Dr. Marti Erickson and her daughter Dr. Erin Erickson recording their “Mom Enough” podcast
photos by Nate Ryan
On a balmy Tuesday night last May, a capacity crowd packed Golden Valley’s swank Metropolitan Ballroom. Picture swag bags, pinot grigio, and passed hors d’oeuvres—but also booths stocked with brochures for early childhood development, parent advocacy, and health and educational organizations.
Part festive gala, part parent-info fair, and part TED talk, the annual, free A Night Out for ME is put on by the mother-daughter duo of Dr. Marti Erickson, a developmental psychologist, and Dr. Erin Erickson, a nurse practitioner and specialist in maternal-child health. Each week, they host “Mom Enough,” a podcast that has grown to 200,000-plus monthly listeners nationwide and beyond on the strength of the Ericksons’ entertaining and informative blend of storytelling and science.
The parenting digisphere offers endless guidance: mommy bloggers, daddy bloggers, parenting websites, YouTube shows, and podcasts. A search for “advice for new moms” yields a constant stream of articles like this one from Parents magazine: “Kourtney Kardashian’s Advice to New Moms: Chill Out, People Used to Have Babies in Caves!” But in a pinch, especially with one or zero hands free, it’s hard to know which sources have solid research behind their claims.
Mom Enough’s 9th annual A Night Out for ME 6-8 p.m. on Monday, May 7, at the Metropolitan in Golden Valley. Includes food, wine, prizes, and a presentation by Dr. Marti and Dr. Erin. Free with online registration. momenough.com
If striving to be a good enough parent were a destination along a steep and winding trail, beset with the common parenting minefields of guilt, stress, and misinformation, you could say the Ericksons are Sherpas of sorts.
“I often tell [parents] that there are three doors—three ways to walk through life,” Dr. Erin begins during the keynote portion of A Night Out for ME, which returns this year on May 7. The petite and pixie-haired Dr. Marti stands beside her. “The first way is that you just charge through the door. That’s fight-or-flight. The next option is ‘I don’t even want to know what’s on the other side of the door.’ ”
Laughter ripples through the audience of fans, friends, and colleagues.
“The third option is the reflective parenting option,” she continues. “You open the door, you take a deep breath, and you say, ‘I’m just going to pause for a moment and figure out what’s going on here.’ ”
Tall and magnetic, Dr. Erin is adept at reenacting tragicomic moments between herself and her three school-aged children. With her expressive face, she becomes a wide-eyed kid tiptoeing around his angry mother as she shrieks, “What are you doing? You’re driving me nuts!”
The audience cracks up again. Heads nod in agreement. It is suddenly, painfully clear just how crazy it must look to a kid when a parent walks through that proverbial door in “fight-or-flight” mode.
Onstage and on their podcast, the Ericksons are deftly funny, with mother as the straight man and daughter as her zany foil. Using glimpses into their own parenting comedies of errors, the two have a knack for blending disarmingly personal anecdotes with rock-solid clinical research into resonant narratives for parents.
The Ericksons’ best podcasts aim for authenticity and humor, and they struck gold on both counts while broadcasting their first episode in 2006.
Pregnant with her second child, Dr. Erin went into labor live, on the air. By the end of the show, her contractions clocked in every five minutes. (She made it to the hospital for the birth.) The next week, her newborn son, McKinley, accompanied her to the next show and can be heard cooing in the background on the episode.
These days, they record each episode in the cozy upstairs den at Dr. Marti’s southwest Minneapolis home near Lake Harriet. Every month or two, the Ericksons record a handful of 30-minute podcasts back-to-back. During a recent session, Dr. Erin sipped tea on a chocolate-colored sofa with her legs tucked into an afghan as Dr. Marti ran through the morning’s schedule with Nick Jesz, their affable 20-something sound engineer.
Their countdown before kicking off an episode resembles a seasoned rock band during sound check. Dr. Marti has musical roots: Before she embarked on graduate studies, she sang in The Folkswingers, a 1960s-era folk-rock band that performed across Europe on a USO tour.
After receiving her doctorate at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, she became a professor and founding director of the U’s Children, Youth, and Family Consortium. Her research focused on the impact of parent-child attachment on children’s mental health, and she developed strategies for parents to build secure attachments with their children, even under high-risk circumstances—such as when parents must address past childhood trauma while raising their own kids.
On a “Mom Enough” episode about the importance of self-care for parents, Dr. Marti recalls a stressful time when the demands of parenting two school-aged kids and writing her dissertation completely overwhelmed her.
Her proposal: While her husband manned the fort back home, she would check into a local hotel for three nights to work and relax in peace. Her husband, Ron, brought the kids to the hotel pool each afternoon, after which they returned home, so she could eat dinner on her own and finally enjoy a little downtime.
Years later, an older Erin recalled those three days to her mother as the period of time when “you and Dad were separated.”
