About this episode

When it comes to parenting, culture comes on strong. There are so many contradictory opinions out there, and the judgmental attacks on parents come fast and furious about every little thing. Under this kind of pressure, how can parents raise happy kids who follow their own true nature? That’s the question Martha and Ro explore in this episode of Bewildered, and their insightful conversation brings instant pressure relief. For anyone who is a parent (or has had a parent!), you won't want to miss this one!

Show Notes

When it comes to parenting, culture comes on strong. There are so many contradictory opinions out there, and whether on the playground or online, the judgmental attacks on parents come fast and furious about every little thing.

The culture’s emphasis on raising “the right kind” of kid is not about happiness. It’s about raising a child that matches the culture’s expectations and cooperates with it. 

Under this kind of pressure, how can parents raise happy kids who follow their own true nature?

That’s the question Martha and Ro explore in this episode of Bewildered, and their insightful conversation about culture-proofing ourselves and our kids brings instant pressure relief. 

For anyone who is a parent (or has had a parent!), you won’t want to miss this one!

 

Also, in this episode: 

* Martha reads complicated books—and Mad Magazine

* Ro has a fear of printed receipts

* The Boomerang, Hasty McEarlypants, and Peevish Q. Lollygag

* Karen’s minimalist travel prep

* Muscular poodles and kangaroo biceps

 

Is there something you’re feeling bewildered about? If so, we’d love to hear from you! 

You can follow us on our brand-new Instagram channel @bewilderedpodcast

This is the place to connect with our Bewildered community, learn about upcoming episodes, and participate in callouts ahead of podcast taping.

And if you’re a Bewildered fan, would you consider giving us a little rate-and-review love on your favorite podcast player? It helps people find the podcast, builds this beautiful community, and most of all, helps us in our quest to Bewilder the world…

Transcript

Please note: This is an unedited transcript, provided as a courtesy, and reflects the actual conversation as closely as possible. Please forgive any typographical or grammatical errors.

(Topic Discussion starts around 00:14:08)

Martha Beck:              
[Intro Music] Welcome to Bewildered. I’m Martha Beck, here with Rowan Mangan. At this crazy moment in history a lot of people are feelings bewildered, but that actually may be a sign we’re on track. Human culture teaches us to come to consensus, but nature — our own true nature — helps us come to our senses. Rowan and I believe that the best way to figure it all out is by going through bewilderment into be-wild-erment. That’s why we’re here. [Music fades] Hi, I’m Martha Beck!

Rowan Mangan:
And I’m Rowan Mangan. This is another episode of Bewildered, the podcast for people trying to figure it out. I myself have been trying to figure it out since we last convened, by reading complicated books.

Martha Beck:
Oh yeah.

Rowan Mangan:
And then honestly, Marty went to the doctor, picked up a MAD Magazine in the waiting room and had it figured out by the time she got out of her checkup.

Martha Beck:
Basically the cover figured it out. Because it really is true, if you just expect everything to be mad in the world, you will never be disappointed. It also means that you can’t possibly figure it out ahead of time, so just brace yourself. There.

Rowan Mangan:
Love it.

Martha Beck:
Just finished up the podcast. We can stop now.

Rowan Mangan:
Thank you.

Martha Beck:
Seriously, what are you trying to figure out?

Rowan Mangan:
Really quite seriously, and you know this perfectly well, but our listeners don’t, I am in a bit of a period of professional limbo.

Martha Beck:
Hell.

Rowan Mangan:
And I’m trying to-

Martha Beck:
It’s a hell.

Rowan Mangan:
It is. Yeah, and I’m trying to figure out how to tolerate the waiting. So I mean, I’m not going to jinx this situation by telling you what it is. You’ll just have to tolerate the ambiguity, as I tolerate this impossible situation of trying to wait for what maybe good news, maybe no news. And it’s really turning me into a different version of myself, Marty.

Martha Beck:
I’m worried that they’re going to be very worried about you. This isn’t just a profession in which waiting for good news is developed to an extent that would be used as torture in warfare. So there’s nothing wrong with Ro.

Rowan Mangan:
No, no, no, it’s all fine.

Martha Beck:
I mean, good things have happened. And in this particular walk of life, a good thing that happens leads to another good thing that may or may not happen. And every one of them feels like your life is on the line.

Rowan Mangan:
So I have been doing things like waking up in the middle of the night, in the cliché waking up from a nightmare TV trope of, sitting up from lying flat on my back gasping… and then immediately checking my email, even though I know for a fact that if a happy email ever were to come, it would come during business hours, it’s fair to assume. I’ve been demanding from my loved ones, optimistic encouragement at all times.

Martha Beck:
Yeah, but not too optimistic, you don’t want to jinx things.

Rowan Mangan:
No, I do not want to jinx things. I’ve become intensely superstitious.

Martha Beck:
Oh my God. She’s not a professional baseball player, but the level of superstition is similar. But baseball players are infamously superstitious.

Rowan Mangan:
Is that right?

Martha Beck:
Yeah. Like if they hit a home run in one pair of socks, they’ll never wear another pair of socks and they’ll never wash them.

Rowan Mangan:
Wow.

Martha Beck:
Not that you’re doing that.

Rowan Mangan:
I am doing that. That’s crazy.

Martha Beck:
Well.

Rowan Mangan:
I’m doing that.

Martha Beck:
Well, maybe I’m psychic, right?

Rowan Mangan:
Maybe so.

Martha Beck:
Which we’ve been trying to be.

Rowan Mangan:
Yes. I’ve been trying very hard to send psychic vibes out into the ether. So it’s yeah, it’s a thing. I’m trying to figure it out. I’m trying to figure myself out, and that’s just a lifelong quest really. What are you trying to figure out, Marty?

Martha Beck:
Yeah. Well, I am trying to figure out something that just shows you how privileged I was during the pandemic. The pandemic didn’t affect us as negatively as it did many people. And as an introvert, I kind of loved lockdown, and going out of my house has always been a little unnerving for me. But actually traveling is terrifying, which is ironic, because for much of my life I traveled, I flew to different cities, probably five or six times a month to give speeches and whatnot. All of which provoke the most massive anxiety.

