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Podcast Ep. 20: Raging Against the Minivan with Kristen Howerton, Author and Marriage and Family Therapist

In this episode

Seven or eight years ago, we heard about this funny and really smart blog by this progressive Christian mother of four called Rage Against the Minivan. We were lucky enough to live close enough to her that we ended up meeting at a party and she was just as funny and smart in person as in the blog. 

Since then, Kristen Howerton has continued to do amazing things in the parenting space. Her blog continues to be as funny and wise as ever. She has a good jillion followers on Instagram. She's an international speaker, and she just published a truly amazing book called Rage Against the Minivan: Learning to Parent Without Perfection

Listen here

About our guest

Kristen is an author, blogger, and a licensed marriage and family therapist. She grew up in a conservative Christian home in Florida, went off to a Bible college where she fell in love with the boy who was destined to become a pastor. The next thing you know, he's the new pastor in Orange County, California, and she's trying to live the life of a pastor's wife. 

After several heartbreaking miscarriages, she and her then-husband were able to adopt two boys, one from Los Angeles and one from Haiti. And they quickly learn about the challenges facing two white parents raising two black sons in America. She then went on to give birth to two girls. So if you're counting, that's four kids in all. And today, they're all in their teens. 

Along the way, there is a harrowing journey to adopt their second son in Haiti, right when the 7.0 magnitude earthquake hit the island in 2010. She has a transition in her faith through all this that she writes about beautifully in her book. A divorce and a truly inspiring journey unfolds where, from our view, she discovers what it means to parent with love and authenticity, and she shares this wisdom with us.

Show notes

Transcript highlights


3:30

Justin: So before we talk about all the things that you publicly do, so, author, speaker, blogger, influencer, mother of four, I wanted to talk about life before motherhood, and I didn't know anything about your life before motherhood and Rage Against the Minivan until I read your book. And it was really beautiful. And then your life before motherhood. It makes everything else make sense for me. Like Rage Against the Minivan makes sense hearing about life before motherhood. So it seems like the really big turning points in your life for all around motherhood, the miscarriages, the adoption's, the pregnancy. So can you talk about these transformational moments and then how they changed you from Kristen before all of this and then Kristen after?

Kristen: Yeah, I mean, you know, I always knew that I wanted to have children, but we, you know, we waited a very long time just because, you know, I also knew I wanted to travel and, you know, have experiences before that. I knew that, you know, having kids would be a game-changer. I mean, you never know how much until you're in it. Right. But I did know, like, ok, that'll be big. So when we finally decided, you know, ok, we're ready to have kids. It was a pretty winding road for me. And I mean, I detail that in the book. It's you know, I struggled with infertility then I struggled with multiple miscarriages. I had six before I carried a pregnancy to full term. And, you know, it was just one of those life goals that you think is just going to you know, once you're ready, you'll just pop out some kids. 

And it did not work that way for me at all. It was a years of heartache. And then pretty quickly, I was like, ok, you know, maybe we need to move to adoption because I'd always been open to that. I kind of assumed I would adopt some of my kids. And then that was a pretty long and somewhat traumatic process as well, because, you know, we were placed with our first child that was supposed to be foster to adopt, which is a program that kind of, you know, creates a pathway. And then that ended up being rocky and shaky. And for about three years, we lived with the uncertainty of like, ok, this kid might be our forever kid and this kid might be returned to his birth family, which, you know, would have been fine for him. And that is a good outcome for kids. But it doesn't make it any less traumatic when you're a parent in love with a kid. 

It did change me. I mean, it made me have to learn a lot of lessons about letting go of outcomes and letting go of control and, you know, I think everyone in life comes to the point where they realize, ok, things don't always go my way. Right. Like prayers are not always answered. You know, and then we have to grapple with how we move forward from that. I mean, you know that, right?

Justin: Oh yeah. One of the things that I interpreted and you might have explicitly said this, but was around your spirituality or your faith that this time shifted some things for you. And I wonder if you feel comfortable talking about that.

Kristen: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think, you know, there’s, I grew up, you know, in a very strong faith tradition, evangelical tradition. And, you know, there are platitudes that were told in that faith, which is, you know, all things work together for the good of God. Right. And if you pray hard enough, God will answer. And I think that's a very privileged way to look at the world, that there is this God who's going to reward you if you've done enough of your quiet times, if you've, you know, prayed the right amount. Like the reality is...

Justin: Therefore, your privilege is God's favor. 

Kristen: Right. Right. Because first of all, if we look at the world at large, it's absurd to say that God pulls certain people out of tragedy and others not based on their faith. I mean, I feel like that's a somewhat American lens, right? Because we don't live in a country that necessarily has a lot of inherent tragedy versus, you know, if we lived in somewhere where there were wars or there was, you know, famine or a lot of poverty happening all the time, or a country like Haiti, which is where I adopted my son from, where children die all the time from lack of medical care, things like that. 

And, you know, I think it definitely shook my faith. It definitely changed the lens that I see all of that from, because I now recognize bad things happen to all people. Like suffering is inevitable. It is a part of this life. And that is what I'm now trying to teach my children that bad things can and will happen and to expect it, and because, I just I was really because I'd been raised with those platitudes, I was really ill-equipped to deal with hard things happening to me.

Justin: Oh, I hear that. Yeah. So my dad was a Baptist pastor until I was...

Kristen: I remember that we had that in common.

Justin: Until I think I was in first grade. Yeah. Like at the end of first grade. And that's a great way to put it. Growing up ill-equipped to really confront profound tragedy, trying to make sense of this. And when Max was diagnosed, we heard a lot of this as well of like, oh, you know, everything happens for a reason. This is all part of God's plan. And my first response was to get upset. But then the second response was, this is evidence that this person saying this doesn't know how to handle really difficult things happening in their lives. And like I get it, like this is too much for you. You're not going to be a part of our journey. I can see that. And it's ok. 

Yeah, I really resonate with that part. So there's this shift. And in the book, I really felt like, yeah, there were some kind of tectonic shifts for you. Yeah. Around this point in your life. How has this journey turned out? Where are you today with your faith and spirituality?

Kristen: Yeah, I'm in a very different place. I mean, I think in addition to, you know, pain and suffering, changing the way that you view God, I think it also changes the way that you view the world. Right. It makes you more compassionate, at least for most of us. I think, you know, when you've been through difficult things. I mean, it's like I haven't had a child with cancer, but I know what it's like to have your world turned upside down. I know what it's like to think that your life is going to be one way and then for a shit sandwich to be handed to you. Right, that like, oh, this is going to be really hard. 

And, you know, I think that that growing compassion really changed the way that I looked at the world as well, because suddenly I was just like, yeah, I'm kind of not down with a faith that is, you know, not inclusive to a whole group of people or a faith that is, you know, a religious group that's not welcoming immigrants or, you know, not really caring for the poor or making political decisions that are disenfranchising people. And, you know, once I started to have to shift more into a social justice lens, into a compassionate lens, that the religion that I had been raised in and started to feel very false and very harmful. And so at this point, I mean, I still identify as a Christian, but it's interesting to say that to people, because I feel like that's so loaded and there's so many assumptions with that. 

But I would say that I'm a very progressive Christian. I no longer believe that every single thing that happened in the Bible is a literal thing. And I think that Jesus was a really cool teacher of love and social justice. And I think he was a socialist. And, you know, I think most Christians would not claim me at this point, but you know, but I have found I found my people.

Justin: You found your people. Yeah. 


14:00

Justin: Right, so I want to just rewind a little bit. There's this beautiful line in your book around adoption. There was a particularly harrowing point at which you were about to lose one of your sons. And so you wrote, “I had to will myself to behave like a mother who was not enveloped in fear. Slowly, the more I actively loved him, the more my anxiety decreased. Eventually, I was able to simply focus on my love for him and not the fear of losing him.” 

And this resonated so deeply with me, because as a childhood cancer parent, this is something that has been like a touchstone for me is when this deep anxiety of something big happening in this journey love has been this life raft to hold onto. I wonder if you could talk a little bit about that moment and what you've learned since then about love.

Kristen: Yeah, I mean, I think and I run anxious in general. But, you know, when you especially as a parent, when you have the potential of loss in any way looming in the, you know, foreseeable distance that, you know, I could lose a child. It's really hard to get out of that spin of just thinking about that, that becomes your entire world, you know. And I can remember walking through a grocery store, like looking for groceries and thinking I might, I could lose Jafta, like I could lose my kid. You know, I might not be his mom. I may never see this kid again. 

And if it starts to infiltrate everything that you do and every, you know, should I make plans, should I have this kid in this family photo? Because what if he's not in our family in a year? Should you know every single thing I do? It's infiltrating. And I don't want to sound like, you know, toxic positivity, like never worry. I think worry is a normal human reaction. And I think the shame about worry is also problematic. But I also think you have to kind of put it in its place. And I found that to be true, like, ok, I have to take my worry box out and I need to give that room to breathe. And then I got to put the worry box back and then I have to be a mom and I have to. And, you know, and I have to love, first of all, because this child deserves love, right? Like this child does not deserve me being completely distracted by worry. But then also, you know, when I'm focusing on loving and behaviors that are loving, my anxiety is reduced like it's you know, it works in both directions.

Justin: Yeah. So I think at the beginning of our journey with childhood cancer, when I experienced this, I had a vision. Well, when I would experience just by focusing on my love for Max and just focusing on the present moment, well, that this love would bring me into the present moment to worry would bring me into the future space. And I think that's a decent way to look at it. But recently, I've gotten into, I don't know as a therapist if you're familiar with internal family systems? 

Kristen: Oh, yeah. 

Justin: Yeah, so I've been really into like parts work, you know, and so now it's like, all right, I have a part that is really worried about this, but this love part is much bigger when I can tap into it, you know, with internal family systems. 

Love is connected to like this true self or some inner knowing. For me, it has shown me that there's something much bigger than the part of me that is worried, the part of me that is feeling helpless, the part of me that is feeling inadequate. Yeah. So I just really love that. 

Kristen: Yeah. And I loved what you said about focusing on, you know, the present, because we have so many different frameworks that are all pointing back to the fact that being in the present versus living in the past versus future casting, being in the present is healthier. Right. 

I mean, the Buddhist tradition is all about being in the present. So many schools of therapy are about being in the present. And, you know, when we spend our time future casting, it isn't great for our mental health. Right? It's not good for us. And when we can live in the moment, again, avoiding toxic positivity, recognizing the things that are happening. But, you know, when we can shift into today and today, I'm going to live and today I'm going to enjoy the family that's in front of me. It really does help us.

Justin: Oh, I love that. Yeah. For me, love really avoids all the toxic positivity it has. Love is really about being here in this moment and connecting. Yeah. Like I'm connected. I'm in this moment. Toxic positivity. You write a little about toxic positivity as well? For listeners who might not be familiar with the word toxic being used alongside positivity, what is toxic positivity and why should we avoid it?

Kristen: Yeah, so we see toxic positivity in a lot of faith traditions, but we also see it in a lot of, you know, non-religious situations as well. I mean, New Age, you know, we can see it in some of our self-help gurus, but toxic positivity just basically says, you know, if you just think positive thoughts, then you will be more positive. And if you avoid negativity, you know, and manifest positivity in your life, then things will be positive. Which, again, is an incredibly privileged view of the world, because, first of all, if we decide that we're all going to avoid negativity, then what does that do to the oppressed? What does that do to the hurting, to the poor, to the disenfranchised? Like, if I go full bore into that kind of positivity manifesting culture, what I'm going to do then is when a friend is hurting, I'm going to be like, I don't want that on me.

Justin: Oh, that's exactly right. It's and it's not just your friend, but it's your kids, too. It eventually comes out as you're not allowed to feel this. Because it's not positive.

Kristen: That's right. It's very minimizing and it's very damaging. You know, I mean, and parents do this unintentionally. But, you know, we've all said to a grieving kid like, you know, you just going to have to think positive and you're just going to have to, you know, it's all going to be ok. We say that naturally, like it's all going to be ok. That's an example of toxic positivity, when in reality, like it may not be ok. This may be really hard, like the worst-case scenario might actually happen. And so toxic positivity is very rife in religious circles. I mean, it is that thing that you said. It's you know, everything happens for a reason. And it's just it's packaging pain up with a bow, which is completely lacking in empathy.

Justin: Yeah. Yeah. And then there's the saying that I love, I think it originally ascribed to Carl Jung, but “what we resist persists.” So toxic positivity doesn't allow us to really move these emotions through, process them, express them, hold space for others to express them. And so then they just fester and they get bigger and they get bigger. Yeah.

Kristen: Absolutely. And when you're in systems of toxic positivity, because, you know, this is a thing that everyone can fall into. I mean, I'm not, you know, exempt to it. But some people are living in systems of toxic positivity. And a lot of times that's from a religious experience. It does mean that you're just repressing your emotions all the time. And, you know, I talk about that in the book, like when I was going through my miscarriages, I can remember people basically saying like, your grief is too loud. Like you need to have more faith because your grief is not faithful. And I think a lot of toxic positivity happens because people are uncomfortable with pain.

Justin: Oh, man. Absolutely.

Kristen: And so they just, they want us to be quiet. Really.

Justin: Yeah. That's something that I had to learn the hard way with our childhood cancer journey. I didn't really understand grief until about seven or eight years into this journey after we had been through so many kids passing away from families. We've worked with that massive project. Yeah.

And I thought I was processing grief, but it wasn't until I actually started to get into therapy, started to really look at what was inside. I was like, oh, my gosh, I have been resisting this stuff big time. And so it was, there was a lot of sobbing that I had to work through. And now I have a much deeper appreciation, it’s like, oh no, the space has to be held for this.

Kristen: Yes, absolutely. And I mean, you know, I think that what you guys are doing is such an example of the opposite of toxic positivity, because toxic positivity would say, you guys just focus on your own kid, don't be around other families with cancer because that's going to bring you down. You know, just focus on the positive when in reality, like the fact that you've created this community, while there is, of course, grief inherent in it, how powerful, you know.

Justin: Oh, thank you. It has been an absolute therapeutic exercise for me that I didn't realize that's what it was going to be. But it has pushed me at my edges every step of the way. And now I know that I'm able to actually be with families every step along the journey. Whereas when we started this out, I had no idea what I was getting into. 


24:12

Justin: So I want to talk about divorce, and we don't need to talk about the particulars of divorce, but one thing that you wrote that I really loved was how you start out not really wanting to share much about what's happening in your relationship. And then you find out that as you start to become vulnerable, like, as you get vulnerable and you start to share the difficulties of this transition in your relationship, that others responded back to you with vulnerability as well. Can you talk about that transition for you? That that I've discovered as well. Like the more that I open up, the more others open up as well. There's this kind of human and reciprocal thing going on. 

Kristen: Totally. Well, you know, I think for me, a lot of it was around fear and fear of judgment. You know, I did grow up in religious circles and then I worked in religious circles. I had friends in religious circles. And, you know, divorce is the scarlet letter in Christian circles. You know, that's the big D. I mean, it's you don't want that, you know, and there is a ton of judgment around divorce. And so even as far as I feel that I've evolved in my own faith journey, I still had that shame. I was still carrying that shame towards myself. 

And so me not wanting to be vulnerable was really shame. It was really me feeling like I failed, you know, and this is embarrassing. And, you know, there's so many messages in Christianity about like, you know, if you don't stay married, it's you know, you just haven't tried hard enough or you're just exchanging one set of problems for another. And so I was embarrassed. And so part of the reason that I wasn't talking about it was that I was carrying all that shame. And as I started talking about it, many of the people that I thought would be judging me reached out to me and said, I've been through this or I'm close to this or, you know. And what I received wasn't judgment. Well, I did get a judgment from some people. Of course.

Justin: We don't totally escape judgment.

Kristen: But by and large, overwhelmingly, what I got back was just a lot of compassion and a lot of understanding and a whole lot of people that I would have otherwise never known coming to me and saying I'm going through this, too.

Justin: Have you experienced this in other parts of your life, realizing that when you open up, there's this kind of human, reciprocal opening...

Kristen: Oh yeah, with everything, with everything. I mean, you know, a part of the reason that I think, you know, when I look at my writing and why my writing has been successful or the pieces that have been successful, it's always when I've been really vulnerable. And the reason that it resonates is because I'm talking about something that maybe people haven't felt free to talk about. Right. Like I talk very openly about how difficult it was for me having young kids. I did not love those years. I tried so hard to build a family. 

And then I found myself with four little kids and I was like, oh, my gosh, I want off this ride, you know, and then feeling that confusion of like, ok, I wanted this and now I don't. What's wrong with me? Maybe I shouldn't have had kids. Maybe all those miscarriages was because I'm a terrible mom, you know. And I just talked really openly about those things. And that resonates with people. 

On a lighter side, some of the Instagram things that I've posted, like I, a couple of years ago, I found this wad of God knows what in the bottom of my purse. It was like cough, cough drops, unwrapped everything stopped to fuzz, stuck to a, you know, a hair tie. It was just the gross like five receipts. It was like a tumor at the bottom of my purse of just discarded objects. And I thought it was so I mean, embarrassing but funny that I posted a picture of it and like that picture got more comments because so many moms were like, thank you. Like, thank you for being honest about how gross you are.

Justin: Yeah. Yeah. Right. I feel seen.

Kristen: Totally.

Justin: I want to ask about the role of choice in motherhood and this passage in your book struck me because, I'll read the quote and then we can talk a little bit about it. So you write, “Feminism gave us the gift of being able to choose. But if we are not careful, having the freedom to do anything can easily morph into the obligation to do everything. And that's a recipe for exhaustion and despair, not liberation. An inherent aspect of choice is choosing one thing over another by learning to say no to certain roles or obligations of motherhood that don't work for us. We allow ourselves to more fully embrace the roles that we actively choose for ourselves.” 

I was noticing some tension in thinking about a conservative religious upbringing and how these choices are inherently dangerous in that context. But then what you're really getting at here is that, you know, the danger of having all of these choices is that you end up feeling totally overwhelmed. And like you're not really doing any of it. 

Kristen: Yes. And, you know, it's I mean, what's interesting about that is psychologically, that's always true. The more choices we have, we often feel more anxiety. Right. Like when there's more things to you know, we get to sit in decision spirals and decision fatigue. But I think specifically for women, I mean, we have been given that message. You can do it all right. Like you can have it all. And I don't think it's true. And it's, but that's ok. I think that's where, you know, that's an important part of feminism, is that it's the choice. 

Like feminism doesn't mean I have to have a job and I can't be a stay-at-home mom. Feminism means I can choose. And it's totally valid if I stay home with my kids and it's totally valid if I have a nanny. But feminism doesn't mean I have a full time job and I'm a full time stay at home mom, which a lot of women kind of feel.

Justin: Yeah. Yeah. So this ties into this realization that you write about in the book of feeling totally worn down like you have spent all of the energy that you have and then come to realize that you're an introvert and that actually you need to take some time for yourself and that it's ok. And that you need to recharge. I can imagine a lot of parents recognize this. And it's a powerful reframing for these times when we're feeling just completely burnt out. 

Kristen: Yeah, and I didn't hear enough mothers talking about introversion before I had kids, you know, or even still now, I think like introversion and full-time parenting is, it's a rough gig. You know, if you're a person who needs space to recharge and then you have multiple children, you're not going to get that space, you know, and that's just a thing that I did not realize before I had kids. 

And, you know, I don't think it would have changed. I think I still would have had probably four kids, but I maybe would have come out, come at it with, well, first of all, more grace for myself. But second of all, you know, I might have made different choices. I mean, I landed in choices that felt good for me, right? I mean, I landed like, ok, I'm going to come out of being a therapist because that's dwindling my introversion charge. I'm going to be a writer. I'm going to find childcare. I'm you know, I'm going to find these rhythms for myself. But I took the long road there, and I wish I'd known a little more about introversion and myself, because I maybe could have taken a shortcut.

