Author Neal Pollack is both a writer and the father of a 13-year-old son, but he doesn’t think those two things have to be related at all. Sure, he writes about parenting every now and then, including his bestselling novel Alternadad, but Pollack says he isn’t defined by being parent. We spoke to Pollack about how he balances career and family—he’s published 10 books (Keep Mars Weird is his latest) and is also a busy journalist—while trying to stay as “chill” as possible.
Interview with author Neal Pollack
Do you and your wife ever disagree about parenting?
My wife and I are a very united front when it comes to parenting. We rarely disagree about anything. Occasionally, if I get frustrated with the school curriculum and I think about homeschooling she will say no way, but that’s about as far as it goes with disagreeing.
What’s it like working from home?
I have a very flexible schedule. I try and write a few hours a day, but sometimes I do it in the morning, sometimes it’s in the afternoon, and sometimes it’s at night. One of the nice things about having a teenager, unlike when you have a little kid, you’re not quite as molded to their schedule; they can pretty much take care of themselves. You may have to drive them somewhere, help with homework, or what not, but you’re not as beholden to their hourly whims.
What does a typical Sunday look like for your family?
We all sleep as late as possible. Our house is like a dorm sometimes because my wife is a teacher so she doesn’t work during the summer. No one gets up before ten. Our Sundays are very lazy; we might go for a hike, or go grab something to eat. But, usually we all just chill out around the house and do our own thing. It’s not super dramatic.
Your son is still happy to spend time with you and your wife?
Within reason. Mostly he’s in his own space talking to his friends on Skype, or playing video games online. He’s not hanging with us all the time, but we’ll spend a few hours of the day together.
Do you enforce any restrictions with video games?
Nope. We don’t put any restrictions on anything, no parental controls, no nothing. It seems to be working out. I was a little surprised when one day he came out of his room and told me he had been streaming “The Walking Dead” on Netflix, but it didn’t seem to do any lasting harm to his psyche. He gets good grades in school, he doesn’t have nightmares. I never had any media restrictions when I was a kid, and I turned out okay, so I just kind of followed with that.
You and your wife are on the same page on that?
Yes, absolutely. It’s just not worth it, and I feel like it’s a waste of energy to be putting restrictions on things. And in terms of putting restrictions on computer time or video games, if I felt like it was harming him I would, but all his friends are online all the time, and he doesn’t spend all his time on there. He’s very well informed about current events, it’s not like he’s playing first person shooters all the time. And he still reads books, and he likes running and playing sports. He’s pretty well rounded to me.
It seems like you’re not a big worrier as a parent…
Only to some extent. But, I try not to worry too much. I trust him, for the most part. His friends have always been nice kids; he’s never gotten into a lot of trouble. If I had a kid who was more reckless I might worry more, but he just doesn’t give me any reason to worry. My wife worries a little more than I do, but she’s still pretty chill.
As your son enters the teen years, is there one thing that you’re nervous about?
Driving. Because you know the roads are crowded, people are careless. It’s dangerous. Interestingly enough, he doesn’t really want to drive. We’re going to teach him how to drive, at least at a high level of skill. I want him to learn now because it’s a life skill in case the apocalypse comes. You want him to be able to escape from a city. But in terms of daily use, it’s expensive and stressful and wasteful, so I’d rather give him an amount of money in an Uber account or something.
Are you concerned at all about high school drinking?
No because they are high school students. And unlike being a two year old, I can remember being a teenager, and you just have to be smart about it. So just put a little money into a car sharing service and just say, “When you want to go somewhere, take an Uber.” It’s ten bucks I would be happy to spend every Saturday. I have to make sure that my son gets home alive.
Has there been anything that’s surprised you as your son becomes a teen?
I feel like I was better prepared for having a teenager than I was for having a toddler, or infant, or even just a regular kid. I have a lot of cultural interests in common with my son, and it all kind of makes decent sense to me. It’s hard to believe that I’ve gotten to this point without making too many failing mistakes. But, talk to me in two years, and I could be singing a different tune. I’m actually strangely enjoying being a parent of a teenager.
Has having a teenager impacted your writing at all?
Well I write about parenting more than I ever would. But, other than that no. I don’t think you need to change who you are just because you’ve become a parent. Most people become parents. Why should there be some sort of dad voice? I’m still interested in the same stuff I was before I had a kid.
Interview by Susan Borison, editor in chief of Your Teen.