And I would cope with it by buying travel things from the drug store, the little travel shampoo, and the little tiny self-contained little toothbrush with little toothpaste. I went and I bought a little nest of these things because I have to go… I don’t have to go. I am incredibly privileged to go to South Africa next month for our wonderful stay at Londolozi with the folks who come. Yeah, it’ll be amazing.

But I am terrified. And I can only allay my terror by buying these little travel items. So I did that, I got a little satchel of them. I was so pleased with myself. I went home and immediately found 19 other little travel satchels all with the same things reaching back 12 years because I never throw them away.

Rowan Mangan:
This is a pattern for you.

Martha Beck:
It is.

Rowan Mangan:
Yeah.

Martha Beck:
And the only way I know how to deal with it, and this is true. This is literally true. I have to adopt a completely different persona to even leave the house with a suitcase, or even to pack it. And I call my persona the airport hobo. The airport hobo has no connection or memory of that life outside airport world. And there’s only one airport world. Anywhere you go in the world, you’re in the same damn airport.

Rowan Mangan:
Well, that is true. That is literally true.

Martha Beck:
It’s airport world. And so airport hobo has a whole ecology, airport hobo’s only known foe is the baby. See a baby, airport hobo has great fear. And discovering a hot outlet. I don’t know if they’ve put more of them in, but to plug in your computer, hahaha, you could fight other airport hobos for that. Yeah.

Rowan Mangan:
So are you saying that airport hobo mode kicks in as soon as you start packing?

Martha Beck:
It has to, or I’m too afraid to pack.

Rowan Mangan:
Right. Right.

Martha Beck:
And I have-

Rowan Mangan:
So how do you protect yourself? How does airport hobo take care of you?

Martha Beck:
Airport hobo does not know of my loved ones. Airport hobo rides alone, fear only of babies. And I always think in airport hobo language, or if I meet another airport hobo, and we had a sexual liaison, I would say things to them like, “Use caution when opening contents that may have settled while in flight.”

Rowan Mangan:
Oh my God. Are you trying to confess something to me right now?

Martha Beck:
Well, you are an international traveler.

Rowan Mangan:
One of the things, Marty, that people who get to know you discover quite quickly, at least outside of pandemic times, is that the greatest honor that Martha Beck can bestow upon one is to grace them with an airport hobo name. Could you talk a little bit about that?

Martha Beck:
Yeah. You have to go into your alter ego. And so I started out, I think I was Numbum Eyebag was my first airport hobo name, but they changed.

Rowan Mangan:
Right.

Martha Beck:
Yeah. And what was yours? Do you have one? Oh, the Boomerang.

Rowan Mangan:
I am the Boomerang.

Martha Beck:
Because you can go to Australia, but you got to come back. And Karen, God bless her, is Hasty Makeearlypants.

Rowan Mangan:
Karen’s Hasty Makeearlypants persona, it’s not the same as your airport hobo persona. It infuses her life.

Martha Beck:
Yeah, it metastasized basically. Yeah, and so now mine is Peevish Q Lollygag because she pushes to hurry and I’m like… Yeah, and we’ve had others. We’ve had Stands With a Latte. We’ve had another one of our friends, a mother and daughter who fly together. The daughter is-

Rowan Mangan:
Princess Skynapper.

Martha Beck:
Princess Skynapper, and the mother is Slightly Wan Kenobi. Anyway. Yeah, so you can do that. You’re walking through the airport, “I’m an airport hobo, I have no loved ones. I only fear babies”. And you see someone dressed in a business attire sitting on the floor alone in a dark part of the airport, right next to a power outlet typing away. And you’re like, “I see my people.”

Rowan Mangan:
Is there like a secret wave between airport hobos?

Martha Beck:
Yeah, absolutely. You catch their eye and then you look away very firmly. We are not meeting in real life, that is not going to happen. Leave me alone. Airport hobos, they are solitary.

Rowan Mangan:
Yeah. Yeah.

Martha Beck:
I’m feeling better already actually. I’m serious, I’m not even joking.

Rowan Mangan:
I just have to say something about Karen’s preparation for the South Africa trip that does happen each year. Because you talk about tiny shampoos, which are, it has to be said, extremely cute.

Martha Beck:
Oh God, yes.

Rowan Mangan:
But you also have been known to purchase items of clothing in a panic, pre airport hobo-like persona-

Martha Beck:
This is true.

Rowan Mangan:
… coming down.

Martha Beck:
This is true.

Rowan Mangan:
I can’t help, but suspect that there’s a sort of identity thing. You’re going to see your old friends, you haven’t seen them for a while. It’s like, who am I going to be? And one of the really funny things about Karen is that, she has one thing that she needs to do in preparation for going to South Africa, and that is to don a leather bracelet.

Martha Beck:
That is true.

Rowan Mangan:
Which in her mind makes her look cool. And it does.

Martha Beck:
It’s literally all she packs.

Rowan Mangan:
Basically.

Martha Beck:
I have thousands of travel shampoos, she doesn’t need that. Yeah, just the leather bracelet. I got to stop this because I know it’s not cool, but my airport hobo persona unironically wears a safari vest with 19,000 pockets.

Rowan Mangan:
Mm. I’m glad you mentioned that it was unironic.

Martha Beck:
Because you got to have everything you need to survive in airport world on your vest. You can’t accidentally lose it. You have to be wearing everything.

Rowan Mangan:
A few episodes ago, I talked about traveling in India and just the vital importance of my gaffer tape that… Sorry, duct tape that was wound around a pencil. And I just felt like I wish I had had one of those vests. I could have put my gaffer tape in there.

Martha Beck:
There’s a reason for those vests.

Rowan Mangan:
Yeah.

Martha Beck:
You know what? If people out there are judging me for wearing a safari vest unironically, I just challenge you to put one on and go to an airport, and realize that you are safe like a turtle in its shell.

Rowan Mangan:
In a way, the airport itself is the greatest safari. Like yes, you’re traveling across the world to see leopards and cheetahs, and elephants and rhinoceros. But honestly, it’s the airport that could be your undoing.

Martha Beck:
Oh God, the airport is terrifying. The rhinoceroses, I thought I was going to be killed by a rhinoceros once I was in no danger, but I didn’t know that.

Rowan Mangan:
It was in an airport.

