Jump to highlights:
- (01:00) Why we find parenting so hard
- (01:18) Most prominent words before parents discovered respectful parenting
- (01:58) Five reasons respectful parenting can be hard
- (03:03) 1st reason: Our needs that our parents just didn’t see despite doing the best they could
- (05:22) The trauma of unmet needs
- (06:09) 2nd reason: The long game that is respectful parenting
- (08:54) Our culture trains us to want results
- (09:56) 3rd reason: Our values and what we want to do in an ideal world
- (10:39) Alfie Kohn’s Unconditional Parenting
- (13:38) Our child’s behavior brings up old trauma
- (14:10) Shifting the way we see our children
- (15:12) 4th reason: When we see these values that we want to live
- (16:37) The tendency to engage in negative self-talk
- (17:58) Self compassion and mindfulness
- (19:11) The last (and perhaps not the last) reason
- (24:47) Super short summary information.
Click here to read the full transcript
Hi, I’m Jen and I host the Your Parenting Mojo podcast. We all want our children to lead fulfilling lives. But it can be so hard to keep up with the latest scientific research on child development and figure out whether and how to incorporate it into our own approach to parenting. Here at Your Parenting Mojo, I do the work for you by critically examining strategies and tools related to parenting and child development that are grounded in scientific research on principles of respectful parenting. If you’d like to be notified when new episodes are released, and get a FREE Guide called 13 Reasons Why Your Child Won’t listen To You and What To Do About Each One, just head on over to your YourParentingMojo.com/SUBSCRIBE. ou can also continue the conversation about the show with other listeners in the Your Parenting Mojo Facebook group. I do hope you’ll join us.
Hello, and welcome to the Your Parenting Mojo Podcast. In this episode, I want to talk about something that’s been bothering me for a while, which is why we find respectful parenting so hard. And this idea actually came from a poll that Dr. Laura Froyen ran in an online parenting group that we both help to moderate where she asked people to describe how they felt about parenting before and after they discovered respectful parenting. And then she made the responses into a word cloud. The most prominent words in the word cloud from before parents discovered respectful parenting were worried, overwhelmed, resentful, and guilty. And some of the most prominent words in the word cloud from after parents discovered respectful parenting, we’re confident, loving, empowered, calm, hopeful and relieved. But the most prominent word was exhausted.
And I just thought, “What’s UP with that?!”, and then “Does it HAVE to be this way?.” And that was almost a year ago. And that idea has been percolating in my brain since then. And every once in a while I would jot down ideas about why this was the case. And I’d like to walk through those, and also give us some ideas for how to move forward. Because I think there are five reasons respectful parenting can be hard, but I don’t believe it has to be hard.
Let’s look at the first of the five reasons why respectful parenting can be exhausting, which is that we’re essentially trying to reparent ourselves while we’re trying to raise our children differently from the way we were raised.
Most of us were raised in mainstream homes with parents who were doing the best they could with the tools that they had, some of our parents were physically abusive, because that’s the way they were raised, or they were dealing with their own crises. And we challenged them in some way. And they had no idea how else to deal with us. Some of them provided for our physical needs food and shelter, but simply couldn’t connect with us emotionally because they’d experienced trauma, or they hadn’t had any models themselves for what it’s like to connect emotionally with another person, or they had so much going on with just trying to survive, and they just couldn’t do it with us. And because our own parents didn’t do this with us, we then don’t know how to do this with our own children.
Even if our parents weren’t traumatized and did a decent job by mainstream standards, it’s highly likely that we still ended up with what I call the Trauma of Unmet Needs. I see there being three levels to this. The first is when our parents were really doing the best they could, but we had needs that they just didn’t see. Maybe we had a lot of siblings or a sibling with medical difficulties, or they were very focused on a demanding career or their marriage had a lot of challenges. Maybe we made ourselves into the problem child to get their attention. Or perhaps we became the peacemaker who always needed to fix everything that was going on around us to make sure the boat didn’t get rocked too much. But either way, our needs were not met, even though our parents probably thought they had done a pretty good job.
