Today is the 10th anniversary of Mom Enough, a podcast dealing with issues of modern motherhood, which I host with my daughter Erin Erickson. Producing and hosting this weekly show together has been a fun, creative and rewarding experience for both of us. Over the past decade, Erin and I have connected with thousands of mothers (and quite a few dads) across the country and around the world, while also connecting with each other in deep ways around the joys and challenges of being a mom in today’s world.
Ten years is an important milestone and a time to reflect on where we’ve been and where Mom Enough is headed. As I look back, I feel incredibly grateful for the support we’ve received from so many individuals and organizations, and proud that we’ve stayed centered on Mom Enough’s mission: “Being the moms our children need, the women we want to be.”
Mom Enough is rooted in my graduate studies and long career at CEHD, where I conducted research on interventions with high-risk parents and infants, served as first director of the Children, Youth & Family Consortium and director of the Irving B. Harris Training Programs, and was adjunct professor in both the Institute of Child Development and the Department of Family Social Science. During my time at CEHD, I gravitated toward work linking academic research to real-world policy and practice, what is referred to today as “translational research.” Early mentors included Professors Byron Egeland, who engaged me in research on parent-infant attachment, and Richard Weinberg, who lit the spark in me for what he calls “giving away child development.”
As a result of my efforts to get CEHD research into the hands of parents, teachers, childcare professionals, policymakers and the general public, local and national media began to call on me as a frequent source. Early in 1995, I was invited by Minneapolis television station KARE 11 (NBC) to do weekly features on issues related to children and families. I enjoyed the process and was grateful to have a public forum to share reliable, evidence-based information on child and family development with a broader audience. (In 2016, I continue to appear regularly on KARE’s daytime news shows.)
In 2006, an executive producer from KARE 11 left the station to become program director at a new talk radio station that was aimed at women in the Twin Cities. She asked me if I would consider hosting a weekly show related to issues of motherhood. She assured me freedom to guide the content of the show, a schedule that would work with my duties at the University and my choice of co-host.
Not so sure about taking on this new media commitment, I let the invitation simmer for a while until an idea hit me: how about having my daughter Erin as my co-host? With a master’s degree in Public Health, a toddler at home and another child on the way, Erin would bring both academic expertise and fresh, real-life experience to the show. (Erin’s outgoing personality also would be an asset; when she was three years old, a man who was painting our house commented, “That girl is going to have her own talk show someday!”) As it turned out, the program director agreed; before I had a chance to tell her my idea, she jumped in and told me she had a dream that I was hosting the show with my daughter. This odd bit of serendipity seemed to bode well for the future. And Erin did indeed bring fresh, real-life experience to the show; during the first 2-hour live show, she went into labor, with contractions coming at 5-minute intervals by the end of the show. The following week we brought her newborn son McKinley to the studio, his little baby sounds adding a definite note of reality to our on-air discussion of motherhood!
Changing Times, Changing Names
We called the show “Good Enough Moms,” based on the concept originated by British physician Donald Winnicott, who coined the phrase “good enough mother” to capture theory and evidence that children do not require perfect parenting, but do need a level of emotional availability and warm, sensitive care that is “good enough.” This important child development concept has served as our guiding principle and focus of discussion for the past 10 years of doing this show.
After a successful four-year run on radio, in 2010 we decided to take our show online, where research showed parents were getting most of their parenting information, and entered the nascent world of podcasts. Shortly after, we were faced with a trademark challenge from a New York website regarding the name Good Enough Moms and, instead of engaging in a legal battle, took the challenge as an opportunity to rebrand our show as Mom Enough.
Erin and I believe Mom Enough captures even better the concept at the core of our work: What does it really mean to be “mom enough”? What do children absolutely need from moms (and dads) in order to thrive and grow up well? What are the factors that sometimes trip us up, leading us to be “mom too little”? What ways are we sometimes “mom too much,” overprotecting, micromanaging or enabling our children so much that they lack the chance to develop the skills they will need to navigate life as adults? And how much of a woman’s identity is “mom” versus other aspects of who she is as a woman? How does it help both moms and children when mothers maintain and strengthen other parts of their identity? These are key questions that continue to frame our ongoing discussions about motherhood in today’s world.
Connecting with Mothers
We’ve built a loyal and engaged audience over the years, and we’ve learned a lot from interacting with them. When we ask them what they like about the show, one of the first things we hear is that they appreciate our commitment to delivering carefully vetted, research-based information on parenting.
The internet offers an overwhelming amount of information and opinions for mothers, but unfortunately too much of it is confusing or even misleading. With our backgrounds in academia, both at CEHD and, for Erin, the School of Public Health and the School of Nursing (where Erin is completing her doctorate of Nursing Practice in Women’s Health), we work hard to present only the most accurate, credible information and guidance on our show. All guests – many of whom teach or conduct research at CEHD – are carefully screened in advance. And we only accept financial support from organizations that share our commitment to research and the public good.
The second thing we hear from our listeners is that they like the fact that Erin and I aren’t afraid to tell personal anecdotes that illustrate the sometimes rocky experiences we’ve had as mothers and as a mother-daughter pair. Even though we know quite a bit about what good parenting looks like, we also know that good parenting is easier said than done. It’s especially difficult to apply what you know when you are experiencing intense stress (e.g., economic challenges, a highly stressful job, serious illness) and when you don’t feel adequately supported. It also is hard when you had a difficult childhood and lacked the kind of care and support you needed.
