Laissez-Faire Mom Laura Bennett: Let 'Em Eat Cake! Forget about food worries and birth plans: Project Runway finalist Laura Bennett has written a new book about a less anxious -- but no less caring -- brand of parenting. Didn't I Feed You Yesterday? covers everything from giving in on junk food to playing favorites -- and doing it all with style.
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Laissez-Faire Mom Laura Bennett: Let 'Em Eat Cake!

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Laissez-Faire Mom Laura Bennett: Let 'Em Eat Cake!

Laissez-Faire Mom Laura Bennett: Let 'Em Eat Cake!

Laissez-Faire Mom Laura Bennett: Let 'Em Eat Cake!

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/126607520/126647097" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Laura Bennett has six children (Peik, Cleo, Truman, Larson, Finn and Pierson) and writes a column on entertainment, parenting and fashion for The Daily Beast. She was originally trained as an architect. Courtesy of Laura Bennett hide caption

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Courtesy of Laura Bennett

Laura Bennett has six children (Peik, Cleo, Truman, Larson, Finn and Pierson) and writes a column on entertainment, parenting and fashion for The Daily Beast. She was originally trained as an architect.

Courtesy of Laura Bennett

She's got six kids between the ages of 3 and 22, but Laura Bennett is no soccer mom. She's not a PTA mom. And she's certainly not a contender for Mother of the Year.

That's because in keeping with the classic design eye she demonstrated as a contestant on Project Runway, Bennett subscribes to a more time-honored form of motherhood.

"I think I'm the same old mom that was around when I was growing up," Bennett tells NPR's Liane Hansen. "And for some reason we've kind of drifted away from that brand of motherhood."

In her new book, Didn't I Feed You Yesterday? A Mother's Guide to Sanity in Stilettos, Bennett shares her mother manifesto.

Bennett says, "Things have just gotten so crazy and out of hand, with helmets and seatbelts and what they eat and what preservatives are in there."

"Children grow up so fast," she says. "You can't get lost in the little stuff. You just have to sit back and enjoy it because it's just going to be gone before you know it."

So it's OK, Bennett argues, if your kids are only getting four healthy meals a week.

"I survived, I'm sure you survived, and I feel certain that all six of my children are going to survive."

And really, it's all about survival -- for both mother and child.

"I call it 'The Oxygen Mask Theory,'" Bennett says -- because to her, it's like when you're on an airplane and you're told to put your own mask on before your child's. The idea is you should take care of yourself and your kid, not just the latter.

Bennett has put a lot of thought into that mask.

"If I take some time for myself everyday, that's not selfish in any way, or hurting my children. That's actually helping them, because then I'm better for them. I'm more whole and more complete and more sane," she says.

But Bennett is not without a sense of humor about her parenting.

"I recently heard a version of that that I really liked," she says, referring back to the oxygen-mask metaphor. "If you're traveling with more than one child, choose your favorite."

And in her book, she isn't shy about sharing details of her children's quirks -- the son who picks up dates online, another who can be affectionate to the point of creepiness, the web-toed 6-year-old who calls himself "sexy" -- because she says those are things the family jokes about all the time.

That Bennett family sense of humor was featured on prime-time TV when Tim Gunn of Project Runway visited Bennett's Manhattan apartment during the show's third season and her youngest son welcomed him with turtle poop. The fastidious Gunn reacted with an emphatic "Ew!"

Bennett went on to win third place -- no small feat considering that she was competing while pregnant with her sixth child, Finn, and that she had no idea what she was getting herself into when she decided to try out.

"Auditions were at Macy's, which is just a few blocks from where I live," Bennett says. "So I grabbed three dresses that I had made from my closet and walked over there, totally not knowing how huge it would become."

Bennett says she got through the show's intense workdays by taking comfort in the view from the window of her Runway apartment in Manhattan -- a view that featured her children's bedroom window, seven blocks away.

"It's so much harder than it looks on television," she says of her time on the show. "But it's probably not harder than raising six children."

Excerpt: 'Didn't I Feed You Yesterday?'

Didn't I Feed You Yesterday?
Didn't I Feed You Yesterday?: A Mother's Guide to Sanity in Stilettos
By Laura Bennett
Hardcover, 224 pages
Ballantine Books
List price: $24

Prepare For Takeoff

Not long ago I was on an airplane with all six of my children. We were in that purgatory part of the trip between the use of electronic devices and the use of electronic devices. The plane was still being prepared for takeoff, but the area around our seats was already a disaster. Katrina herself couldn't have made such a mess so quickly. The floor was littered with crushed Goldfish and the wrappers from candy bought as appeasement gifts while waiting to board the plane. My husband was in the row behind me with our middle two children, who were engrossed in the age-old argument over the window seat. His row was equally trashed. My two oldest sat across the aisle from me, all wired up like cyborgs, both of them gripping their respective iDevices, the sound of music leaking through headphones momentarily suspended, the sound of clicking thumbs ditto. They simultaneously looked over at me with withdrawal and longing, somehow expecting me to amend the FAA's policy on airwaves.

