I included Hillary’s book in my list of top 10 book for parents who don’t have time to read in Parents magazine online! Read here!
Hillary Frank is the host, creator, and executive producer of award-winning podcast “The Longest Shortest Time.” She's a former contributor to This American Life, the author and illustrator of three young adult novels, The View from the Top, I Can't Tell You, and Better Than Running at Night. Her latest book is Weird Parenting Wins: Bathtub Dining, Family Screams, and Other Hacks from the Parenting Trenches. Her recent op-ed in The New York Times called “The Special Misogyny Reserved for Mothers” challenged the idea that motherhood issues were a niche topic. Her article “Having kids doesn't mean you have to turn boring” on CNN.com gives moms tips for breaking apart from the stereotypes.
Hillary Frank: Hi, Zibby.
Zibby: Hi. How are you?
Hillary: Good, thanks. How are you?
Zibby: I'm good. Thanks so much for coming on “Moms Don't Have Time to Read Books.”
Hillary: No problem.
Zibby: Weird Parenting Wins, amazing book. I got so many fantastic suggestions that I'm going to be implementing immediately with my four kids. Can you tell listeners what Weird Parenting Wins is about?
Hillary: When I had my baby, I read a lot of books. The advice I was getting from experts was making me feel like a failure. A lot of this advice is written from a “my way or the highway” perspective. If it works for you, great. If it doesn't, then I would feel like there was something wrong with me or something wrong with my kid. The thing that I discovered is the stuff that was really working for me was stuff that I had invented myself out of trial and error, out of moments of desperation, or things that friends had shared with me. I did a callout on “The Longest Shortest Time” website to see if other parents had similar experiences. We got the most amazing responses. So many of them were hilarious. It was things like a dad who pig-snorts in his baby’s ear to get her to stop crying or parents who are charging their electric toothbrushes to conduct the baby to sleep like a white noise machine. We should really trust the intuition of parents. I wanted to create this book that was a brain trust of the weird stuff that parents actually do to get their kids to do what they need them to do.
Zibby: It’s so great. I love how at the beginning of each chapter you organize it by topic, but then you have your own hilarious little anecdotes. Then you go into all the quotes from all these different parents. Immediately, you trust them. It’s perfect. It’s so actionable. What are some of your favorite parenting wins, some of the weird things that maybe you do with Sasha?
Hillary: My favorite one is “What's on my butt,” which is a game that this mom Maggie created. She lies face down on the couch and tells her kid to fetch some object and put it on her butt. She has to guess what it is. The longer it takes to guess, the longer she gets to rest. The girl gets to feel like she's playing. I've done that a lot with my daughter.
Zibby: That's genius.
Hillary: My daughter also has this habit of liking to show me what's in her mouth when she's eating at the table. I don't like to be a nag. It gets annoying to have to always be like, “Stop eating with your mouth open.” Instead, there's a suggestion that a parent had to do an elbow point. When the kid’s chewing their mouth open, you just point your elbow at them and go, “Elbow point!” It becomes more of a fun thing.
Zibby: Some of my favorites, I loved “Dinner in odd places,” where if you can't get the kids to eat, you just run around and eat wherever. Another favorite, my kids used to be so scared of those automatic flushers in public restrooms. One of the moms in the book suggested taping a pantyliner over the sensor. She carries them in her bag. That was awesome. I think I'm going to do that. Bringing balloons that weren’t inflated into the airport and then blowing them up so you have something to play with, those were great. There were so many. I kept circling and trying to remember to do all these things.
Hillary: Maxi pads have multiple uses too. They can be like stickers. When you need to answer emails, your kid can unwrap them out of the packages and stick them on the walls and on the floor.
Zibby: Perfect, and Post-its too. One of the suggestions was putting Post-its all over the house. Maybe a treasure hunt with Post-its. I definitely am going to have to use that one.
Your podcast, “The Longest Shortest Time,” which is one of the most successful, amazing podcasts ever -- you were totally at the forefront of this whole podcast, not revolution, but whatever a good word is, movement. How did you start doing the podcast? Then of course, the podcast led into the book. Talk to me a little more about starting the podcast.
