Are You Okay?
Beyond the Prescription
Jessica Grose on the State of American Motherhood

Jessica Grose on the State of American Motherhood

Why are expectations about being a woman—specifically a mother—so unrealistic?

Mother, author, and New York Times opinion writer Jessica Grose has a lot to say on this subject. Her latest book, Screaming on the Inside: The Unsustainability of American Motherhood, is inspired by her own shortcomings as a mother. She interviewed hundreds of women as part of the research process while writing the book. In it, Jessica shines a light on the current state of motherhood, and the historical context around the impossible standards for American mothers.

In honor of Mother’s Day, Jessica and I sit down to discuss the narrative and messaging to parents that “they’re doing it wrong.” Jessica urges parents to learn to trust their instincts and to show up to parenting as their authentic, imperfect selves.

Join me every Monday for a new episode of Beyond the Prescription.

You can subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or on her Substack at You can sign up for her free weekly newsletter at

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Transcript of the podcast is here!

[00:00:00] Dr. McBride: Hello, and welcome to my office. I’m Dr. Lucy McBride and this is Beyond the Prescription, the show where I talk to my guests like I do my patients, pulling the curtain back on what it means to be healthy, redefining health as more than the absence of disease. As a primary care doctor for more than 20 years, I’ve realized that patients are much more than their cholesterol and their weight, that we are the integrated sum of complex parts. Our stories live in our bodies. I’m here to help people tell their story, to find out, are they okay, and for you to imagine, and potentially get healthier from the inside out. 

[00:00:45] You can subscribe to my weekly newsletter at and to the show at Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you find your podcasts. So let’s get into it and go beyond the prescription. 

[00:01:01] Dr. McBride: Today I'm interviewing Jessica Grose. She is a mother, she is an author, and she is a New York Times opinion writer who writes a lot about parenting. Her most recent book is called Screaming on the Inside: The Unsustainability of American Motherhood. I was immediately drawn to this book because it was inspired by Jess's own perceived shortcomings as a mother, something I think a lot of us women can relate to. The book combines in-depth interviews with mothers and a historical context on motherhood to help explain why our expectations about being a mom are so unrealistic.

[00:01:37] I think there's a narrative that a lot of us women and mothers absorb that if we only read the right book, if we only had the right parenting expert on speed dial, that we could be the perfect mother when it's not that simple, and frankly, we need to be better able to trust our instincts to know that by showing up, by being a good person and by leading with empathy and curiosity about who our kids are that we are good enough. Jess, I'm thrilled to have you today. Thank you so much for joining me.

[00:02:07] Jess: Thank you for having me. I just wanted to mention, we actually recently dropped the on parenting. I will still talk about parenting. I think my last column was about parenting related issues, but I wanted to have a chance to broaden my aperture a little bit, write about all sorts of issues, mostly cultural, but it's been exciting and I'm really looking forward to this year.

[00:02:30] I mean, an example of that was I just did a big piece about midlife and millennials at midlife. I am one. I am an ancient millennial. I just turned 41.

[00:02:39] Dr. McBride: What's the newsletter called now?

[00:02:41] Jess: It's just my name, just Jessica Grose.

[00:02:43] Dr. McBride: Okay, awesome. How cool is that though, Jessica, that you got to move from being a reporter, which I know you loved to giving your Opinion. I mean, anyone who knows me will tell you that. I love data. I love analysis. I love pouring through primary sources. I also have a few opinions and I love delivering them.

[00:03:04] Jess: Well, I don't think that my approach has actually changed really radically. I do what I like to think of as reported opinion. It's unusual for me to just riff on an idea without including data or including interviews. Occasionally I will actually, my next column is just about Brook Shields' new documentary. And so that's more just thoughts about what it’s like to grow up in the public eye for a kid. And it’s unsurprisingly not great. It was really difficult for her to develop a sense of an identity. But typically I still do a lot of reporting. What it allows me to do is draw more aggressive conclusions from that reporting. And anyone who knows me in real life knows I have a lot of opinions, so it feels really nice to share them.

[00:02:52] Dr. McBride: Well, I think that's right. It's the same thing in medicine. I have a lot of opinions, but it's rooted in my understanding of the medical literature and the understanding of the patient in front of me. So I'm never going to just say, do this because I said so. The fun is taking the data and the data in your case on motherhood and the historical context around it, and then giving parents and mothers permission to be less perfect than their Instagram highlights might suggest they should be.

