Redesign Every Damn Thing, with Frances Merrill

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Would you believe that Michael is an avid reader of Architectural Digest? Believe it. Today he and Pele speak with Frances Merrill, a revolutionary interior designer. They discuss Michael’s favorite textiles, how people now are spending their money with social activism in mind, and how Frances is talking to her kids about being a part of redesigning the world right now.


[00:31] Michael Bennett: Today, we have Frances Merrill. She’s the owner and designer of Reef Design. And I actually love her stuff. I came across her stuff in Architectural Digest. Yes, people, I love Architectural Digest. I digest that magazine quite often. But the colors that she we uses and the way that she is able to bring pattern to life in houses I had never seen before. And now we’re able to get her on the phone to ask her about her design patterns, how she got into design. What makes up design? And how do people, in these times, these trying times with everything that’s happening to be able to find a way to redesign their houses and fall in love with interior design?


[01:20] Pele Bennett: I have to talk about you, too, because when Michael showed me your Instagram, and I was looking at the work, and the first thing, like you said, was the colors. It wasn’t just your normal colors. It was so distinctive, something different, something unique. And also your prints. See, I have to highlight you some more because you didn’t say at all. I love the prints. They’re just fun and something different. I think so within it was so different. And Michael knows I love offset colors. And it all drew into me. And I was like, oh, yes, yes, yes, you need to work with her. 


[01:59] Frances Merrill: Oh, thank you. I mean, for us, we just want to work with people that are interested and willing to take risks. I think people are so used to seeing one thing and it’s kind of scary and you don’t know if you can visualize it. And, you know, what will other people think? And I was telling someone recently that maybe one of the positive offshoots of everyone being at home is that people will just decorate their houses for themselves, since they’re not having anybody come over anyway. And then they like won’t be afraid and they’ll just like do the crazy stuff they love, which would be great, I think, because everyone doesn’t like the same thing. So, like, why do so many houses look the same?


[02:37] Michael Bennett: Do you think that people are forced to — do you think because of Instagram, people are kind of forced to be trendy like that? Is it even in their own mind? 


[02:57] Frances Merrill: Yeah, you know, I think it’s both. I try to be careful about not seeming judge-y. Because like, there are some people who don’t really care. They just want their house to look nice. They want it to be easy to clean up and look pretty enough when their kids’ friends’ parents pick them up from a playdate. But then there’s some people who, like, really care and get into it. And I feel like it’s like that with everything. Like, there’s some people who will, like, eat the same food every day, but they, like, really love music, and would never imagine someone like making their own playlist for them. Or there are some people who they’re thing is like gardening, but they don’t really care about another thing. So like, fine, if your house isn’t your thing, great. But if it is like you should make it somewhere you really love that feels special. And I think some of that is actually just like kind of going slow and being able to really kind of listen to yourself and what you react to and what you like. And the other part of it that’s like the boring part of interior design is the function part. Where it’s like I don’t like to design really minimal houses for families because I don’t think parents should have to put every single thing away at the end of the day to make their house look right. Like, that’s not relaxing. So there’s that aspect of it also. 


[04:15] Pele Bennett: I like that because you think about with kids, we have three kids, and sometimes it does get like they like, okay, clean up the stuff away. But then also it kind of takes away from the experience of, yes, someone lives in this home. And I think that’s a beautiful side of it. And so, like, you have spaces that I had an aunt that it was all white and she’s like, OK, no one’s allowed in this room. Not one foot could go in that room. And I was like, oh, it’s such a sacred area. It’s clean. I thought it was neat as a young kid. But then growing up and having kids and having my own space and like, I actually I want them to be able to — I’m not going to lie — sometimes jump on the couch, throw a pillow on the floor, put their stuff around because it’s been lived in. And I feel like it also being in a home and using it in that way, it leaves those lasting impressions as you just get older and you remember those things. 


[05:08] Michael Bennett: I’m not going to lie, I don’t want nobody jumping on my couch, especially not my kids with their feet. My whole goal is if my kids jump on my couch, when I get older, I’m a jump all over their couch and just make a mess. Their husband is going to be so mad at me because they’ll be like, why your daddy come over every time and dirty up our house? I’ll just be like, it’s revenge!


[05:38] Pele Bennett: OK. But you are putting the couch before the child. 


