Zibby Owens: I’m here today with Lindsay Powers via Skype who’s the author of You Can’t F Up Your Kids: A Judgment-Free Guide to Stress-Free Parenting. Lindsay is the creator of the #NoShameParenting movement which has reached more than 170 million people across social media. A long-time journalist, her work has appeared in The Washington Post, the New York Post, CBS This Morning, Good Morning America, CNN, and others. She was founding editor-in-chief of Yahoo! Parenting. Most recently, she was the Vice President for Lifestyle and Entertainment at SiriusXM and the founder of a digital content consulting company. She currently lives in New York with her husband and two children.

Thank you for doing this podcast. I’m sorry that has taken so long for us to meet. Congratulations on your release this week. It’s so exciting.

Lindsay Powers: Thank you so much. I’m really excited about it. This is a life-long dream to write a book. Ever since I was kid, I wanted to be writer. I founded the middle school newspaper and all this ridiculous stuff. It feels like this really big life moment to finally really release it as a book.

Zibby: It is a really big life moment. It’s super exciting. I feel that a lot of authors now in the shadow of the coronavirus are feeling that they can’t celebrate their accomplishments. I don’t think that’s right. I think that this is a time where you have to sort of double down and say, this is awesome. This is my life. This is what life is all about.

Lindsay: I agree. If we don’t find these little moments of happiness, what are we going to do? Also, people are multifaceted. We can both be so grateful for our health, so anxious or nervous about what’s next, but also proud of our work that we’ve done. All of these emotions can exist at the same time.

Zibby: Yes. I think everybody is dealing with the poo-poo platter-ness of it. It’s all there.

Lindsay: Right. We could never have planned this global pandemic. Here we are just trying to do the best we can amid this madness.

Zibby: Yes. Your book is so great. I love how you are just — well, why don’t you tell listeners what it’s about so I don’t have to? I could summarize it, but you go ahead.

Lindsay: It’s called You Can’t F Up Your Kids. It’s an eye-catching title. It’s provocative because I wanted to start a conversation. I think that parents are under so much pressure to be all the things to everyone, especially mothers, but everyone. I’m really proud that my book doesn’t just speak to moms. It speaks to all different kinds of families and all different kinds of caregivers and family setups. I had two motivations to writing this book. I’ve been a journalist for a long time, specifically covering science and health and culture. When I was judged — I opened the book talking about a woman calling me disgusting for breastfeeding my then ten-month-old at a pizza shop in Brooklyn. I just felt like, what the heck? C’mon, we’re all in this together. Chill. You kind of have that feeling like you can’t win. You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. You breastfeed too long, you’re a weirdo. You don’t breastfeed enough, you’re a bad mom.

As a journalist, I felt extremely compelled to research all of these hot-button parenting topics and to also go beyond just looking on the internet, but to call up the researchers behind all of these studies that people cite ad nauseum and put them on the spot. What I found again and again in the book is that the research has a lot of shades of gray that’s lost because nobody is going to study a pregnant woman and say, “You don’t drink. You drink a glass of wine. You drink a bottle of wine. We’re going to measure your kid in ten years and see how smart they are,” which is good. We don’t experiment on children and pregnant people. That professional standpoint, I really wanted to dive into this book. Then also from a personal standpoint, I grew up in a really crazy childhood situation. I was in an abusive household. My mom’s really mentally ill. She’s a disabled veteran. I joke I turned out mostly okay. Now I’m raising my kids in this completely different experience. We live in Brownstone, Brooklyn. They’re relatively privileged. Just hearing these brilliant, smart friends freak out about infant flash cards and the right preschool and organic food, I just was like, man, kids can really go through so many different experiences and turn out okay. If you are concerned about your kids, if you have that self-awareness, that means you’re already a great parent. I wanted to prove it through research.

Zibby: That’s really awesome. I think that when people have kids, they feel so out of control. They feel this huge sense of responsibility, and no one guidebook. I think that all they can do is affect the environment. I think people put all this extra emphasis on it and forget to step back, no fault of their own, and think, in the greater scheme of things, should I listen to the thirty other people at my farmer’s market talking about the way I should do this? To have a message like yours is so important because it’s true. Not to keep talking, I’m sorry, but I didn’t realize how little I had to do with my kids’ development until I had four kids. I realized I have almost nothing to do with the way these kids are turning out. I feel like it’s almost first do no harm. I’m just going to try not to mess them up. In terms of improving them, they are who they are.

