Welcome to the first episode in a new series that I’m calling Sharing Your Parenting Mojo, where I interview listeners about what they’ve learned from the show as well as the parenting challenges they’re facing. Today we talk with Ontario, Canada-based listener Jess Barnes, a registered social worker and parent of almost-two about a mindfulness tool that can help us to stay calm when our children push our buttons.
If you’d like to be interviewed for Sharing Your Parenting Mojo, please complete the form located here and I’ll be in touch if there’s a fit…
Jen: 00:57 Hello and welcome to this new segment of the Your Parenting Mojo podcast, which we’re calling Sharing Your Parenting Mojo. I’m here today with listener Jess and we’re going to talk about what she’s learned from the show about having developmentally appropriate expectations for our children and also white privilege and we’ll chat about how mindfulness can help us to be better parents. Stay tuned if you need some help with that to learn about a challenge that I’m going to run on exactly this topic in just a few weeks. Hey Jess, do you want to tell us a bit about yourself and your family?
Jess: 01:25 Hi. Yeah, sure. Thanks so much for having me. My name is Jess. My husband is Taylor. He is a marketer of an IT company. We are the parents of a very busy, almost two-year-old son and we have another baby on the way due in October, so we’re very busy.
Jen: 01:39 Congratulations.
Jess: 01:41 Thank you. It’s very exciting. I’m a Maternal Mental Health therapist, so I work with moms who are either pregnant or have new babes and are struggling with kind of a variety of things from birth, relating to birth and postpartum, but I’ve been a social worker for about 10 years, so that’s us.
Jen: 01:59 All right. And you have a business as well, don’t you?
Jess: 02:02 Yes. Yes. So, I work in private practice as a Maternal Mental Health therapist and a postpartum doula. I worked in a couple clinics here where we live in Southwestern Ontario. And then I offer some online counseling as well, again, geared towards moms who are pregnant or have new babes and are struggling maybe with those postpartum adjustment challenges as well as pregnancy and infant loss.
Jen: 02:25 Uh-huh. Wow! That’s some heavy stuff. So, let’s talk about the show. You’ve been listening for a while now. Is that right?
Jess: 02:35 Yeah. I think I came across you probably when my son was just little. I was actually a follower of Janet Lansbury and the RIE approach and through my searching for other resources I found you.
Jen: 02:46 Well, welcome. What have you learned from some of the episodes that you’ve enjoyed?
Jess: 02:52 Most recently I think, your White Privilege and Racism ones have really struck a chord with me. As a social worker, it’s something that’s been at the forefront of my mind, but I think it’s really driven home for me how important it is for my husband and I that our son is raised with this awareness and knowledge of the privilege that he has and what that gives him and what he needs to do to kind of offset that and help others as he grows. I think it’s really made me realized how important that is. And your last couple of episodes have given me some really great hands-on tools in terms of the conversations I can have with him. I love the conversation you had about kind of balancing the child-led approach to development that RIE really encourages, but also how do you manage that wanting to cultivate certain values within your family.
Jen: 03:46 Yes. It has been such a challenge for me.
Jess: 03:49 Yes. So, I found that conversation really helpful. And again, I think just being aware that I need to figure out how we’re going to implement this in our family and what those conversations are going to look like, and how do we balance wanting to give our son the advantages that we can afford and that we want to give him, but without perpetuating these systems that we don’t like. But obviously we benefit from.
Jen: 04:15 Yeah. We’ve been having discussions about the Canadian specific context as well in the Facebook group. Have you seen those?
Jess: 04:22 Yeah. It’s great.
Jen: 04:23 Somebody said, I’m really interested in some more Canadian specific examples and I think the impression that Americans have is that Canada is this lovely place where everybody’s really nice and that’s true. But there’s also a problem with racism towards black people, towards Muslims, towards a variety of groups that you might expect.
Jen: 04:42 We just sort of, we don’t think about it. We think it’s not there. And there are a number of people telling us, yes, this is here, this is real, and we need to deal with this in Canada, just like we do in other countries as well.
Jess: 04:53 Well, I think, the flip side of that coin is in Canada. I think there’s lots of people who think the same thing like we’re not as bad as the US. And I don’t know if you followed Ontario politics at all, but we’ve certainly recently gotten into a position, maybe not the same, but it’s close to what’s going on in the US and we now have a leader that certainly I think probably share some of Mr. Trump’s values. And it’s really concerning for me as a parent and I’m just wanting to do my part in challenging that.