[05:45] Frances Merrill: Well, even in a design — so like, say you’re not jumping on the couch. You don’t want to design a house that only looks good one way. You want to design a house where then you guys go to New Zealand and find an artist you like, that you can buy that and add it and it looks good. And it’s not like, oh, sorry, our house is done. We can’t bring things back when we travel anymore. That sucks. You want to just always be adding and have it really be — I mean, I think one of the things that we really, really try in our design is to be like super personal. It’s why we’re always asking tons of questions like where do you love to travel? Is there a place you loved when you were a kid? Like, you know, what books are you reading? And then like the functional things like do you need a good light to read in bed? Or do you read on your phone? Like, where do you put your stuff down when you come in the door? And sort of all those things together to make a place that just feels good to you. 


[06:36] Pele Bennett: So I think Frances just sided with me. 


[06:44] Frances Merrill: I will say this is just like a tiny practical thing. And I’m pretty sure at least one of the sofas that we’ve gotten for you guys, don’t buy things that the pillows come off, then your kids can jump on it and it doesn’t look messy and you don’t have to pick them back up, and it’s still comfortable. But you’re not just always sort of being like, oh, don’t do that. Ooh, careful.


[07:02] Michael Bennett: Because we jumped in and we got right to it, creativity, inspiration. You studied creative writing before you changed your course to work in textile design. Like what really made you make that leap. Because it sounds like if you do creative writing, it sounds like that doesn’t sound like interior design. Maybe they’re connected in some type of way.


[07:28] Frances Merrill: I think they are. And for me, they are. I read so much as a kid, like I read everything, and I loved it. But I think it really opened my eyes to just sort of picturing different places and different people and where they were and what it looked like. And I think the type of design we try to do is that sort of like visual storytelling. So I studied writing and I loved, you know, making up stories and thinking about things that way. But as I was getting older, I really realized that I loved — I would teach myself to, like, sew a skirt and then I’d be done, and I’d think, well, I just followed a pattern. Like the real artist here is whoever came up with this fabric. Like, that’s what’s most interesting. So then I started studying that, and I grew up in New York and I always thought I would live there. But when I finished school, and so many people I knew were so excited to move to where I was from, I kind of was like, I want to go somewhere where I don’t know anyone and I’ve never been and I can have that fresh experience. And my mom’s from California, but not L.A. and I had never been to L.A. and I was like, oh, maybe I should be like a costume designer or a set designer or something like that. And that’s what got me out here. And then it slowly just kind of turned into interior design. And in retrospect, looking back, I loved to move the furniture around with my mom, like, all those sort of cliche things. I loved my dollhouse.


[08:55] Michael Bennett: Textiles. Could you explain to people textile design? Because a lot of people don’t even know what textiles are. 


[09:03] Frances Merrill: Right. So it’s fabric. And there are a lot of different kinds. I went to this one school for textile design and I don’t know why I’m still intrigued by this — and part of it is just being curious about things. But like, one of the things we had to do that has literally never come in handy for anything in my life, but was still interesting, was we had to burn little pieces of fabric and smell them to try and figure out what they were. And so it was like, cool. This is fun. Weird, but all right. And so it is like knowing about different natural fibers or the different dyes that go into things to be able to get different types of colors. And then whether things are woven or knit. And then there’s also the whole world of antique textiles, which are so cool and are really art. And, you know, we’ve talked about this before, but from all different places, you can get such a sense of the culture by these things that were created that are so beautiful. 


[10:03] Michael Bennett: Pele loves textiles. I never really had an introduction to textiles growing up. I mean, you know, we had blankets. I think Pele kind of elevated my palate to a little bit. 


[10:26] Pele Bennett: Oh, say that again! 


[10:28] Michael Bennett: She elevated my palate. I think Morocco was a really inspirational textile place for both of us. 


[10:43] Pele Bennett: If we’re talking about countries, then yes. But I will say textiles to me is also like a part of my culture. So we think about like, you know, my Samoan side, or my East Indian side. I think about fabrics that we used in our costumes growing up, and saris that my grandmother wore. And all these different things that always had so much color and print, I think that really made an impact on me growing up. I love I can go real bold, but then I also you know, sometimes just like solids. But looking at colors and fabrics and design and prints, I love that. And that’s why I think you do such a great job, Frances. You go into where it was made. How does a color get to this, how they make the dye. Knowing the history of it is really neat as well. 