Hillary: When I started the podcast, I had been working in radio for ten years. When I had my baby, I took some time out. I had a rough childbirth and recovery and wasn’t able to work for a while. I knew that technology was changing. I wanted to keep my foot in the door and show people that I still had chops. Making a podcast was an easy way to do that. At that time, the idea that you could make a podcast your job was laughable. That wasn’t the point of it for me. I was really just trying to make it my calling card. Also, because I had this rough childbirth and just moved to a new town, I didn't really know anybody. I wanted to connect with other moms who were willing to talk honestly about parenthood and talk about the kinds of struggles that you go through as a parent. I was having trouble meeting people who were willing to talk honestly with me. I knew because of my experience as a radio reporter that if you stick a microphone under somebody's face, they're more likely to open up to you. You also have license to ask them deeper questions. I started this podcast as a way to connect with other parents. It was almost a selfish endeavor. It was supposed to heal me, and it did. The side effect was that it also was really cathartic to other people. It started this whole community. It developed pretty quickly.
Zibby: What do you think are some of the things -- obviously, you're great at the radio aspect with all of your background -- some of the things that made the show take off so much? Do you think it’s the relatable aspect of the things, like the confession you were just talking about? Do you think there were any specific things you did to market the podcast or tactical things as well?
Hillary: There are a lot of things. In the storytelling, I make the stories accessible to not just parents. I make them compelling stories that I hope anyone would want to listen to. For example, we have a whole series on a transgender man who wound up getting pregnant and having a baby. There's a lot more to his story. That's been one of our most popular series. I know that there are people who listen to that who don't have kids and don't have any interest in having kids. There's that piece of it. I also think that a lot of parenting media, at least when I was starting my podcast, almost all of it was designed to pit parents against each other, to choose sides of various parenting issues. A lot of it was issue-based. Even when we discuss issues, like discrimination against working moms, on “The Longest Shortest Time,” it’s all story-based. That draws you in and makes it easier to relate to other people who are not necessarily like you on the surface.
The other thing I did is I proved that the show could make money by inviting sponsors. I cold called a bunch of sponsors when I was first starting the show in order to make a Kickstarter. I reached out to brands that I thought were supportive of me. When I was a new mother, it was stuff like Diapers.com and Ergo Baby and Medela, and cold called them and asked if they would support me in this Kickstarter. They had never supported a podcast before. Almost all of them said yes because they believed in the mission of the show. There was a lot going on all at once.
Zibby: That's awesome. Is there anything you wish you had known when you first started out, now that you're such a veteran?
Hillary: I don't know. It’s hard to say. I guess I wish I would've known that it was possible that it would last so long. I might have done some more preplanning. I was just winging it as I was going, but I think it’s cool to hear how it evolved over time.
Zibby: Can we talk for two seconds about your recent New York Times article, “The Special Misogyny Reserved for Mothers,” which was amazing. In the article, you show how no matter what mothers do, it’s somehow not good enough. It’s not newsy. It’s not important. Somehow, it’s really not as important.
Hillary: Exactly, yes. We’re belittled.
Zibby: Yes. That's a better word. Thank you.
Hillary: Once you become a mother, I think that a lot of stuff, according to society, gets erased about you. Did you have a question about it?
Zibby: What made you write that piece? Was there a certain trigger that led you write that one?
Hillary: A lot of triggers. I didn't put together that it was misogyny against mothers until a lot of stuff piled up. As things would happen, I would be like, “Oh. That's weird. I've never been talked to that way.” I just let it go. After a while, I looked at all of this stuff as a whole. The first thing that happened was when I first made my podcast, it wasn’t possible to make a living just having a podcast. I had to get my pieces on the radio if I wanted to get paid for them. I had this decade-long experience working with public radio. I never really had trouble getting stories on the air. I pitched a couple of my stories to this one outlet that I worked with a lot. My editor took the stories to the higher-ups. We were trying to see if we could get an ongoing series on the radio as a segment, as part of a larger show. The response I got back from my editor was that the higher-ups said I sounded like a little girl. That's so weird. I've never heard that before, and I have kind of a deep voice. That's strange.