Justin: So let's talk about asshole parenting or the asshole parent hashtag. So this is a fantastic chapter in the book, all about the asshole parent hashtag. And it struck me that really what this asshole parent hashtag was about for me looking at it, is that a parent has to be prepared to be seen as an asshole if they want to just be minimally responsible. Like just like the minimum amount of parenting will be seen as being an asshole by your kids. Is this right?

Kristen: Absolutely. And it never ends like, you know, when they’re a toddler you were trying to keep them from sticking a fork into the plug or, you know, falling off of things to their death. And they're just mad about it. They're just big mad all the time. And, you know, that doesn't change. Now, I have teenagers and I'm trying to keep them safe. And, you know, they're mad about, you know, that we have time limits on their social media or that, you know, we have a filter on the computer. You know, they're just always mad at you.

Justin: Yeah. Do you see an end to this? Like, is there an age at which it flips and it turns into gratitude or what do you think?

Kristen: I think so. I mean, it's funny because my kids have little moments of clarity where they go, ok, I can see why you're like this. You know, like we had an incident where I make my kids carry water everywhere, I make them, we all have the refillables, we carry them everywhere. And I don't really let my kids drink a lot of sugary drinks, sodas, and so my kids know how to drink water. 

And we were at Disney with another family and these kids would not drink water. The parents were having to buy them sodas the whole day. And then they were getting, like, dehydrated. And the kids were kind of having sugar crashes. And my kids were like, ok, I see why we drink water. Like they were kind of like, ok, the water thing is, we get …

Justin: A light bulb. 

Kristen: Right. Like we get why you're, you know, so intense about us taking our water bottles. But then also, like this other family had probably spent $50 on drinks where we just kept refilling our water everywhere we went. And so they were like, ok, we get that. But I think, you know, that's a small example. But I think that they, you know, they're finally understanding or, you know, I hate to contrast it with other families, but we did we went on vacation with another family. The kids were, you know, that we'd be at the dinner table and the other kids would be on their screens, like on their phone the whole time. So then my kids are sitting there bored because we're a little strict on the screens. And they were like, ok, we understand why we shouldn't have our faces buried in a screen all the time. Like we kind of get that.

Justin: Yes. Oh, that's beautiful. Oh, my God. Oh, I love that.


35:53

Justin: Ok, so I want to talk about social justice and parenting. So you write about this in your book and very powerfully you write about being a white mom, raising two black sons. And the book was published right around or right after really the protests surrounding the murder of George Floyd. Because of the timing, is there anything that you would add? What happened for you and your family around that? And since then, I'm wondering if you can just reflect on what's happened since the book has been published.

Kristen: Yeah, I mean, it was interesting timing. My book came out the week that George Floyd was murdered. And it's interesting because that was such an interesting time for me, because we knew all of this like we'd already been going to the protests and the marches as a family. Right. Like we knew that this was really bad. And for me, George Floyd was, it was a situation that was dramatic and caught on video. And I feel like we as a family watched the rest of the world sort of catch up in a way. People were finally like, oh, this is really bad. And then we were like, yeah, it is really bad. Like we've been saying it's really bad. 

So it was heartening to see the world engage, but it was also just a little bit surreal. It was a little bit surreal of like, you guys, we've been saying this like I keep saying this, it's so bad. Like my boys are treated so differently. They're patted down at airports and they're approached by cops and they're kicked out of places like in ways that I know their white peers are not, their siblings are not.

Justin: It sounds like you felt like the rest of us kind of caught up with you.

Kristen: Which, you know, yay. I mean…

Justin: We needed to!

Kristen: I mean, there's no like, you know, there was no feeling of like, oh, too little too late. I mean, it was like yay, I'm really glad that people are finally grappling with this. And, you know, it was nice for my kids to, because as I said, I mean, we have been going to protests since Trayvon. You know, I've been going to protests and I've been dragging the kids. And so it was very nice for us to then go to them and like their peers were there, their teachers were there, their youth group leaders were there. That was different. You know, that felt really different. And it was very powerful.

Justin: Connected to this, you write: “If I had to sum up motherhood in one philosophical statement, it would be this. They come out of the womb as narcissists, and you have 18 years to try to change that.” And it clicked for me that I feel like there's a politics here. As parents, we have 18 years to shift them out of just being totally self-centered human beings into a mode where they start to care about others, where they start to see themselves as part of a larger community. So I'm wondering like, can we see this is really the heart of the political divide we're in today, as we have half of the country has kind of moved a little bit past this narcissist stage. And that was the other half that maybe...

Kristen: Yeah. I mean, I think, you know, I wrote this book before Covid happened, but I think Covid was this, you know, the way that people have responded to Covid, where you have half of us feeling like, ok, this is a community problem that we all need to take responsibility for. And then you have half of the world literally saying, I don't care, I don't care. It's, you know, I can't see beyond myself. And if it's not happening to me and if I'm not at risk, I don't feel the need to protect anybody else…

Justin: Or change anything. 

Kristen: Right. 

Justin: Like about my life.

Kristen: No. There is a disease that is literally killing people. And I don't care to do anything to make sure I'm not part of that. It's baffling.

Justin: So, Kristen, how do you as a parent approach this with your own kids, raising children to see themselves as part of a larger good?

Kristen: Yeah, I mean, a lot of just direct conversations about that. We talk a lot in our house about the social contract. Right. Like we live in a society and we live in a society where what we're supposed to do is care for others. It's very, I have to say, it is very hard living in America, because while I'm saying that I'm in their ear saying that they're also watching their peers, they watch their peers. We were under quarantine until we got our vaccines. Like we were not leaving the house. No one in, no one, you know, I mean, we were leaving the house, but like, you know, we were not having people over. We were not spending time with anyone outside of our family. We were really strict. And there, you know, seeing on Instagram friends having sleepovers and parties and just going about their lives. 

And so it was really, I feel for teenagers in this because it was very confusing for them. And so, you know, we had to do a lot of kind of looking outside of America, like, ok, look at what's happening in New Zealand and look at what's happening in Europe. We live in a country where we place freedom above community care. And like looking at the problems of that, you know, we've talked a ton about collectivism versus individualism and how, you know, we're watching individualism right now run amuck and how we you know, as a family, we are more collectivist. We believe that, you know, the community is a part of what we should be caring about, not just ourselves. But it was a very hard sell in the middle of it. Right. I mean, they're just like, cool, I want to hang out with my friends. My friends are all hanging out and I'm not.

Justin: Asshole parent. Yes.

Kristen: But, you know, again, I do feel like this will be a thing that they look back on. And I think all of us will look back on this time in history and we'll know the final death count and we'll know how horrible this was. And I think I do think that there are a lot of people, a lot of kids right now who in adulthood are going to look back and go, man, my parents didn't do anything.

Justin: Oh, my God.

Kristen: Right. And I'm like, I would rather be on the right side of history of that. I would rather my kids look back and go, man, my mom was intense, then look back and go. My mother didn't care about all these people that died.

Justin: So, Kristen, what right now in your life as a parent, in your life, just as a human being, is most interesting, kind of at the edge, like what is happening in your own personal growth? Is there anything new and exciting?

Kristen: I mean, I think that, you know, it's an interesting time just because, you know, we're not post-pandemic, but the world is sort of moving forward. My kids have their vaccines. There's activities are back in full swing. And I think I'm at that weird cusp of like, ok, I'm not totally sure I'm out of the trauma of this pandemic, but the world is just moving right along. Right. And so it was one thing to be dealing with all of it while we were in quarantine and there was, you know, a little more space. But now it's like, ok, I look at my schedule and it's like I've got, you know, four sports games to attend this week. And other kids, I play rehearsals and school dances and it feels very overwhelming. It's a very weird time right now.

Justin: Yes. I forgot to congratulate you. I saw on Twitter that you have taken up a full-time job reading school emails.

Kristen: Oh, my gosh. It really feels like a full-time job. It really does. And, you know, I think I mean, again, to avoid toxic positivity, I'm not glad that this pandemic happened. But I do think that it was a reset for a lot of us. And, you know, I think a lot of us realized in the pandemic, like, wow, we were really over-scheduled before. And then it's like none of us learned anything. And the schedule is right back… 

Justin: Right back. But yes, I remember Audra and I for the first several months, we just loved it like it's all canceled. Everything was canceled like. Yes, you know, how wonderful. And then you're absolutely right. It's all just like, well, it's starting to feel that way and then Delta kind of squashed it. 

Kristen: It did.

Justin: But yeah, it'll be back.

Kristen: Yeah, I know. My kids schools are just full bore, back end, you know, everything. And so it's a lot.

Justin: Yeah. Yes. All right. So how can listeners find out more about you and your work?

Kristen: Yeah, I mean, my website is KristenHowerton.com. And I am Kristen Howerton on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. And then the book is on sale wherever you can buy books.

Justin: Beautiful. And so we have these three final questions that we ask every guest. And so I hope you're game. So we'll see if you could put a big Post-it note on every parent's fridge tomorrow morning, Kristen, what would it say?

Kristen: I would say. You're doing great.

Justin: You're doing great. And that's not toxic positivity. That is just instilling a little self-compassion.

Kristen: Yeah, well, you know, I think it goes back to, I mean, this is a very sort of psychoanalytic view, but the good enough mom, right? The good-enough mother developmentally is showing love to her kids. It's not about the PTA bake sale. It's not about, you know, what kind of car you drive or how you look. It's just about making a connection with your kids. And that doesn't need to look. You know, you can send your kids to school with a shitty lunch and still be a good enough mom as long as you're connected, you know.

Justin: Yeah, I, into The Family Thrive last week or the week before, we had a question about parenting advice. Have you ever received any parenting advice that has actually been useful? And I don't remember who said this, but I remember when we had Max, somebody said, you know, “parenting, all this really boils down to loving your kid and keeping them alive.” And so I've had that feeling of whenever everything feels too big and too intense and I'm just not good enough. I have a lot like I'm not having them enrolled in the right things or, you know, whatever. It's like, you know, am I showing them love? They're alive. All right. Ok, so Kristen, do you have a quote recently that has changed the way you think or feel?

Kristen: It's interesting. I'm actually, I don't know that I have a specific quote, but I am rereading Brene Brown's Daring Greatly. And I'm really pondering disengagement right now. And my own tendency is to disengage. And so I think I am, the Brene Brown concept of disengagement versus vulnerability is heavy on my mind right now.

Justin: Can you say a little bit more about disengagement for Brene Brown? What does this mean for her?

Kristen: It's deciding that the pain of the world is too great to feel. And so it's just opting out. And I mean, it goes back to the Jung quote you mentioned, what we resist persists. You know, when we disengage, we aren't getting rid of it. We're just pushing pause. Right. And it's going to be there.

Justin: And it might even be bigger. 

Kristen: It will be bigger. Yes. And so, you know, that I think for me is that is a lifelong battle for me of feeling my feelings. Right. Like giving myself space and time to feel my feelings versus overworking versus overplanning, you know, whatever. Ah, we all have our different coping mechanisms. Right? Right. And avoiding that and just sitting in the now and feeling the feelings in the now.

Justin: Beautiful. So our third and final regular question for podcast guests is what's your favorite thing about kids? And so we ask this because I mean, I absolutely resonated with what you wrote in your book about having little kids. I mean, it's exhausting and it's just absolutely overwhelming. And so it's nice to reflect on the good stuff. So can you think back? So this is just for little kids. What is your favorite thing about little kids, even though it was tough, overwhelming, all of that? What is your favorite thing about kids?

Kristen: My favorite thing was and still is just the creativity. I just loved when my kids would wear a costume all day and, you know, they would create a scenario out of nothing. My kids, they used to play this game called Spaceship, and the couch was a spaceship, and they would spend hours creating these elaborate stories around their spaceship. And I just, I love that unbridled creativity that kids have. Right, that there's just no filter and they'll enter into a world that's not theirs. It's so playful and whimsical. And I do, I actually you know, my kids are all teenagers, but I miss that stage of just like walking in and finding them, pretending to be Spider-Man in their room, you know. So cute.

Justin: Beautiful. Beautiful. Well, Kristen, thank you so much for coming on the podcast. Really appreciate this.

Kristen: Thanks for having me.



Podcast Ep. 20: Raging Against the Minivan with Kristen Howerton, Author and Marriage and Family Therapist

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Podcast Ep. 20: Raging Against the Minivan with Kristen Howerton, Author and Marriage and Family Therapist

This week, we're joined by author, blogger, and LMFT, Kristen Howerton to talk miscarriages, adoption, divorce, #assholeparenting, race, social justice, and so much more. You won't want to miss this!

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90 minutes

In this episode

Seven or eight years ago, we heard about this funny and really smart blog by this progressive Christian mother of four called Rage Against the Minivan. We were lucky enough to live close enough to her that we ended up meeting at a party and she was just as funny and smart in person as in the blog. 

Since then, Kristen Howerton has continued to do amazing things in the parenting space. Her blog continues to be as funny and wise as ever. She has a good jillion followers on Instagram. She's an international speaker, and she just published a truly amazing book called Rage Against the Minivan: Learning to Parent Without Perfection

Listen here

About our guest

Kristen is an author, blogger, and a licensed marriage and family therapist. She grew up in a conservative Christian home in Florida, went off to a Bible college where she fell in love with the boy who was destined to become a pastor. The next thing you know, he's the new pastor in Orange County, California, and she's trying to live the life of a pastor's wife. 

After several heartbreaking miscarriages, she and her then-husband were able to adopt two boys, one from Los Angeles and one from Haiti. And they quickly learn about the challenges facing two white parents raising two black sons in America. She then went on to give birth to two girls. So if you're counting, that's four kids in all. And today, they're all in their teens. 

Along the way, there is a harrowing journey to adopt their second son in Haiti, right when the 7.0 magnitude earthquake hit the island in 2010. She has a transition in her faith through all this that she writes about beautifully in her book. A divorce and a truly inspiring journey unfolds where, from our view, she discovers what it means to parent with love and authenticity, and she shares this wisdom with us.

Show notes

In this episode

Seven or eight years ago, we heard about this funny and really smart blog by this progressive Christian mother of four called Rage Against the Minivan. We were lucky enough to live close enough to her that we ended up meeting at a party and she was just as funny and smart in person as in the blog. 

Since then, Kristen Howerton has continued to do amazing things in the parenting space. Her blog continues to be as funny and wise as ever. She has a good jillion followers on Instagram. She's an international speaker, and she just published a truly amazing book called Rage Against the Minivan: Learning to Parent Without Perfection

Listen here

About our guest

Kristen is an author, blogger, and a licensed marriage and family therapist. She grew up in a conservative Christian home in Florida, went off to a Bible college where she fell in love with the boy who was destined to become a pastor. The next thing you know, he's the new pastor in Orange County, California, and she's trying to live the life of a pastor's wife. 

After several heartbreaking miscarriages, she and her then-husband were able to adopt two boys, one from Los Angeles and one from Haiti. And they quickly learn about the challenges facing two white parents raising two black sons in America. She then went on to give birth to two girls. So if you're counting, that's four kids in all. And today, they're all in their teens. 

Along the way, there is a harrowing journey to adopt their second son in Haiti, right when the 7.0 magnitude earthquake hit the island in 2010. She has a transition in her faith through all this that she writes about beautifully in her book. A divorce and a truly inspiring journey unfolds where, from our view, she discovers what it means to parent with love and authenticity, and she shares this wisdom with us.

Show notes

In this episode

Seven or eight years ago, we heard about this funny and really smart blog by this progressive Christian mother of four called Rage Against the Minivan. We were lucky enough to live close enough to her that we ended up meeting at a party and she was just as funny and smart in person as in the blog. 

Since then, Kristen Howerton has continued to do amazing things in the parenting space. Her blog continues to be as funny and wise as ever. She has a good jillion followers on Instagram. She's an international speaker, and she just published a truly amazing book called Rage Against the Minivan: Learning to Parent Without Perfection

Listen here

About our guest

Kristen is an author, blogger, and a licensed marriage and family therapist. She grew up in a conservative Christian home in Florida, went off to a Bible college where she fell in love with the boy who was destined to become a pastor. The next thing you know, he's the new pastor in Orange County, California, and she's trying to live the life of a pastor's wife. 

After several heartbreaking miscarriages, she and her then-husband were able to adopt two boys, one from Los Angeles and one from Haiti. And they quickly learn about the challenges facing two white parents raising two black sons in America. She then went on to give birth to two girls. So if you're counting, that's four kids in all. And today, they're all in their teens. 

Along the way, there is a harrowing journey to adopt their second son in Haiti, right when the 7.0 magnitude earthquake hit the island in 2010. She has a transition in her faith through all this that she writes about beautifully in her book. A divorce and a truly inspiring journey unfolds where, from our view, she discovers what it means to parent with love and authenticity, and she shares this wisdom with us.

Show notes

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Transcript highlights


3:30

Justin: So before we talk about all the things that you publicly do, so, author, speaker, blogger, influencer, mother of four, I wanted to talk about life before motherhood, and I didn't know anything about your life before motherhood and Rage Against the Minivan until I read your book. And it was really beautiful. And then your life before motherhood. It makes everything else make sense for me. Like Rage Against the Minivan makes sense hearing about life before motherhood. So it seems like the really big turning points in your life for all around motherhood, the miscarriages, the adoption's, the pregnancy. So can you talk about these transformational moments and then how they changed you from Kristen before all of this and then Kristen after?

Kristen: Yeah, I mean, you know, I always knew that I wanted to have children, but we, you know, we waited a very long time just because, you know, I also knew I wanted to travel and, you know, have experiences before that. I knew that, you know, having kids would be a game-changer. I mean, you never know how much until you're in it. Right. But I did know, like, ok, that'll be big. So when we finally decided, you know, ok, we're ready to have kids. It was a pretty winding road for me. And I mean, I detail that in the book. It's you know, I struggled with infertility then I struggled with multiple miscarriages. I had six before I carried a pregnancy to full term. And, you know, it was just one of those life goals that you think is just going to you know, once you're ready, you'll just pop out some kids. 

And it did not work that way for me at all. It was a years of heartache. And then pretty quickly, I was like, ok, you know, maybe we need to move to adoption because I'd always been open to that. I kind of assumed I would adopt some of my kids. And then that was a pretty long and somewhat traumatic process as well, because, you know, we were placed with our first child that was supposed to be foster to adopt, which is a program that kind of, you know, creates a pathway. And then that ended up being rocky and shaky. And for about three years, we lived with the uncertainty of like, ok, this kid might be our forever kid and this kid might be returned to his birth family, which, you know, would have been fine for him. And that is a good outcome for kids. But it doesn't make it any less traumatic when you're a parent in love with a kid. 

It did change me. I mean, it made me have to learn a lot of lessons about letting go of outcomes and letting go of control and, you know, I think everyone in life comes to the point where they realize, ok, things don't always go my way. Right. Like prayers are not always answered. You know, and then we have to grapple with how we move forward from that. I mean, you know that, right?

Justin: Oh yeah. One of the things that I interpreted and you might have explicitly said this, but was around your spirituality or your faith that this time shifted some things for you. And I wonder if you feel comfortable talking about that.

Kristen: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think, you know, there’s, I grew up, you know, in a very strong faith tradition, evangelical tradition. And, you know, there are platitudes that were told in that faith, which is, you know, all things work together for the good of God. Right. And if you pray hard enough, God will answer. And I think that's a very privileged way to look at the world, that there is this God who's going to reward you if you've done enough of your quiet times, if you've, you know, prayed the right amount. Like the reality is...

Justin: Therefore, your privilege is God's favor. 

