Being mama: Kristina Kuzmic
The vlogging sensation talks unfiltered parenting, pulling herself back from the brink and… peeing her pants.
Not everyone would post a picture of their own pee-drenched tush on social media, but her truthful portrayals of parenthood – occasional postpartum incontinence, and all – are the very reason Kristina Kuzmic has 2.5 million followers. “I knew some people would relate!” says the mother of three who was, quite literally, pant-wettingly excited when her home country, Croatia, beat Russia in the World Cup quarter-final. #wearingadiapernextgame.
Hailed as the truth-bomb mom, Kristina’s YouTube channel boasts titles to the tune of: ‘How to NOT mom-shame (a handy tutorial)’, ‘I’m not your friend, kid! (Because I love you.)’ and ‘I was the perfect mom… until I had kids!’, the latter showcasing the belly of Kristina’s kitchen pantry where she squats, under a plastic tiara, speaking candidly on the struggles of mothering while stuffing whipped cream-laden crackers in her gob.
“I’ll try to make a really important point, but I do it with comedy because people can relate to it. Also, I feel like humour is the best way to combat stress.” The Los Angeles local demonstrates as much by describing an especially sticky situation where her kids – Luka 15, Matea 13, and four-year-old Ari– are “late for school, somebody just threw up and the dog is eating something it shouldn’t be. In that moment we have a choice whether to pull our hair out and scream or to make light of it, and laugh at it. You have to learn to laugh at it because if you’re not laughing at it, you’re going to be crying.”
Having moved, at 14, from war-torn Croatia to the US, Kristina is no stranger to turmoil. “Shrapnel from a grenade hit my home and went through the window of my bedroom,” she recalls. “Thankfully, we were not in the house at the time.” Years later, after divorcing her first husband, she found herself sleeping on a floor, feeding her toddlers with food stamps and battling severe depression.
“I thought about ending my life. I thought I wasn’t good enough for my kids. I had the darkest thoughts that I could have,” she says. “I needed someone to make me laugh and tell me all this craziness of kids is normal. I needed someone to encourage me. I needed someone to tell me, ‘I’ve been there, and I hated my life, and now I actually love my life’. So everything I do comes from that place: what did I need when I was there?”
At rock bottom, Kristina sent an email to friends, inviting anyone they knew who was struggling – emotionally or financially – to her tiny apartment for a weekly, home-cooked dinner. “It was incredibly empowering because at that time in my life I felt so worthless, like I had nothing to offer. Those dinners showed me that I didn’t have to have a lot to give a lot, and that if I just focus on the short list of things I’m capable of instead of the long list of things I don’t have or can’t do, that’s where my path to healing and joy lies.”
In 2011, she was chosen from 20,000 applicants as the winner of Oprah’s Search for the Next TV Star, and went on to host a season of her own reality show, The Ambush Cook. “Having the cooking show, and the interactions I had with Oprah, really gave me the confidence to put myself out there and be vulnerable,” says Kristina. “[So] I decided to start creating my own content with my parenting videos. My message has always been the same – whether through my cooking or my parenting videos – I want to be for others what I needed when I was at my lowest.”
Remarried, rocking the social sphere and writing a book, these days the “recovering pessimist” keeps her sanity in check by asking for help. “I used to think I had to do it all on my own or otherwise I was somehow inadequate. I’ve realized that that’s such an abusive way to think. Needing help doesn’t make us needy. It makes us human. So when I feel like I need time alone or with friends, I have no guilt leaving my kids with family or friends or a babysitter. And I try to offer the same to my inner-circle. We, humans, need each other and that’s a good thing.”
Her current biggest struggle as a parent is, in a word, teenagers. “My oldest is turning 15 and I’m trying to find ways to handle very new challenges. I go to bed second-guessing – should I have done that? Was I strict enough? Was I not strict enough? Was that fair? What would I have needed when I was this age? But I think that’s normal, I hate even calling it a struggle. We label these feelings we have as negative when really they’re human. Nobody gave me a PhD in parenting, I’m learning as I go, and if you look at it that way then you can go, man, good for me! I’m learning – I’m a student – that’s great, that’s something to be proud of!”