[11:44] Frances Merrill: And it’s joyful. Like those patterns and colors, they’re happy making. 


[11:55] Pele Bennett: And then you think about when some people will talk to friends and family, they’re like why are you working with a designer? You can go make your own house. And I have to say, it is such a different experience to work with someone who has that craft and skill and art of it. Because you can say, oh, I can kind of put something together. But I think bringing someone that is skillful in that area, it is a huge difference. A huge difference. 


[12:18] Frances Merrill: Well, and one of the things that I like is that I’m just exposed to, like, a lot of interesting makers just because of what I do. So there are people that are kind of hard to find but that are doing cool stuff. And I think that’s one of the things that’s just sort of overwhelming if you’re working by yourself. 


[16:13] Michael Bennett: And what are some like a couple of small things they could do with their textiles to switch it up in the house that doesn’t cost a lot of money? Because people are going to be like, “yeah, Michael and Pele, it’s a lot easier to have an interior designer when you play in the NFL.” 


[16:30] Frances Merrill: Well, I mean, to be honest, I’ve really been thinking about this so much over the last few months, because it doesn’t always sit that well to be like cool, my job is really only for people with a certain level of income, and I would love to be able to make that different. And so I have been trying to think, like, there are always magazines that have like this quick tip and that quick tip. And those are fine, and a lot of them are really useful. And like, if I could tell you one thing, it’s like buy a bigger rug, get a nice rug pad, the things that make you just feel better. But like, I think some of it is thinking like, what do I really like? Like, look around, what’s your favorite TV show? What’s the favorite, like, cover of a book? Like maybe there’s a color that you just never realized you loved and you should try painting your room that. Honestly, like I used to do this when I was young, like by a few yards of fabric and put them over your sofa or hang them on the wall. Just to kind of get the things that you like around you that make you feel good. And I know I’ve said this to you guys before, but like, my favorite clients are the ones who come to me with things they love. Whether it’s something that belonged to someone’s great aunt, that they’re like this is really ugly, but it makes me think of her. And I’m like, great, then we’re putting it up. You should have the things you love. Like, that’s way more important than having a nice house.

[17:53] Frances Merrill: So in terms of things that you can do at home, I think it’s spending a little time really sitting down and thinking, being honest with yourself, of what makes you happy and what are the things — like for me, I know I love flowers, and I know I love cooking for my family. So like, those are the things that make me feel like it’s a house. So like cutting something from outside and making food for people. Neither of them are particularly design related, but they make it feel like a home.


[18:22] Michael Bennett: What’s funny is that we spend so much time at work, and out and about, sometimes we don’t even think about our house, because we really don’t spend a lot of time here. Most of the time probably people spend in their house is in a TV room, in the kitchen and into the bedroom. So people don’t really, like, get into their houses, I guess, because we don’t really have that type of time. I guess when you now when I go into my library or my place to read a book. I have to find time to really be at home. Now that everybody is home because it is COVID-19, people probably want to do more design now. 


[19:03] Frances Merrill: It’s totally true. One thing I learned is I love my house. I love being there, but I might have put more doors on rooms. It gets pretty loud with two kids having school, two people working. I’m like, oh, that open-plan. I think with all of that is — and I think this is true for all creative people — you’re just always cycling through in the back of your mind like, oh, what works? What doesn’t? Especially when we’re working on a design for a new project, we throw so much stuff at it. Like, try this fabric. Try this color. Look at this image. And there’s always one moment when something just kind of comes into focus and you’re like, OK, yep, that’s it. Like we can build off that. And even sometimes that thing doesn’t end in the finished project, but it’s kind of the hook that got you in. And I think that’s something that most creatives find in their work. Like, there’s just a moment it comes together, but it’s pretty hard to manufacture that. 


[20:08] Pele Bennett: I was just going to ask you that. You’re most creative randomly when you just have that aha moment, or is there something specific that you do that gets you in the zone? 