Martha Beck:
Yeah, it was in an airport. No, I was thrilled when I thought I would be killed by a rhinoceros. It was one of the happiest moments of my life. I was like, “What a great way to go.” But I don’t want to go in airport world.

Rowan Mangan:
No.

Martha Beck:
Because airport hobo has no soul.

Rowan Mangan:
Hey, that reminds me.

Martha Beck:
Yeah.

Rowan Mangan:
No, it doesn’t. That doesn’t remind me, but something you said earlier reminds me about our new item, Karenism of the week. Do we have one this week, Marty?

Martha Beck:
Yeah, I have one. Karen came home and she said, “I met a nice woman at the park today while I was walking the dogs. She had the most muscular poodle I’ve ever seen. And we hailed each other, the woman and I raised our hands to each other. And I just watched those muscles in that poodle. And I just felt very connected to her.”

Rowan Mangan:
I think that muscular poodle would be a really good name for a band.

Martha Beck:
Oh, no kidding.

Rowan Mangan:
Or Rowan Mangan and the muscular poodles.

Martha Beck:
I was just thinking of adopting it as my next airport hobo name.

Rowan Mangan:
The muscular poodle.

Martha Beck:
And it doesn’t work.

Rowan Mangan:
No.

Martha Beck:
Though there are a lot more dogs in airports now, but that’s neither here nor there. The fact is that Karen was blessed by an encounter with the most muscular poodle she’s ever seen. And that should make your day if nothing else does.

Rowan Mangan:
And if that doesn’t make your day, go ahead and google muscular kangaroos’ biceps, and that will make your day.

Martha Beck:
Oh my God. I want to do it right now.

Rowan Mangan:
You can’t, you’re doing a podcast right now.

Martha Beck:
Oh my God.

Rowan Mangan:
We’ll be right back with more Bewildered. I have a favor to ask. You might not know this, but ratings and reviews are like gold in the podcasting universe. They get podcasts in front of more faces, more eyes, more ears, all the bits that you could have a podcast in front of, that’s what they do.

So it would help us enormously if you would consider going over to your favorite podcasting app, especially if it’s Apple, and giving us a few stars, maybe even five, maybe even six if you can find a way to hack the system, I wouldn’t complain. And a review would also be wonderful. We read them all and love them. So thank you very much in advance, let’s just go out there and bewilder the world, mwuah.

So let’s get right down to business, Marty.

Martha Beck:
Okay, let’s talk about the actual topic today.

Rowan Mangan:
Let’s go right out on a limb and have a topic.

Martha Beck:
Right.

Rowan Mangan:
It’s an interesting topic because this one… Look, it’s something that we are genuinely trying to figure out in real time. So, it’s very fresh, it’s not like one of those, oh, this is a kind of thing that comes up in life. It’s like, no, this is what we are going through in our own bewildered adventure right now.

Martha Beck:
Just making mistakes every day. We know it, but we don’t know what they are. It’s very exciting. Yeah, I’m talking about parenting.

Rowan Mangan:
Yes.

Martha Beck:
Parenting in this day and age. I mean, how do you raise kids to be happy people ever at all?

Rowan Mangan:
Right.

Martha Beck:
And in the context of today’s culture, we’re basically handing these children a world in peril, so they’ve got to be hyper-functional. But we want our kids to be wild.

Rowan Mangan:
Yeah.

Martha Beck:
Culture resistant.

Rowan Mangan:
Well, culture proof ideally, but culture resistant, I’d settle for.

Martha Beck:
Yeah. There are a lot of opinions about how to do parenting out there in the world. Culture comes on strong.

Rowan Mangan:
Culture comes on strong, and it comes on everywhere as well. And I was saying to Marty earlier, I don’t know if the parenting vibe, and judgements, and intense opinions was as strong before social media, or whether you could sort of escape it a little bit more. But it’s crazy out there, it is really, really gnarly. And well, I mean, yeah, everyone’s just nuts, in people… Okay. Let me be more specific. People on social media who have views about parenting, oh my God.

Martha Beck:
Crazy.

Rowan Mangan:
It’s a lot.

Martha Beck:
It really is. You’re getting battered with very strong opinions from all these different viewpoints. Some of them contradict each other, and you feel very vulnerable because this is the most important thing you’ll ever do.

Rowan Mangan:
Exactly, exactly. So as our readers know, they’re not readers, they’re listeners. Imagine reading, but with your ears. Okay, got it. All right. Just keep going, you’re already doing great. In this podcast, we help people from bewilderment, ah, what’s going on, I’m so confused? To bewilderment, to their wild true nature. In this instance, we’re just trying to help ourselves. But then again, that’s always the case, isn’t it, Marty?

Martha Beck:
Always, always.

Rowan Mangan:
So Marty, what does the culture say about parenting?

Martha Beck:
I don’t know if this dates only from therapy days onward, but certainly for the last couple of centuries, there’s been this really strong belief that what children do is their parents’ fault. What children experience is their parents’ fault.

Rowan Mangan:
For centuries.

Martha Beck:
Truly? Probably. Maybe a century and a half, we’re coming up to the middle of the 21st century really, when you think about it.

Rowan Mangan:
I guess.

Martha Beck:
Yeah.

Rowan Mangan:
It feels newer than that to me. But go on.

Martha Beck:
It’s probably a century since therapy really kicked in as a concept around the world. So, the whole idea is that in the nature/nurture debate, how much of us is just born to be the way we are and how much is influenced by culture? Even though we know scientifically that nature pretty much rules the day, culturally, the idea is, it’s all nurture. It’s a 100% your fault if your kid isn’t happy and doing the things that the culture wants.

Rowan Mangan:
And I mean, I should say there’s different… I agree that, that’s the prevailing view, but then what the culture wants can be completely contradictory things. The culture has many… It’s like, what do you say? It’s a Medusa-headed thing, it has a-

Martha Beck:
The Hydra.

Rowan Mangan:
Hydra, thank you. Medusa has snakes.

Martha Beck:
Maybe a kind of Medusa Hydra, where she has snakes all over her head. And if you cut one head off, it grows back two.

Rowan Mangan:
Just a really well hydrated Medusa. Yeah, so they’re all saying it’s your fault, but some of them are saying, it’s your fault if you, whatever, I’ve talked about this before. Sleep train or don’t sleep train, or whatever.

