183: What I wish I’d known about parenting

Recently, a number of parents in the Parenting Membership have posted in our community about challenges they’ve faced that they’ve navigated with grace that would have seemed insurmountable a couple of years ago.


Many of these are parents of children who are already through the toddler stage, and the parents are starting to see the tools they’ve been using come alive in their interactions with their children.


I thought: There’s a podcast episode in that!


I asked parents to submit short videos to me responding to the question: What do you wish you had known about parenting when your children were young?


The resulting videos are collected, along with my commentary, in this week’s episode.


The insights that these parents offer are profound. I don’t want to give too much away, but let’s just say that you’re not going to hear advice about a must-have crib or wipe warmer or toy.


This is advice about:

  • How we see ourselves
  • What is our role as parents to guide our children without shaping them
  • How we can be whole, fulfilled people ourselves when there’s so much pressure on us to be a ‘good parent’


If you want to hear from parents who share your values and who have been in it for a while to know what’s worth worrying about and what isn’t, this episode is for you.



Setting Loving (& Effective!) Limits Workshop

Do you have a child aged 1 – 10? Are they resisting, ignoring you, and talking back at every request you make? Do you often feel frustrated, annoyed, and even angry with them? Are you desperate for their cooperation – but don’t know how to get it? If your children are constantly testing limits, the Setting Loving (& Effective!) Limits workshop is for you.
Go from constant struggles and nagging to a new sense of calm & collaboration. I will teach you how to set limits, but we’ll also go waaaay beyond that to learn how to set fewer limits than you ever thought possible. Sign up now to join the waitlist for the FREE workshop that will start on April 24, 2024. Click the banner to learn more:

Other episodes referenced in this episode:

079: What is RIE? | Your Parenting Mojo

084: The Science of RIE | Your Parenting Mojo

085: White privilege in schools | Your Parenting Mojo

SYPM 010: From anxious overwhelm to optimistic calm


Jump to highlights:

(01:40) Introduction of this episode’s topic

(02:25) Jen admits that she didn’t give much consideration to parenting before her daughter, Carys, was born

(03:17) Jen shares how her journey into respectful parenting started through RIE 

(04:42) Parent Elizabeth reflects on her experience and shares what she wished she had known about parenting

(06:33) The impact of unhealed trauma is reflected in the way we parent our children

(07:21) How the arrival of a child can shift the balance in a relationship leading to conflict, even if both partners entered into the partnership as equals

(09:05) The dynamics of patriarchal relationships

(10:09) Parent Jenny reflects on her experience and shares what she wished she had known about parenting during the time she wasn’t prioritizing her own need for sleep

(12:29) Discussion on how patriarchal power structures can play out within the context of parenting and caregiving

(13:48) Parent Jenny’s decision to prioritize rest shows that her need for rest is legitimate and important

(14:19) Our child expresses their unmet need by hitting

(15:33) Parent Anne reflects on her visions about parenting and shares what she wished she had known about parenting

(18:45) What is “Opportunity hoarding” among White parents

(20:48) Parent Iris reflects on her parenting experience

(22:33) the pressure that parents put on themselves that creates enormous pressure

(23:50) Parent Iris realizes that buying things to solve parenting problems is not always the answer

(25:14) The privilege that some parents have in terms of how they are perceived by society and the consequences they may face for certain choices

(26:11) Parent Anne shares what she wished she had known about her interactions with her mom, her husband, and her child

(29:53) Parent Anne shares her struggles with setting boundaries

(31:14) Parent Anne’s journey to becoming a better parent and healing from her own trauma

(33:58) Parent Laura shares her son’s potty problems and what she wished she had known about potty learning

(37:13) Parent Laura highlights the importance of trusting your intuition and problem-solving skills as a parent

(38:20) Respectful and gentle parenting as a tool to build a good relationship with our child

(39:09) Parent Lucinda reflects on her experience and shares what she wished she had known about parenting

(41:56) How understanding one’s own needs is crucial for being able to have authentic relationships with family and community

(43:24) Parent Melissa reflects on her experience and shares what she wished she had known about parenting

(45:51) The benefits of being in an ACTion group in the Parenting Membership

(47:14) Parent Benson reflects on his experience and shares what he wished he had known about parenting

(48:51) Parent Amanda reflects on her experience and shares what she wished she had known about parenting

(50:35) The importance of having a plan in parenting

(52:03) Parent Elizabeth shares her realization that parenting is a continuous learning process

(53:18) The importance of learning new skills to do things differently

(55:34) Invitation to join the Parenting Membership



Hi everyone, I am Denise, a longtime listener of Your Parenting Mojo. I love This podcast because it condenses all the scientific research on child development comparisons with anthropological studies and put it into context of how I can apply all of this to my daily parenting. Jen has a wealth of resources here. So, if you're new to the podcast, I suggest you scroll through all her episodes, I'm sure you'll find one that will help you with whatever you're going through, or one that just piques your interest. If you'd like to get new episodes in your inbox, along with a free infographic on 13 Reasons Your Child Isn't Listening To You - And What To Do About Each One, sign up at YourParentingMojo.com/subscribe. Enjoy the show.

Jen Lumanlan:

Hello, and welcome to the Your Parenting Mojo podcast. Today's episode evolved out of a few conversations with parents in the Parenting Membership, which I've been running for about four years now. There are quite a few folks in the community who have been with me since the very beginning, which is really cool for me to see how we've learned and grown as parents, but also as people independent of our role as parents. We've built a really rich community where we have so much trust in each other to bring things that are super hard, and that we find embarrassing or even shameful to admit to each other, and there's a strong understanding that what you're gonna get back when you share something like that is that you'll be held with a sense of compassion, that you're not the only one who has felt this way, and you WILL make it through.

