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Conversations
11 July 2018

Laurie David exposes the inconvenient truth

Interview by Berry Liberman
Justin Bastien

Berry Liberman on Laurie David

2016 marks the tenth anniversary of An Inconvenient Truth, the film that changed the world. Academy Award-winning producer Laurie David is the force that made it happen. Strong, clear and unapologetic, Laurie is driven by a core need to tell stories of injustice. Horrified by the findings of Al Gore’s now-famous slideshow presentation at a Hollywood fundraiser, she approached the former vice president of the United States to make a film that would get the message out to the world. What began as an advocacy project became a global phenomenon as the world’s eyes were opened to the human-triggered environmental catastrophe we now call climate change.

I’ve been following Laurie’s work for years, inspired by the audacity it took to put a powerful male icon on camera declaring that our lust for resources is destroying the planet. It changed everything. It woke people up. Like thousands of others, I found it excruciatingly painful to watch as feelings of unbearable despair set in. Melting ice caps, starving polar bears, tsunamis and landslides were our future. Luckily I was sitting next to my husband Danny who held my hand and told me to watch it all the way to the end.

Through tears and gut-wrenching distress, I resolved to heed Al Gore’s call that between denial and despair there is action. Laurie is the kind of person who wakes up every day very clear about her purpose—the harder she leans into the headwind the stronger she gets. Despite the magnitude of the subjects she tackles in her work today, her journey began as a manager of comedy talent, where she met her husband of 14 years: the comic genius Larry David (yes they were Laurie and Larry). After two kids, Seinfeld and the breakdown of her marriage, Laurie has spent her time campaigning and exposing many more inconvenient truths—from corporate greed to corruption and crime, she pursues the story that will make a difference.

Despite the weight of the world’s problems, Laurie insists that the solution “is not all on one person’s shoulders.” A few weeks after we speak I receive an exquisite book of poems in the mail by Peggy Freydberg, who started writing poetry when she was 90. Edited by Laurie, the collection is bursting with passion and longing, and I am reminded that while we must all do our bit and make our contribution to society and the planet, we must also carve out a life full of love, joy and beauty. Because at the end of the day, what are we fighting for?

This story originally ran in issue #48 of Dumbo Feather

Discussed in this Story

This story originally ran in issue #48 of Dumbo Feather

This story originally ran in issue #48 of Dumbo Feather

BERRY LIBERMAN: It’s 104 degrees here in Melbourne (40 degrees Celsius).

LAURIE DAVID: We’re fucked. I hate cursing, but it’s not good what’s going on in the world.

It’s unseasonable. And I wondered, given you’re the person to ask, what are your reflections on the weather changes we’re seeing now?

Well, I know a lot of people who’ve been working on this issue for decades. And for the first time in a long time they’re a little optimistic. I think the Paris Agreement is a big deal. President Obama has finally started to take steps that will have a real impact. It’s a prominent issue in both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders’ campaigns. I think there are many repercussions we’re going to be dealing with because we haven’t addressed this ‘til now, but I feel like people I know who work on this night and day are feeling a little optimistic. Maybe we can avert the worst-case scenarios for our great grandkids. There is tangible progress.

How have the people actively involved in the issue got up every morning to do the work they do? In the face of all this resistance?

I think most environmentalists are optimists. I honestly don’t know any who aren’t to some extent. You could look at Al Gore as a perfect example. The guy has not stopped. It’s really extraordinary. And I look up to him. If he can keep going and maintain some sense of optimism about it then I can too.

Do you feel there’s an opportunity for us to flip the coin now and heal as much as we’ve hurt?

I think we’re capable of such unbelievable things. We’re capable of miracles. I mean,

if we as a world put our resources together and harnessed the power of our will, what couldn’t we accomplish?

When you think of it on that scale, you go, “Well, wow, we could scale this up really fast. And we could go to green energy across the board.” There’s so much that we can do if the public will is there. That’s the piece of this that’s been so challenging: getting the public will, getting people to vote on this issue. I mean, we just had a four-hour Republican debate the other night. Not one question on global warming. Not one.

