The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby
Divorce With Kids
Divorce is devastating under any circumstances. But if you have kids, divorce is even more fraught. In my experience as a marriage and family therapist and breakup recovery coach, divorcing parents are often worrying about how the end of their marriage will affect their children. I know that this can really ratchet up your pain and distress, and make a difficult situation even more challenging.
If you’re like most divorcing parents your number one priority is the mental and emotional wellness of your kids. You’re probably looking for answers to questions like, “how to tell your kids about divorce,” or “the impact of divorce on children,” or “healthy co-parenting strategies.” I’m so glad that you found this resource today!
Here’s something you should know right off the bat: The fact that you’re working so hard to educate yourself about how to help your children means 1) that you love and care about them so much and 2) you’re already doing a great job. Your efforts to help them through this mean that you’re the type of parent who’s going to get them through this in the healthiest way possible. You’re already doing it!
To support you in the work you’re already doing, I have put together another educational resource for you. On this episode of the podcast, I’m speaking with Dr. Amy Smith, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist on our team here at Growing Self who is an expert at helping families get through divorce. She has tons of experience coaching parents and many years of experience in helping divorcing parents learn how to help their children with the emotional and relational aspects of divorce too.
If your marriage is ending and you’re worried about how your children will be affected, you’ll want to listen to this conversation. We’re talking about how to talk with your kids about the divorce, how to navigate co-parenting with your ex, and how to be the unwavering foundation your kids need — even when your own world feels like it’s falling apart.
I hope you join us for all of this and more. You can listen here on this page, or find the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts (and subscribe to the show while you’re there!)
I sincerely hope that today’s show helps provide you with some insight and direction on how to help your children through divorce and that it helps ease your anxiety along the way.
You’ve got this!
Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby
Divorce with Kids
The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby
As a marriage and family therapist, I’ve seen couples counseling transition to breakup or divorce recovery work many times, and I know it’s never easy for either partner.
But if you’re worried about your kids, I have some good news: Research shows that divorce does not cause irreparable harm to children in and of itself. In fact, children actually may do better with divorced parents, if the alternative is living in a high-conflict environment.
The key factor that determines how well children will cope with divorce is whether or not they place blame on themselves. It’s normal for young children to not have a clear sense of self, and blurry ideas about what they do and don’t control. For this reason, it’s critical to help kids understand that the divorce is in no way their fault.
Effects of Divorce on Children
As kids come to terms with their parents’ divorce, it’s normal for them to have a lot of questions. They may be uncertain about where they’ll live, when they’ll see each parent, and what the future will hold.
It’s also normal for them to feel a sense of loss and grief. Their family is changing on the most fundamental level, and they’ll need some time to accept this new reality, and to adjust to it. They may experience sadness, anger, anxiety, and withdrawal as they grapple with this change.
In the short term, you may notice some behavior changes, like more tantrums, or getting into trouble at school. It can be helpful for parents to recognize that there are big, difficult feelings behind these behaviors. Giving your child an outlet to talk about these feelings will be more effective than taking a punitive approach.
Being There for Your Kids Through Divorce
If you’re going through the stages of a breakup or divorce, you’re sorting out some big, messy feelings. It’s important to remember that you are there to support your children emotionally, but that they can’t be there for you in the same way. Avoid putting that responsibility onto your kids. Take good care of yourself, and look for other adults who can talk with you about the details of your split or who can support you as you work through painful feelings about your ex.
Talk with your kids about how they’re feeling, and acknowledge that what they’re going through is really difficult. Keep the dialogue open and encourage your child to come to you with any questions they have.
Avoid talking negatively about your ex. However they’ve treated you, your child deserves to have their own relationship with both of their parents (as long as those relationships are safe). As hard as it is, this is truly a situation where if you can’t say anything nice, it’s better to say nothing at all.
Create Clear Co-Parenting Rules
As difficult as it can be when you’re in the midst of emotional turmoil, it’s important to work out a co-parenting plan with your ex that’s as positive and peaceful as possible.
Getting really specific about what is ok and what isn’t can help you sidestep future conflict, and spare your children from the stress of their parents fighting. Will you pick up, or drop off your child when it’s your time with them? Will you come inside? Can the kids have video calls with their other parent while they’re in your custody? How will you communicate with your ex about your child? Think through questions like these and try to create an amicable divorce agreement that puts your kids first.
Also, keep this in mind: You will make mistakes! This is very difficult, and sometimes your feelings will get the best of you. If you don’t navigate co-parenting as gracefully as you hoped, don’t be afraid to acknowledge that to your child, apologize, and try to do better next time.
When You Don’t Like How Your Ex Parents
Co-parenting goes from tricky to exasperating when you don’t like the way your ex parents. Maybe they let your child eat too much sugar, or spend too much time on screens. Maybe they’re not being as ethical about how they talk to your child about the divorce as you’re striving to be.
The first question to ask yourself is, is my child safe? If the answer is no, you should absolutely step in. But if the answer is yes, pick your battles carefully. You won’t parent exactly the same way your ex does, and you won’t be able to control everything that goes on when you’re not there.
If your ex is badmouthing you to your child, it can be tempting to retaliate with the same behavior. Avoid this. Your children will make up their own minds over time about the divorce, and pulling them in opposite directions will only do harm.
One of the most heartbreaking outcomes of a divorce can be a child becoming alienated from one of their parents. Parental alienation may happen because of an ex “turning the child” against the other parent, or because of how the child interprets the divorce.
Losing your relationship with your child, or seeing that relationship grow distant, is truly painful. The best thing you can do is offer your continued, unconditional love and support. Avoid trying to retaliate against your ex by interfering in their relationship with your child. This will be damaging to your child, and is likely to backfire.
The best thing you can do is to continue letting your child know you are there for them, no matter what. Never give up on your relationship with your child. As they mature, they’ll have a more nuanced understanding of the divorce, and they’ll have opportunities to reconnect with you.
Kids and Divorce
If you’re going through a divorce and worrying about how it will affect your children, stay strong. This is such a turbulent time, and I know it can be overwhelming.
I hope our conversation gives you hope that your divorce does not have to be profoundly damaging for your kids. With support and an open dialogue, you can help them adjust to this new reality, and grow into happy, healthy adults.
Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby
Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: On today's show, we're talking about divorce with kids. Nobody wants to get divorced, and it is not the most pleasant topic to discuss on this podcast or elsewhere. But divorce is also incredibly real, and it's common. If you are looking down the barrel of a divorce right now, I know that you need help with this. You need guidance because this is really hard. It's a difficult experience for anyone. But it's especially hard if you're a parent, and trying to figure out how to have a healthy divorce with kids involved.
There are just so many things to figure out: How to talk to your kids about divorce? How to separate your lives with children? How to co-parent? The biggest thing I think is how to meet the emotional needs of your children while it feels like your own life is kind of falling apart, at least for a while. This is tough stuff for anyone. Again, it's just so incredibly important to be talking about this so that you can get good information to help guide you through this transition.
That's what we're talking about on today's show. That is why I have invited my colleague here at Growing Self, Dr. Dr. Amy Smith to join us because she is a true expert on helping divorcing families get through this transition in the healthiest way possible for all involved, and I wanted you to have the very best help. I have invited her to chat with us today.
Dr. Amy, thank you so much for being here.
Dr. Amy: Thank you so much for having me. I'm so excited to be here today.
Dr. Lisa: It's gonna be a great conversation. Now I do need to formally introduce you. With other guests, I would probably ask them to share a little bit about themselves. I know you are so modest, and you're not going to toot your own horn. I'm actually going to go ahead and get that horn for you, okay?
Dr. Amy has a Ph.D. in applied developmental science, master's degree in human development and family studies with a specialization in marriage and family therapy. She is also a university professor at Colorado State University. She's the author of multiple peer-reviewed journal articles, encyclopedia articles. She is an expert on parent-child relationships. She also is a certified family life educator through the National Council of Family Relationships. All that to say, Dr. Amy, you know what you're talking about on this topic?
Dr. Amy: Hopefully! I feel that we always have things to learn but it is an area that I love to work with. Because it's so hard to be going through divorce. It's hard to parent anytime. Sometimes, we just need a little extra support when we're going through all of those changes as well.
Things to Consider When Divorcing With a Child
Dr. Lisa: It's so hard, it is so hard. To your point, especially hard when divorce is on the table. Let's just jump right into your topic. I mean, I know you're a wealth of information around how to go about this in the best way possible. I think on today's show, we've talked a lot on shows in the past about what it's like for adults and relationships, and how to stop the divorce potentially, or things to consider if you are thinking about getting divorced. I would refer you back to other podcasts on that topic. You can scroll back through our feed to find them.
Really today, this is for somebody who has either decided that this needs to happen, or who is in a relationship with someone who has decided for them that this needs to happen. They are just so agonized about not just their own feelings in relationship, but like, “What is this going to do to our kids?” And “How do I help the kids with us?” I think the biggest fear for a lot of parents in the situation is that the divorce is going to harm the children emotionally, relationally, irreparably. Can you speak to that a little bit? I mean, what does the research say?
Dr. Amy: The research in this area really does show that it's not irreparable harm to kids. It's hard for kids. Anyone going through that kind of transition, or there's a lot of uncertainty and unknown. And so often, kids can struggle a little bit. It's hard to go through that. Kids might have a lot of questions. It varies a little bit depending on how old they are. With an older kid might have a few more questions, and a one or two-year-old just from where they're able to have questions. There’s an adjustment period. It's difficult. There's research outcomes that say kids tend to do okay, particularly when they don't place blame on themselves for the divorce or the conflict, or when they're able to sort of recognize “This isn't my fault that it's happening, but I'm able to know that it is happening, and have that support through it.”
They tend to turn out okay, and it goes away. They can have healthy relationships after that, as well. There's actually some research in kids that says that, “When there's really high conflict, or there's a lot of conflict going on in the home, the kids actually have sometimes better outcomes when there's a divorce, and the conflict is reduced in their lives.” If that's sort of the decision that's happening. Really, when that conflict is able to be de-escalated, or there's just less conflict around that — not to say divorce is the only path forward to reduce conflict. But that high level of conflict between parents also has negative outcomes for kids.
Recognizing there's lots of different paths forward, but paths forward that allow kids to know this isn't their fault — that they are loved going through it, and that they still have their parents who care about them. They still tend to turn out okay, even if it's a difficult adjustment period, or there some questions, or things that they want to explore. They still turn into good, healthy functioning adults most of the time.
Dr. Lisa: That's so reassuring. Everybody, you heard it here from a legitimate expert that going through divorce is not going to ruin your child's life, or damage them forever, and that it's going to be okay.
Dr. Dr. Amy, I did also hear you say that it is normal and expected to have a transitional period where it is hard. I also heard you say that there are certain ideas or messages that kids really need to be getting from their parents in order to have those positive outcomes. Let's just take those one at a time. If it's okay. What would you say is normal and expected for kids to be feeling or going through as their parents are making this transition that may be some of the harder stuff and again. Not wanting to talk about this to be all negative, but sort of to prepare parents for what they can expect and how to help. So, what’s normal?
Dr. Amy: Sure, normal can look a lot of different ways. So I'll try to…
Dr. Lisa: I said that. I was like, “What am I talking about? What's normal?”
Dr. Amy: There’s a lot of variation there. Kids can often… I would say they still have lots of questions about it, or, it's a confusing thing about life has looked one way. Up until now, and now there's a big change in my world. I don't know what that… I don't know why it's happening. I don't know what that means for me. A lot of kids might have friends that have divorced parents, and they see their parents every other week. But then they have another friend and they do summers and holidays. There can be so many questions that they have like, “Who am I going to live with?” “Do I still get to see my dog?” “Do my favorite toys even get to go with me if I'm changing home?” Often, there's a lot of confusion and questions. Sometimes those questions… Kids often ask, “Is it my fault?” “Did I do something wrong that led my parents to not be wanting to be together?” “Is it because of me?”
When we think developmentally, kid’s brains are also still learning that idea of self, and then “How do I influence the rest of the world?” That idea that probably “I'm influencing everything that happens in the world” is very developmentally normal for kids. It can be a little bit tricky when we have that normal perspective, and we're going through this big outcome to say, “Well, I'm sort of influencing everything.” Or “I'm figuring that out that probably I influenced this divorce.” And maybe they didn't really at all.
Some of those questions, and confusions, and wanting clarity, there can also be, a lot of grief or loss for kids of, “I've gotten to see both of my parents all the time, and I love both of my parents. Now, I don't get to see them all the time.” Or “I don't know what that's going to look like and I'm sad.” Or “I'm sad that I don't live in the same house all the time if we have to move.” There can be that sort of element of loss for them too. That makes a lot of sense. Whenever we have changes, and changes are hard. There's uncertainty that they could still be okay, and they're losing something so often that confusion or loss tends to come into play.
Sometimes, there's that… Kids tend to either go internal to themselves of how we see that. That can look like, “Maybe I'm withdrawing some” or “I seem more sad” or “ I'm crying more.” Those kind of internal behaviors that could maybe be a little bit feeling more anxious, or “Can I control things” or they could also have external symptoms. That might mean more pushback, or maybe if you're a kid that's usually pretty mild-mannered is starting to talk back a lot or really resist rules. Sometimes, that is a really normal reaction, or if we start being a little bit more flamboyant in our interactions, and even beginning a few more arguments at school, or more tantrums, if they're in that age. Those would be external behaviors that also sort of saying the same thing.
Sort of seeing some of those changes. Short-term can be normal to see and wanting maybe to support your kids through that, and really being able to identify where are those things coming from, what are they feeling. Helping them explore that can be really helpful. But it is normal either to see some behavior changes too at times.
Dr. Lisa Wow, that was just so much information! To make sure that I'm following — developmentally, kids are very self-referential. They're little narcissists. Everything is about them, right? Because of that, they can blame themselves, or feel a sense of responsibility, or guilt. That can be normal, and it needs to be really addressed directly. I'm also hearing you say that, because this is a loss, they will also commonly have really big emotions, sometimes it is sadness.
But sometimes, that can look a lot of different ways. Anxiety, which turns into controlling behaviors. Anger, which can be difficult as a parent, and withdrawal, isolation, rejection of others. These are just symptoms, I guess, of these really super big feelings that are going on in kids. They need help from parents in order to be able to manage those. I'm so glad we're talking about this because we're both family therapists. Sometimes, you see kids… And here come my air quotes. You can see this on the video if you're watching, but if you’re on audio you can't. My air quotes is that kids are behaving badly because they are doing weird controlling things.
They are lashing out, or breaking rules, or being defiant, or not doing their homework, or stuff. It can be easy for parents to take a sort of like punitive approach with kids like they tried to start managing the “bad behaviors,” and sometimes miss the fact that there are big feelings. Normal, healthy, appropriate feelings. Do you see that in your work?
Dr. Amy: Often, when I work with families. Either I'm working with parents or a family that often we see behaviors, and we want to stop the behavior because they're not working for some reason. But often, if we're getting into fights, or we're really talking back or things like that make sense, as parents, we'd want to sort of stop that behavior. Often, those behaviors are a way of saying, “I don't really know what I'm feeling” or “I'm feeling something big, and I don't know how to express it” or “I'm trying to show you that I'm having those feelings.” Either way, we often pay maybe more attention to those big external behaviors. Those internal ones sort of have the same impact, even if we're keeping it all inside.
We seem like we're functioning really well. Sometimes, those feelings are still all packed up, and maybe a tighter little bundle but they aren't coming out. But it's still important for those kids to have, the outlet and the space to talk about it, and to know that those feelings are okay and that they make sense. As parents, you're sort of still there of, “We care about you, we understand you can have those feelings. Let's figure out what we do about them.” Being able to recognize that it's not just the kids that act out, but sort of that act in, too, both wanting that support. Sometimes, it's easier to see the acting out as the problem behavior.
How to Tell Your Kids About Divorce
Dr Lisa: As opposed to the perfectionistic 14-year-old girl who's the star of the school play, and throwing up her lunch every day in the bathroom. Like that kind of… We miss that. The ones that hide. I'm hearing you say is that a lot of the outcome for kids really depends on the parents’ capacity and willingness to be that emotional partner in that place for kids.
Certainly, a parent could send their kid off to therapy to have that one hour a week of talking about their feelings, or I'm sure a lot of the work that you do is really around that, as a parenting coach, helping parents learn how to engage with their children in a more emotionally substantive way. Do you… And I know that this is a podcast and beyond the scope of our 45 minutes together, whatever it is, and people… You do multi-sessions of family therapy around this. But what would be some of your recommendations or strategies to help parents just kind of reorient themselves and almost know how to be with their kids in a way that's helpful for their kids?
Dr. Amy: Yeah! That was like very…
Dr. Lisa: Oh, thank you for saying that because I just felt very convoluted as that came out of my mouth.