Jen Lumanlan:

A few people have shared in the community recently about ways they've seen themselves navigating situations with courage and grace that in the past would have caused them to fall apart, and I thought: Oh, that sounds like the makings of a podcast episode! So I put out a call for members to submit short videos answering the question: What did you wish you had known about parenting when your children were younger? Several members who have children who are in the kind of 6-10-ish range responded, and I think that's important because the toddler and preschool years are SO HARD in a lot of ways. And these parents are through that stage now, and they're starting to see the ways that they've interacted with their children for a number of years is showing up in their relationship now their children are older.

Jen Lumanlan:

I'm pretty embarrassed now to admit how little thought I put into parenting before I got pregnant. If it gives you some sense of how I was approaching the whole thing, before Carys was born, we refer to her as The Parasite. And of course, it was a term of endearment, but I felt very little sense of connection with her, and I went all in on my birth plan, because I figured that's when the connection would start and I wanted it to get right. And at that time, I honestly thought the first year was going to be the hardest, because I wouldn't be able to understand what the baby wanted before she could talk, but after that there probably wouldn't be very much to it. I would just be the same person I was at that point, but with a child. And if you'd told me at that point that motherhood would not only rip me apart and remake me, but that I would be supporting other parents on their own journeys as well, I would have said there's something seriously wrong with you.

Jen Lumanlan:

I do remember being in the shower, when Carys was about three or four months old, thinking: how am I going to instill some sense of discipline in her without being the parent who always says 'no'? I assumed that my husband, who's generally the far more easy-going one of us, would be the fun, preferred parent and I would be The Enforcer. And then I found Resources for Infant Educators, or RIE, which was the start of my respectful parenting journey, but the toddler years are really the beginning of my own transformation. I covered an overview of what is RIE, as well as the scientific research that supports it in Episode 79 and 84. My books going to be published on September 5th, and I recently sent a preview copy to the director of the preschool that Carys attended, and she said she cracked up she read the dedication, which reads: "For Carys, who got me into this whole mess in the first place." And the director was really on the receiving end of my early investigations, as for a while I became 'that parent' who would send emails gently asking why certain policies were in place, and the reasoning behind certain types of interactions between teachers and the children.

Jen Lumanlan:

And at home, I definitely saw a lot of my own defense mechanisms kicking in during that period, when Carys would resist and have tantrums and I would mentally and emotionally shut down just as I had learned to do when I was a kid, and I couldn't cope with what was going on around me. And I know I'm not alone in that. Here's parent Elizabeth describing how This has showed up for her:


I wish I had known that the process of parenting would transform me just as much, if not more than it sort of transformed or changed them. I wish I had known that as I attempted to fix their behavior or control their emotions that actually there was a lesson there for me in terms of how I relate with myself when I fail, or how I deal with my own difficult emotions. I wish I had yelled thank you each time some of the more difficult behavior or feelings or encounters happened, because in many of those encounters, were seeds of for my own growth. I wish, you know, I had taken the hints about, you know, when they push back, is it that I hadn't set? The I hadn't, you know, communicated clearly when the, you know, have meltdowns? Is it also that they are picking up on some level of discomfort that I'm feeling or is it also that I'm not responding appropriately to child appropriate behavior? I wish I had shared the responsibility more in many in many of the areas like let them also take quite our fair share of responsibility in our interactions.

Jen Lumanlan:

I see so much wisdom in what Elizabeth shares here, so many of us come into parenting with so much unhealed trauma. Some of us know we have it; others of us grew up in an outwardly highly functional family that nevertheless didn't meet our needs, which is itself a kind of trauma. When our children resist the thing that we ask them to do, we naturally think that our role is to get them to do what we want them to do, because that's what our parents did to us. And in doing that, we usually gloss over the big feelings WE are having about our child's resistance. I think if we can shift how we see our difficult feelings from being something that we try to minimize and make go away as fast as possible to being a signpost that says "Over here! Healing needed over here!" Then we'll be better able to show up as whole, fulfilled people in ALL of our lives, and not just with our children.

Jen Lumanlan:

A lot of that growth tends to happen in terms of how we see ourselves and our role in our family of origin, as well as with our partners, if we have partners. Many of us are fortunate to have had jobs and even careers that we enjoy and to see ourselves as pretty much equals with our partners before we had children. We might not have even talked with our partners very much about our values, because we just kind of assumed they were the same as ours - I know that was the case for me. Conceptually, I'm pretty sure my husband saw us as equals. I worked full-time while I was an undergrad, which transitioned to him supporting me financially while I was in grad school and then I earned more than him for several years after that. It seemed like we were on an equal footing. And then after Carys was born, things started to shift, possibly partly because I mostly worked from home. We both interview the nannies that we were looking at hiring but then I would manage all aspects of that relationship because I was at home more. And then when we transitioned to preschool, he assumed that I would handle ALL of the daily drop-offs and pick-ups, and I honestly believe it was me not being the one who wanted a child that gave me leverage in that negotiation. I quite clearly remember saying: "You were the one who wanted this child, and there are five-drop offs and five-pickups each week, and you're doing half of them." He did do the daily drop-offs, but after a while, we pretty easily slipped into a pattern where I was the one doing almost all of the communication with the preschool and cooking the special breakfasts and making sure there was a change of clothes in her bag, and volunteering to make ice cream or disect owl pellets in the classroom. And it sort of seemed like a slippage that happened over time, because I do remember probably early in Carys' last year there when I was doing all of that, and still working full-time and also running the podcast and the Parenting Membership and kind of exploding at him because I was doing so much.