[20:18] Frances Merrill: I’ve noticed I’m kind of like that procrastinator that has to wander around — this is probably why I’m not as good at working from home because I’m like, I’ll do the dishes. I’ll do some laundry. Where if I’m at my office, at least my version of doing the dishes is like I’m going to organize these tiles and then I’ll be like, ooh, look at this. You know, for me I am creative, but I’m also pretty practical, and I like that part. And so one of the things about interior design that’s nice is if you’re not feeling creative, you can be like, OK, well, at least I can, like, start to build this floor plan, or start to call in these samples, or start to think about how this might work and sort of do that more structured part of it while you’re kind of waiting for the creative part. And I feel like so much of the time I’m working in the back of my brain when I don’t know I am. And then finally, you’re like, OK, it’s time. Like, we’ve collected everything we’ve called all our samples in, we’ve looked through all our books, we’ve done all this like, let’s see where we are with everything. And, you know, you can’t really force it. But also like people want to move into their houses, so you can’t just not do it.


[21:30] Pele Bennett: You have to start somewhere. Move it along.


[21:34] Michael Bennett: I literally look at so much stuff about interior design. I have so many magazines. I just, I just like it. I think it is pretty cool to be able to look into a room and look at the room as being a piece of art. Or look at the room as being a personification of who you are. Sometimes we look at design and we want to personify how Kylie Jenner or somebody else’s house looks to make it us kind of. But I think you could take, like, elements of what you like from something and be able to create something new around it. But I think design to me just feels so free.


[22:28] Frances Merrill: Yeah, I agree. I mean, my favorite things to look at too are when it’s like some kind of odd, quirky person who’s lived in some house, or maybe, you know, a tiny apartment in New York and they’ve just like been there forever and figured it out. And you want to know more about this person. Like, I definitely want to go eat dinner there. And then it’s also fun to see, like, the crazy houses where someone built, like, some giant modern thing on the top of a mountain. Like, honestly, I like looking at the paint color in my eye doctor’s waiting room. And I mean, like this is a cool color, like what’s happening here. And just kind of imagining and thinking about the way people live. And I don’t know. It’s interesting to me.


[23:10] Pele Bennett: For me and Michael, I think we’ve come a long way. Bringing two people and bringing their styles in and, you know, they’re still evolving as people in general, so there’s changing. And I think that’s something that I have learned working with Michael on this last project now is that we might not agree on one thing, but at the end of the day, I don’t want to live in a house where I chose everything. He chose everything. You know, if I don’t like a curtain, it’s fine. But he loves the curtain. I think I’ve learned that within this last doing this last project with you also because, you know, doing so many things. I feel like, Michael, your color palette has changed in general. I notice we’re starting to like more things that are similar, which I feel that we weren’t like that before.


[24:03] Frances Merrill: Oh, I feel like you guys are great like that. I mean, there may be some things you totally agree on, but you would be surprised how many people where I’m like, oh, how is this going to go? Like, they don’t like any of the same things. But that’s also like a good challenge. One of my first projects was this young couple who had bought a super modern house and all their references were really kind of like old, ornate houses. And I was like, this is not what you bought. Like, how can we kind of take this and give a version of it that works in this house? And that’s the kind of problem solving that makes me excited. 


[24:43] Michael Bennett: But what would you say, like design wise that you find in New York and L.A.? Because I mean, personally, I like New York design better. I feel like it has like a more like eclectic feel. It doesn’t feel so pushed. It just feels like it’s more free. I don’t know if I feel that way about L.A. I feel like everything’s kind of similar in a sense. 


[25:24] Frances Merrill: Well, one of the issues with that is — and that’s a whole separate conversation — is like the celebrity culture. And to these magazines who are putting the images out, it’s pretty hard for them to stay afloat right now. And they’re doing what they can. And a lot of that is publishing celebrities’ houses and in L.A., you’re going to get a lot of the same thing. I think there actually are great places in L.A., they’re just maybe not being photographed. One thing I will say for Los Angeles’ creativity in general, and maybe this would be anyone going from somewhere that they grew up to somewhere they didn’t grow up. There’s something about L.A. where you can just make up whatever you want. Like, there are not so many rules, maybe. And maybe that’s because of the film industry where people are like, today, we’re going to build a set of ancient Egypt. But tomorrow it’s going to be Manhattan, like you sort of do anything. And so as a designer in L.A., I can be simultaneously working on a streamlined modern house, on an old Spanish, on a modern loft, on a mid-century modern. So that, I think is really nice. But I’ve also gotten lucky where I kind of tend to attract people who have weird or quirkier old houses because there are a lot that are not that appealing in L.A., for sure. New York has so many — well, L.A. has great, weird, quirky vendors, too. I mean. I don’t know. That’s hard for me.