Dr. Amy: I think one of the first biggest tips is to recognize that even though you're, as a parent, being that emotional partner, like that support for your kids to process, sort of that recognition that it is a one-way street of you're there to support your kids feelings, but your kids aren't there to support yours. Sometimes, that's really hard because when we go through divorce, or we're thinking about our any of those process, as a person, there's a ton of feelings, and lots of things that come up, and we want support and validation. That makes perfect sense. When you're thinking of a kid that's maybe a little bit at the middle, we might want that reassurance that your kid does love you, or that they want to be with you. It's not necessarily your kid’s job to give that to you, or to hear the problems between parents.
Wanting to be able to provide kids answers, provide kids information, without having it be their responsibility to take care of us because it's not a kid's responsibility to do, and that's a really big burden for a kid to carry. Doing things like saying, if a kid had a question, “Mom and dad have decided that we're not going to stay married together. We know that's a really hard thing to hear. We've been trying to figure it out, and it's not going to work for us. But we want you to know that we both still love you, and we care about you, and nothing's going to change. We're still going to be mom and dad.” Kind of providing that validation and information without making it their responsibility. That's sort of one of the steps is offering that support without doing that.
The other thing is you can tell your kids that it's okay to have feelings like, “Actually, no! This is a really big change that we're going through, and it is going to be different. Do you have any questions? How do you feel about it. You can come talk to me at any time.” Maybe even checking in with them about things, and that's depending on the age. If we're old enough to do that, but as little kids too, just that reassurance that they're loved, and that it's not their fault. Answering those questions that they have. If they come to you and say… Maybe they say, “You know, I sometimes I feel angry.” Or I feel… Kids sometimes act out in their bodies like, “My tummy gets tight when I think about it.” That makes sense.
It's okay. If you're angry with us right now, we made an adult decision, and that adult decision is impacting you. You can be angry at us, but we can talk about that. It's okay to do that. Saying whatever those emotions are coming up — same goes for sadness, or anything that they're feeling — that makes sense that you'd feel that way. This is really hard. Then, we can model those coping behaviors for our kids to, “What do we do when we're angry? Should we go get our pillow? We can hug our pillow really tight because no one gets hurt if we hug our pillow really tight.” Or “Is it that sometimes we just need a little extra cuddle time? Should we go read a story together?” There's also really great storybooks about families going through a divorce, like the things that won't change or… Families look all sorts of different ways. We've been having those kinds of resources available.
Dr. Lisa: Will you send me, If you think about it after we finished recording our interview, send me links to some of your favorite books, and I'll include them in the show notes of this podcast so people can find those links. But go on. This is great!
Dr. Amy: I will definitely send those links. Doing those things that make it normal, or even checking in with them. Sometimes,we might have family routines like we have pancake breakfasts on Saturdays, and that's something we've already done and you want to continue that tradition, and maybe you're doing it for the first couple times without their other parent being there and saying, “It's a little different that we're doing this. Just me and you now…” Or “…me and your siblings. How are y'all doing with that? Should we still do that?” So, kind of checking in on where they're at, “Do we want to maintain that? Does that feel really good?” Or “Do we need to switch to waffles, and have something new and something fun?” Big on breakfast food today. Kind of checking in on what is that's important.
The other thing would be to the extent that your parenting agreement has. Kind of validating that… Of course it makes sense they would still want to talk to their other parent, or they still love their other parent. That makes sense. When we have two parents that are really good, safe parents, kids deserve to have that connection with both of them, and they want that. That kind of goes into just maybe a what not to do. Not bad talking their parent to them.
Sometimes not saying anything is better than saying. If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all. We'll go back to that that we learned when we're kids. If we can't say something nice about their parent, don't say that they're a bad parent because what a kid can sometimes hear is that, “Well, if my two parents. I came from two parents. If one of my parents I'm hearing is really bad. What does that mean for me? Does that mean I have the bad? Or what does that mean?” Or “Is it bad that I want connection with this person that I still love them.” Being able to separate the conflict between parents, and then there's the relationship between kids and their parents. Those are not the same thing. Someone might not be the best spouse for you, or there might be thoughts every since that ended, and it doesn't mean they can't still be a good parent for your kids. So, trying to recognize and balance that for them as well.
Dr. Lisa: So much to unpack here. I heard you say that how to explain divorce to a child and how to tell your kids about divorce… It matters the way that you're describing what's happening, the way that you're communicating. That's something that parents can do to shape this experience for children is to get real clear and intentional about how am I talking about this.
My other takeaway from what you said is that it's incredibly important for parents to be very actively managing their own emotional turmoil in a way that helps them be not just emotionally present, but emotionally safe for their kids. Don't send the kids to therapy. You go to therapy. You have a place to talk about all these feelings of anger and rage, and hurt, and fear. That one-way street… Do not share that with your kids. It's your job as a parent to be a safe space for your children, to talk with you about how they're feeling. That your job is to invite that, and just be extremely validating and affirming, and make it okay to do that.
I also heard you talk about the need to be really intentional about routines, and things that help children kind of maintain that sense of… I don't want to say sameness, but our new normal and positive ways, “This is the breakfast and dad's not here. That's kind of weird, but we can have pancakes anyway. You want to talk about how weird it feels that dad isn't here.” Without trying to talk them out of their feelings.
Dr. Amy: That's okay to feel weird. Weird isn't always bad. It's just weird.
What is Parental Alienation?
Dr. Lisa: Okay. Moving on you were talking about… I think what is a really important topic… Because it's almost like there's the short-term pieces of a divorcing family, divorcing parents around how do we manage the first conversations, the big feelings that might be occurring right around the time of the separation in those first few months. There's also this almost longer-term peace around the family dynamics that can start to happen when parents actually don't like each other, and sort of what to do with all that in a healthy way so that it doesn't begin to negatively impact the children and their feelings.
For our listeners, in addition to other things, Dr. Amy is also an expert on the subject of parental alienation, and what all happens there. I think we were kind of dipping a toe into that pool a little bit around what happens when parents start talking about their negative feelings with their kids in a way that's really unhelpful for the children. I know, that's a big topic on its own.
Can you share a little bit more about what do parents need to be keeping in mind when they are awash in big feelings that… Maybe your ex did cheat on you, maybe they were horrible to you through the divorce and hid assets, and are demanding, trying to litigate you out of existence. I mean, those things happen in yucky divorces. To be in a situation where you still need to be fairly positive with your child about their dad or mom or whatever. That's hard. Can you say more about this piece of experience like…
Dr. Amy: And it is still so hard. We talk sometimes about these solutions. When we're just sitting here having a conversation, they can sound so easy to do like, “Here's my step-by-step book.” They are so hard to do. It's more like the first step on the moon type step-by-step book. I do just want to say that it's not an easy thing to do, by any means. In recognizing that, sometimes we do have valid reasons why we might not like the other person all that much. I think one thing that's important to remember is they don't have to be a good partner for you. They don't have to be the right person for you to be with. They're always going to be your kids’ parents. We can't change who our parents are — a little bit of that recognition.
Sometimes, we have to get a little creative. What can you do? Maybe there are situations where having an exchange for parents like, “I don't think I can see this person right now.” And have a good exchange for that. Maybe my sibling or your good friend, or whoever they do the drop-off, you have a neutral person. Maybe they're living with this new partner, and you're not ready to see that at all. We can't do those exchanges or drop-offs at their house. “Oh, let's meet at a coffee shop.” And have it be sort of a neutral territory. Being able to have those creative situations of knowing yourself, and maybe have to do a little bit of self-exploration to know those things for yourself.
Saying, “I know I can't go into this situation and handle it well, then I'm not going to put myself and my kids in that situation. I'm going to figure it out on a creative other way to do that.” If there are situations where maybe there's those times we’re like, “If I have to answer something about my ex-partner, I'm not going to say anything nice.” You could say to your kid, “I'm really glad that you had a great visit with them” or “I'm glad that you still had a special time with mom or dad” or “That sounds like a really fun experience, I'm glad you got to do that.”
Sometimes not saying anything about your own feelings, and then go have your person to go talk to it about, and whether that be your therapist, or your friend, or whoever your safe space is going to be like, “Oh my gosh, let me tell you everything that just drove me crazy…” Doing it not maybe outside the doorway where your kid is, where they can overhear. Kids are really good at hearing everything that goes on around.
Finding your safe space and your safe person, and being able to have all of those emotions. In the moment, just saying what you can say and doing what you can. Sometimes, there's little tips in that too… Tends to be easier to drop a kid off versus pick them up. If one parent is posed to pick up, what if they come, and you're in the middle of something or it's hard or so being able to do the drop off on a scheduled time–-being able to follow that often.
If we're in an area where there's a lot of contention, or there's going to be a lot of disagreements, having a really clear parenting plan about what is or isn't allowed. It could be, “Are we allowed to FaceTime with our kids during the week?” If it is “Yes, you're allowed to have a video call every day” for either side when your kid isn't in your custody, you always have that fallback plan of “This is what we agreed to.” If one person's not following through on that, you have that safeguard. Sometimes, it's really thinking in advance of what do I want this to look like.
Parenting plans can be very creative. Creating what you want it to be, with the exception of it's probably not going to be everything that you want it to be. Probably in an ideal world, you want your kids all of the time for it not to happen. Thinking of those priority things and being able to say, “Okay, we're each going to navigate that.” Sometimes, it's helpful to do a little bit of how do we effectively communicate with each other to whether… Maybe you go work with a therapist or a coach some time on. We don't need to solve all of our issues necessarily. We've decided we're not doing that. We do have to know how we can communicate effectively. And that's, “Can we do that? Can we at least get the skills to co-parent?”
Even though we can divorce someone, they're still in our life for the rest of our life because they're in our kid's life. There's events like future weddings, or graduations or all of those milestones, they're going to be there. Finding out a way that we can maybe be around them without it ruining that whole event for you, it's so special as a parent. It can be really helpful too.
Divorcing with Kids
Dr Lisa: Again, so much good stuff. What I was thinking of just really briefly. As you're talking about like that parenting plan and the agreements. I don't know if you caught this, but there was a podcast — I think it was last year — excellent podcast with a family law attorney. Her name was Stephanie Randall. It was like how to have an amicable divorce. She just provided so much really great information for people to be thinking about, and just like ways of negotiating certain things like parenting plans in order to have it be as good as possible. I'll just refer our listeners back to that.
What I heard you saying like emotionally, and relationally, for parents with kids is–-and this is a really simplified way — I think of saying it, no matter… In some ways, how bad things get for you, and how bad you feel that your job as a parent is really to insulate your child from that as much as you possibly can–-being very thoughtful and intentional about the things you share, and having a well-developed way of managing all of these feelings outside of the relationship with your kid. But also the high degree of emotional intelligence knowing, “This is a trigger for me, and I'm not even going to try to do a drop-off in this situation because I know I'm going to lose it.” Figuring out how you can solve the practical situation without putting yourself in a vulnerable situation emotionally. Like, there's so much there.
Dr. Amy: I'll say we're not going to get it right all the time probably. That's okay. Actually, we can model really great behaviors for our kids. Let's say, we did the drop-off, and you got really mad, and we argued, and the kid could even go back to them and be like, “Gosh, you know what? I thought about it, and in our drop-off, I got really mad that time. Did you see that? I had some big feelings too.” Or “I was really angry and I didn't handle that quite the way that I wanted, and I'm sorry that you saw your parents fighting like that. I want you to know that wasn't about you and that wasn't a ‘you’ thing. I'm going to try to do it differently in the future. I'm sorry that I acted like that.’ Sometimes, dad does make me mad, but that's okay. We're going to figure out where we go from there.
Being able to apologize or model that of, “Yep, you're right. Sometimes we aren't going to do it perfect, and that's okay.” Really, that goal is that we're trying our best to get there, or we're doing our best, and maybe it gets easier over time, or we're a couple of years in and there's a thing or like, “Gosh, where did that come from? I thought those feelings weren’t there.” It's okay to figure that out, and that we can always try again. There's always the next day and we can try again the next day, and that's an okay thing too.
Dr. Lisa: That's wonderful. To direct very directly and explicitly, the creating emotional safety is by being authentic like, “Did you see me right there? Totally lost it.” And acknowledging what that was like for the child, but also modeling for the kid how we repair times when maybe we did make a mistake.
In the back of my mind right now, I'm imagining that we have one of our listeners sitting with us right now in this conversation, who is one of these people who I know you and I have both worked with closely, Dr. Amy over the years, who is in a situation where they have maybe grave misgivings about the way that their ex does parent. They don't trust their ex to meet their kid’s needs. They're worried about their child, and they're part ex-partners care.
I think a lot of times parents who are divorcing, that right there is the hardest thing for them because they have certain standards of parenting that maybe their ex isn't doing, or maybe it's not even about giving them candy and going to bed without brushing your teeth. But maybe the ex on the other side is actually bad-mouthing you to the kid and isn't trying to be as ethical emotionally with the children as you are being.
Bad things are being said about you on the other side. Again, this is a big topic and we're not going to talk about everything in our short time together. I know people spend months with you trying to unpack all this. But do you have any basic ideas or thoughts that might be helpful, even just as a starting point for someone who is in this reality where they're trying real hard for their kids, and maybe their ex is slinging sauce and being mean, and being questionable? Do with that.
Dr. Amy: It is so hard because, on one hand, we can only control what we do. We can't make another person change, although sometimes that feels like it would be the easiest situation. There's sort of two scenarios you described. There's the one scenario of I don't really like how this person parents too. Maybe I have disagreements about it. The first question is, “Are your kids safe? If the answer is that they're not safe, you should step in and do something, and try to figure that out. Because we, as parents and professionals, we want kids to be safe, first and foremost.
A lot of times, though, kids are safe and we don't like what's going on. Bedtimes a lot later than we think it should be, or they're eating a lot more sugar. In those cases, it's sort of… Let's pick our battles on that, if it's… This diet really is important for some reason. Maybe, here it is… Well, maybe then we need to negotiate that. But if it's, bedtime is 7 p.m. versus 8 p.m., and we don't like that it's 8 p.m., it's okay. Then we pick our battles on that because you're probably going to parent differently in different households, and that gets even more complicated if somebody gets remarried, or there's more kids added into the mix.
Kids can kind of adapt between those two rules. Having routines or things for your own kids, when they come home like, “First night back, we do movie night,” or “We're going to have that meal together,” or whatever those routines are that you can establish. It's really helpful to provide that consistency or expectation for kids if they know what's going to happen. That can even be maybe that's not being done on the other side, but they know that routines there with you. That can be kind of grounding and hopeful. Doing what you can and helping that.
Sometimes, it can be… I see it come up a lot of times of, “Are we going to church or not?” and that can be different, or maybe we have different political things we're telling our kids about, or different… Those value differences can be really hard to hear. Your kids are probably going to experience that sometime in their life too. We can practice it and be like, “Yeah, people really believe different things in this house. But we believe it's this, and this is what we've really been doing. You're right, that's different in that house.” That can be confusing.
We need to talk about that more. Who can we find to talk about that? Sometimes that can be helpful. Sometimes, there's the other thing that you mentioned was really, when parents kind of bad-mouthing you or they're not doing any of these things.
Dr. Lisa: Or using the kids emotionally, or like doing all the things that you said to not do, right?
Dr. Amy: What we generally want to do is do the same thing back and to kind of defend ourselves. It makes sense of, “Well, they do that too” or, kind of we…
Dr. Lisa: Let me tell you the truth.
Dr. Amy: What that does is it puts our kid in a very stuck position of having to choose sides. Kids don't want to pick sides, and that's really, really tough. Being able to say… came in and they're like, well, “so and so”, they said this, and it doesn't even have to be the other parent. It could be another step-parent or a grandparent, or anyone involved could be saying the negative things about you. “I really wish they hadn't said that to you. I'm going to tell you the truth, and the truth is that, ‘Yeah, we do disagree a lot,’ or ‘Mom and Dad, we don't get along very well.’ But one thing that's true is that we're both trying to love you.” Or they brought up a situation like “Oh, you don't like this” or “We can't do this because of you. Dad said that.”
Well, you can own your truth and be like, “Gosh, I don't know why dad would say that, but I love this. Here's what I actually think is true for me.” And then sort of period. Stop. Don't go to the… say your dad is wrong, or they're saying that, but sort of owning or mom's wrong, “No, actually, this is what's true.” Sometimes you can even provide the data to choose it like, “Well, mom said we can't pay for the soccer game” and be like, “You know, you're right! I don't have the money for that, and that's really hard….” because sometimes money looks different, “That's right. But it's not because I don't love you, or isn't because I don't want to pay for that. It's just I can't really afford that right now. Maybe we can think about how we could do it in the future.”