[00:04:23] Jess: Yeah, I mean I had just the genesis of the book was really just in having so many questions about where ideas that I had about motherhood came from. Because when you start to unpack them, they sound crazy. So one example that I often give is I was very sick during my first pregnancy. I had hyperemesis, so I was throwing up constantly. I could not keep food down. I got incredibly depressed and anxious. I honestly think in large part because I had hyperemesis, just as you cover, the body mind connection is very deep. Not being able to nourish yourself, it's tough to feel good in any way. And I had the question, why is there even the expectation that one should feel good during pregnancy?

[00:05:16] Because I've known a lot of pregnant people in my life, and most of them do not feel great. Maybe they have moments where, during the second trimester, they're not enormous yet. They're feeling a baby kick. They're not sick anymore. Maybe you’ve got like two months of feeling pretty good, but often, there are many ways in which you can feel not your best self, and so every chapter of the book started with a question about an ideal that when you think about it for more than five minutes, makes absolutely no sense.

[00:05:49] Dr. McBride: Yeah, it's interesting about the hyperemesis, and I heard you say in an interview that you leaned into the toilet, that was your lean in. So I had a patient recently in my office who is pregnant with her second child. She's in her second trimester, and so, so sick, like on her knees, in her bedroom. She's a congressional staffer and can't even really go to work most days because she's so sick. And she went to her gynecologist and she was explaining how sick she was to her gynecologist, her obstetrician, and my patient asked the question, “can I take Zofran or something for this nausea?” And the doctor said to her, and the patient's crying telling me this story, she said, “well, if you really can't function, I guess you can take some Zofran.”

[00:06:31] That's a tough standard to hold ourselves to. If you're in the fetal position, then you can treat yourself to a medication that's exceedingly safe, particularly in the second trimester. Why are women so conditioned to suffering and why are we depriving them of the permission to experience highs and lows of pregnancy and motherhood, I don’t know.

[00:06:55] Jess: Well, we're working against thousands of years of conditioning, right? I mean, the idea that mothers shouldn't be martyrs and sacrifice themselves, put themselves last in every situation. That is in all of our in some ways all of our religious texts of the major religions, it is there if you want to pick it up. I mean, in terms of pregnancy and the benefit risk analysis, I think particularly in the United States, and Emily Oster is obviously the guru on this topic, we have just over-rotated on risks and perceived risks because statistically speaking, many of the things we think of as scary and we shouldn't do them, are not damaging really at all, except in extremely unusual circumstances. 

[00:07:45] And so I think medication is one of those things, and particularly things that are seen to be non-essential. And it's always a question, well, it's like, well, non-essential for whom, and one of the big mental health related medications, it's even more for, where it's like Prozac in particular is that there's so many studies on SSRIs in pregnancy. So, so, so many and perinatal psychiatrists will tell you that the risk profile for those drugs is pretty good. Everybody needs to make that calculation for themselves. I am not pro or anti-drug. I'm pro making an accurate risk benefit assessment in every individual

[00:08:31] Dr. McBride: You sound like my friend Emily Oster, and you sound like, and you sound like me, because Emily's a good friend and she was on the podcast and we've talked extensively about the level of scrutiny that we expect women to look at these risks with is exceedingly high. Eating blue vein cheese during pregnancy, having a thimble full of wine. Those carry risks, but so do being anxious and being depressed.

[00:08:59] Jess: So does getting in your car every day, which [00:08:00] is probably the most dangerous thing that you do as a pregnant woman. That's typical. But we don't think of it that way because of complicated reasons. And I do think it's affecting not just how we feel in our own bodies and how we experience the pregnancy and postpartum period, but I think it's affecting how we parent and it's making us more anxious parents than we need to be. And to me, the joy of being a mother is watching my kids become who they are and watching them go out into the world and navigate it. And excessive anxiety about things that have risks but low risks really impedes relationship building that joy of watching them become their own people.

[00:09:50] And that just makes me incredibly sad because it should be joyful. Not all the time. That's a big part of my book. Parenting is not joyful all the time, but there are parts that are incredibly joyful and validating. And so I think having too aggressive a feeling about risks and a scary world out there impedes the joy that we could feel.

[00:10:15] Dr. McBride: Yeah, I think we learned in Covid that people in general do a pretty bad job of assessing risk. And then thinking about risk benefit ratios, we tend to overestimate risk when we're thinking about our children and we think about women.