Kristen: Right. Right. Because first of all, if we look at the world at large, it's absurd to say that God pulls certain people out of tragedy and others not based on their faith. I mean, I feel like that's a somewhat American lens, right? Because we don't live in a country that necessarily has a lot of inherent tragedy versus, you know, if we lived in somewhere where there were wars or there was, you know, famine or a lot of poverty happening all the time, or a country like Haiti, which is where I adopted my son from, where children die all the time from lack of medical care, things like that. 

And, you know, I think it definitely shook my faith. It definitely changed the lens that I see all of that from, because I now recognize bad things happen to all people. Like suffering is inevitable. It is a part of this life. And that is what I'm now trying to teach my children that bad things can and will happen and to expect it, and because, I just I was really because I'd been raised with those platitudes, I was really ill-equipped to deal with hard things happening to me.

Justin: Oh, I hear that. Yeah. So my dad was a Baptist pastor until I was...

Kristen: I remember that we had that in common.

Justin: Until I think I was in first grade. Yeah. Like at the end of first grade. And that's a great way to put it. Growing up ill-equipped to really confront profound tragedy, trying to make sense of this. And when Max was diagnosed, we heard a lot of this as well of like, oh, you know, everything happens for a reason. This is all part of God's plan. And my first response was to get upset. But then the second response was, this is evidence that this person saying this doesn't know how to handle really difficult things happening in their lives. And like I get it, like this is too much for you. You're not going to be a part of our journey. I can see that. And it's ok. 

Yeah, I really resonate with that part. So there's this shift. And in the book, I really felt like, yeah, there were some kind of tectonic shifts for you. Yeah. Around this point in your life. How has this journey turned out? Where are you today with your faith and spirituality?

Kristen: Yeah, I'm in a very different place. I mean, I think in addition to, you know, pain and suffering, changing the way that you view God, I think it also changes the way that you view the world. Right. It makes you more compassionate, at least for most of us. I think, you know, when you've been through difficult things. I mean, it's like I haven't had a child with cancer, but I know what it's like to have your world turned upside down. I know what it's like to think that your life is going to be one way and then for a shit sandwich to be handed to you. Right, that like, oh, this is going to be really hard. 

And, you know, I think that that growing compassion really changed the way that I looked at the world as well, because suddenly I was just like, yeah, I'm kind of not down with a faith that is, you know, not inclusive to a whole group of people or a faith that is, you know, a religious group that's not welcoming immigrants or, you know, not really caring for the poor or making political decisions that are disenfranchising people. And, you know, once I started to have to shift more into a social justice lens, into a compassionate lens, that the religion that I had been raised in and started to feel very false and very harmful. And so at this point, I mean, I still identify as a Christian, but it's interesting to say that to people, because I feel like that's so loaded and there's so many assumptions with that. 

But I would say that I'm a very progressive Christian. I no longer believe that every single thing that happened in the Bible is a literal thing. And I think that Jesus was a really cool teacher of love and social justice. And I think he was a socialist. And, you know, I think most Christians would not claim me at this point, but you know, but I have found I found my people.

Justin: You found your people. Yeah. 


14:00

Justin: Right, so I want to just rewind a little bit. There's this beautiful line in your book around adoption. There was a particularly harrowing point at which you were about to lose one of your sons. And so you wrote, “I had to will myself to behave like a mother who was not enveloped in fear. Slowly, the more I actively loved him, the more my anxiety decreased. Eventually, I was able to simply focus on my love for him and not the fear of losing him.” 

And this resonated so deeply with me, because as a childhood cancer parent, this is something that has been like a touchstone for me is when this deep anxiety of something big happening in this journey love has been this life raft to hold onto. I wonder if you could talk a little bit about that moment and what you've learned since then about love.

Kristen: Yeah, I mean, I think and I run anxious in general. But, you know, when you especially as a parent, when you have the potential of loss in any way looming in the, you know, foreseeable distance that, you know, I could lose a child. It's really hard to get out of that spin of just thinking about that, that becomes your entire world, you know. And I can remember walking through a grocery store, like looking for groceries and thinking I might, I could lose Jafta, like I could lose my kid. You know, I might not be his mom. I may never see this kid again. 

And if it starts to infiltrate everything that you do and every, you know, should I make plans, should I have this kid in this family photo? Because what if he's not in our family in a year? Should you know every single thing I do? It's infiltrating. And I don't want to sound like, you know, toxic positivity, like never worry. I think worry is a normal human reaction. And I think the shame about worry is also problematic. But I also think you have to kind of put it in its place. And I found that to be true, like, ok, I have to take my worry box out and I need to give that room to breathe. And then I got to put the worry box back and then I have to be a mom and I have to. And, you know, and I have to love, first of all, because this child deserves love, right? Like this child does not deserve me being completely distracted by worry. But then also, you know, when I'm focusing on loving and behaviors that are loving, my anxiety is reduced like it's you know, it works in both directions.

Justin: Yeah. So I think at the beginning of our journey with childhood cancer, when I experienced this, I had a vision. Well, when I would experience just by focusing on my love for Max and just focusing on the present moment, well, that this love would bring me into the present moment to worry would bring me into the future space. And I think that's a decent way to look at it. But recently, I've gotten into, I don't know as a therapist if you're familiar with internal family systems? 

Kristen: Oh, yeah. 

Justin: Yeah, so I've been really into like parts work, you know, and so now it's like, all right, I have a part that is really worried about this, but this love part is much bigger when I can tap into it, you know, with internal family systems. 

Love is connected to like this true self or some inner knowing. For me, it has shown me that there's something much bigger than the part of me that is worried, the part of me that is feeling helpless, the part of me that is feeling inadequate. Yeah. So I just really love that. 

Kristen: Yeah. And I loved what you said about focusing on, you know, the present, because we have so many different frameworks that are all pointing back to the fact that being in the present versus living in the past versus future casting, being in the present is healthier. Right. 

I mean, the Buddhist tradition is all about being in the present. So many schools of therapy are about being in the present. And, you know, when we spend our time future casting, it isn't great for our mental health. Right? It's not good for us. And when we can live in the moment, again, avoiding toxic positivity, recognizing the things that are happening. But, you know, when we can shift into today and today, I'm going to live and today I'm going to enjoy the family that's in front of me. It really does help us.

Justin: Oh, I love that. Yeah. For me, love really avoids all the toxic positivity it has. Love is really about being here in this moment and connecting. Yeah. Like I'm connected. I'm in this moment. Toxic positivity. You write a little about toxic positivity as well? For listeners who might not be familiar with the word toxic being used alongside positivity, what is toxic positivity and why should we avoid it?

Kristen: Yeah, so we see toxic positivity in a lot of faith traditions, but we also see it in a lot of, you know, non-religious situations as well. I mean, New Age, you know, we can see it in some of our self-help gurus, but toxic positivity just basically says, you know, if you just think positive thoughts, then you will be more positive. And if you avoid negativity, you know, and manifest positivity in your life, then things will be positive. Which, again, is an incredibly privileged view of the world, because, first of all, if we decide that we're all going to avoid negativity, then what does that do to the oppressed? What does that do to the hurting, to the poor, to the disenfranchised? Like, if I go full bore into that kind of positivity manifesting culture, what I'm going to do then is when a friend is hurting, I'm going to be like, I don't want that on me.

Justin: Oh, that's exactly right. It's and it's not just your friend, but it's your kids, too. It eventually comes out as you're not allowed to feel this. Because it's not positive.

Kristen: That's right. It's very minimizing and it's very damaging. You know, I mean, and parents do this unintentionally. But, you know, we've all said to a grieving kid like, you know, you just going to have to think positive and you're just going to have to, you know, it's all going to be ok. We say that naturally, like it's all going to be ok. That's an example of toxic positivity, when in reality, like it may not be ok. This may be really hard, like the worst-case scenario might actually happen. And so toxic positivity is very rife in religious circles. I mean, it is that thing that you said. It's you know, everything happens for a reason. And it's just it's packaging pain up with a bow, which is completely lacking in empathy.

Justin: Yeah. Yeah. And then there's the saying that I love, I think it originally ascribed to Carl Jung, but “what we resist persists.” So toxic positivity doesn't allow us to really move these emotions through, process them, express them, hold space for others to express them. And so then they just fester and they get bigger and they get bigger. Yeah.

Kristen: Absolutely. And when you're in systems of toxic positivity, because, you know, this is a thing that everyone can fall into. I mean, I'm not, you know, exempt to it. But some people are living in systems of toxic positivity. And a lot of times that's from a religious experience. It does mean that you're just repressing your emotions all the time. And, you know, I talk about that in the book, like when I was going through my miscarriages, I can remember people basically saying like, your grief is too loud. Like you need to have more faith because your grief is not faithful. And I think a lot of toxic positivity happens because people are uncomfortable with pain.

Justin: Oh, man. Absolutely.

Kristen: And so they just, they want us to be quiet. Really.

Justin: Yeah. That's something that I had to learn the hard way with our childhood cancer journey. I didn't really understand grief until about seven or eight years into this journey after we had been through so many kids passing away from families. We've worked with that massive project. Yeah.

And I thought I was processing grief, but it wasn't until I actually started to get into therapy, started to really look at what was inside. I was like, oh, my gosh, I have been resisting this stuff big time. And so it was, there was a lot of sobbing that I had to work through. And now I have a much deeper appreciation, it’s like, oh no, the space has to be held for this.

Kristen: Yes, absolutely. And I mean, you know, I think that what you guys are doing is such an example of the opposite of toxic positivity, because toxic positivity would say, you guys just focus on your own kid, don't be around other families with cancer because that's going to bring you down. You know, just focus on the positive when in reality, like the fact that you've created this community, while there is, of course, grief inherent in it, how powerful, you know.

Justin: Oh, thank you. It has been an absolute therapeutic exercise for me that I didn't realize that's what it was going to be. But it has pushed me at my edges every step of the way. And now I know that I'm able to actually be with families every step along the journey. Whereas when we started this out, I had no idea what I was getting into. 


24:12

Justin: So I want to talk about divorce, and we don't need to talk about the particulars of divorce, but one thing that you wrote that I really loved was how you start out not really wanting to share much about what's happening in your relationship. And then you find out that as you start to become vulnerable, like, as you get vulnerable and you start to share the difficulties of this transition in your relationship, that others responded back to you with vulnerability as well. Can you talk about that transition for you? That that I've discovered as well. Like the more that I open up, the more others open up as well. There's this kind of human and reciprocal thing going on. 

Kristen: Totally. Well, you know, I think for me, a lot of it was around fear and fear of judgment. You know, I did grow up in religious circles and then I worked in religious circles. I had friends in religious circles. And, you know, divorce is the scarlet letter in Christian circles. You know, that's the big D. I mean, it's you don't want that, you know, and there is a ton of judgment around divorce. And so even as far as I feel that I've evolved in my own faith journey, I still had that shame. I was still carrying that shame towards myself. 

And so me not wanting to be vulnerable was really shame. It was really me feeling like I failed, you know, and this is embarrassing. And, you know, there's so many messages in Christianity about like, you know, if you don't stay married, it's you know, you just haven't tried hard enough or you're just exchanging one set of problems for another. And so I was embarrassed. And so part of the reason that I wasn't talking about it was that I was carrying all that shame. And as I started talking about it, many of the people that I thought would be judging me reached out to me and said, I've been through this or I'm close to this or, you know. And what I received wasn't judgment. Well, I did get a judgment from some people. Of course.

Justin: We don't totally escape judgment.

Kristen: But by and large, overwhelmingly, what I got back was just a lot of compassion and a lot of understanding and a whole lot of people that I would have otherwise never known coming to me and saying I'm going through this, too.

Justin: Have you experienced this in other parts of your life, realizing that when you open up, there's this kind of human, reciprocal opening...

Kristen: Oh yeah, with everything, with everything. I mean, you know, a part of the reason that I think, you know, when I look at my writing and why my writing has been successful or the pieces that have been successful, it's always when I've been really vulnerable. And the reason that it resonates is because I'm talking about something that maybe people haven't felt free to talk about. Right. Like I talk very openly about how difficult it was for me having young kids. I did not love those years. I tried so hard to build a family. 

And then I found myself with four little kids and I was like, oh, my gosh, I want off this ride, you know, and then feeling that confusion of like, ok, I wanted this and now I don't. What's wrong with me? Maybe I shouldn't have had kids. Maybe all those miscarriages was because I'm a terrible mom, you know. And I just talked really openly about those things. And that resonates with people. 

On a lighter side, some of the Instagram things that I've posted, like I, a couple of years ago, I found this wad of God knows what in the bottom of my purse. It was like cough, cough drops, unwrapped everything stopped to fuzz, stuck to a, you know, a hair tie. It was just the gross like five receipts. It was like a tumor at the bottom of my purse of just discarded objects. And I thought it was so I mean, embarrassing but funny that I posted a picture of it and like that picture got more comments because so many moms were like, thank you. Like, thank you for being honest about how gross you are.

Justin: Yeah. Yeah. Right. I feel seen.

Kristen: Totally.

Justin: I want to ask about the role of choice in motherhood and this passage in your book struck me because, I'll read the quote and then we can talk a little bit about it. So you write, “Feminism gave us the gift of being able to choose. But if we are not careful, having the freedom to do anything can easily morph into the obligation to do everything. And that's a recipe for exhaustion and despair, not liberation. An inherent aspect of choice is choosing one thing over another by learning to say no to certain roles or obligations of motherhood that don't work for us. We allow ourselves to more fully embrace the roles that we actively choose for ourselves.” 

I was noticing some tension in thinking about a conservative religious upbringing and how these choices are inherently dangerous in that context. But then what you're really getting at here is that, you know, the danger of having all of these choices is that you end up feeling totally overwhelmed. And like you're not really doing any of it. 

Kristen: Yes. And, you know, it's I mean, what's interesting about that is psychologically, that's always true. The more choices we have, we often feel more anxiety. Right. Like when there's more things to you know, we get to sit in decision spirals and decision fatigue. But I think specifically for women, I mean, we have been given that message. You can do it all right. Like you can have it all. And I don't think it's true. And it's, but that's ok. I think that's where, you know, that's an important part of feminism, is that it's the choice. 

Like feminism doesn't mean I have to have a job and I can't be a stay-at-home mom. Feminism means I can choose. And it's totally valid if I stay home with my kids and it's totally valid if I have a nanny. But feminism doesn't mean I have a full time job and I'm a full time stay at home mom, which a lot of women kind of feel.

Justin: Yeah. Yeah. So this ties into this realization that you write about in the book of feeling totally worn down like you have spent all of the energy that you have and then come to realize that you're an introvert and that actually you need to take some time for yourself and that it's ok. And that you need to recharge. I can imagine a lot of parents recognize this. And it's a powerful reframing for these times when we're feeling just completely burnt out. 

Kristen: Yeah, and I didn't hear enough mothers talking about introversion before I had kids, you know, or even still now, I think like introversion and full-time parenting is, it's a rough gig. You know, if you're a person who needs space to recharge and then you have multiple children, you're not going to get that space, you know, and that's just a thing that I did not realize before I had kids. 

And, you know, I don't think it would have changed. I think I still would have had probably four kids, but I maybe would have come out, come at it with, well, first of all, more grace for myself. But second of all, you know, I might have made different choices. I mean, I landed in choices that felt good for me, right? I mean, I landed like, ok, I'm going to come out of being a therapist because that's dwindling my introversion charge. I'm going to be a writer. I'm going to find childcare. I'm you know, I'm going to find these rhythms for myself. But I took the long road there, and I wish I'd known a little more about introversion and myself, because I maybe could have taken a shortcut.

Justin: So let's talk about asshole parenting or the asshole parent hashtag. So this is a fantastic chapter in the book, all about the asshole parent hashtag. And it struck me that really what this asshole parent hashtag was about for me looking at it, is that a parent has to be prepared to be seen as an asshole if they want to just be minimally responsible. Like just like the minimum amount of parenting will be seen as being an asshole by your kids. Is this right?

Kristen: Absolutely. And it never ends like, you know, when they’re a toddler you were trying to keep them from sticking a fork into the plug or, you know, falling off of things to their death. And they're just mad about it. They're just big mad all the time. And, you know, that doesn't change. Now, I have teenagers and I'm trying to keep them safe. And, you know, they're mad about, you know, that we have time limits on their social media or that, you know, we have a filter on the computer. You know, they're just always mad at you.

Justin: Yeah. Do you see an end to this? Like, is there an age at which it flips and it turns into gratitude or what do you think?

Kristen: I think so. I mean, it's funny because my kids have little moments of clarity where they go, ok, I can see why you're like this. You know, like we had an incident where I make my kids carry water everywhere, I make them, we all have the refillables, we carry them everywhere. And I don't really let my kids drink a lot of sugary drinks, sodas, and so my kids know how to drink water. 

And we were at Disney with another family and these kids would not drink water. The parents were having to buy them sodas the whole day. And then they were getting, like, dehydrated. And the kids were kind of having sugar crashes. And my kids were like, ok, I see why we drink water. Like they were kind of like, ok, the water thing is, we get …

Justin: A light bulb. 

Kristen: Right. Like we get why you're, you know, so intense about us taking our water bottles. But then also, like this other family had probably spent $50 on drinks where we just kept refilling our water everywhere we went. And so they were like, ok, we get that. But I think, you know, that's a small example. But I think that they, you know, they're finally understanding or, you know, I hate to contrast it with other families, but we did we went on vacation with another family. The kids were, you know, that we'd be at the dinner table and the other kids would be on their screens, like on their phone the whole time. So then my kids are sitting there bored because we're a little strict on the screens. And they were like, ok, we understand why we shouldn't have our faces buried in a screen all the time. Like we kind of get that.

Justin: Yes. Oh, that's beautiful. Oh, my God. Oh, I love that.


35:53

Justin: Ok, so I want to talk about social justice and parenting. So you write about this in your book and very powerfully you write about being a white mom, raising two black sons. And the book was published right around or right after really the protests surrounding the murder of George Floyd. Because of the timing, is there anything that you would add? What happened for you and your family around that? And since then, I'm wondering if you can just reflect on what's happened since the book has been published.

Kristen: Yeah, I mean, it was interesting timing. My book came out the week that George Floyd was murdered. And it's interesting because that was such an interesting time for me, because we knew all of this like we'd already been going to the protests and the marches as a family. Right. Like we knew that this was really bad. And for me, George Floyd was, it was a situation that was dramatic and caught on video. And I feel like we as a family watched the rest of the world sort of catch up in a way. People were finally like, oh, this is really bad. And then we were like, yeah, it is really bad. Like we've been saying it's really bad. 

So it was heartening to see the world engage, but it was also just a little bit surreal. It was a little bit surreal of like, you guys, we've been saying this like I keep saying this, it's so bad. Like my boys are treated so differently. They're patted down at airports and they're approached by cops and they're kicked out of places like in ways that I know their white peers are not, their siblings are not.

Justin: It sounds like you felt like the rest of us kind of caught up with you.

Kristen: Which, you know, yay. I mean…

Justin: We needed to!

Kristen: I mean, there's no like, you know, there was no feeling of like, oh, too little too late. I mean, it was like yay, I'm really glad that people are finally grappling with this. And, you know, it was nice for my kids to, because as I said, I mean, we have been going to protests since Trayvon. You know, I've been going to protests and I've been dragging the kids. And so it was very nice for us to then go to them and like their peers were there, their teachers were there, their youth group leaders were there. That was different. You know, that felt really different. And it was very powerful.

Justin: Connected to this, you write: “If I had to sum up motherhood in one philosophical statement, it would be this. They come out of the womb as narcissists, and you have 18 years to try to change that.” And it clicked for me that I feel like there's a politics here. As parents, we have 18 years to shift them out of just being totally self-centered human beings into a mode where they start to care about others, where they start to see themselves as part of a larger community. So I'm wondering like, can we see this is really the heart of the political divide we're in today, as we have half of the country has kind of moved a little bit past this narcissist stage. And that was the other half that maybe...