Jen Lumanlan:

And I think that's a really important thing to keep in mind about patriarchal relationships, which is about how males and masculinity and these arbitrary traits associated with masculinity are privileged above femininity and traits arbitrarily associated with that. Some books that have been released over the last year or so geared towards female-oriented readers have focused on how to get the readers male-oriented partner to do more of the chores, and seem to take the view that when the male partner is doing half the chores, or maybe fewer than half the chores, but something more than they're doing right now that patriarchy isn't a factor in that relationship anymore. But to me, the much bigger question is: who has the power to decide who does the chores? If the arrangement starts slipping, who picks up the slack? In many relationships it's the female oriented partner who picks up the slack and who does it at the expense of their her own wellbeing. Here's member Jenny sharing how she used to put her own need for sleep last behind both her son's and her partner's need for sleep:


I would give my former self not only permission, but probably in order to prioritize her own sleep. Sleep was a challenge for us for four years. My son took forever to settle, and he would wake up multiple times a night. And that left me exhausted. And the exhaustion was made that much worse by expectations that I put upon myself. I was of course, prioritizing my son's sleep, I was prioritizing my husband's sleep because he's the breadwinner. I had ideas about parenthood, which meant that I thought evenings once the child is asleep, were for work or for chores. And of course, I was looking for sleep, sleep solutions online, and then just beating myself up and feeling like a total failure, when the things I tried didn't work for us. So the exhaustion was compounded by all of these burdens and shoulds that I was placing on my own shoulders. And I joined the parenting membership feeling really miserable and just worn down and at the end of my rope. And with the Parenting Membership, I was able to realize that the best sleep solution, of course, is the one that feels safe for you and your family. But it's also the one that gets you the most sleep. Because once you are well rested, everything starts getting a lot easier. And so when I joined the membership, I spent the first months doing just that. Prioritizing my own sleep for the first time in years, which for me looked like putting on pajamas and brushing teeth with my son when it was his bedtime, and then settling him and going directly to my bed not looking at my phone not looking at my emails straight to bed to get as much sleep as I possibly could fit into the night. And in the beginning, I felt a bit sheepish being an adult in pajamas at 8pm but it meant that I was getting decent sleep for the first time in years and from there, things started getting better. So now I totally embrace my early bedtime.

Jen Lumanlan:

I think the pattern that Jenny described at the beginning is such an easy pattern for parents to fall into where work that's financially compensated is seen as more valuable than care work that isn't financially compensated, and that the earning partner sleep is to be protected at all costs. But somehow, even when both partners are working, it's very often the female partner who's the one who gets up multiple times in the night sometimes for years on end. I've heard mothers say things like, "Oh, my husband really doesn't do well when he doesn't sleep." Well, that's us protecting and enforcing patriarchal power structures where the husband's needs in his paid work are seen as more valuable than our needs and our unpaid care work.

Jen Lumanlan:

I will say that that's one area where I actually feel comfortable that I'm not taking on an undue burden, because I find any sound disruptive when I'm trying to sleep, including my husband's breathing. And I have told him if he really loved me, he would stop doing it. So I wear earplugs. And once I'm asleep, I won't hear Carys calling from her room. It also takes me an hour to get back to sleep if I wake up, whereas he'll only back asleep in five minutes, so it really isn't as disruptive for him to go as it is for me. And so our arrangement is that he's kind of going to go for the first two times that she calls out in the night, and then he'll kick me out of bed for the third time if there is a third time, which hasn't been too much of a struggle for us because she has slept fairly well.

Jen Lumanlan:

What Jenny is also doing as she goes to bed early is acknowledging there are a finite number of hours in the day, and that she COULD spend some of those hours between 8pm and 10pm, doing things like cleaning up or doing paid work, but that her need for rest is LEGITIMATE. She is choosing to prioritize it above the other tasks that society says she SHOULD be doing to be a good person and a good parent. Care work might not be valued very much but in our culture, the one thing care work is valued more than is rest.

Jen Lumanlan:

One other thing to point out is that when Jenny joined the membership, she was really having a hard time with her son's behavior. There was a LOT of hitting happening. And so I think she felt pretty emotionally beaten down as well as the physical aspect. When children are hitting the question I hear from parents most often is: "How do I get it to stop when I've told them to stop over and over and they just keep doing it?" And of course there is a piece in there about why the child is hitting; what unmet need they're trying to express through the hitting. But there's also a piece about how the parent shows up in these interactions. Because when you're sleep deprived and you've been told your whole life that it isn't okay to set boundaries, and you don't know how to set or hold boundaries. And remember, these are different from limits, because with a limit, we're trying to change someone else's behavior. With a boundary, we're saying what we are and aren't willing to do, then it's not surprising that you get into difficult interactions with your child, when instead we see what our needs are, and take a step toward meeting those needs more of the time, we're better able to show up in our relationship with our child in a way that's aligned with our values.