[27:00] Michael Bennett: You were very political. Like you didn’t want to upset your L.A. clients, you didn’t want to upset your New York clients. We’re gonna choose a side here. 


[27:12] Pele Bennett: That makes sense to what you said about, you know, celebrities pushing the trends and how, you know, what is put out there. 


[27:22] Frances Merrill: I mean, I honestly, I want to, like, find some sort of publication and I don’t even know how it work. Like, I just think about how many amazing places there are that aren’t being photographed because there isn’t someone with a name attached to them that are probably like so cool and weird. I mean that and places that are in New York or L.A., like just in different parts of the country where there are just interesting buildings. 


[27:46] Michael Bennett: What about like in the world of design, I like Scandinavian and Japanese architecture. The clean lines, the simplicity of it. But still, there’s like this art to it that makes it really elevated. I love Morocco, too. I think Morocco has that old charm that makes you feel like you’re in the past and the colors are just so warm that you feel like you can wear anything and it just feels so rich there.


[28:27] Frances Merrill: I agree. And then also like Morocco, so much of why the architecture is like that is because of the surroundings. Like those big thick walls and being sort of like enclosed but outside in those courtyards to be away from the sun. Like there’s that part of it. But yeah, I mean, Morocco is incredible. And I think it’s funny in both Japan and Scandinavia have this thing where at the surface level you don’t see maybe a lot of color. You see just like the beautiful clean lines and details. But when you scratch deep, there’s amazing textiles and warmth of finishes and really beautiful things. I mean, I think that’s another thing that we haven’t really talked about, but buying things that are vintage or have stood the test of time are things that are actually going to look better and feel good because they’ve been used. 


[29:19] Pele Bennett: And the earthiness of those places, the homes. I love bringing the outside elements inside.


[29:29] Frances Merrill: I think British interior design has a sense of humor that I like. I mean, we often say that we have to hit like elegant and beautiful and functional first in our design, but if it can also then kind of have a sense of humor, be playful without giving up elegance, I think that’s what is also really successful. 


[29:50] Pele Bennett: And I like how you use the words when you describe stuff: quirky, weird, funky. But I honestly love that. With the kids, I tell them it’s OK to be weird. Like, those words don’t mean something negative. You know, I feel like when I hear those words, especially how you’re using it, is that it’s daring. It’s like being fearless and being daring and trying something different and new. And like you said, you try and you like this color didn’t work, go and change it. But I think that’s how we start exploring ourselves. What do we like? We don’t know because we’re so used to one way. And until you really experience and try it, I think that you’ll learn so much about yourself.


[30:31] Frances Merrill: Yeah. And I think good design — there’s a combination of like really do your homework. Prepare. Test those colors. Get the swatches. Look at everything together. But that will only get you so far. There then has to be a leap of faith. Or you’re just going to end up with something boring. So it’s not just like, oh, go buy a bright blue paint and paint it everywhere. No, think about it. Look at what you like. Look at the different colors. Try a little bit. But then you also are like, OK, I’m going for it. 


[33:24] Michael Bennett: What have you seen in the business of interior design that needs to be improved to like maybe give him more people of color opportunities inside of interior design?


[34:00] Frances Merrill: I mean, I think when you look at what’s happening across the country and the world, like it’s only going to be positive in terms of being able to see why when we see a house in Morocco is it only like a white American ladies that bought a house there. Like surely, there’s an amazing Moroccan-owned house. And the same for all over. So that that could be really interesting. Look, I’m not going to say anything new here, but it’s exposure, right? I think that’s the answer to a lot of things across the board, because there are beautiful things being made all over the world and it’s about seeing them. And by looking to see who am I getting this from? Am I getting this from someone who made it? Or am I getting this from someone who, like, went on vacation there for a little while and like, started making it themselves? Because that’s not right. What I hope will come out of the current movement in terms of Black Lives Matter and also with Covid and people being at home, is people really thinking about where they spend their money. And not in terms of how much they spend. Like, I’m not saying like everyone should become a monk. Like people who have money and want nice things are still going to have them. But like, pay attention to who you’re supporting with money.


