Finding the Humor in Parenthood, with Hillary Frank
Episode 84: Finding the Humor in Parenthood, with Hillary Frank
Parenting is far from easy and Hillary Frank, author and host of The Longest Shortest Time Podcast, wants parents to know they are not alone. After realizing that there were no resources where parents could commiserate in a real way and truly discuss the difficulties of parenthood, she created The Longest Shortest Time Podcast. In her podcast she talks to parents from all backgrounds with varying parenting styles and debunks some of the portrayals of parenthood often influenced by mainstream media. In this episode, Hillary sits down with Kristy to discuss the reality of childbirth and parenting, changing the idea of the ideal worker and injecting humor into the conversation surrounding parenthood.
00:00 Speaker 1: Welcome to the Ellevate Podcast: Conversations With Women Changing the Face of Business. And now, your hosts, Kristy Wallace and Maricella Herrera.
00:12 Kristy Wallace: Hello and welcome to the Ellevate Network Podcast. This is your host Kristy Wallace here with my co-host Maricella Herrera. Maricella, what is going on today? How're you doing?
00:26 Maricella Herrera: I'm doing good. It's been a crazy day today, since I got here I'm like running.
00:33 KW: Yes.
00:33 MH: Running.
00:35 KW: It's... I think that our concept of time or what we can expect from time has evolved. There used to be the, "Oh, August will be slow, December will be slow," no longer.
00:49 MH: No. I would say though, it's more of like my favorite time is this period when we're planning and doing and not just executing, 'cause I do think executing is great but I like a little bit more of the stepping back and thinking part.
01:05 KW: Yeah.
01:07 MH: So that's good.
01:08 KW: And we have tons of inspiration in our planning process because we have some new conference rooms over at Ellevate Network. And right now we are in the Ada Lovelace conference room. So get inspired.
01:22 MH: Yeah, it's a good little conference room. So if we sound different, that's why.
01:27 KW: We've upgraded from the phone booth.
01:30 MH: We no longer use the closet. [chuckle] So if you ever come to Ellevate Network to visit, we will show you the former taping room of the closet and the new taping room.
01:41 KW: Or you can check us out on Instagram, at Ellevate Network. Twitter, EllevateNtwk. Or on Facebook, LinkedIn. Everywhere you are, we are there too and you can always follow us and get an inside look at the Ellevate Podcast #EllevatePod. Also email us email@example.com with your questions, comments, feedback, love, we love the love, we love to hear from you. Today I... The first podcast I ever listened to was this podcast called "The Longest Shortest" and it is this unbelievable podcast, kind of about parenting but... And so much more than that. Just really story telling and you know that I love story telling an inspiration and a lot of humor and the host, Hillary, I just like... She's got this fantastic radio voice and she's super silly and just smart and it's weird when you hear someone on a podcast 'cause you kind of create this persona in your head of who they are. And I had the huge honor of meeting her in person for the Ellevate Podcast.
02:58 MH: I know you're fangirling.
03:00 KW: I was totally fangirling.
03:01 MH: That just made me think though, what type of personas are people thinking we are? I wonder.
03:07 KW: Oh, I don't know. Hopefully, I'm 10 pounds lighter than I actually am [chuckle], and a few less wrinkles but absolutely whatever you're thinking listeners take 10 pounds off, remove any wrinkles around the eyes, that's it, I'm good.
03:26 MH: I can go with that. [chuckle]
03:27 KW: So today's podcast you're all in for a great treat. Hillary is really fantastic. And I also kind of need to call out the power of networking here. You know so many of our guests we come by through the Ellevate Network, through the amazing women in our community as well as the connections that they have and women who really support what we're doing and believe in it women and men, 'cause we have had men on the podcast as well. So you're in for just I think a great time listening to Hillary this week as well as many of the other podcasts we have coming up over the coming weeks as we've really just have a jam-packed fall lineup of amazing stories, talent, voices, and inspiration.
04:17 MH: Yeah, it's exciting. We have quite the lineup.
04:20 KW: Well, here we go, enjoy the podcast. And if you're so inclined, shoot us an email or send us a message on social. We wanna hear from you.
04:42 KW: Hillary, thank you so much for joining us today on the Ellevate Podcast. I am total fangirling which everyone in the audience knows. When I first started listening to podcasts like years and years and years ago, I asked my sister-in-law who is way hipper than I am for a list of good podcasts and The Longest Shortest was at the top of the list. And so, I've been listening to it forever and it's great. And actually seeing you, after hearing your voice for so long, it's like really surreal.
05:11 Hillary Frank: I'm smaller than you thought?