[00:10:31] Jess: Yes, and I don't blame anyone because the avalanche of information that all of us are getting all of the time, no one can parse that. You don't know who to trust. I feel lucky that I gave birth to my older daughter in 2012 when the social media ecosystem was not—I guess I would describe it as broken today. There were problems with it, but it wasn't, there just was less social media. There were no Instagram stories. TikTok didn't exist. It was not what it is today, and I made a concerted effort knowing myself that I tried and really didn't look for parenting information online. I did not follow any parenting as much as I could. I had one book, and the only book was the Mayo Clinic's Guide to Your Baby's First Year. And if I had a question, I would ask my pediatrician or I would ask my mom, and that's unfair to expect everybody to do because my mom is also a retired physician.

[00:11:31] Dr. McBride: You have an advantage.

[00:11:33] Jess: I have a home court advantage in terms of trustworthy, you know, people in my life. But I think paring down that is one thing I tell parents all the time. Pick a few trusted sources and just try to block everything else out because otherwise you're gonna drive yourself bananas.

[00:11:53] Dr. McBride: I think it's great advice, because of all the information coming at us like a open fire hose, and because there's so much fear-based messaging and because we're predisposed to being more anxious about our children and society has made women more anxious about themselves for whatever reason. How do you guide people on deciding who to trust and who not to trust? What's the anatomy of trust in your mind?

[00:12:16] Jess: So, I mean, number one, and again, expertise does not always equal trust, but always look at the credentials. Look at their credentials. See as much as you can. If they have a particular narrative on any topic that they are trying to push, see if they have any conflicts of interest in terms of payment through a certain company. All of the things that… it's sort of a journalistic way to look at the sources that you trust. And then the sort of X-factor is more just vibes. Are they making you feel bad about yourself? That's huge. So many advice givers on social media are invested in negativity.

[00:13:01] Actually, there was just a great article in Vox about this, not specifically targeted at mothers, but saying, because negativity plays better in the algorithms telling you that you're doing it wrong will rise to the top and that's just not how I wanna be talked to about my parenting. Like, “you're doing it wrong and this is the right way to do it.” Well, piss off! My spirit is very contrarian. And so if anyone is telling me like, you're doing it wrong, I have just an immediate gut [reaction]—I'll do what I want. I've talked to so many people through my reporting days that they have the opposite reaction, which is like, I must be doing it wrong and I feel terrible. So if something's making you feel terrible, listen to that voice.

[00:13:45] Dr. McBride: I think women walk around with that narrative on their own. They don't need help in many cases. I think so much of our messaging to women the historical context around this is about you're doing it wrong. You could be better. You're not enough. Your kids are messy, your kids are loud, your kids are emotional, your kids are this. And then of course we feel anxious. Of course we feel like we're not good enough. And so we have this narrative often that is, we are not doing it right, we're doing it wrong. And that is a narrative that dies hard for so many people and does inform the way they show up in my office as patients with insomnia, alcohol overuse, distress and malaise. The pressures we put on the American mother are enormous, and it's not like it is in other countries. Other wealthy countries don't have the level of scrutiny on mothers like we do in this country.

[00:14:41] Jess: And I think there's been cross-cultural studies done on this, and parents in our peer nations actually look to experts less for advice because they feel more supported in their own communities and they  feel more confident in their own instincts. And I think that there's a lot of complicated reasons why that is. 

[00:15:01] Dr. McBride: Could you talk about why you think that is?

[00:15:03] Jess: Well, I mean, I think, you know, they orient their entire societies around children being more part of the day-to-day and having children behave as children do is just understood. It's not demonized. It's not, you're not worried all the time, that's everybody's gonna give you nasty looks in a restaurant.

[00:15:29] It's like children are just sort of more welcomed as a baseline. And I do think that. There's a relationship—it's not a one-to-one relationship—but there's a relationship between that attitude and having more child-centered public policy. So everything from paid leave, which we are the only wealthy country in the world, that doesn't provide it for our citizens. More subsidized child care to things like even urban design, having more parks and green spaces, having more walkable areas for, and areas for children to exist and play and be more a part of society. 

[00:16:10] I did a piece about this adorable Japanese show that's on Netflix called Old Enough, and when I was researching that piece, the show depicts toddlers, really little kids going on their first errands alone, which, just would never happen for a million reasons in the United States. But part of the reason that it is easier for Japanese children to be more independent is because of the built environment in Japan. And there's a great article in Slate about that. So, those are things that are sort of subterranean. We don't even see them. We don't think about them. We obviously are not all so well traveled that we know what the built environment looks like in Japan, but those are some of the reasons that I think American parents do feel such a sense of scrutiny and need and desire to seem perfect or keep their kids perfectly in line when they're out in public.

