What Fresh Hell: Laughing in the Face of Motherhood

a podcast with Margaret Ables and Amy Wilson

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Episode 21: How Old Is Old Enough?

Every parent has a “how old is old enough to” question about her kids that keeps her biting her fingernails. And as soon as one of those questions is resolved, a new one crops up. This seems to us a parenting challenge that gets harder, not easier, as our kids get older.

So we asked our listeners: what’s the “how old is old enough to…” question you’re currently struggling with at your house? 

In this episode we discuss (and attempt to decide for the rest of eternity) how old is old enough to:

  • walk to school
  • go home alone from school
  • babysit younger siblings
  • ride bikes around neighborhood
  • get a phone (here we both advise what our friend Ann calls the “StarTac 3000 approach”)
  • go on a date

and more.

Our listener Donna says the answer to all of these questions is probably 12, what she views as the “golden age of responsibility.” But she then adds the caveat that her kids are 6 and 7, so that’s a bit hypothetical on her part. Donna, we’re here to tell you: all 12-year-olds are not created equal.

And our Country Mouse and City Mouse lifestyles dictate different answers to these questions, as well. Margaret’s kids walk home from school alone before they’ve lost all their baby teeth; Amy’s kids have to go through puberty first. 

In the end, of course the answer to any of these questions is “it depends,” and there are no right answers for all kids– only *your* kid. But in this episode, we lay out the factors that should and shouldn’t be part of your calculations (what definitely needs to be left out: what judgy moms will think of you).

Some reading on the topic:

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Episode 20: Vacationing with Kids- What to Pack?

 

Rule one of vacationing with kids: don’t vacation with kids.

Oh, your tickets are already purchased? Then you’d better stock up on Ziploc bags. (Take it from a mother who’s needed a few.)

We asked our listeners on our Facebook page for their packing essentials and got dozens of responses. In this episode we dig through them all– and also discuss what might be better off left behind.

Here’s links to a few resources we discuss in the episode:

SeatGuru, for checking your in-flight entertainment options before you get to the airport (although Rule Two of Vacationing with Kids is: Always Have a Backup).

WorkFlowy, for easy packing-list-making. Do it once, keep it forever.

Amazon Video and Netflix apps, both of which offer downloadable content (h/t to The Mom Hour: don’t start downloading fifteen minutes before you leave for the airport!)

Don’t head off for your summer vacation until you listen! Did we forget anything? Let us know in the comments!

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Episode 19: Does Messy Matter?

Does messy matter? In our kids’ rooms, in our front halls, in our kitchens?

We’re not talking about hoarder-level mess; we’re talking about the tendency toward entropy and chaos in any house with multiple children who play two travel sports and/or bring home backpacks brimming with loose slips of paper every afternoon.

Margaret’s house is pretty messy, and that stresses her out.

Amy’s house is pretty neat, but keeping things that way stresses her out.

In this episode, we talk about how to manage both our household chaos and our expectations around it. We discuss:

  • why keeping the toy room too neat may stifle your children’s creativity
  • the value of a decorative box
  • the importance of (once in a while) going “back to one”
  • why making beds is either the most important thing you can do OR the biggest waste of a daily minute

Here’s links to some further reading on the topic that we also discuss in this episode:

Laura Vanderkam: The Magic in a Messy Playroom

Alison Gerber for Apartment Therapy: Dirty Little Secrets of Tidy Families

Gretchen Rubin: Drowning in Clutter? Observe the One-Minute Rule

also Gretchen Rubin:  what she’s found to be the most popular happiness-making resolution

ABC News: Study Says Tidy or Messy Environment Can Impact Decisions and Behavior

Lauren Cunningham for Her View From Home: I Keep a Clean House. Can We Still Be Friends?

We want to hear from YOU for an upcoming episode! What’s the “how old is old enough to…” question you’re struggling with at your house?  Maybe it’s how old is old enough to get a phone… or how old is old enough to babysit…. or how old is old enough to walk home from school alone. Tell us in the comments- or click on the gray microphone on the right sidebar and leave us a Speakpipe message! 

(photograph by Sue Barr)

Episode 18: When To Let Kids Quit

Out of all the things we stress about as parents, whether to let our seven-year-olds quit the violin seems like it shouldn’t matter that much. If they wouldn’t have made first chair in the Vienna Symphony anyhow, what difference does it make?

But letting our kids quit— or making them tough it out— gets at the very crux of parenting: pushing our kids enough, but not too much. Directing their young lives, but letting them find their own paths.

In this episode we discuss:

  • the crucial difference between quitting and “non-re-upping”
  • the importance of “dabble-level” activities for little kids
  • finding the “less-intense alternative” for older kids
  • the times that it’s okay to let kids quit
  • the times that you need to push them through. As Dr. Angela Duckworth, the esteemed “grit” researcher, put it: “Don’t let them quit on a hard day.”