Being able to acknowledge what's true and what's your truth, and providing that consistency and stability that you can do, and kind of being there for that. Recognizing… Again, you probably need to go to that safe person to handle that. While we want to be those people for our kids, getting a professional involved for your kids, and getting them to see a therapist can also be helpful during that time, particularly in that high conflict to say, “You don't have to try to take care of Mom or Dad. This is an adult that’s safe, and you can talk to it. You can talk about all of those confusing feelings.” And that kid doesn't have to worry about hurting anybody's feelings that are saying the wrong thing. They just have a safe space, and they can get the coping tools, and they can navigate it, and they can be honest about what's coming up. That can be really, really helpful for kids as well.
Malicious Parent Syndrome
Dr. Lisa: I could totally see. That would be definitely an argument. Get the kid therapy so that they don't have to try to take care of anybody emotionally, and can just feel what they feel and figure out their own truth. That's a good reminder. Just what a difficult situation, though, emotionally. As I heard you talking about how a thoughtful parent could handle those situations where maybe they are being bad-mouthed on the other side is that to balance how maybe good it feels to say, “Yeah, I can't pay for soccer because your father hid his retirement assets. When we…” The whole truth, versus this idea of, “It is not good for my kid to hear negative things about either of us. It's not good for my kid for me to say bad things about their other parent, even if I am completely justified.”
Doing so… And that would… Is something that can be challenging to get to. There's a sort of other corollary here. I don't want to spend our time together without talking about this just a little bit because I know that parental alienation is a very real thing. I know you're an expert on this topic. This is a situation when there has been a lot of negativity or bad-mouthing about one parent from the other. It does have an impact. Can you say a little bit more about what parental alienation is, and how to manage it?
Dr. Amy: It's a really tough area. I'll say parental alienation exists on a spectrum. Often, when we talk about it, we talk on like, the worst-case scenario, situation of parents that are safe, good loving parents that don't have any access to their children for some way, or the kid has sort of turned against them, even though they are good safe parents. That's one sort of caveat, when we're talking about it that parental alienation really only exists when there's two parents that should have contact with their children. In situations where there was any abuse or neglect, that's not parental alienation to not have your kid have contact with them.
That's being safe. It's one definitional point is that it's between when there's two safe parents, and that it can exist on any spectrum from that kind of bad-mouthing and confusion creating, and that can go really big to kids saying, “Well, I'm not going to go to your visitation” or “I'm not going to do that.” One of those things can be protective is, again, going back to those, legal orders that we have in those protected rights of saying, “You actually have to do this, or this has to be done” because sometimes what happens is you don't get to go to visitation or the kid is gonna say, “I don't want to go” or “I don't want to answer the phone.”
The courts can be used as a way to kind of, “Nope, this is the order. This is what we're doing.” Having that safe ground and being intentional in how you create it can help, and navigating…
That sort of navigating that support. There are cases I've worked with where people
don't have contact with their kids at that point and that is just heartbreaking to do. Sometimes, the best we can do is try to maintain that consistency.
One of the things we know that doesn't work is to do the same behaviors. On the other end of things, and sometimes, kids get to be adults, or they can change in the future. Recognizing that it was really hard, and it's really tricky, trying to navigate that continual contact, “I'm still here, I'm still showing up for you.” That looks different in different contexts of there's a little kid versus a teenager showing up might look very different. But often, it's very…
Let's go to the preventative: Can we figure out where that's coming from? Can we do some couples work together? Or if I'm just having that time, I can… You can disagree with behaviors without bad-mouthing another person and say, “I really wish mom or dad wouldn't say those things, and I really hope that you can trust that what I'm telling you is what's true for me. We only get to say what's true for ourselves. I want you to know that I love you and I care about you, and I have fun.”
Providing that alternate balance to kids can be really helpful, or not pushing back. The kid says, “I don't want to see you right now.” It's really hard to do these transitions, isn't it? “But right now, it's our parenting time. So, what are we going to do?” And kind of navigating through that. We've been figuring out if they say, “Where is it coming from or handling her?”, that gives us ideas of how do we move forward. Often, that alienating back doesn't work, or it will be met with resistance, or be used to confirm things even, and recognizing again that it's a full spectrum of anywhere.
They don't always all go to those worst-case scenarios. I think that's a helpful thing to remember that they do. It's tragic and awful when that happens, and that they don't always or we can prevent it earlier on sometimes as well.
Dealing with Parental Alienation Syndrome
Dr. Lisa: That said that parental alienation is on a spectrum. There's sort of shades of grey. It's when one parent is very negative towards the other, and actually influences the child to think badly about the other parent to the point where it impacts their ability to have a relationship with that other parent.
I've heard some people saying, “It feels like they're brainwashing my kid against me!” All of this, and you're saying to not use the same tactics about trying to talk back, but just really consistently like sticking to the visitation as much as possible. If the child is maybe like a teenager or something. He's like, “No, I'm not getting in the car!” To just find ways of just consistently showing up to the degree that you can so that your kid knows that you're not giving up on them. You're still there.
Even if right now they might be under the influence of somebody who's highly negative, they'll grow up, and maybe have the opportunity to re engage and make up their own minds. That sort of summarize that.
Dr. Amy: I think that's great. I would also say, in those cases, get support for yourself as well because there's so much outside of your control, and there is so much grief and pain. To go through those experiences, that's traumatic for a parent. To have that support in place for you. as well is so important to be able to just… Because it's confusing, and it's disorienting and lost. I think that it's really important to be able to have your personal support system. Do the things that are right for you as well, but also have that sort of professional area where you can get that support and guidance, and have that space for yourself is really important too.
Dr. Lisa: Can I ask you a question? Have you ever seen… I haven't but I'm wondering if you have because you have more experience than I have in this area. If there is a dynamic where one parent is really highly negative about the other, “Your father is the devil!” And is really like using their kids and manipulating their kids emotionally in an unhealthy way.
Have you ever seen the parent on the other side be able to make contact with the parent who is being really destructive in a way that is able to help that destructive parent understand what they're doing, or work through the anger and pain that may be at the root of the lashing out on the negativity? Is there anything you've seen that works? Because that's like the source, right? Or is it just?
Dr. Amy: I think then, it doesn't always hurt to try. Sometimes, it gets so complicated in these cases of is it just from the other parent? There's so many other people. It can happen from a step-parent bad-mouthing someone or a grandparent. Some of it's sort of where is it coming from. Some of it's the why is it coming from. Sometimes it's, “Do we not know? Is it intentional? Where's that?”
I think every person probably knows their situation better than I can hypothesize right now for each person listening. Being able to say, “Does it feel like reaching out?” or even saying “I don't know that we're doing this co-parenting thing well. Can we get some help on how we do it better?” Navigating those systems. Sometimes works well, sometimes those… Maybe they didn't listen to the podcast, or they don't have those information. It's not an intentional thing to happen.
Dr. Lisa: So, they don’t know how destructive it is. They don't know.
Dr. Amy: A lot of times when it's, I say, “I don't know” or “I'm coping poorly”, those cases, there could be a lot of potential for that. There are also cases that we go to that more extreme end, where it is more intentional in nature. Maybe not always intentional consciously, but we're really doing this, or I want that custody or different things that happen in those cases. Probably there'll be less success in those areas as someone's trying to do it.
Say, again, it's very complex, and there's so much different layers or different ways, say, no two cases really look alike, the being able to kind of figure out what's your area, and what's the sort of step forward that's going to work for you and trying to understand that is so key to do. Trying to recognize that not everyone’s story… You can go onto Google, and you see all the horror stories, see all the great stories, and recognizing that that support is wonderful, and finding that support for yourself.
Seeing like, just because that's what this person experienced doesn't mean it's going to be what I'm going to experience and kind of holding that balanced perspective for yourself as well.
Dr. Lisa: No, I hear what you're saying. We can certainly find the darkest of the dark corners: Power, and control, and narcissists intentionally manipulating things. The thing all of its… But maybe a note to end on. Certainly, if listening to podcasts like this around what is actually best for kids emotionally when you're going through this and just helping people become educated, and how to manage their own feelings in a way that helps their child even if they're hurting. That would be a start.
On that note, do you have other books or resources that other people or people listening could kind of learn more about these topics — how to be safe emotionally for kids, any other information on the impact of… I want to say negativity on children and sort of healthy boundaries for people in these situations. You might even send to an ex in the mail or something. What are books or resources would you recommend?
Dr. Amy: I’ll send… they send you a list versus the ones that just popped into my mind can leave you with a little storybooks too. I think that often there's some good websites. Looking at sort of any of these. There's a lot of parenting data out there that's not really research-based. Going with the ones that are really rooted in research tends to be the best.
Dr. Lisa: A blogger with a strong opinion is not always okay.
Dr. Amy: I think that a lot that have developmental perspectives can be really helpful because the way you're going to talk to a four-year-old is going to look very different than an eight or nine-year-old versus a 13-year-old versus a 19-year-old. Divorce can impact kids very differently at different ages. When you're looking for those resources, really wanting to be, “I'm not reading a book about divorcing with an elementary school kid if I have high schoolers.” It's going to be different.
If you have three different ages of kids, you might want to read three different books on how to support kids differently. A lot of that I'd say that the emotional intelligence parenting too or sort of looking into those resources are helpful for any parent, and being able to have these emotion conversations. But they tend to be really helpful in guiding it about how do we talk to kids about divorce. I can certainly send over a list of specific titles and things. If you want to link that to be great,
Dr. Lisa: Wonderful, I will put your reading list in the show notes of today's episode, and that will be on growingself.com. We're going to be calling this episode, Divorce and Children. It'll be growingself.com/divorce-and-children. I'll be sure to put links to your recommended books and articles.
Dr. Amy, thank you so much again, just for taking the time to talk through all this with me. I know it's a complex subject, but you shared so much information in such a short amount of time. I know it was helpful for a lot of people listening, so thank you.
Dr. Amy: Well, thank you so much for having me. To everyone listening, I just want to say I really commend you for even taking that first step to get the information and resources. The fact that you clicked on a podcast to listen to it says that you really want to be there for your kids and to do that.
Hopefully, there's been some good advice or some good resources, or even food for thought about next steps. I think that even listening to the podcast, and wanting to get that resource says that you care a lot about your kids. I just want to share that too. Dr. Lisa, thank you so much for having me as well. It was an honor to be able to be here today.
Dr. Lisa: This was fun and ditto. “Yay” to you mom and dad for trying so hard. Dr. Amy, thank you so much for saying that so beautifully. Thank you. Dr. Amy: Thank you
“I want to reinvent myself!” Is this you? Are you wishing you could just cast off the old, tired, annoying or boring parts of your life, drop that old baggage off at the Goodwill and drive away: free, fresh, reborn? Me too. Everyone craves a good fresh start sometimes — the chance to leave behind the old things that are no longer serving you, and be a better version of yourself.
You might already have ideas about the aspirational “you” you’d like to become: What you’d look like, or what your life would be like, or even how you’d feel. Energized, excited, happy, productive, interesting (and with nicely manicured nails). But how to get away from the self you are now? The one who feels tired, disengaged, disorganized, and happy to just sit on the couch and watch Netflix rather than reading articles like this one.
Help is here. I’m a psychologist and life coach who has helped countless people reinvent themselves in positive ways, and I have personally been through a number of my own personal “moltings” as well. If you’re ready to reinvent yourself, you’re in the right place. On today's episode of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast I’m sharing lots of actionable advice that you can use to begin your personal reinvention process today.
First of all: I have good news and bad news:
It is absolutely possible to reinvent yourself, but
The process of actually doing so is easier said than done.
Just wanted to manage your expectations about what’s in store for you.
Here’s the problem: You can make big, dramatic changes in your life relatively quickly and easily. You can cut off all your hair, quit your job, sell all your stuff and move into an RV. You’re free! Reinvented! Right?? Not so fast.
This kind of “personal reinvention” through changing of circumstances is relatively simple. It’s just a matter of logistics and chutzpah. The bigger issue is that you are still you, no matter what color your hair is or whether you’re sitting in an RV instead of at a desk.
Whether your hair is pink, blue, or brown, under the fuzz, you will still have the same core beliefs getting triggered, the same habitual ways of thinking, the same self-concepts, the same personal habits, the same ways of communicating, and the same reactions to the world that you always have. Without a deep dive into rearranging your inner experience on a more substantial level, sooner or later, you’re going to wind up feeling pretty much the same way you usually do, and creating the same set of circumstances that you were trying to escape in the first place.
“No matter where you go, there you are.” — The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (motion picture) (1984).
Changing your circumstances is easy. Actually, authentically reinventing yourself? More complicated.
Reinventing Your Life
True, authentic reinvention that leads to substantial, permanent change is an internal process: not an event. It can’t be bought, or created in an industrious weekend, like the way you’d “poof” a hall closet into a mini-office with a nifty drop-down desk. It requires deliberation, self-awareness, and intentional effort applied over time.
But the good news is that once you achieve it, it’s yours to keep. There’s no going back from authentic, inner transformation. You earned it fair and square, and nobody can ever take it away from you.
But how? How to actually change yourself and reinvent your life on a substantial level?
If you’re feeling overdue for a personal overhaul and ready to move forward, I’m here to help. On today’s episode of the Love, Happiness and Success podcast I’m doing a deep dive into the psychology of reinvention to give you some actionable strategies for releasing your old stuff and embracing your aspirations.
Episode Highlights: Reinvent Yourself
In this episode, we’ll be discussing:
1. Reset For Reinvention
Did you know that there are certain types of life circumstances that essentially act like glue, holding you in place? (Even if you want to change?) That’s why I’ll be sharing some life-hacks to help you break old patterns so that you can get out of a rut.
2. Catalysts of Self Reinvention
Timing is important when it comes to personal reinvention. Just like the ocean tides get higher at certain times of day, there are times of life (even times of the year) where the forces of reinvention are working with you or against you. I’ll share what those “magical moments” are, so you can be ready to jump on them the next time they come around.
3. Reinvention and Motivation
To reinvent your life you do have to have motivation in order to make it through the twists and turns you’ll encounter along the way. But… what’s motivation? Lots of people think that motivation is a feeling of excited determination that gives us the strength to do hard things. Newp. Motivation is actually much more common than that, and it’s around you all the time. But it’s in disguise. I’ll explain what motivation really is, and how you can get it — and keep it.
4. Self Reinvention vs Homeostasis
Everyone who tries to reinvent themself will, usually fairly quickly, encounter what feels like an energetic elastic band snapping them back into place. Hello, homeostasis! Homeostasis is the fancy word for the fact that the systems we’re in currently are all disinclined to support your personal reinvention activities. Unless you’re actively managing homeostasis, any personal reinvention efforts are going to feel like swimming against the current — I’ll show you what to look for, so you can stop them from sabotaging you.
5. Reinventing Your Life By Using Your Strengths
Remember at the beginning of this article when I started by speaking out loud about our shared fantasy that we could just rid ourselves of all the parts of us and our lives that we don’t like, and be done with them forever? Sigh. That is not even remotely how this works! The truth is actually much nicer: Genuine reinvention starts with you figuring out all the wonderful things about you and your life that are keepers, and then how to use all that goodness as the raw materials to build up the things you want more of. True, authentic reinvention isn’t about purging. It’s about “empowered embracing” and self-love. I’ll share how.
6. Reinvent a Relationship
If one of the hardest parts of your life is a relationship, good news: you can reinvent a relationship too. If you’ve been feeling super frustrated with your partner lately, I’ll be sharing the tricky paradox for relationship reinvention that can be easy to miss. (But empowering, once you learn it).
7. Superficial Reinvention vs “Sleeper” Reinvention
Did you know that one of the most powerful and transformative kinds of personal reinvention can actually happen without you even realizing it’s happening? This is called a “sleeper” reinvention, and it is the exact opposite of the superficial reinvention that we try to force to happen (i.e., the ones that fizzle fast). When you know how to get in conscious alignment with a “sleeper” nothing can stop you. I’ll share why this is, and how to make it happen for you.
Reinventing Yourself on the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast
Personal reinvention is exciting, complex, and so, so, worth it. I love this topic, and I’m so glad to be discussing this with you on today’s episode of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast. Tune in to learn all about how to reinvent yourself, and then be sure to leave any follow-up questions for me in the comments.
Your partner in growth!
Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby
Listen & Subscribe to the Podcast
The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby
Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: This is Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby, and you're listening to The Love, Happiness, and Success podcast.
[Intro Song: Furthest Blue by Eyelids]
Dr. Lisa: The band is Eyelids with the song Furthest Blue. I liked that song for our show today because it's the idea of creating this idealized future. Somewhere off in the distance but close enough so that we can see, right? I thought that would be a wonderful intro for our time together today because today we are talking about how to reinvent yourself in a very intentional and also meaningful way. That's the important part.
