Terry Gross on not having kids and a civil chat on parenting

Back in grad school, I had an opportunity to interview Terry Gross, the host of NPR’s Fresh Air radio show on WHYY.

She finally agreed to an interview for the school paper after I stalked her for a couple of weeks and eventually told her in a voicemail of how Fresh Air has impacted me as an immigrant.

Terry Gross has been kind of an icon since I came to the U.S. and couldn’t even understand much of her show yet. It’s through Fresh Air that I caught a first glimpse of the vast American culture and society that extended beyond my immediate present of Target sales, daytime TV commercials, deserted suburban streets. Her ability to respectfully unravel her guests’ personal stories to inform their craft – was striking.

During our interview that day, I asked a good number of ridiculous questions, including whether Terry Gross ever envies the exhilarating types she interviews – artists, celebrities, political leaders, and wishes she could have their life, even for a bit.

Awkward.

Terry Gross handled that one with grace. “Um, no,” she said. “It’s not like I’m sitting there, wishing.” As an interview guru, she understood the curiosity about the personal behind the professional.

Fast forward a few years – and Terry Gross appeared on a parenting podcast I often listen to, The Longest Shortest Time, speaking about her own very private life.

The host deployed some of Terry Gross’s own tactics and probed if she regrets not becoming a mother.

To Terry Gross, being childless was a conscious decision. To make a point, she cited a recurring nightmare about a forgotten baby she’s locked up in a cupboard somewhere and forgot to feed for days.

Then Terry Gross turned the tables and did her thing. Do you regret being a mother? she asked the host.

And then she and the host, Hillary Frank, got into a pretty candid chat about both the pros and the cons of parenting, while on thin ice of a parenting show.

Do you like your life? Do you fear not having anyone take care of you in old age, even if you’ve generated offspring for this specific purpose? Can you succeed professionally and be a mom you feel your kid deserves? Did any of your friendships fizzle out after a baby came into the picture? What’s your legacy? Hell, can you even keep a plant alive when committed to a job? (Terry Gross couldn’t).

These are questions all parents and non-parents grapple with in one way or another – I certainly do – and answers don’t come easy.

But it’s refreshing to hear an earnest, snarl-free discussion about choosing to have or not have kids at a time when everyone, including parents themselves, are deeply divided, thanks in part to our nation’s economic policies and social values. Oh, and also thanks to people like Meghann Foye and her proposal of a of me-ternity leave kind of like a new mom’s maternity vacation (and equally-unforgiving responses.)

Give the episode a listen, here.

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