In this tsunami of uncertainty and challenge, what has this disruption brought to your home life? In this episode, Danielle Bettmann, Owner and Parent Coach at Wholeheartedly LLC, joins Jason Wrobel and Whitney Lauritsen to talk about the COVID-19 situation and discuss how to be a good enough parent during these times of crisis and the struggles of parenting. Danielle shares how this disruption has affected every aspect of her life as a parent. From keeping her kids entertained to getting work done from home, Danielle dives into playing multiple roles at once and how this crisis has magnified problems at home for parents that were already there prior to the pandemic. Learn how you can choose to be an ambassador for your child and be the guide that they need and a track record to go off of.
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How to Be a Good Enough Parent In The Time Of COVID-19 with Danielle Bettmann
First and foremost, it’s important for us to come clean if you are a new reader that Whitney and I are not parents. We have had some wonderful guests here on the show talking about some interesting parental perspectives and what it’s like to raise little ones in the world, from our previous guests, Adam Yasmin, Letha Coughlin, Justin Polgar. We’ve had many incredible parental perspectives here on the show. One thing that has been interesting over the course of this whole COVID-19 situation is hearing a lot of stories and getting to eavesdrop in on some of the struggles, challenges, and triumphs that a lot of Whitney and my friends have been going through who are parents. We’re having no direct experience. We’re getting this all through osmosis and observation. One of the first and most obvious questions, Danielle having you here on the show is, what the heck has this time been like for you with your little ones, being a parent and being a parental coach? What is this tsunami of uncertainty, challenge and creativity have brought to your home life? What’s that been like for you?
It’s been a lot.
That’s a loaded answer. What does that mean? What does a lot mean?
The toughest part from the beginning was that it was unexpected and no one saw this coming. We all went on spring break or we’re living our best life, then it’s like the floor dropped out from under us. There is much debate between what school has in our society, but we’re all realizing what happens when it’s not there. It’s a disruptor to every aspect of our life as parents. I have two daughters. They are 6 and 7. They are going into 1st and 2nd grade. They’ve been home with me every day while I work from home. We’ve also lived in a two-bedroom apartment this whole time. We’ve been living here for years. It’s not ideal to have kids in this tiny space with me that we had chosen. We were investing in Montessori private education as well as extracurricular activities and some other things that were very social for us to offset the minimalist lifestyle that we had in this apartment.
All of that fell away to be us and the apartment leftover. It has been a little difficult keeping them entertained, learning and growing while I’m trying to get work done. My husband has been working at a restaurant that has stayed open this whole time, thankfully. He hasn’t been here to manage that load either. The parenting world is the hardest job in the world anyway. It’s not because of the workload but because of the level of influence and importance in what we’re doing of shaping these young minds. To add the dynamic of having to be three roles at once with no reprieve and no support system has exacerbated the problems that were already there, but now they’re magnified with no end in sight.
Two things I want to interject briefly. I went to Montessori school for most of my early education. Shout out to the Montessori system. It’s wonderful. This was back in the ‘80s and early ‘90s, but that education and their whole format were interesting. For me, Danielle, that was such a wonderful match. Growing up, I was an outspoken, outlandish and creatively wild child. In some ways, my mom was trying to corral that creativity and put it somewhere where it could flourish. In her estimation, we grew up in Detroit and she was like, “I don’t think the public school system is going to be a good container for all that creativity and all those outrageous ideas.” I remember growing up and feeling so much permission and encouragement in that Montessori system to be like, “You’re wonderful, wacky, unique, super hyper and creative, and we’re going to find channels for that.” I love that your girls are getting that system of education because I rave about it to this day. I don’t know if it’s in the cards for me, but if a child ever come through in my life, I would consider a Montessori education for my child as well. That’s rad. That was a long-winded rant.
It still is an unheard-of world.
I remember I had a friend that went to Montessori growing up and I always thought it was cool. For many years, I’ve thought that if I become a parent, I’d love to homeschool, then seeing a lot of people talk about how challenging it has been during COVID has shifted my perception of that. It’s not that I thought of it from a rose-colored glasses perspective. I didn’t think that it would be easy per se but COVID shined a lot of light onto my eyes in terms of my perceptions of what it means to be a parent and what to do when school is not happening and things are uncertain. For you as both a parent and somebody that works in this whole world with parents and kids, have you seen a lot of this on social media as well? Do you think social media is doing a good job of showing the realities of parenting during COVID?
There has been a lot of headlines given to the struggle which is needed. We need to be talking about how hard these demands are that we’re putting on parents, and how impractical it can be for a lot of working parents to keep up their full-time workload with a two-year-old on their lap. I’ve heard of a lot of complaints on social media and the memes are keeping us alive and entertained. Thank God for memes, the real hero of 2020. It’s good that we’re talking about it and we’re highlighting it. The spring, we were all saying like, “Bless you, teachers. You do such amazing work. You are heroes and you should be paid $1 million per hour for what you do.” We were all trying to distance learn or eLearn or homeschool and realizing how hard it is.
Now we’re putting teachers in the worst position ever in the fall where they’re fearing for their lives. Society is like, “Suck it up.” It’s bizarre because, on one hand, we are seeing how needed school is for everything else to be working. We do lean to school as a society to be childcare during the day for full-time working parents. It is a source of healthy meals for low-income families. It provides transportation, all of that social growth, so much stimulation, and for kids to be able to be seen. It doesn’t make sense that we’re not funding schools in the way that we are viewing their importance.
If there is a silver lining to COVID, it has shown us a lot of things that are important in a new way because we can take things like that for granted. We can become distant from the realities of what’s going on, but when something is fully taken away from us, then suddenly, we realize how important it is to us. When things are being reframed, for instance, this has given many people the opportunity to evaluate their lives and the system of how we work locally, nationally and globally. It’s been fascinating for me, not being a parent but having many friends that are seeing their stories online plus all of these strangers who are posting about these things. I’ve felt much more aware of what’s going on and curious about it.
There are also many things that feel very complicated. It’s not going to be easy to shift them. It’s going to take a while but I’m grateful that more people almost seem they have a voice to share what hasn’t been working and try to come up with some solutions or bring up things that need to change even if it’s not going to happen this school year. It might happen in the future. I almost wonder if people feel more empowered. Do you think that’s the case? Do you think people are feeling more comfortable speaking up about what hasn’t been working well?
Yes, even when it comes to parents deciding what to do about what is the best fit for their family. Parents are beginning to feel empowered that they are the expert of their kids, and they do have the power to take ownership of their kids’ education in a way that they never viewed as a possibility before. A lot of parents are taking on homeschooling by choice as a whole new thing. These are parents that would have never said in my whole life will I ever homeschool my kids? They’re seeing that everyone does need to be thinking about these big and important aspects of our lives in a new light, new ways and this “new world” and re-evaluate what’s worth it and what’s not. Do I need to leave my job and stay home full-time? Do I need to find a job I can work from home? Is it important for me to be there for my family or make this work? I do think that it is a rumbling period in a good way, that it has almost to get worse before it gets better. We can have the important conversations and move things forward little-by-little that hopefully take over some policy changes and funding down the road.
