An interview with Anne-Marie Slaughter, who says that the work of lead parents should be valued as an incredibly important investment in human capital.
I sat with three friends at dinner not long ago and cried as one of my most vibrant, talented, loving friends described how “worth less” she feels as a stay-at-home mom.
Not worthless, but worth less.
As in, the work she’s doing (and yes, it is work) is not valued by society, her peers, and sometimes even her partner (who is a wonderful man). She’s unsure of what to say when people ask that awful question, “So, what do you do?” She feels judgement from the most unexpected places. Worst of all, she judges herself.
I was an at-home parent for the first eight years of my kids’ lives. I’m five months into the transition back to paid work, and I now understand the corresponding challenges facing a lead parent who works outside of the home. We all have our struggles. I know that.
But our culture sees what I’m doing – going to work five days a week, receiving a regular paycheck – as something of value, and therefore (presumably) views me differently as a result.
During those eight years at home (which is an almost-hilarious misnomer), I frequently questioned my worth and constantly wondered if I was doing a “good enough” job raising our two kids. I knew intellectually that I needed to be able to answer that question for myself, from within, but practically speaking, I wanted someone else to say, “Hey, you’re really kicking ass at this job. And you know what – what you’re doing is super important.”
Here was an incredibly accomplished woman who left a job at the State Department because her family needed her. And she was being judged for it. Slaughter continued to lay out the policy and cultural issues impacting the valuation of caregiving in her brilliant book, “Unfinished Business: Women, Men, Work, Family.”
When we first thought about producing this podcast, Jessica and I wrote one name on a piece of paper and said to each other, “Just imagine if we could talk to her.” That name was Anne-Marie Slaughter.
In this episode of “Where Was I…?” Ms. Slaughter reminds us that, even “from a (public) policy point of view, there really isn’t anything more important that we do” than caring for our children. “In a way,” she says, “society is free-riding off the efforts” of lead parents. “The very least we can do is provide the social respect and prestige.”
The work of these millions of people is often invisible, undervalued, and unpaid. It’s rewarding in myriad ways, as well, but over time, many stay-at-home parents internalize the prevailing cultural sentiment that what they’re doing is somehow less valuable than paid work.
It may become harder to remember who you were “before” and what you were interested in, what brought you joy. It’s a real identity shift, one that can be difficult to sort through to any level of satisfaction.
So what happens to these full-time caregivers when their youngest child enters school for the first time?
The majority of full-time parents are women who suddenly find they’re left wearing the only hat they’ve worn for many years – mother – yet their children are now out of the house for as many as eight hours a day. There’s an awareness of the opportunities this block of time presents, – one being a return to paid work – but we lack the clarity and confidence to march straight back into a professional setting.
My co-host, Angela Arsenault, and I call this transition “Empty Nest Version 1.0.” We’re both lead parents within our respective families, and Angela is in the midst of her own transition back to work as we speak.
We’ve produced a 10-episode podcast called “Where Was I …?” about this particular time in life for parents who have been full-time caregivers.
Angela and I feel this is an important conversation for everyone to hear – regardless of your caregiver status – because the issues raised in this groundbreaking podcast have far-reaching implications for all members of society.
When I’m dying for a break, I gather my ingredients, make myself a drink (coffee or wine), and catch up on podcasts while I chop and sauté. It’s lovely.
I love making dinner. Food is my thing, so I’m happy to mess around in the kitchen whenever, but I look at dinner prep as an opportunity for a tiny slice of me time.
When I’m dying for a break in the day, I let everyone know that leaving me alone in the kitchen briefly will get us all to the table faster. Then I gather my ingredients, make myself a drink (sometimes iced coffee, sometimes wine), and catch up on podcasts while I chop and sauté. It’s lovely.
I know dinner prep is not every parent’s favorite time of the day, so I came up with a list of essential dinner-making podcasts for everyone from the serious home cook to folks who’d rather be ordering take out.
Shoo your family out of the kitchen, pour yourself a tasty beverage, and cue up one of these. You may find yourself opting for dinner duty more often.
The Splendid Table began as a Minnesota Public Radio show in 1994. It’s hosted by Lynne Rossetto Kasper, food writer and cooking instructor, whose cookbook “The Splendid Table” won both the James Beard and Julia Child Cookbook of the Year Awards.
