As a mom to a teen and tween, a board-certified pediatrician, a New York Times best-selling author and public speaker, Dr. Cara Natterson knows a thing or two (or 50) about talking to kids about their bodies, their emotions and teaching them how to take care of themselves. Mom.me was lucky enough to ask Dr. Natterson about her process, her goals and how she makes it all work for her, and we learned her sage advice extends far beyond the teen years.
Describe the moment when you were inspired to create "Guy Stuff: The Body Book for Boys."
It was as I was updating the original "Care and Keeping of You: The Body Book for Girls" and writing the follow-up, "Care and Keeping of You 2"—so, more than five years ago. As a pediatrician, it has always been clear to me that boys go through puberty, too, and their experience is no less challenging or confusing than the girl experience. The whole time I was writing for girls, I thought, boys need this! Then, at a book signing in 2013, just after the relaunch of "The Care and Keeping" line, a mom asked me to sign a copy for her son. I asked her if she knew they were girl books and she said, “Of course I do. But there’s so much in here that my son needs and I can’t find it anywhere else!” That was the final straw for me.
As a mother, as well as a practicing pediatrician and author, how do you make it all work?
Some days, poorly. I actually don’t practice medicine anymore in a traditional office. Instead, I run a consulting practice where I help parents navigate medical and parenting issues. This allows me to have much more control over my schedule. When I am on a book deadline, I hole up in my office to write and, undoubtedly, inspiration strikes just when my kids need me. But I have gotten much better at making my work hours overlap with my kids’ school hours. The biggest challenge is turning off the computer when school is out so that I can be 100 percent mom.
When did you first feel successful?
That’s such an interesting question, because I have felt different kinds of “successful” at different points in my life. Graduating from medical school felt pretty darned successful. And there were definitely many moments during my days as a primary care pediatrician when I would solve a medical issue, make a kid healthy again—and that felt very successful, too. As a writer, the day I saw my name on the New York Times best-sellers list was definitely a major success moment!
As a successful female entrepreneur, what are some ways that you want to teach your kids about "girl power"?
I am going to tweak that question a little, just because I want both my daughter and my son to feel empowered. Perhaps I am just acutely sensitive to the balance given that I have written girl-body books for years and I have pushed to get boys into this conversation. If my kids were here now, they would say that I constantly preach finding your passion and connecting it with a need in the world. Doing well by doing good. I also think no one can be great at everything all the time. We all wear so many hats, and finding your power is finding a way to balance those different roles so that you can make effective change without burning out.
Has there been anything about writing "guy stuff" that surprised you or inspired you in a way you didn't expect?
I couldn’t stop writing about the emotional growth of boys in puberty. The “feelings” section of this boy book is twice as long as the analogous section in the girl book. I think that will take everyone by surprise. But the more I wrote, the more I appreciated how little we talk about this part of boy puberty. They are moody too, just in their own unique ways. And having a 12-year-old son in my house, I was particularly inspired to catalog it and explain it.
Did you find writing a book for young boys particularly challenging in any way?
The biggest challenge was the tone. I didn’t want to stereotype how boys communicate—and, of course, there are a wide variety of styles. But ultimately, I had to pick a voice. I think I picked one that will resonate with most. Bottom line: It’s a mash-up of informational and funny.
What's your advice for moms who are looking to write their own book?
Go for it! If you write what you know, it flows quite easily. If you have a story to tell, there is probably someone out there who will benefit from listening to it or reading it. The hardest part about writing a book is figuring out how to get it out into the world. The first step, the actual writing, pales in comparison, especially if you have something to say. So just start typing.
What sacrifices have you made as a mom and an author and doctor to keep everything in balance?
When in doubt, mom wins. So I have sacrificed a bit on the work side. Some days, I don’t write the way I want to—I can never seem to shut the world out and just dive into my work in the way that many authors can. I wouldn’t trade it, though. Especially now that they are older, if my kids want me for something, I want to be there.
If you could have lunch with any business person/mogul/entrepreneur/nonprofit founder living or dead, who would it be and why?
Today it would be Dr. Spock. He invented the field of parenting without even realizing it. But I will confess, my list of fantasy lunches is long and ever changing, so tomorrow I will have another answer!
What made you want to become a public speaker on top of a practicing pediatrician?
When you are a doctor in an office, you connect with families one-to-one. When you write, you connect one-to-many. But also when you write, your words are hanging out there, waiting to be interpreted through someone’s lens. I love speaking because I can feel the moment when my audience doesn’t get something the way I mean to say it, and I can course-correct. They also ask me lots of questions at the end, which provides great feedback. So speaking fills some of those holes that appeared for me when I left full time clinical practice.
How did you get involved with American Girl?
It’s a long story and involved a lot of luck. But basically, I was on a speaking tour for one of my earlier (non-American Girl) books, and that appearance led to an introduction, with many intervening steps. When I found myself having a conversation with a decision-maker over there, I made a passionate pitch for updating the original "Care and Keeping" and writing a follow-up book. My biggest selling point was that moms and daughters repeatedly asked for more. Like I said, a lot of luck: I happened to be speaking to someone who could do something about it and who had received lots of the same requests. And from there, well, the rest is history.