[00:17:11] Dr. McBride: Do you think there's something to the idea of women in America not trusting their instincts as much, or not being allowed to trust their instincts? I mean, what I see since I became a parent, and it's the same problem in the wedding industry, is that there's a whole professional industry around parenting. I'm so glad I got married in 2000 and not today because we didn't have one of these produced proposal moments. It was just a casual moment in the woods. Similarly, when I was a parent for the first time, I didn't have Instagram and all the parenting gurus out there. I just had to trust my instincts. But I think because we professionalize these phenomena, women can start to feel less than, or like they have to read this book and then they'll be okay when actually we are born to be parents if we want to be. So I don't know if there's something about that, but it does feel to me like we often don't give ourselves permission to just listen to our intuition.

[00:18:19] Jess: Yeah, I think the sort of commercialization of everything is connected to the fact that there are no sort of communal supports and rituals. So, for example, in many countries after you give birth, Somebody from the National Health Systems will come and visit you. A nurse will come to your house and…

[00:18:37] Dr. McBride: Can you imagine that happening in the us?

[00:18:40] Jess: I cannot, I would have loved that. They will come to your house free of charge. They will make sure you're doing okay. They'll make sure the baby's doing okay. They'll help you with nursing. They'll do all of that built in support in that way. There are mothers groups that will be organized through the community and I think when you don't have that, then figuring out how to solve your problems is an individual issue, and then you feel isolated and that leads to that sort of stress and anxiety and desire for individual solutions that ultimately might not help us feel good or feel accepted. And so it all sort of is so connected to so many different aspects of how we raise children in this country.

[00:19:32] Dr. McBride: I also wonder what you think of the idea of caution as a virtue we saw in the pandemic that we really moralized human behavior. If you didn't get vaccinated, certainly you were sort of deemed a pariah of society. If you didn't mask long enough, diligently enough, there was something wrong with you.And I think when we looked at the data on Covid and kids, at least when I looked at the data, it was clear that kids, healthy kids tended to do generally pretty well with the virus, which is not to say that we wanted kids to get covid. It's not to say that kids haven't tragically died from covid, but there's something about the moralization of motherhood and behavior and children in this country that is, to me, seems unique. I don't know what you think about that.

[00:20:27] Jess: I think that's right. There's just this pervasive attitude. It's like if anything goes wrong, it is your fault, it's your responsibility, it's your fault. You should, you have to be there to pick up the pieces. No one's there to help you. You should have done X, Y, and Z differently, but it’s not working.

[00:20:44] Dr. McBride: It's not working because Jessica kids get covid. Kids do stupid stuff on the playground to each other. Kids are messy and imperfect and so are we. And so this notion that caution as a virtue is inherently flawed because there's only so much you can be cautious about and risk is ubiquitous.

[00:21:04] Jess: Yeah, I think a lot about the fact that my older daughter broke her arm during Covid. She broke her arm in May 2021, and it was because she was playing soccer in our courtyard and she fell. And there was nothing that was… we were lucky enough to mostly remain healthy during that time, but it was just like I was literally a hundred feet away from her. Things happen in children's lives. I didn't feel guilty. I felt bad for her. Obviously seeing child in pain stinks. It was a thoroughly un-fun experience for all involved, but I didn't feel responsible for it. I, but it occurred to me as I basically witnessed it happen. It was just like, there's nothing I can do. She's biting it and her arm looks really messed up. [Unless we] start placing her in bubble wrap and never letting her leave the house, this was unavoidable.

[00:22:09] Dr. McBride: That's right. I just had a thought as we were talking about risks to kids. I was remembering the article you just wrote for the New York Times about the reporting on the CDC data on adolescent mental health. And I thought it was such a great article because in my office I have parents and older teens as patients who are having mental health challenges, whether it's anxiety, depression, substance use disorders, eating disorders. I also have a fair amount of parents who are anxious about the headlines alone and anxious about the data. And then I have fair amount of teens who feel like, “oh my God, this is inevitable that I am a mentally ill person because this is what everybody's talking about.” And so what I loved about your article is that you are trying to take away the catastrophization, if that's a word…

[00:23:03] Jess: Yeah.