This podcast is kind of the thing that got me cooking dinner for my family after our first baby was born. We started listening to it as background noise to the fussiest time of our parenting day: the dinner hour.
Slow paced and relaxing, we found it soothing to listen to knowledgeable folks discuss cooking delicious food, even if we weren’t doing much of it ourselves. But it was so entertaining, we got hooked. We started listening religiously and eventually even tried some of the recipes.
Ms. Kasper sounds like your grandmother’s stylish friend who wears a ton of jewelry and knows everything about everything. During each episode she talks with a food professional (chefs, cookbook writers, restaurateurs) then takes calls from the listening audience and answers cooking questions.
My favorite segment is always “Stump the Chef,” wherein callers give her three ingredients and she comes up with a dish using all of them. Got only pickles, some yogurt, and a carrot in your fridge? She can tell you how to make dinner with it.
Bonus: guest dispatches from Jane and Micheal Stern, authors of the “Roadfood” books and website, sharing their latest delicious discoveries from the highways and byways of America. I need that job.
If you’re a home cook who can’t get enough of food blogs, try:
This is my current favorite podcast for any activity. Hosted by photographer Michael Harlan Turkell, it explores the ways food, art, and design intersect in the modern world. Often a discussion between Turkell and a chef, photographer, food stylist, or designer, the episodes focus on a single topic but the discussions take off in sometimes unexpected directions. The guests are hip and engaging and I feel like I always come away with a new idea. I recommend starting with Episode 271: Maple Syrup.
Maybe you couldn’t care less about food blogs or celebrity chef fanatics, and just want to tune into something entirely different while you (reluctantly) cook. If so, I humbly suggest the following. Both have taken me through long hours of recipe testing. Also excellent listening while washing dishes or other general kitchen cleaning drudgery!
Comedians and writers Paul Scheer, June Diane Raphael and Jason Mantzoukas take listener suggestions of horrible movies, watch them, and report back with hilarious, and NSFK (not safe for kids) reviews and commentary. Ludicrously entertaining.
A conversation about sex and parenthood with Hillary Frank, host of “The Longest Shortest Time.” Learn about “The Parents’ Guide to Doing It – Live!” in NYC
Hillary Frank hosts The Longest Shortest Time, a popular podcast about parenthood and childhood described as “a bedside companion for parents who want to hear that they are not alone.”
Back in January, the show aired their most controversial episode to date, “The Parents’ Guide to Doing It.” It was first in a series called “Sex and Parenthood,” which takes an honest – and very open – approach to topics ranging from blow jobs to birth injuries.
On October 6th, Frank will host a live version of the show in New York City with sex educator Twanna Hines and OB-GYN Dr. Hilda Hutcherson. (You can submit your questions here.) The event will run as a future episode of the podcast, so if you’re nowhere near New York, fear not.
Parent Co spoke with Frank to find out why it’s important for parents to talk about sex, and what exactly is a birth injury, anyway?
Parent Co: I’m curious to hear what compelled you to produce the Sex and Parenthood series to begin with? Particularly the episode with Dan Savage and Jane Marie wherein you discuss sex very openly, even explicitly at times.
Hillary: For this podcast, we take listener submissions, and we also have a very active Facebook group, which is now over 15,000 strong. I noticed in a lot of the submissions, as well as in the mama’s group; people would bring up the topic in a… you know, they felt safe bringing it up in these kinds of private-ish forums.
What they would say is either, “My libido is down. I don’t know if it will ever come back.” Or, “I’ve had a birth injury, and it hurts and I can’t find a doctor who will take me seriously or I’m embarrassed to even bring it up.” Or “We are trying to have a baby and it’s not happening and it’s really putting a damper on the sex because we have to plan it and then even when we do, it feels like a chore.” It seemed like people were bringing this stuff up with me or with the group because they didn’t have anyone in their real life to talk about it with or they didn’t feel like they could.
We were talking about doing a series on some topic, and we batted around a bunch of ideas and I was like, “Hey! What if we do a sex series on just sex and parenthood because I think it’s very clear that a lot of people are hungry for this topic.” Sex is so sensationalized in our society, but it’s very rare that we have a real, honest conversation about it.