[35:21] Pele Bennett: Amen. Preach, preach.

[35:23] Frances Merrill: So that’s my diatribe on that. And it’s hard. You have to look into it. It’s not easy, you know. For example, I decided a few months ago, like, I’m not buying books on Amazon anymore. I know I’m gonna end up buying something from them, but it’s not gonna be books. Well, then it turns out half the used book websites I was buying from, I suddenly thought I should Google who owns this website. Oh, Amazon. So you have to do the research. 


[35:51] Michael Bennett: Me and Pele were talking about how when you really do the research, you start to realize that everything is kind of connected. There is like a lot of different designers who who, like you said, with these publications and things, maybe people will start to highlight them, you know, maybe giving them the opportunity to show what they’re doing with their textiles, to show what they’re doing with their design. These publications only show so much that people just assume these are the only people doing design. 


[36:37] Frances Merrill: Right. And you end up seeing the same thing. I mean, seeing the same thing over and over again is boring. So I hope that we’ll really be able to see — I mean, it’s hard, right? Because there’s sort of this line and we’re always trying to figure out where to go. But I also don’t want to sort of just blindly collect things. Because that’s not necessarily any better. I don’t know. I don’t have the answers.


[37:05] Pele Bennett: And I was thinking when you start looking at pieces, sometimes it’s, oh, there’s a charity or you’re donating when you purchase. But that’s like our own homework to look and see, you know, like people are skilled, like there’s so many artists in an artistic craftsman that are doing amazing work, and when we want to purchase something it’s because we genuinely love the art piece and we love their work. Not because it’s a guilt trip. You feel bad. You’re trying to help them in a certain way. 


[37:51] Frances Merrill: And I think, you know, part of what my job as a designer is, is to show people why something might be more expensive. Like, it’s going back to what I was saying, if you don’t care about design, get your stuff here. If you don’t care about this, do that. You can go to Restoration Hardware and buy all this stuff and it might not look that different. But if you have the resources, you should buy a sofa that’s made in an ecologically sound way, made where people are paid fairly. Like, I don’t want to judge the people that don’t have the income and just need to fill their house. And I don’t want them to feel like I’m not able to buy beautiful things because I can’t afford them. But if you can afford them, you should buy the things that are putting something better into the world. 


[38:38] Michael Bennett: I actually like the idea of vintage. Something is being reused. We make more stuff in the world and then to have to destroy and get rid of. Somebody had this couch in 1977, it was a very nice piece and it’s still a nice piece today. 


[39:19] Frances Merrill: Things were made so well.And you can always reupholster things or refinish things. And I think then you also end up with something that’s got its own kind of story to it and no one else has it.

[39:35] Pele Bennett: Yeah. It’s creating your story within your home. Within your things. 


[39:39] Frances Merrill: Yeah. I mean, I love that. And I think, you know, but there’s some sort of power in the things that have already been around. Like they give off some kind of aura sometimes. 


[39:50] Pele Bennett: No, I love that. Yeah. No, I think that’s true. And like you said, like bringing pieces that, you know, are part of your family or have been passed down, like implementing those things. Because now it’s like you’re bringing from the past, but then also you’re creating your own through custom and so you’re starting a whole new piece for whoever is coming next. 


[40:07] Frances Merrill: Yeah. I mean, I have a client who had a desk from her dad. She’s a writer. He was a writer. He had passed away. And we designed her office around this desk. And like, all of a sudden six months in, she’s like, you know, if the desk doesn’t work, like, we’ll just get something else. And I was like, no, I will be a failure. Like, I would feel like a bad person if I was like sorry, you’re gonna have to get rid of that desk. And it looks beautiful. I mean, here is the other thing. It stretches you as a designer to make things that don’t — it’s certainly easy to be like I’m going to pick a desk and paint color and a lamp and all of this out of nowhere that looks good. Or here is the saying that isn’t really this woman’s taste, but it means something to her. How can we create something around that? That’s beautiful. And it’s way better.


[40:57] Pele Bennett: I like that.