The second reason our needs might not have been met is because they were ignored. Perhaps our parents did see our needs, but they disregarded them. Maybe our gender or some other expression of ourselves didn’t match up to their expectations of us. And they saw this and they chose to ignore it because it was easier and more convenient for them, or because they couldn’t cope with what meeting our need might mean for them.
And the third reason our needs might not have been met is our parents had some kind of project to ‘break’ us. Now I’ve heard of cases where parents explicitly stated they were trying to do this, which is obviously an extreme example, but it does happen. But I think it actually happens quite a lot. When we think about children who are what we think of as difficult to manage. We see their behavior as being so outside the realm of what’s considered remotely socially acceptable. And it’s a reflection on us and our parenting abilities. And it may even be threatening to us physically or emotionally and we just need it to stop. And we could potentially do something to change ourselves. But that’s really hard. And before we learn about respectful parenting, we might not even consider this as a potential option. We see the behavior needs to change and we focus on changing it. And inadvertently when we do that, we can also break the child, we might not see the child’s needs under all that difficult behavior because the behavior is so hard for us to deal with. And so we focus on that thing that’s hardest for us and we may even be successful at changing that. But if we don’t see and address the needs that were underneath it then we’ve missed our chance to connect with the child.
I work with hundreds of parents at a time in my taming your triggers workshop, and many of them have experienced trauma in their lives that they hadn’t previously recognized as being connected to their triggered feelings. And still others can trace the traumas that their parents experienced into how they were raised. But a good number of parents say, “I didn’t really experience trauma, but I still feel flooded when my children misbehave. And then when they get to the module on the trauma of unmet needs, and suddenly they say”, Aha. Now, it makes sense.” It’s almost like we’re car mechanics. And somebody comes to us and says, I’m sick. And we say, I’m a car mechanic, not a doctor. But there’s nobody else available to help. Not only has nobody taught us how to help the sick person, but we’ve never even watched anyone else treat a sick person and our frame of reference, which is how cars work is completely useless in our current situation, we might even try to use some misguided ideas about how cars work to help the sixth person. But since they aren’t a car, it either has no effecter actually hurts them. We’re finding that all of these years of training on being a car mechanic and by extension, and mainstream parenting isn’t really helping us with the task at hand, which is raising children in a way that’s aligned with our values.
The second reason respectful parenting can be so exhausting is that we’re in it for the long game. So much parenting advice is based on tips and tricks or hacks that are designed to get your child to comply with your wishes. And the best of these have the benefit of getting them to think that it was their idea in the first place rather than something that you coerce them into doing.
When you’re in something for the long game, you recognize that the fastest or the easiest path isn’t always the best one. I know I can get bread to rise faster if I add more yeast to the recipe. But the bread won’t taste as good as if I put less yeast in and left it to rise for longer. And I could probably get the new seeds we planted in the garden to grow faster if I doused them with fertilizer, but most of that fertilizer would run off into the creek and that runs down the side of our house. And that would have negative impacts on the ecosystems downstream from us.
And that’s the thing with traditional approaches to raising children in the short term, they’re faster, they’re easier. It isn’t difficult to say stop arguing. Don’t hit your sibling. Oh, it’s just a little scrape. You’re okay, there’s no need to cry. It looks like the bread is rising faster. So it seems like we’re doing a good job. But what ultimately matters with bread isn’t how fast it rises, but what it tastes like. And it seems like these methods don’t have side effects like fertilizer running off into the stream, but they do we know what the side effects of mainstream parenting are. Because we’re living with them. We’re struggling with them every day in our own lives.
Because we were taught when we were children that our needs didn’t matter, we have a hard time understanding our needs today, nevermind articulating them to others. I work with parents who get completely overwhelmed as soon as their toddler starts crying because it feels like they have to fix whatever is wrong with the child right now. Their own parents told them for years that what was important was getting good grades, going to a good college getting a good job, and many of them are now highly accomplished in those good jobs. And that whatever needs and opinions and ideas they had about their own lives were essentially irrelevant. And now they come completely undone every time their child cries. They might conceptually believe that they parents have needs and that their needs should be met. But they don’t even know where to start identifying those needs, because their needs have been trampled on throughout their lives.