I think the idea of reinventing oneself, having a fresh start, a new life segment where you get to be different, is so appealing. Because it's this sense that it's possible to step from one plane of existence into another and just a different direction, a different trajectory. It almost has a whiff of magic about it. This idea that you could say legitimately, to yourself and to others, I am different now. That was then, this is now. Things have changed. I think that we all want to have that experience in some ways but it's a lot easier to say that than it is to actually do it. I mean, how does one accomplish a reinvention?
The accessible parts of reinvention are the ones that we can often buy or do. It's parts of reinvention that are physically obvious or even circumstantial. We can, you can cut off all your hair, you can quit your job, sell your house and move into a van. You can do the act of reinvention and in some ways, achieve it in the sense that you're living in a different reality or maybe looking different. But, you can't quit yourself. You can't cut off a part of your personality. Unless you know how to do a much more meaningful reinvention process, you're still going to be the same you. Thinking the same thoughts, harboring the same core beliefs that then become your filter for the world. You'll have the same reactions to people. You'll say the same things or do the same things in your relationships and basically show up the same way you always have, just with a capsule wardrobe and short hair and from the driver's seat of a van. We have to go deeper.
Another aspect of reinventing oneself that I also don't think gets enough air time, frankly, and that can really create a stumbling block for many people is this. This often, I think unspoken fact, that we are all inhabiting systems in the world that create this almost gravitational force on us. The technical term for this is called homeostasis. It's something that we're all susceptible to. It can be really easy to blame yourself for getting into a rut or not being able to change things easily and effortlessly. But the fact is that we're all interconnected. We're living in the context of these systems that tend to hold us in place.
The people around us are behaving in predictable ways, they're interacting with us in this sort of usual unexpected ways. We then sort of slide into interacting with them in normal and expected ways that they expect from us and that we just do without thinking about it. This is true in our personal relationships. Also even patterns of behaviors with our jobs or our families that we all have these roles and responsibilities. Even routines, like getting out of bed at a certain time. This is what I do in the morning. This is what I have for breakfast. All the systems essentially pull for us to be a certain way which is the way that we have been and then when we try to reinvent ourselves or be different, particularly with people or in the way that we're approaching our roles that involve other people, the system is trying to push us back into place.
When we attempt to reinvent ourselves in substantial ways, there can often be this pushback, where people don't really want us to be different or they're not ready for us to be different. They're surprised. They're trying to interact with us in the same old way which then leads us to slide back into those old patterns. I know that this is very kind of heady stuff. It often happens outside the realm of consciousness. It's not something that we think about while it's happening, it's just something that happens. I really wanted to talk about this as well because if you're not ready for that and aware of it as a thing, it will in very subtle but yet effective ways to sabotage your reinvention process. I wanted to speak to you about that today as well.
Because this reinvention business is actually much more complicated than it sounds. To create real and lasting change in yourself and in your life. It takes intention, self-awareness, and often quite a bit of applied energy over time. It's so worth it to do. You don't have to accept the hand that you got dealt. You are empowered to create your own way. You absolutely get to decide what parts of your life are working well and what parts no longer serve you so that you can reinvent yourself at will. You can do it. On today's podcast, I'm going to be talking you through a step-by-step process that shows you how to create a personal reinvention plan that is meaningful and authentic, and most important, lasting. That's our goal for today's episode.
If this is your first time listening to the podcast, and you're wondering what in the heck you have just stumbled into. I am Lisa Marie Bobby. I'm the founder and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling and Coaching. My background, I'm licensed as a marriage and family therapist. I'm a licensed psychologist. I am also a board-certified coach. The Love, Happiness, and Success podcast is all about helping you grow and have better relationships, and achieve your most important personal goals. On every episode, we talk about different aspects of that all for your benefit.
The Process of Reinvention
On today's episode, I really wanted to talk about reinvention because it felt just so relevant right now. I think this topic is relevant for all of us. As I record this, we’re hopefully, fingers crossed, coming out the other side of this very strange pandemic experience that we've all lived through. Also, I think me personally, I think I'm going through the same thing as many of my clients and probably you too. There's this time and space in life for us to reevaluate, “What have I been doing? Do I want to keep doing that? What do I want to do differently in the future? Who am I?” It's sort of existential questions.
If you are one of my regular listeners, you may have noticed that for the last, probably a couple of months, I have been serving up some of my best of episodes for your benefit. There are episodes that I enjoy and was thinking might be helpful for you. But also, I think I've been going through my own reinvention podcast process as well as a personal process. One of the things that is so intrinsic to a real reinvention is being able to step out. When you step out, it gives you the opportunity for time and space and clarity, that you can then step back in and do things differently going forward.
But in the interim, that time that you do step out and give yourself some space, there are things that need to be happening under the surface in order for that to be a meaningful process. That is what we're talking about today on the show. I hope to give you some very actionable ideas and even assignments. As you listen to this episode, you might want to grab a notebook and write some things down because I have some questions for you. Today's podcast is going to be experiential in nature. I'm excited to share some of these things with you.
Let's tackle this. Let's talk about the process of personal reinvention. As mentioned previously, reinvention can be an outward process. Sometimes you changing something about the way that you look or changing something circumstantial. However, I will also tell you that when these things happen in a real and lasting way, they are always connected to an inner process of change and rebirth. Sometimes I think that reinvention can even seem superficial. Somebody gets a dramatic haircut or something can be the manifestation of an actual inner rebirth. The outward sign is just a physical symbol of that but it's still very important.
While it might seem silly to part your hair on the different side or throw out your skinny jeans, or whatever it is, it can actually be attached to very substantial things. But the substantial things still have to be there. I'll give you an example. My son, he recently turned 13, and he has always been this sweetest, nicest Hufflepuff kid. For years, he had long hair. He had his headband collection. He was rocking this whole Lords of Dogtown thing for years, literally. On the cusp of his 13th birthday, he's like, “Mom, I want to cut off my hair.” Of course, okay. It's your hair, we can do it. But he picked out the photos and we made the appointment and he got all his hair cut off. It’s a very short haircut.
In that moment that he came home and now I'm interacting with this child who looks so different. It was like, “Whoa, who are you?” It was like a stranger in my house. But also noticing how substantially his personality has changed, his ways of being have changed, his communication, his ways of thinking, because he's really has changed from being a child into the stage of early adolescence. His hair, I think for him, was a very meaningful and symbolic representation of his inner change. That was legitimate and important because it was communicating to us in the world, “I'm not who I was last year. I am not a kid. I'm different. I want you to see me as different and treat me as different and interact with me in a different way.” I think none of this was conscious for him but it was also extremely real. This is a different kid and we need to approach him differently. The boundaries are different. Our expectations of him are different. That change in his hairstyle was the manifestation of this inner reality.
That's what I'm talking about, is this meaningful reinvention because it's the same for you and for me. It requires this inner journey. I'm going to be sharing again, some steps for how to do this for yourself. I also want to warn, not sure what you're expecting here but I'm going to be coming at this from a coaching perspective, rather than a therapeutic one. I mean, love therapy. I'm a psychologist. I'm a marriage and family therapist. However, for this sort of process, this growth process, I don't think that a therapeutic model is very helpful for people, not nearly as much as other ways. As a therapist, the goal of therapy is healing. Therapy is for the diagnosis and treatment of mental health conditions. A therapeutic approach would say, “All right, let's talk about what the problem is. Let's talk about how you were impacted or perhaps possibly damaged in some way by your life experiences growing up.” Or “What are the hard kind of painful parts that we need to exercise.”
As a coach, and I think this is why I'm so invested in a coaching model, I think that those ideas are simply not helpful to people who are wanting to do a substantial recreation. I think it holds people in the past. While insight is always helpful, I think that it is negative and self-limiting. I think it can really hold people back. For that reason, I want to walk you through more of a coaching process in order to intentionally cultivate reinvention that I hope feels more positive and more empowering for you
Where we're going to start with this is exactly from this place. I think many times when people think about reinvention, it starts with this long list of all the things that you don't like about yourself and all the things that you want to jettison into the past, “I don't want to do that anymore. I don't want to be that way anymore.” It's a moving away of things that you don't like. This idea, that I can be different, I can change these dramatic things about myself that I think are not really honoring to who and what you really are. They're also not empowering. They are also, that approach, can be very disempowering because when we don't honor who and what we really are, we're trying to force change that is not natural to us. It doesn't honor our strengths and because of that, it's often not successful.
I want to prepare you for that. Reinventing yourself isn't changing everything about you. It is understanding the best parts of you and intentionally growing those. I will also tell you and just to be radically honest with you, as I always am, that reinvention is also circumstantial in the sense that there are certain life segments that meaningful reinvention is simply much easier to do. It's often related to opportunities to step out of your old patterns and ways of being so that you can have time and space to achieve perspective.
There's also this component of pattern disrupt. There's a catalyst for reinvention. The motivation for why, but also the opportunity to, in a very real way, disrupt the old pattern that you have been in. That goes back to this idea that we were talking about in the beginning of homeostasis. When we are in our same routines and around the same people and having the same interactions, we get sucked into this way of being that's very, very, very difficult to get out of. A true reinvention requires at least to some degree, the ability to step out of those old patterns for enough time and space to develop a certain objectivity and really get out of that well-worn path that's very, very easy to fall into.
For example, say that one of the things about your life that you'd like to reinvent is a relationship. If your relationship is feeling difficult and you're working on yourself, maybe you've been working with a coach around like, “Okay, how am I showing up in my relationship? What can I do differently?” And you have decided that you are going to take responsibility for the way that you are communicating with your spouse. They say something snarky to you and instead of doing what you usually do, which is maybe saying something back, you say, in a very gentle and respectful way, “I hear what you're saying. I'd like to hear more about your perspective. I'm not sure that we totally agree but I'm here to listen to you and to understand you because I love you.” That's a totally new thing that you're doing for the first time because of your own personal growth work. Your partner is still thinking about you in the old way. They have had many, many, many, many experiences with you previously, where you have behaved differently.
Now all of a sudden, you're doing something new and different and it does not compute for them yet. You say something very gracious and gentle and lovely and they say, “Stop screaming at me. You're so controlling. I just can't even take it.” And they storm out of the room. Because they're hearing what you would have said three months ago, in their mind, even though in reality, you just said something very, very different. That you are different but they have not acclimated yet. They're still reacting to you in this very old, well-worn way. That's very normal and that is one of the reasons why people in couples counseling are, “Why this isn't working?!” Is because even though they're trying to be different and showing up and doing things differently, their spouse or partner is reacting to them in the same old way and that feels frustrating and it feels disempowering.
This is that homeostasis that I'm talking about is that even if you are very deliberately reinventing yourself and intentionally being different, the systems that you inhabit are going to react to you as the way that you were previously, not the way that you are now. Because of that, those systems are going to pull you to slip back into that old role. In the example that you say something very kind and gentle to your spouse and they just react with the same old hostility. It's difficult to not get frustrated and be like, “Darn it! I've been trying so hard! How dare you treat me that way?!” All is lost at that point. You’re off to the races. That’s what I'm talking about. It’s how can you step out of that old system for long enough and dramatic enough way so you get perspective. Also, it kind of resets the system. It’s turning your computer all the way off and back on again, it's like a fresh start.
Having space can be incredibly important. Not always something that I advise if you're trying to improve your relationship but something that can be a very dramatic system reset for couples that have been struggling for a long time, is a very intentional separation. Not for the purpose of an off-ramp towards a divorce but a separation where each person has time and space to slow down, reevaluate themselves, and reevaluate the other person. Maybe combined with some really intentional marriage counseling, or even mean relationship coaching, where the clock resets and you're like, “Okay, we are really legitimately going to give each other a fresh start and a pass and a new chance. I'm going to learn who you are all over again and I'm going to learn who I am all over again because we're not the same people that we were 10 years ago when we got married. We both changed substantially. Let's find out who that person is.” Sometimes having that that distance can be super helpful.
There are other life segments where reinvention is much more possible. There are developmental stages or life transitions that really pull for a natural reinvention process. I mentioned one, my son making that transition, from late childhood or early adolescence. That is very real and that's a significant transition. Other transitions are moving in with a partner or getting married. Certainly, parenthood can be a very natural new transition for couples and individuals. A new job, moving to a new city, leaving a job, leaving a relationship. It's like there's this path kind of opens up in front of you and that old pattern has been disrupted, sometimes smashed to smithereens. Can’t do what you have done in the past, right after you bring a new baby home, right? There's this whole opportunity to recreate who you are, who you want to be, how you want to handle these situations differently going forward in this natural reset.
To a degree, I think that the whole COVID pandemic experience has given some people a natural reset in the sense that it disrupted the systems, disrupted the patterns enough to allow people some time and space for that reflection. But not everyone. I mean, I can't even tell you over the last year, how many more people, I think, who have been busier than they've ever been in their lives. They're overwhelmed and burned out. They haven't had a moment alone with their thoughts. There's this myth that everybody in the world has been sitting around baking things and watching Netflix and that is absolutely not true. For many people, I think that the COVID pandemic experience has actually been the opposite, where people have less time and space to be self-reflective. It's okay. I just I say that out loud because I don't want you to think that you should have had some kind of experience when it wasn't actually your reality. Just to honor that.
Look for ways to break the patterns. If there is a natural life segment that you're experiencing, a transition into something or out of something, that can be really helpful. I've noticed that sometimes even seasons, particularly a transition from summer into fall, can be a very interesting open door for a reinvention and even a thoughtful vacation. Even a staycation can be the opportunity for a reinvention because it allows you to pause and simply stop doing what you have been doing and then when you come back into the space that you had been inhabiting previously, if you allow yourself, you'll see things a little bit differently.
How many of you can relate to this very simple example? I remember, once my husband and I, we took a trip with our family that was a pretty substantial trip. When we came home, I walked into my house and I was like, “Man, this place is grubby.” I’ve kind of intellectually known like, “Yeah, we should probably, it’s time to paint.” Before we left but when you're in the space all day, every day, you don't really notice it that much but I came home and was like, “This is bad. The walls.” It was the catalyst for finally taking action and getting the house painted. A very minor example. It's just an illustration of when you re-enter, it's like, “Oh, yeah. I didn't really notice that in the same way before.” That can be really powerful.
Finding Your Motivation for Change
Then the other piece of reinvention, aside from breaking the pattern, and getting space is also motivation for change. You have to have that. I think that another thing that can mess people up, if they want to recreate themselves, or some aspect of their life is not getting really clear about their why or what's at stake. There's this idea of, “Yeah, kind of nice to do that.” But when it's not really attached to a very core and powerful thing, we don't have the anchor of energy and motivation to sustain a true reinvention. Because it takes a lot of energy and a lot of intention over a sustained period of time.
If you're thinking about making a change in your life but if you really check in with yourself and like, “How important is this to me?” If the answer is something like, “Yeah. It'd be nice, but only if it was easy.” We can just stop right now because it's not going to work. That's not a bad thing. Timing is very, very important when it comes to personal reinvention and you can't force it. If that is the case for you, you can listen to the rest of this podcast and get the takeaways and tuck it away for later. Just know that in order to really reinvent yourself, you have to feel it or be in the kind of life space where you have to. There's no other choice. If somebody, if a couple or an individual has a baby, for example, there is no other option except to reevaluate the way you've been doing things. Or starting a new job, you're forced into a situation where you're gonna have to do things differently. If it's just a personal preference or something that you want to work on or with yourself, that you have to feel it, you have to connect with a why.
I would like for you to consider, when you think about your reinvention process, “What's it for? What's the purpose? What would change for you? What would be different on the other side of this if you were successful? How much do you care about that outcome? Is it valuable to you?” I would also just like to present this idea that sometimes, many times actually, when it comes to a reinvention process, that is one that we generate and do because we want to not because we have to, it is motivated by dark emotions. I think that's another difference.
In my perspective, as a coach, I think a just traditionally trained therapist will think of feelings of anxiety or sadness, or resentment or anger, as being negative things that we need to fix and may go away and stop and heal and they're disordered in some way. As a coach, I look at those and I think, “How does that make sense? Tell me why you're feeling angry or frustrated, or nervous. Let's see if we can understand what that is trying to tell you that we should listen to and honor.” There is so much wisdom that comes from our dark and even hard emotions and it's not bad. It's very, very good when you listen to them and allow them to influence you and take positive action. That is your emotional intelligence talking to you. I think that our lives are all better for it when we listen to those feelings instead of push them away and try to embrace them. Because at the end of the day, that's all we have, right? How we feel. That's our understanding of what is important to us and when we can crack into that, that is often the voice of our motivation. If we can do something constructive with it, of course.