Over time, I discovered that the subject matter that I wanted to get on places wasn’t being accepted. I was being told that the subject matter was too small. There was a story that I wanted to get on NPR about why moms were giving up on their sex lives and why more mothers didn't know about pelvic floor physical therapy after childbirth injuries. Then there's the fact that insurance often doesn't cover pelvic floor physical therapy. So I wondered does that make getting your sex life back a class issue? It seemed like really fertile ground for an interesting story of some kind. The thing that I heard back was, “You can't talk about sex on the radio.” Later on, I thought about it some more. It seemed like a real double standard. On NPR, there have been several stories about Viagra. When you're talking about Viagra, you're talking about arousal. When you're talking about childbirth injuries, you're talking about chronic pain. It felt to me like we were prioritizing one thing over the over.
Zibby: What can we do about it?
Hillary: I think the article was trying to do something about it. It is stirring things up. I've been hearing from people who work in the business and saying, “Wow. This is making me rethink the ways that I've talked to other people in the past.” I don't know how soon we’ll see a move in the dial. I also think that parenting media has changed a lot in the last eight to ten years. There are more books now about the unvarnished truth about motherhood. It’s coming out of the shadows. Maybe the more we understand about it and the less we keep it secret, the more editors will want to air this stuff.
Zibby: Your raising awareness to the whole issue so key. Thank you. You’ve written young adult fiction, several books. Tell me about writing those. When did you start writing that? How do you fit that in with your life? How does writing combine with all your broadcasts? When do you do everything? How do you get it all done?
Hillary: Things happen one at a time. I'm not doing it all at once. I was a freelancer for those first ten years of my career. I was reporting stories for public radio while writing books, but I take on one project a time. Sometimes they overlap. I was just cobbling everything together at that time. I did three young adult novels, which I wrote and illustrated before my daughter was born. The last one came out the year that she was born. Then I started “The Longest Shortest Time.” I haven't written a novel since then.
Zibby: Do you want to write more books? Did you enjoy the process?
Hillary: I want to write more. I'm feeling a fiction itch recently. I'm trying to figure out what to do with it.
Zibby: Did you enjoy the whole process of Weird Parenting Wins?
Hillary: I loved it. I love communicating with our listens. I love how much they surprise me and make me laugh and make me cry. We got over eight hundred submissions for this book and wound up using almost three hundred and fifty of them. It was a pleasure to sort through these and figure out which ones were my favorites.
Zibby: Do you have any advice for aspiring authors and also podcasters?
Hillary: Don't listen to anybody's rules. I got where I am by breaking all of the rules. Especially if you're a woman and especially if you're a mom, don't let anyone tell you your subject matter is too small or you're not going to be able to bring in enough money. If you believe that you can do it, go for it. Prove them wrong.
Zibby: Love it. I feel like I should beating my chest now. [laughs] That's awesome. Same thing for authors? What about people trying to write young adult fiction? I know there are a lot of people like that.
Hillary: When I was starting out, I sent in a bunch of unsolicited submissions, including to This American Life, and then to a fiction editor. I got many rejections before I got anything published. I would get these personalized notes telling me why my stuff was getting rejected. If you ever get those, take those as an extreme compliment. Listen to the notes. Incorporate them. In general, even if you're not getting that stuff, be open minded when people give you notes. Your first draft is never going to be your best draft.
Zibby: Excellent. Aside from your fiction itch, what else do you have coming next?
Hillary: Right now, I'm going on tour for Weird Parenting Wins. I'm going to go to a few different cities. Then I'm going to figure out how to scratch that fiction itch.
Zibby: You're not coming to New York City, right? I couldn't find you on the…
Hillary: I'm coming to Brooklyn.
Zibby: I’ll have to put it on the calendar. Thank you so much for talking to me today. I'm such a huge fan. I'm so grateful for the value in my day-to-day life from your book. Thank you.
Hillary: Thank you. Thanks so much.
Zibby: Thank you. Take care. Buh-bye.
Hillary: Thanks. Bye.