Do you have any theories as to why we’re not talking about sex more openly?
Oh, I don’t know, I think I’m going to leave that to the psychologists, but I can talk about why I think it’s hard to talk about it as a parent. I think there’s this idea that as soon as you become a parent then your sexiness disappears. Like, your breasts become tools for breastfeeding, if that’s what you’re doing. Your body changes, usually.
So, I think it’s sort of taboo to talk about wanting to have an active sex life after you become, especially, a mom. For guys, they don’t have those changes, as drastically.
Also, I think it’s even hard to find a doctor who will take you seriously. A lot of times the answer I hear that people get when they go to a doctor to say, “It hurts now when I have sex. It didn’t used to hurt.” The answer will be, “Well you had a baby. Things are different now. You should expect it to hurt for a while.”
In the episode with Dan and Jane, you seemed pretty comfortable with the wide range of topics that were being raised. Are you generally pretty comfortable talking about sex?
How have you overcome that, to facilitate the conversation?
That’s a good question. I would say I’m not comfortable talking about sex in public or with people that I don’t know very well. I am comfortable talking about it with my very close friends. It’s a topic that comes up a lot among my very close friends, who are now new or new-ish moms.
I actually had a friend just point blank say to me one day, “You’re in a position where I feel like you have to talk about this.” I said, “I can’t. I don’t feel comfortable talking publicly about my situation.” She was like, “You don’t have to, but who’s going to do this? You have to at least give people the opportunity to talk about it and to hear experts talking about it and to just facilitate this conversation. Your project won’t be complete unless you can address this topic because it’s so important.” I was like, “She’s right.”
I do openly talk about, I had a childbirth injury, and I didn’t find the right help for it for three years.
It was a combination of pelvic floor physical therapy and a very specialized doctor who helped me with it. The problem itself wasn’t very uncommon. The doctor, in fact, said to me, “I’m so glad that you came to me and found me because most women just give up because they just decide, ‘Well I’m never going to have sex again,’ or ‘I’m never going to have a healthy satisfying sex life again because it’s just too hard to find a solution.’”
Right, which is terrible. There’s a lot of life after childbirth.
That’s right. The other thing is that these things impact your relationship with your partner, and if you don’t have a healthy relationship with your partner, it makes it really hard to be an effective parent. It is very relevant, and I hear people talking about this as if it’s extracurricular. Sex is an extracurricular thing. It’s a shame if it goes down the tubes after you become a parent, but it should be expected. I think it’s vital. I think it’s vital to people being effective parents.
Yeah. It’s true. It’s the punch line. And it’s usually blamed on the woman in heterosexual relationships.
I’m interested in the topic of birth injuries. I think that that’s, like you said and like your doctor was saying, it’s not something people are super aware of. Can you talk a little bit more about what types of birth injuries you’re referring to?
Sure. Even in the smoothest pregnancy, bodies shift and don’t necessarily go back because your weight is shifting forward in some spots and shifting back in other spots. You’re bearing a lot of weight. The bones in your pelvis can get misaligned, and that can make sex uncomfortable after having a child.
Then during childbirth you can tear. Some people get an episiotomy. I had both – tears and episiotomy. In a c-section, because so much of your abdomen is cut, and there are so many different layers of the abdomen, it effects the muscles in your pelvis as well. There are people who think that you would avoid having vaginal pain if you have a c-section, but that’s not necessarily true.
What I’ve found, in my life and through talking to other people, is that pelvic floor physical therapy is a great first place to go. There are also chiropractors who will work on you and on realigning your pelvic bones. These things can originate in the pelvis and then can effect the rest of your body. I had pelvic floor issues, but because I was compensating in order to breast feed – I had to sit in a really uncomfortable, strange position so that I wouldn’t agitate my pelvic floor issues – I was constantly in this side bent position and it wound up effecting my leg. It was even hard to sit cross-legged.
What I would say to do is go to your OBGYN. See if there’s a pelvic floor physical therapist that they work with because usually those therapists will have suggestions of specialists to work with if they think you need extra care.
Listening to you, I’m thinking of the number of friends I’ve had who’ve off-handedly said, “I just have this pain when I have sex.” It’s amazing that we don’t pay more attention to those things.