Really?

Yeah, really. It’s insane. And not one Republican came out and said, “Congratulations, Paris!” Like, nothing! It’s crazy. So the key to all this is electing people who are going to be progressive and help fight this thing, rather than people who are still in the pockets of coal and oil and whatever else. There’s a new book out called Dark Money by Jane Mayer which I wish every citizen in America would read. It goes a long way towards explaining the enormous amount of private money poured into our system to keep the status quo.

So, your story is incredibly inspiring and also unusual, because you started in comedy. You were managing comedians, and then you married one of the world’s most famous comedians. And there’s this great shift in your life where you went on to produce two profoundly important documentaries, and now you have a third coming out?

Yes, it’s called The Last Animals (directed by Kate Brooks), and it’s about the poaching crisis facing rhinos and elephants and the wildlife trafficking that’s driving it. I just can’t stand the fact that in my lifetime I’m going to watch these magnificent creatures go extinct in parts of Africa. And that is what’s going to happen if we don’t act. And for what? Jewellery, trinkets and ashtrays?

Rhinos are being murdered for their horns—a status  symbol of wealth—and because of a myth that it’s an aphrodisiac or has life-saving properties. It’s a complete and total lie. The same qualities in rhino horns are in our fingernails. Rhinos have existed for thousands of years and they could be close to going extinct in the next 10. The world community can’t sit back and let that happen. According to WildAid, 33,000 elephants every year are killed for their ivory. The poaching industry is more organised now. It’s not just a villager who’s trying to feed his family, it’s now organised crime syndicates flying helicopters over elephants, shooting them in the head, and then sending ground people in to hack off their tusks. Rhino horn is worth more on the black market than cocaine! This is a demand problem, but there is so much that can be done if the world just says “enough.”

When I see injustice, I have to act, I have to tell that story. It’s at the core of who I am. There’s just a deep-rooted aversion to injustice.

And it was the obesity crisis and the injustice around food marketing that led to your other documentary that I’ve just watched, Fed Up.

Yeah, I mean, it was an eye-opening moment for me when I realised a lot of the issues I cared about crossed the dinner plate. Right? If you care about the environment, if you care about the climate, if you care about your kids’ health, you have to focus at some point on what you’re eating. There is a whole host of issues surrounding that plate. When I started working on Fed Up I thought I knew a lot about food. I learned so much making that movie.

I consider myself a food advocate now because once the dots have been connected, you can’t go back. And if you think about animal welfare, well, who’s protecting them? If you think about the environment, who’s protecting that? And think about children! Because these food issues have to do with kids. And that’s an injustice, too. Kids are being targeted by food corporations that are trying to make money off of them, despite the fact that we now know the products make them sick. One in three kids in America is obese or overweight. And I’m sure the problem’s bad in Australia, too. It’s not right that products laden with sugar are allowed to be marketed to young children. It’s not right that a kid doesn’t have a shot at a healthy future. That’s an injustice we all have to be upset about.

When I watched the documentary I was incredibly, deeply sad, and slightly paralysed by how sad I was. But I think that’s okay, you know?

How old are your kids?

Eight, five and two.

Well, it’s fantastic that you saw it. I wish I had seen Fed Up when I was a young mum. Because I’m thinking back at all that apple juice in my house, all those “go-gurts,” which are all sugar. Even though I gave my kids organic food and I made food from scratch, there were still tons of processed food in my house that I didn’t know about. I didn’t know juice was the same as soda.

And we’ve all been conditioned to love that crackling sound when we open a packet of chips!

Or the crunch from cereal! Let’s start right there with the first meal of the day: everyone has to rethink breakfast. Because, as Fed Up shows you, if you start the day having already consumed over the amount of sugar you should have in the whole day, your body will continue to crave it. Your brain is hardwired to crave it. So you’re basically sending your kids out to start their day with this predilection to wanting more. And sadly at school there’s plenty of opportunities. The boy in the film, Brady, he lost a bunch of weight. But as soon as he went back out into the world, he got a job in a fast food restaurant, his school had him selling candy for their school fundraiser, and next thing you know he’s gaining weight again. Everywhere you go and everywhere you look, sugar-laden foods are being marketed and pushed on you. Hard enough to resist as an adult, imagine the chance a child has!

