Jen Lumanian contacted our founder, Lisa Tener when she needed help with the book proposal based on her popular evidence-based parenting podcast Your Parenting Mojo. The resulting book, Parenting Beyond Power, was published by Sasquatch and is on sale now. Here, Jen shares her book writing and publishing journey with Claire Nakamura.
Creating Community Via Podcast and Membership
Claire: You have a successful parenting podcast called Your Parenting Mojo. What are some tips you have for recording and promoting a podcast?
Jen: Just get started! I had no idea where I was going when I launched the podcast. I had a short-lived blog where I would write about parenting, hiking, and making stuff. People kept telling me I should write a blog, so I did. I traveled to Reggio Emilia, Italy, to learn about the approach to early childhood education that originated in that town and wrote a 10,000-word blog post about it when I returned. It didn’t take me long to realize that nobody wanted to read 10,000 words on that topic…but quite a few people would listen to me talking about it for 40 minutes.
After I’d had the podcast for a year, I surveyed my listeners and said: “I’m telling you everything I’m learning about parenting and child development on the show; what are you still struggling with?” and it was the same stuff every parent struggles with toilet learning, getting out the house in the morning, children refusing to eat vegetables. It turned out there was a big difference between hearing something on a podcast once and being able to put it into practice in their daily lives.
I launched my Parenting Membership to give parents the support they were looking for to be with their children in a way aligned with their values, which is also where I developed the ideas for the book. I also met my editor when she took a course I offered (along with Hannah & Kelty of Upbringing)—they knew her already and made the introduction. When I contacted her, she replied 30 minutes later: “Your coaching changed my life, and yes, I want to publish your book!”
Collaborative Writing: Gathering Community Stories & Feedback From Fans
Claire: Parenting Beyond Power contains multiple stories from your podcast subscribers and members of your courses, many of whom have had a hand in different aspects of your book, such as reading drafts or making suggestions for explaining things. How has this collaboration with your audience shaped your writing and publishing experience? Do you have any advice for other authors who want to make writing more collaborative?
Jen: It was essential to me to include stories from people who have been using the approaches I describe and who are seeing success with them—by which I mean that family life feels easier and more aligned with the parent’s values. I work with many parents who yell at their kids when frustrated and wish they didn’t but don’t know how to make it stop. Readers don’t want to hear me saying: “If you follow this approach, then you’ll yell at your kids less;” it’s much more impactful to hear from people who can say: “I used to yell at my kids, and since I’ve been using Jen’s approach I don’t yell at my kids nearly as much, because all of our needs are met a lot more of the time.”
Writing an Interdisciplinary Parenting Book
Claire: Parenting Beyond Power represents an uncommon intersection of disciplines, bringing together ideas on politics, parenting, and psychology. What advice do you have for writing cohesively about interdisciplinary topics?
Jen: It is an uncommon approach that doesn’t resonate with everyone. An early reviewer said, “It’s two books stuck together.” All books about parenting are ultimately about what we want the world to be like, but most authors in the parenting space don’t acknowledge this, so the opening feels odd to some readers. But to me, it’s critical context: if the reader and I have different views on what the world should be like, my parenting approach won’t ‘work’ for them.
Suppose a reader thinks that White supremacy, patriarchy, and capitalism are fundamentally correct and good forces in the world. In that case, a different approach to parenting will feel better to them than the one I describe. But suppose a reader has centrist to liberal politics and knows they want to be with their children in a way that resonates with their values of care and respect for others and also feels good for them, the parent. In that case, Parenting Beyond Power will feel like coming ‘home.’
Finding the Perfect Book Title
Claire: Jen, Lisa mentioned that finding a title was a challenge. Which other titles did you consider, and what challenges did you find with each of them? How did you land upon the current title and subtitle?
Jen: Yeah, it turns out that conveying “White supremacy, patriarchy, and capitalism” plus “Makes parenting easier” in a way that says “approachable!” and “useful; not a manifesto” in 15 words or fewer that are catchy, ownable, and not already taken is… hard. My first working title was The Undisciplined Child, but I ultimately wanted something parents could look at and say: “I want that!” and The Undisciplined Child failed that test.
We also considered This Book Will Make Parenting Easier (the parents I work with said they believed the title but didn’t think anyone unfamiliar with my work would believe it). No Discipline, Know Peace was interesting, but I’m a podcaster, and that title is difficult to convey in an auditory medium. I liked Raising Our Hopes, but I think the publisher rejected it. There were about 100 other title/subtitle combinations along the way. Eventually, my friend Brian Stout, who runs the Building Belonging community, suggested Parenting Beyond Power. He had already written a blog post with the title and was willing to have me use it. The publisher agreed; I could live with it; we wouldn’t have to push back the on-sale date: we had a title!
