Biz Ellis and Theresa Thorn’s weekly podcast One Bad Mother tackles the serious challenges of motherhood with levity, honesty — and the occasional swear word. Ellis and Thorn discuss an enormous variety of parenting subjects on the show; parental smartphone use, traveling with kids, pregnancy and birth, and adulthood anxiety are all fair game for Ellis and Thorn, who have been producing episodes since 2013.
The weekly walks Ellis and Thorn took together when Ellis first moved to Los Angeles catalyzed the podcast’s creation. Ellis says that she felt largely alienated by the parenting media available to her after becoming a mother. “I just couldn’t find a blog or book or conversation happening that I could connect with about motherhood,” says Ellis. “I could not imagine I was the only person who felt like this.”
Thorn was confronting her own parenting issues at the time: the decision to continue working or to transition into stay-at-home parenting. Inspired to reach out to other mothers who might feel similarly, Ellis suggested to Thorn that they create a podcast, and One Bad Mother was born.
Both women are mothers of kids under six: Thorn is parent to 3.5-year-old Simon and 19-month-old Oscar and Ellis is parent to 5-year-old Katy Belle and 17-month-old Ellis.
Seattle’s Child spoke with the women about creating the show, the intersections of feminism and motherhood and more.
SC: Right now, there’s a wealth of parenting media for parents. Why choose the podcast as your medium?
Ellis: I think tone is important and tone can get lost in a blog or essay or book. This conversation needed to happen out loud. Also, you spend a lot of time alone with a baby and you can’t watch TV or read or really do anything. Podcasts lend themselves perfectly to this sort of existence.
SC: What’s your process in hammering out topics for episodes? Do you decide beforehand where the conversation’s going to go during an episode?
Ellis: We always have a topic. Sometimes we know what that is a week before and other times the night before. I usually hammer out a few points I think we should touch on, and then the day of, I share those with Theresa. She’ll add a few points that I want to make sure we get to or she just says, “Oh, I can talk on that!”
We never share any actual stories or points we want to make in detail before we record. What is great is [that] we are totally different people! We get to actually have a real conversation and discover things as we go along.
SC: In a recent episode (102), you discuss the politics of nudity and bodies with your children. Many of your discussions are really frank, like how to speak about the medical names for your genitals with your kids. Are you ever nervous in speaking so openly about what can be really personal for a lot of parents?
Ellis: First off, we are in a small room and it is just us — the only person who can see us is our sound engineer, so it doesn’t ever feel like we are oversharing. We like each other and we really like people and understand that we all come at parenting from different places with different histories and that is okay — and, in fact, that is great. As a result, we try to be respectful of our listeners as we share and make sure we aren’t a**holes as we talk about stuff.
The show you are referencing didn’t feel like we were sharing anything too taboo because, surprise! We all have a vagina or a penis and we all have probably called them something else, which is hilarious. It seemed like something that everyone could relate to so it didn’t seem too revealing. Awkward, but not revealing.
SC: Have you received any negative feedback about the way you speak on the podcast?
Ellis: As far as we know, no one has ever said anything bad about the content of our our show. That said, we haven’t gone looking. We do get people who say they don’t like the show, but so far the main complaint is my voice, our overuse of the word “like,” and our opening “woooooo!” I can totally understand that. Along those lines, Theresa and I agreed that this wasn’t a show for everyone. This was a show for everyone else. It wasn’t going to hurt our feelings if someone didn’t like it. We’d still be your friend.
SC: I notice that you have a disclaimer at the beginning of each episode: “Nothing we say constitutes professional parenting advice.” Is this a serious disclaimer, a humorous one, or something you’ve had to make explicit for a reason?
Thorn: From the beginning, we knew we wanted to be honest and have fun, and we knew some ridiculous [stuff] was going to come out of each of our mouths at some point. The disclaimer is a way to make it clear that this is a comedy show and we don't claim to be “experts,” except possibly in the way that every parent is an expert on his or her own kids. In fact, we kind of hate the idea of "parenting experts" in general! We're very much in favor of sharing tools, information, and experiences, but we're not here to tell anyone what they "should" do.
SC: There are some very feminist aspects to your podcast: two women speaking openly, frankly, and unapologetically about the unglamorous, difficult, and sometimes unpleasant elements of motherhood. Does a progressive ethic inform your parenting? What are the parenting issues that are most pressing for you these days?
Thorn: It's tricky. We're feminists and we're also, each of us within our own households, the primary caregivers for our children, while our husbands are each the primary breadwinners. We wrestle with questions of equality and identity pretty regularly. But it seems like whether you're a work-outside-the-home parent, a work-from-home parent, a full-time at-home parent, or some combination of these, everyone struggles with many of the same issues: how can I get enough sleep?, how can I get time for myself?, and for partnered parents, how can I connect with my partner and preserve our relationship? We'll let you know if we figure out the answer to any of these!
SC: On the podcast, you both occasionally voice the daily frustrations and challenges of parenthood, but you’re also often cracking each other up in response to it. Is the podcast a cathartic space for you?
Thorn: HELL YES. Parenting can be such an isolating experience. When you're having a rough day, it can make you feel 1000% better knowing you can share what's happening – and if at all possible laugh about it — with another parent.
It's a fine line because the podcast is absolutely work, especially for Biz, who hosts and edits the show and handles all guest booking. It demands our energy and creativity and full attention, as well as several hours of our time each week. But we also notice that when we miss a week, we miss the show and we miss each other. And our listeners are such an incredible group of supportive, smart, and hilarious parents and non-parents. It's honestly a gift and a delight to be making this show.
SC: Has making One Bad Mother affected how you feel about the way you parent?
Thorn: Talking openly about our parenting genius moments and our parenting failures really takes the pressure off. It allows us to see this experience as a collection of so many big and little successes and challenges, none of which can really define us as parents. There's so much pressure and judgment about parents and the way we raise our kids. It can be overwhelming. I think making the show has helped us shrug things off more and just focus on what's important — loving our families and being kind to ourselves and to other parents we encounter out in the world. Because this sh*t is hard and everyone for the most part is trying their best and doing a good job!
Listen to One Bad Mother online or find it on iTunes.