Jen Lumanlan:

Parent Anne picks up a very similar theme as Jenny, I interviewed her on the podcast a couple of years ago, here's the first part of Anne's video:


So to some degree, I think parenting is a leap that you can never really be prepared for, like slipping from calm waters over a waterfall that you had no idea was coming. I don't think any amount of advice or passing wisdom could have really prepared me for it. Maybe if you come from like a trauma- free family environment. And I don't know how common or rare that maybe seems rare. But I do I do know people know it exist. But maybe if you come from that environment, you would know what to expect and how to handle it. And, you know, maybe you had a model that was very effective in your parents and, you know, ease and comfort and happiness would arise naturally, as a result of these really realistic expectations, skills and support that you have in your life. For the rest of us, that is not me. Here's what I wished I knew. And you know, not only that someone had said these things to me, which would have been also nice to hear them. But you know, I wish that I had known them on like a deep, emotional, physical, mental spiritual level, to the degree that I could incorporate them in my daily life, in practice, and parenting. Um, you know, I know these things, to some degree on those levels now, five years into my parenting journey. And Your Parenting Mojo has, you know, really helped me a lot with that. It was definitely the catalyst that started to help me grow and learn in these ways. And and to some degree, I don't know them, and practice them daily. To the degree that I would like, but I can and I do, and I continue to improve. So I'm very grateful. So yeah, so I have a list here. First item, my guess is, I wish I knew on a deep level, that my needs matter that I shouldn't have overextended myself, and exhausted myself to be everything for my baby. I wish that I had known it wasn't my job to set him up for success in every possible way. And that, that I didn't need to expose him to every walk of life, every skill that he might need. You know, like, if you've heard me speak before, like coding in Spanish, you know, like, less than zero. Things that are on my radar are less than one I should say.

Jen Lumanlan:

So obviously, you can hear the exhaustion coming out in Anne's message as well. And I think for and maybe it was less about sleep and more just this vision she had about parenting and wanting to expose her child to everything that could give him a potential advantage in life, like coding and Spanish. And I have had many conversations about White privilege over the years and she actually leads the anti-racist community across the Parenting and Learning Memberships within Your Parenting Mojo, so I wrote to her and I said: "That was about opportunity hoarding, right?" And for those of you who need a refresher, opportunity hoarding is where White parents and sometimes parents of other races as well, but very often White parents, will go to any lengths to make sure their child is exposed to the right set of activities and experience that will give them skills that allow them to get ahead in school, in college and then in the workplace. In Episode 85, we looked at how opportunity hoarding shows up in schools if you wanted to learn more about that and and confirm that, yes, this is indeed what she was doing. She told me she thought she'd been given a lot of advantages by her parents and felt a deep responsibility to pass them on. Anne's own mom had paid for her college, which she told and she did because her father had paid for hers. And ancestors immigrated to the US from Eastern Europe, several generations ago and did face prejudice and discrimination when working in the mining industry here. But they were White, and over time, their status in society solidified and they were able to accumulate opportunities like wealth, partly because of their skin color, and pass that wealth down through the generations. But the process of creating those opportunities in the way parents are supposed to do it today, which does not just involve paying for college. But creating all of the avenues to secure the spot in college in the first place was so exhausting for and that she couldn't actually be in a real relationship with her own son, because she was so anxiously looking out all the time to make sure she wasn't missing any critical experience that he should be getting and wasn't getting. Iris picks up this theme in her comment as well with a touch of classic Iris humor:


Being the best mother I could be, is exhausting. And it's not sustainable for me. So now my goal is to be good enough mom. And for me to accept that I'm a I'm perfectly imperfect, that I can try and aspire to be dignified. Like Marmee in the classic story, Little Women, I can be like my own mother, who's generous and selfless. I can try to be all those things. But I can only be me: funny, silly, often generous bit, sometimes not.

Jen Lumanlan:

At this point, I should explain. For those who are listening to this on the podcast, rather than watching on YouTube, that Iris removes her glasses before continuing:


As for selflessness, I've learned over time that taking care of myself is a big part of taking care of my family. And I think about the briefing instructions of flight attendants that, you know, if the cabin experience a sudden loss of pressure, and you are traveling with a child, put on your mask first before you help your child G, you okay, but she's okay.

Jen Lumanlan:

And now Iris has a nebulizer mask on and she's checking in with a big blue Teddy to make sure that they're okay.

Jen Lumanlan:

​​I think what Iris and Anne have both discovered about parenting over the last couple of years is that we put so much of this pressure on ourselves. Some of it does come from outside with questions from well-meaning friends and the parents at preschool or school about what the activities and camps we are signed up for, and how "I'm just so BUSY" is considered the default answer to the question, "How are you doing?". But I see the same process happening as it did with our inner critic, which started out being someone else's voice telling us how it's okay for us to show up in the world, what parts of us won't be accepted. And over time it transmogrified (a little Calvin and Hobbes reference for you there) into our own voice. When we hear messages from society often enough about being the perfect mother, doing all the things, eventually we take on that voice as if it were our own, and we enforce our own behavior. We put this pressure on ourselves to put ourselves last, and to be the best mother we can be instead of showing up as our own imperfect, and yet perfect selves. We tell ourselves to do all these things that aren't aligned with our values, which creates an enormous amount of stress, even if we can't figure out why.

Jen Lumanlan:

Iris went on to explain that she very often used to buy things as a way to try to ease problems in her life. Here she is, again:


Buying things solve a problem is not always the answer. It has always been an issue of combing my daughter's hair and I bought many like this is just a dozen of the brushes and combs that I have bought. And still the problem persists. And I have realized over time that with this problem as with other parenting challenges, there is no one solution, or one approach. Sometimes it works to some some things works today and not tomorrow. And what's helped me very much was to reflect on why is this bothering me. So for me, I don't want to be perceived to be a neglectful mother. And I asked myself, is this solution or approach aligned with my values? And is this problem even really a problem at this given time? Sometimes I say okay, this is not an emergency. We don't have to brush her hair. I don't have to brush her hair, she can go to bed or she can go on her day with tangled hair. That's it because I don't want to be a dictator. I want to be a respectful and kind parent.