Continued Collaboration Throughout Publishing
Claire: Thank you for the insights into the challenges one can face in landing on the right title that will resonate with your readers. It sounds like your book has benefited from a collaborative process is so many ways. Anything to add about collaboration?
Jen: My editor was on maternity leave from the day my contract was signed to the day my first draft was due, so it was great to have people to check in with about my writing process. Several of the diagrams in the book were developed in conjunction with these parents, and they offered important feedback on things like the “Who This Book is For” section.
And I don’t think the collaborative process has to end when the book is published. I’m doing panel events and workshops in cities on the West Coast in late 2023 and hopefully beyond there in 2024. Seeing how parents and teachers are starting to put these ideas into practice has been gratifying.
Aligning Your Publishing Journey With Your Values
Claire: You and your publisher have taken many steps to ensure your publishing process aligns with your values, such as using a Black designer’s typeface, printing the book at an employee-owned printer, and making the ebook accessible by offering it free on your website. Why was it important to you that your book reflects your values? What other aspects of the publishing process exist where authors can positively impact conscientious choices?
Jen: It feels good to live in alignment with your values—in parenting and life! I believe that capitalism has created a lot of suffering in the world—it might seem pretty good to those of us who get to live in air-conditioned houses and have easy access to vaccines, nutritious food, and clean water, but a lot of people have to live in poverty and violence to make that possible for us. And also, capitalism hurts all of us—it’s why we always think we must do more to get ahead and can never rest.
I’m trying to push the envelope by doing things that are in alignment with my values—while at the same time living within the constraints of a system where I still have a mortgage to pay. I offer sliding scale pricing on all my courses and memberships to remove as much of a financial barrier as possible for people who want to work with me. This has created financial difficulties for me—it’s a small-scale illustration of the idea that there’s always someone who bears the burden in this system (even though my burden as a relatively privileged White woman is comparatively not very heavy).
Creative Equity-Oriented Publishing Ideas
Claire: How generous to give the ebook away and impressive that the publisher agreed.
Jen: I knew that Charles Eisenstein, author of Sacred Economics, made his book available on his website on a gift economy basis. I downloaded it for free, read it, loved it, and then sent him $50. Later, I reached out to him for advice, and he told me that he got it written into the contract with his publisher that he could offer the book for free on his website, and I could do the same. I hope that people who can afford to support my work to a greater extent will do so, allowing me to help those with less financial capacity. (I encourage other authors to ‘steal’ this idea too!)
On the other issues, I tried to ask at every step: What options do we have here? Wherever it seemed like there was one path forward, could we find another? We liked Tré Seals’ typeface, Carrie—we could have just purchased and used it, but we also gave him credit on the copyright page so others could hopefully find his work. Same with the printer: I was hoping to work with a union shop and was pleased to see employee-owned Friesens in Canada—employee-owned companies tend not to pursue profit at the expense of all else, as sometimes/often happens with shareholder-owned companies.
Environmental and Equity Values
Claire: And how about environmental impact?
Jen: How you access a book also impacts the world, and once again, I’m trying to navigate financial constraints and imagine what’s possible. Ordering via a certain Very Large Company Named After A River signals to that company that readers are interested in it and they should advertise it—but it also supports a company whose values are not aligned with my own. Waiting for a library copy helps the library and reduces environmental impacts, but it doesn’t help me or my publisher, which has invested a lot in this book. In every decision, we’re constantly making trade-offs, and I’m just trying to make the trade-offs a bit more visible.
I’ve also benefited from White privilege along my journey—from having a network of friends with MBAs from expensive schools who could offer business advice, to being introduced to my (White) editor by fellow (White) podcasters, to having my daughter enrolled in a preschool where the parents are affluent enough to be able to afford vacation homes—one of which I used for free for two weeks to write the first draft of the book.
[Note: If any readers of this post identify as a Person of Color and believe Jen might be able to help you on your publishing journey, particularly with access to resources, she invites you to reach out to her at firstname.lastname@example.org, so that she may share some of her access to resources.]
Examining Behavior as an Expression of Need
Claire: What is the biggest takeaway you hope parents learn by reading your book?
Jen: A popular phrase in respectful parenting circles now is “All behavior is communication.” That’s true…but I think it leaves parents hanging because “All behavior is communication…of WHAT?! What is my child trying to tell me when they run across the room and hit me for ‘no reason’?” Behavior is an expression of a need. When we can understand what that need is, we can find ways to meet their and our needs. That’s a very new concept in parenting. Most parenting books don’t consider the parent’s needs—the mother’s role is to provide the best possible environment for her child (now there’s an idea grounded in patriarchy).