Jen: 05:24 No, I hadn’t heard that. That’s an interesting development. Okay. So, that’s sort of that big topic. And then the other thing that you had mentioned was around sort of being ready for your child’s developmental stages and not sort of getting out in front of those and expecting things that aren’t there. Can you tell us more about that?
Jess: 05:43 Yeah, well, I mean, I think a theme that I picked up from RIE and just from your podcast, is these expectations that we have as parents and especially our society has on these little tiny human beings that maybe they’re just not ready to meet. But those things are also really frustrating to us as parents and the importance of how we kind of manage those frustrations and how we respond in a way that is useful. I listened to your podcast on an Emotional Regulation this morning and it was talking about how young toddlers need to be told over and over again, you know, prohibition.
Jess: 06:19 So, if you tell them, no, you can’t put the marker on the wall, they can’t remember that. You have to tell them over and over again. But that’s so frustrating as a parent. And I see with my clients that I work with, other moms that I work with, this constant theme of dealing with frustration and overwhelm and irritability that leads to us responding as a parent in ways that we don’t want to. So, it’s something that’s come up for me just on my own parenting journey and through my work is how mindfulness can be a tool to help us with that. And so just like on my own I have been trying to improve that and working on with my clients and just wanting to learn more and more about how mindfulness can be a tool for parents. I think in managing our own frustrations, but I think being cognizant of when our frustration, our own big feelings are driving our parenting and when we maybe need to check our expectations of our little ones.
Jen: 07:19 Yeah, that can be a real challenge for sure.
Jess: 07:21 Oh, for sure. And late for work and babies screaming.
Jen: 07:28 And even just the understanding what children are able to remember. You think, oh, well they remember we’re gonna have dinner tonight. And I told them this morning what we’re having for dinner, and they remember, so why can’t they remember that I asked them not to stand on the table, but they just can’t. When they get in sort of the heat of the moment and they want to do something, they just cannot go back into their mind and think, oh, but Mama told me not to do that this morning. And the desire to get on the table just overrides anything else that they’ve heard. As they get older, they start to think, oh yeah, Mama said I shouldn’t do that. And they may actually say out loud, they say, no get on table or something like that and you can sort of see and hear this process happening in their minds and then sort of gradually they internalize it. But yeah, it’s so challenging for us parents to be able to remember that just because the child can remember one thing, it doesn’t mean that they can hold something in their head from hours ago or even if you say all the time, but when they get in this sort of emotional moment, they’re not going to be able to remember and do what you ask them to do.
Jess: 08:32 Yeah. And even the piece around, because again in the podcast around Emotional Regulation, I was talking about how especially when kids are tired, hungry and have a long day, like all that stuff is out the window. And I thought, isn’t it the same for us parents though, right? I’ve had moments where something my son is doing, which yesterday didn’t bother me at all. Like today’s driving bonkers and when I stepped back I’m like, oh, it’s because I’m tired and hungry and that’s my, again, it’s mindfulness that I think helps us recognize that and step back from it so that we recognize our own triggers. And I loved your podcast on teaching manners because that is a pet peeve of mine. Thank you is something that’s so important to me and something I want my son to learn. And that was such an insightful podcast for me around. So the suggestions of, it’s not about making your child say it, if you really want a child who develops a sense of gratitude and kind of genuine manners, it’s about modeling it until they’re an age that they can actually do it, which is much later than I thought it was.
Jen: 09:38 Yes. And much later than you’re ready for it to be and much later than the people around you are ready to be as well. So your in mother-in-law’s are why, why aren’t they saying please and thank you yet?
Jess: 09:50 And then again, being mindful of when that’s our trigger, right? Like when the comments for family are making us stressed and then we react from that place and demanding from our children something that maybe we wouldn’t know if we weren’t feeling that pressure.
Jen: 10:05 Yeah. And just going back to something you said a minute ago. I wrote it down, you said, “Isn’t it the same for us parents when a child gets tired and hungry and everything breaks down and they start to overreact.” Just that insight that, yeah, the same thing happens for us and we sort of give ourselves that bit of permission, you know, maybe we’ll snap at our partner and then we’ll be like, well, I did it because I’m tired and we don’t always allow our children that same leeway as well. We sort of expect them to be on and behave all the time in the way that we want them to behave. And I think it can be really powerful to just think, well, would an adult struggle with this as well and how would an adult feel if I spoke to them in that way?