Lindsay: Right. I think there’s this misnomer that we are going to impact our kids’ lives because they watched one minute too much screen time over the recommended guidelines or because our frenemy from middle school who we follow on Instagram is doing something different or one of the Kardashians who we follow on Facebook or whoever. There’s all these voices everywhere. Of course, we all want to be great parents. It’s a human instinct to be an awesome parent. Then because we’re hearing so many voices all the time, I think that we can lose sight of just the really basic important things that kids need, which research shows is love, food, something to eat, it doesn’t have to be perfectly organic, whatever, but something to eat and a warm place to sleep. If you have those ingredients, your kids can really thrive.

Zibby: What a relief. That’s just such a relief. I hope it’s a relief to people listening that the things that you do, you’re not in charge of making your kid smart. When my kids were little, I would take them to a music class. I’d be like, wait, should I be moving their arm now? Should I let them wander around? all these stupid things. Now I’m like, gosh, it so didn’t matter. I feel like your book is so timely right now.

Lindsay: I hope so.

Zibby: Talk a little about just how necessary this is when we’re all stuck at home, not stuck, when we’re all at home essentially protecting our children.

Lindsay: Obviously, when I was writing this book I wasn’t like, a global pandemic is coming. It’s really going to apply. I do think that it applies to our lives right now more than ever because I cover so many things that parents are so concerned about, first and foremost that we are somehow f-ing up our kids by them not being in school or by them being inside of our home much more often than they were in the past. First of all, these are things that are out of control right now. What can we do about them? I really go through the research and talk about why extra screen time is not so bad. It’s this judgy discourse, but when you look at the actual research you see kids as young as eighteen months can learn a lot from screen time. Honestly, nobody in ten years is going to look back at this time and be like, I really wish my kids had watched less Paw Patrol during that global pandemic. If we are, maybe we should check our privilege.

Zibby: My kids are literally watching Paw Patrol right this moment in the next room. Thank you for that.

Lindsay: We watch a lot of episodes of Paw Patrol every day.

Zibby: We waited for the beginning when we first hunkered down. I think it was March 12th. There were all these ads, March 27th, new Paw Patrol‘s coming out. We’ve been counting down. Finally they came out. Now it was a big celebration. These are now the things that we cling to as big life events.

Lindsay: That is so funny. I know there was all these forms. My kids are like, “I don’t want this Paw Patrol. I want the Super Paw Patrol.”

Zibby: Mighty Pups.

Lindsay: I’m like, here they are. We find joy in the small moments. I’m like, here are your Mighty Pups.

Zibby: I don’t know about you, it sounds like — I’d love to hear more about your childhood. That sounds very unique in so many ways. At least from a TV perspective, I watched TV all the time as a kid. So did everyone I know. We all watched the same shows. We could all talk about Little House on the Prairie or whatever. There weren’t that many options. I think it’s fine. I don’t know. What do you think?

Lindsay: It’s totally fine. Look, I grew up in the summer watching The Price is Right with my grandparents and Days of Our Lives, General Hospital.

Zibby: General Hospital, totally.

Lindsay: I remember watching the OJ Simpson trial when I was a kid, or a lot younger. When you look at screen time now compared to what it was then when we were kids, it’s so interactive now. There’s educational components, and not that everything needs to be this educational perfect TV show. Even when my kids are just watching Nick Jr or Disney+, there’s interactive things. They’re asking kids questions. It’s really blown out of proportion. When you dig into the history of all these hot-button topics and also how different cultures react to these hot-button topics, you see that most of our judgement is based on cultural issues and not actual research. Screens are fine. They connect us too in a time when we need connection more than ever.

Zibby: Totally agree. I don’t know how comfortable you feel talking about your growing up and your parents and all that. Can you tell me a little more about it? What was it like? How have you worked through it? and all the rest.