Martha Beck:
Yeah. But actually I’m all agog, because I’ve never heard the amount of stuff that comes at us through the social media. I’ve been reading a couple of books recently. One’s a book proposal that is going to be a book someday. And one is a book that I just read about people who are parenting kids with different genetic issues.

So one woman, her daughter has a huge chunk of missing DNA, like a huge chunk. And they never thought she’d walk or talk, and she’s doing all that. But she also has some really aggressive tendencies, and she can be very scrappy and quite violent for a five, six-year-old girl as the mother’s writing about her.

And here’s the thing, everybody out there thinks that this mom had the same shot at having a dutiful, well behaved child as anybody else. They can’t see the code of DNA, the patch that’s missing. And here’s this mother who is like the most conscientious, the most loving, the most… I mean, she’s a therapist, she’s wonderful. Really, she’s supposed to compensate for a huge chunk of DNA missing? It can’t be done.

Rowan Mangan: And do you think we can extrapolate that out to basically… I’m trying to think of how we would characterize how much is the equivalent of missing DNA? How much is just them? And I know this is an age-old question.

Martha Beck: It is.

Rowan Mangan:
But I’m curious, because I’m dealing with this myself. What would you say if you had to guess? How much do you think I or you can influence Lila’s ultimate personality or the life she chooses to live?

Martha Beck:
I think you can sort of bring it around the edges, but it kind of is what it is. And what popped into my head just now are the famous twins raised apart studies. And what they find is that identical twins raised apart, same DNA, totally different families from birth, have almost identical personalities. And there’s the famous cases of the two Jims, they both grew up… Their separate families named them both James Allan.

Rowan Mangan: Which just shows that you just look like your name.

Martha Beck:
Right, especially as a baby. They grew up to have bizarrely similar lives. They both had dogs they named Toy. They both married women named Linda, and then divorced those women and married someone named Betty. They both drove the same car. They smoked the same brand of cigarette. They liked to make circular benches around trees. And they both drove their cars 2,000 miles to the same tiny beach in Florida for vacations, though they never ran into each other.

Okay. That’s a little bit off the topic here, sort of. I mean, because it brings in also… I don’t even know what made all that happen, but the fact remains that twins raised apart have very, very similar personalities and life experiences quite frequently.

Rowan Mangan:
So let me get this straight. Our daughter is going to marry someone called Wilma regardless of how we treat her. She’ll divorce Wilma and marry Betty. She may even be more adventurous, she may go ahead and divorce Betty and marry Fred.

Martha Beck:
Or she could be like us and marry all three of them.

Rowan Mangan:
Oh nice.

Martha Beck:
It’s really sweet. If she could do that by the time… Oh, we don’t know because we’re calling her she, we don’t know.

Rowan Mangan:
We don’t know.

Martha Beck:
Male or female, seriously, we have no idea. It’s very frightening, and the judgment is always coming.

Rowan Mangan:
Yeah. When I see parents online trying to relate to each other about their kids, there’s such a strange… There’s almost like a social media culture about how you talk about parenting because it is so volatile. And so, there’s just so many disclaimers, and apologies in advance, and please don’t judge, this is just the way I’ve chosen to do it. I know that there are other opinions. There’s just so much of that verbiage around anyone saying anything, and because the attacks come in like… Yeah.

Martha Beck:
They’re huge. And you’re so vulnerable because you love your kid and you want to do it right so much.

Rowan Mangan:
Exactly.

Martha Beck:
I remember before you even got pregnant using IVF, you were already judging yourself for doing things that were reckless. I don’t know, not hydrating enough one day. And so your Medusa head didn’t work as well.

Rowan Mangan:
It was crazy actually, because there’s a book that I read because it was… Well, we won’t go into the whole thing. But it was about, keep those eggs nice and happy, and youthful. And so, this book, it’s a great book, so it’s called It Starts with the Egg. And it’s said among other things, “If you want to keep your eggs in good shape, don’t for the love of God ever touch a receipt.”

Now, someone mentioned that on a forum that I was reading about IVF before I’d read the book, and I thought, either that’s an autocorrect thing, or I’m not… In this context, I don’t know what they mean by the word receipt.

Martha Beck: Anything one receives must not be touched.

Rowan Mangan: Right. Or something like that.

Martha Beck: Just stand near it and gaze.

Rowan Mangan:
And I swear to God, I looked it up, I was trying to figure it out. And then I read the book, no, receipts that you get when you pay for something, and then they give you your change and they give you a receipt to prove that you bought it. That you don’t touch it or it will kill your eggs.

Martha Beck:
Because it’s tainted with money thoughts.

Rowan Mangan:
I don’t know what it’s tainted with, but something very toxic. And you can imagine, Marty. You go to CVS and those things are like three miles long.

Martha Beck:
It’s a novela each and every time they print out this receipt. And if you try to go away without them, they’re like, no, come back.

Rowan Mangan:
And I’m so paranoid at this point about receipts that I’m looking at that thing coming out, like it’s a boa constrictor that’s going to kill my little eggs.

Martha Beck:
So I’d be up there looking at the I don’t know, travel shampoos or whatever. And Ro would come hurling by, help, with an attendant behind her with a mile-long receipt going, “You really need this, it’s worth money.” Ro was like, “You’re trying to hurt my baby.” And there was no, yeah… It’s yeah.

Rowan Mangan:
Yeah. But the culture doesn’t want us to do what we want for our children, right?

Martha Beck:
No. And in fact, the culture… I mean, we talk about the culture as if it’s a monolithic entity, but the fact is it’s a kind of a glomeration of everyone’s social self, which has priority one – we stick together, we’re alike.

Rowan Mangan:
Right.

Martha Beck:
Right. The other is the danger. So, the culture’s emphasis on raising the right kind of child isn’t about the kid being happy, it’s about having the right kind of child who matches the culture. Will achieve in these ways, will have these attitudes, will treat strangers this way. It wants us to raise people who cooperate with it.

Rowan Mangan:
So for you, like you had the perfect kind of experience of the way the culture works with your second-

Martha Beck:
Oh, big time.

Rowan Mangan:
… pregnancy.