Jess: 10:44 Exactly, exactly.
Jen: 10:46 So, we’re sort of doing these episodes. I’m going to ask parents, what aspect of parenting, using scientific information or principles of respectful parenting you’re going to struggle with most or are you struggling with most? And so you had actually brought up mindful parenting as something you wanted to discuss there. So, I prepared a couple of ideas to sort of think through both in terms of your work, ‘cause I understand that the younger ages is kind of relevant to you, but also for the sort of toddler years and beyond we normally work with, so I think the way it sort of intersects with the younger babies is that we sort of feel as though we need to be doing something with the baby instead of just being present and observing and we’re always feeling, oh, we need to go to this class and go and do that. And instead that this time spent sort of doing nothing actually has a lot of value. And Magda Gerber who is the founder of Resources For Infant Educarers or RIE distinguished between what she called once something quality time, which is when you’re working with the baby to do something like changing a diaper. And that’s actually a profound insight on its own. The idea that changing a diaper can be quality time and not just something to get through
Jess: 11:56 And can be a mindful practice.
Jen: 11:59 Yes. It totally can. And then the flip side of that is once nothing quality time, which is when you just don’t have an agenda, you just sort of spending time with the baby. And that’s really sort of prime time for slowing down and observing. And I just actually recorded a couple of days ago an interview with Dr. Diana Coyle, the father’s unique role in parenting the child. And she pointed me to a book that was super interesting about how dads interact with the family. And there was an example in this book of the researcher asked the dad, you know, what are you most likely to do when your baby’s sort of happy and content rather than when he needs something. And the Dad said, oh, well, I’ll probably just go and work on my business in the next room because if he doesn’t need anything then I’m free, right? And so that really I think is a huge opportunity to just sit down on a rug next to your child.
Jen: 12:54 And have this kind of shared gaze where you’re looking at the baby and the baby’s looking at you and you’re just having sort of really quiet, gentle interactions. And that is really critical to building attunement where your baby learns how to respond to you and you learn their signals. And of course that leads to attachment. And we did a whole episode on attachment with, with Dr. Slade on that. And you know, this is not sort of a way of putting pressure on the primary caregiver to say, you know, this is another thing you have to check off doing every day. It doesn’t have to be the primary caregiver that does it. It can be the secondary or another caregiver. But it can really help you to understand what your baby’s thinking. Oh, when he moves his arms like that that means he’s looking for something. And so that was something I thought that could help the parents that you work with of younger babies and maybe even our parents who are listening and expecting another baby and they’re looking at using more respectful principles the second time around.
Jess: 13:47 Well, it’s funny you talk about it being a thing to add to the checklist because when I heard about that through my own reading of Janet Lansbury stuff, for me it was a weight off my shoulders. You don’t have to always be “doing something” to be a good mom, right? There isn’t this constant like, oh, am I improving their development? Am I reading to them? Am I shoving something in their face? For me it was a welcome it’s okay to do nothing.
Jen: 14:14 Yeah. And that’s a great way of looking at it. You could use that instead of going to a mom and baby music class, which is fine to do if you enjoy it and your baby seems to enjoy it, but it’s not necessary and spending time just the two of you on the rug is another fine way of spending that time.
Jess: 14:31 Let go some of that mom guilt I think.
Jen: 14:35 Yes. We don’t need that stuff.
Jess: 14:36 No.
Jen: 14:37 And then as the child gets older, I think the struggles will be shifted a little bit ‘cause they tend to be related more to our own issues and they get so triggered when our child does something we find frustrating. And so I think the challenge, I’m sort of 99% sure I’m going to do the challenge on this. I’ve been tossing around some ideas for a while, but it’s going to be about how we can impact our child’s behavior by doing nothing other than changing things about ourselves and the way that we react to our child ‘cause I think there’s this real tendency to think my child’s behavior is the problem and therefore my child needs to change when in fact we can change a great deal about our child’s behavior by the way that we show up for our child.
Jess: 15:18 Absolutely.