Those are the two core pieces of genuine and authentic reinvention, is taking a step away, making contact with motivation. I will also say just for the purposes of this podcast because as you know, I like to be comprehensive. There is also such a thing as a sleeper reinvention, as I think of it. There is a reinvention process that people can go through that is less intentional in some ways because they're not consciously going in as “I am going to be different when I'm on the other side of this.” It's more of a slow burn that happens through an inner process or by being in a different set of experiences than you have been in the past that changes you in a substantial way that I think of it as molting.
Birds will go through phases where they lose their feathers and they grow in new feathers. It's a mess while it's happening but like old ways of being are sort of sloughing off and new ways of being are emerging from underneath. There is a subtle reinvention happening on the inside of you that you don't even notice until later. For example, say you start a new job that calls for a different skill set or a different way of thinking than you have been in the past. As you get into that, and simply start doing that over six months or nine months, or a year, you will notice that it has changed you by virtue of being in a different system.
Different relationships can have that impact on us, if we're around people that pull for us to be differently. Sometimes going to school or moving out, you are forced to acquire this different skill set or way of thinking. Certainly too, being in coaching, even sometimes therapy can create that, where you're invited to think and feel differently over and over again to the point where it actually does change the way that you think and you feel and you behave. Ideally, that is an intentional process. That's why I'm making this podcast for you today is how do we make it intentional. But there are also times that we are changed because we go into a different environment over a sustained period of time. Then at some point, we realize that we are different. At that point, sometimes external manifestations of change then occur, where we show the world that we're different because we've already achieved it on the inside.
Again, changing yourself and reinventing yourself is often not just around changing your circumstances, although it can change you over time. Most of the time, when we decide to be different, we do things differently, we try to anyway, or we change our circumstances, and hope that the external systems that we’re attempting will have that impact on us. But the reality is that we take ourselves with us wherever we go. You can sell all of your things and move to India or Tibet and you can go there and you will still be thinking your same thoughts and processing the world through your same inner filter and holding on to your same values. Therefore feeling pretty much the same way as you are right now, even if there's a different setting around you.
You bring yourself with you. Although you do have a new opportunity to get much more intentional about what you're doing because you are no longer in the old system that you were created in. Our systems forge us to some degree which you can certainly think of if you think about your family of origin experience. The way that your parents communicated the expectations that they had a view of all of us. They shape the way we experience the world, the way we think of other people, the way that we communicate. It isn't until we leave that system that we get to decide who we want to be going forward.
That's where we are now, at the cusp of this reinvention process where you get to be different. Particularly, if you are in a transitional life space or feeling motivated or having the opportunity to break free. Here is what to do next in order to dig in and make this genuinely transformational. The next thing that you do, that is the activity that makes the change, is to, first of all, get real serious about self-awareness in a different way. I am going to invite you to do something that you might not expect which is to really think about what it is about yourself and your life currently, as you are right this very second and is your life is right now that you really, really love, and appreciate. What is working?
Drawing on Your Strengths
I know that this may be a little bit surprising because I think, again, when we think about reinvention, it's this idea of moving away from something that we don't like. Jettisoning an old identity or way of being that we don't want to be anymore. Thinking about all the things that you don't like about yourself and what you want to be different. When we do that, say, “I don't like all these things about myself. I want to be this aspirational, better version of me, who can do all the things that I'm not currently doing and have this personality that I don't have and think about the world in this way that I don't.” That doesn't work. Humans don't work that way.
I have tried, personally. I have worked with a lot of people who come in for help in either therapy or coaching with that as the goal. “I don't like all these things about myself and I really want to be different. I would like you to help me be different.” Okay. That’s not how this works. You have to use what you have to build something new. What do you have? That's why authentic self-reinvention starts with taking stock of your strengths, or your strength clusters, I should say because our personality strengths, our traits, show up in clusters. They all go together.
For example, one of my signature strengths and the things that I like about myself, I am very flexible. Flexibility, I think it goes along with creativity, openness to new ideas. I don't get attached to outcomes. I mean, that's just my way of being. It's easy for me to shift into a different direction. I tend to stay in the present. Those are strengths, all good things. Except, there is also the kernel of recreation within that because there are light and dark aspects to all things. For example, for the flip side of my strengths, I'm flexible, right? I'm like, “Yeah, okay. Let's do that instead.” That means that I can say yes to things and the moment that I can have the intention to work on something on Wednesday afternoon at two and then something else happens, and I don't do what I had originally planned to do, and it gets pushed off and the managing time, staying in alignment with structured plans. That is a dark side of my strengths.
When I want to be the best version of me, and create the reality that I want, I need to be thinking about what my strengths are. Also, what the growth opportunities are and how to use my signature strengths in order to shift the parts that aren't working for me. I'll tell you that this is a very different way of thinking about reinvention. I know that and I've been there. I mean, I can't tell you how many times, especially when I was younger, I would try to reinvent myself, be like, “Okay. I'm scattered and disorganized. I'm going to be a super-organized person. I'm going to create this beautiful schedule divided into 15-minute increments of time and I'm going to do this and this and this and this.” That never worked.
Of course, it never worked because that is not who I am. It is so out of alignment with who I am. It would work for somebody else who had a totally different personality and way of operating in the world. But we have to be reality-based when it comes to who and what we are for reinvention to really be meaningful. But also, I think that reality-based, “Who am I? What aspects of myself can I use to build something different and new?” It’s important. Because if we try to be something or someone that we aren't, and will never be, that when we try to be that aspirational thing that's so different, it won't work and it will make you feel really bad. Your big reinvention plan will fall through and you get mad at yourself and you think, “What is wrong with me? Why can't I do that? Other people can do that. I'm following the manual of make a schedule, set a timer, do these things. This works.” It doesn't work for me and that is bad, “Why won't it work for me?”
What I'm telling you is that there's not a cookie-cutter approach to reinvention because you are not a cookie. Your reinvention process needs to be much more authentic and real for you. It starts by saying, “Who am I? What do I love about myself? What am I good at? What are my strengths? What are the things that I appreciate about me? Even more importantly, what are the things in my life that are really working very well for me right now and that I don't want to change? What do I want to carry forward with me and continue to cultivate and to grow?”
Because the truth is, there are so many wonderful, legitimate, valid, fantastic ways of being in the world. It's so easy and tempting to fall into this trap of overvaluing one way of being over another. We can get very judgy and discriminatory even with certain ways of being are better than others. It's not true and it's also not helpful. If you want to start with reinvention, let's start with who you are and what about that is fantastic.
You can even pause this podcast for a couple of minutes. If you want to take out a notebook or open up a blank screen on whatever device you're on, and just spend a few minutes really thinking about and writing down. Not the things that you hate and you want to be different, but what are my best qualities? What do other people like about me? What are my favorite things about myself? What can I do that isn’t as easy for other people to do? What is working? What have I done in the past that worked really well and I'm proud of? What would I like to do more of in the future? Take a minute. Write that down.
As you do, you'll be uncovering your signature strengths. Once you've given yourself the opportunity to really sit with the parts of yourself that are wonderful and strong and that you want to keep. Now, you can also think legitimately and with compassion about some aspects of your current life experience that maybe you're not in love with. Not in a blistering self-critical, unhelpful way. But if I could have this be different, what would I want it to be instead? It could be a life circumstance, certainly. It could be something about yourself that you are carrying into situations that isn't working as well as you would like it to. Totally valid.
And what you would like to have be different? What do you desire? What do you imagine would be different for you? If you had that desired outcome in the future? What's your Why? You can say, “Well, I want to be happy.” But what does that mean? What does that mean to you? What is happiness according to your definition? If I want to be in a different place or want to have more money or have different friends. Okay, why? The circumstances are never in and of themselves the outcome. It's what do those circumstances mean. Even, “I want to have a job that pays me more money.” Okay, fine. Why? What does money even mean to you? Is it about security? Is it about having fun? Is it about being able to do more things or being free? Is about showing love to others? I mean what does it mean? You have to find your why. What is your motivation?
Pause me again, and think about that, and write it down. Okay, now we've taken stock of your strengths and the things that are going well. We have also taken a realistic look at the things that you would like to have be different. Here is the hard thing. Stay with me. If you imagine that you are standing right now in a stream, okay? You're in this stream and the stream is flowing in one direction currently. It is flowing in a way that creates the reality that you are currently inhabiting. What you are doing, what you have done, is creating the reality that you're existing in right now and you want this reality to be a little bit different. If you imagine the direction that this stream of time, energy, effort, who and what would you need to be doing to create this different outcome because that is the core of empowerment.
It is what do I need to do differently in order to feel differently. To have a different result in my life to create a different circumstance. Because the corollary of this, and this is the hard part, is what am I currently doing that is creating the reality? The parts that I don't actually like that much. This is a challenging concept. It is the core question of your reinvention. What are you currently doing that is creating or maintaining the parts of your reality that you are not in love with right now. If you're having a negative reaction to this idea that you have been creating the reality that you're currently existing in, at least in part, I first want to let you know that that is very, very normal to have a negative reaction to that. It is a sign of disempowerment, that if the core narrative is that you haven't created it. You are a victim of circumstance. You have, in no way shape, or form, any impact on the creation of your current life space. That is incredibly disempowering.
That right there is the core idea that will blow open the door to your actual reinvention process. It’s this concept that I co-create. The reality that I inhabit through the way I think, the way I feel, and the way I behave. I'm not talking about the power of manifestation or whatever, I mean, I'm not even gonna go there. It is what are you doing every day that is either creating or maintaining the world around you. How are you participating? The reason why this is so important is because as soon as you say, “I am directing the flow of this energy into the direction that it's currently going.”
The corollary idea is what is the strength that I can draw upon, that is going to shift what I am doing in the moment, in order to change the direction of this and create this new reality that I would like to have instead. It's hard to do. Genuine reinvention requires that identification. Because it is not about the haircut, it is not about the capsule wardrobe, or quitting the job and jumping into another job. It is what have I been doing over and over and over again, that has created this, and then which of my strengths can I apply? Something that I'm good at. Something that I already know how to do. Something that I can do more of deliberately and grow in order to change my outcome. That is true recreation and reinvention that will work. It’s not jettisoning at all. It is what am I doing well.
We can see this a lot in relationships. I often see people in relationships who are maybe not feeling good about the relationship. This concept is super difficult for them because when they think about reinvention and how they would like things to be different, it primarily centers on what they would like to have be different about their partner. If only they could do something differently or not do that or change the way they're doing it. Be nicer to me, be more like me. Our shared lives together would be so much better. They have not a ton of awareness around how they are co-creating the experience of their relationship with their partner.
Almost no one ever asks, “What is it like for my partner to live with me? How does it feel to be with me? How is the way I am behaving in the relationship, the way I'm communicating the way, I'm showing love and respect, or lack of, and thinking about how they feel or what they would like to have for me right now.” Those are very difficult to wrap your arms around but that is what we do actually have the power to change and to control. That piece of reinvention. That is what is accessible. When you really turn that energy focus back on yourself around, ”What am I doing that maybe isn't working that well and what are my core strengths? What do I do well? What does work well and how can I do more of that?” You can recreate a relationship or at least you are able to do everything within your power to recreate a relationship or reinvent a relationship.
The other side will always have free will and systems are powerful but that's accessible to you. It's also important, I think, to get clarity around, “What am I maybe not even conscious of that I have been unconsciously or unintentionally doing that is getting in my way, that is getting in the way of the outcome that I want?” I have seen it so many times, I know it's true for me. It is probably something that is a flip side of one of your core strengths.
For example, and this is going to be very different for you right, because we all have different strengths, but what I do to get in my own way, is I'm too flexible. I make a list of 500 things and then get distracted by the thing that's most exciting and go into that direction. It takes me five hours to do something that should take one hour. I mean, that’s when things don't work for me that well. I need to take stock, again, of what are my core strengths. My reinvention process has to be around what is accessible to me that I can do that is natural for me that maybe I'm not doing enough of right now but that would change my experience if I did.
For me, it's creative problem-solving. It's thinking of new ideas. It’s also because I'm a doer. I think my personality is very amenable to taking chances and trying things and being sort of experimental. I can experiment with doing things differently that maybe I haven't done before, to see what happens. Many times I do get better outcomes when I do that. But it's around just reconceptualizing these ideas around. “What do I have to do and all the things that I want to do and maybe I don't have to do all the things” and creative problem-solving around, figuring out what matters the most for me.
But for you, it's going to be different. If your core strengths are, say that you are very structured and you plan things and you're very organized, you may find that the dark side of that, it’s creating outcomes you don't like. It can be very difficult to change plans or that can be uncomfortable if you don't really know with certainty what the outcomes are going to be. Or you may find yourself trying to control different situations. That is difficult to do. It can create a lot of anxiety or there can be a lot of apprehension of paralysis or not making the right decision. These are the flip sides of the same strength.
In that kind of case, your path to reinvention is to say, “Okay, how can I be very, very deliberate and use my strengths of being thoughtful and being focused and being organized to deliberately shift the parts of this that are getting in my way?” It could be for you, creating a new routine that helps you step away from getting locked into a direction that's taking you in the wrong way. It could be planning activities that very deliberately bring a different kind of energy into your life. Because you are structured and organized, you can plan that and stick to it.
For other people, if your strength is really one of empathy and just having really connected loving relationships, you may find that the dark side and the thing that that does require recreation, is that maybe it's difficult for you to set boundaries with other people. Maybe you do too much for other people that is not just limiting their growth, but making you feel resentful land exhausted and stuck. You have to take care of people, right?
When you tap into your core strength of empathy and compassion and generosity and turn that towards yourself, as opposed to outwards towards other people, that reinvention process will change everything for you. Because not only is it addressing the core issue that's creating the outcome that you don't like, you are using your strengths to solve that problem. You are intentionally saying, “I want to grow this part of myself that is already working, how can I make it work better? How can I make it work more?” That is the reinvention process that will change all kinds of other things in your life. It's a much deeper, meaningful, more engaged process that starts on the inside.
Just to recap, it requires being able to disrupt the pattern. Step out so that you get some objectivity and also so that you get a breather. That you get some space from all the systems that want to suck you back into the old way of being. You need to have that motivation, “Why do I want to do this?” Also the recognition that it's going to take some time, applied pressure over time. Then getting really clear about what are your strengths? What are the things that are working? Combined with what is your desired outcome. How is that different than what's currently happening?
Then once you have those things in place, that really honest reflection around what am I currently doing that is creating the outcome I have and which of my strengths could I intentionally use to shift this current into the direction that I want it to go. Then that is the thing that I'm going to be very, very deliberately, intentionally, and in a focused way, recreating. That is the true seat of my reinvention. If I focus on that, lots of different things will change for me. I will be truly transformed not just on the inside but in the outer expressions of my life, too.
I know that's a lot of information but as always, I wanted to give you the honest real deal inside scoop. Hopefully, I've presented these ideas in a way that you can make use of. That's my intention. It’s to be helpful to you and to go deeper. I don't just want to give you trite things, I want to give you stuff that will really work and be to your benefit. That is why I'm here every week on The Love, Happiness, and Success podcast.
Thank you so much for spending this time with me today. If you have follow-up questions, come visit me at growingself.com. You can check out the blog, we have all kinds of other not just podcasts, but articles and advice from all of the many talented therapists and coaches I have the privilege of working with. It's all there for you. Come by any time. Bye. See you next time.
Reinventing yourself goes beyond making physical and circumstantial changes.
Unless you undergo a meaningful reinvention process, you're still going to be the same you.
We're living in the context of systems that tend to hold us in place.
So, it can be difficult to reinvent yourself inside a system that pulls you back into your old ways.
However, you don’t have to accept the hands you were dealt. You can decide to drop the aspects of yourself that no longer serve you.
The Process of Reinvention
Meaningful reinvention requires us to go into this inner journey.
Many people have the misconception that you must change everything about yourself in order to reinvent yourself.
However, it’s more about understanding and developing the best parts of you.
Having space and intentional separation can be a dramatic system reset, especially for struggling couples.
A pattern disruption may help you in your journey of reinvention, as it forces you to change your ways.
You can look for natural resets such as finding a new job or moving somewhere else, to facilitate natural reinvention.
Even the changing of seasons or a staycation can be an opportunity for reinvention.
These events allow you to pause and come back and see your situation differently.
Finding your Motivation for Change
It takes a lot of energy and intention to stage a true reinvention.
When your reinvention is not anchored to a very core and powerful thing, you won’t have to energy to sustain it.
Ask why you want to reinvent in the first place and if your reason is not compelling enough, take a step back and do it some other time.
Drawing on Your Strengths
Some people think that reinvention is about moving away from something that we don't like.
However, it’s more important to lean on our strengths when we’re trying to change our situation.
Figure out what your core strengths are and use them to deliberately shift your circumstances.
