I first met Asha Dornfest in 2008, on camera, when we started shooting our web series, "Momversation," with a handful of bloggers who were also mothers. Months later, Asha and I would find ourselves in the same minivan—she, in the driver's seat and I, shotgun with the map, navigating our way from SFO airport to the Russian River wine country to spend the weekend at Maggie Mason’s “Broad Summit” retreat.
I was nervous and totally uncomfortable being alone in a car with someone I didn't know very well and expected Asha to feel the same. And maybe she did, but it didn't feel that way. She was warm and kind, open-minded and non-judgmental, like no one I had ever met, and I felt instantly at home, like I could tell her anything—everything—and she would understand.
Floodgates opened up for me, on that drive, and something in me changed.
I've told Asha this before but it bears repeating here as I introduce some of you to a woman who has always been for me a shining light in this space, a beacon of selfless support. Asha has had a profound effect on the woman I am today and I regularly think of her and our drive when I feel closed off, intimidated, small. That afternoon was pivotal for me as a woman relating to other women because of Asha and the power and magic of her WAY.
Anyway, Asha has a new book out (!!!). It's based on her popular website and I was honored to ask her some questions last week.
Rebecca Woolf: First off, CONGRATULATIONS on an epic book. Parent Hacks is one of the greatest parenting resources online and I'm THRILLED it's now available in book form! Can you tell us a little bit about where Parent Hacks (the website) came from and how it evolved into print?
Asha Dornfest: I started Parent Hacks 10 years ago as a way to answer the question that at the time was constantly rattling around in my head: DOES ANYONE ELSE KNOW WHAT THEY'RE DOING?? My kids were 6 and 2, and my experience as a new mom didn't resemble what I was reading in the book and magazines, nor did it look like what my friends were experiencing. I felt alone and unsure of myself, and I secretly wondered if I was a total failure of a mother. It's hard to remember a time before Facebook and widespread internet sharing, but there was no easy way to reach out for a reality check beyond your local community. So I started the blog as a way to do that. I invited parents to share the tips and tricks and clever hacks that got them to the end of the day. Within months, I was getting hundreds of emails from across the country. Some 10 years later, the blog has over 4000 posts and over 30,000 comments (and almost-daily new hacks via social media). It was a conversation people wanted to have, and it continues today, now mostly on Facebook (/parenthacks) and Instagram (@parenthacks) using the #parenthacks hashtag.
Rebecca: What are your three favorite hacks that appear in the new book?
Asha: Hard to choose! But here are three great ones, especially because the illustrations are so clever!
Hack #13: Turn a bookshelf into a hanging wardrobe by removing a shelf and replacing it with a spring-loaded curtain rod. So smart, and perfect for those of us who don't have closet space (which would be most of us).
Hack #34: Flatten the toilet paper roll to slow its rotation. When my kids were learning to use the bathroom, they ALWAYS unrolled the entire roll of TP onto the floor. They just couldn't control the spin. This is a little hack for solving that minor but annoying problem.
Hack #61: Press small clothes with a flat iron. You know little collars and ruffles on kids' clothes? They look like crap out of the dryer, but ironing them is a total fussy headache. A flat iron (for straightening hair) does a serviceable job more easily.
Rebecca: Let's talk about your childhood. Any hacks passed on from your parents or grandparents? Any hacks that didn't make the book that you wish did?
Asha: There are sooooo many hacks that didn't make the cut. Winnowing the "chosen" hacks was the hardest part of writing the book. Fortunately they're on the website, and I'm working to make those favorites easier to find. And there IS a grandparent hack in the book! Hack #51: Use a dry washcloth to keep shampoo out of kids' eyes while rinsing their hair in the bath. I picked that one up from my very clever mother-in-law!
Rebecca: You've been active online for over a decade. How has the space changed you as a mother? How has it shaped you as a creative?
Asha: A decade! Wow, when you say that it gives me pause, in a good way. The parenting space online has changed in SO many ways. First, and most obviously, the internet is now mainstream. It's such a seamless part of our lives that we don't think twice about consulting the web for information, advice or community. But when I started, it was considered "alternative." There was a huge divide between "internet friends" and in-person friends. (The abbreviation "IRL" didn't exist because the notion of an internet friendship was so very new and strange.)
Social media, and then mobile, have changed the way parents use the internet even more. It's with us constantly. Now that pretty much everyone in is online in one form or another, the line between in-person and internet friends has disappeared. This is a wonderful thing (easier to connect) and a difficult thing (we're overloaded with information, and sometimes the misleading images people present online, and we're vulnerable to comments that can hurt).
Finally, when I started, there was no commercial side of blogging, so community was really the only reason to do it. Blogs and media outlets bore no resemblance to each other. That's not the case any more, which I don't think is a bad thing necessarily; it's just that the space is now vast, and people join in for both business and community reasons.
Rebecca: What is the WORST unsolicited advice you've ever received and/or given?
Asha: Received: "Don't ever let your kids play outside unattended." I believe that a certain percentage of childhood needs to occur away of adult supervision. I also believe that kids respond powerfully to adult trust they've earned. They step up. It's a HUGE deal as a kid to be told, "You can handle this. You're ready."
Given: When I micromanaged my husband's parenting choices. I'd give him what I thought was advice, but really, I was trying to exert control over what I felt was my "domain," and I was passive-aggressively trying to get recognition for that. Ugh, hard to admit, but it's true. I like to think I've moved beyond this—I communicate much differently now, and he is also much better at giving me the acknowledgement I need (and I'm better at asking for it).
Rebecca: What is the BEST unsolicited advice you've ever received and/or given?
Asha: Received/given is the same. "You've got this. Trust yourself. You'll figure it out."
Rebecca: What are your go-to parenting resources for new and/or expecting moms?
I think local and regional blogs and Facebook groups are fabulous because they both provide an online space AND a local community tie. I'm thinking about Christine Koh's site Boston Mamas, Whitney Moss and Heather Flett's site 510 Families, the Portland site Urban Mamas and others like them across the country. Google "[your town's name] parenting blog" and see what comes up.
Also, podcasts! Podcasts are perfect for new moms because you can listen to them anywhere while doing other things. I co-host a weekly podcast with Christine Koh called Edit Your Life, about how to simplify and make room for the important stuff in life. Other great podcasts for parents: The Mom Hour, The Modern Dads podcast, Spawned, The Longest Shortest Time. There are so many more!
Rebecca: How did you get to be so wonderful? BECAUSE YOU ARE JUST SO WONDERFUL AND I LOVE YOU INFINITELY.
Asha: That is a supreme compliment, coming from you. If I don't control myself right now we will collapse into a sickening heap of gushing and PDA because you already know what I think of you as a writer and human. Honestly, Rebecca, aside from all of the book stuff and incredible conversations that have come out of the Parent Hacks blog, the greatest gift to me has been the friendship. I'm on a national book tour right now, and in city after city, I'm standing on the shoulders of women who are guiding and encouraging me and smoothing the path in front of me. It's seriously heart-stopping. The empowerment, the voices, the strength—none of us expected that when we started blogging. But I'm hearing that story over and over as I travel—not only from women, but from men who are sharing the real deal of fatherhood. We didn't know we (along with our communities) would become revolutionaries. But we have.