects of those nine months, I felt like remaining calm and staying comfortable in your own skin was the central recurring theme.
It’s about the balance. There’s going to be things you can’t control, there’s going to be times it’s going to get a little crazy. Take a deep breath, and just roll with it. When I first started, everything seemed so serious, it felt so tense, like you had to cross all these things off your list. You had to do this to be a good mother, whether it was bake the cookies instead of buy them – there were so many rules and so much competition if you were a working mom or a stay at home mom. I was like, let’s lose all that, why can’t we all just help each other? We’re all women, let’s be a support system for each other.
It’s like the idea that one kind of mothering is better than another. It’s not that I wanted all moms to be single working parents like myself, I just wanted to be recognized as an equal to a stay at home mom.
There’s a lot of different ways to be a good mother. Just because you work, doesn’t mean you’re a bad mother, just because you stay at home doesn’t mean you’re a bad mother. There’s a lot of different ways to be a great mom. And I think the better you know yourself and the better person you are, the better you’re going to be because our confidence is reflected in our children and our happiness is reflected in our children.
If any message can get out there from Hot Mom’s, that’s the big thing we want. Let’s face it, Mom is the nucleus of the family and when Mom’s happy, that affects everybody else and vice versa.
How did being a single parent influence this journey? Did it inform your drive to create this community around you?
For the majority of my life as a mom, I’ve been a single mom. So, it’s kind of all I know. But starting out, there’s part of me that thought maybe I did need a little more of that. I think the fact is, by nature I’ve always been social. I was always friendly with everybody, always tried to put people together. Ironically, I always tease my mom, I say, “Remember all those years I used to get in trouble for being on the phone, or talking too much? I was actually building my resume!” But little did I know I’d be able to make a job and a living out of this. I think I’ve always kind of had that need or desire in me to connect with people. I think [the previous perception of being a mom] hit me more because I was out on the dating scene. You’re dating guys and they’re like, “Oh…you’re a mom?” You realize wow, as a mother it’s a little more challenging, and from that, start to feel a little less confident? Maybe it did? I hadn’t really thought about it until you just asked that. I’m sure it did somewhere. But the girl who started this with me is married and she was feeling the same way I was. We just wanted the image of motherhood to change, we wanted people to look at moms the way they do now right now. But look back five or six years ago and it wasn’t the occasion. You totally understand what I was saying.
How long have you been a single mom?
Since my daughter was one. And I remember, in the early years, that it felt like there was this societal taboo about dating moms, or some preconceived notions about what a single mom brought to the table. Now it feels like that has lifted somewhat.
So, you know! I’ve seen a change. Guys actually think it’s cool to date a mom now. We have these shirts that say “I love Hot Moms” and they sell like crazy! And it’s young guys buying them! It’s so interesting to see how that totally flipped from that image of every mom looks like a soccer mom with mom jeans! I think they’re actually starting to appreciate that moms have more depth. There’s a sexiness about motherhood that’s always been there, I just think it’s being realized now.
I think the media and the celebrity baby boom have probably helped that somewhat.
It’s an exciting time to be a mother right now. When we first started The Hot Mom's Club, this is what I‘d hoped there would be for me at that time. There were sites for moms, but they didn’t speak to me, and the moms that we know. A mom that still looked hip and cool. It didn’t speak to me as a woman, it spoke to me as maybe a parent and that’s great, you need those resources, but you also need things that talk to you as a woman. You still have needs and desires, and it’s OK to indulge them. You’re actually doing it for the sake of your family, and you’re a better mother for it.
Yeah. Being a mom can be really integrated into your current life and lifestyle, it has to be. You can use your cool messenger bag as a diaper bag if you want to. You can still be in on the cutting edge, whether that's fashion or art or science or literature.
There is an importance to doing that, because you are a better mother. Because you’re filling your bucket. We believe motherhood broadens and expands you. You’re not merely just a mom. You’re a mom in addition to all those other amazing things you were before, you’re just broadened now. Incorporate that person you were before into your mothering. You’re a better mother for it, and everyone around you is better for it. Your relationships are better. You owe it to your kids to model for them by your relationship, with your husband or your partner or whoever it is. You’re the primary role model.
So, what does your son think, that you’re the coolest mom on the whole planet?
No, god no! [Laughs] Well, it depends, if he gets to watch a show, or he gets extra popcorn at the movies, then at that moment in time I’m the coolest mom on the planet. Depends on when you ask him! If he has to go to bed at a certain time, he might disagree. But you know what’s interesting, because of The Hot Mom's Club, he’s grown up with this. He just calls every mom a “Hot Mom.” Because he just thinks that’s what we are called. He said “Hot Mom” to one of his friends and I said, “Oh gosh, he’s either going to get kissed or slapped.”
Trista Sutter, Jessica Denay, Ming-Na Wen | Photo courtesy of The Hot Mom's Club
How do you think living in LA influenced your trajectory with this project? Do you think there was a geographic impact with it being such a cool hub and so accepting of change and pushing of boundaries?
Definitely, being in LA, being at the hub of what’s hip and new and trendy and the latest and the greatest has definitely helped because I’m able to see the trends before they’re mainstream. It’s really nice to be on the pulse of that. Plus, we’re able to get a lot of celebrity support and a lot of the media support, which has been a big help for us. Like anything else, you do what you know best. We had a great message that really resonated with a lot of moms. And then it just dominoes, and the word spreads and you’re able to do a few great events and next thing you know you have people coming to us, the celebrities and the publicists asking, “Can we do an event with you, how can we get to your moms?” We have such a great turnout because the moms that come to these events they’re so excited. I love our moms. Our members are just so cool. So awesome! They’re really into it, they’re great mothers, you just see that they’re happy.
And it’s not just about the celebrity presence.
Well, The Hot Mom's Club is everything. It’s just not being about being a celebrity. Really, the crux of it is the everyday mom. And I’m not an expert at being a mom. No one can be an expert at being a mom. We’re all learning everyday. I’m learning just like everybody else is. Some days I get an A, some days…[Laughs] I don’t think you can be an expert at being a mom if you have twenty kids. Every child is different, every experience is different. You’re different every year. You’re changing and evolving as they are. But I’m fortunate enough that I have access to the most credible people in each area. I can talk to these people on a daily basis in every area. And when I’m doing the research for the book, I can call up this person here, that person there. And what I want to do, the reason I write these books and the site is up there, is so that we can take all this information that we’re learning from all these great moms and these amazing influencers and share it with everybody. I mean, I would want to know it. It’s exciting to be able to share all this stuff. That’s the most exciting thing about this job, the people I get to meet.