And in these moments, when we’re feeling completely overwhelmed by our children’s behavior, we’re supposed to stay calm. Remember our values, remember how to translate those values into action, step in and do that while allowing everybody else in the situation to express their emotions. I mean, when you put it like that, is it any wonder that it seems exhausting and that sometimes we fall back on adding a bit more yeast and fertilizer because they get the job done right now?.
Part of being in it for the long game means that we don’t always see results in the short term. Our culture trains us to want results. Even the scientific method does this we’re looking to manipulate one variable and expect the other variable to change immediately. We put a in and we expect to get be out. But people don’t work like this. relationships don’t work like this. I know I’ve been in therapy and it feels like I’m not really making much progress. And why am I even bothering to do this. And then all of a sudden something shifts. And I see that all the stuff I’ve been doing for months was the groundwork that was needed for this shift. And if I hadn’t done that the shift wouldn’t have been possible. The same thing happens in relationships. Sometimes we’re growing and changing and we’re ready for the other person to meet us. But they aren’t ready yet. Something has to shift for them to be ready. And they might not like our yeast or need a different blend of nutrients in their fertilizer. The good news for us is that most of the time our children are actually ahead of us on these things. They still know what their needs are. And they really aren’t shy about sharing this. They know how they want to be in truly authentic unconditionally loving relationships with us. Rather than thinking that our children need to learn the right way of meeting our needs. We can move toward the possibility that we can actually learn from them and that together we can meet both of our needs.
The third reason respectful parenting is so hard is that We might know our values and what we want to do in an ideal world, but then have a really hard time actually translating that into action. And of course, this is linked to those values and actions being very different from the ones we were raised with.
We might know that we value collaboration, and that we want our children to participate and work around the house because they value collaboration as well. But when our children dig their heels in and say they don’t want to tidy up, where do we go from there? We might know that we don’t want to punish our child for not helping us or for disrespecting us. But if the child doesn’t willingly help, and we know we don’t want cleaning up to be entirely our responsibility, what do we do? In addition, there’s the issue that Alfie Kohn raises in his excellent book Unconditional Parenting, which is that we parents assume the request we’re making is reasonable simply because we’re the parents. Yes, there are some requests that we’re going to make, like not letting a child run out into traffic that really aren’t open to debate. But when we insist that the child does pretty much everything, our way, we’re missing a huge opportunity to not just understand our child better, but to understand ourselves better as well.
As we discussed when we had Alfie Kohn on the show to look at whether we actually should use rewards to get our child to do what we want them to do, it’s possible the reward will get them to comply. In the short term, we probably assume our desire to get the child to put the dirty clothes in the hamper at the end of the day is a valid request. But we only ever consider it from our perspective. What is the child’s perspective here? Why don’t they want to put their clothes in the hamper. And at the end of the day, putting the clothes in the hamper isn’t really the thing that we want, we might have needs that are related to cooperation and collaboration and feeling like our family is part of a team, we might also need rest and time for ourselves. Getting our child to put their clothes in the hamper is one way of working towards those goals. But there are plenty of other ways to achieve them too. If we only ever focus on that individual action that we want to get them to do, we miss the opportunity to find ways to meet our needs for collaboration and rest that also meets their needs.
If we’ve heard about using this problem solving method, we might even have tried using it. But then maybe we stopped because it ” and ” doesn’t work. Some of the main problems I see when parents start out using problem solving is that they can’t help but to use judgmental language. They might say something like, well, what’s going on for you when you refuse to tidy up? Whenever I’m thinking about the language I use with my daughter, I imagined my husband saying it to me. And if my husband did say that to me, I’d immediately have my backup. And I probably wouldn’t be interested in looking for solutions that work for both of us.
The second problem parents often faces they jumped straight from acknowledging feelings to looking for solutions to problems without considering the underlying needs. So they remember they’re not supposed to use judgmental language and they’re supposed to acknowledge the child’s feelings. Yes, yes, you felt frustrated. And then they go right into potential solutions, because they see that as the meat of the problem.