I’m curious about how your little ones or your girls are emotionally handling this whole situation. One of the things that I’ve observed with good friends of mine who have younger children is they talk about missing their friends, missing school and specific ways that they would interact with their classmates. Even though they’re at home with mom, mom and dad, or dad and dad, whatever the container is, that they miss their friends and they miss that social container that is nourishing for them. I’m curious, on a visceral level, depending on how open you want to get about this, what kind of waves of emotions have been coming up for them? How are you guiding them through their emotional processing?
It’s as we would if we were going through the same thing as kids. Who doesn’t want an extended spring break? “We don’t have to go back to school.” There was that wave. That soon died off when Zoom calls and some of the distance learning stepped in. As we know, Zoom is not the same thing as in real life, especially for five-year-olds that are in kindergarten and are looking at twenty faces on a screen of their friends picking their noses. They’re trying to get a lesson on something. That doesn’t work. They easily checked out of that even though I saw it as valuable so that they could get books read to them from their teacher and continue to have that connection or even be able to wave to their friends.
They right away saw no engagement from that. It almost made it worse because they would start to remember what they’re missing. That would cue a meltdown or an emotional reaction, which then you as the parent on the other side of the screen are like, “No, this is the only school you’re getting. I need you to pay attention to.” It created that stressful moment between us parent to a child where they were being like, “I’m getting these expectations that are weird and I don’t know what to do with this. I want to play because I’m at home. I don’t understand.” There were at least two months that we didn’t see anyone. My husband went to work but we stayed home and didn’t see a soul.
We decided to make a bubble up with another family that we were good friends with. We decided to let our kids play with each other while the rest of us were still quarantined. That’s been our saving grace. We ended up hiring a nanny part-time to watch all four of our kids at certain times of the week so that we could both work. Our kids have been able to play with friends almost every day. Without that, I don’t know where we would be because they have been able to get out of the house. They’ve been able to play in the swings out in the backyard and do some childhood things like dig up snails, play forts, and do all of the things that make them feel normal.
Are they on track academically as they would have been without COVID? Probably not, but is that the main concern? Absolutely not. It’s their emotional wellbeing. That’s the main concern. My girls are doing well with it. I know my more sensitive one is my second daughter. She can take on more of the vibe, emotions and stress of a situation, and reacts much more bipolarly, high highs and low lows. She struggled with some increased separation anxiety having to ease away from me in the mornings after we’ve gotten out of that routine, and having more meltdowns about things or having a lot more higher emotions about simple things. It’s that venting that has to happen when life feels weird.
I also briefly want to give a little bit of context for the readers. We’re having this episode in August 2020. Given the ever-changing transformative nature of this COVID thing in the school year coming up when this episode comes out, things may be different in our culture. I wanted to give that little caveat for the readers. On that tip, you talk about the depth of emotion. It’s interesting because Whitney and I are best friends. We are on this show and we’ve talked a lot about our childhood and certain elements of our childhood.
One thing that I’ve similarly had a challenge with as you’re describing your daughter, how sensitive she is, and these high highs and low lows, I’ve had that my entire life. I’ve been an empath. I’m curious with you guiding her, helping her, and shape her emotional relationship to the world. What are some other techniques or things you’ve investigated in terms of her being a sensitive, empathic person? How do you see that moving forward in her life, being that she is so receptive and open to taking on other people’s emotions?
It is a challenging dynamic. Those kids can have much influence and leverage to connect with people. They can be the brightest spot in the room and make everyone feel happy, but also can create a tsunami that is hard to deal with as their dependent adults. It’s a high task as a parent to parent a child like that because you have to be strong yourself emotionally and master emotional intelligence yourself first in order to be able to teach onto a child like that. That’s a struggle of our generation of parents. We weren’t treated in that way. We don’t know how to be able to react to big emotions in a healthy way. We are still struggling with boundaries and having our triggers that aren’t healed from our childhoods. We’re coming from a place of not being set up for success with that.
That’s a lot of what I do when I work with parents that are my clients. As we break down where that disconnect is or why it is so hard for them to react differently to this child in front of them than they were reacted to as a kid. Just because you read a book that tells you how to do it differently, it doesn’t mean that sinks in and becomes your instinct. You have to work at rewiring how your brain takes that interaction, how you view their behavior, how you jump to a conclusion and become reactive or that fight or flight state yourself as a parent. What I have done is tried to rewire how I view her behavior and how I know that it is her having a hard time rather than her trying to manipulate a situation, get what she wants, be selfish, a brat or however you want to interpret it.
I give her all of the grace and say that she’s doing the absolute best that she can at that moment to have as much impulse control as she can and cope with the skills that she has. She’s having a hard time because it bubbled into this big reaction. I am her adult and I am here to help. The best way that I can help is to be responsive to what I know works for her. She needs to have physical reassurance, be able to regulate back to calm with someone, and be able to walk her through some steps to calm down like getting a drink of water, doing some breathing, getting a stuffed animal, blowing her nose, things like that. I’m trying to teach her that that’s who she is and how she reacts to things so that she doesn’t think that there’s anything wrong with that, but she knows how to set herself up for success or know how to help herself feel better when mom is not there to help her through it for her. Every kid is different. That’s why each parent has to figure out what works for their child. The hardest part of it all is keeping our own reactions in check.
It’s beautiful hearing parents like you talk about these things. It reminds me of a friend of mine and Jason’s named Tamara, who does conscious parenting coaching. Even though I’m not a parent, I love seeing people and hearing them talk about these things because it’s so incredibly important to teach people these things. It’s interesting too because one thing I’d love to hear you speak on is your podcast seems to me and your work with Failing Motherhood, in general, is about helping people with all the struggles of parenting.You are the mom your kids need. Click To Tweet
It’s reminding us that it’s okay to make mistakes and that every mother and father as well could make mistakes along the road. There’s no such thing as being perfect. What was interesting to me with a lot of things that you’re talking about here, it sounds like if we can create more self-acceptance with kids and be gentler with them. When I hear these things, I think of how much would my life have been different if I was raised that way? Looking back and thinking, not necessarily feeling resentful towards my parents because I love my parents. As adults, when we become conscious and work on ourselves, we can identify the shortcomings of our parents in some ways.
I try to reign myself. I don’t want to get into this place to blame and like, “All my problems are because of them and I would do things differently.” No matter what we do as parents, that’s going to be the mindset of children when they’re older. It’s looking back and being like, “I wish I was raised differently.” It almost feels like no matter what you do, you’re still going to impact your child in some sense and in a way that they may have to undo when they’re older if that makes sense. Do you think that’s true? It’s hard to verbalize. I know you know what I mean here because there’s this idea of there are many things that we can do and adjust. I wonder were my parents thinking that they were doing a great job when they were raising me when I was little.