Here’s links to some further reading (and some viewing) on the topic, most of which we discuss in this episode:

Nina Sovich for WSJ: When To Let Children Quit

Delia Lloyd for Brain, Child: Should You Let Your Child Quit?

Amy Wilson (!) for New York Family: Finding the Optimal Push

KJ Dell’Antonia for NYT Well Family: Raising a Child with Grit Can Mean Letting Her Quit

Melaina Juntti for Men’s Journal: Six Signs Your Kid Should Quit a Sport

Angela Duckworth: Grit: Perseverance and Passion for Long-Term Goals

HBO’s documentary State of Play: Trophy Kids

This episode is sponsored by Blinkist. Read all those non-fiction books you’ve been meaning to get to in 15-minute “Blinks” on your laptop or phone. You can read, listen– or both! What Fresh Hell listeners can try Blinkist for free at bit.ly/WFHblinkist

Keep leaving us those ratings and reviews on iTunes— you’re helping our audience grow. Thanks! 

Episode 17: Yelling Less

When it comes to mom-yelling we hold these truths to be self-evident: never yelling is not possible; less yelling is desirable.

Let’s be real: there are times when every parent’s got to yell. Here’s how Lisa Belkin put it in The New York Times:

When all else fails, a few claps of oral thunder certainly show that Mom or Dad has had it, that humans can be pushed just so far, and this is what it looks like when you’ve pushed them too much.

But although we might agree that a little bit of hollering has its place, we’d both like to do less yelling in our homes, due to two other unavoidable parenting truths:

• The more you yell, the more you have to yell.

• The more you yell, the more your kids will yell.

In this episode, we discuss what we yell about, and then what to do about it. There’s usually an easier solution to what you’re yelling about than yelling, or at least a quieter one. Parenting expert Carolyn Dalgiesh, author of The Sensory Child Gets Organized, calls it a “workaround for the source of tension.”  In Amy’s house, for example, an extra set of toothbrushes in the downstairs bathroom cut the morning yelling by half.

And sometimes we have to face the fact that parenting without yelling takes a little more effort than parenting with. As Margaret’s sister-in-law likes to say,

Really saying ‘no’ means getting off the couch.

Here’s some links to other takes on the topic we discuss in this episode:

Episode 16: Sibling Rivalry

 

 

Sibling rivalry: harmless rite of passage? Or everything that made you the neurotic adult you are today?

The inevitable part of it seems clear. Dr. Ron Taffel says siblings are like lion cubs, born with an intense and innate need to tussle. But if that fighting it’s normal, it isn’t always benign.

So when should a parent step in? And what works when she finally does?

 

Here’s some links that we discuss in this episode:

Is the sibling in-fighting driving you batty at your house? Did you survive some memorable squabbling in your own childhood home? Tell us in the comments!

Episode 15: Mom Worsts

 

What’s the WORST part of being a mom?

We put out the call on our Facebook page and received an avalanche of responses, each deserving in its own very horrible way.

In this episode, Amy and Margaret advocate for their own lists of Mom Worsts, and discuss:

—whether that most classic of Mom Worst plagues— lice— can even compare to the daily, unending hell of preparing three meals per day

—whether Flat Stanley (insert your child’s own anthropomorphized “classroom mascot” here) is perhaps the worst thing ever imposed upon motherhood, or if the pinewood derby is even worse

—whether the “All-Family Stomach Flu” is the absolute worst Mom Worst of all (spoiler alert: when Margaret says she will not go into details – DO NOT BELIVE HER)

Only one link this week: Amy’s own Mom Worst, as told to Parenting Magazine:

An Aerial Disaster: One Mom’s Tale of Flying Solo with Her Three Children

What’s your Mom Worst? Tell us in the comments!

Episode 14: Summer Plans

 

Here’s what all parents can agree upon: Summer need not be another Christmas, one lasting for three full months. It’s okay- actually, it’s imperative– for our kids to be a little bit bored.

The trick is to find the right balance between your kids having too much to do and nothing at all to do. Back in the 70s, kids could go outside after breakfast and basically ride their bikes until it got dark. But these days, if you want your kids to have the opportunity for unstructured fun, you have to structure their summers. A little.

In this episode, we talk about:

  • how summer is for formative experiences- as long as said experiences are at least somewhat formed by the kids
  • why summer is designed for your kids to do things differently than they do during the school year
  • the virtues of Camp Grandma
  • whatever happened to summer jobs for teens? While half of teens had summer jobs in the 1980s (including us— hello, Baskin Robbins?) less than one-third do now, according to a Pew Research survey (link below)
  • the summer slide: how to fight it without ruining everyone’s every single day
  • how we as a people must fight against the great shrinking summer. In Putnam County, Tennessee, the school year now starts on July 23rd. Stop the madness!
  • Why Margaret is just completely, fundamentally opposed to physics camp

Here’s some links to two nifty products, and reading on some issues we discuss in this episode:

Schoolhouse Rock: Multiplication Classroom Education (DVD)

The Math Bus: Multiplication and Addition (CD)

from Kingswood Camp: The Value of Down Time

from Scholastic: 3 Ways To Prevent Summer Slide 

from Pew Research: The Fading of the Teen Summer Job 

from Time: American Teens Are Not Getting Summer Jobs 

by Daphne Sashin for CNN: Back To School: Why August is the New September

by Marjorie Ingall for Tablet: Phineas and Ferb: Dynamic Duo

Is your summer too short? Too long? Do you dread your kids’ long lazy days ahead? Tell us in the comments below or on our Facebook page!