Okay, so we have to go back a bit. Your story. How on earth do you go from this Hollywood-comedy-fun-times life to passionate advocate, telling these incredibly important stories? I mean, was environmental activism on your radar?

It was. I mean, you could go way back. Like, I was obsessed with littering when I was a child.

Hah.

I just felt that it was wrong. And I would confront people if I saw them littering. My mother was a chain smoker. Do you remember in the old days they used to smoke in your car, and then you had the ashtray, and people would dump the ash and cigarette butts on the curb? My mother did that once, I went crazy. I just saw the pollution. And if I saw it, I felt like I had to do something about it.

But looking at Seinfeld, which I was obviously connected to through Larry. Seinfeld was produced by Castle Rock Entertainment. And the heads of Castle Rock were very involved with this big environmental organisation called the Natural Resources Defense Council. They have offices all over the United States and China. And they’re extraordinary. And the Castle Rock guys asked me if I wanted to meet the people at NRDC, who I still consider rock stars. And I said yes.

So I started going to meetings and getting educated. I was still working in comedy as a manager, but then, when I started having kids, I had more time because I stopped working—I decided to stay home for a while to raise these two girls, and also Seinfeld was a big hit so it seemed like a good time to focus on the kids. I was literally pushing a stroller around my neighbourhood when I started noticing all these SUVs. Everyone had SUVs. At that time we were talking about gas prices and energy and terrorism—that was part of the dinner conversation in LA. And I just started connecting the dots:

Wait a second, we’re all driving SUVs but we’re worried about where the money’s going? What’s the SUV doing to the environment?

Then I started really diving into the issues. And once you start to educate yourself, the mother of all issues is global warming. So here we are driving these cars that are adding double the amount of CO2 into the atmosphere. That’s kind of how I landed into that space. And because I was married to Larry I had a lot of visibility. We got rid of the SUVs, we got the Prius, we were like the first ones with Leonardo DiCaprio to make the hybrid cars the car.

Anyway, I asked to moderate a panel in New York City on global warming where Al Gore was a featured guest and he did a six-to-eight minute version of his PowerPoint presentation. And I could not believe what I saw. It was such a clear explanation of what was happening. It was so clear! I was like, “Oh my God!” I talked to him afterwards. I said, “We have to show this to everybody.” And at that time he was schlepping around, showing it to six people here and two people there and I’m like, “Give me two dates. A New York and an LA date. And I will present this in a theatre. We’ll get a theatre donated. And I’ll get all the people there, we’ll get opinion leaders there, and you will present your slide show. All you have to do is give me two dates.”

I’ve got shivers.

And he did, he gave me two dates. Then I had to get people to show up. At the time everyone was mad at him. He’d lost the election. Everyone blamed him for not fighting longer. And it was really hard to get people there. But I basically called every single person I knew and begged them. I put my ass on the line. I said, “You have to come see this. You have to!” And people came, and they were both packed houses, standing ovations. It was like the light went off: now we have to make a movie. Because the job won’t get done if you knock on people’s doors showing them this presentation. We have to make a movie out of it. So that’s how it happened.

Not a day goes by where someone doesn’t say to me, “That movie changed my life,” or, “I’ve become an environmental activist because of it.” The impact of that film is really hard to grasp. And it makes me tear up when I think about it.

I’m interested in your childhood. Was there anyone who inspired you when you were a kid? Or did this activist spirit evolve as a reaction to what you saw? This idea of stepping up and being counted for the issues that matter.

I think it’s part of your DNA. Maybe a few things have to happen for it to fall in place. Like the fact that I got to a point where I was successful enough to make room for other things. I wasn’t worried about my survival any more. And, trust me, I have thought about this. Just in trying to understand myself. Why can’t I keep my mouth shut? [Laughs]. Why am I on Twitter every day, you know, calling for the President of Coca-Cola to step down? I take everything very personally. It’s just a sense of injustice that I can’t accept. And I think that’s part of who I am as a person.

