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5 Years On, Are We Better Parents?


I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. They say it takes a village to raise a child, but maybe you just need a few moms in your corner. Every week, we check in with a diverse group of parents for their common sense and savvy parenting advice and this week at TELL ME MORE, as we said, we're celebrating our fifth birthday - our on air birthday, that is - and since this program began, moms - and some dads - from all walks of life have been sharing their triumphs, missteps and special takes on child rearing.

So, today, we asked four of our regulars to join us and reflect on how they and the world of parenting have changed in the past five years and see what's on their minds for the future. Let's see if we can fit that in.

With us now, Jolene Ivey. She is a Maryland state legislator. She's the cofounder of a parenting support group and she's the mom of five boys. Dani Tucker is an administrator, a freelancer and a mom of two. Leslie Morgan Steiner is an author. She's the author of the books, "Mommy Wars" and "Crazy Love," and a mom of three. And Aracely Panameno is the director of Latino Affairs at the Center for Responsible Lending and she's the mom of one daughter.

Welcome, ladies, moms. Happy birthday to us.

JOLENE IVEY: Hey, Michel.

DANI TUCKER: Happy birthday.

LESLIE MORGAN STEINER: Happy birthday to you, Michel.

MARTIN: Jolene, you've been here from day one. In fact, you started with us before we were even on the air, when we actually started as a podcast, so you really are one of our OGs, original girls.


MARTIN: So when you look back over the past five years, is there one thing that you would point to to say you've really learned as a parent?

IVEY: Absolutely. I think I've learned the most from the other moms on the show and from people I hear from in the community. You know, I forget sometimes, we sit here in a room and we talk and you feel like it's just us talking. Then I go out into the community and people stop me and say, hey, I really like that you said X or Y. I'm like, really? Or - well, I wasn't really too excited about when you said Y and Z.

So people don't always agree, but it's really good to hear from people, to hear a lot of different perspectives and I think that's a great thing that this show does, or this program does, specifically. When you have the moms on, you're giving us an opportunity to talk about something that really affects everybody. Everybody's had a parent. Whether it's a good or a bad parent, we've all had a parent. Many of us have been parents, you know, who listen to the show, but it's not too often that moms and dads are taken seriously, so this gives us a forum to do that and to be heard.

MARTIN: Dani, I don't want to start the waterworks, but you have just entered a new phase in your life as a parent. Your oldest joined the Navy just a couple of days ago. OK. Here we go. Try to hold on. And we're very proud of him, as I know you are.

But I wanted to ask you, in getting to this point, I mean, the last five years and seeing him through adolescence, what do you think is the most important thing you learned?

TUCKER: That we're getting it. You know, it didn't feel like that way five years ago or 10 years ago, you know, that we are mastering wax on, wax off. I'm very excited about that.


TUCKER: I now know why I'm painting the fence and sanding the floor. I get it. So we're getting it. You know, I know he's doing well there. I miss him so much, but I know he's doing well. He's in the next phase of life and we're finally getting it. It just didn't feel that way five years ago or 10 years ago.

I mean, five years ago, I kind of knew we were, you know, starting to go somewhere, but 10 years ago, I'm like, what in the world? You know, and we're getting it and I'm really happy. But we're maturing. We're seasoning.

MARTIN: You know, it's interesting because I've also heard from a number of grandparents and we've also had grandparents on and, in fact, that's one of the things I think we'll do more of is have grandparents on. And one of the words of wisdom that they've often given to me is take the long view. You know, it's going to get better. Just when you think you can't take it anymore, it's going to change.

Aracely, you are one of the parents whose kids are older in our kind of - in our group. Your daughter's on the sort of older side of our group. What do you think you've learned over the last five years as a parent? You've had your ups and downs, too.

ARACELY PANAMENO: Your last statement could be, you know, my statement. Right? I had to take the long view because, five years ago, I was tearing and taking my daughter to college and very excited about what was going to be happening over the next four years. And we've had our ups and downs and I think that, what the last five years has confirmed for me and here with the other moms in this panel is that ever since she was born, I needed to learn to let go and I also needed to learn to be her strong safety net, be ready to catch her when she was about to fall, but also be ready to push her on so that she could grow.

MARTIN: Leslie, so glad you were able to be here today because you've got two things going on for us. You've got two teenagers. Your youngest is now 10 and also your book, "Mommy Wars," your first book, came out just before we went on the air about six years ago. And it's a collection of essays that try to describe the - what then was something that was talked about a lot, which was there was a perceived tension between moms who were in the labor force - the paid labor force - and moms who stayed at home. So two questions for you is: how do you think you've changed? And do you think the culture has changed in how we talk about parenting?