“That was kind of a wake-up call for me that I needed to explain more clearly to my kids what I was doing about ‘me time,’ ” Dr. Marti reflects. That vulnerability and openness can be a challenge. Some parents, she says, “have the idea that they shouldn’t be vulnerable with their children, as it might undermine their authority.”
As Dr. Marti and Dr. Erin slip behind their mic stands, it’s hard not to wonder if this seamless grace sprung, fully formed, from their mother-daughter bond. Or did it develop from more than a decade of working side-by-side?
Dr. Marti confides that her daughter was “the sassy child” in the family. “Erin told me more than I needed to know,” she says, laughing. “And that was fine. But it was also exhausting.”
Dr. Erin’s take differs slightly. “You thought I was the bad one,” she says in mock complaint, “but that was just because I told you everything.”
Before “Mom Enough”—and before the advent of podcasting altogether—Dr. Marti’s advocacy for research-based parenting first reached a wide audience in the mid-’90s, when she became a weekly guest on Twin Cities-based KARE 11. In 2006, she began hosting a weekly radio show on 107.1-FM (now myTalk 107.1), and brought on her daughter, currently a women’s integrative health consultant at Minnesota Personalized Medicine, as a cohost.
The show’s original name, “Good Enough Moms,” was derived from the “good enough mother” concept, originated in 1953 by British pediatrician and psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott. It came in response to “the perfect mother,” a concept dating back to the Victorian Age. Winnicott argued that a good enough mother provides the necessary warmth, affection, and security, but not—especially as a child grows from dependence to autonomy—to the extinction of her own needs. Today, it remains a fairly radical idea: Striving to be perfect parents might not ultimately serve the best interests of our children.
On a “Mom Enough” episode with parenting coach and author Mercedes Samudio, who launched the internet campaign #endparentshaming, Samudio recommends that parents actually not “try to keep it together” during stressful times but rather admit that they’re struggling. Saying “no” to the quest for perfection doesn’t mean failing to be the parent your children need—just that you might not always be the parent your children want.
“I want to remind parents that ‘Mom Enough’ doesn’t look like perfection,” Dr. Erin says.
On the Ericksons’ website, the tagline reads, “The moms our children need, the women we want to be.” While the podcast’s prime audience is mothers, its far-reaching topics provide targeted advice for fathers, grandparents, and caregivers, too.
The 400-plus episodes read like a ticker tape from the parental subconscious. Feel-good shows delve into the creative power of play, second-language learning, helping girls embrace adventure, and the importance of family dinners. But there are tougher topics: the emotional minefields of cyberbullying, ADHD, childhood obesity, substance abuse, and divorce.
Episodes on postpartum depression and work-life balance focus on the well-being of parents, echoing the airplane-mask rule, which instructs parents to secure their own oxygen masks before they secure their children’s. After all, how can you help someone else if you can’t breathe?
When Dr. Erin’s first marriage ended in divorce, she became critically ill. The experience now informs her mission to help parents stay afloat and practice holistic self-care for themselves even when the going gets tough. “I want other moms to know they’re not alone in feeling like a failure. You’re not alone even when you’re not being the best parent.”
Marti Erickson was born to teen parents in a small Iowa town. Her childhood’s emotional weather was regulated by the tempestuous moods of a father she calls charismatic, volatile, “and always on the edge of being inappropriate in a million ways.” He never discussed the mental illness that ran on his side of the family, yet, she recalls, “We keenly felt the impact of that suppression.”
Our childhoods are woven into the fabric of our parenting—a fact we should acknowledge and integrate rather than avoid, she says. She has now been married for more than 45 years to Ron, an architect, and has a grown son, Ryan, whose two children, plus Erin’s, make her a grandmother to five.
On the podcast, she occasionally refers to times when, as a young mother, she feared that her father’s anger would define her.
On a recent episode, she describes this fear as the idea that “I really am that hot-tempered, explosive person that my dad was.” Dr. Marti believes that “the intergenerational cycle of parenting” is crucial to examine. “As parents, we need to look back and move forward, reflecting on what we experienced, how it still affects us—especially when we’re under stress.” It’s ultimately up to us, she says, “to choose what we want to carry forward with our own children and what we want to leave behind.”
Dr. Marti and Dr. Erin clearly enjoy each other’s company. Their spirit of honesty and intimacy translates into emotional shorthand. While it’s not exactly telekinesis, it puts them on the same page in the studio. Particularly in the podcast’s early years, their rapport comes off as refreshingly unscripted and occasionally raw. These days, they’re more polished and plotted-out.
On a 2010 episode exploring how “mom time” can actually make life better for kids, the two discuss a classic parenting conundrum: how to fit “me time” into a never-ending to-do list.
Dr. Erin admits that laundry remains a personal albatross on her list. “Ultimately it comes down to having so much to do, and at the end of the day I’m not going to choose between preparing a healthy meal and laundry,” she laments.
There is a pause, and then Dr. Marti breaks in. “Can I come over sometime and give you a lesson on how to do both?”