But you know, I have very healthy self-esteem. I never suffered from low self esteem— don’t ask me why. I think when you have that, you never really question if your passions are well placed. And

I think that’s a big driver as well: that I’m not suffering from being unsure. I know what’s right and what’s wrong. And I don’t waver from indecision

or, Maybe someone won’t like me. I don’t have any of that. I just have a really strong sense of conviction. My ambition was to run a studio or a network—that’s where I was heading. If the ambition hadn’t been taken away from me, because we became so successful so quickly with Seinfeld, I might have put all this energy into running a TV studio. And what a waste that would have been [laughs].

Right!

And I was in comedy development and my husband created Seinfeld, and so at every meeting young writers would come in saying, “Well, it’s kind of like Seinfeld,” and it’s like, Well I’m not going to come up with something better than that!

[Laughs].

So it took the fun out of the job. And then I got pregnant and said, “Okay, I’m going to have my kids.” And then once I did, there was space to think about other things.

For me, I think despair around these big issues might have taken over if I wasn’t married to my husband. He is profoundly resilient, and has a natural inclination to move forward and carry as many people along with him. I saw that when we met and was able to say, “Okay, I’m with you, let’s do it together.” And I love that quote in An Inconvenient Truth: “Between denial and despair there is action.” That was a clarion call for me. But I think without my husband I would have dropped my tools and just been despairing.

Yeah, you know what? I think one thing that keeps me from despairing is that I feel like I’ve contributed something.  I feel good about that, that it’s not all on my shoulders. It’s not all on one person’s shoulders. But I know that I did what I could. An Inconvenient Truth was one thing, but I also did a documentary for HBO and a special on Fox News and got the issue covered in every women’s magazine. And I devoted a good chunk of five years to the issue. Then I stepped away from it and did two cookbooks and then Fed Up. I felt, Okay, I’ve given what I can. And now it’s really up to other people, governments, to take it to the next level. So that kept me from despair to an extent. I feel like I’ve contributed something. I did the best I could. And I don’t dwell on it. I follow it, but I’m not living and breathing it any more.

Read more about Berry's response to climate change
Article
On grief and climate change

It’s incredible to see a person like yourself navigate all the challenges of life from building a family unit to then building a different kind of family unit. You and Larry divorced and then you were working on these really significant issues driven by your passions while raising two human beings. How did they feel then and how do they feel now about the work that you do and about that period of your life?

I had to travel a lot then and I know my kids weren’t happy about that. But the environmental lifestyle is part of who they are, whether they like it or not. I think their mum is a little overshadowed by their famous dad right now [laughs]. We all had dinner together last night. I have dinner with Larry regularly. And they were all much more interested in what he’s been up to. You know, I have to remind them, “Hey, I’ve done a few things too, guys!”

[Laughs].

I think daughters in particular are hard on their mums. I’m generalising, but I think these two kids are hard on me.

That resonates. It resonates. I think I’ve been hard on my mum until only recently.

You see? I think they’ll come around at some point and realise, Hey!

“She is awesome!”

But I don’t get that from them right now. They’re 19 and 21. So it’ll come. But I know that my girls, when they go shopping, they will not take a plastic bag. They bring their own bags or they take no bag. I’m very proud of that. They drink water with everything. They crave water with food. I’m proud of that! Neither of them are activists or advocates yet. I mean, they loved Fed Up and I think they’ve taken a lot of its lessons to heart. They both cook their own food. They have their friends over and they have kitchens at their apartments in college and they cook food. They’re pretty well-adjusted kids. So I guess the messages are all kind of filtering through.

I ask about that relationship because I think it’s an enormous thing, definitely in my experience as a mother, having your own deep inner world and personal passions and vision, and also being a kind of protector, gatekeeper, nurturer of other people’s inner worlds as well.