Kristen: Yeah. I mean, I think, you know, I wrote this book before Covid happened, but I think Covid was this, you know, the way that people have responded to Covid, where you have half of us feeling like, ok, this is a community problem that we all need to take responsibility for. And then you have half of the world literally saying, I don't care, I don't care. It's, you know, I can't see beyond myself. And if it's not happening to me and if I'm not at risk, I don't feel the need to protect anybody else…

Justin: Or change anything. 

Kristen: Right. 

Justin: Like about my life.

Kristen: No. There is a disease that is literally killing people. And I don't care to do anything to make sure I'm not part of that. It's baffling.

Justin: So, Kristen, how do you as a parent approach this with your own kids, raising children to see themselves as part of a larger good?

Kristen: Yeah, I mean, a lot of just direct conversations about that. We talk a lot in our house about the social contract. Right. Like we live in a society and we live in a society where what we're supposed to do is care for others. It's very, I have to say, it is very hard living in America, because while I'm saying that I'm in their ear saying that they're also watching their peers, they watch their peers. We were under quarantine until we got our vaccines. Like we were not leaving the house. No one in, no one, you know, I mean, we were leaving the house, but like, you know, we were not having people over. We were not spending time with anyone outside of our family. We were really strict. And there, you know, seeing on Instagram friends having sleepovers and parties and just going about their lives. 

And so it was really, I feel for teenagers in this because it was very confusing for them. And so, you know, we had to do a lot of kind of looking outside of America, like, ok, look at what's happening in New Zealand and look at what's happening in Europe. We live in a country where we place freedom above community care. And like looking at the problems of that, you know, we've talked a ton about collectivism versus individualism and how, you know, we're watching individualism right now run amuck and how we you know, as a family, we are more collectivist. We believe that, you know, the community is a part of what we should be caring about, not just ourselves. But it was a very hard sell in the middle of it. Right. I mean, they're just like, cool, I want to hang out with my friends. My friends are all hanging out and I'm not.

Justin: Asshole parent. Yes.

Kristen: But, you know, again, I do feel like this will be a thing that they look back on. And I think all of us will look back on this time in history and we'll know the final death count and we'll know how horrible this was. And I think I do think that there are a lot of people, a lot of kids right now who in adulthood are going to look back and go, man, my parents didn't do anything.

Justin: Oh, my God.

Kristen: Right. And I'm like, I would rather be on the right side of history of that. I would rather my kids look back and go, man, my mom was intense, then look back and go. My mother didn't care about all these people that died.

Justin: So, Kristen, what right now in your life as a parent, in your life, just as a human being, is most interesting, kind of at the edge, like what is happening in your own personal growth? Is there anything new and exciting?

Kristen: I mean, I think that, you know, it's an interesting time just because, you know, we're not post-pandemic, but the world is sort of moving forward. My kids have their vaccines. There's activities are back in full swing. And I think I'm at that weird cusp of like, ok, I'm not totally sure I'm out of the trauma of this pandemic, but the world is just moving right along. Right. And so it was one thing to be dealing with all of it while we were in quarantine and there was, you know, a little more space. But now it's like, ok, I look at my schedule and it's like I've got, you know, four sports games to attend this week. And other kids, I play rehearsals and school dances and it feels very overwhelming. It's a very weird time right now.

Justin: Yes. I forgot to congratulate you. I saw on Twitter that you have taken up a full-time job reading school emails.

Kristen: Oh, my gosh. It really feels like a full-time job. It really does. And, you know, I think I mean, again, to avoid toxic positivity, I'm not glad that this pandemic happened. But I do think that it was a reset for a lot of us. And, you know, I think a lot of us realized in the pandemic, like, wow, we were really over-scheduled before. And then it's like none of us learned anything. And the schedule is right back… 

Justin: Right back. But yes, I remember Audra and I for the first several months, we just loved it like it's all canceled. Everything was canceled like. Yes, you know, how wonderful. And then you're absolutely right. It's all just like, well, it's starting to feel that way and then Delta kind of squashed it. 

Kristen: It did.

Justin: But yeah, it'll be back.

Kristen: Yeah, I know. My kids schools are just full bore, back end, you know, everything. And so it's a lot.

Justin: Yeah. Yes. All right. So how can listeners find out more about you and your work?

Kristen: Yeah, I mean, my website is KristenHowerton.com. And I am Kristen Howerton on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. And then the book is on sale wherever you can buy books.

Justin: Beautiful. And so we have these three final questions that we ask every guest. And so I hope you're game. So we'll see if you could put a big Post-it note on every parent's fridge tomorrow morning, Kristen, what would it say?

Kristen: I would say. You're doing great.

Justin: You're doing great. And that's not toxic positivity. That is just instilling a little self-compassion.

Kristen: Yeah, well, you know, I think it goes back to, I mean, this is a very sort of psychoanalytic view, but the good enough mom, right? The good-enough mother developmentally is showing love to her kids. It's not about the PTA bake sale. It's not about, you know, what kind of car you drive or how you look. It's just about making a connection with your kids. And that doesn't need to look. You know, you can send your kids to school with a shitty lunch and still be a good enough mom as long as you're connected, you know.

Justin: Yeah, I, into The Family Thrive last week or the week before, we had a question about parenting advice. Have you ever received any parenting advice that has actually been useful? And I don't remember who said this, but I remember when we had Max, somebody said, you know, “parenting, all this really boils down to loving your kid and keeping them alive.” And so I've had that feeling of whenever everything feels too big and too intense and I'm just not good enough. I have a lot like I'm not having them enrolled in the right things or, you know, whatever. It's like, you know, am I showing them love? They're alive. All right. Ok, so Kristen, do you have a quote recently that has changed the way you think or feel?

Kristen: It's interesting. I'm actually, I don't know that I have a specific quote, but I am rereading Brene Brown's Daring Greatly. And I'm really pondering disengagement right now. And my own tendency is to disengage. And so I think I am, the Brene Brown concept of disengagement versus vulnerability is heavy on my mind right now.

Justin: Can you say a little bit more about disengagement for Brene Brown? What does this mean for her?

Kristen: It's deciding that the pain of the world is too great to feel. And so it's just opting out. And I mean, it goes back to the Jung quote you mentioned, what we resist persists. You know, when we disengage, we aren't getting rid of it. We're just pushing pause. Right. And it's going to be there.

Justin: And it might even be bigger. 

Kristen: It will be bigger. Yes. And so, you know, that I think for me is that is a lifelong battle for me of feeling my feelings. Right. Like giving myself space and time to feel my feelings versus overworking versus overplanning, you know, whatever. Ah, we all have our different coping mechanisms. Right? Right. And avoiding that and just sitting in the now and feeling the feelings in the now.

Justin: Beautiful. So our third and final regular question for podcast guests is what's your favorite thing about kids? And so we ask this because I mean, I absolutely resonated with what you wrote in your book about having little kids. I mean, it's exhausting and it's just absolutely overwhelming. And so it's nice to reflect on the good stuff. So can you think back? So this is just for little kids. What is your favorite thing about little kids, even though it was tough, overwhelming, all of that? What is your favorite thing about kids?

Kristen: My favorite thing was and still is just the creativity. I just loved when my kids would wear a costume all day and, you know, they would create a scenario out of nothing. My kids, they used to play this game called Spaceship, and the couch was a spaceship, and they would spend hours creating these elaborate stories around their spaceship. And I just, I love that unbridled creativity that kids have. Right, that there's just no filter and they'll enter into a world that's not theirs. It's so playful and whimsical. And I do, I actually you know, my kids are all teenagers, but I miss that stage of just like walking in and finding them, pretending to be Spider-Man in their room, you know. So cute.

Justin: Beautiful. Beautiful. Well, Kristen, thank you so much for coming on the podcast. Really appreciate this.

Kristen: Thanks for having me.



Transcript highlights


3:30

Justin: So before we talk about all the things that you publicly do, so, author, speaker, blogger, influencer, mother of four, I wanted to talk about life before motherhood, and I didn't know anything about your life before motherhood and Rage Against the Minivan until I read your book. And it was really beautiful. And then your life before motherhood. It makes everything else make sense for me. Like Rage Against the Minivan makes sense hearing about life before motherhood. So it seems like the really big turning points in your life for all around motherhood, the miscarriages, the adoption's, the pregnancy. So can you talk about these transformational moments and then how they changed you from Kristen before all of this and then Kristen after?

Kristen: Yeah, I mean, you know, I always knew that I wanted to have children, but we, you know, we waited a very long time just because, you know, I also knew I wanted to travel and, you know, have experiences before that. I knew that, you know, having kids would be a game-changer. I mean, you never know how much until you're in it. Right. But I did know, like, ok, that'll be big. So when we finally decided, you know, ok, we're ready to have kids. It was a pretty winding road for me. And I mean, I detail that in the book. It's you know, I struggled with infertility then I struggled with multiple miscarriages. I had six before I carried a pregnancy to full term. And, you know, it was just one of those life goals that you think is just going to you know, once you're ready, you'll just pop out some kids. 

And it did not work that way for me at all. It was a years of heartache. And then pretty quickly, I was like, ok, you know, maybe we need to move to adoption because I'd always been open to that. I kind of assumed I would adopt some of my kids. And then that was a pretty long and somewhat traumatic process as well, because, you know, we were placed with our first child that was supposed to be foster to adopt, which is a program that kind of, you know, creates a pathway. And then that ended up being rocky and shaky. And for about three years, we lived with the uncertainty of like, ok, this kid might be our forever kid and this kid might be returned to his birth family, which, you know, would have been fine for him. And that is a good outcome for kids. But it doesn't make it any less traumatic when you're a parent in love with a kid. 

It did change me. I mean, it made me have to learn a lot of lessons about letting go of outcomes and letting go of control and, you know, I think everyone in life comes to the point where they realize, ok, things don't always go my way. Right. Like prayers are not always answered. You know, and then we have to grapple with how we move forward from that. I mean, you know that, right?

Justin: Oh yeah. One of the things that I interpreted and you might have explicitly said this, but was around your spirituality or your faith that this time shifted some things for you. And I wonder if you feel comfortable talking about that.

Kristen: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think, you know, there’s, I grew up, you know, in a very strong faith tradition, evangelical tradition. And, you know, there are platitudes that were told in that faith, which is, you know, all things work together for the good of God. Right. And if you pray hard enough, God will answer. And I think that's a very privileged way to look at the world, that there is this God who's going to reward you if you've done enough of your quiet times, if you've, you know, prayed the right amount. Like the reality is...

Justin: Therefore, your privilege is God's favor. 

Kristen: Right. Right. Because first of all, if we look at the world at large, it's absurd to say that God pulls certain people out of tragedy and others not based on their faith. I mean, I feel like that's a somewhat American lens, right? Because we don't live in a country that necessarily has a lot of inherent tragedy versus, you know, if we lived in somewhere where there were wars or there was, you know, famine or a lot of poverty happening all the time, or a country like Haiti, which is where I adopted my son from, where children die all the time from lack of medical care, things like that. 

And, you know, I think it definitely shook my faith. It definitely changed the lens that I see all of that from, because I now recognize bad things happen to all people. Like suffering is inevitable. It is a part of this life. And that is what I'm now trying to teach my children that bad things can and will happen and to expect it, and because, I just I was really because I'd been raised with those platitudes, I was really ill-equipped to deal with hard things happening to me.

Justin: Oh, I hear that. Yeah. So my dad was a Baptist pastor until I was...

Kristen: I remember that we had that in common.

Justin: Until I think I was in first grade. Yeah. Like at the end of first grade. And that's a great way to put it. Growing up ill-equipped to really confront profound tragedy, trying to make sense of this. And when Max was diagnosed, we heard a lot of this as well of like, oh, you know, everything happens for a reason. This is all part of God's plan. And my first response was to get upset. But then the second response was, this is evidence that this person saying this doesn't know how to handle really difficult things happening in their lives. And like I get it, like this is too much for you. You're not going to be a part of our journey. I can see that. And it's ok. 

Yeah, I really resonate with that part. So there's this shift. And in the book, I really felt like, yeah, there were some kind of tectonic shifts for you. Yeah. Around this point in your life. How has this journey turned out? Where are you today with your faith and spirituality?

Kristen: Yeah, I'm in a very different place. I mean, I think in addition to, you know, pain and suffering, changing the way that you view God, I think it also changes the way that you view the world. Right. It makes you more compassionate, at least for most of us. I think, you know, when you've been through difficult things. I mean, it's like I haven't had a child with cancer, but I know what it's like to have your world turned upside down. I know what it's like to think that your life is going to be one way and then for a shit sandwich to be handed to you. Right, that like, oh, this is going to be really hard. 

And, you know, I think that that growing compassion really changed the way that I looked at the world as well, because suddenly I was just like, yeah, I'm kind of not down with a faith that is, you know, not inclusive to a whole group of people or a faith that is, you know, a religious group that's not welcoming immigrants or, you know, not really caring for the poor or making political decisions that are disenfranchising people. And, you know, once I started to have to shift more into a social justice lens, into a compassionate lens, that the religion that I had been raised in and started to feel very false and very harmful. And so at this point, I mean, I still identify as a Christian, but it's interesting to say that to people, because I feel like that's so loaded and there's so many assumptions with that. 

But I would say that I'm a very progressive Christian. I no longer believe that every single thing that happened in the Bible is a literal thing. And I think that Jesus was a really cool teacher of love and social justice. And I think he was a socialist. And, you know, I think most Christians would not claim me at this point, but you know, but I have found I found my people.

Justin: You found your people. Yeah. 


14:00

Justin: Right, so I want to just rewind a little bit. There's this beautiful line in your book around adoption. There was a particularly harrowing point at which you were about to lose one of your sons. And so you wrote, “I had to will myself to behave like a mother who was not enveloped in fear. Slowly, the more I actively loved him, the more my anxiety decreased. Eventually, I was able to simply focus on my love for him and not the fear of losing him.” 

And this resonated so deeply with me, because as a childhood cancer parent, this is something that has been like a touchstone for me is when this deep anxiety of something big happening in this journey love has been this life raft to hold onto. I wonder if you could talk a little bit about that moment and what you've learned since then about love.

Kristen: Yeah, I mean, I think and I run anxious in general. But, you know, when you especially as a parent, when you have the potential of loss in any way looming in the, you know, foreseeable distance that, you know, I could lose a child. It's really hard to get out of that spin of just thinking about that, that becomes your entire world, you know. And I can remember walking through a grocery store, like looking for groceries and thinking I might, I could lose Jafta, like I could lose my kid. You know, I might not be his mom. I may never see this kid again. 

And if it starts to infiltrate everything that you do and every, you know, should I make plans, should I have this kid in this family photo? Because what if he's not in our family in a year? Should you know every single thing I do? It's infiltrating. And I don't want to sound like, you know, toxic positivity, like never worry. I think worry is a normal human reaction. And I think the shame about worry is also problematic. But I also think you have to kind of put it in its place. And I found that to be true, like, ok, I have to take my worry box out and I need to give that room to breathe. And then I got to put the worry box back and then I have to be a mom and I have to. And, you know, and I have to love, first of all, because this child deserves love, right? Like this child does not deserve me being completely distracted by worry. But then also, you know, when I'm focusing on loving and behaviors that are loving, my anxiety is reduced like it's you know, it works in both directions.

Justin: Yeah. So I think at the beginning of our journey with childhood cancer, when I experienced this, I had a vision. Well, when I would experience just by focusing on my love for Max and just focusing on the present moment, well, that this love would bring me into the present moment to worry would bring me into the future space. And I think that's a decent way to look at it. But recently, I've gotten into, I don't know as a therapist if you're familiar with internal family systems? 

Kristen: Oh, yeah. 

Justin: Yeah, so I've been really into like parts work, you know, and so now it's like, all right, I have a part that is really worried about this, but this love part is much bigger when I can tap into it, you know, with internal family systems. 

Love is connected to like this true self or some inner knowing. For me, it has shown me that there's something much bigger than the part of me that is worried, the part of me that is feeling helpless, the part of me that is feeling inadequate. Yeah. So I just really love that. 

Kristen: Yeah. And I loved what you said about focusing on, you know, the present, because we have so many different frameworks that are all pointing back to the fact that being in the present versus living in the past versus future casting, being in the present is healthier. Right. 

I mean, the Buddhist tradition is all about being in the present. So many schools of therapy are about being in the present. And, you know, when we spend our time future casting, it isn't great for our mental health. Right? It's not good for us. And when we can live in the moment, again, avoiding toxic positivity, recognizing the things that are happening. But, you know, when we can shift into today and today, I'm going to live and today I'm going to enjoy the family that's in front of me. It really does help us.

Justin: Oh, I love that. Yeah. For me, love really avoids all the toxic positivity it has. Love is really about being here in this moment and connecting. Yeah. Like I'm connected. I'm in this moment. Toxic positivity. You write a little about toxic positivity as well? For listeners who might not be familiar with the word toxic being used alongside positivity, what is toxic positivity and why should we avoid it?

Kristen: Yeah, so we see toxic positivity in a lot of faith traditions, but we also see it in a lot of, you know, non-religious situations as well. I mean, New Age, you know, we can see it in some of our self-help gurus, but toxic positivity just basically says, you know, if you just think positive thoughts, then you will be more positive. And if you avoid negativity, you know, and manifest positivity in your life, then things will be positive. Which, again, is an incredibly privileged view of the world, because, first of all, if we decide that we're all going to avoid negativity, then what does that do to the oppressed? What does that do to the hurting, to the poor, to the disenfranchised? Like, if I go full bore into that kind of positivity manifesting culture, what I'm going to do then is when a friend is hurting, I'm going to be like, I don't want that on me.

Justin: Oh, that's exactly right. It's and it's not just your friend, but it's your kids, too. It eventually comes out as you're not allowed to feel this. Because it's not positive.

Kristen: That's right. It's very minimizing and it's very damaging. You know, I mean, and parents do this unintentionally. But, you know, we've all said to a grieving kid like, you know, you just going to have to think positive and you're just going to have to, you know, it's all going to be ok. We say that naturally, like it's all going to be ok. That's an example of toxic positivity, when in reality, like it may not be ok. This may be really hard, like the worst-case scenario might actually happen. And so toxic positivity is very rife in religious circles. I mean, it is that thing that you said. It's you know, everything happens for a reason. And it's just it's packaging pain up with a bow, which is completely lacking in empathy.

Justin: Yeah. Yeah. And then there's the saying that I love, I think it originally ascribed to Carl Jung, but “what we resist persists.” So toxic positivity doesn't allow us to really move these emotions through, process them, express them, hold space for others to express them. And so then they just fester and they get bigger and they get bigger. Yeah.

Kristen: Absolutely. And when you're in systems of toxic positivity, because, you know, this is a thing that everyone can fall into. I mean, I'm not, you know, exempt to it. But some people are living in systems of toxic positivity. And a lot of times that's from a religious experience. It does mean that you're just repressing your emotions all the time. And, you know, I talk about that in the book, like when I was going through my miscarriages, I can remember people basically saying like, your grief is too loud. Like you need to have more faith because your grief is not faithful. And I think a lot of toxic positivity happens because people are uncomfortable with pain.

Justin: Oh, man. Absolutely.

Kristen: And so they just, they want us to be quiet. Really.

Justin: Yeah. That's something that I had to learn the hard way with our childhood cancer journey. I didn't really understand grief until about seven or eight years into this journey after we had been through so many kids passing away from families. We've worked with that massive project. Yeah.

And I thought I was processing grief, but it wasn't until I actually started to get into therapy, started to really look at what was inside. I was like, oh, my gosh, I have been resisting this stuff big time. And so it was, there was a lot of sobbing that I had to work through. And now I have a much deeper appreciation, it’s like, oh no, the space has to be held for this.