I’m not saying that they didn’t do a good job. Some of the things that you’re bringing up here are things that I don’t think my parents did because they didn’t have the tools back then. You can’t blame them because the culture was different. The education that they had as parents were different. Some parents are more into figuring these things out than others. Some people take more of an intuitive approach. That even happens now, despite all the resources we have. Some parents choose to do things differently or the way their parents did them. I would think that if I do become a parent, I could get a little bit stuck in that “trying to do things right” mentality. I’m curious if you struggled with that and/or if your clients and the people that you’re having on your podcast struggle with that as well.
We have much information at our fingertips that you can be easily overwhelmed with wanting to know all the things, do all the things, be all of the things as a parent, and have a high bar for ourselves. Surely, if it’s on Pinterest, we should be able to do it. That’s not feasible because we are still human beings ourselves and we have a very limited capacity. When you become a parent, you almost think that your day is going to expand. Now you’re going to have 30 hours and 8 of them are going to be are made of parenting and then you keep up for the rest of your life. For me, it’s everything you do when you don’t have any more time to do it.
You can only do so much and we do the best we can with what we have. When we know better, we can do better. That is the beautiful thing of continued brain research and all of the things that we have been learning and sharing with each other. The view of a child has grown significantly in the past few generations. From they should be seen and not heard, they have no contribution to society, it’s evolving to they’re a blank slate, and we can create them into whatever we want them to be. Now, we’re realizing that the first seven years of a child’s life is when their subconscious is wired. It’s like downloading software that they then cap off and run on autopilot for the rest of their life.
It still can ebb and flow but it doesn’t happen at the forming rate of 1 million neuron connections per second that it does in the first seven years where 90% of the brain grows. Now that we know that, we can emphasize the things that matter most for that development and be able to prioritize meeting kids’ needs in that time and space. This is something that isn’t well-known enough. A dollar invested in the first seven years of a person’s life pays off seven times that investment when they’re grown-up. You don’t have to invest as a society in all of these too-little-too-late remedies like jail time, unemployment, welfare or all these other things that have ways that we help people if we invested in the earliest years, when it matters the most and can be maximized, then much of that is even eliminated as a need. That’s not how our society funds things and views things right now, that’s where they have a disconnect.
The way that I’ve personally dealt with that as a parent is having grace for myself to say, “I’m going to do the best I can. I’m going to make the best decisions that I know I can.” At the end of the day, I’m not going to beat myself up for all the ways I failed because I’m still loving my kids more than anyone else will. I’m still the expert of them more than anyone else will ever be. I do have some confidence in the knowledge that I have of child development to know that if I’m reading to them every night, if I am making them a priority for some quality time and paying attention to them with some eye-contact, if I’m having longer conversations with them, introducing a lot of vocabulary, and if I’m making sure that they have two present parents, we have a roof over our head, we’re paying our bills and providing some resources for them, then we’re doing a good job. You need to know what things matter most. You cannot have them have this huge elaborate birthday party or all of these other things that could be the frosting on the top of the cake, but that’s not going to make or break them as a human being.
I love that post you had on your Instagram which is, “You are the mom your kids need.”
That is the take-home message that I tried to drive home from every episode of Failing Motherhood. When you believe that, then you can move forward and have some confidence in your decisions and do it well.
I’m sure other readers are feeling some sense of relief. It’s a little bit of the emotion I would characterize what I’m feeling now. One of my biggest fears around the idea of parenthood, because I’m not a parent, that despite my best efforts of loving them and guiding them as best I can that I’m going to screw them up. That probably is at the top because I’ve sat with us. Whitney knows this because we’ve had many conversations over the years about this. It’s an ongoing conversation of what are the source and the depths of my fears around parenthood. You’re nailing it around I’m terrified of screwing them up.
It’s not just what Whitney alluded to at one point in the life of them looking back and being like, “Great job, dad. You did this and didn’t do that. Now I have all this trauma.” The core of it is that despite my best efforts and best intentions that they will be “screwed up” somehow. The tenet of your podcast and your brand that you’re talking about is allowing for failure like it’s a built-in thing. It’s weird because in some aspects of life, I’m not afraid to take risks and fail to be an entrepreneur, an artist and all that. It’s baked into that but with parenthood, it terrifies the hell out of me the idea that I might fail.
For you, not only in your own psychology, and I want to get a little bit as we go on into neurobiology and behavioral psychology because you said a few buzz words that piqued my mind and I went like, “I want to talk to her about that.” With your fears of failure or you coaching other parents who have similar fears like I’m bringing up, what do you say to them and what do you say to yourself if some of that inner talk comes up like, “You’re going to screw them up, don’t do this.” How do you talk to yourself and other people through that?
What I realized is that it is insanely common because I was having many conversations with parents. I sent out an anonymous survey so that I could get even more honest responses. I asked, what fears do you have as a parent? What are the things that you’re afraid to admit? I got over 100 anonymous responses from people that had been following me. They all either said, “I feel like I’m failing. I feel like I’m screwing everything up. I feel like I’m screwing up my kids.” This was a huge theme throughout the survey. I was expecting parents to say like, “I hope nothing happens to my kids. I don’t want them to get sick,” things like that.
It was this huge thread that came through but then they also said, “I feel like I’m the only one.” I’m like, “We need to talk about this.” If this is an innate thing that is true of almost everyone’s parenting journey, then we need to normalize it and take away the stigma of shame that’s attached to feeling like you’re the only one because we’re not all that unique. There is much more we have in common as parents in this experience and a lot of it is that this journey is humbling. Much about being a parent is getting face-to-face with all of your weaknesses, all of the things that you didn’t even know you suck at and having to deal with it on a daily basis.
It’s either choosing not even to care or you choose to engage, continue to grow, be apologizing, and trying again the next day. If you are willing to engage with that journey, then you’re going to have failures, screw up, lose your mind on your kids, say things you said you’d never say, and do things you said you never do. If you continue to center yourself, come back and start over day-after-day, if you’re willing to apologize to your kids, and you understand how influential your relationship is, then you’re going to keep making the main things the main things. There is only an 80/20 results rate for how good of a parent we can be. We’re never going to hit that perfection level as a human with flaws.
If that’s true, then we do have to come face-to-face with our tempers, triggers, and all the ways that we are selfish still. Even though we love this human being with everything in us and we would die for them, we still get annoyed and irritated at them. We have to continue to keep trying. That’s what my message is. There are things that are going to screw up your kids and there is so much that is outside of our control as parents. Whatever we think we have control over is an illusion because our kids are completely separate people. They are on their own trajectory in life. They have their own opinions and they have their own job to do here on earth.