It makes me think, my older daughter is a writer. And she’s interested in comedy writing. She’s been sending me some of her pieces lately. And I have to say that I am definitely her, well, one word might be “muse,” but what’s the opposite of that? Like, I’m providing a lot of comedy in her pieces. How she was raised, she’s kind of exaggerating everything. For example, every day she wakes up and there’s a new article that I’ve sent them that they have to read about the latest toxic poison or health concern.

[Laughs].

Having this advocate as a mum and kind of giving a little crazy spin on it. So that’s providing good fodder for her writing!

[Laughs]. You’ve been criticised for a personal lifestyle that doesn’t fit with a one-planet lifestyle. And I also really struggle with that. I mean, I don’t think anyone in the Western world is living a one-planet lifestyle.

They’re not.

In terms of the hardcore expectations of that. How do you think about that, what’s your response?

I think when I first started working on environmental issues I was betwixt and between two worlds. Our kids were young and I was first getting involved in this social circle where there were private planes, huge SUVs, people living that kind of life. As soon as I connected the dots—and by the way that was pretty quickly—all those things stopped. I think there is always opposition looking for things to criticise. Think about what Al Gore’s gone through in terms of criticism. You just look at yourself in the mirror at the end of the day and feel good about how you’re living and how you’re conducting yourself.

It’s the idea of contribution and contradiction. The two are inextricably linked. I think people expect you to be this perfect embodiment of the environmental movement because of your contribution, because of your work on An Inconvenient Truth.

But there is no perfect. Because if you turn your lights on and get into a car, you’re burning energy. We’re burning energy with almost everything we do.

The questions is: are you living a life in relation to what your values are? And the only person who can answer it is you.

I know plenty of people who probably live a life that wouldn’t reach the A-plus mark. At the same time they’re incredibly generous and involved in issues that they care about, and if they weren’t involved in them, that would really harm things. You just have to be comfortable with your own values and live that way. I’m very comfortable with my values. And I’m very comfortable with what I’m giving back and what I contribute to the world. And that’s the only measure I can go by.

But do you have a mentor or someone that you soundboard all this off with? Someone who confirms, validates or nourishes that conviction?

Well, you know, I’m remarried. I have a beautiful husband who’s a farmer. And we have a farm together. So I spend most of my time on my farm. We grow our own food and he’s taught me how to do all those things. I love that part of my life. So I would give him some credit for leading me in the right direction and showing me a way to live that’s really nourishing and phenomenal. We’ve an organic farm and it’s all solar-powered and it’s off the grid and when you’re growing your own food, you’re really living. You’re living a great life. To grow food and eat what you’re growing, it doesn’t get much better than that. So I would have to give a little credit to my husband. But I really don’t have anybody that I consider a mentor at this point in my life.

Good friends that you’ll sit around the table with? Or it’s really from reading and absorbing?

I think every time you do a documentary film you have a new family. And you really get to dive deep into these issues. I mean, what journalism today really goes deep like that? And that’s what’s feeding you. That’s how you’re learning about those issues. Incredible people are making these documentary films. They’re extraordinary. I mean, they don’t make a lot of money. People work on them because they’re devoted to the issues. So they’re some of the best people you’ll ever meet. But I have a great family, I have close friends from decades ago. New friends that I love.

There’s this powerful quote in Fed Up: “We’re placing private profit over public health.” Tell me more about your work around food and health and the family dinner table, and what your idea of success is coming out of that film.

The whole thing started after my divorce. Because I worked really hard to produce the “after divorce.” So the year after the divorce Larry was coming back for dinners once a week. And one night, dinner was over, dessert was over, the teapot was empty, and I looked up and my two daughters were still sitting at the table. And they were talking to me. And I was like, Oh my God! I did do something right as a parent. I insisted on this dinner every night. Sitting down with my kids, with the family, whoever happened to be around, Monday through Friday. And as a result, we’re talking. We’re eating.

It’s hard to get too depressed or fall through the cracks when someone’s present to you like that. It was a light bulb moment for sure. And once I figured out this magic trick I needed to share it with other people, so I wrote a book about it called The Family Dinner. And then I wrote a follow-up called The Family Cooks, and they’re fantastic cookbooks. Easy, healthy recipes and all these great tips on how your kids can contribute to making the food. Like, everyone participating.

