September 18, 2023

Alice Part 2 of 3: When Your Life Is Full Of Shoulds

This is part 2 of the 3 part series with Alice who is parenting her two boys Dan, 9 years old and Jake, 6 years old.

Alice is coming to this therapy session feeling overwhelmed and not having the time and focus to do what we talked about in the previous session. Parenting IS overwhelming and its very likely that many of you also feel overwhelmed. We unpack those feelings and discuss strategies to help Alice stay present in her parenting. You can’t do it all. And sometimes we just need permission to let go of other people’s expectations.

Time Stamps 

14:13 Being overwhelmed by thoughts, beliefs and shoulds: Is that adding any value?

17:35 The difference between mindfulness and meditation

18:03 Definition of mindfulness

14:13 Being overwhelmed by thoughts, beliefs and shoulds:  Is that adding any value?

17:35 The difference between mindfulness and meditation

18:03 Definition of mindfulness

20:52 Understanding the doing mind vs the being mind

23:09 Identifying a parenting myth: “It only counts if we are interacting together”

24:25 Connection is the foundation of your parent-child relationship

26:35 Examples of how to “be” present with your children

31:35 The richness of diversity between the parents

33:50 What to do with nagging thoughts 

37:49 Take another look at politeness

38:46 Are you modeling politeness: Do you actions speak louder than words

40:50 How to cue a child to develop their manners without shaming them

Understanding the doing mind vs the being mind

23:09 Identifying a parenting myth: “It only counts if we are interacting together”

24:25 Connection is the foundation of your parent-child relationship

26:35 Examples of how to “be” present with your children

31:35 The richness of diversity between the parents

33:50 What to do with nagging thoughts

37:49 Take another look at politeness

38:46 Are you modeling politeness: Do you actions speak louder than words

40:50 How to cue a child to develop their manners without shaming them

Show Note Links

  • A short video of Jon Kabat Zinn who describes mindfulness 

  • Handout on Being Mind and Doing Mind

  • A short video on Balancing the Doing Mind and the Being Mind

Leslie-ism: Being present is more important than being perfect.

Credits: Is My Child a Monster is produced by Alletta Cooper, Dale Rubury, and Leslie Cohen-Rubury. Theme music is by L-Ray Music. Public relations is handled by Tink Media. Graphics and Website Design by Brien O’Reilly. by Eric Rubury. A special thanks to everyone who contributes their wisdom and support to make this possible.


0:05  Alice:  You’re taking the shoulds off my shoulders. It’s like being able to lean back into that faith of like, we’re doing it right. And it’s okay.

0:22  Leslie Cohen-Rubury:  This is, Is My Child A Monster?, a parenting therapy podcast where you get to listen in, as real parents and caregivers share their trials and tribulations in therapy sessions recorded live. I’m your host, Leslie Cohen-Rubury. I’m a parent and a therapist with 37 years of experience helping families navigate this question. And no, your child is not a monster. 

As a reminder, all the names and identifying information have been changed. And this show is for informational purposes only, and is not a substitute for therapeutic intervention. 

Okay, today I am joined again by Alice in her second of three sessions. She’s a recently divorced mother of two boys, Dan, who is nine and Jake, who is six. Since I last saw Alice, she’s been overwhelmed by life and adjusting to being a single parent. Her desire to follow through on some of the suggestions from her last session added to this feeling of overwhelm. Alice actually postponed this session, because she felt like she hadn’t done enough since the first time we met. 

There are many parents who put so much pressure on themselves as Alice does. And throughout this session, you’ll hear her relief when I tell her it’s okay to let go of some of these expectations. In this episode, we talk about feeling like a failure, and how societal pressures can make parents doubt themselves. Parenting is overwhelming. And it’s very likely that many of you also feel overwhelmed. We unpack those feelings and discuss strategies to help Alice stay present in her parenting. You can’t do it all. And sometimes we just need permission to let go of other people’s expectations. There’s a lot more to this session. So let’s get started. 

Leslie:  Hi, Alice, it’s good to see you again.

2:28  Alice:  Hi, Leslie. Thanks for having me back.

2:30  Leslie:  Well, what happened in this time period, since I’ve seen you, and where you are right now?

2:36  Alice:  You know, honestly, I feel like I maybe shouldn’t even be here today because I am run ragged with busyness and thoughts, and work and kids’ stuff. And so just in contemplating our conversation today, I was like, “I wish I were coming here with calm, nice, well-articulated questions for Leslie.” And I do have some things. I definitely have some kid-related questions, but I guess I just want to make the best use of your time. So that’s the disclaimer.