Kristen: Yes, absolutely. And I mean, you know, I think that what you guys are doing is such an example of the opposite of toxic positivity, because toxic positivity would say, you guys just focus on your own kid, don't be around other families with cancer because that's going to bring you down. You know, just focus on the positive when in reality, like the fact that you've created this community, while there is, of course, grief inherent in it, how powerful, you know.

Justin: Oh, thank you. It has been an absolute therapeutic exercise for me that I didn't realize that's what it was going to be. But it has pushed me at my edges every step of the way. And now I know that I'm able to actually be with families every step along the journey. Whereas when we started this out, I had no idea what I was getting into. 


24:12

Justin: So I want to talk about divorce, and we don't need to talk about the particulars of divorce, but one thing that you wrote that I really loved was how you start out not really wanting to share much about what's happening in your relationship. And then you find out that as you start to become vulnerable, like, as you get vulnerable and you start to share the difficulties of this transition in your relationship, that others responded back to you with vulnerability as well. Can you talk about that transition for you? That that I've discovered as well. Like the more that I open up, the more others open up as well. There's this kind of human and reciprocal thing going on. 

Kristen: Totally. Well, you know, I think for me, a lot of it was around fear and fear of judgment. You know, I did grow up in religious circles and then I worked in religious circles. I had friends in religious circles. And, you know, divorce is the scarlet letter in Christian circles. You know, that's the big D. I mean, it's you don't want that, you know, and there is a ton of judgment around divorce. And so even as far as I feel that I've evolved in my own faith journey, I still had that shame. I was still carrying that shame towards myself. 

And so me not wanting to be vulnerable was really shame. It was really me feeling like I failed, you know, and this is embarrassing. And, you know, there's so many messages in Christianity about like, you know, if you don't stay married, it's you know, you just haven't tried hard enough or you're just exchanging one set of problems for another. And so I was embarrassed. And so part of the reason that I wasn't talking about it was that I was carrying all that shame. And as I started talking about it, many of the people that I thought would be judging me reached out to me and said, I've been through this or I'm close to this or, you know. And what I received wasn't judgment. Well, I did get a judgment from some people. Of course.

Justin: We don't totally escape judgment.

Kristen: But by and large, overwhelmingly, what I got back was just a lot of compassion and a lot of understanding and a whole lot of people that I would have otherwise never known coming to me and saying I'm going through this, too.

Justin: Have you experienced this in other parts of your life, realizing that when you open up, there's this kind of human, reciprocal opening...

Kristen: Oh yeah, with everything, with everything. I mean, you know, a part of the reason that I think, you know, when I look at my writing and why my writing has been successful or the pieces that have been successful, it's always when I've been really vulnerable. And the reason that it resonates is because I'm talking about something that maybe people haven't felt free to talk about. Right. Like I talk very openly about how difficult it was for me having young kids. I did not love those years. I tried so hard to build a family. 

And then I found myself with four little kids and I was like, oh, my gosh, I want off this ride, you know, and then feeling that confusion of like, ok, I wanted this and now I don't. What's wrong with me? Maybe I shouldn't have had kids. Maybe all those miscarriages was because I'm a terrible mom, you know. And I just talked really openly about those things. And that resonates with people. 

On a lighter side, some of the Instagram things that I've posted, like I, a couple of years ago, I found this wad of God knows what in the bottom of my purse. It was like cough, cough drops, unwrapped everything stopped to fuzz, stuck to a, you know, a hair tie. It was just the gross like five receipts. It was like a tumor at the bottom of my purse of just discarded objects. And I thought it was so I mean, embarrassing but funny that I posted a picture of it and like that picture got more comments because so many moms were like, thank you. Like, thank you for being honest about how gross you are.

Justin: Yeah. Yeah. Right. I feel seen.

Kristen: Totally.

Justin: I want to ask about the role of choice in motherhood and this passage in your book struck me because, I'll read the quote and then we can talk a little bit about it. So you write, “Feminism gave us the gift of being able to choose. But if we are not careful, having the freedom to do anything can easily morph into the obligation to do everything. And that's a recipe for exhaustion and despair, not liberation. An inherent aspect of choice is choosing one thing over another by learning to say no to certain roles or obligations of motherhood that don't work for us. We allow ourselves to more fully embrace the roles that we actively choose for ourselves.” 

I was noticing some tension in thinking about a conservative religious upbringing and how these choices are inherently dangerous in that context. But then what you're really getting at here is that, you know, the danger of having all of these choices is that you end up feeling totally overwhelmed. And like you're not really doing any of it. 

Kristen: Yes. And, you know, it's I mean, what's interesting about that is psychologically, that's always true. The more choices we have, we often feel more anxiety. Right. Like when there's more things to you know, we get to sit in decision spirals and decision fatigue. But I think specifically for women, I mean, we have been given that message. You can do it all right. Like you can have it all. And I don't think it's true. And it's, but that's ok. I think that's where, you know, that's an important part of feminism, is that it's the choice. 

Like feminism doesn't mean I have to have a job and I can't be a stay-at-home mom. Feminism means I can choose. And it's totally valid if I stay home with my kids and it's totally valid if I have a nanny. But feminism doesn't mean I have a full time job and I'm a full time stay at home mom, which a lot of women kind of feel.

Justin: Yeah. Yeah. So this ties into this realization that you write about in the book of feeling totally worn down like you have spent all of the energy that you have and then come to realize that you're an introvert and that actually you need to take some time for yourself and that it's ok. And that you need to recharge. I can imagine a lot of parents recognize this. And it's a powerful reframing for these times when we're feeling just completely burnt out. 

Kristen: Yeah, and I didn't hear enough mothers talking about introversion before I had kids, you know, or even still now, I think like introversion and full-time parenting is, it's a rough gig. You know, if you're a person who needs space to recharge and then you have multiple children, you're not going to get that space, you know, and that's just a thing that I did not realize before I had kids. 

And, you know, I don't think it would have changed. I think I still would have had probably four kids, but I maybe would have come out, come at it with, well, first of all, more grace for myself. But second of all, you know, I might have made different choices. I mean, I landed in choices that felt good for me, right? I mean, I landed like, ok, I'm going to come out of being a therapist because that's dwindling my introversion charge. I'm going to be a writer. I'm going to find childcare. I'm you know, I'm going to find these rhythms for myself. But I took the long road there, and I wish I'd known a little more about introversion and myself, because I maybe could have taken a shortcut.

Justin: So let's talk about asshole parenting or the asshole parent hashtag. So this is a fantastic chapter in the book, all about the asshole parent hashtag. And it struck me that really what this asshole parent hashtag was about for me looking at it, is that a parent has to be prepared to be seen as an asshole if they want to just be minimally responsible. Like just like the minimum amount of parenting will be seen as being an asshole by your kids. Is this right?

Kristen: Absolutely. And it never ends like, you know, when they’re a toddler you were trying to keep them from sticking a fork into the plug or, you know, falling off of things to their death. And they're just mad about it. They're just big mad all the time. And, you know, that doesn't change. Now, I have teenagers and I'm trying to keep them safe. And, you know, they're mad about, you know, that we have time limits on their social media or that, you know, we have a filter on the computer. You know, they're just always mad at you.

Justin: Yeah. Do you see an end to this? Like, is there an age at which it flips and it turns into gratitude or what do you think?

Kristen: I think so. I mean, it's funny because my kids have little moments of clarity where they go, ok, I can see why you're like this. You know, like we had an incident where I make my kids carry water everywhere, I make them, we all have the refillables, we carry them everywhere. And I don't really let my kids drink a lot of sugary drinks, sodas, and so my kids know how to drink water. 

And we were at Disney with another family and these kids would not drink water. The parents were having to buy them sodas the whole day. And then they were getting, like, dehydrated. And the kids were kind of having sugar crashes. And my kids were like, ok, I see why we drink water. Like they were kind of like, ok, the water thing is, we get …

Justin: A light bulb. 

Kristen: Right. Like we get why you're, you know, so intense about us taking our water bottles. But then also, like this other family had probably spent $50 on drinks where we just kept refilling our water everywhere we went. And so they were like, ok, we get that. But I think, you know, that's a small example. But I think that they, you know, they're finally understanding or, you know, I hate to contrast it with other families, but we did we went on vacation with another family. The kids were, you know, that we'd be at the dinner table and the other kids would be on their screens, like on their phone the whole time. So then my kids are sitting there bored because we're a little strict on the screens. And they were like, ok, we understand why we shouldn't have our faces buried in a screen all the time. Like we kind of get that.

Justin: Yes. Oh, that's beautiful. Oh, my God. Oh, I love that.


35:53

Justin: Ok, so I want to talk about social justice and parenting. So you write about this in your book and very powerfully you write about being a white mom, raising two black sons. And the book was published right around or right after really the protests surrounding the murder of George Floyd. Because of the timing, is there anything that you would add? What happened for you and your family around that? And since then, I'm wondering if you can just reflect on what's happened since the book has been published.

Kristen: Yeah, I mean, it was interesting timing. My book came out the week that George Floyd was murdered. And it's interesting because that was such an interesting time for me, because we knew all of this like we'd already been going to the protests and the marches as a family. Right. Like we knew that this was really bad. And for me, George Floyd was, it was a situation that was dramatic and caught on video. And I feel like we as a family watched the rest of the world sort of catch up in a way. People were finally like, oh, this is really bad. And then we were like, yeah, it is really bad. Like we've been saying it's really bad. 

So it was heartening to see the world engage, but it was also just a little bit surreal. It was a little bit surreal of like, you guys, we've been saying this like I keep saying this, it's so bad. Like my boys are treated so differently. They're patted down at airports and they're approached by cops and they're kicked out of places like in ways that I know their white peers are not, their siblings are not.

Justin: It sounds like you felt like the rest of us kind of caught up with you.

Kristen: Which, you know, yay. I mean…

Justin: We needed to!

Kristen: I mean, there's no like, you know, there was no feeling of like, oh, too little too late. I mean, it was like yay, I'm really glad that people are finally grappling with this. And, you know, it was nice for my kids to, because as I said, I mean, we have been going to protests since Trayvon. You know, I've been going to protests and I've been dragging the kids. And so it was very nice for us to then go to them and like their peers were there, their teachers were there, their youth group leaders were there. That was different. You know, that felt really different. And it was very powerful.

Justin: Connected to this, you write: “If I had to sum up motherhood in one philosophical statement, it would be this. They come out of the womb as narcissists, and you have 18 years to try to change that.” And it clicked for me that I feel like there's a politics here. As parents, we have 18 years to shift them out of just being totally self-centered human beings into a mode where they start to care about others, where they start to see themselves as part of a larger community. So I'm wondering like, can we see this is really the heart of the political divide we're in today, as we have half of the country has kind of moved a little bit past this narcissist stage. And that was the other half that maybe...

Kristen: Yeah. I mean, I think, you know, I wrote this book before Covid happened, but I think Covid was this, you know, the way that people have responded to Covid, where you have half of us feeling like, ok, this is a community problem that we all need to take responsibility for. And then you have half of the world literally saying, I don't care, I don't care. It's, you know, I can't see beyond myself. And if it's not happening to me and if I'm not at risk, I don't feel the need to protect anybody else…

Justin: Or change anything. 

Kristen: Right. 

Justin: Like about my life.

Kristen: No. There is a disease that is literally killing people. And I don't care to do anything to make sure I'm not part of that. It's baffling.

Justin: So, Kristen, how do you as a parent approach this with your own kids, raising children to see themselves as part of a larger good?

Kristen: Yeah, I mean, a lot of just direct conversations about that. We talk a lot in our house about the social contract. Right. Like we live in a society and we live in a society where what we're supposed to do is care for others. It's very, I have to say, it is very hard living in America, because while I'm saying that I'm in their ear saying that they're also watching their peers, they watch their peers. We were under quarantine until we got our vaccines. Like we were not leaving the house. No one in, no one, you know, I mean, we were leaving the house, but like, you know, we were not having people over. We were not spending time with anyone outside of our family. We were really strict. And there, you know, seeing on Instagram friends having sleepovers and parties and just going about their lives. 

And so it was really, I feel for teenagers in this because it was very confusing for them. And so, you know, we had to do a lot of kind of looking outside of America, like, ok, look at what's happening in New Zealand and look at what's happening in Europe. We live in a country where we place freedom above community care. And like looking at the problems of that, you know, we've talked a ton about collectivism versus individualism and how, you know, we're watching individualism right now run amuck and how we you know, as a family, we are more collectivist. We believe that, you know, the community is a part of what we should be caring about, not just ourselves. But it was a very hard sell in the middle of it. Right. I mean, they're just like, cool, I want to hang out with my friends. My friends are all hanging out and I'm not.

Justin: Asshole parent. Yes.

Kristen: But, you know, again, I do feel like this will be a thing that they look back on. And I think all of us will look back on this time in history and we'll know the final death count and we'll know how horrible this was. And I think I do think that there are a lot of people, a lot of kids right now who in adulthood are going to look back and go, man, my parents didn't do anything.

Justin: Oh, my God.

Kristen: Right. And I'm like, I would rather be on the right side of history of that. I would rather my kids look back and go, man, my mom was intense, then look back and go. My mother didn't care about all these people that died.

Justin: So, Kristen, what right now in your life as a parent, in your life, just as a human being, is most interesting, kind of at the edge, like what is happening in your own personal growth? Is there anything new and exciting?

Kristen: I mean, I think that, you know, it's an interesting time just because, you know, we're not post-pandemic, but the world is sort of moving forward. My kids have their vaccines. There's activities are back in full swing. And I think I'm at that weird cusp of like, ok, I'm not totally sure I'm out of the trauma of this pandemic, but the world is just moving right along. Right. And so it was one thing to be dealing with all of it while we were in quarantine and there was, you know, a little more space. But now it's like, ok, I look at my schedule and it's like I've got, you know, four sports games to attend this week. And other kids, I play rehearsals and school dances and it feels very overwhelming. It's a very weird time right now.

Justin: Yes. I forgot to congratulate you. I saw on Twitter that you have taken up a full-time job reading school emails.

Kristen: Oh, my gosh. It really feels like a full-time job. It really does. And, you know, I think I mean, again, to avoid toxic positivity, I'm not glad that this pandemic happened. But I do think that it was a reset for a lot of us. And, you know, I think a lot of us realized in the pandemic, like, wow, we were really over-scheduled before. And then it's like none of us learned anything. And the schedule is right back… 

Justin: Right back. But yes, I remember Audra and I for the first several months, we just loved it like it's all canceled. Everything was canceled like. Yes, you know, how wonderful. And then you're absolutely right. It's all just like, well, it's starting to feel that way and then Delta kind of squashed it. 

Kristen: It did.

Justin: But yeah, it'll be back.

Kristen: Yeah, I know. My kids schools are just full bore, back end, you know, everything. And so it's a lot.

Justin: Yeah. Yes. All right. So how can listeners find out more about you and your work?

Kristen: Yeah, I mean, my website is KristenHowerton.com. And I am Kristen Howerton on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. And then the book is on sale wherever you can buy books.

Justin: Beautiful. And so we have these three final questions that we ask every guest. And so I hope you're game. So we'll see if you could put a big Post-it note on every parent's fridge tomorrow morning, Kristen, what would it say?

Kristen: I would say. You're doing great.

Justin: You're doing great. And that's not toxic positivity. That is just instilling a little self-compassion.

Kristen: Yeah, well, you know, I think it goes back to, I mean, this is a very sort of psychoanalytic view, but the good enough mom, right? The good-enough mother developmentally is showing love to her kids. It's not about the PTA bake sale. It's not about, you know, what kind of car you drive or how you look. It's just about making a connection with your kids. And that doesn't need to look. You know, you can send your kids to school with a shitty lunch and still be a good enough mom as long as you're connected, you know.

Justin: Yeah, I, into The Family Thrive last week or the week before, we had a question about parenting advice. Have you ever received any parenting advice that has actually been useful? And I don't remember who said this, but I remember when we had Max, somebody said, you know, “parenting, all this really boils down to loving your kid and keeping them alive.” And so I've had that feeling of whenever everything feels too big and too intense and I'm just not good enough. I have a lot like I'm not having them enrolled in the right things or, you know, whatever. It's like, you know, am I showing them love? They're alive. All right. Ok, so Kristen, do you have a quote recently that has changed the way you think or feel?

Kristen: It's interesting. I'm actually, I don't know that I have a specific quote, but I am rereading Brene Brown's Daring Greatly. And I'm really pondering disengagement right now. And my own tendency is to disengage. And so I think I am, the Brene Brown concept of disengagement versus vulnerability is heavy on my mind right now.

Justin: Can you say a little bit more about disengagement for Brene Brown? What does this mean for her?

Kristen: It's deciding that the pain of the world is too great to feel. And so it's just opting out. And I mean, it goes back to the Jung quote you mentioned, what we resist persists. You know, when we disengage, we aren't getting rid of it. We're just pushing pause. Right. And it's going to be there.

Justin: And it might even be bigger. 

Kristen: It will be bigger. Yes. And so, you know, that I think for me is that is a lifelong battle for me of feeling my feelings. Right. Like giving myself space and time to feel my feelings versus overworking versus overplanning, you know, whatever. Ah, we all have our different coping mechanisms. Right? Right. And avoiding that and just sitting in the now and feeling the feelings in the now.

Justin: Beautiful. So our third and final regular question for podcast guests is what's your favorite thing about kids? And so we ask this because I mean, I absolutely resonated with what you wrote in your book about having little kids. I mean, it's exhausting and it's just absolutely overwhelming. And so it's nice to reflect on the good stuff. So can you think back? So this is just for little kids. What is your favorite thing about little kids, even though it was tough, overwhelming, all of that? What is your favorite thing about kids?

Kristen: My favorite thing was and still is just the creativity. I just loved when my kids would wear a costume all day and, you know, they would create a scenario out of nothing. My kids, they used to play this game called Spaceship, and the couch was a spaceship, and they would spend hours creating these elaborate stories around their spaceship. And I just, I love that unbridled creativity that kids have. Right, that there's just no filter and they'll enter into a world that's not theirs. It's so playful and whimsical. And I do, I actually you know, my kids are all teenagers, but I miss that stage of just like walking in and finding them, pretending to be Spider-Man in their room, you know. So cute.

Justin: Beautiful. Beautiful. Well, Kristen, thank you so much for coming on the podcast. Really appreciate this.

Kristen: Thanks for having me.



Transcript highlights


3:30

Justin: So before we talk about all the things that you publicly do, so, author, speaker, blogger, influencer, mother of four, I wanted to talk about life before motherhood, and I didn't know anything about your life before motherhood and Rage Against the Minivan until I read your book. And it was really beautiful. And then your life before motherhood. It makes everything else make sense for me. Like Rage Against the Minivan makes sense hearing about life before motherhood. So it seems like the really big turning points in your life for all around motherhood, the miscarriages, the adoption's, the pregnancy. So can you talk about these transformational moments and then how they changed you from Kristen before all of this and then Kristen after?

Kristen: Yeah, I mean, you know, I always knew that I wanted to have children, but we, you know, we waited a very long time just because, you know, I also knew I wanted to travel and, you know, have experiences before that. I knew that, you know, having kids would be a game-changer. I mean, you never know how much until you're in it. Right. But I did know, like, ok, that'll be big. So when we finally decided, you know, ok, we're ready to have kids. It was a pretty winding road for me. And I mean, I detail that in the book. It's you know, I struggled with infertility then I struggled with multiple miscarriages. I had six before I carried a pregnancy to full term. And, you know, it was just one of those life goals that you think is just going to you know, once you're ready, you'll just pop out some kids. 