So many people that I’ve talked to are like, “It hurts, but it’s tolerable.” I’m like, “Well, what if you didn’t have to tolerate it?”
This all makes so much sense when you think about the process of childbirth and pregnancy and the changes that your body will go through. It shouldn’t be the assumption that we all come out unscathed.
Oh my God, no! It’s life altering and body altering. The crazy thing to me is, I had to see six doctors before I saw someone who was like, “Oh, I know what you need to do.”
I was clearly chasing this down, and I don’t think that’s how everyone operates. I think it’s really easy to be like, “Oh, my doctor, who delivered my baby, who I’ve trusted, doesn’t have an answer for this so there must not be an answer.”
And that gets into a larger issue, which is the challenge of advocating for yourself within the medical system. You went to six doctors. Clearly you had to really believe, first, that there was an issue and that it was fixable. I’d argue that most women aren’t there naturally. We have to arrive at that point through encouragement or learning about the problem through something like your podcast, by someone putting the information out there. So, yay for you!
I’m curious to know if there have been any questions or maybe a line of questioning that really surprised you?
Not really. I know last time (Dan and Jane) were both anti co-sleeping. That proved to be controversial, which I guess would be expected. And all three of us only had one child each. I think there were people, in the end, who felt that their situation wasn’t addressed, and we’re hoping to address those this time.
…Everyone’s got their own lives and experience, and they’re going to answer questions based on those experiences. That’s why we plan on doing this as a recurring segment with different guests because then you can get a wide range.
I did appreciate Dan Savage’s point of view and his insistence that we’d be better served, especially heterosexual couples, if we could broaden our definition of sex to include more than just vaginal intercourse.
I think that’s why … I was surprised. I don’t know if you were aware how controversial this episode was in our mama’s group. We’ve never gotten so much anger about an episode before. People were angry about a lot of things. I think some people walked away feeling like the guests were telling them that they had to shape up and start having sex within a year of having a baby. Before the episode came out, I felt like I was giving moms a gift with a bow around it.
What I walked away from the conversation feeling like was, we got a different side of Dan Savage. We introduced him to the concept of the six-week check up when you’re supposed to get the thumbs up or thumbs down to go ahead to have sex, and he was like, “Oh no. That’s too soon. Everyone gets a year if they need it. No questions asked.” I felt like it was a very feminist episode and point of view. It will be interesting to see what the reaction is to this one.
These podcasts are made for kids. They add a spark of education and entertainment to daily life (and long car trips!).
These podcasts for kids add a spark of education, entertainment and even inspiration to daily life. My family mostly listens to them in the car. We also listen to them when we’re working on a project, or cooking or cleaning around the house.
These podcasts are definitely kid appropriate. I love NPR, but the endless news cycle of beheadings, car bombings, and torture reports isn’t always the best thing to listen to on the way to school in the morning.
A hidden value of these podcasts is that listening is an immersive act, triggering parts of the mind untouched by video or reading. Learning to appreciate narrative, stories and audio reporting is an important part of childhood growth and development.
Sparkle Stories started in Vermont. I know David and Lisabeth, the parents who create the shows. (They now live in Austin.) Even if I didn’t know them, I’d still highly recommend Sparkle Stories; my kid loves them.
Sparkle Stories are high-quality original audio stories for children and families.These stories are entertaining, charming and always include a simple lesson or insight. Lessons are woven into the story, so they aren’t preachy or boring.
Their core offering is a series of twelve original stories, plus a thirteenth series with stories, songs, and games. (They also offer Sample Story Packs and Audio Books.) All 875+ original audio stories can be enjoyed anytime, anywhere via subscription.
Sparkle Stories also offer a free weekly story podcast. This podcast was featured by Apple as one the “Best of 2013.”
David is a master storyteller. My kid is more into ninjas, Lego, and Star Wars, but these stories utterly captivate her. She’ll often bring them up in conversation weeks after listening to them.
Sparkle Stories is best for younger kids, up to second grade or so.They also produce an excellent blog, full of recipes, crafts, and wonderful writing.
Brains On! is a podcast featuring science and kids. This is a great one. My family loves it. The producers of the show say they “ask questions and go wherever the answers take us. Sometimes that means talking to a food scientist or a snake handler, other times that means putting on a play about sound waves or writing songs about sleep.” They also say, “it’s a science lesson for your ears – join us and turn your brains on!”