05:13 KW: No, no. [chuckle] Well, you sometimes describe yourself in the podcast. So I kind of had this picture of what you would... What you may look like, but I do wanna say that one of the things I love about your podcast is I'm a parent, but you share stories of all different types of parenting, and different times of parents and different experiences, and so even those that are not directly related to me, I always learn something. I'm inspired by something. So what was the impetus for starting The Longest Shortest?
05:46 HF: So I have been a radio producer for a really long time now. I started in 1999 and I have been a freelancer for a long time, worked for a lot of different shows and then I had a baby in 2010, and had a really rough child birth and recovery. I couldn't walk for the first two months of her life because of a child birth injury and I couldn't be the kind of mom I wanted to be. I couldn't get into the right position to breastfeed her, I couldn't change her diaper, I couldn't give her a bath. A lot of these things that seem... I think like... I don't know, the drudgery of parenthood, but also you wanna be able to provide care for your kid. And I didn't feel like there were resources for me. There was a lot of sunshine and rainbows if you wanna find that about having a baby.
06:40 HF: And then there was a lot of just like, "I'm a bad mom," kind of like glorifying the bad mommy thing, but I couldn't find people who were commiserating in a real way about this stuff and I was trying to talk to people that I would meet. Actually four months after my daughter was born, we moved to a new town where I didn't know anybody, and I was trying to meet people, and I was trying to talk to people. And I found that it was really hard to get anyone to do like real talk with me. Like I would see somebody in the coffee shop and they would be out and about with their little baby and I'd be like, "Wow, look at you, you're up and at them so early." And they were like, "Well, it's been two weeks." [chuckle] And I feel like, "Oh whoa, okay, I... " End the conversation. I don't know what else to say. And so...
07:26 KW: So it's like big L on my forehead. I'm like losing it.
07:29 HF: Yeah, exactly. So I knew though from my many years as a radio producer that if you stick a microphone under someone's face, you kind of have license to ask them anything. And they're more likely to be honest with you. And so that's what I did, I started interviewing people. At first people that I knew, but very early on, I said like, "If you have a story that you wanna tell me about a surprising struggle in parenthood, email me." And right away I started hearing from strangers, and this thing that had started out as a pretty, I don't know, like selfish motive to heal myself turned out to my surprise, be really healing to other people as well.
08:15 KW: Yeah. I mean, I love all of that and there's so much there, the reality of child birth and the reality of parenting is definitely something that feels so glamorized and glorified through media and that then becomes ingrained in the way we talk about it in social situations. And you feel like you have to be perfect at everything, and so then when you have a tough birth or when you have a hard time nursing or when you are losing your mind crying at 3:00 AM 'cause your kid won't sleep. There always feels like there's judgment that you've done something wrong, when you haven't, right? We're all just like making it by, we're just dealing with it.
09:00 HF: Yeah, I mean I felt like there's the very popular book, Happiest Baby On the Block, and he's got the five S's. Dr. Harvey Karp who by the way, does not have any children. And he... [chuckle] And there's these five S's, it's like shushing, swaddling, swinging, there's like two others. And I joke with friends that there's a sixth S, which is shaddaluck. [chuckle]
09:28 HF: Because there's no acknowledgement that if you can't pull off any of the five S's, it's still okay. Sometimes there just isn't anything you can do. So it makes you feel like a failure, if you can't get one of these things from the book that's supposed to work for everybody to work for you.
09:45 KW: Yeah, I have... So I've got three kids, two, four, and eight, and I live in Brooklyn in a two-family home and my sister-in-law lives upstairs, the one who told me about Longest Shortest. And she has a two-year-old and soon to be new baby, so there's five kids in our house and we kind of just like deal with it, and we're just like, "Alright, whoever's got food, throw it on the table. Whoever is up for arts and crafts." So whatever it is.
10:15 KW: And I tell that because, I think it's so... Having that support network and having that community is also something that has saved me many times, but it's hard to come by in this world where we're so tapped into computers, where we're so sort of decentralized in a way from family and community in that way.
10:38 HF: Yeah, yeah, I mean I think we've found at The Longest Shortest Time that the comments on our social media, on our website, tend to be of a very different variety than what you find elsewhere on the internet and particularly on parenting media, which is known for being some of the most vicious. We can publish something on our site, and then have it be republished elsewhere and the comments are vastly different. People will be attacking the guest versus there's something about the tone we've set that lets everyone know we accept all kinds of parenting and approaches to children and all kinds of children and all kinds of parents, that makes people engage. We welcome spirited debate, but we don't welcome attacks.
11:32 KW: That's so key. What's been your favorite episode?