We’re here to guide them, be their ambassador, give them a track record to go off of and some path to follow. A lot of that is leading by example. We have to be living and doing the things that we’re trying to teach them. That’s more of the work. That’s why parenting is called parenting. It’s not childing. It’s about us as parents learning, growing, continuing to evolve, and get better as the journey goes on. Our kids still have a lot of things that they’ll have to figure out the hard way and they’ll make some bad choices but we don’t have control over that. That’s what sucks about parenting too. We have to watch them crash and burn. Nothing hurts a parent more than seeing your kids screw up and fail. We wish that we could keep them from any pain ever, but that won’t allow them to grow into who they’re going to be eventually. We can’t rob them of that. It’s hard.
It’s wonderful how open you are about all this. You talking about that survey is interesting and I’m curious in terms of specificity in your own life. Do you have any specific examples of a situation that happened where you reacted in a certain way and then the process of forgiving yourself? What’s that like for you as a parent where you have a situation that you judge yourself of “I didn’t do my best. I didn’t show up as brilliant, caring or patient as I wanted to be.” After a situation like that happens, what’s your internal process psychologically? Is there forgiveness work you have to do? Is there asking for forgiveness or saying sorry to your kids? In the nitty-gritty way, could you get a little bit more specific on what that process is like when you show up in a certain way and feeling you “screwed up?” What do you do after that for yourself?
Thankfully, my personal personality is not one that is changed to a strong inner critic. I know that’s almost the exception at this point.
You’re like a mutant. That’s like you’re an X-Woman power like, “I don’t beat myself up. Who are you?”
I’ve realized that doing a lot more self-development growth, personality tests, and talking to my husband because he’s the exact opposite. He has the world’s loudest inner critic.
I know that you’re an Enneagram seven. Is he an Enneagram one?
He still can’t figure himself out but he leans most to a one.
We had an Enneagram expert on our show. When I saw that on your website, I was like, “I understand what this means.”Whatever we think we have control over is an illusion. Click To Tweet
It’s fun. He has a harder time beating himself up at the end of the day saying, “I didn’t handle this well and I should have done this,” and giving himself a run through. I was a competitive gymnast for about fourteen years and my parents did a good job. My husband and I were joking about this. I was the firstborn and as they kept parenting, the wheels fell off the train. My siblings don’t have as good of a story. I felt like things went down well for me and they had a good relationship with me for the good solid part of my childhood. I grew up mostly at gymnastics. I was there 20 to 25 hours a week outside of school.
A lot of how my personality was formed through that trial and error of having to fail at a highly dangerous and competitive skill, hundreds of times practicing it before I could go compete, and working through that growth mindset that we would now call a growth mindset. I was able to develop that in a healthy way where now we all are trying to fight this fixed mindset idea that there’s something inherently wrong with us if we aren’t able to do things the best the first time.
For my husband and other parents that have much more of that anxiety, mom guilt and the idea around, “I am failing,” what I’ve had to help them through that is being able to see that, do you care? Yes, you care. That’s why you’re wrapped up in wanting to do it well. Do you continue to try every day even when you’re exhausted? Yes. Do you love your kids more than anyone else? Yes, absolutely. Are you trying your best to learn and grow as you take on new information about your kids, school or whatever? Are you able to change your mind and make a new choice? If yes, then you’re doing a great job.
You have to be able to believe at the end of every day that you’re doing your best and your best will somehow be good enough for your kids. They’re your kids for a reason. I wouldn’t be able to parent my friends’ kids at all in any way, shape or form as well as I’m able to parent mine. There’s chemically the connection, the experience over time, and the track record of knowing each other. The intimacy that grows in a relationship with all of those breakdowns of having to repair your relationship over and over all the times that we screw up. It bonds us in a way that this relationship was meant for. You can’t bond if you don’t have to repair the relationship and you can’t repair the relationship if nothing bad goes wrong. We’re doing a good job if we’re finding reasons to apologize and show our kids by example that humility and growth.
It reminds me in some ways of the Wabi-sabi philosophy that is endemic to the Japanese culture. You’re talking about the strength through the challenge and these tough situations that strengthens the bond. In the Wabi-sabi philosophy, the imperfections make something stronger. When sculptors, glassmakers or an artisan create something beautiful, they will intentionally press their thumb into it, crack it slightly or make a flaw in it because in their opinion, the imperfection of it is what makes it beautiful. I love that you have that philosophy.
I want to jump back to some of the tidbits in terms of wiring, neurobiology, and some of the buzz words you used around behavioral psychology. In terms of your kids, you mentioned the massive amount of brain development, wiring and neuroplasticity. I’m curious in terms of you as an adult, you talked about rewiring. What are some of the techniques that you love in terms of neuroplasticity, rewiring your brain, overcoming some of these old limiting belief systems? How do you employ that as a parent and as an adult in your life? What’s that like for you? What techniques do you have for that?
I have asked every single one of my clients that I’m working with through coaching that’s a mom to write an affirmation. That was not something that I did a whole lot personally prior to this work. I’ve understood the value of the repeated power of our mind to focus on creating this new pathway of thinking that it takes because our brain isn’t firing at the same level of forming than it was back in the day. We have to have much more repetition to make that a strong pathway for our brains to think. Affirmations in writing them in a way that we aspire to think, going back and focusing on them at least daily is one of the big ways that I recommend for parents to start to change their mindset and their perspective. At least, when it comes to their own view of themselves as a parent.
Speaking in the affirmative of like, “I am patient, playful, kind, present, and I’m going to try again the next day.” Simple phrases like that help reiterate the things that we want to believe about ourselves and the ways that we’re showing up. We need to keep thinking of them. It does wire our minds to think that way then. The other big thing about what we focus on is what multiplies. When that comes to parenting, if we are continuing to obsess about the negative things, the behaviors that we are bothering us from our kids, the things that aren’t working, all of the ways that the culture of our home, or the way that life is not where we wanted it to be.
If we keep reiterating that this should be this way, my kids should be this way, and I should be this way, then we’re going to see more and more reasons for that. If we can focus on the good, seeing the value in what is working, and reinforce positively the ways that we do see our kids learning and growing, following directions, being kind, and doing the things that we’ve asked them to do a million times, then that will multiply. We’ll create that snowball momentum in the right direction. Every time that I meet with clients, I celebrate their wins and I reiterate the progress that we’re seeing over the perfection or the product or the end result.
We keep focusing on, if this is working then we’ll keep moving in that direction. What are all the ways that kids are listening or doing what you asked? I asked them to have a family meeting if they have older kids and ask their kids how they want to feel in their home, and how can we all help each other feel that way in our home. What values are important to us as a family? Becoming intentional about those things makes you focus on those things. Your brain points it out when you see those things. It becomes that confirmation bias over time that helps you have a healthy mindset on how things are going rather than we’ll always have a reason to complain about something.
I’m also curious in terms of keeping your inner child alive. With parents that I talked to, one of their challenges sometimes is feeling that #adulting with bills, mortgage, cars, work, life insurance plans, and taking care of their parents. It’s all the things that we engage in as adults and in our society. Do you find that it’s harder to keep your inner child alive because of all the adulting and adult responsibilities? Do your girls help that inner child stay alive vis-a-vis playing with them, teaching them, learning with them, and getting excited about what they’re excited about. What’s your relationship to your inner child as a parent and how do you keep that alive in your life?