Lindsay: I’m pretty open about my crazy childhood because I would like to think that maybe it would help someone who’s going through the same thing. One of my first childhood memories is when I was seven years old, my dad driving around to bars with me trying to find my alcoholic mother, and when I was eight years old, watching pills swirl around the toilet because my mom was a drug addict, and so just being very parentified from a very young age. I basically raised my sisters. My parents divorced. Then we somehow ended up living with my mother who was extremely mentally ill. She still is extremely mentally ill. She has something called borderline personality disorder. She’s also bipolar on top of that. She was abusive when she wasn’t not coming out of her bedroom for days. She cooked two meals my entire childhood. I don’t think I even saw a vegetable until I was in high school, for food. We did kind of move in and out of relatives’ houses. I did have these pockets of sanity in between. We lived with my grandparents a couple of times after we’d been kicked out of various apartments or had to leave because my parents just couldn’t get it together to pay the bill.

My dad worked a lot and traveled a lot and was not super involved. He was not a bad parent. He always provided the basics when he could, but he just was a little out of the picture and not as involved. My mom would bring home a bag of chicken sandwiches from Burger King and put it in the fridge when I was in elementary school. That’s what I would feed my sisters for an entire week. We were on food stamps at one point. We were in and out of poverty. My friend who’s a school social worker has told me as an adult that I would’ve been considered homeless by the school system because of the way that we were moving so much and in and out of different family homes. My mom started entering rehab when I was eight. She’s been multiple times. She’s had multiple suicide attempts throughout her life. She kicked me out of the house when I was sixteen. She punched me into a brick wall. I left, moved in with my aunt and uncle. Then she signed over custody of my sisters, I have two younger sisters, shortly after that, and after she had a really terrible suicide attempt that was pretty serious.

I went away to college. I worked a lot of campus jobs. I was on the Pell Grant. I’m not somebody who comes from a privileged background at all. I’ve just finished paying off my student loans like a year ago. I married my high school sweetheart. We got married really young at twenty-one. I went to journalism school, moved to New York when I was twenty-one, hardly. We scraped it together. I had eight hundred dollars to my name when we moved to the city. Since then, I built this really amazing life that I’m really proud of. I have two wonderful sons. I live in Brooklyn, the people’s republic of Brooklyn. It’s such a magical place to raise kids. My husband and I bought a house and renovated it ourselves over the course of a million weekends of two years. I live this very lucky life now, but I have a really unique perspective on childrearing because of my childhood. Oh, one thing that I didn’t mention that’s also a huge part of my family history is when I finally escaped the crazy background, I was working at that time as a reporter at US Weekly. I was in Miami on assignment. I got a phone call, like fifteen phone calls in the middle of the night. My mom had fallen down the stairs and broken her neck. I was her power of attorney for property and health. I was in Miami on assignment. I had to get on a plane. I was in charge of pulling the plug or not. She ended up making it through the night. Now she’s quadriplegic. I manage all of her finances to this day. My extended family does the bulk of the caregiving. It is still to this day a really interesting dynamic with my family.

Zibby: Lindsay, oh, my gosh. That is a lot. Wow. First of all, thank you for sharing it and being open it. Second of all, just wow, that you can power through. You appear to be coming not from a place of anger, but of wanting to help and share and make things easier for other people, which is amazing, really. You could’ve taken this in a lot of different directions. You could’ve written a memoir about — what do you think it was about — maybe it’s just who you are as a person that made you take this experience and give it as a gift in a book to help other parents who are worrying about what you must think are the stupidest things ever.

Lindsay: I never want to downplay other people’s and parents’ struggles. I have a four and a six-year-old. I’m always like, ahh. I also am concerned about all these things that every parent is concerned about. I have this voice in the back of head that’s like, this is nothing. In the grand scheme of things, my childhood has become kind of my guiding light. I can measure my anxieties and concerns against it and be like, is this a big deal? No, Paw Patrol‘s not a big deal. We’re going to be fine. Because I have my grandparents who we moved in with for a couple of years, formative years, like three different times in my life, and my aunt and uncle who I’m very close with, and they had a huge hand in raising me, because I had these moments of stability and other people in my life that were there for me, I think that helped me a lot. I am somebody who’s like, I don’t stress out over a lot of things. I’m really scrappy. I don’t have that kind of safety net. I am always hustling all the time. I think the good thing is that I’m really resilient with it. That’s something I want to pass on to my kids. I know that’s something that so many parents want to pass down to their kids. I don’t want to pass it down like I learned it. I want to pass down a nicer childhood.