Also, recognize that you are an agent in your own life. That way, you will be empowered to act on your reinvention.
Without a doubt, motherhood is one of the most challenging feats in life. However, preparing for fatherhood isn't a walk in the park, either. There are a lot of mental, emotional, and relationship changes that new dads will experience. The transition to parenthood can be daunting for many, but don't worry; you can take the proper measures when preparing for fatherhood.
In this episode: Preparing for Fatherhood, Growing Self marriage and family therapists Jessica Small and Seth Bender talk about how postpartum experiences affect both parents and how to prepare yourself for them. You will also learn how to conquer common relationship challenges after having a baby.
If you want to know more about supporting your wife, maintaining healthy relationships, and preparing for fatherhood, then tune into this episode!
In This Episode: Preparing for Fatherhood
Find out what mothers experience postpartum aside from “baby blues.”
Discover how fathers can also have their own postpartum experience.
Become aware of why mothers tend to be angry toward their partners.
Understand why sexuality can decrease after birth.
Know how to connect with your partner in small and manageable ways.
Recognize the importance of validating negative emotions and experiences.
The Postpartum Experience when Preparing for Fatherhood
The months leading up to birth are challenging, but the journey doesn't end after the baby is born.
The postpartum experience is something that couples and families face together. Couples usually worry when they don't experience the romanticized story of having a baby, but every woman’s postpartum recovery timeline is different. That's why it's essential to shed light on the truth about the postpartum experience.
Jessica explains that the “baby blues” often happen during the first two weeks after giving birth. This phenomenon is when mothers have frequent emotional shifts. Upon giving birth, they also may experience:
loss and grief around their old life,
lack of sleep, and
being overwhelmed with the identity of being a mom.
Although they don't experience the same biological changes, the postpartum experience also affects the male or nonpregnant partner. Seth says, “[having a baby] is an incredibly difficult life transition that happens before you know it.” The postpartum experience affects nonpregnant partners in the following ways:
They feel loss and grief over their old life. The change of lifestyle is difficult for men, especially for first-time fathers. Having a baby affects a father’s work schedule, self-care, and support that they used to get from their partners.
They feel isolated and not looked after. Usually, it's mom's job to take care of the baby, and it's dad's job to care for mom. However, Jessica asks, “Who's taking care of dad?” In a society that conditions men to become independent, people think men should power through all the challenges. The journey is also tricky for them, and they need support.
Why Does My Wife Hate Me After Baby?
“It is hard for dad. But let's be honest, it is harder for Mom,” says Jessica. Moms get exhausted and frustrated with all the baby work, leading them to feel tenser and emotionally fried.
Most of the time, moms are not mad at their partners. She might project the exhaustion and frustration she experiences from motherhood onto a safe person like her partner.
Sometimes, however, moms can also be mad because their partner isn't stepping up the way they need them to step up. There needs to be involvement from the partner to anticipate the mother's needs and take on some emotional energy.
Decreased Sexuality in Marriage
Dr. Lisa and Jessica brought up John Gottman‘s ideas on marital crises. One of these crises is a decreased sexuality among new moms. Sexuality may not be compatible with mothers as they're adjusting to their new role. Here are some possible explanations as to why this happens:
Issues such as sleep deprivation and hormonal shifts make it harder to have a desire for sexual intimacy.
Mothers may also experience insecurity about the postpartum body.
As biological evolution has prevented mothers from getting pregnant immediately after having a baby, sexual desire naturally decreases.
If the mother had a difficult pregnancy, it takes much more time to recover fully and be sexually active.
These problems also affect the fathers because they don't get what they expect. Seth says, “I think the misconception is that for some men, it's like, ‘okay, after two or three weeks, things will be back to normal.' And that's not really how it works.”
In Seth's experience working with couples, fathers work hard to understand the mothers' struggles as much as they can.
How to Build a Healthy and Enjoyable New Normal when Preparing for Fatherhood
The usual advice for married couples with kids is to “go on date nights.” But Jessica offers a more robust perspective: start with small and manageable ways to connect. Examples of how you can do this to keep your relationship strong after having a baby are the following:
Physical connecting such as hugging
Conversing around topics that are not about the baby
Watching a TV show together while nursing
Seth says that those smaller bits of connection are often not present before the child. That's why he works with couples on building those even before the baby is born. His advice for couples is to do premarital counseling before having a baby to ensure that they're in an excellent place to take that step in their relationship.
Being okay with not being okay and prioritizing emotional safety is also key to a good relationship. Jessica emphasizes the importance of holding safe spaces for each other to talk about the whole experience of parenthood transparently.
Jessica recounts a typical conversation between couples: “One person says, like, ‘I miss getting to go do this.' The other person tries to fix it and ends up invalidating their partner.” It's normal to have moments of sadness, grief, and loss. None of it means that you don't want your baby.
Marriage Problems After Having a Baby
A listener asks how she can restore the once fabulous marriage she had with her partner before having their baby. Here are Jessica's answers to her question:
Identify the things that used to work for your marriage and start to apply that to your current situation. If you and your partner used to cook dinner together every night and suddenly stopped, you could agree to cook dinner again two or three times a week. Or, if you used to walk in the park and suddenly stopped, you can try walking again with your baby in a stroller.
Attend to attachment wounds and move forward. Partners can hurt each other unintentionally, and that can build much resentment and distance. It's essential to improve communication and have a safe and empathetic space to talk about how the partners have hurt each other openly.
Build a vision for what you want your family life to look like. Imagine your family life as something that you truly desire and create a path towards achieving that.
Learn more about John Gottman and his ideas on marital crises.
Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: This is Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby, and you're listening to the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast.
That was “A Father's Wisdom” by the artist John Lowell Anderson, which I thought was a perfect transition for our topic today because today we are going to talk about preparing for parenthood — what to expect after the postpartum period, which can be kind of surprising for people and what we can do to prepare for that mentally and emotionally. We are going to be talking about the female experience of this. But more importantly, in some ways, if you're in a heterosexual relationship, we also need to talk about preparing for fatherhood and some of the mental and emotional changes that new Dads can expect as they make this transition. Because I think that doesn't get talked about enough, and that has a huge impact on the quality of relationships, after baby. Many couples struggle in the first couple of years as they transition from being two to being three and eventually more. On today's podcast, we are talking about all of it for your benefit, and I hope we leave this time together today with you're having some good takeaways for not just what to expect but what you can think about and do in order to prepare for this transition personally and also as a couple and a family.
So with me today are two of my colleagues — I have invited Jessica Small to join us today. Jessica is a marriage and family therapist here at Growing Self. Jessica and I have been colleagues for many years. Jessica, you are so knowledgeable about this; you work with many couples through this transition. You're also a Mom with two young kids yourself, so you're living it. Just recently, you let our whole team through this magnificent team training on the postpartum experience, so you're kind of the woman. Thank you for being here.
Jessica Small: Thank you, Lisa. You're far too kind, thank you so much. I’m happy to be here.
Dr. Lisa: Oh good, I don't know Jessica, you're pretty great. Also joining us as another colleague of ours, Seth Bender. Seth is also a marriage and family therapist here on the team with us at Growing Self. Seth, you work with a lot of couples who are making this transition into parenthood. I know you also have a lot of individual clients who are grappling with some of the mental and emotional, and identity changes that come after becoming parents. You too, are in the thick of things — a married guy with a toddler. So, I'm sure you'll have a lot to share as well.
Seth Bender: Yeah, thank you for having me her Lisa and I am very happy to give what insight I do have. It's true I do have a lot of couples and individuals who are both in both areas who are dealing with this, I have in the past as well. This is definitely a topic that I have worked with couples, with individuals in some detail. I'm very happy to be here.
Dr. Lisa: Well, I can't wait to get your insight today, so thank you. To start, I was wondering if we could first talk a little bit about this whole idea of the postpartum experience. And what I’d really like to talk about is to get the inside scoop from you guys about some of the emotional changes, the ways of thinking that can shift after we bring Baby home that are sometimes surprising to people. I think many times in our culture there's sort of this like it's magic, it's the most amazing time of your life. Sometimes when men and women have a different experience, they can worry that something is wrong or that they're not doing it right. Jessica, I was wondering if you could just start our conversation by sharing with us, just from your perspective, what are some of the things that particularly women can face in the weeks and months after having a baby that sometimes surprise them?
Preparing for Fatherhood: Postpartum Depression
Jessica: Sure, I think that the initial weeks after having a baby are hard — I don't really know a better way to say that, but hard. The first two weeks, especially, are significant, and that a lot of women experience what's called the baby blues, where they are seeing a lot of hormonal shifts, crying, irritability, feeling like their emotions are out of control, just adjusting. If there are no issues around postpartum depression or distress, we do typically see that even out. But I think the biggest thing that I hear Moms talk about that is surprising, and not something that we've talked about enough, is that there can be grief and loss around their old life, that Moms, and actually couples will say, “We came home with Baby and we love our baby, but part of us was like — what did we just do?” Because it changes life quite significantly.
Dr. Lisa: Where's the receipt?
Jessica: Yeah, when can we take this back? It's hard, you're not really sleeping very much, you're trying to adjust to a new normal, you're trying to incorporate a new family member into your life. I think there is some genuine sadness around the previous life, that life where there was the ability to grab your purse and walk out the door and go to the store and not worry about, “I have to be home in 30 minutes to feed my baby,” or, “I'm leaving my partner home and they haven't slept all night, and I need to make sure I'm back for them.” I think there's a lot of that. I think there's also a lot of identity development in becoming a mom that moms can feel very overwhelmed by the identity of Mom and feel like, “What about the rest of me? Where else? Where did I go about just me? What about me as a partner? What about me as a daughter myself? What about me as a friend?” that I think the initial stage of being postpartum can feel a bit overwhelming in that role of just being a Mom.
Dr. Lisa: Yeah, there's so much. I mean, like the early days of this, emotional storm, and trying to figure out, “Okay, is this normal? Is this postpartum depression?” Really, like, feeling sad, can be a very expected part of this experience. Plus, that all-encompassing, all you do is Mom things now, and trying to reconcile and rebuild some of that. But this is just a huge amount of emotional work at a time of life when there's a lot of physical work, too, and things like breast feeding and not sleeping — like this is it's a lot. The other thing I want to talk about too, is again, this is largely for the benefit of well, either opposite sex couples, or in a partnership where one person physically had a baby, how does this sort of crisis impact the partner who has not just had the baby? Because I think sometimes, some of this can really catch male partners or nonpregnant partners off guard as they are trying to figure out how to be supportive to the person who's experiencing, at least the physical aspects of it, the hormonal aspects of it. Do you have any insight into that, Seth, about what you've heard from your clients as being the most challenging things there?
Seth: I would say it's a mixture of a few things. First off, just to echo Jessica, it's a incredibly difficult way transition that happens before you know it. You're going from being single or being a couple and doing whatever you want, whenever you want to do it, to not having that anymore. That's a jarring shift for many men, especially in our culture, where men are conditioned often to be type A, and go, go, go, and take care of yourself, and things like that. And that really, really changes very quickly. I would say that the change of lifestyle is really, really difficult for men, especially for first-time fathers, where they're not used to that change. You can read all the books that you want, but many of my clients worry about how their wives are going to change when they have a child. But you don't know until you're in the thick of it. With all the prep, there's still such a jarring shift in lifestyle, and in every single way that you can imagine — in terms of your work schedule, in terms of your self-care, in terms of the support that you used to get from your partner that is now being focused on your child. It's very, very difficult. And I think the — how do you say it — I think the assumption is that men just power through that, and it's fine. And that's not the case.
Dr. Lisa: I was just thinking the same thing as you were sharing that I think we're, have a lot of awareness around postpartum depression or baby blues. Jessica, as you shared, which is something that we kind of would expect women to go through, or somebody who just had a baby, maybe not that depression part, but certainly like the hormonal experiences. But Seth, what I'm hearing you say is that there's potentially a lot of grieving and a lot of loss that new Dads experience, or partners experience that they may not have been fully prepared for. Like even a few sort of intellectually knows something's going to happen, it's not until you have that experience. There's an emotional component of that, I'm guessing, a lot of sadness, loss, are those the right words?
Transition to Parenthood
Seth: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, there's a loss of freedom. That's not necessarily a negative thing. But if there's a loss of the life that you once had, if before, if you wanted to go with your buddies, and have some fun, you could do that. Or if you wanted to go to the gym, you could do that. Or you could do whatever you needed to do when you needed to do it. For older fathers, like myself, I had my first child when I was 41, I've been taking care of myself for 20 years. Having that change, and it was a very difficult transition. It took some time for me to get used to it and to understand it, and to understand what was happening within me as well. I mean, we don't have quite the same hormonal changes that a woman has. But a lot of the emotional component to it, I would say is likely similar, regarding what was and what's not going to be anymore.
Dr. Lisa: Yeah. Well, that's so insightful. This is actually making me think of something, Jessica, that you shared in this team training that you hosted for our group the other day, which was just so wonderful. But in it, you made a point around Mom's job is to take care of the baby, and that so much energy. Then you said, and Dad's job, our partner's job is to take care of Mom so that she can take care of Baby. But then I was thinking, yeah, who's taking care of Dad? And what does that do, in some ways? How does that sort of balance out? Jessica, can you maybe first of all, just talk a little bit more about what you mean by that? Because the visual I got is sort of like, water flowing downhill, like the sort of nurturing energy flows from Dad to Mom and Mom to Baby and Baby into growing and developing. Is that kind of what you are meaning?
Jessica: Yeah, I love that analogy. I think that is what I was talking about. I think that Baby is typically pretty reliant on Mom for basic life, especially if Mom is breastfeeding, then Baby needs Mom to eat. There's just this requirement that Baby has a Mom, maybe a little bit of a different way than Baby has of Dad. Mom is really focused typically on Baby. We want Dad to really focus on Mom, and help Mom make sure she's hydrated and eating. And if well, I guess, regardless of what labor and delivery look like recovering because your body has gone through such a major trauma in childbirth. And I love this point of well, who's taking care of Dad? And as you were saying that I was like, “I guess no one sometimes,” that Dads are, I think often in a position of feeling really isolated and having to take care of Mom. And also, of course, Dads are engaged with Baby as well. Having to take care of everyone and feeling like they're on their own doing that, and I think it is hard. I don't know that we have enough supports in place for men to feel like they can turn towards friends or family members and say, “This is a lot.” And I think to such point, which was, to me, a pretty important point is that Mom often doesn't have the capacity to give support to Dad in those moments. The person they typically have gone to and have this intimate bond with, is really not available. I think we're also talking about Dads can feel pretty isolated, and also feel like the person I have gone to I don't have and they also sometimes have this experience of really missing their partner. Because partner’s very focused on Baby, which is a develop mentally appropriate, but still hard for Dad.
Dr. Lisa: Yeah, yeah, no, thank you so much for acknowledging that and just like the loss, to your point, like it's a loss of life and of identity. But also in some ways to lose at least to the partner that you have known, in the way that you have known them, and that maybe the partner is going through sadness or, Jessica, like you said really like focused on keeping this Baby alive. And also the really challenging aspects of this, like in your training the other day, you mentioned like even breast feeding — sounds simple but no, it can be so difficult and painful, and have all these emotional things attached to them. I mean there is a lot going on and then, you have this poor man over here and like, “Hi, yeah. You want to talk?” “No!” And that's just so hard, yeah. We talked the other day about feelings that men might have through this experience, like missing their wife, or feeling like they can even be a little bit jealous of all of the time and attention that their wife is giving the baby and some men feel like their wives are angry with them sort of inexplicably in the first few weeks and months after baby comes, or longer. Well let's just go into these one at a time. I mean, can you say a little bit more about why men may experience their wives as being angry with them, in a way that feels surprising to them?
Seth: I would say that that's a great question, and I think it's unique for every couple. But I would say, the early days of being a mom are very, very difficult. The breastfeeding, the constant changing of diapers, the burping, the sleep schedule. And I would say Mom gets very, very exhausted and frustrated, and that can lead to trigger behaviors such as anger or such as criticism or whatnot. Because especially for Mom, you’re so emotionally fried because you're trying to keep your baby alive, you see or you're very worried that you're not doing a good job. There's a lot of doubt that can come in and a lot of fear that can come in, especially in those early, early days of having a kid, where Mom is just trying to keep it together the best they can.
Dr. Lisa: Yeah, and not sleeping, like just as you were saying that, like the whole, the feeding of the baby around the clock and it's not just the first few months, I mean for many women that can be many months through it but that is a real struggle. There's all stuff going on that makes Mom more tense, shall we say, is that the right word?