STEINER: Yes. I do. Writing "Mommy Wars" helped me so much sort of come to grips with my own insecurities as a mom, and I realized that all moms, you know, the only real mommy war was inside our own heads, as we tried to struggle to figure out what kind of mom we were and to feel good about it. And I've seen that moms have become much more comfortable talking about the realities of motherhood in the last five years. And also that dads are owning parenthood in a way that feels different to me, that I think is really good for them and for kids and for families. You know, being more comfortable taking paternity leave, turning down a promotion or a job change if means a huge upheaval in their kids' lives, and just helping their wives a lot more. So I think all of that is really, really good.

And for me, on a personal level, I feel like five years ago I was a much more ambitious mother. You know, it's embarrassing to admit, but I thought that my kids were geniuses and that I was a really great mom. And I think...


STEINER: ...that's a normal part of early motherhood. Both of those things, it's a wonderful part of early motherhood. And - but it's a very, very stressful way to parent and I feel like over time I've become kind of more tired and more jaded and more realistic, and I let my kids go more and I recognize that they need to be themselves and they need to blossom and develop as individuals and that sort of let's me off the hook a lot more too. So I think I'm a much more happier mom now than I was five years ago.

MARTIN: Can I just - I just want to add one thing to what you said about fathers being in the last five years sort of claiming more of the conversation. In fact, one of the consistent criticisms that we get on this program is from fathers who want in. It's not that they don't agree with the point of view that a lot of you all have or that - points of views that are made, but they say we want in too. We want to participate and we have a different perspective and our perspective deserves to be heard, which is interesting to hear 'cause I don't know that 10 year ago, 20 year ago, that you would've have that many men putting their hands up to say I want my point of view as a father to be recognized. You know, I don't know.

STEINER: I know. I think that that's a wonderful change in parenting. It helps moms, it's good for dads and it's great for kids.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. This week we're celebrating five years on the air. And today we're visiting with four of our regulars who've been with us over the last four years and we're taking stock of how they've changed, how our conversations about parenting have changed.

With us are Aracely Panameno, Leslie Morgan Steiner, Dani Tucker and Jolene Ivey. We've talked a lot about ups and downs. You know, we've had some very emotional conversations on this program. And Jolene, I'll just talk about one of the ones that I think was kind of really emotional for a lot of us, where you talked about difficult times in a conversation, about the depression that sometimes mothers experience that often is not talked about. This was from a conversation we had in 2008. I'll just play a short clip.


IVEY: When I first was born, who was also the worst baby in the whole world, I didn't know what to do and I would have fantasies. It was cold outside. It was snowing and I would think I could throw the baby through the window and I could visualize him going through the window and then the screen and then out into the snow and then he would not be with me, and wouldn't that be nice? And I never was tempted to actually do it but I did think of it and it made me feel bad that I would even think it, but you know, but I did.

MARTIN: Do remember that conversation?

IVEY: You know, I didn't remember it when you first started talking, but once I heard my voice and heard what I said, oh yeah, I do remember that very well. I really, really do, and I'm glad there's enough distance now between that part of my life and now that I'm don't really think about that anymore.

MARTIN: Do you feel it's become easier to talk about these kinds of things, which are very painful to talk about and also very embarrassing? No one wants to be thought of as a bad mother. No one wants to...

IVEY: Right.

MARTIN: I think it's very hard for people. Do you think it's gotten easier?

IVEY: I have very close girlfriend who went through severe postpartum depression and that must've been, I don't know, 14 years ago. And at the time she went through it she was embarrassed, she didn't want to talk about it and I really had to like search around and figure out what was going on with her. I have a feeling that if it were to happen today, she or her husband would call me right away and say, what's going on? What should I do? I need some help. So I do think that that's improved, at least I sure hope it is improved.

MARTIN: Dani, what about you? You know that you're kind of known around here for telling it like it is, even if people don't always want to hear it. And I just wonder, are there things like that you've talked about over the last five years that you really glad you raised or are there some things you wish you maybe you had kept to yourself...


MARTIN: ...because everybody wasn't feeling it?

TUCKER: Of course, you know, I read some of the comments, you know, after the show online and I'm the demon mom because of the spanking.


TUCKER: But to be honest with you, I don't regret it because I am who I am and I don't, you know, I don't, you know, I don't change for people because of what they think. But I thank - I'm thankful for this platform to express it because at the same time that I've heard that, I've also, you know, I've got, you know, messages and hit on Facebook going thank you, you know, for letting me know that the way I'm raising my kid is not bad because somebody says it is. You know, that, you know, if I do tap my child on the behind doesn't mean I'm abusing my child, it means that - you know, so it's coming both ways and I've liked that because I'm with moms who are more like me. And when I come to the show, I'm with moms who are different than me but we're still working for the same thing. And the fact that our voice gets to be heard, it's been such a blessing.

