What Fresh Hell: Laughing in the Face of Motherhood

a podcast with Margaret Ables and Amy Wilson

Episode Ten: What To Say When You Don’t Have a Clue

what to say when you don't have a clue

 

We average about one conversation a week, with one or other of our children, during which we are suddenly at a total loss as to what to say. Perhaps you too have had a few Tough Questions like these:

Is Santa real?

What is racism?

If I go to heaven, will my toys come too?

When answering Tough Questions like these, Amy feels that it’s important not to have innocence-ending conversations too early. She calls it “age-appropriate obfuscation.” Keep it simple, keep it reassuring.

But Margaret likes to call this approach “Say ‘Delay,’ Run Away,” and she has somewhat of a point. The Tough Questions need to be answered, and if a parent doesn’t step up, a kid might just seek out some peer education, bound to be rife with misinformation.

In this episode, we discuss

  • why it’s hard to explain concepts like racism to children young enough to be unaware of it
  • how to let the child lead any delicate discussion with her questions (rather than your answers)
  • the power of the pause before responding
  • why you should always leave a little bit left over to divulge for next time
  • why we all just have to figure out the Easter Bunny back story already

Here’s some of the best advice we have collected:

  • from Meg’s sister in law: Only answer the question you are asked. 
  • from educator Danielle McLaughlin: “In order to actually engage our children, we need to find out what it is that they already know and what are they seeking to understand.”
  • from Michael Thompson, PhD: “Pausing for a moment…lets your child know you are taking him seriously.”
  • from PBS Parents: save a little bit of information for the next conversation on the same topic. Cause it’s coming.

And if you’re still completely tongue-tied…

Here are two books on the facts of life that are both thorough and reassuring:

The Care and Keeping of You Collection (American Girl)

It’s So Amazing! A Book About Eggs, Sperm, Birth, Babies, and Families

For talking to our kids about race, The Well Queen Anne, a Methodist church, offers a great resource list here.

And for a how-not-to guide, here’s the tale of Amy’s Tooth Fairy explanation gone horribly awry. Learn from her mistakes.

How do you handle the tough questions in your house? Any advice of your own? Tell us in the comments!

Episode 9: Dividing the Workload

dividing the workload

In any home, there’s the workload everyone can see: the dirty dishes, the broken crayons under the dining room table, the laundry to be folded. And in most of our homes, that workload is divided more equitably than it was in the homes where we grew up.

But then there’s the workload that lives in a parent’s head, the running list of things we hope we won’t forget: the permission slips and prescriptions. The birthday presents and batteries.

And there’s still usually just one parent who’s in charge of THAT.

And if you’re reading this right now? We’re going to guess it’s you.

In your household you’re the one that blogger Mblazoned calls “The Default Parent,”  and while we hasten to append  #notallmen to what we’re about to say…

studies indicate that whether the mother works outside the home or not, all this “stuff” usually remains firmly in the mom’s pile.

And it’s a big pile.

We have a choice: to either change that dynamic, or leave it the way it is but stop feeling resentful about it.

Margaret and me? We’re starting with the moms in the mirror. Make that change.

In this episode we discuss:

•how to make the “invisible workload” more visible

•the power of the Sunday evening calendar meeting

•why we’re going to start saying “thank you” more often

•why letting go of the “why am I always the one who does everything” monologue is harder than we care to admit

Here’s links to some must-reads on this topic:

sociologist Lisa Wade for Money Magazine, on “The Invisible Workload that Drags Women Down” 

mblazoned for Huffington Post: “Are You the Default Parent?”

Ellen Seidman’s Mother’s Day love letter to herself:  “I Am the One Who Notices We Are Running Out of Toilet Paper, And I Rock”

Lisa Belkin for the New York Times: “When Mom and Dad Share It All” 

Are you the one who’s in charge of the snow boots and pipe cleaners in your house? Tell us in the comments!

Episode Eight: Are Our Kids Overscheduled?

overscheduled 2Are our kids overscheduled? Compared to our own childhoods, definitely. But is that necessarily a problem? And how are we, as parents, supposed to tell?

According to Dr. Michael Thompson, author of The Pressured Child:

There is a line between a highly enriched, interesting, growth-promoting childhood and an overscheduled childhood…. and nobody knows where that line is.

In this episode we are all about FINDING THAT LINE. We hash out

  • the myth of the overscheduled child (spoiler: it’s a myth)
  • why even non-scheduled time needs to be— well— scheduled
  • whether to let our kids decide how many extracurriculars they can handle
  • how loving an activity, and being stressed out by its demands, aren’t mutually exclusive ideas
  • how our overscheduled kids have costs for our marriages as well
  • how to push back against the overscheduling creep: (rage, rage against the dawn of the travel sports)
  • making a “priority pyramid” for your family

As you’re finding that line between enriched and overscheduled for your own kids, here’s some links discussed in this episode plus more useful reading:

The Over-Scheduled Child, the book that started the conversation 15 years ago

Pew Social Trends polling kids and parents on extracurricular activities

Health America poll: 78% of kids wish they had more free time  (Amy says yeah, but they just want more Xbox)

Harvard School of Public Health poll: a shocking 26 percent of parents with high-school-age children who play sports hope their child will become a professional athlete one day. (Margaret says these parents should Google the odds. Problem solved.)

