I had the wonderful opportunity to chat by phone with the soulful singer and songwriter Jewel Kilcher. She is promoting her upcoming appearance on the Discovery Channel show Alaska: The Last Frontier. Jewel’s episodes are airing November 27th and December 4th.
She also happens to be a mother to a five-year-old boy, Kase, and is extremely knowledgeable about parenting and child development. Jewel, who had played a huge concert the night before, was just recovering from a nasty chest cold. I had been awoken by my five-year-old at 3 AM and was scrambling to chase back my morning.
Just like her native home of Alaska, moms survive off of true grit, and we both pushed forward with our day. We talked about parenting, about her son’s first journey back to the state where she was born, and how becoming a mother changes relationships with our own parents. She even shared, one mom to another, what she thought would become my new favorite parenting book (Simplicity in Parenting).
She is a very prolific and engaged part of the world and started a holistic/fitness site and community, Jewelneverbroken.com, where readers can learn to “make happiness a habit.”
I am reading her book, Never Broken: Songs Are Only Half the Story.
She was articulate, knowledgeable, and spoke as beautifully as the heartfelt songs she sings. I am so grateful we connected so this interview could be shared with you all, too.
Here is my amazing chat with her.
GeekMom: Thanks so much for talking to me this morning. I appreciate it, and I hope you’re feeling better.
Jewel: I really lost my voice at the show. I didn’t think there’s any way it would come on today. Remarkably, I woke up and had a voice
GM: I am glad you feel better. You need your voice; we all need your voice!
Jewel: My god, I barely made that show last night. It was horrible.
GM: I understand completely. I was up with my daughter at 3 AM. She’s five years old and had a runny nose and was complaining. It’s what we do; we moms just go on.
Jewel: Yes, we just do.
GM: I have a few questions for you. I’ve been a big fan of your for over ten years, and I was really thrilled to get the screener for Alaska: The Last Frontier, your family’s show that you’re going to be on for the first time. I watched your episodes with your son Kase with my daughter Ella, who’s five, so it was new and fun for both of us. My dad, who’s eighty-four, is probably your show’s biggest fan.
Okay, first of all talking about the show now. Do you think that the show is a good kind of snapshot for us here in the “lower 48” of what homestead life was like in Alaska?
Jewel: For sure. I’m really excited. When I was first discovered, journalists asked me how I was raised and I told them. I mean, they thought I was making stuff up–like, they had no idea how to relate to anything I was saying. They would ask, “You mean you lived on a commune or a ranch?” It is such a foreign lifestyle. I’m really proud of that show and people can really see here their nobility in high portions. I think there’s a lot of values that we can all learn from it. Still, now as a parent raising a son who is not in Alaska, seeing families trying to incorporate the homesteading values for life is an important part of what, in my opinion, makes America really great. That self-reliance and industriousness.
GM: It is a wonderful show. I grew up in Canada and it makes me a bit homesick just seeing the outdoors. Living here now in Los Angeles with my family, I can completely understand about the differences between the culture of a big city and the culture of a small town; I mean, going as far as homesteading, you know that’s even more than a small town, smaller than those who live in Juno. That being said, tell me, was it important for you to return there to Alaska this year with your son?
Jewel: I wasn’t going to take Kase with me until he could remember it. I just wanted him to feel present. I think this was the right time and I think he will remember going up there and it will be significant. I’ve told him all about and it and how it was really important to me. It’s such a part of my heart, I still get homesick. Being able to share your child back and having my family meet him and having him see how I was raised was really interesting. Kase is just sort of attached to my leg; this is the first time he leaped out to things. Even though they were strangers he’d never met. All those cousins, aunts, and uncles. It was like he just knew they were family, and he would run off and play in the meadows and on the homestead. It just made my heart very happy.
GM: Yes, that would for me too.
I haven’t taken Ella back to Canada where I was born either, so I can understand that kind of looking at yourself through your child’s eyes and looking at everything new is going to be a wonderful feeling.
Jewel: It was very special.
GM: Following your family there in Alaska through the show, the viewers get to meet your father, and I was wondering, as I know this is true for me, how did your relationship change with him when you became a mother?
Jewel: You know, it was really sweet. I have a book out called Never Broken where I talk about my relationship with my dad. We had a difficult relationship growing up. My grandfather was an amazing man, but, like so many people of that generation, he ruled with a bit more of an iron fist. My dad got some of those tendencies and it turned into a tumultuous time when I was young. That’s why I moved out when I was 15. He got into that doing a lot of work on himself and he is an extraordinary human. I am really grateful to have a relationship with him. He works really hard at having a relationship with my son. It is touching; he is an incredible human. Now my dad is able to see my son up there and was teaching him things like how to lead a group and be the first ones on the trail. How to make sure everybody at the end of it is behind them. Catching people up and making sure you left signs and clues for people to follow. The skills that are unique that my dad can teach. He taught my son to yodel, which was special there, even though my dad comes down quite a lot to the lower 48 to visit.
GM: That sounds like it was a wonderful experience and trip. You know, maybe the show focuses a lot about your family’s men, the cowboys that they are and the ranchers and homesteaders–and they talked a lot about how it will show that the “Kilcher men” are the leaders, the ones with the strong opinion. The one’s with the grit. I was wondering if that is how the women are in your family as well and their time on the show?
