Dax Shepard's New Parenting Podcast Embraces The Specific Weirdness Of Every Family
Dax and Dr. Wendy sat down with Romper to talk raising monkeys, itching "birds," and parenting zhuzh.
In his wildly popular podcast Armchair Expert, Dax Shepard delves deep into the messiness of being human… and let’s face it: there is no human endeavor messier than parenthood. Shepard would probably agree: he is, after all, the father of 6-and-8-year-old daughters who keep him and wife Kristen Bell on their toes. With Shepard’s newest podcast, Nurture vs. Nurture, listeners have a front row seat to just how beautifully messy.
Produced by Shepard’s Armchair Umbrella and hosted by Dr. Wendy Mogel, a clinical psychologist and the New York Times best-selling author of books such as The Blessing of a Skinned Knee and Voice Lessons for Parents, Nurture vs. Nurture invites listeners to an intimate discussion between Dr. Wendy and a new set of parents every week. They work through their concerns and parenting clashes, and receive practical advice from the good doctor, whose personal philosophy is one of self-reliance, resilience, accountability and exuberance in children. Each episode also introduces listeners to an untranslatable-to-English word, like sturmfrei (German for having your home to yourself in the absence of parents or other roommates); akihi (Hawaiian for forgetfulness immediately after getting directions); iktsuarpok (an Inuit word referring to the anxious anticipation of waiting for someone to arrive). By tying these concepts to sessions with parents, Mogel encourages listeners to expand how we talk and think about the truly wild journey that is parenthood.
I Zoomed with with Dax and Dr. Wendy to talk about the podcast, parenting, and how the more specific a story gets, the more universal its lessons.
The children are your spirit guides, not necessarily the parenting books.
Romper: Dr. Mogel, this is where you get to hear Dax say very nice things about you. Dax, why did you want to produce this podcast?
Dax Shepard: Wendy was one of our all-time favorite [Armchair Expert] guests. I thought, specifically in the world I live in, her message of: relax a little bit, don't schedule every minute of their day, stop obsessing about if they're going to be perfect, I found to be the most important message me and my group could hear. And then really selfishly, I don't know how to get an appointment with Wendy, so I thought let's have her do them on the show and then I don't have to drive to her office with my wife. We both have hard schedules, kind of a hack for us to hear great parenting advice without having to hire her hourly. So it worked out perfectly.
Romper: I understand you guys went through a ton of titles before you landed on Nurture vs. Nurture, which I love. I think it really drives home the idea that, bare minimum scenario, we're all doing our best.
DS: I can only speak to the experience where you're married raising two kids — you both have this idea of how to nurture them, and so often it is nurture versus nurture. Most of our clashes and compromises are revolving around nurturing the kids and our different perspectives on how to best do that.
Dr. Wendy: It fits so well with this idea that there's so many ways to do this well enough — the “good enough” parent. And that the children are your spirit guides, not necessarily the parenting books. And this is something I really try to emphasize on the show, the wisdom of these children. And that, if we can not feel this mantle of responsibility of every single day not making a horribly damaging mistake, that everybody can breathe and just look around.
Romper: Tell us more about the framing of exploring an untranslatable-into-English word per episode. Do either of you have a favorite word, either that you've come up with through the course of the episodes, or maybe a new one?
DS: Wendy, remind me, what's the word when a family shares made up words?
Dr. Wendy: Oh, familect! So, that's an English word that is so important to me. Every family has private jokes, and stories, and nicknames and mispronunciations from little ones. This is precious stuff. That is your family, lore your family, legacy your family jewels in the form of language and love.
Kids are really irritating and annoying, but they're hilarious.
Romper: When you said everyone has these words, I immediately thought of the one my family has and how-
Dr. Wendy: What is it?
Romper: The word is “dibba,”and it's kind of the word you say when you're feeling sheepish or chastened. It's totally made up. So if someone said, “Oh Jamie, you forgot to do that chore,” I’d respond “Oh dibba.”
Dr. Wendy: Do you know where it came from when it was first used?
Romper: My mom and my aunt started using it as kids. They have this voice that goes along with it, and it just kind of bled into the generations. And the first time I heard my husband say it, I was like, “Oh my God. You're one of us now.”
DS: We have a couple. “Teppa” is ketchup that one of my daughters [came up with]. So, it's only referred to as “teppa.” But also, they've inherited “bird.” We are not afraid to say penis and vagina, but bird is a unisex descriptor of your private parts. “Are you itching your bird?” “Why are you itching your bird?” “What's going on with your bird?” You can say it in public, and so, they just inherited it because that's what was in my household. And I love it.
Dr. Wendy: There was an article in the New York Times recently about an Arabic word nafas. It means the special ingredient that you put in your cooking. And then, they interviewed a microbiologist who said that if you make sour dough, if they make it in the lab, it tastes weird and bad. It needs the microbes from your hands. That's why each sour dough tastes different. And that's nurture versus nurture! So, that's the familect of food.
DS: You could call it the “zhuzh.”
Dr. Wendy: What?
Dr. Wendy: Zhuzh.
Romper: You’re leading me into my next question perfectly with this talk of personal touches. When you’ve talked about the show, you’ve said “there's nothing more universal than our specificity.” What can parents take from a realization like that?
Dr. Wendy: We had categories for the applicants who wanted to be on the show — military, multi-racial, circus, religious, mixed political beliefs, farm families, same gender families, families with children with international adoptions, traveling musicians. And everybody has the same problems, the same problems. And this means both that you're not alone with the struggles and that, people in different environments with people with different talents and interests and perspectives handle it a little bit differently. And maybe you could try that too.
Romper: Conversely, do you think sometimes it's hard to admit that your problem might not be as specific as you think it is?
DS: In AA, we call this “terminal uniqueness.” So guys get to AA, and they're like, "You guys are alcoholics, but I have this very specific reason I'm an alcoholic, that no one would understand." And it'll kill you. Terminal uniqueness will kill you.
Dr. Wendy: We are living in a culture of terminal uniqueness. So that every single person duking it out on social media to have that extra special and unique allure, is working so hard to promote their uniqueness that then we lose what we all share. Our humanity.
To hear her have two parents who are inevitably at odds with how to raise these monkeys, for her to hear both people, see validity in both people's points, and bring them together, is so cathartic.
Romper: The podcast is also very funny. It'll get really, really intense, so then there's a moment of levity. What is the benefit of speaking with that kind of humor and levity when it comes to parenting?
Dr. Wendy: They have finally studied in the lab why laughter is the best medicine. So we've all always known that, but mirthful laughter creates nitric oxide, which is really good for the cardiovascular system. You just live longer, and you feel better. And kids are really irritating and annoying, but they're hilarious.
DS: And I would argue that laughter is actually the antidote to terminal uniqueness because the reason people laugh, is because everyone agrees that that is the truth, and we all now are not unique.
Romper: Dax, are there specific lessons that you've really taken in from what you've heard on this podcast?
DS: It would be so hard to isolate. To hear her have two parents who are inevitably at odds with how to raise these monkeys — for her to hear both people, see validity in both people's points, and bring them together — is so cathartic. It's insane. Even if [Kristen and I don’t experience] the issue that the parents have brought to her … we always hear something.
This interview has been lightly edited.
Nurture vs. Nurture is available on Apple podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts with new episodes dropping every Tuesday.