Martha Beck:
Yeah. There I was, getting my third degree from the place I went to school. A little place known as, everybody ready to drink, yeah, it’s Ivy League. Anyway, there I was and getting pregnant for the second time, quite early in life by Harvard standards. Whoops, I said it, drink. Because I was also raised a Utah Mormon. So, I had one child, and then another, we’re going to get a boy and a girl, full set of children, done.

I mean, when my oldest child was born, my then husband was at Harvard Business School, and his whole class took out this page in the Harvard Business Review that said, “Welcome Catherine Beck, class of 20 whatever.”

Rowan Mangan:
Oh my God.

Martha Beck:
Yeah. I mean Harvard bound. They call it a legacy if your parents went there.

Rowan Mangan:
Uh-huh.

Martha Beck:
And yeah, it gives you a big leg up. Anyway, so here comes my next pregnancy, little boy. Perfect, great. More than halfway through the pregnancy, we find out he has Down syndrome.

Rowan Mangan:
Mm.

Martha Beck:
Ah. And everyone told me it was like having a malignant… Well, one doctor said it was like having a malignant cancer, but people pretty much universally acted as if it was. But I was thinking that… And you can read the whole book I wrote about it. But the basic thought was, I’d already bonded with this kid. So it wasn’t whether or not I wanted to have a child. I am very pro-choice politically.
It was, what child do I want, and what feels right to me? For the first time in my life, I said, “This decision will affect the child more than anybody and me next. So I’m going to make this decision, and I have to take responsibility for this.”

Anyway. Yeah, it was a life transforming thing. The first time I pulled way back from culture and just looked at the whole thing and went, “This is nuts. You’re way less happy at Harvard, you people, than a lot of the people with Down syndrome I know.” So it was like going to the pet store to get a puppy like everyone else. Come home, open the panel box and out jumps a kitten.

Once they said, okay, we accept that you’re not going to have an abortion. Then the next thing my advisor said was, “Put the baby in an institution the second he’s born, because you don’t want him dragging you down.” And I’m like, “Is that really dragging me down, for me? Or is it your culture that sees that as dragging me?” I just was like…

Then the doctors and stuff, so there are all these therapies you can do to get him to act the way we want children to act. And it was like saying, so sorry you got a kitten, but they have therapies you can almost make them bark.

Rowan Mangan:
Make it wag it’s little tail.

Martha Beck:
Kind of. You can get it to fetch sort of, it’s more a killing thing, but it’s a little like fetching. And I remember thinking at one point, “I can’t make him normal, but what if I like cats? Why don’t we find out what a cat does when you let it do what it wants?”

Rowan Mangan:
Right.

Martha Beck:
So I had raised him that way, and it was this incredible experience. And it wasn’t until 20 years later that I thought, oops, I should have done that with my other kids as well, whoopsie-daisy. Meanwhile, I was trying to shoehorn them into a school system that was not made for… like I really screwed up. But that shook me out of the culture. And I was like, yeah, if you don’t agree with me, you can respectfully shove it.

Rowan Mangan:
And that’s interesting because it makes me think what if there’s no such thing as a puppy? You know what I mean? What if they’re all kittens and we are putting these little masks on them?

Martha Beck:
Or maybe some of them are like skunks, or raccoons, or octopuses. They could be octopuses. You could have an octopus child. It would be amazing.

Rowan Mangan:
I wish we did. Maybe we do.

Martha Beck:
Maybe we do. When you say, now we got fresh meat.

Rowan Mangan:
But it’s amazing isn’t it? Because it’s so hard not to project your own wishes onto your kids, and not to decide that you know what their life is for.

Martha Beck:
Right.

Rowan Mangan:
It’s like here’s this tabula rasa that I just get to project all over, and say, the classic, “I know what’s good for you”.

Martha Beck:
Yeah.

Rowan Mangan:
What?

Martha Beck:
Everything around us is sort of Uber parenting, us saying, I know what’s good for you. And your job is to say to your child, I know what’s good for you.

Rowan Mangan:
And I just have to say that while I’m sitting here with you doing this podcast where we say, I really disagree with that point of view. I find it really hard not to do it.

Martha Beck:
Yeah. In fact, I’m terrified right now, seriously, in this moment, I’m afraid that people out there are going, how dare you? How very dare you mess with this subject? This is not about being wild. When you’re a parent, by God, you keep the rules. It’s very heavy duty. And all of us want our kids to be free from suffering, right?

Rowan Mangan:
Yeah.

Martha Beck:
That is deep in the marrow of my bones. But the other day I was listening to some Buddhist dude, and he was talking about how we only grow through struggle. And he said, “A wasted life is a life with no mistakes and no suffering.”

Rowan Mangan:
Wow.

Martha Beck:
And I was like, oh, thank you, sir. And then I was working with a client later, such a good mother, so worried about it all, and terrified her kids would suffer. And I just found myself blurting out, “Listen, your kid’s pain is their birthright. Get your dirty hands off it.”

Rowan Mangan:
Absolutely. And God, it’s a hard thing to remember, isn’t it? And yet, the other layer of this in a way… And one of the things that I think that the sort of social media parenting posses that I encounter, do really well from a sort of psychological point of view is, talk about how…

There’s recognition about how the process of being a parent really can bring up our own shit, and force us to deal with it. And so there’s a strange circularity there of the, yes, they have their right to suffer, and maybe the suffering… maybe we are trying to avoid our suffering by trying to avoid their suffering.

Martha Beck:
Oh yeah. Oh, that’s really good. Because I really learned with Adam that he couldn’t breathe right. At first, I had to suction out his nose every 15 minutes. After two weeks, I was literally nearly dead of exhaustion. And there came a moment when I realized that I thought I couldn’t breathe because he couldn’t breathe.

And I actually had to look at him, this tiny little baby and say, this is your problem, not mine. And I’d put him in the hall and I said, I have to sleep. And if you die because I don’t suction out your nose, it’s either that or we both go down. So I slept for two hours and it changed my life. And he learned to breathe through his mouth.

Rowan Mangan:
And they learn.

Martha Beck:
That’s the thing.

Rowan Mangan:
And they learn stuff that we are holding them back from learning because of our own fears, whether it’s our fears about them whatever, asphyxiating. Or whether it’s our fears about being judged or whatever.

Martha Beck:
You’re right. I think in our culture, good parenting is actually fearful parenting.

