Mothers' Wisdom, for All to Hear

Linda Perlis, left, and Sandra Burt are hosts of the radio program
Linda Perlis, left, and Sandra Burt are hosts of the radio program "Parents' Perspective," a weekly 30-minute show heard by a half-million listeners. (By James M. Thresher -- The Washington Post)
By Katherine Shaver
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 26, 2005

In a recording studio in downtown Bethesda, Linda Perlis and Sandra Burt dived into a discussion about sibling rivalry. Across a table sat T. Berry Brazelton and Joshua D. Sparrow, well-known authors of books about child development.

"What would you say are parents' biggest challenges when it comes to sibling rivalry?" Perlis asked the doctors.

"They can't stay out of it," Brazelton said, eliciting a laugh from the group.

The doctors expanded on lessons from one of their newest books, about helping children learn from working out their disagreements. But is it safe to leave fighting children on their own, Perlis asked.

"I used to hide in the bathroom is why I ask if it's safe," she said a bit sheepishly. "I hid from my children when they fought with each other -- I had three little boys."

"I bet those three did beat each other up," Brazelton reassured her with a smile. "But look what they learned."

The conversation sounded like a friendly chat between inquisitive mothers and doctors giving everyday advice about raising children. It was -- except this one will be heard in August by more than a half-million radio listeners around the world who tune in to Perlis and Burt's weekly show, "Parents' Perspective."

With no formal training, the two Washington-area women have built a radio show heard on 14 stations across the country, from Coos Bay, Ore., to Salt Lake City to Chicago to Boston. They're also heard on military bases throughout the United States and overseas on Soldiers Radio & Satellite Network and Armed Forces Radio. The 30-minute show airs locally at 5:30 a.m. Saturdays and Sundays on Federal News Radio, WFED-AM (1050). It also airs Sunday mornings in Southern Maryland and the Annapolis area on WRNR-FM (103.1) and on the Eastern Shore on WINX-FM (94.3).

In more than 260 shows over eight years, the close friends have drawn on their experience as mothers -- they have raised seven boys between them -- to ask experts on parenting, education and medicine the questions they think other parents want answers to. How do you comfort a child in a post-9/11 world of fear and anxiety? How do you carve out downtime when both parents work and the kids are scheduled to the hilt with flute lessons, gymnastics and Girl Scouts? How do you stay close to your child when a judge has denied you custody? How should you expose your toddler to a foreign language or music? What do you do when your son tells you he's gay, or your firstborn is autistic, or your daughter gets so sick she might die?

"It's not a cookbook approach," said Perlis, 61, of Potomac. "It's never, 'This is how to toilet train your toddler.' It's more, 'Here's a lot of information we've gathered for you with an expert that we think your family might be thinking about or worrying about.' "

"It's a caring approach from two moms," added Burt, 58, who lives in the District. "Everything we put on is something we'd like to hear as a listener."

Although it's a full-time job, Perlis and Burt said, they've never pocketed a salary. They produce the show as part of their nonprofit Parents' Perspective Inc. and fund the show's $20,000 annual budget through donations, grants and royalties from two books. Most of the money goes to renting time at Avalon Recording Studios in Bethesda, mailing CDs to the stations and buying office supplies. About 40 volunteers help raise money and do office work.

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