Episode 13: Birth Order- Parenting Each Child Best (More or Less)

 

 

 

The study of birth order— how one’s placement amongst siblings can shape one’s personality— began in 1874, when Charles Darwin’s cousin noticed that eldest sons were overrepresented as members of the Royal Society.  In other words, sibling rivalry is survival of the fittest, playing out in real time right at your dinner table.

Some say that assigning personality traits to an only child or a middle child is like reading a horoscope—the traits are vague enough it’s easy to assign them to anyone.

But we are firm believers in the power of birth order. Amy is the oldest of six and annoys all those around her with her insistent list-making. Margaret is third out of four, and she says her car keys have to be around here somewhere. Recognizing the strength of these roles in our families is important because we can work against them— or inadvertently reinforce them— with how we parent.

In this episode you’ll find out:

  • why oldest siblings love rules
  • why middle siblings are more able to change their minds
  • why younger siblings are such smooth talkers
  • how your own birth order affects what kind of parent you are

And we also talk about:

  • how to tap the brakes on your oldest child’s intensity
  • why you should give your middle child the power of small-decision-making
  • why you should resist intervening on the youngest child’s behalf

We can’t fully counteract the influence of these familial roles— nor should we, they’re not THAT big a deal— but awareness is a good thing. Let the middle kid pick what’s for dinner once in a while.

Here’s links to some further reading on this topic:

Ingela Ratledge for Real Simple: What Your Birth Order Says About Your Personality

The Birth Order Book: Why You Are the Way You Are by Kevin Leman, PhD

Born to Rebel: Birth Order, Family Dynamics, and Creative Lives  by Frank J. Sulloway

The Secret Power of Middle Children: How Middleborns Can Harness Their Unexpected and Remarkable Abilities by Catherine Salmon,  phD

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Episode 12: Helping Kids Deal with Disappointment

 

 

Not to toot our own horns or anything, but when it comes to disappointment, we’ve got vast experience. Amy claims an acting career is a surefire express route to let-down expertise; Margaret claims a screenwriting career might be even more useful.  And while we’ve still turned out quite nicely, thank you, that doesn’t make it any easier when we as parents have to help our children handle disappointment.

We don’t want to coddle our kids. We know we can’t protect them from every moment of sadness and regret. But what’s the best way to help them through such moments?

Dr. Jim Taylor explains what we as parents need to focus on– and it’s not the disappointment itself:

Disappointment is a natural response to failure, but some children react to their disappointment in ways that increase the likelihood of more failure and disappointment.

In this episode, we discuss:

  • why disappointments are developmentally important
  • why silence is the best policy, at least during a child’s “wet cat mode”
  • why “tantrums belong upstairs” is a useful household rule
  • why resilience and grit may be the most important traits our children need for success
  • why some kids take what Margaret calls “the brambly path,” and how to guide them (or not)

And here’s some advice we talk about in the episode and find really useful:

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Episode 11: Do Manners Still Matter?

Manners have been around since at least 2300 BC, when Ptah-Hotep wrote on papyrus that one should refrain from “speaking evilly” and from staring at people.

And as parents, we say manners still matter— to quote Margaret’s mother, no one likes a bratty kid.

But which manners still matter? We think author Tamar Adler put it best in her “Manners Manifesto”:

Perhaps the way to distinguish useful etiquette from frippery is to discern which rules help us be good rather than seem good… Whatever unites [us] merits keeping, and what divides can be folded and stored away with the linen too old and ornamental to use.

Eating the food you’re served, saying please and thank you, holding the door? All that makes other people happy. So our kids should do it.

Although getting them there? That’s easier said than done.

In this episode we talk about

  • why manners are all about context
  • why other people’s manners rule (even if they’re not yours)
  • whether it’s okay to expect (and perhaps forcefully elicit) good manners in your friends’ kids
  • why thank you notes suck but we have to make kids do them anyhow
  • why manners require constant reinforcement
  • why everyone should stop listening to videos in public places without headphones because that’s just absolutely the worst

Here’s some further reading we liked:

And here’s two classic books on manners that will have your kids curtsying by week’s end:

How To Behave and Why, by Munro Leaf

Richard Scarry’s Please and Thank You Book 

What manners matter in your house? Do your children end every request with “sir” or “ma’am”? Stand when ladies enter the room? Call grownups by their last names? Tell us in the comments!

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