[40:58] Michael Bennett: You’re the mother of two kids, how have your parenting strategies kind of changed from the first of the pandemic and to now, with the moving around black lives in the moment around inclusively in America right now. At first it was having your kid talking about the safety of the world because of a disease and how you had to be cautious. But now to talk to them about the importance of other people’s lives and their stories. As a parent, how do you capture that and how do you communicate that with your child?


[41:35] Frances Merrill: That’s interesting. We all stay at home because that’s kind of what the government and doctors told us to do. And now not everyone, but a lot of us, are leaving home and going in big groups and saying, like, well, I stay home if I have trust in the government, and that’s what they want me to do. But if that trust is broken and there are things that are more important, then that’s when you go. 


[41:58] Michael Bennett: You’re talking about the importance of showing that their life has value. It’s one of those conversations where as a kid, you have to constantly remind them that they have a value. You have to constantly remind them that they matter. As a parent, the constant fight to not get overwhelmed by reminding your kids that they have value. I feel like sometimes parents of color can get tired of, like, the reminders and the plight to constantly have that conversation over time. It’s enlightening because you don’t know how your kids are taken in the world like you assumed the way that you take it in and they take it in the same way. But your kids have different experiences and you have those conversations with them. And sometimes their insight is so good. 


[43:17] Pele Bennett: I also it’s where they get their information, you know, like what are their sources. I always say, you know, our oldest is 13 and we have the conversations with her all the time. But before I start the conversation, I want to know, what do you already know? You know, and then why do you think that? Before I just throw it on you and you’re like, what? Like, I don’t get it. You know, like our nine year old, sometimes she’ll ask a question and I’ll answer, and then she asks me the same question. I’m like, what? I’m like, I just answered it to you. But it’s how they’re, you know, what they perceive also what they’re seeing, what they’re hearing. And that is kind of interesting when you hear where the source is, sometimes it’s from a friend or, you know, something that they took in, but they just twisted it all up and they’re like, but that’s not what it is. And I’m like no. And so it’s like that part of repeatedly going in. OK, let’s break this down, because I do want to make sure that they understand, you know, by the time I walk away from that conversation so they’re not left with something that is just wrong. 


[44:16] Frances Merrill: I feel like starting with what do you already know, I haven’t done. I mean, for me as a white mom, it creates so much more empathy when I realize that I’m having these conversations with my kids and how much harder they are for people of color. And like the fact that I’m explaining to my son that the police aren’t good or what the situation is. And I’m like, I’m so lucky that I didn’t have to have this conversation earlier. 


[44:44] Michael Bennett: Yeah, it’s like when you’re showing your kids Star Wars and Harry Potter, we have to show Boyz in the Hood or 12 Years a Slave. 


[44:52] Pele Bennett: Yeah, right. Because you got to find something with kids for them to relate to. Because then that’s why I’m saying it is just information or words. It’s going in one ear and out the other. So it is important how your kid learns and how they understand things. Implement those things and then, you know, continue with the dialog. For our middle child, I keep going back and having to reframe, reframe until she’s like, oh, that’s what you mean. And sometimes you do have to use something visually that they already know. 


[45:24] Michael Bennett: We want to thank you so much for having this conversation with us today. I think it was an outstanding conversation because I was able to talk about something we’re both very passionate about. 


[45:36] Frances Merrill: Well, I enjoyed talking to you guys. It’s always fun. 


[45:51] Michael Bennett: Please subscribe to us or like us on anything that you’re listening to. Apple, Stitcher, Spotify, whatever you’re listening to get away from your family, whoever you don’t want to be around. And make sure you rate us or give us a comment. Even though we don’t give a fuck about your comments, give us a comment. Mouthpeace is a production of Lemonada Media, which you can find online on all social platforms @LemonadaMedia. You can follow me on social media, @MosesBread72. I love bread, and biblically, I always thought I was Moses.


[46:21] Pele Bennett: And you can follow me on Instagram at @pelepels. Mouthpeace with Michael and Pele Bennet is executive produced by us, the Bennets. Mouthpeace is also executive produced by Stephanie Wittels Wachs and Jessica Cordova Kramer. And of course, the whole team at Lemonada Media. Our producer is Genevieve Garrity and our show is edited by Brian Castillo. Thank you to our ad sales and distribution partners at Westwood One, and to all of our sponsors for making this show possible. Thank you for listening.


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