[00:23:04] Dr. McBride: You’re the the writer! and to frame the data and recognize let's look at the facts and look at the way the data was collected and the timeframe. And then let's also recognize the historical context around over worrying perhaps about girls having emotional health, not to dismiss the fact that kids are suffering, not to dismiss that kids are losing their lives to mental health problems, but rather to recognize the biases we have culturally that make us kind of mentally masturbate, if you will, on girls having feelings. So can you talk about that a little bit more because I thought it was brilliant.

[00:23:40] Jess: Yeah. Oh, thank you. It was a struggle to write because I really wanted to be very careful and not… the fact that suicidal ideation is up, the fact that suicides are up is awful. Full stop. We need to help those kids. Any kid dying before they're 18 is a tragedy. That is awful. And my heart absolutely breaks for parents whose kids are really struggling, you know, exactly as you say, with eating disorders, substance use, self-harm is up, cutting all, of that. So. I never want to seem like I am diminishing the seriousness or pain of that.

[00:24:24] At the same time, since I was a teenager… I graduated from high school in the year 2000. All we've had since the year 2000 is more awareness and more discussion of mental health, and I just don't want teenagers in particular, who, and being, because being a teenager is really hard. I remember being a teenager and you could not pay me to go back there. I don't want them to pathologize the normal ups and downs this period of rapid change. And I don't want them to necessarily label themselves as, oh, I'm an anxious person. I'm a depressed person. I am X, Y, and Z. Well, it's like, maybe, but maybe you're just having strong feelings and that's part of life, and that's part of being a person and you're learning how to handle them and you can handle them.

[00:25:24] You can handle these big feelings and you don't need to necessarily label yourself as having a broken brain, which is how a philosopher that I quoted describes it. She calls it the broken brain hypothesis. Oh, my brain is broken and it needs fixing. And is that narrative helpful for all teens? And I would argue, no. I am the daughter of a psychiatrist. I am pro psychiatry. I am pro psychology. I am pro therapy. But at the same time, does turning inward help everybody all the time? I think most teenagers could benefit from just as they say on the internet, touching grass, not turning inward, turning outward to their communities, to their friends, to their own habits. 

[00:26:20] One thing that I had in an earlier draft, which I didn't include and I think is under discussed, there is good data on the fact that teens are sleeping less than they used to, and that is huge. They might just need more sleep. They're just tired and cranky and I mean, I've, there's been, especially when I was a new mom, there were numerous times where I really thought I was losing my mind and I was just completely exhausted.

[00:26:48] Dr. McBride I think it's such a good point, not only do we tend to pathologize normal human emotions, which is distinctly not to dismiss the harms of depression, anxiety and substance use. We also tend to make things more complicated than they sometimes are. Sometimes the solution to my patient’s angst and alcohol overuse in the evenings when she gets home from work and poor sleep and hot flashes is, she just needs to eat lunch. Same thing with what you're talking about. It's not gonna solve everyone's problems, but sleep is an essential part of the human brain and bodily function. So I think you're right. Sleep is huge.

[00:27:33] Jess: But also, I mean in terms of my researching for this piece, my attitude towards all of the ideas around this is yes, and it's not, I don't agree with that. Screens are an issue. They're absolutely an issue. That's part of this. It's how we parent and over parent possibly. I think that's part of it too. It's more just to say, I wanted to take. The temperature down a few degrees because I don't think really panicky headlines are helpful to anyone, honestly, on almost any subject. I think that's making everybody more anxious. And so I just wanted to say, can we talk about different ideas? Can we look at this from a different angle?

[00:28:18] Jess: And I have a dog in this fight. I have two girls, one of whom is entering middle school in the fall. I want her to feel confident and empowered, and I want her to feel like she can take charge of her own emotional life, and I will admit that this is one of the few times where my reporting has really changed the way I think about parenting.

[00:28:43] Dr. McBride: It’s so interesting. I want to talk a little bit more about the taking the temperature down phenomenon, because like Emily Oster, I have been writing, I mean not to the extent she has been, but about fear getting ahead of the headlines about pediatric risk, of covid, about the excessive amount, in my opinion, of rumination, about covid risks in the vaccine era at the expense of thinking about health in a broader way.

[00:29:20] And I'm talking to women in particular. I'm talking to everybody, but I think women as the ones who are largely the primary caregivers for kids and women who are, the ones that I see, at least in my office, tend to be more anxious about risk, not universal, but there's utility in doing that and trying to take the temperature down.