Seth: Tensed, escalated, fried — whatever word you want to use, that's what Mom is going through. And I think that's what fathers need to be able to access going into this, is that, hey as rough as it is for father, and it's plenty rough, it's that much more difficult for Mom because like you said, Mom is the point person, Mom is the one doing the feeding, and Mom is the one who joins first, and if there's troubles with that, that can be really scary and really anxiety-producing, and in whatever words you might want to use. I think in those early days, Moms are just trying to do what they can to feel connected and to feel like they're doing what they're supposed to be doing.
Dr. Lisa: Yeah well and you put such a good point and Jessica, I'd love to get your take on this too, is that the emotional experience of a Mom, is you’re going to be like hanging on by the skin of their teeth, maybe shorter communication, like there's tension. But Seth, I think what I’m hearing you say is that they might not actually be mad at their partners, they’re just sort of might be an expression of what they're going through. Would you agree with that Jessica? Or do you think that no, no, actually, sometimes she actually is mad at you.
Jessica: Yes, yeah that's what I was going to say, yes and no. I mean I think Seth hit on some great points, and I loved and appreciated his acknowledgement that it is hard for Dad. But let's be honest, it is harder for Mom. Mom is recovering from the trauma of childbirth. Mom is the one that's typically in charge of feeding, as Seth said, mom is trying to keep baby alive. And I was thinking, “And herself.” Sometimes those two things feel like a lot to really accomplish in a day. I do think that, yes Mom, I think the term emotionally fried is really a perfect way to capture what it feels like to be newly postpartum. I think that sometimes Mom may actually not be mad at her partner, she may just be projecting maybe some of the anger and frustration she's feeling around trying to take on this new role. Maybe it's the exhaustion, maybe it's struggling with breastfeeding and projecting a little bit onto the safe person who is her partner versus onto Baby.
And sometimes, Moms are mad at their partners. Moms really do feel angry that their partner is not stepping up in a way that they need them to step up, whether that's taking on additional household responsibilities, attending to her a little bit more, really making sure she has what she needs, that she doesn't feel totally in-charge of all nighttime feedings, of all diaper changes, of all washing, of all the pumping stuff and all the bottles and making sure formula’s in the house if a baby is formula fed, that sometimes Moms are really wanting and needing more from their partners, and struggling to maybe express that in a way that their partner can hear or maybe partner is struggling to actually hear the need.
Dr. Lisa: Yeah, you're speaking to that, Jessica, that the word that's coming up is the emotional energy that can lead relationships to feel out of balance sometimes. And what you're saying is that Mom can't be the one who does all the things and thinks about everything and asks for everything, that there needs to be this involvement and attention from her partner to kind of anticipate needs and take on some of that emotional energy. And when that feels out of balance, that is one big reason when anger can show up.
Jessica: Yes, that's exactly what I'm talking about, that emotional labor and really needing it to feel — I wouldn't even hesitate to say balanced because I think for a period of time, it will feel out of balance. And that Dad may take on more because Mom is doing more than her fair share, but it's around keeping Baby alive. Yeah.
Dr. Lisa: Yeah, that makes a ton of sense. And I think that this is a nice segue into talking more about the challenges of maintaining a healthy relationship, which I mean, you guys have all said, both people are going through so much all at the same time. Like who's taking care of who, and then there's this whole reshuffling of the entire family dynamic. Jessica, you mentioned the other day in your training that John Gottman calls this the marriage crisis. Now, what did you say, post-baby marital crisis? Is that the term?
Jessica: That sounds about right.
Dr. Lisa: So many things and one of the points that often comes up, I think, in my couples counseling sessions, is the impact of the change in sexuality. In not just the weeks, but oftentimes months or longer after a baby is born, that a couple had connected around specific things, like sexuality being one, going out and doing fun things together, just them could be another one that all of a sudden, they don't have. But going back to the sexuality point, and a lot of men, I think, seek to reconnect with our partners, sexually. But this becomes very fraught for many women in the postpartum period. And Jessica, I'm wondering if you can speak a little bit about why that is from the female perspective?
Jessica: Sure, I think there's a lot of reasons why that is true. I mean, I think some of it is that as Moms are adjusting into that role of Mom The role of Mom and sexuality are not always a great match. In order to feel sexual, often Moms need to be able to exit out of their Mom role and into their marital role. And when you are deep in the trenches with new Baby, it's very hard to make that transition. And then we also have these other basic issues of sleep deprivation, feeling agitated or irritable because of emotional hormone shifts, that these things make it harder to have desire for sexual intimacy with their partner. There's also something to the fact that your body changes pretty dramatically with pregnancy and being postpartum. And that I think there is often insecurity. And some, feeling of hesitation around being in your body postpartum and having your partner see your body postpartum, touch your body postpartum. Also, I think, I often hear Moms talk about this experience of feeling being touched out, that they're like, I've had a baby on me all day. And the last thing I want is your hands on me as well. Really wanting to feel in control of their own body and feeling they get a say over, being touched. And then I think also, it is a little bit uncomfortable for many women to be nursing and feeling like, actually, my boobs are off limits. These are mine.
Dr. Lisa: Do not touch my boobs, under any circumstances.
Jessica: These are not for you, anymore. I think, there’s a lot of components to it. And then also, depending on how some of that emotional labor is being handled. That if there's additional components of feeling resentment, of feeling like, hey, I need you to actually take care of me, in order to feel like I can have space for desire, and that's not happening. That could be impacting things as well.
Dr. Lisa: Absolutely, yes. And also, too, I think this is true for other people. Nature does not want you to get pregnant immediately after having a child for very, very good, biologically reasonable reasons. Hormonally, I know that many women can experience a real difference in desire for all of the reasons that you described, but also, hormonally, it's like, “Mm-hmm, no, we're just not going to do that for a while.” But Seth, I'm wondering if this is a topic that's come up, either with your individual male clients in therapy or in couples counseling, how do you think male partners perceive this? Do they get all of that that Jessica is describing? Or do they just feel like they're being rejected?
Seth: I would say the vast majority of my male partners, my couples, have been understanding about that situation, but not necessarily… They’re understanding of the situation, but not at the magnitude. And something else I want to add to what Jessica was saying was, if the mother has had a difficult pregnancy, like hours of labor, C-section, infections, things like that, it takes so much time for the body to heal from that. And, I can say, from my own experience, our doctor said, “Well, a C-section is the only time when someone experiences major surgery, and then is expected to go home and take care of someone else.” I think there's a lot of factors involved.
But there are certain clients where that is a big problem, though, and I think it goes back to the piece of your old life, your wife before Baby. It was much easier to initiate sexual contact, it wasn't much easier to have that accepted, or vice versa. And it's not like that anymore, it takes time for that to come back. And if you've had a difficult delivery, then it takes even more time. And I think the misconception is that for some men, it’s like, ”Okay, after two or three weeks, things will be back to normal.” And that's not really how it works. I mean, if things are never exactly the way it was before, and there's always some sort of change, whether it's minute or whether it's very, very visible, it's not the same.
I think, what I generally work with my couples and with the male partners, and the situation is acceptance around the idea of like, it's going to be different. That doesn't assume it's going to be worse. But it's going to be different, because it has to be different. Because everything has changed. It also goes back to a fear of change that's just in general that many men do have. I think that there's a lot of components to the question, but I think overall, and perhaps I've been lucky, but that the majority of my male partners have at least worked hard to be as understanding as they can.
Dr. Lisa: Yeah, that's great. And I think, what you're beginning to sort of talk about, and we should talk more about this, but how do you rebuild a new normal that incorporates the realities of this life, but are also good and enjoyable for everyone? And Jessica, you brought up something the other day and I was like, “Oh so glad you said that.” We were talking about how couples bond and build relationships many times around time together and shared activities, doing fun things and for many couples, after the birth of first child is like hard stop on that. And Baby is one thing but we all know it doesn't get better when you have a toddler, it's like you're trying to have a conversation with your partner. One of, I think, that the common pieces of advice particularly from — and I’m using my air quotes here — are “couple’s counselors,” who oftentimes that, I hate to say this, but really do not have a strong background in marriage and family therapy, is advising couples to, “Oh. Just go on a date night. You guys need more time together.” And Jessica, you had just such a wonderful perspective on this and why it really needs to be a little bit more robust. Would you mind sharing your perspective?
How to Keep Relationship Strong After Having a Baby
Jessica: Sure. I really struggle with that advice of “Go on a date.”
Dr. Lisa: So bad.
Jessica: I think I had it in capital letters in five presentations like…
Dr. Lisa: Bold capital letters.
Jessica: “Do not tell couples to do this.” Because we're just setting them up to feel unsuccessful, that you have such limited resources typically in those early years truly, of being a new parent. Date nights, while lovely, are not what's required in order to create reconnection. I think starting with really small manageable ways to connect. Sometimes it's truly having a moment to give each other a hug, that's where this starts. It's not about spending $100 on a babysitter and going out to dinner and feeling like you're going to fall asleep through the whole meal. It is about just having a hug, having five minutes where you look at each other and have a conversation that's not about your baby. That sometimes it might be something along the lines of saying to your partner, “Just sit with me and watch the show with me while I nurse.” Or that your partner supports you by washing all the pump parts and bring them to you. And then you can have a quick conversation as you're feeding a baby a bottle. That these are just these little tiny Moments for connection between couples and finding five minutes, 30 seconds, not looking for hours.
Dr. Lisa: Yeah, that is such great advice.
Seth: And what's interesting about that point, Jessica, is that that's often what's missing in the relationship before the baby comes.
Dr. Lisa: Oooh, Seth, say what?
Seth: Well, with the whole lovely “Which is peace is really no physical touch, acts of service, time together, words of affirmation, giving gifts — small gifts, and things like that. That's often what's missing before the baby even comes, and when the baby is there, it takes up so much attention, it becomes much more glaring when that's missing. Those bits for connection that we assume couples have before the child is even born, often aren't there. With our work with couples it's often about building that before the baby is born, just so it doesn't come down to hiring a babysitter and spending $100, and with the chance of not having a good time at that dinner because we're worried about Baby, right? The smaller bits for connection are really crucial, and I totally agree with Jessica, with that point. But that's often what's missing in the relationship anyway.
Dr. Lisa: Wonderful, and going back to that idea about many times when people unfortunately come into couples counseling it is that crisis — they've had a baby and they're six months into it and there wasn't that before, Seth, and there is definitely not that now, and it feels like a major issue. But I’m hearing you say, wouldn't it be wonderful if people almost did premarital counseling except before Baby to make sure that they're in a good place before welcoming a child, and those are wonderful pieces of advice. And I’ll add too as I’m sort of scrolling back through some of the couples that I’ve worked with on this issue. I think it can also be really helpful to help couples and just in that rebuilding of connection after Baby, to really prioritize emotional safety, in the sense of having it be okay to not be okay. Like, is it okay to say, “I really miss our old life,” and not have somebody freak out and be mad at you for saying that, or be like, “What do you mean, are you sad that we had our baby?” Like, how do we sort of hold the space for each other to talk about the full experience that we're having even that. And Jessica, going back to what you're saying, a 10- or 15-minute conversation, but when you're talking about those real feelings can be enormously reconnective. And to your point, Seth, really deepen the relationship, maybe even deeper than it was before, because you're talking about the shared experience and really, real things. Yeah.
Jessica: Yeah, I couldn't agree more, Lisa. I just want to touch on that for a second. Because I think this is one of the things that couples struggle with is that one person says, “I miss getting to go do this.” And the other person tries to fix it and ends up invalidating their partner, and it’s a missed opportunity for connection. Because there's going to be moments of sadness and grief and loss, and all that is normal. And none of it means you don't like your baby or want to have your baby still. Finding those opportunities to align and connect are huge.
My Husband Ignores Me After Having Baby
Dr. Lisa: Well said, yeah. I know that we don't have a ton of time left together. But I wanted to run something past you. We had a listener question come through, I believe this one came through on Instagram. I'm going to throw this one at you. And I want you to think about and of course, again, solving this is beyond the scope of a podcast. This is what we might do over several weeks, if not months of actual couples counseling. But here's the question, “My husband and I had a fabulous relationship and marriage until the birth of our son about two years ago.” The writer says that she experienced baby blues, perhaps kind of venturing into postpartum depression territory. And she says, “We've really struggled as a couple to manage this transition to becoming parents.” She says, “It stops feeling like we're good partners for each other, we're having trouble working as a team. And I feel like we can't keep going like this, I want to improve our communication. I want to feel like we're in love again, and work together, and be this happy little family that we always dreamed about. But it feels so hard just to reconnect and get back on track.”
This is a very common feeling for a lot of couples in the situation on both sides. If you were starting to see them as a marriage counselor, or relationship coach, what do you imagine the arc of the work forward would involve?
Jessica: I can speak to that a little bit. I'm trying to process. The first thing that really stands out to me is that, when a couple comes into me and says, “We had this fabulous marriage, and we've struggled in the transition.” the piece that I would focus on is, where are all those strengths? Because if you had a fabulous marriage, it means it's all in there somewhere — that the things that you probably were doing when you felt like you had this fabulous marriage are maybe not happening anymore. Looking at, and this is something this particular person could do potentially without a therapist, at least to begin the work, is to think about what was working for us then? And how do we start to transition that now. Maybe they recognize, “Oh, we cooked dinner together every night. Well, let's see if we can figure out a way to cook more together. Or maybe one day a week, we find a way to do that with one another.” Or, “We were taking walks regularly. Well, babies go in a stroller. Let's put that baby in a stroller and take a walk.” Really trying to find those strengths and seeing if you can bring them back into the relationship. I would also imagine that there's been — some maybe what we would term — like attachment wounds and the relationship over the past two years, which are these Moments where you felt hurt, invalidated, felt like your partner struggled to be there for you, to see if you can attend to those wounds and actively heal them in order to move forward. And I think also start to build a vision for what you want this life as a family, if I'm imagining three of them, now together to look like, and creating a path and steps forward to creating that — this family that you really desire.
Dr. Lisa: Yeah, yeah. So you're saying reconnecting with a strength and what are the easiest things that you can do just to begin to draw some of that back in. But Jessica, you said something so insightful, which is, where's the hurt? We're going to have to talk about how we hurt each other over the last couple of years, maybe without meaning to. But that is so important, because that can really rid a lot of not just distance but resentment. And then, once that's done, then we can talk about what we want this to look like going forward. Seth, I see you nodding your head. Is that what you would do with those couples, or something different?
Preparing for Fatherhood: Improve Communication
Seth: I think the strength space focus is definitely creates a really good baseline of, okay, this was what was going well, but jumping off the attachment wound piece, I would assume that this couple that discussions and conversations about the problems that they're having are not going well. A lot of the work that I would do would be to help the couple map out these interactions together. And basically, okay, so during your disagreements, this is happening, this is happening, and it's surface level, and you're bouncing off of each other, and there's no validation here. What can we do to change that? Basically, think going back to how we hurt each other. Those are tough conversations to have, that's a really scary conversation to have. Creating a safe place and a safe framework to be able to express the pain and own the pain and to have it validated by your partner, without resorting to defensiveness or criticism or anything like that, which is not an easy task.
But I think, a lot of the work I would do with this type of couple would be to slow down the interactions, slow it down, process, and find out what's actually fueling these disagreements — what's actually happening here? And a lot of that may have to do with the hurt, there may be some fear involved with that. There may be some past trauma regarding family involved with that. So that there's a lot of things that you can build empathy on, rather than build resentment about as long as the couple can work on having those conversations in a safe and healing way.
Dr. Lisa: Yeah. Well, you bring up so many good points. And I think that sometimes couples can have these conversations on their own. People don't always need marriage counseling. But I think Seth, you bring up such a good point, is that if it always sort of disintegrates and turns into something either unproductive or not resolved.You create that safe space, where people can talk about the really hard things, and have it be productive. Going into those hurt places for the purpose of healing them. But Seth, you also talked about something which I think is phenomenally important, which is figuring out where, in that communication, are things going astray? Like okay, so you said this, and then this happened. Unpacking it like, what were you telling yourself in the Moment when your husband placed the glass on the counter? What meaning did you make of that? And really kind of unfolding it so that people can see what is actually happening in those communication patterns, and then be able to make intentional choices. Because you’re right, Seth. I think, sometimes when couples, particularly when there’s just sort of resentment and limited time together, things happen so fast, and people just have these knee jerk reactions to each other. And all of a sudden, you're yelling at each other, or somebody's slamming the bathroom door, nobody quite knows how it happened. But Seth, I'm hearing that that would be a really powerful area to work in is what is this attached to? And how can we understand this and do it a little bit differently in sort of practicing it in our conversations and couples counseling? But okay, go try it at home. Yeah, is that?
Seth: Absolutely. The meaning and the symbolism of things or things that happen or things that don't go very well between a couple, no matter what the topic is, the meaning and the symbolism is usually more emotionally important than the actual topic. It's really not about taking out the trash, it's about what it means when you don't take out the trash. And there's so much that could be involved with that, and with the work that I would do, it's to help get that out and to help get heard and to help get empathy into the equation rather than my partner's always getting angry at me for no reason.