So I was already thinking a lot about food and its impact and the importance of this meal. And it was culturally kind of crazy too—that people weren’t sitting down to dinner any more. I would have my kids’ friends over all the time and they’d be like, “We never eat like this. I eat in front of the computer.” But

it’s the reason why we work so hard: so we can come together around the dinner table for meals.

That’s what the hard work is all about. It’s a gift that every single day gives you that you get to all gather and sit down and share food together, home-cooked food hopefully, and talk to each other and connect.

I also read that you confiscate mobile phones and technology at dinnertime.

Oh yeah, big time. And you should try it! Because, again, I was always inviting my kids’ friends over and we always had a lot of extended family, so there’s always more people at the table. If I hear a buzz in someone’s pocket—and it doesn’t have to be my kids, it can be someone else’s kids—I’m like: “You have to give me your phone. No phones at this table.” And believe me, they don’t want to give them to you. But the next time they’re there, the phone is not at the table. We desperately need boundaries on this technology.

That’s your next film! It’s got to be! It’s the same as sugar. It’s like crack. It does something to our brains, and what it does to kids’ brains is terrifying.

I really feel bad for parents of young children today. My kids didn’t have technology until they were in the seventh grade before they got phones. Today kids are clamouring for it at, like, one. It’s really a gigantic problem. So the meal is the great boundary. It’s the time everyone needs a break from it, and as parents you have to model that. I started working on the second cookbook to provide easier, faster recipes and give young mums some inspiration for cooking at home. ‘Cause if you don’t make the food yourself you don’t know what’s in it. I guarantee there’s more salt and sugar in that take-away food than you would ever put in at home. So I was doing that and then I got a random out-of-the-blue email from Katie Couric, who I had met once for two seconds. I didn’t really know her. And she was like, “Laurie, we need An Inconvenient Truth for food, will you work on this with me?” And literally three seconds later I wrote back and said, “Absolutely. When can we meet?” That’s how Fed Up started.

And what’s the fallout from that been?

We did something that no other company has done: we cut an hour version of it in English and Spanish and are giving it away free to any teacher in America who wants it. We started that two months ago, and have now given away thousands of DVDs to schools across the country. Because kids have to see this movie. They have to! They’re making these choices all day long. And it’s a way to educate the parents too about what’s really in the food they’re buying.

I just want people to have a shot at the truth, because then you can make an informed choice.

You want to buy store-bought salad dressing? At least know that it has a massive amount of sugar in it and ingredients you can’t pronounce. How about making your own with ingredients you already have in your cabinet? Oil, vinegar, a little mustard, garlic, salt and pepper—done. I love the idea of assigning a child in the family to make the dressing every Sunday for the week and labelling it with your family name. Not only is that a lot healthier and will save you money, but your child will get an awful lot of self-esteem in completing this task.

Seeing that young child, that poor 12-year-old girl trying to lose weight, exercising, so exhausted. It was heartbreaking.

Do you know how many millions of advertising dollars are spent convincing the public that it’s all about exercise? We cannot exercise our way out of this obesity crisis! There aren’t enough hours in the day. I mean, one can of soda, you’d have to walk five miles. So that’s a bald-faced lie that’s being sold to the public— that this is an exercise problem, and that all calories are the same. All calories aren’t the same. You want your calories from almonds? Or do you want them from KitKat bars? It’s ridiculous. The thing that really upsets me is when they go after kids. Because what they’re doing is trying to addict kids as early as possible and set them up to be customers for life. Is it right for the Girl Scouts to be in partnership with Nesquik, a chemically flavoured and sugar-laden product? Is it right for beloved athletes and rock stars to advertise soda and junk foods to young fans?

And so what would be your ideal scenario coming off the film?