Zibby: Yes, a different container to pass it through or something. How did you go about starting a no-shame parenting movement? How do you just decide to start a movement? I know you were at Yahoo! at the time, Yahoo! Parenting, and had the resources of that, the wind at your sails. Can you tell me a little more about that? How do you become a movement starter?

Lindsay: I was the editor-in-chief of Yahoo! Parenting. We had this small team. We saw that anytime we wrote a story on feeling judged or another celebrity who had been judged or a mom who had been judged or any parent, we would get a ton of positive responses. Everyone would be sharing their stories on the comments, on Facebook, on Instagram. We also were feeling it because we were all really young parents. I know you had Rachel Bertsche on your show too. She was on my Yahoo! Parenting team. She’s incredible.

Zibby: I loved her.

Lindsay: We all came together. We were like, we have to do something. We came up with the idea of no-shame parenting and to build a big movement around it. We started it. As with anything, we’re like, we’ll do some stories. We’ll do a survey. We launched this video series called What It’s Like to show different kind of families. We thought it was so important to open the conversation. When you scroll social media now or talk to people, everyone’s always just their highlight reel. Everything’s perfect. We wanted to give people permission from the big platform of Yahoo! to be real, to open the conversation. We started it. It ended up going insanely viral. It really resonated. I was in the White House interviewing Valerie Jarrett by the end of the week, which was unbelievable, President Obama’s advisor. I was on Good Morning America talking about no-shame parenting. We were able to pull all the analytics of how far and how many people all of the stories and the tweets and the social media, and the hashtag #NoShameParenting and content surrounding it had reached more than 170 million people across social media. We were so excited because we felt really passionate about it.

Then Yahoo! was sold. They closed down all of these different sections, unfortunately. It was so devastating. I was like, we just have all this momentum. We’re having the most important conversation, and now we’re not going to be able to finish it. At that point, I was literally nine months pregnant with my second son Otto. I went on maternity leave and had him. Shortly after I came back, I was like, I need to write a book. It was one of those mornings where I drank two cups of coffee and I was feeling really hyper. You Can’t Fuck Up Your Kids just came into my head. I wrote a query letter. I sent it to a friend of mine who’s an agent. He wrote me back and he was like, “Eh, this is not for me, but let me introduce you to another agent friend of mine.” I connected with him. That was March 31st, 2017. From there, it took off. My book came out March 31st, 2020, so exactly three years to the day of me sitting down super caffeinated and writing a query letter to the book hitting stores.

Zibby: Wow, that’s not bad. For all book journey timelines, that’s pretty fast.

Lindsay: I know. That’s the thing. I hear from so many people all the time, they’re like, “I want to write a book.” I think they have this idea that it’s this really fast process. As you said, three years is not that long in book writing journey time.

Zibby: A book you sell today might not come out for a year anyway, right?

Lindsay: Exactly. It’s crazy. I will admit, I did quit two jobs in the middle because I kept trying to do it all. I was like, and I can’t do it all. I ended up quitting Yahoo! after I signed with my agent. I was like, great, I’m going to take a couple months and work on my proposal, not at another job. I spent some months writing my proposal. Then I put that in. Then I went to SiriusXM to be the VP of Lifestyle and Entertainment. Then my book ended up going to auction. I remember sitting down at Simon & Schuster. My editor was like, “How will you raise children and write a book and be a corporate vice president?” I was like, “I don’t know,” I quit my job a month later because I couldn’t get it together to do it. I thought when I look back at this life moment, writing a book would be something I would rather accomplish than being a corporate vice president.

Zibby: It sounds like anytime you want you could get back into that.

Lindsay: We’ll see. We hope so. We don’t know.