But if we don’t understand everyone’s needs, we can’t possibly propose solutions that will work for both of us. If I have a need for rest, the kind of solution that works for me will be entirely different from one that works if I need a sense of collaboration. And the same goes for our children. When we jump straight to solutions, our child recognizes that sharing their feelings doesn’t end up impacting the situation in any way, we’re going to steamroll them into a solution that works for us. Is it any wonder that they then resist sharing their feelings or they say things like, “I don’t caaaaare!?”.
And then finally, we get back to the issue of being flooded in response to our child’s behavior, we’re trying to remember all the things we’re supposed to do when our brain is essentially non functional. Because our child’s behavior brings up old trauma from things we were punished for doing when we were children. It can be so hard to parent in line with our values when we feel flooded like this, when we’re in this state is virtually impossible to remember something we’ve learned and how to apply it. That’s why it’s so hard to make the translation from our values to how we actually interact with our children on a daily basis.
If you’ve tried problem solving conversations with your child, and they fallen flat for the reasons that we’ve mentioned already, or for other reasons, then you might want to join the Parenting Membership that’s open for enrollment right now. Parents who are in the membership now report a profound shift in the way that they see their children, and how this enables them to respond. They tell me they have a greater sense of empathy, which helps them to pause before responding to their children. And from that place of spaciousness and empathy comes the ability to see the need behind the behavior. Sometimes the need is for connection, which we tend to jump to as a default, but sometimes it isn’t. And we learn how to find that need so we can truly connect with it and meet it. These parents report a greater sense of self awareness about how much of their parenting was still influenced by their upbringing and culture. Despite thinking they were actually doing things differently, and they say their relationship with their children has improved because of their patience and understanding. I do hope you’ll consider joining me and these parents as well inside the parenting membership and sliding scale pricings available for people who need it and we’re also no longer hosting our community on Facebook. So you don’t have to have a Facebook account to get the full benefit of the membership. To learn more about the membership, you can go to yourparentingmojo.com/parentingmembership.
And then this leads into the fourth of our fifth reasons why respectful parenting is so hard, which is that when we see these values that we want to live, and we realized that we aren’t living them, it creates an enormous amount of what psychologists call cognitive dissonance, which is when we hold two conflicting beliefs. We might believe that we want to treat our child with the same respect that we wish they would use toward us. But we also believe they want help out around the house unless we reward or punish them. We might believe that our child is expressing a need through their behavior, but that they must stop their behavior because we can’t cope if they don’t. These two things conflict and it creates a huge tension inside us.
This tension can arise when we’ve taken on ideas in our brains, but we aren’t fully living them in our bodies. We know in our brains what we’re supposed to do. And we might even have memorized the script of what we’re supposed to say in difficult moments. But as soon as our child goes off the script, it all falls apart. And it can be incredibly dispiriting when this happens. Because our culture basically teaches us that knowledge plus willpower = success. If we’ve learned something to help us interact with our children differently, then we’re supposed to just apply willpower to make sure we get it right. And then we’ll be successful, if we have the knowledge and we aren’t successful is because we aren’t applying enough willpower. And think about all the places this is showing up in our lives from doing well in school to maintaining what society says as the ideal weight, to various addictions to food, alcohol, drugs, screens and other ways that we numb out from experiencing life.
And when we fail at this kind of thing, because clearly, we don’t have enough willpower, then the natural thing to do is to blame ourselves. We engage in negative self talk, there’s no way this is going to work. I just don’t know how to do this. I’m not going to get any better than this. I have all the tools, why can’t I just use them? I suck at parenting. And maybe even my kids would be better off without me. These are logical things to think if we think that willpower is the main or even the only reason we’re failing to be the perfect parents that we think our children need, and the society tells us we should be for our children.