That is a road that every parent has to walk down and circles with. It’s yes and no. There’s always that competing tension between all of our adult responsibilities and our inner child that wants to come out and play just like work-home balance doesn’t exist. I don’t think that there’s a good balance between checking all the boxes, getting your bills paid, and also making sure that we’re taking care of ourselves. I have talked to a lot of parents that are surprised by how much they don’t like playing with their kids and don’t want to admit that out loud. I taught in the classroom. I was a pre-school teacher and an infant-toddler teacher prior to home visiting and all of this. I enjoy being in a classroom, leading these lessons, and playing on the floor with these little kids. Now as a parent, I want nothing to do with it.
As a parent, you think like, “What’s wrong with me if I don’t want to play with my own kids that I created and go through these phases that I went through as a kid?” There are some things that will pique your interest if you have a toy from your actual childhood that you can introduce your child or introduce them to a movie that you remember loving as a kid. For the most part, the whole weight of responsibilities and the mental load that it takes to parent and all of the care routines in the first few years wipe out anything extra that you could put to those “fun times” and relaxing with your kids and wanting to play with them.
That adds guilt because we aren’t doing the thing that we know we should be doing as a parent. That creates even more of that spiral of resentment, “I don’t want to have to do that. I never get to do anything I like to do. I would rather be doing this.” It’s an inner battle. Every parent wrestle through some identity crisis of, “Who am I now that I’m a parent? I still like the things I liked before I was a parent. Now, everything seems like I don’t have time for that anymore. I’m losing my North Star because some things that mattered before don’t matter anymore and I don’t know how to spend my time.”
When you come on the other side of that, which is a different path for every parent, we start to realize, “I am a healthier, happier, funnier to be around a parent that can be more playful when I’m a healthy whole person myself first.” Self-care or whatever you want to talk about for that looks different for every parent. When there’s still parts of my day-to-day life that make me light up and remember who I was before parenting, that creates the ball of energy that I need to get through and muddle through all of these care routines and the rest of the adulting that I’m responsible for.
It’s a key thing to build back into your life as a parent if you don’t have that now. That can be simple of waking up before your kids, having a cup of coffee, meditating, reading, doing some yoga, or doing something that takes care of you that feels indulgent or being able to getaway. Traveling every once in a while, without the kids or having some a creative outlet can help. It helped me a lot. I’ve always worked since having my daughters but I knew that that was part of me. I’m a better parent when I still remember that I’m a person too.
I need adult interaction. I need to have other things that I’m responsible for that light me up. It adds a lot of work to my plate too to manage all of those things at once. If I drop my kids off at school and then I pick them up later, we are happier to see each other, we had the privilege of missing each other, and we get to be more present in that shorter amount of time that we’re together than if I was arbitrary with them all day because I’m supposed to be with them all day, but we don’t enjoy that time or maximize that in any way. That’s not what’s healthier for both of us. Every parent wrestle with that guilt of, what should I do?
For me and Jason, not being parents, it’s tough because we both get presented every once in a while, this question of, should we have kids? Not together, we’re not dating but separately as friends. We talk about this a lot and Jason’s girlfriend where there’s been an ongoing discussion about children. That’s come up a lot for him and I’m curious to hear you talk about that too, Jason. For me, it is also slightly different as a woman because there’s this clock ticking and trying to make up your mind about whether or not I want to be a mom. That’s an interesting thing to examine too especially a lot of my friends have kids and I’m sitting here thinking like, “Am I the only one that doesn’t have kids?” Many people are choosing to have children. There’s not that many people I know that choose not to have children, at least in this stage of my life. That’s interesting cognitively.
For you talking about all of these trade-offs in a way, trying to make sure that you’re still nourishing yourself beyond being a parent. That’s what makes it tricky for me. I wonder what I even like being a parent, what am I losing myself, and you’re giving some things up. I struggle with that a lot as you hear these cliché things like, “Parenting is tough but it’s worth it. I would never trade it,” and all of those things. I also hear a lot of my friends that seem stressed out a lot of the time and I’m thinking I’m already stressed out. Sometimes my dog feels like a lot of work. I can’t imagine having a child too.
I love kids and I always thought that I would be a mom. Now, I’m a little less attached to that outcome. I’m like, “It’ll maybe happen or won’t.” I don’t feel like I mind either way at this stage of my life. The more that I’ve been around my friends that are parents, the more hesitant I start to become. I’m seeing some joy but there’s a lot of stress. From the outside, it starts to feel unappealing, to be honest. Jason, you’ve verbalized a lot of similar things. You’re like, “Why should I become a dad? My life is good. My life is hard as it is already. Why would I add something new into the mix?” Would you say that, Jason?
It’s like a dual-edged sword to me in the sense of there’s another element to it. With my friend’s kids, my younger cousins, or whatever the case may be, I’ve naturally always had this role of like, “Uncle Jason, he’s going to play. He does funny voices and he’s crazy. He’s 50 characters in one.” At the end of the night, I’m like, “I’m going home, enjoy.” It’s like when the tough parts come, I’m like, “I’m out of here. You guys handle this. You’re the parents.” I get to be the fun uncle. I get to be the one that immediately my entire life and to this day, kids gravitate toward me. I love that level of interaction because I can meet them at the level of play, fantasy, fun, and all those things. To piggyback on what Whitney is alluding to, there’s this dualistic fear that I have that I’m still working through psychologically of the fear of loss of freedom because of my business. Typically, I travel a lot and there’s a lot of travel involved, being away from home, and there’s a lot of creative endeavors that I’m focused on.
I suppose in that regard, and I don’t mean this in a negative way where I’m beating myself up, but there was a part of me that’s selfish that’s like, “I don’t want to give that up. I like that.” To Whitney’s point, being an entrepreneur, all the adulting things, we mentioned all the things that one focuses on as an adult, I have a whole bevy of animals that I care for, I have a girlfriend, and I have a mom who’s aging that I want to take care of. To think about throwing a child in that mix is like, “Oh my God.” Psychologically, that would be slamming the overwhelm button. I’m aware of the macro fears that I have around all of it. That’s affected my relationship. I’ve been in relationships where my partners have said, “I want to have kids.” In a few cases, “I’m ready to have kids now.” I was like, “This is not going to happen.” I don’t know that I have a conclusion necessarily, Danielle. I’m going by Whitney’s prompt of the loss of freedom, the fear of screwing them up, and the fear of being completely overwhelmed scares the absolute hell out of me.
It’s founded with that.
