What Fresh Hell: Laughing in the Face of Motherhood

a podcast with Margaret Ables and Amy Wilson

Category: Uncategorized

Episode 39: What To Do When They’re Just Like You

Are your child’s most annoying traits disconcertingly familiar, because they are also your own? And are those qualities- anxiety, competitiveness, impatience, even hatred of loud chewing- baked in the cake? Or have our children learned how to be impossible simply by living with us?

Ellie Grossman says when our kids are driving us nuts, it’s always best to look within for answers:

The trick is to find our child’s greatest strength hidden inside his or her worst quality. The first step is to look at ourselves in the mirror. Where do you think our child’s mishegas comes from in the first place?

Keeping this in mind, we also love Wendy Mogel’s writing about the “yetser hara,” that part of all children’s personalities that is both the source of all parental exasperation and the essential spark of our children’s greatness. Read more here:

Emily Bazelon for The New York Times: So The Torah is a Parenting Guide? 

Wendy Mogel, The Blessing of a Skinned Knee: Using Timeless Teachings to Raise Self-Reliant Children

Special thanks to our listener Michelle for suggesting this topic! Do you have an idea for an upcoming episode? Leave us a comment below, send us an email, or click the Speakpipe on the right-hand edge of our website to leave us a voice message.

This week’s episode is brought to you by Barkbox. Barkbox is a monthly surprise of dog toys, treats and goodies. Amy’s kids absolutely loved helping Marshmallow choose among the many delights in her “Knights of the Hound Table” themed shipment. What Fresh Hell listeners can get a free Barkbox when signing up for a 6 or 12-month plan (and support our podcast!) by using our special code: barkbox.com/laughing.

Episode 38: Mean Girls (with guest author Katie Hurley)

Mean girls: they’re a thing, and sometimes it’s *our* girls being the bullies. Experts agree that girls exhibit “relational aggression”  more than boys do, and  girls are also more deeply upset by it. Even more worrisome: mean-girl behavior used to start in junior high; now it starts in pre-K.

Fear not: we’ve got tons of useful advice in this episode, particularly in our interview with Katie Hurley,  author of the just-published book No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident, and Compassionate Girls.

There is hope! As Katie explained:

“Our daughters are not destined to repeat the things that happened to us… especially if we are talking to them about being empathic and being compassionate.”

Start sooner than you think: Katie says the sweet spot for impacting your girl’s friendship skills is ages 8-10.

Here’s links to some other research and resources discussed in this episode:

A Way Through, a site created by female friendship experts Jane Balvanz and Blair Wagner, helps girls in grades K – 8 through painful friendships 

Kelly Wallace for CNN: How Not to Raise a Mean Girl

Our sponsor this week is Erin Condren, creator of the fully customizable Life Planner.  Choose your layouts, your extra pages, your colors, your cover. We love the look of everything this mom-owned business makes and we think you will too. Start designing your planner– and support our podcast at the same time!

Episode 31: Bedtime Routines


Bedtime routines: whether your kid is six weeks or sixteen, PLEASE tell us they have one.  A 2009 study in Sleep magazine found that bedtime routines- regardless of what they even were- improved not only children’s sleep but “maternal mood” as well. That’s right: do it for you.

In this episode, we break down bedtimes by age groups and offer solutions to getting to lights-out a little sooner, discussing topics including

  • when to start sleep training
  • why under-rested kids have even more trouble falling asleep
  • why routines are important even for babies
  • why older kids should be allowed to establish their own bedtime routines, even if their individually tucking in eighteen separate stuffed animals makes YOU a little crazy
  • the importance of introducing dark and silent sleep spaces at an early age
  • why Margaret goes by the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommendation to “Brush, Book, Bed”

Here’s links to some articles and studies discussed in this episode:

webMD: How Much Sleep Do Children Need?  

Parents: How to Develop Bedtime Routines

Deena Blanchard for Momtastic: How To Stick To Your Kid’s Bedtime Routine

Tim Herrera for NYT Smarter Living: Feeling Groggy? Here’s How to Stop Robbing Yourself of Sleep 

For parents of teenagers, this 2017 study from Sleep Health is fascinating reading: it suggests the more face-to-face interactions adolescents have (as opposed to screen time), the higher their “sleep efficiency.”

For infants and toddlers, we think Dr. Harvey Karp has the best advice and we recommend his books highly…

And if your grade-schooler has a hard time falling asleep, Amy swears by Audible- her fourth grader listens to books on tape every night (on a sleep timer!) Use our link to get a free trial: audibletrial.com/whatfreshhell.

How are the bedtime routines going at your house? What works for you to get the lights out on time? Tell us in the comments!

As a brief addendum, in this episode Margaret and Amy disagree over whether What Lies Beneath stars Harrison Ford or Michael J. Fox. It is indeed Harrison Ford, and the movie Amy was thinking of was The Frighteners. Either way, major Oldilocks Alert, and please show neither of these movies to any child with whom you wish to establish a bedtime routine. Learn from our mistakes. 

Episode 25: Conquering Clutter

America has 3% of the world’s kids… and 40% of the world’s toys. We’ve got clutter, right here in River City.

In our opinion the best decluttering advice, from Joshua Becker of Becoming Minimalist, is to “slow the accumulation of new possessions.” In other words, don’t let all that junk in the front door in the first place.

But assuming your household missed that memo— as ours both have— in this episode we discuss:

  • non-vehicular nonsense
  • our kids’ anxiety about purging toys, even long-forgotten ones
  • the personal blind spots we have when clutter-clearing (Margaret has T-shirts from HIGH SCHOOL)
  • the procrastination-enabling, problem-compounding reality of owning a storage unit
  • the great unused potential of the back of your closet doors
  • why the roasting pan you use once a year can become your toy room’s greatest strategy
  • the surprisingly plausible “super-fun cleaning party”

Amy organizes a little bit at a time; she thinks emptying a junk drawer a day is the key to a tidy home.  Margaret says her house is way beyond the help afforded by cleaning out her makeup bag on a Tuesday afternoon. But wherever you lie on the clutter continuum, this episode is full of ideas for eating that elephant. One delicious bite at a time.

Here’s some links to research and resources discussed in this episode:

This episode is brought to you by Blinkist, which distills the best takeaways of popular non-fiction into 15- minute “blinks” you can listen to or read while you’re on the go. Check out decluttering “blinks” like Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up or Julie Morgenstern’s Organizing from the Inside Out with our special code: http://bit.ly/freshblinkist

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 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!

Episode 10: 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!

how to review a podcast on iTunes (now Apple Podcasts)

One of the best ways to support our podcast (or any podcast you’re enjoying) is to rate and review it on Apple Podcasts. 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 Apple Podcasts review on your computer:

  1. go to the Apple Podcasts landing page for the podcast you’d like to review (ours is http://bit.ly/whatfreshhellpodcast )
  2. click “view in iTunes”
  3. if you get the prompt “Do you want to allow this page to open iTunes?” select “allow”
  4. click “Ratings and Reviews”
  5. under “Customer Ratings,” click the stars next to “Click to Rate”
  6. under “Customer Reviews,” click “Write a Review”
  7. write the review, click Submit

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

  1. download the “Podcasts” app if it’s not already on your device
  2. launch Podcast app
  3. tap the Search tab (you need to do this even if we’re already listed in your app)
  4. enter “What Fresh Hell” (or name of podcast you’re searching for)
  5. tap the blue Search key at the bottom right.
  6. tap the album art for the podcast.
  7. tap the Reviews tab.
  8. tap the purple “Write a Review”
  9. 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 3: 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 2: 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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