I’ve always been a parent that spends much of my time multi-tasking. And by multi-tasking, I don’t mean in the usual sense, wherein I do dishes and cook and juggle various domestic and child-rearing tasks all at once. I mean, yeah, I do that too. But usually the other “task” I’m busy doing while I’m taking care of kids is daydreaming. And obsessively brainstorming. I’m sure other parents who are writers (and even those who aren’t) can relate. While other mothers and fathers might chat and socialize and whatnot while their kids play on playground equipment, dig holes in sandboxes, and generally scoot about, I watch. I stare into space. I’m often simultaneously caught up in a parallel dream world alongside this parenting world.
Sometimes it’s nice to refocus all that brain activity. I’ve tried some various things to that end. Music. Audio books. Finally, I discovered podcasts. Now I am the mother with the phone in her back pocket attached to her ear who walks around listening to conversations. Internal ones.
Podcasts, bless them. Everyone seems to be talking about them these days. Slate has a special issue this week highlighting the best podcasts over the past 10 years: the amount of time since the word “podcast” was coined as a matter of fact. (Slate’s list is very comprehensive — I highly recommend perusing it). And then over the past few months, Serial took the world by storm, garnering more downloads, quicker than any podcast that came before it.
So why have podcasts seemed to strike such a nerve right now, and especially with other parents? Here’s my best guess: Many of us have long commutes, either to school drop-offs or to work or to both. Many of us work from home and spend a lot of time in isolation. We exercise, often alone. Maybe we’re divorced and have those awkward stretches of time after transitions when we stare at walls before we’re able to snap into productivity. In general, we talk less and text more, particularly with little kids around. We suffer from insomnia. Or we’re woken up in the night by babies or kids and can’t fall back to sleep. Perhaps we have anxiety. In a nutshell, parenting can compound the feeling of isolation and loneliness if we’re cut off from other adults during the day. I think some combination of all these factors add up to a world where parents have the head space and lack of social life which lends itself to tuning into a podcast and feeling comforted by the conversation. It’s a little bit like having someone read to you at bedtime.
And maybe it’s a little bit like having friends.
Bottom line is, if you haven’t forayed into the world of podcasts yet, go ahead and dive in. I urge you. I mean, I encourage you. There are so many things I feel I started missing out on when I became a parent: I saw less movies, watched less TV (like zero) and read the newspaper less frequently. Because of podcasts I’m able to keep up more, at least by listening to the collective conversations surrounding all these things.
Here are some of my favorites:
1. For car rides with kids in tow:
During car rides to school, my kids love This American Life and the TED Radio Hour. They’re wildly engaging and they always warn you if there will be swears. You have the option of downloading bleeped versions from the website if you so choose.
2. For car rides when I’m alone:
After the kids get out of the car, I generally listen to Morning Edition or Fresh Air. On the way to pick them up later I listen to Slate’s Culture Gabfest or NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour. Later, when I’m making dinner I often listen to Marc Maron’s WTF with one earbud in and one out. Other parents will also like Slate’s parenting podcast Mom and Dad Are Fighting.
3. For exercising alone:
I highly recommend Radiolab. It’s sort of heady at times, but also light-hearted and doesn’t take itself too too seriously. You’ll get some insight about science and philosophy, and its engaging enough to make the time pass nicely as you pedal, jog, hike, or ski.
4. At bedtime:
When I’m going to bed, I drift off to Slate’s relatively new Working podcast which outlines what people do all day in their daily work lives — totally fascinating. Hear what porn stars and morticians and waiters love and hate about their jobs, and gain some perspective.
Or, if I’m having particular trouble sleeping, I listen to the ASMR HQ podcast out of Australia. Two really soothing Aussies will whisper to you about mundane stuff, and sometimes read you a bedtime story. Best listened to on earbuds, because the whispering will send soothing tingles up and down your spine. Watch out, it’s addictive.
5. For waking up/making school lunches.
I wake up on Thursdays to Serial. Then I spend Thursdays listening to podcasts about the Serial podcast. There are two great Serial meta-conversation podcasts: Slate’s Serial Spoiler Special and the A.V. Club’s Serial Serial. Right down the rabbit hole.
There are thousands of podcasts to suit any interest you might have. Do you have any you’d recommend to other parents out there, in need of voices in their heads?
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