[00:29:42] There's also a fair amount of backlash to that narrative. People don't necessarily want to hear that it's okay if your kid gets covid because by the way they will anyway, and it's not going to necessarily do them long-term damage because that's what the data show us. There's some currency there about. The vigilance and the anxiety. It feels like having its own life, its own place, and that is what's concerning to me that, that it's really hard to let go of. Do you see that? Does that make sense to you? I know that because Emily Oster and I have discussed how we have to go into hiding when we put out these articles for The Atlantic.

[00:30:22] She wrote the article that your kids going on vacation or flying on an airplane is like the same risk as their grandparents or something like that, and she had to go into like witness protection program because people were so angry that she was trying to help people manage risk and calibrate it to the actual threat.

[00:30:38] Jess: Yeah, but I'm sure she at the same time, she also had a lot of people thanking her. I mean, it's easy to think about the backlash.

[00:30:45] Dr. McBride: I think that's right, but I also think that, I just wonder where that anger is coming from.

[00:30:52] Jess: Well, I do think that there is something to, and I'm not saying that this is a conscious feeling, but if you are not worrying about your kid, you're not a good mother. And that has to be part of the equation. And it goes back to if anything goes wrong, it's your fault. And so your worrying will prevent anything from going wrong. But you know, that's not how life works. There's terrible unlucky things that happen and that's part of un unfortunately, that is the downside of living a full life, because if you just avoid anything that is, you know, has a potential risk and even at a potential emotional risk, I think you're gonna be missing out on most of the good parts of life.

[00:31:36] Host: I think that's right. I think because motherhood is intrinsically stressful, I think we can start to associate stress with mothering, where if you're a good mother, by any definition, It's despite being anxious, it's despite being stressed, like I know that I'm doing my best mothering, which, you know, I'm not winning mother of the year anytime soon. But I feel like I'm in my best moments when I'm not [00:31:00] leading with fear or anxiety when I'm like just straight talking. But I think it's easy, like just for anybody, to, anyone who's used to like achieving or. You know, trying to do well, and we're all trying to do well as parents to associate the anxiety itself with the outcome.

[00:32:19] Jess: Right. But I think, and this is actually, I've been thinking about this a lot lately because I see a move in parenting advice towards giving people scripts. And my attitude towards most parenting advice is like anything that helps you get through the day in one piece, great. But I do wonder if we are overthinking the importance of every single word we say to our children and worrying that if you say one wrong thing wrong, I'm putting that in air quotes because who knows what even is the right thing for your individual child. It could have catastrophic blowback, and to me it's a risk of being inauthentic with your children if you are relying on some sort of words that didn't come from you or your brain, it teaches your kid that you're also not really human yourself. I think it's important for your kids to see you as a human. Obviously, they should never feel responsible for your emotional wellbeing, but they should know that you're not perfect. That's good for them.

[00:33:36] And I've written articles where I try to give people scripts when I think it's helpful, so I'm not knocking it overall, but I do wonder what we're losing if we're not just trying to speak honestly as ourselves, because are we pretending that we all want the same outcomes for our children? Like what does that even mean? What is a good outcome? I think all the time about What do you want for your kid in the world? We don't all agree because everybody's different and everybody has different values. So, I just think the challenge for all of us is to sort of live an authentic self as we are also parents. We are not some new kind of person.

[00:34:17] Dr. McBride: That's right.

[00:34:18] Jess: We're still just people.

[00:34:20] Dr. McBride: I'd love to ask you about you as a parent right now and what are your particular struggles? Are their particular narratives you have in your mind that you're trying to undo, and how are you looking to be a healthier parent for your kids?

[00:34:39] Jess: My kids are at a great ages. They're in first grade and fifth grade, and so we're out of that diapers and toddler tantrums phase, which I found. I love babies. I really liked having babies. I struggled with that one. That age between one and two. I think that was the hardest for me as a mother just sheer exhaustion, but with my older daughter who will enter middle school, something that I'm proud of is completely removing myself from any of her friendship drama. And I never got involved in terms of like talking to anyone. Of course not. But I would… she would tell me something. I would not react to her, but later I would be stewing about it. And I have just been like, stay out of it. Do not get emotionally involved because there will be a new drama tomorrow and some other girl is gonna say something to some other girl and obviously if it were a bullying situation, that would be different.