By talking candidly about those challenges in our own lives, we hope our listeners are more able to acknowledge and address the challenges in their own lives as moms. Whether we talk about facing serious medical crises (as both Erin and I have), my efforts to rise above my own teen father’s harsh and unpredictable parenting, or the sometimes rough road Erin and I traveled together during her adolescence, we want to be real about all that goes into becoming “mom enough.” One key part of that is emphasizing the importance of seeking professional help when you need it. So both Erin and I are quick to talk about what a difference counseling and therapy have made in each of our lives at times of difficulty. There’s no shame in getting help; it’s the smart thing to do.
What’s Important to Moms?
Through the ongoing dialogue we have with our audience, Mom Enough has given Erin and me a unique perspective into the concerns of today’s parents. It’s interesting to watch how different issues rise in importance as the years go by. We’ve noticed three in particular that are much more prevalent now in the calls and emails we get than they were when we started.
Parenting and technology. These issues come up much more than they did 10 years ago due to the explosion of technological tools and how ever-present they are. Parents struggle with how to keep these in the proper place with their children, feeling uncertain as to how much and what type of technology activity is acceptable for children of different ages. Parents worry that an overdose of screen time is taking away from other kinds of experiences their children need, but they dread the battles that ensue when they try to lure their kids away from the seductive attraction of technology.
As a child development advocate, I have great concern about the ways over-use of technology can undermine face-to-face human interaction. And it’s not only kids who are glued to the screen. Often, I see parents with babies or toddlers at the park or in other public places and the mother or father is totally absorbed in their iPhone. They don’t notice that their baby is trying to engage them – smiling, reaching out, holding out an interesting object, trying to interact with them. How does it feel to a baby when that happens over and over? While you don’t have to be a “helicopter parent” who’s constantly engaged with your child, these early face-to-face interactions are crucial. It’s what we refer to as “serve and return” – when the child gives a signal and the adult responds and back and forth, like a little ping-pong or tennis match. Those “serve and return” moments are extraordinarily important to human development – to the formation of a secure attachment between parent and child and to the healthy development of a young child’s brain.
Autism spectrum disorders. Because of reports in recent years of an increasingly high incidence of autism spectrum disorders (ASD), many parents live in fear that their young child will get that diagnosis. Part of the increase in incidence is because ASD is diagnosed more broadly than in the past. Nonetheless, ASD is prevalent and concerning. Parents’ fear that their child will develop ASD leads them to want to do everything possible to prevent that. And that leaves many parents vulnerable to bad information – unfounded claims, for example, that vaccines cause autism. Although the study that spurred that claim was shown to be false and fraudulent and was withdrawn by the journal that originally published it, unfortunately the anti-vaccine movement continues, posing a real threat to public health – and perhaps taking attention away from more legitimate searches for possible causal pathways.
Mom Enough is in a good position to provide credible resources to refute erroneous information about the possible causes of ASD, to teach our audience when and how you can see the early signs, how important early intervention is and where parents can get a complete assessment and intervention for their child if needed. In fact, one of our ongoing supporting partners, Help Me Grow MN, is a public initiative that provides resources for parents, professionals and community members to help them identify and get appropriate services for children who show signs of ASD or other developmental difficulties. In recent months, Mom Enough also has produced two shows about ASD featuring guests from CEHD, Professor Jed Elison and researcher Jennifer Hall-Lande.
Structured activities vs. free time. A third issue that comes up more often these days is the heavy schedule of structured activities so many children experience, even at very young ages, and the corresponding loss of free time. In recent years there seems to have been a cultural shift to highly structured adult-directed activities for children of all ages, along with a dismissal of the value of play, especially free play that is driven by the children’s interests and imagination. Granted, organized sports, arts programs and other adult-directed activities offer great experiences for children and teens. But, as a professional in child development, I’m concerned that too many children these days seldom have time to engage in free play, which has been shown to support the development of creativity, problem solving, initiative and social skills. Put that together with the feedback we get from parents about how stressed they are by their kids’ busy schedules (and their own) and we are led to ask whether it might be time to drop an activity or two, sit down and enjoy a meal together, then head out to a woodsy park, sit back and let kids explore. (The stress-reducing benefits of nature could be a welcome bonus for adults and children alike.)
Gratitude for the Journey
Mom Enough has been an amazing 10-year journey, and one I’m thankful to be taking with my daughter. It’s been a rich learning experience for both of us. As a mom, I’m proud to see how much my daughter has continued to grow and excel in her chosen fields of nursing (women’s health) and public health. In fact, just last night Erin was honored with the University of Minnesota School of Public Health’s Alumni Innovator Award, largely for her work in developing Mom Enough and engaging in related speaking and writing.
As we celebrate a decade, I’m filled with gratitude. I want to thank our supporting partners who make the show possible with their financial support: the Minnesota Department of Public Safety-Office of Traffic Safety, St. David’s Center for Child & Family Development, Help Me Grow MN, and Park Nicollet Women’s Center.
I’d also like to thank CEHD for giving me my start as a media source, as well as for the wealth of high-quality information and guests it has provided to Mom Enough over the years. Every year Mom Enough holds an event for our Twin Cities listeners, “A Night Out for ME.” This year about 300 moms (and a few brave dads) attended the event to celebrate Mom Enough’s 10th anniversary, and I was proud that CEHD joined us as an event sponsor. My alma mater and longtime career home, CEHD is a valuable resource for information and cutting edge research on issues that matter enormously to parents and children. I was delighted to have our Mom Enough audience learn more about what an important resource CEHD is for our state.
Finally, I’d like to thank the listeners of Mom Enough. Without your support, none of this would be possible. Your questions, comments and feedback make the show what it is – and Erin and I have learned at least as much from you as you’ve learned from us. At our recent “Night Out” event, someone asked me if I intended to keep Mom Enough going for another 10 years. Having just celebrated a milestone birthday the week before, I replied, “Yikes! I’d be 80 by then!” But, after a moment’s pause, I said, “If it’s still fun and people still want to listen, count me in!”
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