3:22  Leslie:  Okay. Not a disclaimer; rather, a great place for us to start. I mean, so real. How many times is it that we want to do something—you wanted to follow up on what we talked about last time, I know you had enthusiasm for some of the things we were talking about—and you want to go home and try them? And how it’s not that unheard of to say, “Wow, I didn’t get to try any of that. And I really wanted to.” So then let me ask you, besides what you said of being really busy, overwhelmed a bit, I do want to begin where you are. I think that is the perfect place, because that’s my motto when it comes to kids. I don’t know if I said that to you last time. But I repeat that a lot to parents: Let’s begin where your child is, not where you “should” be. But are you shoulding yourself? You did say, “I don’t even know if we should have this conversation.” Are you sitting there saying, “Well, I really should have done this or that?” What are the thoughts, just out of curiosity, that are going through your mind that might be causing extra stress?

4:25  Alice:  I mean, yes, definitely shoulding, I guess. So, I can start a couple places. I did practice a few of the things we talked about since we spoke last. And I had a pretty kind of momentous experience, I guess, in the parent-child perception that I’d love to share, which was a trip that then…Since the trip, life has been so busy, and so I’m kind of like, I got these realizations, I don’t know what to do with them and, and I haven’t had time. So I guess the shoulding is that I should be able to have time to reflect on anything—time to sit with myself and be like, “What’s there?” 

I got long COVID, not debilitating, but still, I just didn’t have energy, I couldn’t function for a long time. So I had to systematically stop doing things; and until I figured out a couple of things that helped me get better. But it was putting the brakes on lots of things. And since then—that was two years ago—and since then I’ve been trying to work towards the things that feel like they are authentic and have integrity. And a couple of those things have been huge, like changing my whole diet in a way that is not just a restrictive thing. I know now how I need to eat to feel healthy.  

And a really big one, which is ending my marriage…that’s another story for another day. But basically, really having to come to grips with what I’ve known inside for quite a while. So okay, super long story short, I’m slowly then taking these steps that are trying to be more towards integrity and doing a huge amount of work with professional helpers, and on my own. And slowly adding all the things back because it’s hard not to then be, like, “Well, but I’m still a full time worker, and I’m still the mom and I’m trying to have relationships, trying to be healthy trying to work out,” whatever. So, yeah, that’s a long ramble about what’s there. But maybe if I can jump into the trip, I can tell you about the trip. 

Leslie:  Let’s hear. 

Alice:  Yeah. So okay, so last time, when we spoke, we talked about my older son, Dan, and his…he just has strong reactions in different situations. And so even when I’m kind of able to empathize with him, he kind of rejects it—the feelings are really strong. And so we talked about some ways to help him to feel that. So we went on a trip, and the trip was with both kids and me to visit family, to visit dear family but that we don’t see very often. And all of us are kind of introverts. So my stepmother—who I will call my bonus mother, because she is a bonus mother—worked really hard ahead of time to think about ways to kind of cope ahead, you know, how are we going to manage everyone’s energy, but not to plan it all out…to just…how are we going to make sure that we’re all flowing, and we’re communicating in ways that are working for us. And so we did a lot of that. And part of the work ahead was me managing the fact that I know my children do not behave in the politest, most careful ways all the time. And careful: the example in our house, and incidentally, the house I grew up in, it was, it is, okay to jump on the couch, like, turn the couch into a crazy magical fort if you want and jump all over it. That’s part of what’s okay in our house. Our house is kind of messy sometimes, like things, surfaces, are not pristine. And my dad and step mom’s house, they’re not a kid house anymore. They’re like, “Yeah, we’d like the couch to stay nice. We do not jump on furniture, we do not take it apart. We kind of barely sit on it, honestly.” So that’s kind of the stuff that we dealt with. 

So we went there, we stayed with them. And it was mostly okay. And it really revealed to me that my kids have a long way to go in learning basic politeness skills. And in fact, when at one point my bonus mother and I just had a quiet little conversation, we’re checking in with each other, and she was like, “I don’t know how to say this, but I want to tell your kids don’t be so mean to your mom.” Because I realized they’re not saying please or thank you when I’m giving them things, or they’re talking back in a snotty way. And they’re kind of demanding, and just seen through another person’s eyes,…But in this case, someone that I trust very much to give me parenting feedback, in a really safe way. Then it meant that it was super…oh my gosh, I’m going to tear up…it was super hard feedback to hear. And also to resonate and be like, “Yeah, that’s true.” And there were a few other things, like when we would all do some group activities, different different combinations. And we would kind of come back to the home base. And Dan would be like, “Hey, I just want to go draw in my bedroom and listen to music,” because that’s his recharge. And some parts of me were like, “I want you to stay here and, you know, be with us.”