I noticed over the cacophony that a woman in an ill-fitting polyester pant suit was standing in the front of the cabin, making strange hand gestures and trying to tell me something. I also noticed that she was holding an oxygen mask. My interest was piqued and her droning words came into focus.

"When traveling with children, please secure your own mask before assisting a child." Clearly, this woman was an oracle.

The other passengers seemed to have missed her message, but it made such clear sense to me: provide yourself with oxygen first, or you will be of no use to your children. If you run your own life, pursuing your own successes and coping with your own failures, you won't find yourself dwelling on missed opportunities or attempting to undo mistakes on the backs of your kids. Yeah, I thought, if Mama Rose had spent more time pursuing her own career, wouldn't Gypsy have been able to keep her clothes on?

The oracle went on to say something like "The nearest exit might be behind you," which, I have to be honest, didn't ring as clearly as the oxygen advice, but that was okay, I'd already gotten way more out of this trip than I could have imagined. I gained a sense of sanity: come what may, if I chose to do what I needed for myself, rather than trying to gauge beforehand what my parents, my mate, my friends, or society expects of me, I would be far more likely to make better choices, and to be happier with them. I not only learned that but also got the invaluable advice to remove my Manolos before exiting the plane onto a blow-up ramp. Equally important information if you simply don't want to puncture your life raft, or lose your favorite shoes in the ocean.

Being a mom in the twenty-first century can be a mixed bag of ugly. There are so many opinions about the job you're doing, offered freely and yet at great cost. There are books and blogs and radio programs and mom groups and lactation consultants and magazines and on and on. Never has there been so much accessible and contradictory information floating in the ether of parenting, and never has the concept of "my way or the highway" been so brutally administered. We have collectively micromanaged our pregnancies and written our superfluous Birth Plans and succumbed to the pressure of feeding our kids 100 percent organic hand-milled baby food using a reduced carbon footprint. These unrealistic goals have created a population of neurotic mothers whose neurotic kids inevitably end up at my house on a playdate.

I have chosen a more retro approach to parenting. For one thing, I have six children, a very old-fashioned number. And by having so many I have discovered one of the great secrets to being a perfect mother: there is no such thing.

From the day my mother picked up her first Dr. Spock guide to the onslaught of the How to Expect What Your Baby Expects of You types of titles, there have been scores of books on every facet of the parenting equation. When I was first pregnant, twenty years ago, times were different. There were no Internet chat rooms or message boards where women felt free to demoralize other mothers. But with each child I've produced, there has come an increasing tide of perfectionism that has slowly overtaken basic human instinct. Don't get me wrong; I like a healthy, well-adjusted child as much as the next person. But do I really need an owner's manual? Don't you just turn it on and fix it when it's broken?

Call me crazy, but it seems to me that the spike in postpartum depression has occurred hand in hand with the increase of parenting advice available to new moms. The plummet of hormones and the uptick of expectations cross over each other in the most fragile of environments -- a healing mother and a helpless, squalling bundle of nerves. Childbirth sucks, and it's frankly a miracle that we're not all dead from it -- it's no wonder some women walk away with invisible scars to go with the visible ones. But childbirth is a cakewalk compared to motherhood. The women I know who keep focused on their own survival typically break through the web of high-strung mothering that has unfortunately become the norm. Why on earth would a complete stranger ever ask you whether you breastfed or not? I might be a throwback, but I think who sucks on me and how often in the privacy of my own home is my business.

I have consistently put my neck on the chopping block, both as a mother and as a woman -- most famously during a stint on a reality show called Project Runway, where people compete to be the next top fashion designer. I had zero related experience when I auditioned for the show, but I loved watching it so much I thought, Why not me? I got myself in the room, and went further than I could have ever imagined. Through my actions, I showed my kids what was possible, and though they may have gone unbathed those few weeks I was away, I assure you they survived.

I am frequently asked, How can you possibly manage six children? And work? And look so put together? When pressed, I will admit that my approach is twofold: I always take care of myself, and I parent my children my way, not the way others expect me to. I get my oxygen first. When I stop and think about it, I often find that my worst days are in direct proportion to how far I let myself drift away from that yellow plastic mask. Motherhood is the hardest job in the world. Around kid number four I realized that the only way to survive it is to have a sense of humor. After all, the tragic often becomes comedic in the retelling.

Excerpted from Didn't I Feed You Yesterday? by Laura Bennett. Copyright 2010 by Laura Bennett. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House, Inc.