Rowan Mangan:
Yeah. Yeah. I think that’s true. And I just want to say before we move off it that, if our goal is to become bewildered, right? This is such a trial by fire because trying to parent in a way that does not project all over Lila, my own weird ideas, is just putting a mirror up every single day to all the places, a lot of them unexpected, where I am still completely governed by the culture.

Martha Beck:
It really, really brings it up, yeah. The biggest thing for me is I’ve been obsessed with psychology my whole life. And as you read about how the brain works, you realize that kids really are laying down a lot of neurological behavioral tracks. I mean, the rate of learning and how fast they absorb it is almost scary. And it’s so much faster than later in life.

And it’s very easy to get the wrong impression as a baby, or get a trauma either from something horrible or from something relatively from an adult perspective, not that terrible, but to the baby, it is, legitimately. So, you can go back and heal those wounds later. And it’s a very short hop from, I carry wounds from my childhood, to my parents messed up. It’s all their fault.

Rowan Mangan:
And that’s permanently impacted my ability to be a person or whatever.

Martha Beck:
Yeah. If you are of a victimy mentality, you could easily slide into the idea that everything about your happiness is a 100% connected to how your parents raised you. And that’s really strong in our culture. There’s maybe not a 100%, but 99 point something, you know?

Rowan Mangan:
Yeah. Yeah, I agree. I agree. For me, I totally don’t subscribe to that idea with regard to my own parents. I don’t see their actions as being the reason for anything one way or another in myself. But what’s interesting is, that I find I 100% subscribe to that idea when it comes to my kid, that any misstep, any F-bomb, any-

Martha Beck:
Oh dear-

Rowan Mangan:
Actually, that’s such a lie.

Martha Beck:
Oh dear.

Rowan Mangan:
I drop F-bombs day and night. Let me think of a better example.

Martha Beck:
Maybe we could start again with another baby.

Rowan Mangan:
I don’t think we could ever control that. What’s a better example, but I don’t know, say having a fight in front of her or something like that, we haven’t really done that.

Martha Beck:
Well, and the thing we’ve talked about before, which is, you did a good job, but only because you were trying.

Rowan Mangan:
Yeah, all of those things, but I don’t think the absence of that is going to traumatize her. But it is funny how… And isn’t it just solipsism, isn’t it just a God complex that we have to explore as parents? Like, I am all powerful and I am shaping this child.

Martha Beck:
Yeah. And it’s both ways, because in my case, I think, yeah, my parents did stuff because they were confused themselves, that left me with wounds and it’s my job to fix them. My children, because of things I did have wounds, and it’s my job to fix those. They call it my God tentacles.

Rowan Mangan:
Yeah, no, it is. That’s absolutely true. And I bet we’re not the only ones who feel that way.

Martha Beck:
I think you’re right.

Rowan Mangan:
So how do we come to our senses, Marty?

Martha Beck:
Well, I will tell you in a minute.

Rowan Mangan:
Welcome back. And I should say, Marty, when it comes to coming to our senses, today is a bit of a departure for us. Because this is not so much how you listeners should come to your senses, it’s like, here’s how we are working with this ourselves, with Lila in real time. Here’s us trying our best. Here’s our work in progress, right?

Martha Beck:
Yes, I have no illusions that I’m making no mistakes. I didn’t before either, I just didn’t know what mistakes I was making. I really was covering the ones that I thought were possible, and it turned out there was an entire world of problems that I was creating, that I didn’t even think about. And I cut myself a little slack because those kids were born when I was in my early 20s.

Rowan Mangan:
Yeah, impossible.

Martha Beck:
Now as a late in life lesbian, how to have a brand new baby in your 50s, marry a much younger woman. We have this brand new, I get another chance sort of.

Rowan Mangan:
Yeah. I don’t want you to think of me as just the evil experimenter, but it’s really cool to have a brand new baby come home after you’ve seen a few grow up. Because here’s what I know. I have no freaking clue what to do, nothing, but I’m fine with that.

That’s almost always the thing now that you say that. Get behind the language bit, get behind the bit that knows.

Martha Beck:
Yeah. And for me, it’s like I love animals, going to Africa to watch the animals, and I love to track them. And with Adam, I was always watching him to see what kind of kitten he was. And I would do the exercises, I did hours of exercises to make him a puppy. He was always a kitten. He was going to stay a kitten, but I got to really like cats.

Rowan Mangan:
And such a cute kitten.

Martha Beck:
Oh, he was the best. They all were the best. And Lila could be an octopus.

Rowan Mangan:
Yeah. I wouldn’t be surprised actually the way it feels changing her diaper these days.

Martha Beck:
Oh my God. We call it the angry salmon, she thrashes so hard, she could literally swim upstream in a waterfall just with the thrashing.

Rowan Mangan:
Absolutely.

Martha Beck:
God, she’s strong. See previous episodes. Anyway, every day she’s showing us who she really is, and she’s amazing, but I didn’t expect it.

Rowan Mangan:
Yeah. Yeah, and I think that willingness to be shown, waiting to see, waiting to learn. And where I feel like there’s this constant back and forth of over projecting and deciding, and then stepping back. And especially for me, because I’m a planner, and I’m a Virgo, and I’m just like, I love it. I love all that stuff.

We have a conversation about education and what that will look like. And I’m like, well, then she’ll do this and then she’ll do this. And then it’s always learning to add that proviso of, if she turns out to be that kind of kid, she might do that. But if she’s not, then we’re going to have to completely rethink it.

A recent development that’s quite alarming to Marty and me is that, she’s really, really loves balls. Basketballs, little laundry antistatic in the dryer balls, she loves them all. And we’re looking down the barrel of a really terrifying possibility that our kid might be athletic. Oh my God.

Martha Beck:
I mean, when you first said she’s into balls, I thought she might not be gay, and that would be a horror.

Rowan Mangan:
Oh God, you can’t even… don’t even say it.

Martha Beck:
But you’re right. I mean, she’s acting athletic. I said she’s strong. She’s also coordinated, and obsessed with sports. It’s terrifying to acknowledge that this could happen in our household.

Rowan Mangan:
We can always go to therapy if it works out that way.

Martha Beck:
That’s true.

Rowan Mangan:
Yeah, we’ll figure it out.

