Fifteen years ago, Nanci Olesen decided she was producing the wrong radio show. She’d recently given birth to a son, and the arts program she was creating for Minneapolis-based KFAI-FM suddenly felt much further from her heart than motherhood. Everything did. And so she launched MOMbo, a syndicated radio show featuring interviews with childcare experts and commentaries from writers around the country. Recently, she switched formats; the show can now be heard in podcast form—that is, on the Internet via MOMbo.org. And on a four-CD set released last year. And on occasional specials, previously for Public Radio International and currently on Public Radio Exchange. That’s a lot of mommy talk, but, as Olesen sees it, mothers still don’t get the respect they deserve. After all, considering none of us would be here without them, who could be more important? (Hi, Mom!)
What’s the best parenting advice you’ve ever come across?
Harriet Lerner wrote a book called The Mother Dance. She just talks about what it feels like to become a mother. For her it was like becoming an astronaut—she validates that it’s an unknown you leap into. I’ve also interviewed Mary Pipher, who wrote Reviving Ophelia, and both of these women have said to me that you need to trust your gut as a parent. Something I’ve learned from Maria Montessori is respect for the independence that a child can achieve so early on. The idea that these are my children, but they’re also themselves—it’s almost that you’re their host and you’re lucky to be around them. You need to give them all your love…but you can’t mold them into a little you.
What do you think of Nanny 911 and other parenting-based reality TV shows?
I haven’t seen any of them. I have my own reality show here at home.
What problems do mothers continue to face today?
We have a long way to go toward truly respecting children and women, mothers and parents. We’re up against so much in terms of [the expense of] health care and education. If every senator spent a day with a toddler, we could use that experience to inform what our choices [as a nation] should be. Spend an afternoon with a toddler—then go legislate.
You’ve done shows on lesbian moms. Do you think two parents, same gender, will ever be seen as acceptable?
I hope so. [My husband and I] live in south Minneapolis, so to us it’s an acceptable situation—it’s just normal. But then I’ll go out to South Dakota or other parts of the country and get a reality check.
What kind of Mother’s Day do you hope to have?
A peaceful one. The roots of Mother’s Day come from Julia Ward Howe [who gave] a Mother’s Day proclamation for peace in a church in 1870. It was a cry for mothers to stand up and say, We will no longer send our sons and husbands to be killed, and we will stand with mothers across the world against war. It still gives me a chill. It’s a very political holiday.
What do you think of choosing not to be a mom at all?
On my hard days, I think maybe I should just go work at Planned Parenthood. We should have some kind of training [for parents]. Couldn’t you just do an internship? And if you don’t want to have a kid, more power to you. It’s a hard job to raise a kid, and we need a lot of people who aren’t raising kids to be wide awake and doing what they do best.