19: Finding the funny side of motherhood

Some days, all you can do is laugh (or cry) at all the craziness motherhood sends your way. It helps when you have a few funny mom friends to help you find the humor in the chaos.  In this episode, Liz is joined by Margaret Ables and Amy Wilson, who have years of experience in the comedy world and also co-host the comedy parenting podcast What Fresh Hell: Laughing in the Face of Motherhood. Amy and Margaret share their tips for finding the laughs in the good times and the not-so-good.

What Fresh Hell: https://www.whatfreshhellpodcast.com/

Toddler Purgatory: https://www.toddlerpurgatory.com/

Need a good laugh? Amy Wilson (left) and Margaret Ables (right) host the comedy parenting podcast What Fresh Hell: Laughing in the Face of Motherhood.

Amy Wilson and Margaret Ables are two very funny moms. Before they started co-hosting the podcast What Fresh Hell, Amy authored a bestselling parenting book called When Did I Get Like This? The Screamer, the Worrier, the Dinosaur-Chicken-Nugget-Buyer, and Other Mothers I Swore I’d Never Be. And Margaret was previously head of video production for Nickelodeon’s mom-centric channel NickMom. On their podcast they talk about the trials and tribulations of parenting in a super relatable way, and they make us laugh while doing it. And who doesn’t need a good laugh these days?

Liz Serotte:  You two are masters at finding what’s funny in potentially not-so-funny moments. How do you find the humor? And how do the rest of us – who aren’t comedians! – find the humor?

Amy Wilson:  When you’re wired for comedy, it’s like you’re also wired for survival. We were talking about those moments like when your baby is throwing up and you’re in the middle seat of an airplane. It’s in those moments when I look around like, okay, I have to remember the look on the lady’s face sitting next to me right now, because it’s horrible now but it’s also going to be really funny when I talk about it later. And you dive down into the details, like when the flight attendant walked towards me with this angry look on her face and sprayed Lysol in the air instead of saying, “What can I do to help you out?” I’m going soak up these details. And somehow I think that does remove you from the shame and fear of the moment and puts you in a frame of mind like, “Well, this is a crazy story.”

Margaret Ables: I also think so much of it is our community. We have a Facebook group at WhatFreshHellCast and it’s a couple thousand moms who all like our show because they have a sense of humor. And on the days where they can’t find their sense of humor, they can come to this Facebook group and say, “My baby just threw up all over me, and I’m late for school pickup, and I had to send my kids with mismatched shoes because I couldn’t find the right ones.” And other people in the group are like, “You think that’s bad? Here’s what happened to me.” It’s done in this spirit of, we’re not here to give each other a hard time, we’re here to find the laughs in this.

Liz: And no judgment of anyone else who’s struggling their way through it too.

Margaret: Except for people who put a finger in the peanut butter and then put it back, we judge them. They’re monsters.

Amy: Our show is not for them. Keep going.

Margaret: And we’re here to judge them. You can listen if you want, but we’re going to call you out.

Liz: Clearly they are monsters! Seriously though, most of us are really hard on ourselves. We all know being a mom is hard, but we don’t really cut ourselves much slack. Why do you think that is?

Margaret: We don’t cut ourselves slack and, to be honest, the world doesn’t cut us any slack. The world is wired to sell you products that tell you you’re fat, old, and a bad mom. I’ve loved to see the rise of blogs and social media because there’s a world of voices out there like, “Hey, I’m not the perfect person, loving my baby, and sweeping, and having dinner ready. I’m this other kind of mom, that’s having a hard time a lot of times.” It lets us show our flaws, and lets other people show their flaws. We #OldieLocks ourselves a lot because Amy and I are a little bit older than some of the moms who listen to us. I think one of the things I can really offer is the perspective of like, I wish I’d spent less time worrying about what I looked like, what I weighed. I wish I’d spent less time worrying about whether or not I was the right kind of mom and more time just enjoying the kids I had and parenting them.