11:37 HF: That's hard, it's so hard to say. I think right now I'm feeling really jazzed about our Working Moms series. We're doing... For all of November we're doing a series about discrimination in the work place against working moms because moms are a discriminated against in the workplace more than dads and more than people without children. And we just launched it. And I'm feeling so excited about this [chuckle] interview that I did with the former governor of Massachusetts, Jane Swift, and she was the first... Well, she was the first female governor of Massachusetts but she was the first Governor in America to give birth while in office and we've been communicating afterwards and she was telling me she hadn't listened to this clip of her being on the O'Reilly Factor, where he kinda grills her on her work life balance.
12:31 HF: Like what's it like, how can you be leaving your little babies behind, she had twins, she had just given birth to twins and she was in touch with me recently and said, "I hadn't heard that clip in so long and it's got me all fired up all over again. [chuckle] They hadn't told me of that like, he just sprung that on me... We weren't suppose to be talking about my kids."
12:48 KW: Like on so many levels.
12:50 HF: So it was this example of how discrimination happens most often from a boss, but it's also so culturally embedded in our society that you can be discriminated against by the American people. You know? When you're a politician. [chuckle]
13:10 KW: Well, that's even... And it's a great series. It just started, I heard the first one and even that first opening clip where she's being interviewed as she's running for a term she's 25 I think. And the reporter keeps harping on her romantic situation. Are you married, are you going to be married, are you going to have kids as if... All of this then it helps... All of these factors into her ability to do a job. Right? It's like if you're gonna have kids, then you're not worthy, or you're not capable, you're not... And which is insane.
13:49 HF: Yeah, yeah, it's a question that men don't face, fathers don't face.
13:56 KW: Yeah, and so how do we change that?
14:00 HF: Yeah, I mean, [chuckle] it's really hard. It's not... We were searching and doing this series for like, what is the one easy thing we can ask everybody to do? That would change things. And there isn't one thing because the American work culture is so focused around this like "Ideal worker" which means you're available at all times and can be working late, be called in at the last minute, be sent to travel at the last minute. It's about not having any work-life balance, whether you're a parent or not.
14:35 HF: So first of all, the thing that needs to change is the idea of the ideal worker like that needs to not be the ideal. Another thing that is a pretty... Should be a pretty easy fix is that dads who are capable of taking paternity leave should take all of it. Like that in and of itself. If that happened across the board more often, that would be a big change because it would mean that when employers are evaluating whether they wanna hire somebody, they won't know whether you're gonna take time off or not when you have a child. So there's ways we can chip away at it but there's no one easy fix.
15:14 KW: Yeah, so you don't just have a podcast, you also have written a number of books. How did that start as well? It seems like you're finding creative outlets but ways to really have that influence.
15:29 HF: Yeah, so I... I wrote three young adult novels, before I became a mom while I was working in radio, freelancing in radio. And my first radio story was on this American Life, and I did that and got my first book deal around the same time I was 22 and both of these things were unsolicited submissions, and I was plugging away at trying to figure out a way to work in creative writing. And now there are so many podcasts. It's hard to imagine a time when there weren't but... And there's so many resources for people to figure out how to do that. But back then, there was nothing really.
16:13 HF: And so I worked my way in [chuckle] because I couldn't afford to have an unpaid internship. I sent a cassette tape I had made using an interview that I did on my parents' microcassette answering machine and I did this interview and I cut it down by feeding the clips of tape that I wanted to use into a shiny red boom box. And then reading my narration, you can hear all the clicks from when I'm pressing the pause button on the boom box, and I FedExed it to Ira Glass at This American Life.
16:47 HF: And heard from him the next day, [chuckle] he called me and was like, "Who are you? How did you figure out how to do something like in the style of our show?" And I think he was surprised and maybe a little disappointed to find out that I was as young as I was in art school [chuckle] but he invited me to continue to pitch them and I wound up putting my first story on show in that same boom box style. And then at the same time, I started getting published in young adult literature, so I did that and now I'm working on another book based on the podcast, and it's called Weird Parenting Wins.
17:27 HF: And the idea is that we're collecting submissions from the audience and your audience is welcome to submit as well at weirdparentingwins.com. And we're just like crowdsourcing all the weird stuff that parents do to get their kids to do what they need them to do. That you would never find in a book so... All the way from getting your kid to stop crying and eat stuff all the way up to like dealing with teenagers and helping your kids discover their identities, and how to keep your cool as a parent. We're doing a whole chapter on sex life for parents. So, keeping up... We have some good tips in that one, [chuckle] so I'm really excited about that book.
18:20 KW: And one thing that I love about you, I'm talking as if we are best friends [chuckle] which we will be soon. But no, your sense of humor, yeah, it comes through a lot in what you do, even the commercials that you are making [chuckle] for your podcast. But I love that. And how do you inject that humor through everything that you do and kind of what is the impact that that has on your work?