Martha Beck:
But I’m not going to try to send her to a change camp or anything so she’s not athletic.

Rowan Mangan:
No.

Martha Beck:
You folks may be picking up that we are not of an athletic bent our own selves.

Rowan Mangan:
No, no, no.

Martha Beck:
Yes, we are joking. All you athletic people out there, we have a huge admiration and delight that you are athletic. We’re just terrified of having a child who turns out that way.

Rowan Mangan:
That’s right. That’s right. Unnecessary defensiveness there. I think they got the joke, but that’s fine.

Martha Beck:
Okay. Good.

Rowan Mangan:
All right.

Martha Beck:
So yeah, any parent will tell you, after looking back on their kids, that they came out a certain way. And by God, 15, 20, 30 years later, they’re still pretty much that person.

Rowan Mangan:
Yeah. Yeah. And it makes me… I mean, I just tend to get weird as we progress down the halls of this conversation. Because what if nature and nurture aren’t even? What if there’s no such thing as those things? What if DNA isn’t even relevant? What if that they are just all are who they are, and they’re just these little individual aspects of the collective soul or whatever, just having all these different experiences? And actually it’s their difference that defines their life. The ways that they’re different is just life having so much fun, by not all being freaking puppies.

Martha Beck: Yeah.

Rowan Mangan:
And I was thinking about, there’s this great passage in our friend Stephen Mitchell’s, The Second Book of the Tao. And I just thought of this that, it says, “A horse is not a horse. It might be a four-legged animal that neighs, but it’s not separate from the rest of the non-horsical reality. If anything, it’s reality horsing or reality being horsed.”

And I always thought of that. I remembered it as life instead of reality, like life being horsed. And I remember getting really unduly upset once when I accidentally hit a squirrel. We were in California and I hit a squirrel, and I’d been listening to the CD of the audio book of that in the car that same day. And I was just like… so what I told myself was, “Okay, that’s just life has just finished squirreling for the moment,” you know?

Martha Beck:
Nice.

Rowan Mangan:
It’s just finished squirreling there. And it changed my perspective. And then from there, I went into a recognition of the absolute ridiculous hubris of thinking that I should control anything about my child’s existence other than keeping her body and her heart as safe as I can.

Martha Beck:
Yeah.

Rowan Mangan:
Safe though, not constricted.

Martha Beck:
Yeah, not caged.

Rowan Mangan:
Not caged because my job really is to just sort of try and safeguard the vehicle that is life being Lila-ed right now. I can’t know what life wants to do as Lila.

Martha Beck:
Right. I mean, the two Jims kind of give some weight to that whole, there’s something beyond even the physical going on. But the combination of whatever mystical presence is there in that being, and the nature that has evolved this body over hundreds of millions of years, it’s far too complex for us to control with our cognitive minds.

So the first thing that, and this is really, really, I see how much different I am with Lila than with my other children. It’s okay to detach from the belief that you have to control anything about this.

Rowan Mangan:
Strong medicine.

Martha Beck:
You can’t do it. And I’ve coached literally thousands of people that is literally true. And I have heard countless times, “My parents were so controlling. My parents were so controlling. My parents were so controlling.” I never once have heard someone say, my parents weren’t controlling enough. They didn’t try to shove me into a cultural mold hard enough. I’ve never heard that. And maybe it’s just because they’re people coming to me for help, but maybe it’s because we’re not supposed to be controlled.

Rowan Mangan:
Yeah. And yeah, I just have to return to the fact that there’s no… In the urge to control, this isn’t us blaming or accusing, because it is so hard. And then it becomes a different layer of hard when you involve other people, and our projections of other people’s expectations, and what they might think if we do blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.

Actually, Marty, I had this cool thing the other day where I was trying to test this out about coming to my senses as a parent. Lila was given this beautiful little red wagon. Isn’t there like some famous American-

Martha Beck:
Red Rider.

Rowan Mangan:
Red Rider. Okay. So it’s like this little wagon, and it’s very sweet and very cute. We were in the house and we were sitting around having our morning communion like we do. And Lila… And this thing doesn’t really have a brake. So it’s four wheels, it’s a wagon, picture it.

And she was climbing in and out of this thing. And that was, it’s just sort of at a point where it’s a challenge for her to climb in and out of. And I was watching her, and I caught myself needing to check in with Marty and my mom who were both there. And I was like, “Listen, I’m watching her do that. And I need you to tell me, am I being a bad mother right now? Because I know that there’s parents, there’s plenty of parents who would be freaking out about her doing this.”

But what happened, because it was all sort of happening in slow motion. And we were in a relatively safe space and everything. I was able to sort of step back and check my body, and check for signals in my body of alarm. And so that’s what I said to Marty and mom was, “My brain can see that this could be dangerous, but my body does not detect a sense of danger.”

Martha Beck:
Right. I mean, going back to instinct is I think, how you parent without enculturating your child. And if there’s a way to culture proof the child is to culture proof yourself, by refusing to be pressured by parenting demands away from your parenting instincts. So when a man I am proud to call a friend, Gavin de Becker who wrote The Gift of Fear, talks about how genuine fear happens in genuinely dangerous situations. It tells us to take action. It’s actually a calm sensation, but we force ourselves to ignore it out of social imperatives.

And the example he gives is that, “If you’re in a high rise building after dark, and nobody else is there and you go to get in the elevator. And the door opens and there’s a man in there, and you feel immediately a sense of don’t get in, don’t do it. You get in any way, out of the fear of looking weird.”

Rowan Mangan:
Yeah.

Martha Beck:
And he says, “No other animal in nature would voluntarily lock itself in a steel box with another animal that scared it.” I think I’ve said this before on the podcast, but is worth repeating.

Rowan Mangan:
Oh yeah.

Martha Beck:
I mean, we’ve been talking about it for us as individuals, but double it, triple it, quadruple it as a parent. Don’t take your instinctive impulses and throw them away because of your fear of what other people will think about you as a parent.

Rowan Mangan:
And, oh my God, let’s not forget. Don’t model doing that to your kids who are watching you suppress your instinct, and that, talk about perpetuating the culture.