And it did not work that way for me at all. It was a years of heartache. And then pretty quickly, I was like, ok, you know, maybe we need to move to adoption because I'd always been open to that. I kind of assumed I would adopt some of my kids. And then that was a pretty long and somewhat traumatic process as well, because, you know, we were placed with our first child that was supposed to be foster to adopt, which is a program that kind of, you know, creates a pathway. And then that ended up being rocky and shaky. And for about three years, we lived with the uncertainty of like, ok, this kid might be our forever kid and this kid might be returned to his birth family, which, you know, would have been fine for him. And that is a good outcome for kids. But it doesn't make it any less traumatic when you're a parent in love with a kid. 

It did change me. I mean, it made me have to learn a lot of lessons about letting go of outcomes and letting go of control and, you know, I think everyone in life comes to the point where they realize, ok, things don't always go my way. Right. Like prayers are not always answered. You know, and then we have to grapple with how we move forward from that. I mean, you know that, right?

Justin: Oh yeah. One of the things that I interpreted and you might have explicitly said this, but was around your spirituality or your faith that this time shifted some things for you. And I wonder if you feel comfortable talking about that.

Kristen: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think, you know, there’s, I grew up, you know, in a very strong faith tradition, evangelical tradition. And, you know, there are platitudes that were told in that faith, which is, you know, all things work together for the good of God. Right. And if you pray hard enough, God will answer. And I think that's a very privileged way to look at the world, that there is this God who's going to reward you if you've done enough of your quiet times, if you've, you know, prayed the right amount. Like the reality is...

Justin: Therefore, your privilege is God's favor. 

Kristen: Right. Right. Because first of all, if we look at the world at large, it's absurd to say that God pulls certain people out of tragedy and others not based on their faith. I mean, I feel like that's a somewhat American lens, right? Because we don't live in a country that necessarily has a lot of inherent tragedy versus, you know, if we lived in somewhere where there were wars or there was, you know, famine or a lot of poverty happening all the time, or a country like Haiti, which is where I adopted my son from, where children die all the time from lack of medical care, things like that. 

And, you know, I think it definitely shook my faith. It definitely changed the lens that I see all of that from, because I now recognize bad things happen to all people. Like suffering is inevitable. It is a part of this life. And that is what I'm now trying to teach my children that bad things can and will happen and to expect it, and because, I just I was really because I'd been raised with those platitudes, I was really ill-equipped to deal with hard things happening to me.

Justin: Oh, I hear that. Yeah. So my dad was a Baptist pastor until I was...

Kristen: I remember that we had that in common.

Justin: Until I think I was in first grade. Yeah. Like at the end of first grade. And that's a great way to put it. Growing up ill-equipped to really confront profound tragedy, trying to make sense of this. And when Max was diagnosed, we heard a lot of this as well of like, oh, you know, everything happens for a reason. This is all part of God's plan. And my first response was to get upset. But then the second response was, this is evidence that this person saying this doesn't know how to handle really difficult things happening in their lives. And like I get it, like this is too much for you. You're not going to be a part of our journey. I can see that. And it's ok. 

Yeah, I really resonate with that part. So there's this shift. And in the book, I really felt like, yeah, there were some kind of tectonic shifts for you. Yeah. Around this point in your life. How has this journey turned out? Where are you today with your faith and spirituality?

Kristen: Yeah, I'm in a very different place. I mean, I think in addition to, you know, pain and suffering, changing the way that you view God, I think it also changes the way that you view the world. Right. It makes you more compassionate, at least for most of us. I think, you know, when you've been through difficult things. I mean, it's like I haven't had a child with cancer, but I know what it's like to have your world turned upside down. I know what it's like to think that your life is going to be one way and then for a shit sandwich to be handed to you. Right, that like, oh, this is going to be really hard. 

And, you know, I think that that growing compassion really changed the way that I looked at the world as well, because suddenly I was just like, yeah, I'm kind of not down with a faith that is, you know, not inclusive to a whole group of people or a faith that is, you know, a religious group that's not welcoming immigrants or, you know, not really caring for the poor or making political decisions that are disenfranchising people. And, you know, once I started to have to shift more into a social justice lens, into a compassionate lens, that the religion that I had been raised in and started to feel very false and very harmful. And so at this point, I mean, I still identify as a Christian, but it's interesting to say that to people, because I feel like that's so loaded and there's so many assumptions with that. 

But I would say that I'm a very progressive Christian. I no longer believe that every single thing that happened in the Bible is a literal thing. And I think that Jesus was a really cool teacher of love and social justice. And I think he was a socialist. And, you know, I think most Christians would not claim me at this point, but you know, but I have found I found my people.

Justin: You found your people. Yeah. 


14:00

Justin: Right, so I want to just rewind a little bit. There's this beautiful line in your book around adoption. There was a particularly harrowing point at which you were about to lose one of your sons. And so you wrote, “I had to will myself to behave like a mother who was not enveloped in fear. Slowly, the more I actively loved him, the more my anxiety decreased. Eventually, I was able to simply focus on my love for him and not the fear of losing him.” 

And this resonated so deeply with me, because as a childhood cancer parent, this is something that has been like a touchstone for me is when this deep anxiety of something big happening in this journey love has been this life raft to hold onto. I wonder if you could talk a little bit about that moment and what you've learned since then about love.

Kristen: Yeah, I mean, I think and I run anxious in general. But, you know, when you especially as a parent, when you have the potential of loss in any way looming in the, you know, foreseeable distance that, you know, I could lose a child. It's really hard to get out of that spin of just thinking about that, that becomes your entire world, you know. And I can remember walking through a grocery store, like looking for groceries and thinking I might, I could lose Jafta, like I could lose my kid. You know, I might not be his mom. I may never see this kid again. 

And if it starts to infiltrate everything that you do and every, you know, should I make plans, should I have this kid in this family photo? Because what if he's not in our family in a year? Should you know every single thing I do? It's infiltrating. And I don't want to sound like, you know, toxic positivity, like never worry. I think worry is a normal human reaction. And I think the shame about worry is also problematic. But I also think you have to kind of put it in its place. And I found that to be true, like, ok, I have to take my worry box out and I need to give that room to breathe. And then I got to put the worry box back and then I have to be a mom and I have to. And, you know, and I have to love, first of all, because this child deserves love, right? Like this child does not deserve me being completely distracted by worry. But then also, you know, when I'm focusing on loving and behaviors that are loving, my anxiety is reduced like it's you know, it works in both directions.

Justin: Yeah. So I think at the beginning of our journey with childhood cancer, when I experienced this, I had a vision. Well, when I would experience just by focusing on my love for Max and just focusing on the present moment, well, that this love would bring me into the present moment to worry would bring me into the future space. And I think that's a decent way to look at it. But recently, I've gotten into, I don't know as a therapist if you're familiar with internal family systems? 

Kristen: Oh, yeah. 

Justin: Yeah, so I've been really into like parts work, you know, and so now it's like, all right, I have a part that is really worried about this, but this love part is much bigger when I can tap into it, you know, with internal family systems. 

Love is connected to like this true self or some inner knowing. For me, it has shown me that there's something much bigger than the part of me that is worried, the part of me that is feeling helpless, the part of me that is feeling inadequate. Yeah. So I just really love that. 

Kristen: Yeah. And I loved what you said about focusing on, you know, the present, because we have so many different frameworks that are all pointing back to the fact that being in the present versus living in the past versus future casting, being in the present is healthier. Right. 

I mean, the Buddhist tradition is all about being in the present. So many schools of therapy are about being in the present. And, you know, when we spend our time future casting, it isn't great for our mental health. Right? It's not good for us. And when we can live in the moment, again, avoiding toxic positivity, recognizing the things that are happening. But, you know, when we can shift into today and today, I'm going to live and today I'm going to enjoy the family that's in front of me. It really does help us.

Justin: Oh, I love that. Yeah. For me, love really avoids all the toxic positivity it has. Love is really about being here in this moment and connecting. Yeah. Like I'm connected. I'm in this moment. Toxic positivity. You write a little about toxic positivity as well? For listeners who might not be familiar with the word toxic being used alongside positivity, what is toxic positivity and why should we avoid it?

Kristen: Yeah, so we see toxic positivity in a lot of faith traditions, but we also see it in a lot of, you know, non-religious situations as well. I mean, New Age, you know, we can see it in some of our self-help gurus, but toxic positivity just basically says, you know, if you just think positive thoughts, then you will be more positive. And if you avoid negativity, you know, and manifest positivity in your life, then things will be positive. Which, again, is an incredibly privileged view of the world, because, first of all, if we decide that we're all going to avoid negativity, then what does that do to the oppressed? What does that do to the hurting, to the poor, to the disenfranchised? Like, if I go full bore into that kind of positivity manifesting culture, what I'm going to do then is when a friend is hurting, I'm going to be like, I don't want that on me.

Justin: Oh, that's exactly right. It's and it's not just your friend, but it's your kids, too. It eventually comes out as you're not allowed to feel this. Because it's not positive.

Kristen: That's right. It's very minimizing and it's very damaging. You know, I mean, and parents do this unintentionally. But, you know, we've all said to a grieving kid like, you know, you just going to have to think positive and you're just going to have to, you know, it's all going to be ok. We say that naturally, like it's all going to be ok. That's an example of toxic positivity, when in reality, like it may not be ok. This may be really hard, like the worst-case scenario might actually happen. And so toxic positivity is very rife in religious circles. I mean, it is that thing that you said. It's you know, everything happens for a reason. And it's just it's packaging pain up with a bow, which is completely lacking in empathy.

Justin: Yeah. Yeah. And then there's the saying that I love, I think it originally ascribed to Carl Jung, but “what we resist persists.” So toxic positivity doesn't allow us to really move these emotions through, process them, express them, hold space for others to express them. And so then they just fester and they get bigger and they get bigger. Yeah.

Kristen: Absolutely. And when you're in systems of toxic positivity, because, you know, this is a thing that everyone can fall into. I mean, I'm not, you know, exempt to it. But some people are living in systems of toxic positivity. And a lot of times that's from a religious experience. It does mean that you're just repressing your emotions all the time. And, you know, I talk about that in the book, like when I was going through my miscarriages, I can remember people basically saying like, your grief is too loud. Like you need to have more faith because your grief is not faithful. And I think a lot of toxic positivity happens because people are uncomfortable with pain.

Justin: Oh, man. Absolutely.

Kristen: And so they just, they want us to be quiet. Really.

Justin: Yeah. That's something that I had to learn the hard way with our childhood cancer journey. I didn't really understand grief until about seven or eight years into this journey after we had been through so many kids passing away from families. We've worked with that massive project. Yeah.

And I thought I was processing grief, but it wasn't until I actually started to get into therapy, started to really look at what was inside. I was like, oh, my gosh, I have been resisting this stuff big time. And so it was, there was a lot of sobbing that I had to work through. And now I have a much deeper appreciation, it’s like, oh no, the space has to be held for this.

Kristen: Yes, absolutely. And I mean, you know, I think that what you guys are doing is such an example of the opposite of toxic positivity, because toxic positivity would say, you guys just focus on your own kid, don't be around other families with cancer because that's going to bring you down. You know, just focus on the positive when in reality, like the fact that you've created this community, while there is, of course, grief inherent in it, how powerful, you know.

Justin: Oh, thank you. It has been an absolute therapeutic exercise for me that I didn't realize that's what it was going to be. But it has pushed me at my edges every step of the way. And now I know that I'm able to actually be with families every step along the journey. Whereas when we started this out, I had no idea what I was getting into. 


24:12

Justin: So I want to talk about divorce, and we don't need to talk about the particulars of divorce, but one thing that you wrote that I really loved was how you start out not really wanting to share much about what's happening in your relationship. And then you find out that as you start to become vulnerable, like, as you get vulnerable and you start to share the difficulties of this transition in your relationship, that others responded back to you with vulnerability as well. Can you talk about that transition for you? That that I've discovered as well. Like the more that I open up, the more others open up as well. There's this kind of human and reciprocal thing going on. 

Kristen: Totally. Well, you know, I think for me, a lot of it was around fear and fear of judgment. You know, I did grow up in religious circles and then I worked in religious circles. I had friends in religious circles. And, you know, divorce is the scarlet letter in Christian circles. You know, that's the big D. I mean, it's you don't want that, you know, and there is a ton of judgment around divorce. And so even as far as I feel that I've evolved in my own faith journey, I still had that shame. I was still carrying that shame towards myself. 

And so me not wanting to be vulnerable was really shame. It was really me feeling like I failed, you know, and this is embarrassing. And, you know, there's so many messages in Christianity about like, you know, if you don't stay married, it's you know, you just haven't tried hard enough or you're just exchanging one set of problems for another. And so I was embarrassed. And so part of the reason that I wasn't talking about it was that I was carrying all that shame. And as I started talking about it, many of the people that I thought would be judging me reached out to me and said, I've been through this or I'm close to this or, you know. And what I received wasn't judgment. Well, I did get a judgment from some people. Of course.

Justin: We don't totally escape judgment.

Kristen: But by and large, overwhelmingly, what I got back was just a lot of compassion and a lot of understanding and a whole lot of people that I would have otherwise never known coming to me and saying I'm going through this, too.

Justin: Have you experienced this in other parts of your life, realizing that when you open up, there's this kind of human, reciprocal opening...

Kristen: Oh yeah, with everything, with everything. I mean, you know, a part of the reason that I think, you know, when I look at my writing and why my writing has been successful or the pieces that have been successful, it's always when I've been really vulnerable. And the reason that it resonates is because I'm talking about something that maybe people haven't felt free to talk about. Right. Like I talk very openly about how difficult it was for me having young kids. I did not love those years. I tried so hard to build a family. 

And then I found myself with four little kids and I was like, oh, my gosh, I want off this ride, you know, and then feeling that confusion of like, ok, I wanted this and now I don't. What's wrong with me? Maybe I shouldn't have had kids. Maybe all those miscarriages was because I'm a terrible mom, you know. And I just talked really openly about those things. And that resonates with people. 

On a lighter side, some of the Instagram things that I've posted, like I, a couple of years ago, I found this wad of God knows what in the bottom of my purse. It was like cough, cough drops, unwrapped everything stopped to fuzz, stuck to a, you know, a hair tie. It was just the gross like five receipts. It was like a tumor at the bottom of my purse of just discarded objects. And I thought it was so I mean, embarrassing but funny that I posted a picture of it and like that picture got more comments because so many moms were like, thank you. Like, thank you for being honest about how gross you are.

Justin: Yeah. Yeah. Right. I feel seen.

Kristen: Totally.

Justin: I want to ask about the role of choice in motherhood and this passage in your book struck me because, I'll read the quote and then we can talk a little bit about it. So you write, “Feminism gave us the gift of being able to choose. But if we are not careful, having the freedom to do anything can easily morph into the obligation to do everything. And that's a recipe for exhaustion and despair, not liberation. An inherent aspect of choice is choosing one thing over another by learning to say no to certain roles or obligations of motherhood that don't work for us. We allow ourselves to more fully embrace the roles that we actively choose for ourselves.” 

I was noticing some tension in thinking about a conservative religious upbringing and how these choices are inherently dangerous in that context. But then what you're really getting at here is that, you know, the danger of having all of these choices is that you end up feeling totally overwhelmed. And like you're not really doing any of it. 

Kristen: Yes. And, you know, it's I mean, what's interesting about that is psychologically, that's always true. The more choices we have, we often feel more anxiety. Right. Like when there's more things to you know, we get to sit in decision spirals and decision fatigue. But I think specifically for women, I mean, we have been given that message. You can do it all right. Like you can have it all. And I don't think it's true. And it's, but that's ok. I think that's where, you know, that's an important part of feminism, is that it's the choice. 

Like feminism doesn't mean I have to have a job and I can't be a stay-at-home mom. Feminism means I can choose. And it's totally valid if I stay home with my kids and it's totally valid if I have a nanny. But feminism doesn't mean I have a full time job and I'm a full time stay at home mom, which a lot of women kind of feel.

Justin: Yeah. Yeah. So this ties into this realization that you write about in the book of feeling totally worn down like you have spent all of the energy that you have and then come to realize that you're an introvert and that actually you need to take some time for yourself and that it's ok. And that you need to recharge. I can imagine a lot of parents recognize this. And it's a powerful reframing for these times when we're feeling just completely burnt out. 

Kristen: Yeah, and I didn't hear enough mothers talking about introversion before I had kids, you know, or even still now, I think like introversion and full-time parenting is, it's a rough gig. You know, if you're a person who needs space to recharge and then you have multiple children, you're not going to get that space, you know, and that's just a thing that I did not realize before I had kids. 

And, you know, I don't think it would have changed. I think I still would have had probably four kids, but I maybe would have come out, come at it with, well, first of all, more grace for myself. But second of all, you know, I might have made different choices. I mean, I landed in choices that felt good for me, right? I mean, I landed like, ok, I'm going to come out of being a therapist because that's dwindling my introversion charge. I'm going to be a writer. I'm going to find childcare. I'm you know, I'm going to find these rhythms for myself. But I took the long road there, and I wish I'd known a little more about introversion and myself, because I maybe could have taken a shortcut.

Justin: So let's talk about asshole parenting or the asshole parent hashtag. So this is a fantastic chapter in the book, all about the asshole parent hashtag. And it struck me that really what this asshole parent hashtag was about for me looking at it, is that a parent has to be prepared to be seen as an asshole if they want to just be minimally responsible. Like just like the minimum amount of parenting will be seen as being an asshole by your kids. Is this right?

Kristen: Absolutely. And it never ends like, you know, when they’re a toddler you were trying to keep them from sticking a fork into the plug or, you know, falling off of things to their death. And they're just mad about it. They're just big mad all the time. And, you know, that doesn't change. Now, I have teenagers and I'm trying to keep them safe. And, you know, they're mad about, you know, that we have time limits on their social media or that, you know, we have a filter on the computer. You know, they're just always mad at you.

Justin: Yeah. Do you see an end to this? Like, is there an age at which it flips and it turns into gratitude or what do you think?

Kristen: I think so. I mean, it's funny because my kids have little moments of clarity where they go, ok, I can see why you're like this. You know, like we had an incident where I make my kids carry water everywhere, I make them, we all have the refillables, we carry them everywhere. And I don't really let my kids drink a lot of sugary drinks, sodas, and so my kids know how to drink water. 

And we were at Disney with another family and these kids would not drink water. The parents were having to buy them sodas the whole day. And then they were getting, like, dehydrated. And the kids were kind of having sugar crashes. And my kids were like, ok, I see why we drink water. Like they were kind of like, ok, the water thing is, we get …

Justin: A light bulb. 

Kristen: Right. Like we get why you're, you know, so intense about us taking our water bottles. But then also, like this other family had probably spent $50 on drinks where we just kept refilling our water everywhere we went. And so they were like, ok, we get that. But I think, you know, that's a small example. But I think that they, you know, they're finally understanding or, you know, I hate to contrast it with other families, but we did we went on vacation with another family. The kids were, you know, that we'd be at the dinner table and the other kids would be on their screens, like on their phone the whole time. So then my kids are sitting there bored because we're a little strict on the screens. And they were like, ok, we understand why we shouldn't have our faces buried in a screen all the time. Like we kind of get that.

Justin: Yes. Oh, that's beautiful. Oh, my God. Oh, I love that.


35:53

Justin: Ok, so I want to talk about social justice and parenting. So you write about this in your book and very powerfully you write about being a white mom, raising two black sons. And the book was published right around or right after really the protests surrounding the murder of George Floyd. Because of the timing, is there anything that you would add? What happened for you and your family around that? And since then, I'm wondering if you can just reflect on what's happened since the book has been published.

Kristen: Yeah, I mean, it was interesting timing. My book came out the week that George Floyd was murdered. And it's interesting because that was such an interesting time for me, because we knew all of this like we'd already been going to the protests and the marches as a family. Right. Like we knew that this was really bad. And for me, George Floyd was, it was a situation that was dramatic and caught on video. And I feel like we as a family watched the rest of the world sort of catch up in a way. People were finally like, oh, this is really bad. And then we were like, yeah, it is really bad. Like we've been saying it's really bad. 

