Good Kids: How To Raise Kids Who Feel Good About Themselves with Nora McInerny

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Good Kids: How To Raise Kids Who Feel Good About Themselves with Nora McInerny transcript


[00:42] I’m Nora McInerney and this is Good Kids: How Not to Raise a Butthead, a dingbat, jackhole, butthead. Did I say butthead? How not to raise just a dumbass, OK? I am a mom. I don’t say stepmom, but I’m a mom of four kids. We have a blended family. They have an age range of 15 years. So when this airs, I’m gonna have a toddler, I’m gonna have a grade-schooler, I’m gonna have a middle schooler. I’m gonna have a high-schooler. And this time next year I’m gonna have a college student. Wah. So now I have to go cry. 


[01:19] A good kid is a kid who cares about more than just themselves, which is really difficult to do because kids are selfish — I mean, people in general are selfish. But a good kid is a kid who can at least try to get outside of themselves. And obviously, that’s almost impossible to do when you are two years old, like my youngest child. And when I say ‘I love you,’ he says, no, you don’t. I don’t know what he really thinks about me. He’s not my biggest fan. 


[01:58] I want a kid who’s sensitive about their own place in the world, and the world around them, and the people that they encounter. And to me, a good kid is a kid who’s who’s really tender and open to all of those things. I don’t think there’s really such a thing as a bad kid. I think that it’s way more nurture than nature. And I think even when you’re at the community pool — which is really just, you know, a couple gallons of urine mixed in with some chlorine and water — it’s where we go, at least. And in a four-year-old comes up to your baby and goes, hey, and then shoves a tsunami of water in your baby’s face and laughs. That’s not a bad kid. That’s a kid who did something kinda dumb and kinda mean. But when you say, hey, buddy, he’s a baby. He doesn’t know how to play like that. That same kid will sit down and hold your baby’s hand and and get on his level. 


[03:06] I think that the older that kids get, the harder it is to recognize their complete, like, true vulnerability. Like kids are truly helpless. So you see a 17-year-old kid who looks like a 20-year-old kid. You see a 13-year-old kid just doing some dumb shit. You are seeing people who have literally no control over their lives. None. Whose entire worlds are dictated by the adults around them, and maybe the adults around them aren’t in a place to take care of a child. Maybe they never were. And when I think back about, you know, when I was a kid, I, of course, thought there were such thing as a good kid and a bad kid. And a good kid was a kid who listened, and did what they were told, and sat quietly in class. And a bad kid were the kids who did anything but that. And now I look through that mental Rolodex I have and I look at the kids who I thought of as bad kids, and I can see who they were.


[04:14] I can see how different their lives were from mine. My life was pretty good, pretty easy. I had two parents who had professional careers and we had pretty much enough money. And I never worried about what I would eat, or when, or if I would be able to go to the fancy basketball camp that I wanted to go to. I just had so much that I absolutely took for granted. And I can look at those kids now and see that they were kids whose lives were very different from mine. They were kids whose parents were sick. They were kids who were being raised in a very different way than I was. And I have so much more compassion for them because they weren’t the bad kids. They were the scared kids. They were the hurt kids. They were kids who needed something that they weren’t getting. And sometimes I was a bad kid, by the way. Sometimes I was a fucking asshole. I said asshole. My mom hates that word. I’ve been trying not to say it this whole time. I was such a jerk. I was a mean girl because I was not cool for a while. Like I was, I don’t know if you can, if you can guess what it’s like being six-feet tall in, uh, 8th grade. Not great. If you’re a dude, it’s very cool. If you’re a girl, it’s like, Jesus Christ, what’s wrong with her? Get her in a cage. 


[05:45] Kids are also, to me, just very — they have all the same impulses that adults have, right? Like, we can sense other people’s insecurities. We can sense, you know, sort of a power dynamic in a room. The thing about kids is they don’t care about other people’s feelings, so you can sniff out the weak kid and be like, well, I’m so sorry, but I have to destroy you because otherwise I’m gonna be the weak kid. I really can’t risk losing any more social points, so I’m going to make your life hell for the next year. And then I’m probably gonna get my braces off and I won’t need to fuck with you anymore because I will be cool.


[08:29] Sometimes I was the kid who got picked on and sat alone in the bathroom and imagined jumping out of the window onto the sidewalk below. And sometimes I was a kid who probably made a girl feel that exact same way. What I tell my kids — what I hope for my kids — is that they feel loved enough to extend kindness and love to other people without feeling like it’s going to cost them something. I want my kids to feel secure in who they are so that they never have to try to make somebody else feel less secure. I want them to try things and I want them to be not great at things. I don’t want them to feel like their value on Earth is determined by how well they can perform in a classroom and do well on a standardized test and get a certain grade. Or how far they can throw a ball or how attractive they are. 