168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think by mom-of-four Laura Vanderkam, about making room for what you want your life to include (she’s on the overscheduled-as-myth side)

9 ideas for slowing down your family schedule, from Joshua Becker

and our personal favorite: Ten Signs Your Parent is Overscheduled, by KJ Dell’Antonia for the NY Times. Chew on this nugget of truth:

A schedule full of action is indeed cruel, overbearing and destructive to someone’s well-being: mine.

Are your kids (and their parents) hopelessly overscheduled? What, if anything, have you done to set boundaries? Tell us in the comments!

how to review a podcast on iTunes

One of the best ways to support our podcast (or any podcast you’re enjoying) is to rate and review it on iTunes. But it’s not always easy or intuitive to do so.

Here’s step-by-step instructions on how to do so, either from your computer or from your phone or tablet:

How to leave an iTunes review on your computer:

  1. go to the iTunes page for the podcast (ours is http://bit.ly/whatfreshhellpodcast )
  2. click “view in iTunes”
  3. click “Subscribe” under the photo
  4. click “Ratings and Reviews”
  5. click stars next to “Click to Rate”
  6. click “Write a Review”
  7. review, click Submit

How to leave an iTunes rating or review on your iPhone or iPad:

  1. download/launch Apple’s Podcast app
  2. tap the Search tab (you need to do this even if we’re already listed in your app)
  3. enter “What Fresh Hell” (or name of podcast you’re searching for)
  4. tap the blue Search key at the bottom right.
  5. tap the album art for the podcast.
  6. tap the Reviews tab.
  7. tap the purple “Write a Review”
  8. review, click Submit

here’s a YouTube video to walk you through the iPhone review steps, in case you prefer a visual guide.

Thanks for reviewing!

Episode Seven: Mom Goals


momgoalsNew year, new leaf! In this episode we’re talking “mom goals” for the coming year. Productivity guru (and mom of four) Laura Vanderkam says that “goals should be our tools, not our masters.” But since we need to set goals in the first place in order to make them achievable, we’ll take her advice, skip the feel-bad part, and kick this year’s butt.

 

Amy’s mom goals for this year are:

  • more meditation, because it makes me a happier and calmer parent.  Headspace is a great app offering a user-friendly introduction. My kids like it too.
  • more one-on-one time with each of my kids (and I may steal Margaret’s idea for one-on-one birthday dinners)
  • keep up the #devicefreedinners, and institute device-free playdates (a great idea from author Daphne Uviller)
  • reconnect with three old friends— and Facebook doesn’t count (from Gretchen Rubin’s podcast episode “Revive a Dormant Friendship” )
  • more books, less smartphone scrolling
  • structure more time for my personal goals by writing them down. I got a great Christmas present— the Productivity Planner— that I love so far!

Margaret’s mom goals for this year are:

  • get fit, and she’s not playing. She’s going to use self-help dude Keith Ferrazzi’s goal-setting system to lay out how she’ll accomplish this in the next five days, five weeks, and five months.
  • yell less. If she needs more advice on this topic, she might look to this foremost parenting expert quoted in this New York Times article, who prefers the word “hollering.”
  • set specific personal goals for the rare free non-kid-focused hours that she has. Vague goals=Candy Crush.

Another approach to resolutions in the new year, from Lisa Belkin in the New York Times, is to choose a one-word goal to guide your coming year. Amy’s word is “participate.” Margaret’s is “don’t-be-this-mom:”

What are your mom goals for the year? Tell us in the comments— we’d love to hear them!

Episode Six: Chores

we-help-mommy-jpg

This week we’re talking about chores: do you make your kids do them? If so– how much, how frequently, and do they get paid for their troubles?

Experts say that kids’ chores are worthy in and of themselves, teaching kids things like teamwork and self-esteem. In other words, it may be worth the extra effort to wheedle your kids into loading the dishwasher, rather than just doing it yourself (even if that is WAY faster).

But in a recent survey of one thousand American adults, while 82% of them said they did chores growing up, only 28% said they make their kids do them. Time to put those wee moochers to work!

In this episode, we discuss
  • how to overcome the many obstacles between assigned chores and done chores
  • the power of branding. Who wouldn’t want to attend a “super fun laundry party”?
  • chores any kid will get into doing (relatively speaking)
  • when pay-for-play chores are a good thing
  • how to let go of the perfect in order to give our kids more ownership

Here’s some helpful (or funny, or both) links:

How do chores work in your family?
Are your preschoolers lugging firewood?
Are your teenagers doing light household repairs? or anything at all? And does their allowance depend on it?
Tell us in the comments- we’d love to hear from you.
And if you’re enjoying the podcast, please give us a rating on iTunes! It will really help more people find us. Thanks.

Episode Five: Handling the Holiday Craziness

handling-the-holiday-crazinessEach December 25th, most moms look at a living room full of scattered wrapping paper and vow to do less next year. Then Black Friday rolls around. But can you really downshift on how much Santa brings once a baseline has been established?

