The covid-19 pandemic has created a secondary epidemic of burnout among parents, and back-to-school season may not provide much relief. After more than a year of juggling at-home schooling with remote work, parents must now weigh the risks of letting their children return to school against the academic and mental health effects of keeping them home.
If you're one of the many parents who could use a break this month, these seven podcasts will provide a sense of community and useful tips for just about any parenting scenario. There are also a few shows in here to help keep your children entertained.
'THE LONGEST SHORTEST TIME'
"The parenting show for everyone" may sound like an easy tagline, but Hillary Frank's insightful show actually earns it, telling fascinating human stories that will appeal just as much to those without children. One of the longest-running parenting podcasts in the game, "The Longest Shortest Time" started life in 2010, after Frank experienced a traumatic injury during childbirth that left her in chronic pain. Desperate to feel less alone, she started podcasting. Despite being told repeatedly that a show about parenting wouldn't have wide appeal, over the next nine years Frank built the show into an award-winning hit. Though it ended its run in 2019, the show's full archive is available, offering a gold mine of stories about the challenging, miraculous and reliably unpredictable process of raising small humans. Starter episode: "Postpartum House Arrest"
'MOTHERHOOD IN BLACK & WHITE'
In the summer of 2020, a few months after the murder of George Floyd ignited a racial reckoning, Kaanji Irby and Tara Campbell started this compelling series about parenting, anti-racism and how the two intersect. Irby, who is Black, and Campbell, who is white, are both Gen X mothers living and working in Dallas. They're also best friends, and share an easy chemistry. The subject matter of their conversations runs the gamut. Some weeks, Irby and Campbell take personality tests together or unpack their current pop culture favorites. In other episodes, they delve into more serious subjects like body positivity, the challenges of the Sandwich Generation (Americans caring for children and older relatives at the same time), and how to speak to children about racism and hate crimes. Starter episode: "Life Isn't Fair"
'BUT WHY: A PODCAST FOR CURIOUS KIDS'
Curiosity is a wonderful attribute in children, one to be celebrated and cultivated. But for overstretched parents, managing a barrage of "why" questions can become taxing pretty fast. Enter Vermont Public Radio's "But Why," a show that avoids talking down to children by inviting them to dictate the topics. Each episode begins with a recording of a young listener asking a question — for example, "Who invented money?" or "Are seeds alive?" — which the host, Jane Lindholm, then answers by enlisting an expert. Delivered in short, easily digestible chunks, the explanations will keep children entertained while filling in some gaps in adults' knowledge. Starter episode: "Why Do Americans Use the Word 'Soccer'?"
'GOOD INSIDE WITH DR. BECKY'
There are numerous podcast hosts out there offering parenting advice, with varying levels of qualifications to back it up. Dr. Becky Kennedy, a clinical psychologist (and mother of three), began her show in April, and offers an appealing blend of expertise, personal experience and calming mind-management techniques. Many episodes are geared around advice on how to respond to challenging situations — for example, when your child is lying, or rejecting you or showing aggression — while other "Deep Dive" episodes focus on Kennedy speaking to parents about a problem they're facing. No matter the scenario, Kennedy's actionable solutions always take into account the psychology of the child and the parents, which makes the podcast a validating listen. Starter episode: "Deep Dive: How do we respond to a child's pretend weapon play?"
'ONE BAD MOTHER'
"We aren't all magical vessels," is the unofficial catchphrase to this long-running conversational show, referring to the toxic myth that new motherhood should be a natural and seamless transition for every woman. As the hosts, Biz Ellis and Theresa Thorn, know from personal experience, becoming a mother can also be isolating, painful and traumatic, particularly when it feels like everybody else is effortlessly doing it right. To combat that culture of shame, Ellis and Thorn started "One Bad Mother" to have candid conversations about how unnatural and imperfect motherhood often feels — and how that takes nothing away from the joy of it. With a catalog of more than 400 episodes to sample, the show is an invaluable antidote to mom shaming. Starter episode: "Let's Play Never Have I Ever"
'SMASH BOOM BEST'
A debate show for children might sound like a tough sell, but this is a godsend for parents trying to find alternatives to screen time. Created by the same American Public Media team behind kid-friendly science show "Brains On!," each episode of "Smash Boom Best" begins with a simple question: Which of these two things is better? Chocolate or cheese? Bikes or skateboards? Invisibility or flying? In each episode, adult debaters argue their side to a panel of young judges, who then pass judgment on which is cooler. The format of this show encourages children to extol the virtues of their favorite thing, while also teaching them how to argue respectfully and back up their opinions with facts. Starter episode: "Ice Cream vs. French Fries"
'RESPECTFUL PARENTING: JANET LANSBURY UNRUFFLED'
"Take the mobile off the bed, take care of their needs, and leave them alone." This quote, from early childhood educator Magda Gerber, inspired former actress and model Janet Lansbury to rethink her entire approach to child care. Gerber pioneered an approach known as RIE parenting, which emphasizes authentic communication with children of all ages (that is, speaking in a normal adult voice, even to babies), giving them space to play independently, and treating them as capable and autonomous. In "Unruffled," Lansbury explains how to use these principles to meet the everyday challenges of parenting. Starter episode: "Damage Control When We Feel Like We're Failing"