Jen: 15:19 And so the example that I like to give, and this sort of builds on the emotion regulation episodes that you were talking about earlier, the moment when your child breaks a vase or break something that’s really important to you.
Jen: 15:31 I think one of the key things that you can do there is to find the second of pause in between the child’s action and your response. And a really interesting way of doing that can be just sort of set up this nightly meditation routine. And I’m not talking, you know, a half hour thing where you sit cross legged on the carpet when you’d really rather be in bed. But right before you go to sleep, if you just lie on your back, put your hand on your heart and just kind of notice the sensations that are going on in your body, notice that you’re feeling restful and relaxed and you’re getting ready to go to sleep and that you feel calm and collected and with your hand on your heart, just kind of notice the sensations in your body. And then when you’re in that moment, the child broke the vase, put your hand on your heart.
Jen: 16:20 And what you may find is that that action just allows you a second of pause. And when you first do this, that second of pause is going to come and go and you’re going to overreact just as the way you’ve always done. And that’s fine. The second sort of step in this three step process that I find that people often go through is you find that second of pause and then you recognize that what you’re about to say is probably not going to be the most helpful thing that you could say. And then you realize, I can’t stop myself. This is coming out anyway and you sort of, you’ve may still snap, you may still engage in the way that you didn’t want to engage. And for me, that can be kind of the frustrating period when you’re like, but I know better, why can’t I stop doing this?
Jen: 17:05 And it can last for longer than you want. But eventually what you’re going to be able to do is find that second of pause and lengthen it and use that time to reevaluate your response. So you could say to your child something like, oh, I feel myself getting so angry. I need to sit down for a minute and think, and then that gives you another few seconds. And then in that time you can consider the child’s motivations. And I love something Alfie Kohn says here, he says something like, “Assume the best intentions possible, consistent with the available evidence.” Did your child intentionally break the vase? Probably not. Should you have maybe put it somewhere where they couldn’t break it? Yeah, maybe so. And so instead of going through this process, you may find, it’s not like, oh, I’m so angry and I’m going to cover it up and I’m going to tell my child I’m not angry. It’s just, okay, I see what happened here and I’m not angry anymore. And that allows me to change my response to my child, which changes the child’s response back to me.
Jess: 18:04 I love that. Thank you. That’s what I’m going to use and share with some of my clients and I think even sharing it with my son, like having that be part of our bedtime routine and encouraging him to do the same when he’s not feeling well.
Jen: 18:19 Ooh, you’re taking this one step beyond. I haven’t even done that with Harris yet. Yeah, we totally should give that a try. Yeah. We’ve been using a lot of, uh, there’s a series of books by a woman named Elizabeth Crary and one of them is called I’m Frustrated and that has a series of tools in it that she can use. It’s okay to stamp your foot. It’s okay to cry. It’s okay to do four or five or six other different things and I can remind her of those things. So, I’ve been doing that but I actually hadn’t thought of having her do the hand-on-the-heart thing. So I might try that.
Jess: 18:50 What age would you say those books are good for?
Jen: 18:52 They are awesome for probably around age three to six-ish.
Jess: 18:59 Okay.
Jen: 19:00 Yeah. So any younger than that and the child might not sort of get it, you know, a really verbal two-and-a-half-year-old could probably start to get it. And you’ll obviously need to remind them the first number of times, you know, what are some of the things we learned about in your book you can do when you’re frustrated ‘cause I see that you’re so frustrated right now and then that can sort of open up, oh yeah, I remember this. And you can say, oh, I remember there was this, this or this, and then make them choose what they want to do. But, yeah, we’re going to try and give that a try and see how it goes. So, thank you for that.
Jess: 19:28 Yeah, you’re welcome.
Jen: 19:29 Well, thanks so much for joining us. It was such fun to talk with you.
Jess: 19:32 Thank you for having me.
Jen: 19:34 Can you remind us where our listeners can find you?
Jess: 19:36 Sure. So, my business website is jessicabarnes.ca. It has all my maternal mental health then postpartum doula services listed there.
Jen: 19:47 Awesome.
Jess: 19:48 I love to hear from people.
Jen: 19:49 Super. Well, thanks again and for our listeners, do subscribe to the show at YourParentingMojo.com if you want to be notified about the upcoming mindful parenting challenge that should be coming out in just a few weeks.