18:49 HF: It's like I don't know how to look at the world without a sense of absurdity. It's just... I think when I was younger, it was a weakness or seen as a weakness. It was a way in which I didn't fit in with other kids and it's become a strength because it turns out people like absurdity. And I think it's just a way... It's just the glasses through which I've seen the world and so I can't not inject absurdity, but I also think that content is more compelling to people if there's a sense of humor to it. So even if we're talking about something really serious, like for a couple of years, we've been doing this series called "The Accidental Gay Parents" and it's got some really serious stuff in it.
19:44 HF: It's about adoption and foster care, and it's about a trans man becoming pregnant and having a miscarriage, and then, spoiler alert, getting pregnant again and having a baby, and these are all like serious, serious things. But the reason I wanted to work with this couple is because they're really funny and it makes you wanna listen and it makes you care. And so I think that if you're a person who's already interested in trans and LGBTQ issues, you're gonna wanna listen to this thing anyway but injecting humor into it makes a wider audience care and wanna listen to it too.
20:22 KW: And that's so important about what you do on Longest Shortest which is really giving a voice to so many different types of people and so many different experiences that we're not hearing that we may not have access to.
20:38 HF: Yeah, we really, really strive to do that. I think a good example of bringing people together is... I interviewed Ina May Gaskin. This was a few years ago but she's the most famous midwife in the world, and she's sort of the leader of the modern natural birth movement. And I think there are a lot of midwives and doulas who have looked to her as inspiration and decided... And sort of like disseminate this message that unless you do it, unless you give birth unmedicated and without intervention, then you're doing it wrong. And some people even add to that, and it should be ecstatic. It should be an ecstatic experience and it's really divisive because I wanted that kind of a birth and didn't get it, and not for lack of trying.
21:44 KW: Sure.
21:45 HF: Right? And then I felt like, "Oh well, where's Ina May Gaskin now? Where are... Are they gonna support me? The people who support her message. Or am I just supposed to feel like a failure?" And I did feel like a failure, and so I called up Ina May Gaskin and confronted her about it. And I said... I told her, "This made me feel like a failure." And she said, "Oh no, then I'm not doing my job well." And she said, "I think there are probably people who have misinterpreted my message, including doulas and midwives." And it was... We got hundreds of comments on this episode and it was like all... People from all walks of life coming and talking about this, and people were hashing it out, mostly in a respectful way. But I felt like we came to a new place with it where it was like there is something wrong with our medical system, but also if you can't get what you wanted, there are reasons for that, and it's fine.
22:53 KW: Yeah, everything that you're saying, certainly resonates with me when I went in to have my first... I had this idea of what it was gonna be like and you just assume that that is what will happen for you because that's what you want. And then it doesn't happen that way and you feel, again you start off this phase of your life feeling like you've failed, you've done... That it's your fault, and that's kind of a really crappy way to start anything.
23:20 HF: Yeah, yeah, and granted some people are able to have unmedicated births and it goes really well for them, and I think the problem though is that then sometimes the people who were able to do that judge the people who were not, and that's where we run into problems.
23:38 KW: One thing I love about podcasts or I've seen, particularly with you, is that aspect of community. It feels like you're part of a pretty strong community of other podcasters that really support each other and sort of cross promote. How impactful has that been for you?
23:54 HF: It's great. A lot of the people who are hosting podcasts now are people who I met in my 20s. And we came up together. And it's really cool to be able to support each other. And it does help a lot to bring new audience to the podcast. I think, especially for mine, where I face... I feel like I face a little discrimination. People think of it as a mommy podcast, and there's nothing wrong with content that's geared for moms. But I also, the way I approach parenting, I like to think of it as like a beat that you would find in general media, and it just happens to be about parenthood.
24:43 HF: And the way that I approach it too is like, it's about family, it's not just about the trials and tribulations of being a mom. And it's about how you relate to your kids, but also how you relate to your parents. And people who really have listened to it have told me that even if they don't have kids, it helps them rethink their relationships with their own parents and think about the people around them, and relate to people better. And so when I get featured on other shows, it helps to sort of like highlight that point that this is not just for parents, and it shouldn't be. You shouldn't think of it as less than.
25:26 KW: So you started the podcast as a way to really hear the truth from other parents. The unvarnished scoop on parenting. 20, 30 years from now and you look back, like what is your legacy? Have you accomplished that and more?
25:44 HF: Oh man, I can barely think about more than an hour ahead. [chuckle] You're asking me to think a few decades ahead. I think hopefully that what I will have done is, made people more empathetic toward each other, and I think I am starting to do that. And I just hope that that sneakily spreads by people listening to stories, listening to the entertainment value of it, and then starting to see other people a little bit more like themselves.
26:20 KW: Thank you. Thanks so much for being on the Ellevate Podcast. We love to meet you and have you here.
26:24 HF: Thanks so much for having me.
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