Amy: It’s my soap box issue. If moms overthink, that is their assignment. That is what we are telling them to do. If your baby’s not meeting your milestones, freak out. If your baby’s not eating the rainbow every day, freak out. And then we’re like, “Why are you freaking out, mom?” It’s such a bind that we put women in.

Liz:  I interviewed Ada Calhoun recently, who wrote a book called Women’s New Midlife Crisis about Gen X women and why life seems so hard for us. We kind of got the short end of the stick in a lot of respects and there’s so many demands on us. Do you think moms today face more pressures than our mothers did when they were raising us?

Margaret: I think it’s a mixed bag. I think my mom who had been a successful professional, and then ended up having kids, felt extremely isolated. She was home alone a lot with the kids. We had one car, my dad would take it to work. I think that for her, the sense of isolation was incredibly difficult. Now, for my generation and generations after us, there’s a lot less isolation. There’s a lot of connection, but with that connection comes the, “Oh well, if you put the baby in the car seat like that, I guess you’re just an animal. And, by the way, you look fat in that outfit. And, by the way, I look skinny in mine.” So I think it’s a mixed bag, and there are advantages and disadvantages to every era of parenting.

Amy: My Halloween costume when I was a kid came from the drug store. It was a plastic lobster bib that said Barbie on it, had a picture of Barbie, and I was Barbie. That was my costume. But it only had to be as good as the other kids in my neighborhood for me to be psyched. My frame of reference was extremely small, and so was my mom’s. Now you’re comparing your kids’ gender reveal party, or whatever nonsense, to literally everyone in the world.

Liz: Millions of people on social media, right. When we were kids we compared ourselves to our classmates or, like you said, kids in your neighborhood. Now kids are comparing themselves to kids all over the world. Same thing with moms. Our universe has expanded in terms of our connectivity. The good side is the community this opens up, the bad side is the broader scope of the comparison.

Margaret:  It’s like I kept saying, no one show my kids that Transformers costume where the cardboard box has become a car and a robot. Keep it out of my life. I don’t need it.

Liz: You’re laughing in the face of motherhood on your podcast, but that doesn’t mean that you cover all silly topics. You did an episode recently on parenting non-neurotypical kids,  which is a weighty, emotionally charged issue. How do you incorporate some of those topics into the mix and then try to bring some levity to a discussion while still doing justice to a serious topic?

Margaret: Well, one thing is we are parents who are experiencing that. We do laugh about it and we do kind of keep our calm, at least on the show. Sometimes I think people think, “Oh well, they’ve got it figured out.” And quite the opposite. We are dealing with all sorts of difficult issues in our own life and while we don’t always share everything that’s going on in our own lives, that sense of levity is at the core of how we approach everything that we deal with in life. And so I don’t think we’ve ever really found it a super huge challenge to keep that. I love that phrase, “laughing in the face of motherhood,” because it implies a level of like, “You’re not going to beat me. We’re laughing in your face.” Keeping that levity is part of what keeps us going.

Liz: You’ve given comfort, comradery and some good laughs to your mom listeners during a very challenging year. I’m cautiously optimistic now that we may be seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. What are you most excited about as a mom in the year ahead?

Margaret: I am so excited for my kids to go back to school. To eat in restaurants again. To see family members I haven’t hugged in however many months. But, one thing we’ve talked a lot about on the podcast is don’t miss the lessons of the pandemic. One of the things I’m looking forward to is holding onto some of the stuff that I’ve learned. Like we don’t have to be busy every night. We don’t have to have 60 plans every weekend. We can function together as a family. We’ve really reflected a lot on what can we take with us from this. And I think some of the calm, the quiet, I’m desperately trying to hold on to that.

Amy: It’s important to push back. I was just saying to Margaret last night that my to-do list is starting to get long again. The form that I forgot to fill out, and the place that I have to take the kid. Like we went from seven plates spinning to one, right? Now I’m back at like three or four. And I’m like, do I want all four of these plates?

Margaret: You don’t, Amy, you don’t want all four.