We feel frustrated, angry, and resentful toward our children because we have unmet needs. We can meet our own and other people’s needs as well. It’s a beautiful way of being in relationship with other people—and it also models the process of doing this for our children, who will take it out into the world. They will see other people’s needs as just as important as their own and will have had years of practice meeting multiple people’s needs simultaneously.
Research for Nonfiction
Claire: You do a lot of research on politics and equity, parenting, and child psychology between your podcast, the courses you offer, and this book. You also have a very detailed Notes section at the end of the book. How do you keep track of all your research? Did you write notes as you went or after you finished the book?
Jen: I have three master’s degrees, so I’m accustomed to citing research to support my ideas. I also do this for my podcast episodes—each episode usually references 10-30 academic books and peer-reviewed articles. I just used footnotes as I was drafting the text, and then the designer converted them to endnotes at the layout stage. It made it easier to refer readers to a podcast episode where I discuss 30 studies than having to describe those 30 studies in the notes. I appreciate detailed footnotes and a good index that allows you to find things. I’ve read many parenting books where I’ve remembered the name of a key character in an anecdote but can’t find the anecdote in the book, so I made sure to index every person mentioned in my book!
Marketing Consultation with Lisa Tener
Claire: I know you worked with Lisa Tener. Can you share a bit about how you worked with her and any tips you picked up?
Jen: Lisa was instrumental in helping me get my book contract. I did a marketing consult where she shared best practices. When my editor told me that the publisher was moving forward with the contract, she specifically cited the strong marketing section as a key driver of their interest. The publisher didn’t want to use all of the ideas (Lisa loves QR codes, and I think that video role plays of the ideas in the book could have been really powerful, but the publisher wanted the book to be self-contained). Still, it helped them to see that even though I don’t have a massive social media presence (I hate social media!) I did have a very engaged podcast and email audience.
Claire: You have a young daughter, Carys. How has your experience of parenting influenced the ideas presented in this book?
Jen: In every possible way! I use all of the ideas in the book regularly. They define my parenting approach and have helped us create a relationship where I truly believe she’s growing up into the fullest expression of herself—in a way that we all wished we could have done too. I’m doing a lot of workshops with parents and teachers based on the ideas in the book, and it’s so exciting to see them start to use the ideas as well and see what an immediate and positive impact they have on family (and classroom) life.
Thoughts on Equity and Diversity in Publishing
Claire: You chose to publish your book traditionally with Sasquatch Books, which Penguin Random House owns. What are your thoughts on recent criticism levied at the publishing industry concerning the lack of diversity among authors and publishing house employees and the tokenism and pigeonholing of authors who are people of color?
Jen: I would say it’s less that I “chose” Sasquatch Books and more that I found an editor who believed in my work and that she happened to work for Sasquatch. Maybe I could have held out and approached a more radical press…and perhaps I wouldn’t have a book at this point, creating real change in families and the world.
I agree with the criticism you mentioned: Publisher Lee and Low conducted a survey and found that 79% of staff at publishing houses and journals in the US are White, and 78% are female. Joel Waldfogel at the National Bureau of Economic Research found that about half of authors are now female, up from 20% in the 1970s. It’s great that women have found a voice in this important industry.
But when 2% of the industry is Black and Black people make up 13.6% of the population, there’s a huge discrepancy. 4% of the industry staff has a disability, compared to about 13% of the US population.
Just like parenting, book publishing is a method of defining what’s important to us and passing on cultural values. Tokenizing and pigeonholing tend to happen when a White, non-disabled person can only see things from a White, non-disabled perspective and where we see that perspective as the ‘right’ one. If we had a more diverse publishing industry, especially at higher levels of management, we would likely see a greater range of expression of ideas as “acceptable,” which would be a good thing. But plenty of people—those with more conservative values—think that the ideas coming out of our publishing industry are already far too ‘woke’ and we shouldn’t move further in this direction. As I said, everything we do is about our values—and how we choose to live and express those values.
About the Author
Jen Lumanlan, MS, MEd, (she/her) hosts the Your Parenting Mojo podcast, named Best Research-Based Parenting Podcast by Lifehacker and downloaded over 3 million times.
After attending Berkeley and Yale and following a traditional career path in sustainability consulting, Jen found parenting was her toughest challenge yet. She went back to school for a master’s degree in psychology focused on child development and another in education, and trained as a Co-Active coach to share what she learned with other parents.
She is the author of the new book Parenting Beyond Power: How to Use Connection and Collaboration to Transform Your Family—and the World.