Jen Lumanlan:

That's definitely a theme I've seen among parents who have contributed stories from my book as well. Although I do want to acknowledge the privilege that Iris has, to some extent, and the I most definitely have. When my daughter was at preschool, we could send her with matted hair, and even in pajamas if she didn't want to get dressed in the morning, and nobody was going to call Child Protective Services on us. I know there are black and indigenous parents who do not have that luxury who make sure their children show up to school looking neat and clean every day, even when they are their child wish they could take a day off, because the risk of being reported by a well-meaning White teacher or parent is too great. So that's on us White listeners to really think carefully before making any of those kinds of reports about whether a child is really experiencing neglect, or whether we would see a parent who puts their values ahead of social expectations, if a White child showed up in the same way.

Jen Lumanlan:

Anne went on to describe what she wishes, she had known about her interactions with her mother and with her husband, and also with their son:


You know, I also wish that I knew that my parents didn't do everything right. And that I shouldn't have subliminally, tried to emulate their parenting - my mom's specifically. I wish I knew about intergenerational trauma, that and how that shapes my everyday interactions with my child. And how, you know, if I don't do take steps to like heal myself, that that trauma can be passed on to me to the to the future generations through through me and my child. I wish I knew, I shouldn't try to change the way my partner and other people in my child's life interact with them and treat them. You know, I think when we do take steps to improve ourselves, you know, we want everyone to go on that journey, but it's not their journey. It's our journey. And you know, it's totally natural, and it comes from a good place, but it's not effective. And it's not kind and it's not considerate, and it's not a way to build healthy relationships. And, you know, I think modeling, you know, the ways that I interacted with my child was the most effective and having him be treated in the ways that I would like him to and then also, yeah, like, knowing I wish I had known that I could learn from, from my partner, from the people around me, that they're that they have, you know, step parenting styles, ways of child's learning, ways of knowing that, that are also valid, and different. And, and things can be learned. And then you can incorporate some of that into your practice. You know, of course, not everything, you don't want to adopt someone's entirety, but learning certain things that are valid and helpful from those around you, is really powerful as well. And similarly, and most of all, I wish I had known that I shouldn't try to change my child. This gets This gets me pretty, pretty hard, emotionally, because it's the way I wish I had been treated as a child, I wish I want my child to know that they are great the way they are. But they don't need to be changed. They don't need to be shaped and molded. And you know, everything he wants them to be will arise from treating them with respect, compassion, love, and support to help meet their needs. It's all that they need to grow, to develop to learn to be a whole human that is kind and respectful and, and skilled in all of the ways that they need to be to thrive in this world.

Jen Lumanlan:

Anne talked quite a bit when I interviewed her about her relationship with her Mom, which was difficult when she was growing up and still difficult as an adult and in the early years of her parenting journey. Her mom has a pretty strong personality. And so of course, Anne never learned anything about how to set boundaries, because boundaries are usually pretty threatening to someone who is in charge of you and who has a strong personality. So it's no wonder that as a new parent, and STILL had no idea how to set boundaries, and I think it wasn't until she went through the Taming Your Triggers workshop that she realized she even COULD set boundaries. In our last conversation, she told us about a time not long after that when her Mom said something about blue diapers being for boys and pink diapers being for girls which Anne found offensive, and normally she would have just walked away or sat there steaming but instead she said, "I'm upset that you said that." And that was the first time she had stood up to her mother about anything. And since then, she has been able to say these things more directly as they come up things like, "I don't want you to treat my son that way," or another time when her mother was controlling how Anne's son played with some blocks and Anne had a flashback to being a child herself when her Mom would buy her porcelain dolls that Anne wasn't allowed to play with, instead of dolls she could actually play with. And to her Mom's credit, she acknowledged what had happened and apologized and their relationship has DRAMATICALLY improved since then.

Jen Lumanlan:

You can probably imagine how all of this was playing out in Anne's relationship with her husband with her on this journey to be the best parent she could be, and wanting to control every aspect of HIS interactions with their son as well, because of a fear that if EVERYONE around their son didn't interact with him, and just the right way, that he would be harmed somehow. I see this a lot in the female-oriented parents that I work with, who are very often the ones who are doing a lot of work on themselves to understand their intergenerational trauma, and heal from the trauma that they themselves experienced. And they want their partners to come along on this journey to and their partners aren't always ready. In our patriarchal culture, this kind of healing work isn't something men are supposed to do. They're supposed to use power to maintain control over their family not heal their wounds. So in an ideal world, yes, maybe we do want them to do some of that healing work. And yes, it sucks that they even have to do it. And it doubly sucks that they very often don't see themselves as hurt because they still hold power. And as long as they're holding power, it seems like there isn't really anything wrong.

Jen Lumanlan:

But each person's journey is their own. And Anne is actually saying the same thing about her son and her husband when she says, "They're great the way they are, they don't need to be shaped and molded." NOBODY likes to be shaped and molded. We arrived here today with so much trauma because other people tried to shape and mold us, instead of being with us as we figure out how to live our lives in alignment with our OWN values.