My kid loves that a different kid co-hosts each episode. This is great role modeling for her, and she pays close attention when the kid is talking.
This is an awesome podcast featuring “indie music for indie kids.” Not sure what to listen to with your kids? Subscribe to this podcast. Done.
The show plays “the best of music aimed at kids (like Dan Zanes, Elizabeth Mitchell, Lunch Money, Caspar Babypants, and They Might Be Giants) right along side kid-friendly tracks from the likes of The Ramones, Mike Doughty, Ella Fitzgerald, Brian Eno, Pizzicato Five, Andrew Bird, Fishbone, and more.”
It also includes book reviews and exclusive in-studios from dozens of artists. As they say, “it’s not is your typical kids’ programming.” Nope. It’s brilliant.
Kid Friday is a video podcast. It can still be enjoyed without watching the screen. This podcast is dedicated to technology: websites, apps, and gadgets. Their motto is “You’re a Kid in a Digital World.”
The podcast is hosted by 16-year-old Hannah, 13-year-old Zoe, Dave, and Winston the poodle. They say, “we talk tech, but always end up somewhere else.” This is the number one technology show for kids.
Elizabeth Laime: My husband was out of town last week so I was just in Mom mode… The last five days I was like, ‘woah.’ Around eight months I felt like ‘okay, I got this,’ but together we have systems in place. So just going it alone I was like, ‘yikes!’
Is it unusual for your husband to be gone or are you alone often?
Actually, the first five months after Teddy was born he took five or six business trips but they were all one or two days and I think I was so in the zone anyway that I was in survival mode.
But now that things have gotten cushy, it was just a little bit of a system shock. It made me think, I mean, single moms are my heroes. It’s hard to wrap my brain around (what they do).
Do you and Andy consider your work and lifestyle to be non-traditional? Are there routines or rituals you have that help you stay connected as a family?
Yes, I would say that for sure applies to us. We both work for ourselves (Andy’s a record producer) and we do have things in place, like one big thing for us is the mornings. Andy gets up with Teddy at 6:30 and that’s his time with her. Then he goes to work at ten and stays at work sometimes until midnight.
I have babysitters and I have help, which is great so that I can get work done. But I was writing a pilot over the holidays and that was Andy’s time to pick up the slack. Now that project is done for me and he has an album due in a month and a half so now it’s my turn to pick up the slack. I don’t know what’s going to happen when both things hit at once, but that hasn’t happened yet.
We’re an amazing partnership and our marriage is incredible but we ended up going to couples counseling trying to navigate the specific issue of how to communicate what we need from each other… mostly about how to communicate if he needs extra time without coming into it with guilt or defensiveness. It’s been really helpful and now we have these tools in place that we use constantly.
I feel like couples counseling can be so extremely helpful for short-term problem solving and I wish more people would use it for that purpose.
I know. I think so many people think of it as a last resort, kind of ‘death rattle’ thing, and for us it’s been tool-building and we actually enjoy it. We look forward to going. It’s nice to go in and know we’re gonna get a set of tools and come out with an understanding.
And back to your original question about rituals: I was gonna say we have our “Totally Married” podcast which is once a week for an hour and it’s not just about marriage, it’s me and Andy hanging out.
There have definitely been weeks when it’s hard to squeeze it in or it just feels like a chore but for the most part I’m so grateful we have it because it’s the one hour a week where we just sit down and connect.
I had really terrible morning sickness so the first part of my pregnancy I was just on mommy boards and it felt so isolating because I couldn’t tell anyone yet. The podcast kind of came out of that.
During my pregnancy, and I know this isn’t everyone’s experience, but I was already in the vortex of motherhood. It was all I thought about, it was all I wanted to talk about. So having the podcast was kind of a natural progression, just to make it an official hour out of my week where I got to talk to other mothers.
What have you gained, personally, out of doing the podcast?
There are kind of universal themes through motherhood, and one is that everything sort of passes, there’s an ebb and flow to everything. At first it was really hard to wrap my head around because Teddy had really bad colic and allergies and eczema and it just felt so isolating. It was really nice to connect to hear that other people had that experience and they made it through.
Can you think of anything that a lot of moms don’t realize and you wish they did?