Zibby: Obviously, the world is a different place now. That’s great. I’m so glad you took that time and did this. When you actually did the writing, did you work at home? Did you go outside? I just like to know about people’s process. Where did you like to write?

Lindsay: I joined The Wing. I’m obsessed with The Wing. As someone who has always had a job, I just felt like I needed a place to go every day. I mostly wrote at The Wing in Dumbo, Brooklyn, and a little bit in SoHo and sometimes at home. I’m really lucky that I kept my childcare through the whole time because as we’re all learning now as we’re trying to juggle work and our children, yeah, not so easy.

Zibby: Uh, yeah, back to Paw Patrol, my babysitter of the moment. Do you think you want to write another book having gone through this process?

Lindsay: I would love to. Writing a book is the most bewildering — well, not the most bewildering. I think what we’re going through right now is the most bewildering thing to do. Writing a book is this really weird process, I feel like. You are just pouring your heart and soul into your computer every day. There’s not a ton of human interaction or feedback. You really don’t hear anything about it until years later when you release it to the world. I’m one of those writers who loves having written, not the actual writing of a book. I’m also, because I’ve been a journalist for so long, I’m not one of those people that needs to go into a field and find inspiration. I’m like a utility writer. I made myself write two thousand words a day and sat down and wrote two thousand words a day until my book was done. I hope my book does well enough to where I can write another couple in the series and maybe one day actually write that memoir because I think I have a big story to tell there too.

Zibby: I was going to say. I was going to encourage you to write that memoir, not that you haven’t thought of it. That’s one I would love to read. Wow, and your perspective on it seems so unique too. We definitely need You Can’t F Up Your Teenagers. My kids are about to be teenagers. I need you to focus on a slightly older group now.

Lindsay: This is great. The beginning couple of chapters are much more baby focused. Then it goes into hitting, screen time, and mealtime, and all the things that is very applicable to all different kinds of families. Then I really focus on adults relationships. I definitely think it would be fun to write all the books as my kids age too. My kids are four and six now. I’m ready for You Can’t F Up Your Tween and You Can’t F Up Your Teen. We’ll see.

Zibby: If you need any help with the research, just email me for any questions because I’m sure I am messing them all up.

Lindsay: There is no way you are messing them up. The fact that you are concerned about how you are as a parent, you’re way ahead of the curve. Your kids are doing more than fine. They’re thriving.

Zibby: I’m kidding. They’re fine. They’ll be fine. Do you have any words of advice for aspiring authors?

Lindsay: To stick with it. There’s, again, this idea that it’s a really fast process, but it’s not. I have been working on a book — well, I’ve been manifesting it since I was born, basically. I started writing the memoir at one point maybe ten or twelve, gosh, even more, twelve years ago. Then, it was very heavy and I was like, I don’t want to write this. Then I started writing a different book at one point. It kind of fell apart. I’d gotten a job at that point that ended up being really busy, so I let it go. Then I signed with one agent. That didn’t work. I think it’s just keep at it and just the idea to write every day because I also think that there’s this idea that only good writers have to go on a writing retreat somewhere. I’m totally not knocking that if that’s your process because whatever your process is, it is amazing and you should do it. Especially for parents of young children, this idea that we need to be able to go on this beautiful writers’ retreat to write our first novel is a little bit of a misnomer. You can write anywhere. All you need is a computer. I wrote part of my outline on my phone while I was commuting back and forth to work. I think that’s it’s very doable. You should give yourself time and space and grace. Eventually, your message will get out there.

Zibby: Thank you. I loved that. Thanks, Lindsay. Thanks for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.” Thanks for being really inspiring. I feel very inspired having spoken to you today, seriously. Thank you.

Lindsay: Zibby, someone of your caliber saying that to me, the way I see you support writers and authors is so amazing and inspiring. I’m filled with gratitude for it every day. I appreciate you taking the time to interview me as well.

Zibby: It was truly a pleasure. Thanks, Lindsay.

Lindsay: Thanks so much, Zibby.

Zibby: Hang in there.

Lindsay: Take care.

Zibby: You too. Bye.

Lindsay: You too. Bye.