Jen Lumanlan:

So when we try to shape our partners' interactions with our children, we try to shape how our children turn out, in a way we're reenacting the same trauma that happened to us - even if we're doing it with the best of intentions, which, frankly, is what our own parents were doing as well as they tried to shape us. They didn't do it because they hated us; they did it because they loved us and wanted the best for us. But how to most of us want to receive love? We want to be supported as we make our own way in life and make our own decisions and sometimes fail and learn how to get back up again, and to know that we'll be loved no matter what. I think that when we can show that grace toward our family members, which I grant you is not an easy thing to do, especially when there has been trauma involved, but if we care about how they interact with us and with our children, we have to let them figure that out in their own time, and the most effective thing we can do is to quietly model what we believe to be the most respectful way of interacting with our children.

Jen Lumanlan:

I think a big part of respect is doing things when our children are ready to do them. Parent Laura was the first person to submit a video when I requested them. She is on a mission to try to prevent parents from struggling with parenting in the way that she has struggled, which was almost certainly entirely preventable. Here's Laura:


Hi, I'm Laura. I have a seven year old son and a four year old son. When my oldest was two years and two months old, the teacher at his daycare said that she thought he was ready to start potty training. While I have worked with 1000s of children in my career, I have worked with fewer than 20 children that were not yet school aged. So I felt like this was not my area of expertise and these people have worked with 1000s of other children that are of this age and I thought, well, they must be the professionals. If they're telling me he's ready, he's ready. They were wrong. He wasn't ready. Over five years later, my son still has regular accidents. He has daytime accidents two or three times a week. He has nighttime accidents six or seven nights a week. Potty learning before he was ready has caused a lot of long term problems. He is chronically constant and he's had so many accidents in his bedroom that we're going to have to replace the carpet. I learned after all of this potty problem or potty trouble, that several studies say that potty training before the age of three is harmful. One of the doctors that we work with says that a child's bladder keeps growing to its standard size until the age of three, and it grows faster and stronger when we don't disrupt the process by inhibiting filling and emptying my son's pelvic floor physical therapist. That's right. My seven year old has a pelvic floor PT. She says that the muscles to void aren't and haven't developed yet. And they aren't in the right place until after age three. So potty training before those muscles are in place is detrimental to a child's development. I wish I had known this before. We waited to potty train our four year old and one day he said he found the underpants that I had bought for him in preparation for the day that he was ready. He decided that would be the day I put the power into his hands. I put the ownership of his body into his own hands. And when he decided he was ready, which was that day that he found the underwear. He potty trained, potty trained himself, he has only had one daytime accident, and he is dry six or more nights of the week. And me letting go of the societal expectations of potty learning and any societal expectations regarding the potty has put the responsibility into his hands. It has allowed him to learn how his body works. And he's taking complete ownership off his body. This is a complete 180 from his older brother. So research, potty training potty learning, make sure that your child is ready. Don't do it until you're ready no matter what anybody else says. Trust yourself and trust your child.

Jen Lumanlan:

Laura had such a hard time figuring out WHY her son was peeing all over the place because for a while it seemed like it was a behavioral thing. And she just needed to get him to stop doing it. A doctor told her there was nothing physically wrong with her son. A therapist told her she should punish him for paying and appropriately and reward him for appropriate behavior. But that just didn't sit right with Laura. She wasn't sure why. But she had an intuition there was something physically wrong. She had a doctor friend refer him for an x-ray. And there it was: a massive stool in her son's colon then began a journey of daily enemas. And she and her son really got the hang of the problem solving process that we teach in the Parenting Membership through the course of navigating that he started out hating the enemas. But they were able to find ways to make it more comfortable for him, like using warm water and having one of his parents touching him while the liquid was going in and finding different ways to stay occupied in the toilet afterwards. All of this helped to give him a sense of autonomy over the process. And he now knows that if he can come up with a strategy to any problem that will also meet his parents' needs, they will probably do it.

Jen Lumanlan:

I can't overstate how important that respect for both people's needs is. There have been several articles published recently in online magazines like The Cut where the journalist describes "gentle", "respectful" parenting as a tool that parents can use that benefits the child, but the journalist tries it and finds themselves frustrated and resentful, and essentially says, "I'm going back to a middle ground where sometimes I just tell my child what to do without listening to them." And to me, that's a fundamental misunderstanding of how we can be in relationship with our children. If we're seeing gentle, respectful parenting as something that helps our child at the expense of meeting our needs, we're missing a huge piece of the puzzle - and the reason these journalists go back to their 'middle ground' is because their needs aren't being met. So let's work towards doing that.

Jen Lumanlan:

Lucinda picks up on that theme in her video:


I think there are a lot of things that I wish I had known. Sometimes I catch myself thinking about how I wish I could go back and tell myself some of those things, give myself some of that learning. But I try to give myself my past versions of myself lots of compassion, as well as my present self, lots of compassion. You know, I knew what I what I could then and the way that I showed up was good enough. So I guess one of the things I would love to tell my past self is that I'm just deserving of compassion, the compassion that I can give myself now and that I can give myself in early parenting and even prior to parenting is something that I wasn't able to access before. So I would, I would go back and, and just give myself a hug and say, you know, early parenting, I was parenting multiples. Early parenting is really hard newborn parenting is really hard. I would tell myself, it's, it's not hard because I'm doing something wrong. It's just hard. It's a big change, it's a big transition. Another thing I would tell myself is to trust my gut, to listen to my body, to slow down, to really just tune in a bit more to what my needs are. And that listening to my own needs is not selfish, but taking care of my own needs is the foundation for then being able to tune in to other's needs, and to be in authentic relationship with other people, my children, my spouse, my friends, my community. Yeah, I think those are the main ones. I mean, there's lots of little things, I would give myself a copy of some of Amanda Gerber's books. I would introduce myself to RIE sooner, I didn't discover it until my kids were about a year and a half old. But, you know, I just think the the foundation of compassion, of slowing down, of being aware of my body, and what it's telling me all of that stuff unlocked so much for us in all of our relationships.