[09:34] Which means that I’m also working against, you know, everything. Like everything in society, including my own impulses, which I do have a kid who I don’t think is going to be the athletic one. And I — and my fear is — oh god, but he’s a boy. So he has to be athletic, or like he’s gonna get made fun of. And like, why am I playing into that? Why am I letting my own insecurities about how he will fit into this world affect how he lives? Because the truth is, he does not give a rip. He doesn’t care. He doesn’t care. And I am completely projecting my own experiences in gym class onto this kid who right now is six years old. He is fine. He is fine. Going to gym class swing and swingin’ and missin’. And when I said do you want sign up to, you know, I just want to offer it. In fact, I don’t even enjoy sports myself, nor do I want to go and watch children play them. Why am I doing this? So much of parenting a child, really, when you peel it back, you are just trying to affirm who you are as an adult. It is guh-ross. 


[10:51] So more than anything, I want them to grow up to be who they are. And I want them to have the emotional capacity to explore that sense of self and to do it fearlessly in a way that is not based on what will make them popular, or what will make them cool in the short term. But what will make them feel good about who they are and their time on this Earth. So no pressure, children. 


[11:29] Part of parenting and trying to get your kids to be good kids is also undoing what you thought a good kid was when you were little. Because I was a performance-based child. So the minute I knew what a gold star was in kindergarten I was, like, ‘give me those. I want them all. I will earn them all. And guess what? Caislin or whatever — Kaylin, Kaylie, Casey — she’s not getting any gold stars. Because I’m gonna get ‘em all. I’m gonna get ‘em all.’ And then as soon as I figured out what a grade was, I was like, ‘I’d like the best one, please. You just tell me what to do.’ And I did that over and over and over again. And, you know, somehow that trickled down to my children. So, you know, when you have a seventh-grader bring their report card home and be, like, OK, I mean, you know, I got a B-plus. So, um, I’m sorry. You just think, oh god, a B-plus. That’s great! I mean, did you try? Did you do your best? Great. A B-plus is great. Who told you that you needed a 4.0? Did I tell you that, or was it just just everything about me? You didn’t even need to be told it. You just knew I would squeal with joy at a 4.0 at a suburban middle school. Come on. I actually paid one of our children to get a B this year, like, to get not a 4.0, by the way. I didn’t incentivize doing better, I incentivized doing worse.


[12:59] So our middle-schooler comes home and says, I can’t wear these shorts to school. Our shorts have to go below are our fingertips. Where on earth would you find shorts like that? First of all, it was like, well, I guess I’m going to have to get on Craigslist, find a time machine, go back to the ‘90s and get you some cargo shorts from Old Navy, circa 1997. Because where can you find shorts that long? It’s not possible. And her brother is in high school, reads the whole dress code, and he said, ‘this is really sexist. I mean, this only applies to girls. Why does it matter? Why does it matter if a seventh grader wears a tank top? Why does it matter if she shows her shoulders or her legs?’


[13:39] I was very, very impressed by that perception that he had because he took her very seriously. This same child, on her own, has scheduled a meeting with the vice-principal to talk about the dress code. She did not tell her father or myself that she was doing this. After her own coming out the next year, she helped to establish a GSA group. A gender and — I don’t know this — sexuality — GSA — Gender Student Alliance. I don’t know. GSA. It’s about gender. It’s for queer kids in her school. And she established that. And she invited the principal and the superintendent to come to a meeting. And to de-gender, the forms that the kids are asked to fill out for activities for which gender is not, I mean, not relevant. Like, does it matter what your gender is if you are playing violin? I don’t think so. I’ve never played the violin. But this kid, this kid has just had this immense personal growth and has used it to help other kids in her very — I mean her middle-school is very suburban, very much has probably had those same forms since the ‘70s or the ‘80s. And that’s one of my favorite things about her, is that she didn’t come and complain to her dad and I. She just figured out the people who had the power and went to them directly.


[15:24] I’m Norm McInerney, and this is Good Kids.


[15:30] Good Kids is produced and edited by Samantha Gattsek, our executive producer is Stephanie Wittels Wachs. Our music is by Dan Milad. Ad sales and distribution is by Westwood One. You can find more about us at, or on all the social platforms @LemonadaMedia, if you like what you heard, share the gospel with everyone you know and rate and review us on Apple, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever else you listen to podcasts. 


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