It’s tricky because it’s tough to talk to parents about these things. It’s almost like you’re on two different sides. Once you cross one side, you can no longer understand what it was like to be on the side to begin with. The standard answer I hear from a lot of parents is, “It’s tough but it’s worth it.” Every once in a while, I’ve had open conversations with some parents and they’re like, “Honestly, if you’re on the fence about being a parent, don’t become one.” I remember this one talk I had with my friend and her husband. This tends to come from men more than women which is interesting.It's called 'parenting' not 'childing' because it's about you growing as a person. Click To Tweet
I’ve also heard the same thing about childbirth. There were a few conversations or articles that I came across where people were saying that women felt like they needed to paint childbirth is easier than it was because they didn’t want people to be afraid to give birth. Yet, some people were starting to talk more about how hard it was to give birth and saying, “I wish that somebody had told me some of these challenges before I decided to become pregnant because I felt I was left in the dark.” There was almost this unspoken pact that women had of, “Don’t tell anyone how hard it is to give birth because otherwise fewer women will want to become parents.” I remember hearing that and thinking that’s horrible. If I had been misled to think that childbirth and motherhood are more wonderful and easy than it is, I felt frustrated hearing that.
When I have these honest conversations with parents, I feel grateful for it because I’d rather know what I was getting myself into versus make a decision and then it being a lot more challenging. That’s important not just for me but in general because our society is still very much advocating for parenthood. It’s this idea that if you don’t have kids, there’s something weird about you or, “Why aren’t you? Are you being selfish?” There’s this strange pressure to have kids. Speaking of tests, one thing I talk a lot about on the show is the four tendencies. My tendency is a questioner. I don’t do anything without asking why and getting as much information as I can about it. I’m not somebody that does something just because I’m told to do it.
My natural desire when it comes to parenthood is wanting to gather a lot of information but it’s been a struggle. Simultaneously, when I see a lot of parents and mothers struggling a lot, I found myself feeling less and less inclined to want to become a mother myself. It has become incredibly mentally challenging as a result. I find more and more reasons not to become a mom. That is another way that makes me feel a little bit sad. I wonder, “Am I sad because society has programmed me to be sad?” It’s no longer an easy thing of like, “If you want to become a parent just become a parent.” It’s not that simple because it seems like there’s much to weigh out. Because I’m such a questioner, I’m left with all of these questions and it’s analysis-paralysis for me.
It’s not fair because once you become a parent, it’s almost like you signed an agreement that says, “You chose this and this is a gift, therefore you’re not allowed to complain.” That’s what makes everyone feel like they can’t talk about how hard it is in an honest and authentic way.
I’m sure there’s that guilt of you never want to admit how bad it is because you don’t want to make your kids feel bad.
It’s not about them. It’s not that they’re a terrible person. It’s the experience that is hard. It’s different now than raising kids was. It probably was intended because our society is not meant to support families in the ways that they could and I would argue should. If you’re going to put that expectation out there and if you’re going to have parents raising the next generation, it’s a big deal and it’s a lot of work. We could use some help when it comes to simple things like postpartum checkups, more emphasis and awareness on supporting new moms through depression, anxiety, and all of the things that we know and are talking about a little bit more now. Childcare is a disaster in this country when it comes to finding something that is accessible and affordable.
There’s about one spot for every four kids nationwide and it’s not affordable in any way, shape or form. That’s like this untalked about battle too because you’re supposed to lean on your extended family. All the extended family now for this generation is still working because they’re working a lot older. A lot of us have moved away or are in the military. There are many more challenges than there ever seemed to be. It’s trending in an even more challenging direction when it feels like all of the policies that are being made are still reiterating all of those same factors. We don’t have a supportive village. We don’t have affordable ways to have the healthcare that our family needs and to pay our bills without added stress.
Being a parent is not set up to be an easy feat but it isn’t talked about enough on the other side. We all blindly sign up for it because that’s the way our society works and we don’t question it like you are. That’s an important thing to do because the more that parents felt blindsided by this effect and the more that they deal with those repercussions of, “This isn’t what I thought it was going to be and this is way harder than I ever wanted it to be,” that creates even more stress on the child that now hasn’t been asked to be in that position. It’s still mind-boggling that we can be allowed to accept and create ourselves to be parents without any training or any orientation course which we joke about. I talked to a parent that I was working with. He’s like, “You have to take this eight-hour boat orientation to rent this boat and we camp.” I was like, “That’s more training than any parent ever got. What is wrong with this picture?”
It’s interesting you bring that up because you having the archetype of your parents growing up, you briefly mentioned being the first child. In terms of you preparing or not preparing yourself, did you lean on some of the methods and archetypes from your parents, whether books you read? Were there courses you took? When you knew you were going to become a parent, what did you do to prepare for that having no training, no system, and no structure in our society set up to support that? How did you dive into that and learn?
Thankfully, my degree in college was on child development. I went to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and I got a degree that was giving me a teaching certificate from birth through third grade with some special ed and human development and all sorts of things combined. In that regard, I did have some training beyond what the average parent would. I had been working in classrooms at a school and I had been supporting parents through a home visiting program through Save The Children for several years prior to becoming a parent. I had almost over-inflated expectations where I felt like I knew what I needed to know and I had a good idea of what it was going to be like so therefore, I was going to nail it. That was not the case because the dynamic in the relationship between hanging out with your niece and nephew or hanging out with other people’s kids in a classroom is not the dynamic that the parent-child relationship is.
That’s an aspect that you can’t know what to expect until you’re there. The 24/7 aspect of parenting where you’re getting up at all hours of the night and you’re always having to think about them for every decision about your schedule for the day or travel or all of those things. You’re constantly having things thrown off by a random fever that throws your whole day because they’re sick now or whatever it is. You can’t take a sick day anymore. It becomes overarching and nobody tells you that. All of a sudden, you have this panic of like, “I can’t go back on this decision. This is my life now. I don’t know if I was ready for this.” You’re never going to be ready but you think like it’s going to be great.
When I was starting to talk to my friends about it and I was trying to open up about like, “This is hard.” I had my two daughters, they’re fifteen months apart. By surprise, I got pregnant with the second one when my first was only five months old, which was not planned. That was an expectation I had to deal with. Thankfully, it’s paid off now because they are both girls and they’re best friends. Before that, the first few years were a blur where my second I ended up having to have a C-section because she was breached. I was healing from that C-section with a fifteen-month-old. I couldn’t even still lift up but she needed to be in her high chair, in her crib, and all of the things.
My husband was traveling a ton and we didn’t have any family in town. I started joining a mom’s group and I started talking about like, “This is hard.” I’m being honest about it but I was scared to be honest about it because it seemed like everybody else had it together and could figure it out. It feels like there’s that expectation where if you become a parent then you know what to do. You’re not supposed to not know what to do or admit that you don’t know what you’re doing. That’s a big no-no. You’ll be judged for that. Suck it up, pretend, and fake it.
I was like, “I’m not faking it. This is way out of my league. I have a degree in this. How are you all handling this because you don’t have a degree that I have?” I thought I was better prepared. In some ways I was but in a lot of ways, I still wasn’t. The more that I started to talk to other moms and they would be honest back, then I realized we are doing the hardest job in the world with no training, no manual, and no village. Nothing was handed to us but it’s important work. We are forming human beings in their most influential brain development time.