So it was heartening to see the world engage, but it was also just a little bit surreal. It was a little bit surreal of like, you guys, we've been saying this like I keep saying this, it's so bad. Like my boys are treated so differently. They're patted down at airports and they're approached by cops and they're kicked out of places like in ways that I know their white peers are not, their siblings are not.

Justin: It sounds like you felt like the rest of us kind of caught up with you.

Kristen: Which, you know, yay. I mean…

Justin: We needed to!

Kristen: I mean, there's no like, you know, there was no feeling of like, oh, too little too late. I mean, it was like yay, I'm really glad that people are finally grappling with this. And, you know, it was nice for my kids to, because as I said, I mean, we have been going to protests since Trayvon. You know, I've been going to protests and I've been dragging the kids. And so it was very nice for us to then go to them and like their peers were there, their teachers were there, their youth group leaders were there. That was different. You know, that felt really different. And it was very powerful.

Justin: Connected to this, you write: “If I had to sum up motherhood in one philosophical statement, it would be this. They come out of the womb as narcissists, and you have 18 years to try to change that.” And it clicked for me that I feel like there's a politics here. As parents, we have 18 years to shift them out of just being totally self-centered human beings into a mode where they start to care about others, where they start to see themselves as part of a larger community. So I'm wondering like, can we see this is really the heart of the political divide we're in today, as we have half of the country has kind of moved a little bit past this narcissist stage. And that was the other half that maybe...

Kristen: Yeah. I mean, I think, you know, I wrote this book before Covid happened, but I think Covid was this, you know, the way that people have responded to Covid, where you have half of us feeling like, ok, this is a community problem that we all need to take responsibility for. And then you have half of the world literally saying, I don't care, I don't care. It's, you know, I can't see beyond myself. And if it's not happening to me and if I'm not at risk, I don't feel the need to protect anybody else…

Justin: Or change anything. 

Kristen: Right. 

Justin: Like about my life.

Kristen: No. There is a disease that is literally killing people. And I don't care to do anything to make sure I'm not part of that. It's baffling.

Justin: So, Kristen, how do you as a parent approach this with your own kids, raising children to see themselves as part of a larger good?

Kristen: Yeah, I mean, a lot of just direct conversations about that. We talk a lot in our house about the social contract. Right. Like we live in a society and we live in a society where what we're supposed to do is care for others. It's very, I have to say, it is very hard living in America, because while I'm saying that I'm in their ear saying that they're also watching their peers, they watch their peers. We were under quarantine until we got our vaccines. Like we were not leaving the house. No one in, no one, you know, I mean, we were leaving the house, but like, you know, we were not having people over. We were not spending time with anyone outside of our family. We were really strict. And there, you know, seeing on Instagram friends having sleepovers and parties and just going about their lives. 

And so it was really, I feel for teenagers in this because it was very confusing for them. And so, you know, we had to do a lot of kind of looking outside of America, like, ok, look at what's happening in New Zealand and look at what's happening in Europe. We live in a country where we place freedom above community care. And like looking at the problems of that, you know, we've talked a ton about collectivism versus individualism and how, you know, we're watching individualism right now run amuck and how we you know, as a family, we are more collectivist. We believe that, you know, the community is a part of what we should be caring about, not just ourselves. But it was a very hard sell in the middle of it. Right. I mean, they're just like, cool, I want to hang out with my friends. My friends are all hanging out and I'm not.

Justin: Asshole parent. Yes.

Kristen: But, you know, again, I do feel like this will be a thing that they look back on. And I think all of us will look back on this time in history and we'll know the final death count and we'll know how horrible this was. And I think I do think that there are a lot of people, a lot of kids right now who in adulthood are going to look back and go, man, my parents didn't do anything.

Justin: Oh, my God.

Kristen: Right. And I'm like, I would rather be on the right side of history of that. I would rather my kids look back and go, man, my mom was intense, then look back and go. My mother didn't care about all these people that died.

Justin: So, Kristen, what right now in your life as a parent, in your life, just as a human being, is most interesting, kind of at the edge, like what is happening in your own personal growth? Is there anything new and exciting?

Kristen: I mean, I think that, you know, it's an interesting time just because, you know, we're not post-pandemic, but the world is sort of moving forward. My kids have their vaccines. There's activities are back in full swing. And I think I'm at that weird cusp of like, ok, I'm not totally sure I'm out of the trauma of this pandemic, but the world is just moving right along. Right. And so it was one thing to be dealing with all of it while we were in quarantine and there was, you know, a little more space. But now it's like, ok, I look at my schedule and it's like I've got, you know, four sports games to attend this week. And other kids, I play rehearsals and school dances and it feels very overwhelming. It's a very weird time right now.

Justin: Yes. I forgot to congratulate you. I saw on Twitter that you have taken up a full-time job reading school emails.

Kristen: Oh, my gosh. It really feels like a full-time job. It really does. And, you know, I think I mean, again, to avoid toxic positivity, I'm not glad that this pandemic happened. But I do think that it was a reset for a lot of us. And, you know, I think a lot of us realized in the pandemic, like, wow, we were really over-scheduled before. And then it's like none of us learned anything. And the schedule is right back… 

Justin: Right back. But yes, I remember Audra and I for the first several months, we just loved it like it's all canceled. Everything was canceled like. Yes, you know, how wonderful. And then you're absolutely right. It's all just like, well, it's starting to feel that way and then Delta kind of squashed it. 

Kristen: It did.

Justin: But yeah, it'll be back.

Kristen: Yeah, I know. My kids schools are just full bore, back end, you know, everything. And so it's a lot.

Justin: Yeah. Yes. All right. So how can listeners find out more about you and your work?

Kristen: Yeah, I mean, my website is KristenHowerton.com. And I am Kristen Howerton on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. And then the book is on sale wherever you can buy books.

Justin: Beautiful. And so we have these three final questions that we ask every guest. And so I hope you're game. So we'll see if you could put a big Post-it note on every parent's fridge tomorrow morning, Kristen, what would it say?

Kristen: I would say. You're doing great.

Justin: You're doing great. And that's not toxic positivity. That is just instilling a little self-compassion.

Kristen: Yeah, well, you know, I think it goes back to, I mean, this is a very sort of psychoanalytic view, but the good enough mom, right? The good-enough mother developmentally is showing love to her kids. It's not about the PTA bake sale. It's not about, you know, what kind of car you drive or how you look. It's just about making a connection with your kids. And that doesn't need to look. You know, you can send your kids to school with a shitty lunch and still be a good enough mom as long as you're connected, you know.

Justin: Yeah, I, into The Family Thrive last week or the week before, we had a question about parenting advice. Have you ever received any parenting advice that has actually been useful? And I don't remember who said this, but I remember when we had Max, somebody said, you know, “parenting, all this really boils down to loving your kid and keeping them alive.” And so I've had that feeling of whenever everything feels too big and too intense and I'm just not good enough. I have a lot like I'm not having them enrolled in the right things or, you know, whatever. It's like, you know, am I showing them love? They're alive. All right. Ok, so Kristen, do you have a quote recently that has changed the way you think or feel?

Kristen: It's interesting. I'm actually, I don't know that I have a specific quote, but I am rereading Brene Brown's Daring Greatly. And I'm really pondering disengagement right now. And my own tendency is to disengage. And so I think I am, the Brene Brown concept of disengagement versus vulnerability is heavy on my mind right now.

Justin: Can you say a little bit more about disengagement for Brene Brown? What does this mean for her?

Kristen: It's deciding that the pain of the world is too great to feel. And so it's just opting out. And I mean, it goes back to the Jung quote you mentioned, what we resist persists. You know, when we disengage, we aren't getting rid of it. We're just pushing pause. Right. And it's going to be there.

Justin: And it might even be bigger. 

Kristen: It will be bigger. Yes. And so, you know, that I think for me is that is a lifelong battle for me of feeling my feelings. Right. Like giving myself space and time to feel my feelings versus overworking versus overplanning, you know, whatever. Ah, we all have our different coping mechanisms. Right? Right. And avoiding that and just sitting in the now and feeling the feelings in the now.

Justin: Beautiful. So our third and final regular question for podcast guests is what's your favorite thing about kids? And so we ask this because I mean, I absolutely resonated with what you wrote in your book about having little kids. I mean, it's exhausting and it's just absolutely overwhelming. And so it's nice to reflect on the good stuff. So can you think back? So this is just for little kids. What is your favorite thing about little kids, even though it was tough, overwhelming, all of that? What is your favorite thing about kids?

Kristen: My favorite thing was and still is just the creativity. I just loved when my kids would wear a costume all day and, you know, they would create a scenario out of nothing. My kids, they used to play this game called Spaceship, and the couch was a spaceship, and they would spend hours creating these elaborate stories around their spaceship. And I just, I love that unbridled creativity that kids have. Right, that there's just no filter and they'll enter into a world that's not theirs. It's so playful and whimsical. And I do, I actually you know, my kids are all teenagers, but I miss that stage of just like walking in and finding them, pretending to be Spider-Man in their room, you know. So cute.

Justin: Beautiful. Beautiful. Well, Kristen, thank you so much for coming on the podcast. Really appreciate this.

Kristen: Thanks for having me.



Transcript highlights


3:30

Justin: So before we talk about all the things that you publicly do, so, author, speaker, blogger, influencer, mother of four, I wanted to talk about life before motherhood, and I didn't know anything about your life before motherhood and Rage Against the Minivan until I read your book. And it was really beautiful. And then your life before motherhood. It makes everything else make sense for me. Like Rage Against the Minivan makes sense hearing about life before motherhood. So it seems like the really big turning points in your life for all around motherhood, the miscarriages, the adoption's, the pregnancy. So can you talk about these transformational moments and then how they changed you from Kristen before all of this and then Kristen after?

Kristen: Yeah, I mean, you know, I always knew that I wanted to have children, but we, you know, we waited a very long time just because, you know, I also knew I wanted to travel and, you know, have experiences before that. I knew that, you know, having kids would be a game-changer. I mean, you never know how much until you're in it. Right. But I did know, like, ok, that'll be big. So when we finally decided, you know, ok, we're ready to have kids. It was a pretty winding road for me. And I mean, I detail that in the book. It's you know, I struggled with infertility then I struggled with multiple miscarriages. I had six before I carried a pregnancy to full term. And, you know, it was just one of those life goals that you think is just going to you know, once you're ready, you'll just pop out some kids. 

And it did not work that way for me at all. It was a years of heartache. And then pretty quickly, I was like, ok, you know, maybe we need to move to adoption because I'd always been open to that. I kind of assumed I would adopt some of my kids. And then that was a pretty long and somewhat traumatic process as well, because, you know, we were placed with our first child that was supposed to be foster to adopt, which is a program that kind of, you know, creates a pathway. And then that ended up being rocky and shaky. And for about three years, we lived with the uncertainty of like, ok, this kid might be our forever kid and this kid might be returned to his birth family, which, you know, would have been fine for him. And that is a good outcome for kids. But it doesn't make it any less traumatic when you're a parent in love with a kid. 

It did change me. I mean, it made me have to learn a lot of lessons about letting go of outcomes and letting go of control and, you know, I think everyone in life comes to the point where they realize, ok, things don't always go my way. Right. Like prayers are not always answered. You know, and then we have to grapple with how we move forward from that. I mean, you know that, right?

Justin: Oh yeah. One of the things that I interpreted and you might have explicitly said this, but was around your spirituality or your faith that this time shifted some things for you. And I wonder if you feel comfortable talking about that.

Kristen: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think, you know, there’s, I grew up, you know, in a very strong faith tradition, evangelical tradition. And, you know, there are platitudes that were told in that faith, which is, you know, all things work together for the good of God. Right. And if you pray hard enough, God will answer. And I think that's a very privileged way to look at the world, that there is this God who's going to reward you if you've done enough of your quiet times, if you've, you know, prayed the right amount. Like the reality is...

Justin: Therefore, your privilege is God's favor. 

Kristen: Right. Right. Because first of all, if we look at the world at large, it's absurd to say that God pulls certain people out of tragedy and others not based on their faith. I mean, I feel like that's a somewhat American lens, right? Because we don't live in a country that necessarily has a lot of inherent tragedy versus, you know, if we lived in somewhere where there were wars or there was, you know, famine or a lot of poverty happening all the time, or a country like Haiti, which is where I adopted my son from, where children die all the time from lack of medical care, things like that. 

And, you know, I think it definitely shook my faith. It definitely changed the lens that I see all of that from, because I now recognize bad things happen to all people. Like suffering is inevitable. It is a part of this life. And that is what I'm now trying to teach my children that bad things can and will happen and to expect it, and because, I just I was really because I'd been raised with those platitudes, I was really ill-equipped to deal with hard things happening to me.

Justin: Oh, I hear that. Yeah. So my dad was a Baptist pastor until I was...

Kristen: I remember that we had that in common.

Justin: Until I think I was in first grade. Yeah. Like at the end of first grade. And that's a great way to put it. Growing up ill-equipped to really confront profound tragedy, trying to make sense of this. And when Max was diagnosed, we heard a lot of this as well of like, oh, you know, everything happens for a reason. This is all part of God's plan. And my first response was to get upset. But then the second response was, this is evidence that this person saying this doesn't know how to handle really difficult things happening in their lives. And like I get it, like this is too much for you. You're not going to be a part of our journey. I can see that. And it's ok. 

Yeah, I really resonate with that part. So there's this shift. And in the book, I really felt like, yeah, there were some kind of tectonic shifts for you. Yeah. Around this point in your life. How has this journey turned out? Where are you today with your faith and spirituality?

Kristen: Yeah, I'm in a very different place. I mean, I think in addition to, you know, pain and suffering, changing the way that you view God, I think it also changes the way that you view the world. Right. It makes you more compassionate, at least for most of us. I think, you know, when you've been through difficult things. I mean, it's like I haven't had a child with cancer, but I know what it's like to have your world turned upside down. I know what it's like to think that your life is going to be one way and then for a shit sandwich to be handed to you. Right, that like, oh, this is going to be really hard. 

And, you know, I think that that growing compassion really changed the way that I looked at the world as well, because suddenly I was just like, yeah, I'm kind of not down with a faith that is, you know, not inclusive to a whole group of people or a faith that is, you know, a religious group that's not welcoming immigrants or, you know, not really caring for the poor or making political decisions that are disenfranchising people. And, you know, once I started to have to shift more into a social justice lens, into a compassionate lens, that the religion that I had been raised in and started to feel very false and very harmful. And so at this point, I mean, I still identify as a Christian, but it's interesting to say that to people, because I feel like that's so loaded and there's so many assumptions with that. 

But I would say that I'm a very progressive Christian. I no longer believe that every single thing that happened in the Bible is a literal thing. And I think that Jesus was a really cool teacher of love and social justice. And I think he was a socialist. And, you know, I think most Christians would not claim me at this point, but you know, but I have found I found my people.

Justin: You found your people. Yeah. 


14:00

Justin: Right, so I want to just rewind a little bit. There's this beautiful line in your book around adoption. There was a particularly harrowing point at which you were about to lose one of your sons. And so you wrote, “I had to will myself to behave like a mother who was not enveloped in fear. Slowly, the more I actively loved him, the more my anxiety decreased. Eventually, I was able to simply focus on my love for him and not the fear of losing him.” 

And this resonated so deeply with me, because as a childhood cancer parent, this is something that has been like a touchstone for me is when this deep anxiety of something big happening in this journey love has been this life raft to hold onto. I wonder if you could talk a little bit about that moment and what you've learned since then about love.

Kristen: Yeah, I mean, I think and I run anxious in general. But, you know, when you especially as a parent, when you have the potential of loss in any way looming in the, you know, foreseeable distance that, you know, I could lose a child. It's really hard to get out of that spin of just thinking about that, that becomes your entire world, you know. And I can remember walking through a grocery store, like looking for groceries and thinking I might, I could lose Jafta, like I could lose my kid. You know, I might not be his mom. I may never see this kid again. 

And if it starts to infiltrate everything that you do and every, you know, should I make plans, should I have this kid in this family photo? Because what if he's not in our family in a year? Should you know every single thing I do? It's infiltrating. And I don't want to sound like, you know, toxic positivity, like never worry. I think worry is a normal human reaction. And I think the shame about worry is also problematic. But I also think you have to kind of put it in its place. And I found that to be true, like, ok, I have to take my worry box out and I need to give that room to breathe. And then I got to put the worry box back and then I have to be a mom and I have to. And, you know, and I have to love, first of all, because this child deserves love, right? Like this child does not deserve me being completely distracted by worry. But then also, you know, when I'm focusing on loving and behaviors that are loving, my anxiety is reduced like it's you know, it works in both directions.

Justin: Yeah. So I think at the beginning of our journey with childhood cancer, when I experienced this, I had a vision. Well, when I would experience just by focusing on my love for Max and just focusing on the present moment, well, that this love would bring me into the present moment to worry would bring me into the future space. And I think that's a decent way to look at it. But recently, I've gotten into, I don't know as a therapist if you're familiar with internal family systems? 

Kristen: Oh, yeah. 

Justin: Yeah, so I've been really into like parts work, you know, and so now it's like, all right, I have a part that is really worried about this, but this love part is much bigger when I can tap into it, you know, with internal family systems. 

Love is connected to like this true self or some inner knowing. For me, it has shown me that there's something much bigger than the part of me that is worried, the part of me that is feeling helpless, the part of me that is feeling inadequate. Yeah. So I just really love that. 

Kristen: Yeah. And I loved what you said about focusing on, you know, the present, because we have so many different frameworks that are all pointing back to the fact that being in the present versus living in the past versus future casting, being in the present is healthier. Right. 

I mean, the Buddhist tradition is all about being in the present. So many schools of therapy are about being in the present. And, you know, when we spend our time future casting, it isn't great for our mental health. Right? It's not good for us. And when we can live in the moment, again, avoiding toxic positivity, recognizing the things that are happening. But, you know, when we can shift into today and today, I'm going to live and today I'm going to enjoy the family that's in front of me. It really does help us.

Justin: Oh, I love that. Yeah. For me, love really avoids all the toxic positivity it has. Love is really about being here in this moment and connecting. Yeah. Like I'm connected. I'm in this moment. Toxic positivity. You write a little about toxic positivity as well? For listeners who might not be familiar with the word toxic being used alongside positivity, what is toxic positivity and why should we avoid it?

Kristen: Yeah, so we see toxic positivity in a lot of faith traditions, but we also see it in a lot of, you know, non-religious situations as well. I mean, New Age, you know, we can see it in some of our self-help gurus, but toxic positivity just basically says, you know, if you just think positive thoughts, then you will be more positive. And if you avoid negativity, you know, and manifest positivity in your life, then things will be positive. Which, again, is an incredibly privileged view of the world, because, first of all, if we decide that we're all going to avoid negativity, then what does that do to the oppressed? What does that do to the hurting, to the poor, to the disenfranchised? Like, if I go full bore into that kind of positivity manifesting culture, what I'm going to do then is when a friend is hurting, I'm going to be like, I don't want that on me.

Justin: Oh, that's exactly right. It's and it's not just your friend, but it's your kids, too. It eventually comes out as you're not allowed to feel this. Because it's not positive.

Kristen: That's right. It's very minimizing and it's very damaging. You know, I mean, and parents do this unintentionally. But, you know, we've all said to a grieving kid like, you know, you just going to have to think positive and you're just going to have to, you know, it's all going to be ok. We say that naturally, like it's all going to be ok. That's an example of toxic positivity, when in reality, like it may not be ok. This may be really hard, like the worst-case scenario might actually happen. And so toxic positivity is very rife in religious circles. I mean, it is that thing that you said. It's you know, everything happens for a reason. And it's just it's packaging pain up with a bow, which is completely lacking in empathy.