But as with so much of white supremacy, which is where all this comes from what this does is to create divisions between us. It makes us think well everyone else is doing okay. All the pictures on Facebook and Instagram tell me everybody else is doing okay. In fact, one of the biggest lessons people get out of my taming your triggers workshop comes on the day we start releasing content, and they come over to our community platform and introduce themselves and scroll through all the introductions of all the other parents who have introduced themselves and they realize Holy moly, it isn’t just me that lives it with my kids. This is happening to all of us. And from that moment, they realize that they aren’t alone. And it turns out that this sense of common humanity that we’re all in it together is one of the three main components of self compassion, which is the antidote to negative self talk and beating ourselves up.
The second element of self compassion is mindfulness, which helps you to be present with whatever feelings arise in the moment. Sometimes we might feel sad or frustrated or humiliated that we failed “again”. But when we can see these feelings and accept them, instead of pushing them away, we actually grant them less power over us, we aren’t getting wrapped up in knots over these feelings, we’re allowing them to pass through just like wind passes through a windmill, turning the sails a bit and then moving on. This means that we aren’t getting yanked around by our feelings nearly as much because we’re experiencing them, and then letting them pass on their way.
The third element of self compassion is self kindness, which is essentially the opposite of self judgment. When we get overly attached to being a certain way, or having other people treat us a certain way or achieving a certain outcome, we can either criticize ourselves and beat ourselves up for getting it wrong “again”, or we can say, Hey, I gave it my best effort didn’t quite turn out the way I hoped. But I can go back and repair the relationship with my child and I’ll get up and dust myself off and try again tomorrow. By doing this, we can avoid the depths of despair and self criticism. And we can spend more of our time in a calm, even regulated space, where we can respond more effectively to our child and feel better ourselves as well.
The last reason why I think respectful parenting is so hard and there may be others. But this is the last one we’ll cover today is that we’re trying to work on our own stuff and heal from the traumas that we’ve experienced while trying to shift how we respond to our child, while modeling it to our partner who may not be on board with this approach yet at all. And while being doubted by our parents, our in laws and most of the rest of society.
Pretty often when one parent finds respectful parenting, the other one isn’t quite there yet and takes a different journey along a longer path. Sometimes they may see the benefits of respectful parenting in the end, and sometimes they never do. Because so much of what we do is backed up by peer reviewed research parents may be tempted to try to use logical rational arguments to convince their partners of the superiority of this approach. And I’m reminded of my guest Dovile, who might in Have you on the sharing your parenting motor segment of the show a couple of years ago now who said she had compiled a multi-page document outlining her reasons for engaging in respectful parenting. And she distributed that to her family members were needless to say it was not well received.
But if we think about why we are engaging in respectful parenting, yes, there’s a rational side to it. Yes, it’s nice to know the practices we’re engaging in are actually supported by peer reviewed research. But I know that for me, ultimately, the reason I’m in a respectful relationship with my child, is because it feels right to me. And in fact, I decided this approach felt right to me long before I found all the research on parenting and child development and realize there’s actually evidence that children who are raised using these methods have better outcomes.
And for our partners, this is most likely an emotional issue as well, even if they think of themselves as the rational decision makers and were the over emotional ones. They may have a deep seated belief that children should do what they’re told, because as a child, they had to do what they were told, and there was no other option. They may believe that children should be told to stop crying when they’ve hurt themselves, because they were told to stop crying when they hurt themselves. And so they feel flooded when your child cries, because it reminds them of how abandoned they felt when they were little and injured. Perhaps they haven’t done as much work to heal themselves as we have. And since society supports all the traditional messages about doing what you’re told, and not crying, when you’re hurt, especially if you’re male, then it’s hard to imagine there even is another way.
They might perceive the only alternative to being very strict is to be very permissive, and that the child basically rules the roost. And since they know they could never let that happen. By far, the safest option is to keep doing what we’re doing. And of course, if you’ve already adjusted your approach to more respect based methods, and you find yourself in a difficult situation, if you’re able to problem solve effectively with your child, then your child learns to come to you when there’s a problem. Even when the problem is between the child and your partner. Suddenly, you become the mediator of their disputes, because your child can participate in problem solving when they have help. But they don’t yet have the skills to lead it when the other person’s not actively participating. This can be an incredibly frustrating time, but you can get through it if the other person is willing to at least try learning some of the components of a different approach and just see what happens.