This week Amy and Margaret talk about managing the holiday craziness. (Disclaimer: for both of us, that does mean Christmas, although we feel the pain of the Hanukkah Harriets out there, we really do).

Here’s some of what’s discussed in this episode:

  • how to get your kids more involved in holiday preparations— at any age
  • the very appealing “three kings, three gifts” rule
  • how to carefully consider any new holiday “traditions” before instating them (we’re looking at you, Elf on the Shelf)
  • how the Laws of Holiday Attrition can work in your favor
  • how Amy uses this cookie recipe every December and it’s easy and amazing
  • what to do when your spouse gives you a Pajamagram

And here’s some enjoyable holiday reading to accompany your (spiked, we hope) eggnog:

Christmas countdown calendar from “Good Day, Regular People” offering children helpful daily hints like “Practice saying this: ‘Happy Christmas morning, most beautiful of mothers!'”

from Victoria Fedden, Christmas in the 70s vs Christmas Today 

from Amanda Morin at understood.org, the “Want, Need, Wear, Read” strategy to manage kids’ Christmas lists

from Sarah Zadok, on Chanukah: why “the act of giving speaks louder than the gift itself”

How do you handle the holiday craziness at your house? Have you successfully shrunk your to-do list to a manageable level? Tell us how!

 

Episode Four: Homework

drowning-in-homework

Some experts say we’re drowning today’s kids under nightly tsunamis of homework. Others disagree— but one thing’s for sure: our kids have more homework than we did at their age. And more stress. And more “projects,” a word sure to strike terror in any mother’s heart.

In this episode, we take on homework, and discuss

  • whether kindergarteners should have it in the first place
  • how to avoid the nightly wailing and gnashing of teeth by setting your household’s “reasonable limits”
  • whether we’re supposed to help our middle-schoolers with their assignments
  • whether we are smarter than third graders (spoiler alert: sometimes)

Here’s links to some of the research discussed in this episode:

The National PTA recommends ten minutes of homework per grade: in other words, ten minutes a night for a first grader, an hour for a sixth grader. We heartily agree.

Karl Taro Greenfeld, writing for The Atlantic on what happened when he tried to do his middle-school-aged daughter’s homework for a week.

The University of Michigan’s study finding that the average time spent weekly on homework increased from two hours and 38 minutes in 1981 to three hours and 58 minutes in 2004.

The Brookings Institute study on homework in America, arguing that the homework load has not actually gotten larger at all— except for nine-year-olds.

and finally, the Texas teacher hailed across the nation after announcing she would be assigning exactly zero homework to her young students this year.

Does homework cause nightly struggles in your home? Do you wonder whether you’re supposed to do that “project” with your kids, or for your kids, or blithely ignore it? Let us know in the comments…

 

Episode Three: Screen Time

This week’s episode is all about screen time. Given: Unlimited screen time is bad. But how much is okay? How much is too much? How do you handle the nightly battles of “But PLEASE, Mom! Just one more level!” when it’s time to unplug?

Most importantly: is it ever okay to let our kids’ brains melt just long enough to get dinner finished?

In this episode, we talk about how to limit screen time for each age group– toddlers to teens– while acknowledging that screens are an increasing part of our children’s lives, both inside the classroom and out.

Since we recorded this episode the American Academy of Pediatrics has lifted its draconian “no screens under two” rule, which we heartily agree with. Encourage parents to make good choices; don’t treat us like idiots who are incapable of exercising judgment. Really, don’t. You wouldn’t like us when we’re angry.

Here’s links to other writing and products mentioned in this episode:

Resources for when you’re ready to go hard-core
  • screenfree.org
  • unpluggedchallenge.com
  • sabbathmanifesto.org (National Day of Unplugging)
  • Time Timer
Good writing that has something to say on the subject:

 

Episode Two: Helping or Helicoptering

turn-around-and-exit

You just brought your kid’s forgotten lunch to school. Again. Is that helping or helicoptering?

You know overparenting when you see it— in other people. Sometimes it’s harder to gauge in yourself.

As moms go, Margaret tends toward the laissez-faire, and Amy towards the shall-we-say particularly attentive. In this episode we tease out

  • our own worst bad calls on this topic
  • the best question to ask yourself when you’re not sure if you’re hovering or just helping
  • why you need to start letting your kids fail now
Perhaps it’s best to just keep in mind Margaret’s solemn words of advice:

When in doubt, let your children be more miserable.

Here’s a few of the books and articles we mention in this episode:

Little Failure– hilarious and mega-prizewinning memoir by Gary Shteyngart- what happens to a guy whose parents never, EVER told him he was special. In this case, he becomes a genius and prize-winning author. So there you go.

How To Raise An Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success by Julie Lythcott-Haims

When Parents Are Too Connected (Toronto Star)

 

photo courtesy of Principal Steve Straessle of the Catholic High School for Boys, Little Rock, AR:  Principal’s Problem-Solving Rule for Parents Goes Viral

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