[00:35:44] But just having been a middle school girl, this is very familiar to me. And so when it first started happening kind of at the beginning of fifth grade, I was upset. I was upset, man, it stinks to watch your kid be in this mean girl business. And I don't think she was probably totally innocent and it either, who knows? I wasn't there. I shouldn't be there. And I always let her deal with it herself. I never got involved with it, but I would get really upset. When she wasn't around. And so I think it's a parenting win for me to just have let that just be like, I'm not getting emotionally involved with this. It's only gonna get worse in the next couple of years. I assume maybe I'll get better, who knows? But having been a teenage girl, this is just the beginning. And so I think training myself to not get too involved in any way.

[00:36:38] Dr. McBride: It's really healthy. And what's particularly healthy when I hear you talk about it, that you recognize your daughter may have had a role in it. You're not assuming innocence just because she's your offspring, and you're also recognizing there are harms of, you know, the dynamics that you would hopefully pick up on.

[00:35:53] But you're right, they have to kind of navigate these things themselves.

[00:36:59] Jess: They have to, and they have to learn how to deal with people they're not getting along with. That's life. That's the workplace that's going to go into, there's nothing I can do. Absolutely I can be there for her when she comes and tells me she's upset about something and if she asks me for advice. I'll give it to her. She seems to want no part of my advice about anything…

[00:37:18] Dr. McBride: Welcome to the club. Welcome to the club, my friend.

[00:37:21] Jess: but I found it very distressing when she first would start telling me about the beginnings of these sort of… it's so familiar. I'm sure you found it familiar when your kids started going through it.

[00:37:34] Dr. McBride: A hundred percent.

[00:37:35] Jess: And so it's been, now that she's almost at the end of fifth grade, I feel like I think we both have a better handle on it, let's put it that way.

[00:37:44] Dr. McBride: My last newsletter subject was about this after I interviewed Lisa Damour for my podcast. I love Lisa. She's, oh my gosh, I could just listen to her voice all day long.

[00:37:53] Jess: She has a very soothing voice. That's true.

[00:37:55] Dr. McBride: And I wrote a substack piece about how hard it is to do this, but how essential it is for us and for our children to try not to ride the rollercoaster of their emotions. Because first of all, they want us to, and that that's a little bit of a currency. I mean, they don't want us to really, but they're, they get their mojo from riling us up. But if we can have a little bit of a distance or space from their everyday minute to minute, Emotions. It's good for both parties

[00:38:26] Jess: It is, and again, it's like when I said that reporting, that piece really changed how I thought about parenting. I already felt this way to an extent, but I think not allowing our children to deal with their own problems is so bad for them. It's bad for us and it's bad for them, and we can't just, as my children get older, I want them to feel a sense of agency in their own lives. I want them to be really self-sufficient. It's really important to me. I think it's really important for them. And so, I already thought that, but there are certain things that I have vowed to do a little differently solely based on the reporting about teen mental health, just because I really do think allowing them as much independence, again, emotional and physical independence as makes sense for them as an individual child.

[00:39:28] All kids are different. All kids have different abilities. They have different desires. They have different things that they're ready for at different times. I mean, it's so wild to look at my children. And their classmates because you can see all of these kids are normal kids and they have such a range of physical size, emotional maturity, intellectual, cognitive differences that are, again, all within the range of normal, all beautiful in their own ways. And so every parent has sort of a different way to do it, but I think really giving our kids independence is so important for them.

[00:40:08] Dr. McBride: Thank you so much for joining me. Thank you for shining a light on American motherhood and giving us a more nuanced view of how it actually is and for bringing data and facts and context to it. So I really appreciate your work and I'm so grateful you joined me.

[00:40:24] Jess: Oh, thank you so much for having me.

[00:40:29] Dr. McBrideThank you all for listening to Beyond the Prescription. Please don’t forget to subscribe, like, download and share the show on apple podcasts, spotify or wherever you find your podcasts. I’d be thrilled if you like this episode to rate and review jt. And if you have a comment or question, please drop us a line at

The views expressed on the show are entirely my own and do not constitute medical advice for individuals. That should be obtained from your personal physician. 

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Beyond the Prescription
Each week, Dr. Lucy McBride talks with her guests like she does her patients — pulling the curtain back on what it means to be healthy, connecting the dots between mental and physical health. To Dr. McBride, health is about more than the absence of disease. Health is a process, not an outcome. It's about having awareness of our medical facts, acceptance of the things we cannot control, and agency over what we can change.
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