Jen Lumanlan:

So Lucinda referred to RIE, which is the Resources for Infant Educators approach to being with infants and toddlers that I mentioned at the beginning of the episode. Some friends of mine told me about RIE when CArys was about four months old. And just like Lucinda, I also then mourned into the early days when I didn't know about it, and I interacted with her in ways that really were not based in respect.

Jen Lumanlan:

You can also hear Lucinda echoing what Anne said, about being able to be in authentic relationships with her immediate family, as well as her wider community, and how her ability to do that is directly tied to understanding her own needs. When she's able to do that, she can take steps herself to meet them, as well as ask for help from others, and set boundaries with others as well when that becomes necessary, and I will say I've seen Lucinda make ENORMOUS strides in that department over the last couple of years, through things that we've discussed on group coaching calls, as well as with the support of her ACTion Group, which is a small group of five members and an experienced peer leader who meet on a weekly basis to break down the big challenges that they're facing into manageable next steps. So often parents who are new to the membership, I wonder whether they'll really get anything out of those groups, and they end up being foundational to making the changes they want to see.

Jen Lumanlan:

And I think the reason for that is a quote that Carl Jung is famous for, which is "The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change." He goes on to say: "It's a universal truth, that not everyone will love you or what you do. Seeking approval is the surest way to disappointment, because loving yourself as long as you live up to a certain way of being isn't self-love."

Jen Lumanlan:

As Lucinda said, she now knows she is deserving of self-compassion but a lot of parents I meet don't know that. Here's Melissa, who didn't even know what self-compassion was before we met:


I had vaguely heard about respectful parenting before knowing Jen. So this wish list was quite long for me. However, looking back now, there are some things that helped me have more space to even see a way out of a difficult time. I wish I had known about the link between self-compassion, self-care, and my own window of tolerance. When I first heard Jen talk about self-compassion, I literally had to Google the term because I had no idea it was a thing or what it looked like. Slowly but surely, I realized that my inner critic was just one voice inside me and that I could also practice letting other more kinder voices show up. As I learned more about how to practice self-compassion, I was able to see the link between meeting my own needs through self-care, and widening my own window of tolerance. This, in turn, open up a whole range of realizations and possibilities that I had not been aware of before. Not all of them feel great, but were helpful to know. Like, the fact that my relationship with my husband was far more triggering for me than with my children. Than the times I have practiced health care before this, I would do it with a sense of guilt and even defensiveness, that I don't deserve to be punished when I mess up with my children. None of us do. That's just a cultural conditioning. I hope to interrupt with my own children. This type of parenting can sometimes feel lonely and overwhelming. But I recently had this awesome reminder from the community that I can trust the signals my body sends me. No amount of, in-the-moment blind obedience with my children has ever given me the joy that I feel when they see my children starting to problem solve on their own. And that makes it all worth it. So yeah, good luck.

Jen Lumanlan:

Melisa is in an ACTion group as well, a different one from Lucinda. And what I see happening in the groups is a sort of practice to work towards self-compassion. When you're new to it, if someone says, "Just be compassionate towards yourself," you don't know what to do. It goes against everything we're taught to do in our culture, which is essentially that if we're not getting the result, we want to beat ourselves up about it until we get it right. And we don't want to always seek approval from others in place of having self-compassion, because that would be essentially doing what Jung is telling us NOT to do to seek approval through others' eyes.

Jen Lumanlan:

But what I DO see happening in the ACTion groups is that other people who share our values can act as a scaffold for us to build our own self-compassion. When we can be with other people who reflect back to us - on a weekly basis! - you are a good person, and a good parent who is having a hard time. Your inability to make this big change you've set your mind on making is not indicative of your worth as a person. Let's help you to break it down into more manageable steps... then you start seeing yourself in that way too. When I work with parents on exercises to develop self-compassion, they almost always have a hard time doing it at first. It's much easier for them to direct compassion toward another person. And then when they flex that muscle a bit, they can start to replace the other person with themselves and direct compassion inward instead of outward. Being in community with others in the ACTion groups has been a key part of the scaffolding that helped Lucinda and Melissa to direct the compassion they felt for others inward as well.

Jen Lumanlan:

Benson and Amanda went into parenting having done just about as much thinking about what it would be like as I did, started interacting with their children in pretty much the same way that they were raised, until they realized that didn't fit with their values now. But they didn't know what else to do, especially when these patterns and of interacting with their children seemed to come out of nowhere and was so hard to break.


What we wish we knew about parenting? A lot of it for me is I said the main thing would be I wish I knew about respectful parenting and kind of the principles I'd say. So understanding, like needs, feelings, including our own, as well as our children's. How limits and boundaries are involved in that, and also values and kind of determining what's actually important in each interaction with your kid, and what values you're trying to instill in them. We went into our parenting journey without kind of doing any research. And we stumbled onto respectful parenting, when we joined the Parenting Membership that Jen runs, and that really set it on us on record. So we were lucky in that way. And we went our kid was two years old. So we were able to start implementing some things. But there was a lot of stuff that we encountered as we parented that we did without realizing it, which was how we were raised. And that's a constant battle to reparent ourselves more than even how we parent our kids, which kind of ties into your stuff.