MARTIN: Aracely, one of the reasons we appreciate you is you've given voice to obviously your own personal experience, but you've also given a voice to immigrant moms and moms who are trying to traverse, you know, straddle two worlds. Maybe they grew up in one culture and their children are growing up in another and, you know, it's something that kind of we pay lip service to but don't necessarily always want to talk about or think about or even really, you know, care about. All we know is that, you know, this child is not doing what we want or perhaps this person is parenting in a way that isn't familiar to us. And I just wanted to ask you just - just sort of picking up on that, are there things that you feel particularly feel good about surfacing over the last couple of years that you've been with us, or are there things you wished you'd talk more about?

PANAMENO: So I think that I thank the panel, you know, just like Dani(ph) just said. I get to compare my notes, if you will. I also get to receive support, not only from these women on this panel, from the women that also hear us and the women in my community, and men, because I too get messages as well as comments about what we discuss here.

One of the things that I particularly would like for us to talk more about is the experience of our young people going off to college. And we've touched on that conversation on a number of occasions - particularly this is, you know, the point in time when they are just beginning to try to take off on their own. And certainly my daughter had a bad experience with the utilization of alcohol on campus and, you know, that's not unique. And at the time I sort of like felt this is very painful for me, as a family, for my daughter, it delayed her progress, etcetera. And so, you know, I felt this is a reflection of me, of my parenting skills, is it a failure of me as a mother, as a woman, etcetera. But as I say, I've learned over time throughout her life to let her go. I've tried to nurture the good things, give her a good sound moral background and grounding, and then trust that she's learned what she needs to learn to take off. And obviously I can't protect her from everything bad in the world and so she's going to have her triumphs and her failures, and so it's an ebb and flow.

MARTIN: And grounding, does that mean grounding?


MARTIN: She's being grounded? I notice we haven't seen her lately. I don't know what...

PANAMENO: We actually don't do grounding in my culture.

MARTIN: Is that right? Really?

PANAMENO: That's a very interesting concept.


PANAMENO: There's no such thing as grounding.

IVEY: Wow.

MARTIN: What do you do?


MARTIN: What do you do?

PANAMENO: So, you know, I actually learn new things in the United States. I sort of like - I would ask her, you know, what is most painful thing that you could give away and she would tell me and I'd say OK, give it up.


PANAMENO: So it was a self-imposition of the punishment, as opposed - I wasn't doing it to her, she had done it to herself...


PANAMENO: ...through her own actions.

MARTIN: Well, remember, there was a dad who put a couple of - five bullets, I think it was, into his daughter's laptop because she posted some wildly inappropriate things on Facebook and he - and posted it on YouTube so then he posted a video of himself on YouTube putting a few slugs into her laptop.


MARTIN: And so at least we haven't heard about that. So ladies, well, ladies, we have just a couple of minutes left. I want to thank you all for your, you know, your heart, bringing your kind of candor, fearlessness to these conversations over the last five years. It's been really rewarding - I think not just for us but for those who have listened and we know this because people have told us that. But let's(ph) - looking ahead over the next five years, what do you think, you know, what do you think is the most important thing that we should be talking about over the next five years? Or just whatever you want to talk about. It doesn't have to be important - important to you. What do you think? OK. Leslie, you first.

STEINER: Well, the thing that I've gotten the most out of listening to TELL ME MORE and being on the show, which I'd love to do more of, even though it's painful for me because I feel like I'm always sticking my foot in my mouth, but I'd like to talk even more candidly about the differences in motherhood and parenthood based on our cultural and ethnic differences. And because I'm white, I feel like I often have this terrible assumption that I am in the majority and everybody does it my way. And I've learned so very, very much in a really humbling and great way by listening to other moms about how their opinions are really different than mine for a very fundamental - fundamentally good reasons.

MARTIN: Dani? Quickly.

TUCKER: I just want us to keep doing what we doing.



TUCKER: That's it, really. I mean it's been a blessing to me. It's been a blessing - these are my sisters now, you know, and I didn't know these ladies from Adam when we started. And I love each and every one of them. So I just want us to keep doing what we're doing.

MARTIN: Aracely?

TUCKER: I met you in my neighborhood in Dale City in El Rinconcito Latino because I was running for office at the time. In the future I hope that we can talk about the participation of our young people in the political process and also about other issues that impact their lives, like student debt.

MARTIN: OK. Jolene?

IVEY: It's always good for me to hear how other kids are challenging their parents.


IVEY: It keeps me from feeling like I'm alone. Because, you know, a few years ago I had a really easy time with my kids and now I'm having some more challenging times, so it makes me feel better and it makes me a better mother to hear that.

MARTIN: We're here for you. We're here for you.

Jolene Ivey, mom of five. Aracely Panameno, the director of Latino Affairs at the Center for Responsible Lending, mom of one daughter. Dani Tucker, administrator, freelancer, mom of two - including a new Navy man. Leslie Morgan Steiner, author most recently of the book "Crazy Love" and a mom of three.

Ladies, moms, thank you for everything.

IVEY: Happy anniversary.

MARTIN: Thank you Michel.

TUCKER: Happy anniversary.

PANAMENO: Feliz cupliano. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.