Dr. Lisa: No reason. Good advice. And this is what we do with a lot of couples, but how vitally important to be having these kinds of conversations in, ideally, that's to your point the days leading up to having a new baby. But certainly, afterwards because there's so much to talk about.
Yeah, thank you both so much for spending this time with me today and talking about this incredibly important topic. I know that we were looking at some of the darker aspects of this and there's a lot of joy and wonderful things about having a baby too. But thank you for illuminating your perspective on some of the realities of it that can catch individuals and couples off guard. I think that you probably really helped a couple of young families that may have listened to this podcast today. And I hope it sparks some discussion around the kitchen table.
We couldn’t have anticipated what 2020 would bring, for many of us it’s been a time of massive change, forcing us to practice flexibility, coping, and adaptability (that’s a lot of new skills!). In my work with clients who are expecting, this has been especially challenging. Whether this is your first or fifth pregnancy, it’s everyone's’ first pregnancy during a pandemic. As an expecting mother myself, I can understand the unique stressors the current circumstances present to pregnant women.
In supporting clients (and going through this myself), I wanted to share two areas of focus that can help you have a positive pregnancy experience amidst a global pandemic: How to Renegotiate Your Expectations and Skills You Can Apply to Better Navigate the Challenging Emotional Terrain that is Pregnancy during a pandemic.
Renegotiating Your Expectations
If you’re like me, you may have pictured being pregnant as a time to be shared with family and friends and a time to celebrate, maybe you pictured, traveling somewhere special with your partner during your last months as a family of two (or three, or four, or five…)! Then Covid happened and what you pictured needed to shift. The unfortunate truth is, the plan you may have hoped for likely won’t be as conducive to the new reality. Changing expectations can be challenging, but the good news is we know what can help with this!
1)Grieving the ambiguous loss: You may be grieving (feeling anger, shock, sadness, etc) the pregnancy you’d imagined.
Although this doesn't feel pleasant, it’s okay to allow these feelings of loss to exist. If you feel a sense of sadness when planning your virtual baby shower (or perhaps are for-going a baby shower altogether), allow yourself space and time to experience your emotional reality.
This may involve talking with someone you trust about what you’re feeling, journaling, or just finding time to check in with yourself.
2)Develop a new, more present-focused vision: Reflect on what are more reasonable expectations, for right now. What can you focus on today or even this week that feels grounded in your reality?
For example, your baby shower may not be how you’d originally envisioned, but what are other (more realistic options) for how you can create an experience you will cherish?
3)Adjust unhelpful thoughts: It’s easy to get stuck in the negative (in fact, humans are prone to do this). If you find yourself dwelling on potential catastrophic outcomes, remember all outcomes exist on a spectrum.
What are more positive possible outcomes? Shift your focus- this doesn’t mean avoid your feelings and worries, it’s an exercise in looking at what else exists within your emotional experience that could be more helpful).
4)Find Gratitude and Reframe: What about this experience is working for you? For example, maybe you and your partner are both working from home, allowing you to fully experience this pregnancy together (which you wouldn’t have been able to do previously).
Perhaps, it has allowed you to involve out-of-state family members in more meaningful and creative ways. Whatever the case may be, find what is true for you and focus energy toward this reframe.
You’re likely experiencing a mixed bag of emotions (perhaps, exacerbated by the expected hormonal shifts). You may notice feeling happy and grateful, while also feeling sadness or anxiety, then maybe guilt (because you should be happy all the time right now, right?). Wrong! You can feel what you feel.
Control what you can control: Try to focus on what is within your control (we know, worrying about the other “stuff” doesn’t work as well). I know, easier said than done.
Try setting daily intentions that allow you to feel safe, secure, and connected to your growing little one. For some this may mean taking ownership over their prenatal health routine (cooking and workouts), for others this might mean cleaning their home.
Seek support: This is an opportunity to find healthy ways to lean on your social support network. Attempting to overcome these challenges in isolation, can make the experience feel even more daunting! Identify loved ones you can reach out to.
You might also consider trying to connect with an Online Mothers Group. Talking with others who have a similar shared experience can be a powerful emotional outlet. Of course, you could also consider seeking the support of a counselor too!
Focus on developing your coping skills (specifically related to stress management): Take inventory of your current toolbox: what currently helps you to manage stress effectively and are there other ways we can expand your skillset?
Perhaps this includes deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, listening to music, cooking, or going on walks. There are a plethora of stress management tools at your fingertips. Your challenge is to figure out what works best for you!
Focus on your values: Sometimes, shifting focus and concentrating on coming back into contact with what feels truly meaningful and important to us can help us to better manage discomfort.
For example, becoming focused on details that are less important in the grand scheme of things (and, maybe not even in our control anyway), can create emotional discomfort. Instead, try to zoom out and look at what feels most important. For example, perhaps you’re noticing an increase in stress when researching the gazillion car seat options available to you (between the aesthetics of it, installing it, weight limitations, cost, safety ratings, convertibility as your little one ages, it’s overwhelming).
Zoom out and look at the big picture – your primary concern may be safety. Re-focus your efforts to emphasize the priorities vs. getting stuck in the details.
Hold space: What are your feelings telling you? Feelings are data points. They are giving us clues to better help us understand our internal experience.
What are your clues telling you?
Make room for your feelings to exist and approach them with compassion. Attempt to use these data points to inform your next steps.
For example, if you notice sadness creeping in, explore and inspect this feeling. Once you identify where it’s coming from and why it’s showing up, you can focus on what’s within your control to foster relief.
A Final Note
For those of you struggling with pregnancy brain fog (like me), here’s the cliff notes version of how to manage the unique stressors accompanying your pandemic pregnancy:
Adjust your expectations and stay grounded in your reality, not just the hard moments, but also the good moments.
This time has brought great change, some of which is undoubtedly good. Try to honor this by reframing, addressing unhelpful thoughts, and allowing room for your grief experience.
Productively Navigate Your Feelings by acknowledging them, seeking support, and further developing your personal coping skills/tools.
I know this is a challenging time, pregnancy is hard no matter which way you slice it. However, it is also magical, exciting, and a time of tremendous change and growth.
I’m hopeful these tips may assist you in having a beautiful, and dare I say, fun pregnancy experience! You got this mamma!
Rachel Hill, M.A., LPC, LMFT helps you find passion and joy in yourself and your relationships. She supports you in creating meaning and happiness, and not only facing your challenges — but triumphantly overcoming them.
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Start your journey of growth today by scheduling a free consultation.
If you're ready for change, don't waste your time on resolutions. Instead, focus your energy on cultivating the one keystone habit that will transform everything. Learn how, on this episode of the Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.
Do you wish you knew what’s really going on in your partner’s head or how your coworkers actually feel about you? This episode of the podcast is all about learning how to read people, so that you can pick up on the things that aren’t being said.
Emotional flooding makes you say things you regret, or withdraw and avoid. Both can be disastrous for a relationship. Learn how to manage emotional flooding on this episode of the Love, Happiness and Success podcast.
Gentle parenting is an approach that is centered on mutual empathy and understanding. While some parenting techniques follow certain guidelines and rules, gentle parenting is more of a “way of being” that promotes feelings of security and inspires positive growth for both the child and the parent!
Gentle Parenting: Where to Start
In order to use gentle parenting effectively, it is important that parents first explore their own anxieties and insecurities. There is no such thing as a perfect parent. We all bring with us experiences that could get in the way of us gently approaching our kiddos.
Maybe you had a parent who yelled at you when you were young, so when your child yells at you, it creates feelings of anxiety? Or maybe you had an absent parent, and your fear of not being enough for your child is crippling because you know how hard that can be?
The truth is since no parent is perfect we all bring baggage to the table, BUT the more aware of this baggage we are, the better able we are to deal with it and be fully present with our children!
Why Does Gentle Parenting Work?
Gentle parenting is thought to be successful, because it “meets children where they’re at” developmentally versus expecting them to master skills that even some adults can’t get right! When we can meet a child where they’re at, we acknowledge that their behaviors are what is expected based on their brain development, which means that we need to address those behaviors in a way that makes the most sense to the child.
Rather than pathologizing “bad behavior,” it acknowledges that children behave in ways that just make sense given their needs in that moment. Parents ask themselves, “what is my child trying to communicate to me in this moment?” For example, a child who is screaming in a busy grocery store may be feeling overwhelmed by the chaotic environment, is hungry or tired, or might be needing reassurance from his/her parent that they are safe.
Although some would look at this behavior as simply unacceptable, gentle parenting suggests that there is always a logical reason why children act the way they do and when we can find out “why” we can support them better through that unwanted behavior, which ultimately builds mutual trust and respect!
Although gentle parenting is helpful for many families, parents may encounter some challenges with this approach: First, some parents might be so focused on meeting their child where they’re at that it can be tempting to become overly permissive and allow all behaviors to play out without setting appropriate boundaries.
Second, gentle parenting requires significant self-control as a parent, which could be too difficult for some parents with unresolved experiences or past trauma, or those who have a hard time regulating their own stress.
In this case, it may be helpful to speak with someone, like an online therapist or coach, who can help you through those barriers so that you can be more present and attentive to your child. As a parenting coach and family therapist, I have found it helpful to work with many parents on their own reactions to their children and where that reaction comes from while implementing gentle parenting.
Gentle Parenting and Discipline
Some people believe gentle parenting to be too “soft” and absent of discipline. However this is not the case! In fact, gentle parenting views discipline as a necessary tool to teach children not only how to behave but how to have good relationships with others. After all, the word “discipline” means “to teach.”
Discipline in gentle parenting first involves reassuring the child that you love them by meeting the child’s needs and then offering clear and consistent boundaries in order to promote safety and security. There is no traditional positive or negative reinforcement in gentle parenting, but rather the focus is on connecting because the more connected we feel to our parent, the more we trust that their boundaries are good for us.
I once heard someone say, “the most important thing for your child to hear after ‘I love you’ is ‘I won’t let you’.” Gentle Parenting is just that: a balance of firmness and kindness.
To tackle a tantrum, gentle parenting suggests:
Getting down to their level (literally) and reassure them that they are allowed to feel emotions!
Provide empathy by actively listening to what is making them feel so upset (even if it seems ridiculous to you), and then…
Naming how they are feeling so that they can better communicate that feeling in the future. The goal is not to prevent or redirect all negative emotions. The goal is to help teach your child how to communicate and deal with negative emotions when they happen.
Gentle Parenting a Strong-Willed Child
How do you practice gentle parenting with a strong-willed child? Patience and empathy! Think about it this way, if someone is repeating the same darn thing to you they must REALLY need you to understand what they’re saying. The same is true for children who are strong-willed. They may think they know what is best so they fight you to convince you that their way is better.
Ultimately, they need to understand that as the adult and parent, you actually know better! AND that you’re willing to hear them and respect them, that their feelings matter, and you’re there to support them. But supporting them doesn’t have to mean you’ll do everything they ask… I think we can all agree most of the time candy for dinner isn’t actually the best idea!
Just remember, consistency is key! Keep redirecting towards boundaries AND reassuring them that they can trust you as their parent because you care about them. The next time your child doesn’t want to go to bed, try saying “I love you so much and I see that you are having fun and want to stay up, but I won’t let you stay up past your bedtime because your body needs sleep”.
What to Do When Your Family and Friends Disagree with Your Gentle Parenting Style
In my work with parents, I am asked questions like “what if my parents or friends disagree with my parenting style – what if they don’t believe gentle parenting works?” And, “how can I build necessary boundaries without hurting my relationships?”
No matter what parenting style you choose there’s likely to be people who disagree with you. This doesn’t mean you have to conform to their parenting style or cut them out of your life. True to gentle parenting, kindness and firmness can be helpful tools in navigating these conversations.
Just like children, grown-ups are more likely to respect your point of view when they feel their opinions are heard. So, try starting with asking them why they choose to parent differently. Be curious and kind just as you would with your own child, and then offer your own perspective. It may also be helpful to point to some resources, scientific studies, or specific examples of how gentle parenting has helped your family.
If you are still met with opposition, that’s okay! Disagreeing on parenting styles is not worth losing people you care about. The important thing is that you’ve found a way of parenting that works for you. At this point, find your inner “gentle parent” and communicate “I love you, and I won’t let you”– tell that person how much you care about them and their relationship, but you won’t let them treat you poorly or let a disagreement affect your relationship with them.
Many families have found gentle parenting to be solace in a world of parenting do’s and don'ts. The families I’ve worked with have discovered that this style of parenting not only helped their children learn new positive behaviors, but they’ve also found their parent-child relationship is stronger! My hope for you is that you might find gentle parenting to be just as meaningful.
Georgi Chizk, M.S., LAMFT is a warm, compassionate marriage counselor, individual therapist and family therapist who creates a safe and supportive space for you to find meaning in your struggles, realize your self-worth, and cultivate healthy connections with the most important people in your life.
If you are interested in learning more about the gentle parenting approach or would like support in your parenting journey, Georgi is an excellent parenting coach and family therapist.
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Love Without Borders: Cross Cultural Relationships
Is There a Culture-Clash in Your Relationship?
How to Deal With Cultural Differences in a Relationship
As a marriage counselor and couples therapist l know that all relationships bring a variety of challenges and opportunities for growth. At the same time, some couples — particularly those in cross-cultural relationships — feel that they have further to go in bridging the gap. Cross-cultural couples can have vastly different relationship expectations regarding gender roles in the home, the role of extended family, how to communicate, and so much more. While, ultimately, the diversity of their union can lead to an enormously strong and healthy relationship, couples from very different cultural or racial backgrounds sometimes need to work harder to create understanding and compromise.
For the record, it is important to note that everyone comes into a relationship from a different family of origin that had its own values, belief system, internal culture and way of doing things. Even individuals who may, on a surface level, appear to be of similar backgrounds may have had entirely different “family cultures” that are influencing their expectations in their relationship with their partner. (This is the underlying reason why financial therapy for couples is so necessary!)
One big strength for interracial couples and international couples is an overt awareness that they need to openly discuss and respect these differences in order to achieve congruence. In contrast, couples who make the mistake of assuming that their partner’s life experiences were similar to their own run the risk of having unspoken assumptions and expectations lead to conflict and hurt feelings. Knowing from the outset that you both have perspectives, values and expectations that are simultaneously both different and equally valuable is a huge asset.
Navigating Cultural Differences in a Relationship
It’s very easy for couples to get entrenched in conflict rooted in a core belief of “right and wrong” when it comes to how to approach various aspects of their shared life. This can be especially true around hot-button issues such as:
These are points of conflict for many couples. However, if a couple in a bicultural marriage or with a multicultural family background has very different life experiences that they each wish to replicate in their marriage with each other… the battles can get fierce and even nasty. In contrast, cross-cultural couples who approach each other from a place of sensitivity and openness to understanding have the opportunity to learn and grow, celebrate their differences, and take the highest and best from both of their backgrounds in order to create a unique, beautiful blended culture in their new family, together.
Relationship Advice From Cross Cultural Marriage Counselors
To tackle these questions, and provide some direction for how to begin bridging the gap and building bridges to the center, I’ve asked some multicultural relationship experts to join me for this episode of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast. Relationship coach Dr. Georgiana Spradling, MFT,Tania Chikhani, M.A, and Teresa Thomas, M.A., are marriage counselors who often work with cross-cultural couples and interracial couples, and have great relationship advice for how to create peace and harmony in your gloriously diverse family.
Specifically, we’ll discuss:
Why cross-cultural couples often get into power struggles about various aspects of their shared life.
The shift in perspective that can help you restore the empathy in your relationship and understand each other more deeply.
How to find ways of creating agreement, while simultaneously honoring and appreciating your differences.
How couples with different expectations of extended family roles can find balance between boundaries and togetherness.
Whether you're in an interracial relationship, blending a multicultural family, or simply coming to terms that you and your seemingly-similar partner are actually coming into your relationship with very different perspectives, the perspective of marriage counseling experts Dr. Georgiana, Teresa and Tania can help. I hope you join us — click the player below to listen to the conversation!
Tania Chikhani is a Relationship and Career Specialist with an M.A. in Clinical Psychology, and an MBA in Global Business and Marketing. She has specific training in marriage and family therapy and relationship coaching, as well as mindfulness coaching, career coaching, executive coaching, and life coaching.
Her specialty is helping you create happiness and success in all areas of your life. Her work is focused on enabling you to create and maintain passionate and fulfilling relationships while continuing to thrive in your career. She is known for seeing the love and joy that’s possible for you, and for your relationships, even through your darkest days. Read Tania’s full bio…
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