After having Teddy by myself this week, I realized that each day is 20 moments of the most earth-shattering joy, and then in between that is just catastrophic boredom.
I think there’s an idea that if you’re not loving every second of it that means that you’re taking it for granted or you’re not a good mother. And then I’ve seen the pendulum swing in the opposite direction where it’s like, “oh this is such a drag, I hate this so much,” but the truth is it’s such a mixed bag and I think it’s good for women to relate to that.
I’ve also discovered that I had all of these ideas about things and there are lot of things that, until you’ve experienced motherhood, you don’t know – so I think I’ve become much more compassionate.
Even breastfeeding. I used to think I would never breastfeed in public without a cover just because I’m so modest, and that has flown out the window faster than a bird getting hit by a rock. I’m whipping ‘em out left and right.
I think that a lot of my perceptions about how things should be have really changed and that makes me compassionate for other mothers.
Well that’s a great message to share with other moms. What other bits of parental wisdom do you like to share with people?
Busy parents Need to Know, so every week we highlight one album, book, app, movie or show that’s about blow up. More.
Perhaps you’ve already heard about Invisibilia, the latest blockbuster podcast from NPR. Filling a void left by Serial (and driven by NPR’s marketing), Invisibilia is already the #1 podcast on iTunes.
It probably won’t get a brilliant SNL spoof, but it will spark a million dinner party conversations, Twitter posts, and Facebook updates. It’s already trending on both platforms (that’s partly how we choose our “Need to Know” subjects.)
People enjoy pop entertainment, but we’re most engaged by information and facts. Discussing “the latest research” is our modern conversation crutch. “Backed by Science” will make anything sell. We’re drawn to stories woven together by data and real-world information, especially as they relate to the mystery of human behavior.
The producers of Invisibilia understand this perfectly. They say the show “interweaves narrative storytelling with fascinating new psychological and brain science. Listen and research will come to life in a way that will make you see your own life differently.”
With a description like that, it’s no wonder the show is trending. It will get bigger as new episodes come out and people begin discussing them over meals, at parties, and on social media all spring and this summer.
This season of Invisibilia promises extra juciness. It will “dig deep into our innermost minds — examining our dark, disturbing thoughts” and how they shape our identity and emotions.
The show’s production is as compelling as its subject. Co-hosts Alix Spiegel and Lulu Miller (from Radiolab and This American Life) balance facts, anecdotes, story, and conversation to keep the show flowing.
Do yourself a favor and listen to the first episode. At least you’ll be able to say “yeah, I listened to the first episode” when everyone is talking about it. It’s a bonus if you get hooked and keep listening week after week.
Follow the show on Twitter [stag_icon icon=”twitter” url=”https://twitter.com/nprinvisibilia” size=”18px” new_window=”no”]. You can also follow co-host Alix Spiegel on Twitter [stag_icon icon=”twitter” url=”https://twitter.com/aspiegelnpr” size=”18px” new_window=”no”]
Download the podcast on iTunes [stag_icon icon=”apple” url=”https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/npr-invisibilia-podcast/id953290300?mt=2″ size=”18px” new_window=”no”]
Everything you wanted to know about podcasting but didn’t feel like Googling.
Everything you wanted to know about podcasting but didn’t feel like Googling.
Podcast was the word of the year… in 2005 (10 years ago!!) Serial was seemingly listened to by everyone on Earth. However, a few people have sheepishly asked me how to listen to podcasts. They’re not alone. The question is common enough that Ira Glass made a video to help people listen to Serial (embedded below.)
As Ira says in the video, Apple’s Podcast app is probably the easiest way for people with iPhones and iPads to get started. In iOS 8, the Podcast app is included by default. You can also download it for free here. In my opinion, the only nice thing about this app is that it syncs podcast settings across devices. Otherwise, I’ve found it buggy and unreliable.
I use and recommend Overcast to download and manage Podcasts on iPhone. On my Mac I simply use iTunes. You can see how to do that here.
For Android phones and tablets, try the Stitcher app on Google Play (it’s also in the App Store). Search for the podcast you want to listen to and click the plus sign (+), to add it to your Favorites List. Now go to the Favorites List. Tell it to download new episodes by clicking the gear in the upper right corner.
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