What I wish I knew about parenting was how much stuff I would have to go through about myself and my past and past experiences with the way I was raised. How much I'd have to confront that before I can even parent in a way that I'd want to. It's kind of scary how quickly I fell into some habits that my parents have in terms of kind of ignoring blatant sad feelings and trying to use distraction instead. Even though, knowing that we wanted to create a safe space for kids to express their feelings, to knowledge, and okay those feelings is even knowing that I still fell into that habit. What I was raised to do or and going into the parenting thing like you said, we kind of went into this blind. We didn't. The values that we had for our that we have and we want to instill in our kids were different than what We've had growing up and having kind of a set, not a set, but having a plan of kind of viewing, viewing our kids' behavior as an expression of unmet needs versus what we were thinking of what it is. And having a plan has helped us, helped us make parenting at least more manageable. Well, so confronting the demons of our own past.

Jen Lumanlan:

That idea of having a plan is so important. It's not like we're baking a cake and we're gonna mix the right ingredients in just the right way and we're going to bake the perfect child who's perfectly well adjusted and always happy and never needs therapy. It's more that if we don't have any idea of where we want to go, it's almost certain we won't get there. So if we want parenting to be joyful, and fun, and warm and collaborative, and it isn't any of those things right now, or it isn't those things most of the time, then doing the things the way we've always done them, and the way we were raised is probably not going to get us where we want to go.

Jen Lumanlan:

I think of the journey more like having our eyes set on a distant island, and we're in a sailboat with no motor, and we tack one way and then the other to head in the general direction of our overall goal. We might not end up where we think we will; we might end up one or two or three islands over from the one that we were aiming for, and that'll be okay because they're all lovely in their own way. But we have to understand what our values are, and most of the time have the ways that we're interacting with our children be aligned with those values, if we're going to have any chance of making it to any of those islands instead of feeling lost at sea, and maybe ending up with a similar relationship with our adult children, as we have with our own parents, which might be based on a whole lot of intergenerational trauma, and hurtful things that have been said and healing things that we think we could never say to them.

Jen Lumanlan:

I'll come back to Elizabeth for some closing thoughts:


I wish I had known that it gets easier. And then it doesn't, that there are some challenges at every stage, but that the skills that you learn when they're younger, are in many cases transferable, right? An example is an ongoing challenge that I have about responding to my children's difficult feelings. And I think it's that blend of accepting letting the feelings be not trying to fix things in. I think this applies to the crime of newborns, it also applies to the meltdowns of toddlers and applies to how you respond to our five-year-old who's had a difficult time at preschool, right? So yeah, so what I wish I had known there was that is that, you know, some of the, yeah, some of the skills would be that I had better learn the skills well enough, because I'd need them for a lifetime. I, yeah, you hadn't anticipated that at all.

Jen Lumanlan:

I think what Elizabeth is saying here is both a caution if that's the right word and an opportunity. It's a caution in that we might think we can sort of skate through the next few months and just get by, with the skills that we have, as we're navigating whatever stage our child is going through right now, thinking that we don't really need to do anything differently ourselves. And I get that it can feel like a bit of a weight to think: jeez, I might need to learn some different skills so I can do things differently, and I have to add this to my plate which is already feeling overloaded. But the flip side of that is once you DO have those skills, you have it for life and for your child's life! And once you can be with a meltdown with a sense of calm and acceptance, you can do it whenever you need it. And chances are your child is going to have a lot fewer meltdowns, when you can do things like problem solve to meet their needs and your needs, but dysregulation still happens. They get sick, they get tired, they get overwhelmed, things fall apart, and that skill of being with them in their pain is one that we will find useful when they are three and thirteen and thirty.

Jen Lumanlan:

Before we conclude, I wanted to point out what we didn't hear in this episode, and I had no idea it was going to turn out this way. I didn't know what people were going to submit until I saw the same videos you just saw or heard if you're listening on the podcast. We didn't hear anyone saying: "My baby was a month later than my neighbor's baby to roll over and it turned out to be a really big deal." Nobody said I wish I'd bought that one sippy cup that we didn't try when my toddler would pour water all over themselves every time they tried to drink." Nobody said: "I wish I'd worried more." Nobody said: "I should have put my baby or my child ahead of me more than I did." Nobody said: "My child's behind view was driving me up the wall and I finally figured out how to punish or reward them in the right way so they would stop doing it and now my life is so much easier."

Jen Lumanlan:

The thing I see in common across all of these parents and I include myself here is that we had absolutely no idea that being a parent was going to crack us open in the way that it has. I don't think any of us knew that becoming a parent would make us completely reassess what's important to us, and how we show up in our relationships, and how we can start to heal ourselves so we don't pass on the same hurts that were passed down to us by our parents.

Jen Lumanlan:

And it's really hard to do that work alone. It can feel like a huge weight is lifted when you're in community with other parents who share your values, and it will felt similar things that you're feeling and you can say, "I've been there, it sucked. Here are some things that helped." Ideally, we would have those kinds of communities physically close by us but I have not met many parents who have been able to find or create that. It's far more common for me to hear parents say, "I'm the only one around here who parents like this. The neighbors look at me cross-eyed when I don't tell my child off for having a tantrum." So if you're looking for a real sense of community as you navigate parenting challenges, I hope you'll join me and Elizabeth, Jenny, and Iris, Laura, the sender Melissa, and Benson, and Amanda, in the Parenting Membership, we would all love to see you there.


I'm a Your Parenting Mojo fan, and I hope you enjoy the show as much as I do. If you found this episode especially enlightening and useful, you can donate to help Jen produce more content like this. Just go to the episode page that Jen mentioned. Thanks for listening.

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.

Leave a Comment