Well, one of the great things that’s happening is that soda sales are diving. And that is a big sign of success. The real thing that has to happen is that we have to pass a law banning marketing to children. That would be huge. But what’s required for that to happen? For politicians to enact legislation and stop taking campaign contributions from self-interested corporations. But in the meantime, while we’re waiting for that to never happen, individuals can make a difference by refusing to buy these products. And store owners can choose to move junk away from the checkout counter. And schools can go back to fresh-cooked lunches. And mums and dads can insist on family dinners sitting properly around a table. And classrooms can have a no candy or cupcake fundraising policy and promote healthy options for snack time.

Every individual has an awful lot of power.

I think the light bulb needs to go off for people so they’ll stop buying processed food and sugary beverages no matter how “healthy” the company claims they are. And you are now seeing a shift to healthier food here to some extent. It’s not enough, it’s not fast enough. But you are seeing some signs of a shift. I think education is a huge piece of this. But I don’t have all the answers. My thing is, Okay, I’ve connected the dots on a few things based on being a mum and caring about this stuff. And I have to share that information with people. And what people choose to do with it once I’ve done that is for them to decide. It was advice I got from Arianna Huffington once. She said, “You do your 10 percent. And the rest of it is up to the universe.” And when you ask how do I not get depressed or despair—that’s the answer. I’m doing my 10 percent. I can’t dwell on it past that. I have to do what I can to contribute.

You are being very solid about what your contribution is. And not grinding on the part that you can’t affect. There are all these pressures on my time and I feel like I’m not doing enough.

Okay. So you have to stop that. You have to make sure you have a glass of wine at night and light candles. You have to have fun. You have to sing. You have to enjoy music and your husband and your kids. You have to laugh. That’s the thing that gives you the juice for when you get back to work. You can’t let any of these issues grind you down. ‘Cause then you won’t be useful for anything.

Yeah. And the family dinner table is actually such a wonderful rest place, if it can be thought of in that way.

Yeah. I think it can be. I mean it’s where you pass on your values, without even knowing it. It’s the number one place where family stories are told. So the dinner table is where you go, “Oh grandma used to do this, and grandpa used to do that,” or you talk about your first job, or how mum and dad met. All those family stories get told at the dinner table. And they’ve done research on this.

When you stop having dinner together, you stop passing on stories. The knowledge of where the family came from and what the family’s been through builds resilience in children.

And I hear mums say all the time, “I talk to them in the car.” I’m like, “You’re not talking to them in the car.” You’re sitting there listening but the interaction isn’t happening. One of my kids had colic, the other one had temper tantrums and my husband was not that helpful. I found it really challenging. So I said, “Okay, well we’re going to have dinner in this home every night. And we’re going to light candles and use napkins or eat on the floor. And we’re going to make this fun.” Because I needed something to look forward to each day, being a stay-at-home mum. That was before I knew any of the research. When I had that epiphany my kids were a little older so I felt like I had to tell every mum I could. This is the thing! Forget running around to all the activities!

I love that. I also find parenting challenging but it’s a pretty taboo thing to talk about.

Yep. It’s so frigging hard. I’d say there are rewards. But there are not rewards every day. It was hard. And it’s still hard.

Finding time to be together consistently.

And having fun. That’s a big part of it. It’s like, don’t ask, “How was your day?” or about school, ‘cause that’s not fun. I would literally come to the table with verbal games to play. Like tonight you guys can play the pet peeve game. You go around the table and everyone gives one pet peeve. And you’ll be surprised at what people say! My family has so many pet peeves that we could keep going around and around [laughs]. Every single thing you worry about as a mum or dad is improved by sitting down to dinners. And it’s more important than soccer practice, it’s more important than going to church or temple. The most powerful thing you can do with your kids is sit down and eat together, and inject a little fun to that end-of-day interaction.

 

Laurie is currently executive producing The Last Animals, which follows the brave men and women on the front lines in the fight to save the last elephants and rhinos.

Berry Liberman

Berry Liberman, Dumbo Feather’s publisher and editor-in-chief, drives our passion and purpose. While she’s not immersed in the heady scent of old fashioned flowers, she’s also the Creative Director of Small Giants and a mum to the three cutest kids in the world.

Justin Bastien

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