Kristina Kuzmic calls the show she’s bringing Friday to Tacoma’s Pantages Theater “The Hope and Humor Tour” because those are the two essentials of life, she says.
“We all need to know it’s going to be OK,” Kuzmic said in a recent phone interview with The News Tribune. “Tomorrow can be better. And we all need to be able to laugh. Laughter is like medicine.”
Kuzmic, 40, has made a name for herself with humorous online videos that encourage parents who not may be confident of their skills to feel braver and stronger, she said.
Her live show has the same message, but more personal and with audience interactions.
“Some of my followers have called it a super motivational, encouraging comedy show,” she said.
Kuzmic’s followers are 2 million strong on Facebook alone.
Although Kuzmic dispenses parenting advice, she cringes at the term “parenting expert.” There is no such thing, she said.
“Every single child is different, every family dynamic is different,” Kuzmic said. “You can read a million books but you’re still going to be faced with stuff you never expected.”
Her audience is mostly mothers, she said, but there are childless people, single men and occasional college students.
“When I first launched the show, I thought it would be all moms,” Kuzmic said.
“I did try to write it in a way that if you don’t have children, if you never plan on having children, you’re still going to leave with good takeaways,” she said.
Expert or not, parents seek out Kuzmic’s homespun parenting tips.
A common pitfall, she said, is when parents feel like failures if the perfect parenting fantasy they’ve dreamed of doesn’t come to fruition.
She advises her followers to let their children chart their own course in life.
“I keep telling parents, your kid is not your puppet,” she said. “This is a person who might have completely different talents and dreams and goals than you. And the best thing you can do is to love them for who they are, not who you envision them to be.”
She’s practicing what she preaches with her own children, ages 5, 14 and 16, partly because she knows what the opposite approach is like.
Her father had expectations for her that she couldn’t or didn’t want to fill.
“I was the silly, goofy, comedic kid and that didn’t fit what he wanted,” she said. “I had to really fight for my authenticity.
“A lot of people think childhood is rehearsal for real life. Childhood is real life, and we need to let our children be who they really are.”
Kuzmic’s own childhood was far from anything an American child experiences.
She grew up in what is now Croatia, in the former Yugoslavia. In the 1990s, her homeland was torn apart by civil war.
The fighting directly affected Kuzmic when she was 12.
“We went through the whole living in basements and then staying with this family member in a safer city and then this person in another city,” she recalled. “We weren’t prepared for it.
“It’s like stuff you hear about in movies and then it’s happening in your backyard.
Kuzmic said life in the war zone made her grow up fast.
“At 12, instead of worrying about, ‘Does that boy at school like me?’ I was worrying about, ‘Oh, that sound means we need to run into the basement, and do we have enough food because I don’t know how long we’re going to be in the basement,’” she said.
By the time hostilities ended, the war had claimed 200,000 lives, according to some estimates.
At age 14, Kuzmic and her family emigrated to the United States. They located in Boston.
“We never planned on staying,” she said. “My family made it very clear we’re only coming for a little bit and then we’re going back.”
By the time she was college age, the war was over and her family did indeed return to Croatia. But Kuzmic stayed in the U.S.
“I’m still the only one in my family that’s here,” she said.
“I feel like all of those experiences fueled what I do now,” she said. “We all have struggles. Even if your life is completely different, then you’ve had crap happen in your childhood and family stuff and job stuff. Every family struggles.”
Kuzmic has been married, divorced, lived in poverty and been a single parent.
She can quickly recall her lowest point in parenting.
“I ended up completely depressed and broke, and I shared a bedroom with (the kids), and I was sleeping on the floor because I couldn’t afford a bed, and I was on food stamps,” she recalled.
The financial problems weren’t the worst part of it.
“I got to the point where I felt like such a loser and failure, and I was convinced my children deserved better than me,” she said.
Kuzmic made a list of pros and cons of how her suicide would affect her children.
Although she never attempted to take her life, she now knows how seemingly “normal” people can be in survival mode.
“People are struggling and you’d never know it,” she said. Others have told her about similar pro-con lists they’ve made, she said.
After Kuzmic became well again, she began making parenting videos to offer hope and humor to others. They soon took off on YouTube.
When she realized her videos were reaching people on an emotional level, she began to reveal the vulnerable and emotional aspects of her own struggles. It wasn’t easy at first.
“I was embarrassed to admit I got to that point, especially having kids, wanting to take my life,” Kuzmic said.
In a world dominated by carefully curated lifestyles on social media, her videos are a mix of humor, survival and self-deprecation.
“Someone else has made it through,” Kuzmic said. “If I love my life, you can, too.”
‘An Evening with Kristina Kuzmic: The Hope and Humor Tour’
When: July 26, 8 p.m.
Where: Pantages Theater, 901 Broadway, Tacoma
Tickets: $29 and $39