Justin: Yeah. Yeah. And then there's the saying that I love, I think it originally ascribed to Carl Jung, but “what we resist persists.” So toxic positivity doesn't allow us to really move these emotions through, process them, express them, hold space for others to express them. And so then they just fester and they get bigger and they get bigger. Yeah.

Kristen: Absolutely. And when you're in systems of toxic positivity, because, you know, this is a thing that everyone can fall into. I mean, I'm not, you know, exempt to it. But some people are living in systems of toxic positivity. And a lot of times that's from a religious experience. It does mean that you're just repressing your emotions all the time. And, you know, I talk about that in the book, like when I was going through my miscarriages, I can remember people basically saying like, your grief is too loud. Like you need to have more faith because your grief is not faithful. And I think a lot of toxic positivity happens because people are uncomfortable with pain.

Justin: Oh, man. Absolutely.

Kristen: And so they just, they want us to be quiet. Really.

Justin: Yeah. That's something that I had to learn the hard way with our childhood cancer journey. I didn't really understand grief until about seven or eight years into this journey after we had been through so many kids passing away from families. We've worked with that massive project. Yeah.

And I thought I was processing grief, but it wasn't until I actually started to get into therapy, started to really look at what was inside. I was like, oh, my gosh, I have been resisting this stuff big time. And so it was, there was a lot of sobbing that I had to work through. And now I have a much deeper appreciation, it’s like, oh no, the space has to be held for this.

Kristen: Yes, absolutely. And I mean, you know, I think that what you guys are doing is such an example of the opposite of toxic positivity, because toxic positivity would say, you guys just focus on your own kid, don't be around other families with cancer because that's going to bring you down. You know, just focus on the positive when in reality, like the fact that you've created this community, while there is, of course, grief inherent in it, how powerful, you know.

Justin: Oh, thank you. It has been an absolute therapeutic exercise for me that I didn't realize that's what it was going to be. But it has pushed me at my edges every step of the way. And now I know that I'm able to actually be with families every step along the journey. Whereas when we started this out, I had no idea what I was getting into. 


24:12

Justin: So I want to talk about divorce, and we don't need to talk about the particulars of divorce, but one thing that you wrote that I really loved was how you start out not really wanting to share much about what's happening in your relationship. And then you find out that as you start to become vulnerable, like, as you get vulnerable and you start to share the difficulties of this transition in your relationship, that others responded back to you with vulnerability as well. Can you talk about that transition for you? That that I've discovered as well. Like the more that I open up, the more others open up as well. There's this kind of human and reciprocal thing going on. 

Kristen: Totally. Well, you know, I think for me, a lot of it was around fear and fear of judgment. You know, I did grow up in religious circles and then I worked in religious circles. I had friends in religious circles. And, you know, divorce is the scarlet letter in Christian circles. You know, that's the big D. I mean, it's you don't want that, you know, and there is a ton of judgment around divorce. And so even as far as I feel that I've evolved in my own faith journey, I still had that shame. I was still carrying that shame towards myself. 

And so me not wanting to be vulnerable was really shame. It was really me feeling like I failed, you know, and this is embarrassing. And, you know, there's so many messages in Christianity about like, you know, if you don't stay married, it's you know, you just haven't tried hard enough or you're just exchanging one set of problems for another. And so I was embarrassed. And so part of the reason that I wasn't talking about it was that I was carrying all that shame. And as I started talking about it, many of the people that I thought would be judging me reached out to me and said, I've been through this or I'm close to this or, you know. And what I received wasn't judgment. Well, I did get a judgment from some people. Of course.

Justin: We don't totally escape judgment.

Kristen: But by and large, overwhelmingly, what I got back was just a lot of compassion and a lot of understanding and a whole lot of people that I would have otherwise never known coming to me and saying I'm going through this, too.

Justin: Have you experienced this in other parts of your life, realizing that when you open up, there's this kind of human, reciprocal opening...

Kristen: Oh yeah, with everything, with everything. I mean, you know, a part of the reason that I think, you know, when I look at my writing and why my writing has been successful or the pieces that have been successful, it's always when I've been really vulnerable. And the reason that it resonates is because I'm talking about something that maybe people haven't felt free to talk about. Right. Like I talk very openly about how difficult it was for me having young kids. I did not love those years. I tried so hard to build a family. 

And then I found myself with four little kids and I was like, oh, my gosh, I want off this ride, you know, and then feeling that confusion of like, ok, I wanted this and now I don't. What's wrong with me? Maybe I shouldn't have had kids. Maybe all those miscarriages was because I'm a terrible mom, you know. And I just talked really openly about those things. And that resonates with people. 

On a lighter side, some of the Instagram things that I've posted, like I, a couple of years ago, I found this wad of God knows what in the bottom of my purse. It was like cough, cough drops, unwrapped everything stopped to fuzz, stuck to a, you know, a hair tie. It was just the gross like five receipts. It was like a tumor at the bottom of my purse of just discarded objects. And I thought it was so I mean, embarrassing but funny that I posted a picture of it and like that picture got more comments because so many moms were like, thank you. Like, thank you for being honest about how gross you are.

Justin: Yeah. Yeah. Right. I feel seen.

Kristen: Totally.

Justin: I want to ask about the role of choice in motherhood and this passage in your book struck me because, I'll read the quote and then we can talk a little bit about it. So you write, “Feminism gave us the gift of being able to choose. But if we are not careful, having the freedom to do anything can easily morph into the obligation to do everything. And that's a recipe for exhaustion and despair, not liberation. An inherent aspect of choice is choosing one thing over another by learning to say no to certain roles or obligations of motherhood that don't work for us. We allow ourselves to more fully embrace the roles that we actively choose for ourselves.” 

I was noticing some tension in thinking about a conservative religious upbringing and how these choices are inherently dangerous in that context. But then what you're really getting at here is that, you know, the danger of having all of these choices is that you end up feeling totally overwhelmed. And like you're not really doing any of it. 

Kristen: Yes. And, you know, it's I mean, what's interesting about that is psychologically, that's always true. The more choices we have, we often feel more anxiety. Right. Like when there's more things to you know, we get to sit in decision spirals and decision fatigue. But I think specifically for women, I mean, we have been given that message. You can do it all right. Like you can have it all. And I don't think it's true. And it's, but that's ok. I think that's where, you know, that's an important part of feminism, is that it's the choice. 

Like feminism doesn't mean I have to have a job and I can't be a stay-at-home mom. Feminism means I can choose. And it's totally valid if I stay home with my kids and it's totally valid if I have a nanny. But feminism doesn't mean I have a full time job and I'm a full time stay at home mom, which a lot of women kind of feel.

Justin: Yeah. Yeah. So this ties into this realization that you write about in the book of feeling totally worn down like you have spent all of the energy that you have and then come to realize that you're an introvert and that actually you need to take some time for yourself and that it's ok. And that you need to recharge. I can imagine a lot of parents recognize this. And it's a powerful reframing for these times when we're feeling just completely burnt out. 

Kristen: Yeah, and I didn't hear enough mothers talking about introversion before I had kids, you know, or even still now, I think like introversion and full-time parenting is, it's a rough gig. You know, if you're a person who needs space to recharge and then you have multiple children, you're not going to get that space, you know, and that's just a thing that I did not realize before I had kids. 

And, you know, I don't think it would have changed. I think I still would have had probably four kids, but I maybe would have come out, come at it with, well, first of all, more grace for myself. But second of all, you know, I might have made different choices. I mean, I landed in choices that felt good for me, right? I mean, I landed like, ok, I'm going to come out of being a therapist because that's dwindling my introversion charge. I'm going to be a writer. I'm going to find childcare. I'm you know, I'm going to find these rhythms for myself. But I took the long road there, and I wish I'd known a little more about introversion and myself, because I maybe could have taken a shortcut.

Justin: So let's talk about asshole parenting or the asshole parent hashtag. So this is a fantastic chapter in the book, all about the asshole parent hashtag. And it struck me that really what this asshole parent hashtag was about for me looking at it, is that a parent has to be prepared to be seen as an asshole if they want to just be minimally responsible. Like just like the minimum amount of parenting will be seen as being an asshole by your kids. Is this right?

Kristen: Absolutely. And it never ends like, you know, when they’re a toddler you were trying to keep them from sticking a fork into the plug or, you know, falling off of things to their death. And they're just mad about it. They're just big mad all the time. And, you know, that doesn't change. Now, I have teenagers and I'm trying to keep them safe. And, you know, they're mad about, you know, that we have time limits on their social media or that, you know, we have a filter on the computer. You know, they're just always mad at you.

Justin: Yeah. Do you see an end to this? Like, is there an age at which it flips and it turns into gratitude or what do you think?

Kristen: I think so. I mean, it's funny because my kids have little moments of clarity where they go, ok, I can see why you're like this. You know, like we had an incident where I make my kids carry water everywhere, I make them, we all have the refillables, we carry them everywhere. And I don't really let my kids drink a lot of sugary drinks, sodas, and so my kids know how to drink water. 

And we were at Disney with another family and these kids would not drink water. The parents were having to buy them sodas the whole day. And then they were getting, like, dehydrated. And the kids were kind of having sugar crashes. And my kids were like, ok, I see why we drink water. Like they were kind of like, ok, the water thing is, we get …

Justin: A light bulb. 

Kristen: Right. Like we get why you're, you know, so intense about us taking our water bottles. But then also, like this other family had probably spent $50 on drinks where we just kept refilling our water everywhere we went. And so they were like, ok, we get that. But I think, you know, that's a small example. But I think that they, you know, they're finally understanding or, you know, I hate to contrast it with other families, but we did we went on vacation with another family. The kids were, you know, that we'd be at the dinner table and the other kids would be on their screens, like on their phone the whole time. So then my kids are sitting there bored because we're a little strict on the screens. And they were like, ok, we understand why we shouldn't have our faces buried in a screen all the time. Like we kind of get that.

Justin: Yes. Oh, that's beautiful. Oh, my God. Oh, I love that.


35:53

Justin: Ok, so I want to talk about social justice and parenting. So you write about this in your book and very powerfully you write about being a white mom, raising two black sons. And the book was published right around or right after really the protests surrounding the murder of George Floyd. Because of the timing, is there anything that you would add? What happened for you and your family around that? And since then, I'm wondering if you can just reflect on what's happened since the book has been published.

Kristen: Yeah, I mean, it was interesting timing. My book came out the week that George Floyd was murdered. And it's interesting because that was such an interesting time for me, because we knew all of this like we'd already been going to the protests and the marches as a family. Right. Like we knew that this was really bad. And for me, George Floyd was, it was a situation that was dramatic and caught on video. And I feel like we as a family watched the rest of the world sort of catch up in a way. People were finally like, oh, this is really bad. And then we were like, yeah, it is really bad. Like we've been saying it's really bad. 

So it was heartening to see the world engage, but it was also just a little bit surreal. It was a little bit surreal of like, you guys, we've been saying this like I keep saying this, it's so bad. Like my boys are treated so differently. They're patted down at airports and they're approached by cops and they're kicked out of places like in ways that I know their white peers are not, their siblings are not.

Justin: It sounds like you felt like the rest of us kind of caught up with you.

Kristen: Which, you know, yay. I mean…

Justin: We needed to!

Kristen: I mean, there's no like, you know, there was no feeling of like, oh, too little too late. I mean, it was like yay, I'm really glad that people are finally grappling with this. And, you know, it was nice for my kids to, because as I said, I mean, we have been going to protests since Trayvon. You know, I've been going to protests and I've been dragging the kids. And so it was very nice for us to then go to them and like their peers were there, their teachers were there, their youth group leaders were there. That was different. You know, that felt really different. And it was very powerful.

Justin: Connected to this, you write: “If I had to sum up motherhood in one philosophical statement, it would be this. They come out of the womb as narcissists, and you have 18 years to try to change that.” And it clicked for me that I feel like there's a politics here. As parents, we have 18 years to shift them out of just being totally self-centered human beings into a mode where they start to care about others, where they start to see themselves as part of a larger community. So I'm wondering like, can we see this is really the heart of the political divide we're in today, as we have half of the country has kind of moved a little bit past this narcissist stage. And that was the other half that maybe...

Kristen: Yeah. I mean, I think, you know, I wrote this book before Covid happened, but I think Covid was this, you know, the way that people have responded to Covid, where you have half of us feeling like, ok, this is a community problem that we all need to take responsibility for. And then you have half of the world literally saying, I don't care, I don't care. It's, you know, I can't see beyond myself. And if it's not happening to me and if I'm not at risk, I don't feel the need to protect anybody else…

Justin: Or change anything. 

Kristen: Right. 

Justin: Like about my life.

Kristen: No. There is a disease that is literally killing people. And I don't care to do anything to make sure I'm not part of that. It's baffling.

Justin: So, Kristen, how do you as a parent approach this with your own kids, raising children to see themselves as part of a larger good?

Kristen: Yeah, I mean, a lot of just direct conversations about that. We talk a lot in our house about the social contract. Right. Like we live in a society and we live in a society where what we're supposed to do is care for others. It's very, I have to say, it is very hard living in America, because while I'm saying that I'm in their ear saying that they're also watching their peers, they watch their peers. We were under quarantine until we got our vaccines. Like we were not leaving the house. No one in, no one, you know, I mean, we were leaving the house, but like, you know, we were not having people over. We were not spending time with anyone outside of our family. We were really strict. And there, you know, seeing on Instagram friends having sleepovers and parties and just going about their lives. 

And so it was really, I feel for teenagers in this because it was very confusing for them. And so, you know, we had to do a lot of kind of looking outside of America, like, ok, look at what's happening in New Zealand and look at what's happening in Europe. We live in a country where we place freedom above community care. And like looking at the problems of that, you know, we've talked a ton about collectivism versus individualism and how, you know, we're watching individualism right now run amuck and how we you know, as a family, we are more collectivist. We believe that, you know, the community is a part of what we should be caring about, not just ourselves. But it was a very hard sell in the middle of it. Right. I mean, they're just like, cool, I want to hang out with my friends. My friends are all hanging out and I'm not.

Justin: Asshole parent. Yes.

Kristen: But, you know, again, I do feel like this will be a thing that they look back on. And I think all of us will look back on this time in history and we'll know the final death count and we'll know how horrible this was. And I think I do think that there are a lot of people, a lot of kids right now who in adulthood are going to look back and go, man, my parents didn't do anything.

Justin: Oh, my God.

Kristen: Right. And I'm like, I would rather be on the right side of history of that. I would rather my kids look back and go, man, my mom was intense, then look back and go. My mother didn't care about all these people that died.

Justin: So, Kristen, what right now in your life as a parent, in your life, just as a human being, is most interesting, kind of at the edge, like what is happening in your own personal growth? Is there anything new and exciting?

Kristen: I mean, I think that, you know, it's an interesting time just because, you know, we're not post-pandemic, but the world is sort of moving forward. My kids have their vaccines. There's activities are back in full swing. And I think I'm at that weird cusp of like, ok, I'm not totally sure I'm out of the trauma of this pandemic, but the world is just moving right along. Right. And so it was one thing to be dealing with all of it while we were in quarantine and there was, you know, a little more space. But now it's like, ok, I look at my schedule and it's like I've got, you know, four sports games to attend this week. And other kids, I play rehearsals and school dances and it feels very overwhelming. It's a very weird time right now.

Justin: Yes. I forgot to congratulate you. I saw on Twitter that you have taken up a full-time job reading school emails.

Kristen: Oh, my gosh. It really feels like a full-time job. It really does. And, you know, I think I mean, again, to avoid toxic positivity, I'm not glad that this pandemic happened. But I do think that it was a reset for a lot of us. And, you know, I think a lot of us realized in the pandemic, like, wow, we were really over-scheduled before. And then it's like none of us learned anything. And the schedule is right back… 

Justin: Right back. But yes, I remember Audra and I for the first several months, we just loved it like it's all canceled. Everything was canceled like. Yes, you know, how wonderful. And then you're absolutely right. It's all just like, well, it's starting to feel that way and then Delta kind of squashed it. 

Kristen: It did.

Justin: But yeah, it'll be back.

Kristen: Yeah, I know. My kids schools are just full bore, back end, you know, everything. And so it's a lot.

Justin: Yeah. Yes. All right. So how can listeners find out more about you and your work?

Kristen: Yeah, I mean, my website is KristenHowerton.com. And I am Kristen Howerton on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. And then the book is on sale wherever you can buy books.

Justin: Beautiful. And so we have these three final questions that we ask every guest. And so I hope you're game. So we'll see if you could put a big Post-it note on every parent's fridge tomorrow morning, Kristen, what would it say?

Kristen: I would say. You're doing great.

Justin: You're doing great. And that's not toxic positivity. That is just instilling a little self-compassion.

Kristen: Yeah, well, you know, I think it goes back to, I mean, this is a very sort of psychoanalytic view, but the good enough mom, right? The good-enough mother developmentally is showing love to her kids. It's not about the PTA bake sale. It's not about, you know, what kind of car you drive or how you look. It's just about making a connection with your kids. And that doesn't need to look. You know, you can send your kids to school with a shitty lunch and still be a good enough mom as long as you're connected, you know.

Justin: Yeah, I, into The Family Thrive last week or the week before, we had a question about parenting advice. Have you ever received any parenting advice that has actually been useful? And I don't remember who said this, but I remember when we had Max, somebody said, you know, “parenting, all this really boils down to loving your kid and keeping them alive.” And so I've had that feeling of whenever everything feels too big and too intense and I'm just not good enough. I have a lot like I'm not having them enrolled in the right things or, you know, whatever. It's like, you know, am I showing them love? They're alive. All right. Ok, so Kristen, do you have a quote recently that has changed the way you think or feel?

Kristen: It's interesting. I'm actually, I don't know that I have a specific quote, but I am rereading Brene Brown's Daring Greatly. And I'm really pondering disengagement right now. And my own tendency is to disengage. And so I think I am, the Brene Brown concept of disengagement versus vulnerability is heavy on my mind right now.

Justin: Can you say a little bit more about disengagement for Brene Brown? What does this mean for her?

Kristen: It's deciding that the pain of the world is too great to feel. And so it's just opting out. And I mean, it goes back to the Jung quote you mentioned, what we resist persists. You know, when we disengage, we aren't getting rid of it. We're just pushing pause. Right. And it's going to be there.

Justin: And it might even be bigger. 

Kristen: It will be bigger. Yes. And so, you know, that I think for me is that is a lifelong battle for me of feeling my feelings. Right. Like giving myself space and time to feel my feelings versus overworking versus overplanning, you know, whatever. Ah, we all have our different coping mechanisms. Right? Right. And avoiding that and just sitting in the now and feeling the feelings in the now.

Justin: Beautiful. So our third and final regular question for podcast guests is what's your favorite thing about kids? And so we ask this because I mean, I absolutely resonated with what you wrote in your book about having little kids. I mean, it's exhausting and it's just absolutely overwhelming. And so it's nice to reflect on the good stuff. So can you think back? So this is just for little kids. What is your favorite thing about little kids, even though it was tough, overwhelming, all of that? What is your favorite thing about kids?

Kristen: My favorite thing was and still is just the creativity. I just loved when my kids would wear a costume all day and, you know, they would create a scenario out of nothing. My kids, they used to play this game called Spaceship, and the couch was a spaceship, and they would spend hours creating these elaborate stories around their spaceship. And I just, I love that unbridled creativity that kids have. Right, that there's just no filter and they'll enter into a world that's not theirs. It's so playful and whimsical. And I do, I actually you know, my kids are all teenagers, but I miss that stage of just like walking in and finding them, pretending to be Spider-Man in their room, you know. So cute.

Justin: Beautiful. Beautiful. Well, Kristen, thank you so much for coming on the podcast. Really appreciate this.

Kristen: Thanks for having me.



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