What is going on here? That’s what made me start my company so that I could help more parents one-on-one. If meeting kids’ needs is the most important thing, meeting parents’ needs then allows them to meet their kids’ needs, and that allows kids to grow up healthy. My world view is everything that grownups struggle with whether they are depressed, in therapy, a criminal, murderer or whatever it is that grownups are struggling with, it all can be linked back to somewhere, someone not meeting a core psychological need for them in their first seven years of life. If that’s true, why aren’t we doing anything about that?
That’s such a great question. It goes back to what I brought up earlier. Can you address all of those things? Are we ever going to meet every single need of our children? Part of what makes it complicated is that if we as parents didn’t get our needs met, a lot of us are still figuring that out around the age that we’re having children. I saw this video on TikTok. It is a good one. I’ll share the specifics of it. It was a 25-year-old girl saying that when she was raised, she had to do chores as punishment. She said, “Here I am at 25 years old still associating things like doing laundry as something negative.” Her message was how important was for parents not to use things like chores as a punishment or something that they’re not going to enjoy doing because it will have that ripple effect throughout their whole lives.
It was wonderful to see that and sad at the same time because parents are always doing the best that they can and best that they know how. A lot of that is based on how they were parented. We create this whole cycle and one of us has to break it. The people that are trying to break that cycle for their children are still dealing with their struggles. As Jason and I learned much through doing this show specifically is it’s tough. Even the two of us, we work on this every single day. We’re focused on growing our awareness, expanding our consciousness, working on our wellness, and we still have such a long way to go. Similar to what you’re saying, you’re working on this, you’re studying this, and parenting is still tough for you. My heart goes out to people who don’t work on these things every single day because then they have an even more challenging part because the education or the practice isn’t there.
Much of it is we don’t know what we don’t know. If you never questioned your childhood, if you haven’t reflected on the things that your parents did well or didn’t serve you well enough and have learned new ways of doing that thing or new tools of how to get your kids to listen without spanking or without using chores as punishment. If you don’t have an alternative to that, then you’re going to repeat that. That’s going to be your parenting style by default. There are many parents that aren’t even conscious of that choice at all which is why things are so generational in the ways that we pass down all of our struggles because what we don’t know, we keep handing on. If we didn’t heal it, we keep giving it to our kids. That awakening of helping parents understand there are alternatives, you do need to do this work. You do have to do the work while continuing to parent because you can’t hit pause and get your life together.
Simultaneously knowing that even if you study everything and practice it regularly, you’re still going to make mistakes and you’re still not going to feel perfect. Even though I’m not a parent, what I can associate with that is the wellness side of things. Some people might think that I know how to eat perfectly because that’s what I’m focused on all the time. Every single day, eating is still a struggle and a debate for me. It’s like, “Am I going to choose this food or this food? How is this going to make me feel? Do I want something for an emotional reason versus a physical reason?” I’m still dealing with my own perfectionism every day despite the knowledge that I have. I imagine that is similar for you as a parent and you’re noticing that a lot with other parents.
That’s a huge part of the human experience in general. It’s not even about parenting or wellness and health. We have this strange conditioning and pressure to be perfect in our culture, which makes zero sense because none of us feel perfect. Why do we have this constant desire to strive for perfection if nobody is achieving that? It’s such an odd thing. I love that you shared about how going to these groups can be helpful if people are being honest with one another. What I continue to learn is one of us has to find the courage to speak up and say, “I’m struggling.” As soon as one person says that, it opens up and gives permission for other people to talk about their struggles. As much as we don’t want to be, sometimes we have to be that person that takes the first step and says out loud that this is hard for me. We may find many people that haven’t found that courage yet but because of us, we give them permission to say the same thing. That’s a wonderful part of your work and what you’re doing online.
Thank you. If I can go first then a lot of parents can go 2nd and 3rd, and be able to feel not alone when they hear many other stories that resonate with that fact and also feel the same way that they do and struggle with the same things they do. I do think that comes from our conditioning of how we parent and we’re parented because we have such an influence or an expectation of obedience. We’re focused on getting our kids to comply, do what we say when we’re asked, obey the first time, and have all this respect for authority. We’re micromanaging whether they go left or right and too fast or too slow. It’s all based on appearance opinion.
We wonder why we as grownups deal with being a people-pleaser, or not knowing our own voice, or having attunement to our intuition, being able to advocate for ourselves, what’s right for us, and have boundaries that say, “This isn’t working for me.” It’s because it’s driven out of us as kids. We’re not allowed to be our own person and advocate for ourselves or do what we feel is right or make healthy and conscious decisions because we’re supposed to do what our parents say. We do need to look at that disconnect and think about how we’re parenting.
If we’re parenting in a way that is going to set up our kids for success as a grownup and all of the ways that we feel like we’re still struggling or wanting to do better ourselves, it does come down to the places that we put importance on for our kids’ behavior whether we allow them to figure things out. It’s not to say that they can do whatever they want because they still need guardrails for, we know how they figure things out but, is it okay for them to be sad, mad and not agree with us? Is it okay for them to be able to voice their opinion, have more say over the ways that they express themselves, the clothes they wear, and even the food that they eat? Is it that important that we make them finish their plate or make them do all these things that our parents made us do? All of that needs to be questioned, in my opinion.
I couldn’t agree more but I’m a questioner. I have a natural tendency to question everything.Your best will be good enough for your kids. Click To Tweet
I’m a rebel. I’m rebellious in terms of the archetypes Whitney’s talking about with the tendencies. It’s interesting because in terms of the do as I say, not as I do archetype, that paradigm of parenting, I remember there were specific situations with my mom. My mom knew that I was rebellious young. It wasn’t a surprise to her but there are many examples of the do as I say, not as I do. I remember specifically when I was a teenager, I was like, “I want to get a motorcycle.” She’s like, “No, we’re not doing that.” I’m like, “You rode Harleys when you were also in your teens and twenties so you can’t tell me no.” It was the do as I say, not as I do. She’s like, “You’re not going to get a motorcycle.” I’m like, “That’s BS because you had them so I’m going to do it.” Lo and behold, I went and I got my license, I got a motorcycle. I was like, “You can’t tell me this.” I was rebellious against that. I’m curious if you ever catch yourself in the do as I say, not as I do paradigm. What do you do if you ever catch yourself in that mentality?
As parents, we catch ourselves in that way more often than we like to be because it’s convicting when we hear words coming out of our mouth that either was something that was said to us. We’re like, “Where did that come from? I didn’t want to turn into my parent.” We hear the truth smack us in the face by saying, “I can’t let you do this,” but then you have that thought in your head that pops up that’s like, “You did that.” You’re like, “Crap, I’m cutting my leg.”
