Go ahead and love something an embarrassing amount: the advice that isn't really about the advice

On Thursdays at 2:00 PM, it’s rare that I’m not staring at my phone, my podcast app open, waiting. Perchance even refreshing now and then. Thursday at 2:00 PM is when the latest episode of Mom And Dad Are Fighting drops, and as soon as I get to leave work for the day, my earbuds are in and the anticipation I feel is delicious. A whole hour - or close enough to it - of Mom and Dad awaits me, and for right now, all could not be more well. If I were to Marie Kondo (or is the verb KonMari? I forget, I’m at that much of a saturation point with this obsession) my phone and its contents, I would be unable to deny that Mom and Dad Are Fighting sparks a joy that I feel in my entire body.

It’s funny that this is my favorite piece of content to emerge from the Internet each week, because I have largely excised parenting advice from my life: parenting books, parenting columns, even the widely-loved Well Family section of the New York Times and its weekly newsletter (which I receive because so many people have recommended it but invariably delete without opening). People have recommended parenting resources with great enthusiasm, and I have occasionally dipped my toe in, if I really trust the recommender. But they all send me running in the opposite direction, reminded of the days when I hungrily scoured the internet for something, anything to help me through the early months of nursing a baby and when what I found only made me feel worse about my efforts. Most parenting advice I have come across - however sound, however well founded - makes me feel like I am being scolded, and it’s just too triggering. It reminds me of all the things I could be - and probably am - doing wrong, or at least sub-optimally.

Now we’re at the part where i make the case for why Mom and Dad is somehow different from all this other parenting stuff that makes me shudder, but I’m actually not sure that it is in any meaningful sense. People write in or call in about the universal problems of parenting, and the roundtable of hosts (Gabriel Roth, Carvell Wallace, and Rebecca Lavoie) take turns addressing the issue, responding both to the question-asker and to each other’s answers. The actual questions, though, rarely matter. I don’t even look at the episode description to see whether they are going to discuss something relevant to me specifically, because I know that I will hang onto their every word even when they’re discussing teenage social media activity, which not only has nothing to do with toddlers but also will likely look completely different by the time my toddler is a teenage social media - or whatever it will be called in ten years - user. It’s not even advice I can credibly file away for later, but clearly I’m not here for the actual advice. I am filled with questions all the time about what to do as a mom, and at some of those times, I find myself wishing I could ask Carvell, Rebecca and Gabe, but I never write in; I would rather just show up to hear them talk every week about things that don’t seem like they have anything to do with me. Inevitably, a discussion will arise that pierces my psyche and a truth bombshell that I didn’t know I needed will land right in my soul and stay there. Usually, I will end up writing about it here (Rebecca’s “Stop making it about you” and Carvell’s “Your kid is amazing” come to mind), such is the strength of the reflection it brings on.

That’s what I’m really tuning in for - the reflection that surrounds this show like an aura. The panelists aren’t parenting experts in any credentialed sense; they are writers and thinkers, celebrated for their creativity and high level of expressive skill above all. I listen to them because the way they talk about parenting and, by extension, about life, is fundamentally beautiful. They understand that the people writing in and the people listening are looking to them for more than advice, and that for most of us the advice is probably somewhat beside the point. They hear whatever need is being expressed, whether intentionally or not, and they respond to that need with exactly what is called for.

Take this week’s episode, called “Must we suffer the tantrum?” In it, around the 18:50 mark, we hear a voice memo come in from a mom who describes her three-year-old’s tantrums as one of said tantrums is happening in the background. The woman remains very calm as her kid completely loses her shit, but you can hear how hard she is working to keep her voice level. She doesn’t really ask what she should do; she sort of trails off at the end of the call with the words, “I’m just seeking your advice as to the…normalcy of this toddler’s behavior.” The voice memo ends, and the podcast hosts are laughing. We are all laughing, probably most especially those of us currently parenting a toddler, because oh, how well we know those sounds. We are that mom. We know what she’s really asking, because we have asked ourselves the same questions in those moments. “Am I going to be okay? Is my kid going to be okay? Can this work out in the long run? How am I going to survive until then?” Hearing Rebecca and Carvell laugh like that is simultaneously affirming and reassuring. It is both the “I see you and hear you” and the “this is so going to be okay eventually” that normalizes without minimizing.

I’m certainly not the first person won over by the false sense of intimacy a good podcast can give its listeners; I know that these people aren’t my actual friends, and that they don’t actually see me or hear me. That’s okay; I like the versions of them that live in my head: they are as all-knowing as they are imperfect, and as aware of their imperfection as they are confident that they are going in the right direction. They make me believe that I, too, could be so wise, and that I may yet sustain a sense of humor through this whole thing. Worth believing in, if you ask me.