Jewel: My aunts are on the show–there are six women and the three boys and Otto. It’s a shame they are not shown more because they are incredible. You know, they can saw the trees and logs and build a home. They are very efficient folks. In Alaska, there are no traditional male-female roles. Everything is divided. Take Otto and Charlotte: like, Otto will, you know, be cooking dinner while Charlotte’s off working with one of the calves or collecting honey. It is just everybody does whatever needs to get done. The women do all the work and the men do all the work and they swap whatever needs doing until it’s done. I love that; I was raised like that. I love the thought that I was as capable as the men even though I wasn’t as strong. I put my mind into that homesteader’s mentality. We would all figure a way to do it, and I think that’s something showcased on the show
GM: Well, something that comes up in conversation a lot in those kinds of communities online, from a parenting perspective, is that word “grit” and what it means. You know our next generation, and they’re such dear friends with technology, but there is a lot of things that I think only being outdoors can let you do. Swapping walls for trees and having to all help out or you’re not going to make it through the winter. That’s a little bit different stakes than, you know, just kind of getting online and poking around looking things.
Do you ever have, like, a dream that you’re destined to move back to Alaska? You know, being a singer-songwriter, do you think that you might end up living back there?
Jewel: I see myself getting property [up there] and I’m making sure that’s part of my son’s life. For me as a parent–for so many parents in this modern age, we are trying to figure out how to create these young’uns and get grit in our children, and society doesn’t talk to those and it’s because things are made easier and easier for us and our children. There’s a bit of an overwhelmed feeling to constantly compete over enriching our children’s lives with all these programs and activities, when, according to nature, they’re going to learn a lot of those skills on their own. I personally think that having fame and money as a parent is two strikes against me. I have to figure out how to work around that so I don’t create an entitled child. I’m really trying to look at Nashville like an extended homestead.
I’m confident toughness comes from the inside and not the outside. We can’t tell our kids “you’re smart, you’re great and capable” without giving them opportunities to struggle and prove to themselves that they are capable. To improve themselves through figuring problems out. So every time I can, I try to let my son struggle instead of intervening. It is so hard. I want to help him, but what I’m doing is raising my son to be a “strong bird, long wings” and not a “fat bird, short wings.” That is what homestead life taught me and what I hope I can try to do with my child even in a more [urban] environment.
GM: That’s beautiful; that’s a beautiful way to put it, and I’m right there with you. I am right there with letting my daughter struggle and letting her fail sometimes. It is hard to sit back and watch it, and I protect fiercely her dreaming time–her time where other parents may think she is doing nothing. That is where creation comes from, and we are definitely living in an urban, overscheduling environment and I am against it.
Jewel: I highly recommend this book from one mom to another, Simplicity Parenting. Have you heard of it?
GM: No, I haven’t heard that one.
Jewel: This is going to be your new favorite book. It is written by a child psychologist named Kim John Payne. I’d love you to share it with your readers.
Jewel: I have met him because I’m so involved with his works. Basically, he talks about everything that you’re saying and he’s done a lot of research on technology and screen time and what it does to our kids. It is fascinating, and the book talks about soulful discipline. Some of these websites are specifically on parenting.com.
GM: Well, thank you for sharing. I will absolutely share that with our readers. We have a lot of different readers on our site. It is GeekMom, and there is technology sharing and STEM but also lots of homeschoolers and we have people taking things back into their own hands as parents. Do you have something that you are geeky about, like what is your passion in your parenting?
Jewel: I love discovery through science. Kase really wanted to be an astronaut and that was a good opportunity to help encourage him. Sometimes I think some that being online is an incredibly fun and helpful tool for learning. We just need to make sure that we’re not creating addictive patterns on the internet. I read an interesting study that says children’s brains can not process images quicker than four seconds at a time, so if you look at educational programming, every edit is about .2 second. They learn but it passes to processing and goes right to their fight or flight.
Jewel: Then the adrenaline levels rise and cortical levels rise, leaving everything else feeling boring. So how do we use technology responsibly when there’s so much available to us? That is so much of their lives, and then what things inhibit and not help their imaginations? What can help their synapses grow and develop? We do have an app where we can hold the iPad up to the stars and it will show the constellation and we see stars and it is amazing. It’s such a cool, a fun thing to talk about and share with him.
GM: Ok, last question here and this is actually from Ella. She wanted to know if Kase got to finish making his town with his grandpa and if you saw a bear.
Jewel: He saw a moose, no bear. They did finish the town, except Opa is still having to build the fort.
GM: I wanted to thank you so much for sharing and you’re just a wonderful mom and a wonderful example of being able to do it all, and I hope you have a great holiday and a great year continuing into 2017!
Jewel: Oh, and I want to talk a little now about my dad and my brothers; tomorrow we’ll be doing a Christmas Day special on TBS. It’s going to be filmed here in Nashville and we are going to share songs and music. So let your people know about it because there won’t be a lot of time to advertise–just getting the word out myself.
GM: Absolutely! I will let them know to look out for it. Thanks a lot for the call and for the interview.
Cast of Alaska: The Last Frontier
Atz Lee Kilcher
Alaska: The Last Frontier is produced for the Discovery Channel by Discovery Studios. Executive producers are Daniel Soiseth, Vince Ueber, and Brigham Cottam, with Dustin Rubin serving as the co-executive producer. For the Discovery Channel, Matt Vafiadis is executive producer, with Brian Peterson serving as the coordinating producer.