While Dr. Erin is struck momentarily speechless—and she’s rarely speechless—her mother presses on with more gleeful ribbing.
“Here’s another question: Can I come over with a webcam, and can we shoot a little webcast of you and your dirty laundry at your house just so people can see what we’re talking about?”
“I’ll post a picture on the website of my laundry,” Dr. Erin deadpans, not missing a beat.
“Oh, let me take it,” Dr. Marti laughs. “That would give me great pleasure.”
When the Ericksons let listeners into their family lives, they’re not squeamish. They reveal their foibles with the kind of candor and self-deprecatory humor that you might hope to find in your seatmate at the next PTA meeting.
During “The Whole-Brain Child,” a 2013 episode featuring child psychiatrist and author Dan Siegel, Dr. Erin puts a face to Dr. Siegel’s research with anecdotes about her son McKinley. One of his favorite phrases at age 6, she explains, was “My brain made me do it.”
As a consequence for an unnamed transgression, he was not allowed to have a treat offered by a neighbor. This was a tough moment. “He told me, ‘My brain is telling me to reach over and grab one of those treats! But I’m not going to,’ ” she recalls.
Dr. Siegel suggests parents can help their child navigate this internal struggle by describing how the emotional, reactive “downstairs brain” negotiates with the rational “upstairs brain.” And in that understanding lies empowerment.
Dr. Erin and Dr. Marti are adamant about drawing on scientific research like Dr. Siegel’s as the backbone of each episode. Accessible, evidence-based parenting information is particularly crucial, they say, as research programs and science agencies fall under siege from significant federal budget cuts.
“Educating people about parenting is only useful when the information is solid,” Dr. Marti explains.
Although it’s easy to forget, theories on parenting still constantly evolve. This reminder surfaces on a “Mom Enough” episode with podcast guest Jennifer Senior, author of All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood.
“To ‘parent,’ as a verb, only entered common usage in 1970,” Senior says. “If you don’t know what you’re doing and feel like you’re at sea, you are not alone. We are still improvising and figuring out how to parent.”
In the 2016 comedy film Bad Moms, Mila Kunis’ beleaguered character Amy—ambitious, accomplished, gorgeous, and totally stressed out—tries very hard, between putting out fires at work and in her marriage, to be a really good mom. As in life, in Bad Moms, the middle path is hazy and ill-defined: There are the queen-bee perfectionists micromanaging the PTA, and then there are, well, the bad moms.
Hollywood hyperbole aside, between the extremes, most parents forge ahead with good intentions and occasionally, even frequently, fall short. We might have been raised to believe we were good enough kids, yet it seems harder and harder to know whether we are good enough parents. And when looking for help, the skills a parent needs to master are simply a few thousand mouse clicks away.
Week after week, the Ericksons never lose sight of this idea: Being a parent is a high-stakes, high-wire improv act that lasts 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And for this round-the-clock job, effective parenting strategies must be practiced every day. It’s tough, relentless, wonderful work—and like any tough job, sometimes you’re going to screw up. But a few screw-ups don’t mean you’re not still good at your job.
“We say, ‘How can you apply that 24/7?’ ” Dr. Marti asks.
“Because parenting is 24/7,” Dr. Erin chimes in. “And eventually,” she says with a grin, “You want to put yourself out of a job.”
Top 5 Episodes
The Chemistry of Calm and Joy:
A Conversation with Integrative Psychiatrist Henry Emmons
Coping with depression or anxiety? Try these holistic, mind-body strategies that draw on mindfulness, Ayurveda, and Buddhism to manage stress, build resilience, and experience well-being.
Teaching Our Children Civility in an Uncivil World:
A Conversation with Dr. Abigail Gewirtz of the U of M’s College of Education & Human Development
How can we help our children to be empathetic, respectful, and polite when society and social media are full of examples of adults behaving badly?
Healing Long-Term Effects of Adverse Childhood Experiences:
With Pediatrician and Author Nadine Burke Harris
Groundbreaking research shows that childhood trauma, abuse, and adversity can have long-term physical, as well as psychological, consequences. How can individuals and communities create systemic, preventative solutions to this public health problem?
Maintaining Strong Family Relationships in the Digital Age:
A Conversation with Author and Psychologist Dr. Catherine Steiner-Adair of Harvard Medical School
A study of 1,000 kids, ages 4-18, revealed widespread feelings of loneliness, sadness, and frustration at home. How can we create joyful, connective family experiences and relationships in a device-oriented world?
Could Your Child Manage Stress Better, Fall Asleep More Easily, and Deal With Bullies More Confidently by Tapping into the Power of Imagination?
UCLA professor and child educational psychologist Charlotte Reznick outlines nine playful, creative tools that kids can use to confront challenging situations.
Digital Extra: Are You Mom Enough?
Read this month’s feature on the Minneapolis-based mother-daughter duo combining scientifically backed parenting advice with snappy humor on podcast “Mom Enough,” then listen to their engaging shows online.