My kids aren’t old enough. I don’t think I have the big moment of I’m not being authentic or I’m letting them do things that I would have said I wanted to do as a kid or whatever. How I manage my anger is the pain point for me that is the most convicting when I’m trying to help my more explosive reaction child to contain her reaction. I did the same thing when they wouldn’t go to bed. I clearly don’t have that mastered enough to expect that out of her when she has still only turned six. For some reason in my mind, I have high expectations for what that should look like. We need to have a lot more grace for all of us.
In terms of additional resources or guidance, you have your wonderful podcast and you have your coaching services. Are there any other teachers, educators or resources that you would want to highly recommend the readers that they check out as well?
Off the top of my head, Dr. Shefali Tsabary is a big leader in conscious parenting. I have both her books, The Awakened Family and The Conscious Parent are two of them. I highly recommend those. They are deep reads but are good at pointing out our insecurities, our fears as parents, how they drive our decision, and how that doesn’t serve us. If you bring your own childhood into play and say like, “I had a hard time making friends so therefore, I’m going to make sure that my kids are in all of these activities and they never have that problem.” If your kid ends up being an introvert and that totally doesn’t mesh with them then they’re going to pull inward even more. You created the hermit that you were trying to avoid the whole time.
She points out you need to individualize and customize all of your approaches to the kid that’s in front of you, not the kid that was you as a child or some hypothetical ideal of what you would do differently. Get to know your kid and make the best decision for your kid. It’s different the 1st kid versus the 2nd kid and fairness doesn’t exist. Her work is phenomenal. Dr. Dan Siegel has written several great parenting books that are good at talking about the brain science, more of the why and the how of how to raise kids without screwing them up or to a smaller degree of screwing them up.
One of my favorite parenting books is How To Talk So Kids Will Listen And Listen So Kids Will Talk and there’s a younger version that’s called How To Talk So Little Kids Will Listen. That’s one that has much more practical, easy to apply strategies that are in short little chapter bursts of lots of play-by-plays and better ideas of save this instead of this and you’ll get better results. That’s a good one that I recommend all the time. Janet Lansbury as well. I’ll throw that one in there. Janet Lansbury wrote No Bad Kids. She has a podcast where she answers listener’s letters and she gives good practical advice too to problem-solving scenarios that are helpful.
You sparked a question in terms of how we speak to our kids. I don’t mean to diminish the fact that there are many gradations of this approach but I suppose I’ve observed two main buckets from looking at friends and relatives that have little ones. On the one hand, I’ve seen people do almost a version of how I might speak to my animals. This is a poor way of describing it but a certain lilt or coloration the voice of like, “Do you want to go do that now? Are you sure? Do you want the biscuits? Do you want the scones?” It’s how I speak to my animals. A lot of my friends that are parents speak to them exactly the same way you and I are speaking now. It’s not that they don’t adjust their tone. They adjust their tone but I’m curious how we use our voice in terms of tonality, inflection or pitch? How do you see that as being effective with your kids? How do you speak to them now? How have you spoken to them over the course of your relationship being a parent with them?
A lot of how we parent is we’re talking. Ninety-five percent of our relationship with our kids is talking. It’s a big part of it. Through my work in classrooms, I did learn that more of the best practice is to talk to them like another adult for the most part, changing some tone, having more compassion, and dumbing things down a little bit. One of the big things is the vocabulary piece alone. There’s a 30-million-word gap which is an important piece of research that was done. I’ll sum it up quickly which they recorded in this research the amount of conversation between a parent and a child in these 30 different homes over this period of time. Did they run all the results of how many words were said? What were the words that were said? Were they positive or negative, and all of this?
They ran it down and what came back is from each of the demographic areas, the lowest amount of words were said in families on welfare. The next step up was the families that were lower class. With the middle-class, it was a little bit higher. Higher-class was the most word said. It was also the most vocabulary said and it was the most positive interactions versus negative interactions. With families that were the lowest end on welfare, there was one positive thing said versus five corrections said to a child. It’s more of that business talk like, “Go get your shoes on and stop doing that.” It was reverse for the higher-income families. It was one correction for five positive things said. Between the two extremes, there’s a 30-million-word gap in the number of words heard by that child.
What they played out is how that affects them academically throughout the rest of their childhood. Those three-year-olds that heard more words then had more expressive vocabulary in kindergarten. It makes sense if they have more of a database of all of these words heard, they know all these sounds well, they can learn to read quickly, and have more words they can say. That was directly linked to their 4th-grade reading level because if they can learn to read well and quickly, then they read to learn, they love school, and they’re doing well. That correlates with high school dropout rates because if you don’t love reading and reading is hard, that’s a more likely indicator that you’re dropping out of high school. It all goes back to how many words were said between a parent and a child in the first few years of life.
That creates these disparaging trajectories for these kids in these homes based on the interactions. For me, when I learned that piece of research, it formed my parenting in a way that says, “You talk, you talk a lot, you talk about everything, and you use big words because that’s how they learn big words.” Their brain is being formed at such a quick rate as a sponge. It is meant to figure out what these words mean. We don’t have to dumb it down because they’re constantly scanning for context and figuring it out, archiving it, and creating all of these files of what our language is at a much quicker rate than at any other point in life so we can give them more credit. The vocabulary piece is key, but then the other piece is that respect factor because when the kids feel respected, then they’re going to give that respect back.
It comes down to some of our core needs, whether we’re 2 or whether we’re 90 is to feel understood and to feel heard and seen. That doesn’t change the younger you are. Two-year-olds still want to feel understood and heard. We think that the things that they’re trying to say are not as important as the things that we have to say, but it still is a big deal to them if they’re talking about the show that they love, this character, this story, or wanting this red color cup rather than the blue color cup. If we care about those things and give them the same level of respect, we would give our friend, then they’re going to give that back to us.
They’re going to continue to have a strong connected relationship with us because we’re saying, “I get it. I want to hear from you. I think what you have to say is important.” They’re going to keep coming back to us when the things that they’re talking about and caring about are of the same level of importance that we think what we’re saying is important like when they’re talking about doing drugs, pregnancies, or all of these higher stakes’ issues. We can’t hope that they come to us with those things. At the end of this, we have to prove ourselves the whole way of how we treat them from day one. That was a long-winded explanation of that’s how we should be talking to them. It’s with a lot of vocabulary and a lot of respect.
It’s such a deep well of knowledge. I love how well-researched you are. You talked about the education piece but it seems that you are a person who is delightfully dedicated to going deeper down the rabbit hole of understanding yourself and understanding your children. You bring many delightful perspectives. I’m learning in real-time from you, which is awesome. Danielle, I want to dig even deeper into your stuff too because this is an area that frightens me and scares me. Honestly, after this conversation, I feel a little more at ease with my own somewhat valid and some invalid concerns about all this.
I feel the same way. You are good at putting people at ease around the subject matter and that’s such a wonderful gift to give the world. Thank you for sharing that with us and the readers.
Thank you. That means a lot.
Danielle, this was delightful. I thank you for your openness, your vulnerability, your wisdom, and your big heart. It’s been an absolute pleasure having you here on the show.
Thank you for having me.
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