And of course, while our partner is doubting us, so we’re most of the other people around us. And every time we see a family on TV, they’re saying all the things that mainstream culture says to say, and they’re ordering their children around, and they’re exasperated their children’s behavior, because that’s what it’s like to be a parent, we see children as a black box that inexplicably produces random behavior, when if we can just look past that behavior, we see their behavior actually makes complete sense. But I guess there’s no compelling drama in a story where everyone can understand what everyone else needs. And we all work together, there’s drama in the struggle. But that doesn’t mean that our lives have to be a dramatic struggle.
If your life with your children is a struggle, or things are going okay, but you’re looking for some new tools to prepare you for things like returning to a post pandemic world, then the parenting membership will really help with all of this. We spend the first month working on getting truly comfortable with problem solving. You aren’t just reciting a script, when you’re having a problem with your child, you’re actually taking on the idea. They’re just a normal part of the interactions you have with your child. If you’ve tried this before, and you doubt that this time can be different, I’d say you haven’t really tried problem solving with your child until you’ve done it with drawings. My artwork is right up there with the best of the stick figure artists. This is not something that only a real artist can do. Anyone can do this, your young child can do this, believe me. And when they see you draw out their feelings and needs, it helps you to problem solve effectively. And it helps them to see that you’re taking their ideas seriously. They actually want to participate in the process.
Once you become comfortable with problem solving, then we turn to your parenting partner and help you get on the same page with them. You can stop having the same old fights about how to handle the kids that you’ve had over and over again, and find ways to come together where it counts, and learn where it’s actually okay for the two of you to have different approaches. After you have the tools to communicate more effectively with your parenting partner about the children, then we’ll look at your family values. And I’m not going to tell you what values your family should have. But I help you to identify the values that you want to have. Most parents who do this realize that up to now there’s been a massive gap between the values they want to instill in their children and the way they’ve been interacting with them. They might say they value independence, but they step in as soon as their child struggles with something and they say be careful constantly, because their own anxiety overrides their values. And don’t worry, we have a module on anxiety and parenting as well. We cover all the topics you need like raising healthy eaters, navigating screen time raising siblings who love each other and get along, and so many other topics as well.
We take it at a really relaxed pace of one topic per month so you don’t get overwhelmed with information. And for the first time this year, we’re also adding super short summary information. You can dive as deeply into the topic as you like, but you can also share what you’re learning with your parenting partner, your parents, your in laws, your nanny in a way that they can quickly understand and digest Asked and put into practice.
You have the option to join weekly support group calls, which many parents initially have misgivings about, particularly the introverted ones who tend to follow my work. But even the introverts end up being completely surprised they’re forming deep meaningful bonds with the other parents in their small group. And of course, you can ask me questions and get responses to less complex issues and our new non Facebook community platform. For more complex issues, I record a video for you to explain the answer. And for multi layered problems, I’ll invite you to a one on one consult. One of the parents I just did a consult with last week emailed me afterwards to say “I just wanted to thank you again, so much for our call yesterday was incredibly helpful. You’re a therapist at heart I think along with many other things and what came out of it for me was completely unexpected in the best way.” I really appreciate your time and all the work you’re doing.
If you’d like to learn more about getting this kind of support for your family, please go to yourparentingmojo.com/membership. We have sliding scale pricing available for the first time if you need it as well. registrations open now through midnight Pacific on Wednesday, May 12. I really hope to meet you and work with you in the membership.
Thanks for joining us for this episode of Your Parenting Mojo. Don’t forget to subscribe to the show at YourParentingMojo.com to receive new episode notifications, and the FREE Guide Called 13 Reasons Why Your Child Won’t Listen To You and What To Do About Each One . And also join the Your Parenting Mojo Facebook group. For more respectful research-based ideas to help kids thrive and make parenting easier for you. I’ll see you next time on Your Parenting Mojo.
About the author, Jen
Jen Lumanlan (M.S., M.Ed.) hosts the Your Parenting Mojo podcast (www.YourParentingMojo.com), which examines scientific research related to child development through the lens of respectful parenting.