Martha Beck:
Yeah, no kidding. It set me free when you read me something out of a book that said, “The child’s job is to do dangerous things carefully,” was that it? And we were talking to another friend, talking about an anthropologist going to a village where they had a fire at night and the tribe was gathered or whatever. And there were little kids running around, and the anthropologists were like, “It’s incredible, they don’t even put a barrier in front of the fire. What’s keeping the children away from the fire?”

And our friend was saying, “It’s just the children’s instincts.” And I was like, “No, it’s called heat.” You get really close to a fire, it’s very uncomfortable. The one thing we’re born fearing is falling, because falling doesn’t push you away instinctively. So we’ve evolved with a fear of falling, a fear of falling, a fear of sudden loud noises. Those are the two fears you were born with, everything else is socialized, but don’t blame your parents.

Rowan Mangan:
But I think that let’s not lose that point that our kids may be unformed in certain ways, but their instincts are there. Are intact, are worth trusting. And that goes back to the wagon, her instincts were good. She was doing a dangerous thing carefully.

Martha Beck:
Yeah. And you see that, we put all these grates around the staircases, and then we have this thing, “She’s on the loose.” And she gets out of the gates. And the first time she walked up to a staircase, I expected to see a horror… And she looked at it, turned around, got down on all fours and backed down and then slid down like a seal perfectly safely. That was her instinct, no one taught her to do that. She figured that out at like one.

Rowan Mangan:
Yeah. Yeah. And just to complicate the plot again though, so there’s my instincts, there’s her instincts. And then I feel like we can do the opposite from what Gavin de Becker is talking about with the elevator, right? Where I am at the park say, and there’s other parents around other kids. And I can see something happening that I don’t feel is dangerous, but I don’t want the other parents here at the park to think I’m bad.

Martha Beck:
And they’re giving you dirty looks.

Rowan Mangan:
Or they’re not, and I’m imagining they are. It doesn’t even matter, it’s immaterial. But I still will be like, I will act as though I’m afraid. Isn’t that bizarre?

Martha Beck:
I actually twig to this with my older kids. Because at a certain point around puberty, I started telling them we’re going in to talk to your teacher, pretend to be normal. We’re going to both pretend to be normal because we’ve got to get through this system. It’s a ridiculous set of hoops to jump. We know who we are, but we will present a faceless smile to the agents of the culture. I don’t know if it worked, but at least I felt like I was in my integrity. And I’m certainly planning to do that with Lila, so I hope you don’t mind.

Rowan Mangan:
I’m into it.

Martha Beck:
Okay, cool. Yeah. So that way we can throw away the useless fear of other people thinking badly of us, which we can’t control, and then embrace the useful ones.

Rowan Mangan:
Yeah. Yeah. So how do we overcome this kind of social-cultural pressure when we are around other people and their judgments? This is the hard thing for me, because that’s going to be a big chunk of the time that we are parents. Even if you know what to do, the fear of being seen as a bad or unloving parent, that’s a really powerful fear because it’s like one of the worst things you can be.

Martha Beck:
Yeah. It is a genuine issue. And I have to say, I’m very grateful for meditation. Sorry if I say that too often, but it is like one of the greatest things ever made. Because it talks about the ability to focus our attention where we want it to be.

So the meditation is, I will not focus on any input, and that’s really hard, but you start to realize that you are focusing your attention and you’ve been taught to focus it on the people around you who are most frightening to you.

Rowan Mangan:
Right.

Martha Beck:
So the child is probably the least frightening. The other adults are going to be more frightening. You may just fall in with the other parents, and do things where your kid becomes invisible to you. So the first thing is to take your attention and pull it off everyone else…

I’ve been in groups of parents who are part of the religion I left, who outright hated me for it. And I would just pull my attention out of that. Or at Harvard, when I had this little baby with Down syndrome and literally I would go around, and everyone would pretend he didn’t exist. And I just pulled my attention off them and I put it on him.

If you can, there at the playground, just say to the person to the right and left of you, I see that you don’t like what I’m doing, my attention is not on you. My attention is on my child, and she’s happy. She’s doing dangerous things carefully. You have to be quiet in yourself and almost imagine like, if your attention is a light beam, go from a wide angle light to a very pinpoint one. And just laser focus on, is my child thriving?

Do I feel joy coming from this child? Can I feel my love for her rejoicing at what she’s doing? Or do I feel like, uh-oh, I need to do this now. And it’s very quick when you actually feel like your child is in danger, the instincts act in… they’re like lightning.

Rowan Mangan:
This feels like it would apply to a lot of things. A lot of the stuff we talk about, that getting quiet and bringing your attention back to what matters, and away from other people, that’s got to be a lot of the stuff.

Martha Beck:
Yeah. There was a Zen master in the 13th century and somebody said, “What is the secret of happiness?” And he said, “Attention.” And they were like, “Please elaborate.” And he said, “Okay. Attention, attention, attention.” It’s really about where we place our attention. When we place our attention on joy, we become more… the world seems more benevolent. When we put our attention on our love, then our conformity becomes less powerful.

Rowan Mangan:
Yeah. And I have one more thing to add to that, which is that I feel like there’s not much room for judgment when you’re having fun. And so that’s what I’m trying to do more of with Lila as well, is look for places where there’s fun, where we can have fun.

Martha Beck:
And we are having quite a lot of fun. So here’s the thing. She can come to us later and tell us what we did by a mistake. And we’ll say, wow, sorry, we had a lot of fun. So at least it’s not three miserable people. And then Karen with her muscular poodle also joining in. And then we can also tell her, “Stay Wild!”

Rowan Mangan: 
We hope you’re enjoying Bewildered. If you’re in the USA and want to be notified when a new episode comes out, text the word ‘WILD’ to 570-873-0144.

We’re also on Instagram. Our handle is @bewilderedpodcast. You can follow us to get updates, hear funny snippets and outtakes, and chat with other fans of the show.

For more of us, Martha’s on Instagram, themarthabeck. She’s on Facebook, The Martha Beck, and she’s on Twitter, marthabeck. Her website is, MarthaBeck.com. And me, I too am on Instagram. Rowan_Mangan. I’m on Facebook as Rowan Mangan. And I’m on Twitter as RowanMangan. Bewildered is produced by Scott Forster with support from the brilliant team at MBI.


Read more
Questions? Comments? Trying to figure something out? Email us! podcast@marthabeck.com