So in my calm moments, I reflected on that, like, okay you meet them where they are, right? Leslie like you say, “Hey, here’s where you are.” These are skills we can practice, that was the rational weights. But there was so much other stuff in there, many other parts of me that are like: “What’s wrong with you?” Am I raising a monster? How am I teaching them to interact with women? Are they perceiving that I am just their servant? 

So, stuff like this, which I will just ramble for one more minute. It came back to questions relating to this big journey I’m on for the last year and a half, two years, where I’m like, trying to ease strictures off of myself, to be able to be more authentic, and in my case, to be less codependent and attached into other people’s feelings. And I’ve realized that maybe I kind of parented out of that, assuming that they would be too attached into other people’s feelings. So I’m not reinforcing them a feedback loop of like, “When you speak to me that way, that hurts my feelings.” I don’t want them to feel like they have to take care of my feelings. So as I’m trying to enforce some freedom on myself, I came away from this trip being like, “Oh, shoot, I need to clamp down on the freedom on them. I need to be more rigid with them.” Although I don’t think that’s really the answer. But that’s what was coming up for me. So anyway…help! [Laughter]

12:28  Leslie:  Yes, there’s a lot there. And the fact that you got to that place where you felt the emotion, you start to tear up—let’s first recognize that feeling overwhelmed means that there’s a lot on your plate. And I like to recognize that first and say, “Stop, slow down,” because all of that emotion is valid. There’s a lot of feelings in there. But nobody can deal with it all at the same time. 

So if you had to move out of your house right now, you couldn’t load up your arms and do it all at once. How do you do it? 

Alice:  A little bit at a time.

Leslie: A little bit at a time. So right now, when you’ve got a lot going on, and you’ve got this overarching goal of insight and integrity and value. You have a value that you want to live by, which is beautiful, it came out of a place of sickness, which does sometimes help us open our eyes and give us meaning. That’s a beautiful thing. So we can move in that direction, without feeling like we have to do everything at once. And I often like to say that about raising our children as well. We don’t have to accomplish every goal all at once for that, we can do it step by step. 

So let’s just still start with you that you’ve got these values you want to live by—that’s wonderful. I want to slow you down to say: you’ve been dealing with a lot. And even though you said you came to this session today with, “I’m not prepared and I don’t have any…” you still came with plenty of stuff, right? So we have these thoughts. We have these myths. We have these beliefs. We have these shoulds. We have these assumptions. We have all these things that sort of are thorns in our side, that sort of are unnecessary. 

They’re there. We better recognize them. But we would like to acknowledge: Is that adding any value? Is that thought, “I’m not good enough, I should be doing this,I should know what I need to do right now. I need to change this with the kids…” Is that helping you? Because we want to sort of look at the thoughts that come in as, “Do I want to pay attention to this? Or do I want to let it go and be a little unmindful to that thought?” So we can only do that if we slow down and bring a little mindfulness to our daily living. So can I ask you if you do that, if you slow down enough? I’m a very busy go-all-at-high-speed kind of person myself. And it is quite a practice for me to slow down enough and notice thoughts. But there’s a lot in there, right? There are a lot of thoughts that go through our head. But have you tried some of that mindfulness, mindful awareness of thoughts?

15:23  Alice:  Yes, I have been meditating on and off for a couple of years. The off has been a bit more in the last year, but I have started meditating again, in the past couple of weeks, with a friend. We have some daily accountability. And the reason that I started again, partly because this friend and I are in dialogue, we’re really going through many of the same things right now, which I am grateful for, actually, to have somebody to kind of bounce that off. And it’s also because I’m working with a therapist. And so she is helping me to learn to slow down and wonder who is there behind some of those thoughts, and inside of me, and that has been eye opening for me. 

And it’s like the prescription is there. But I don’t feel—I’m going to tear up again—I don’t feel yet the liberty to take it. So I spend maybe 30 or 50 minutes a day in some sort of contemplative or mindfulness practice. Some of it is actually kind of internal quiet self-exploration. And some of it is yoga, just doing other things with my body and mind other than thinking. So this little pause is like, the time when you’re waiting in line in the airport, and the rest of the time you’re-going-to-hop-on-the-plane-and-go-to-the-end-you-went-before-you-got-here-you weren’t-you-took-the-bus-and-then-you-put-the-children’s and…that’s what it feels like to me. And so I feel like I’m trying to…I’m moving towards greater integration of that quiet across my life. But boy, oh, boy, that hasn’t come to fruition yet.

17:32  Leslie:  Okay, so you just brought up a distinction, or I’d like to make a distinction. And I love where you are going with it, which is, there’s a difference between mindfulness practices, and meditation. Mindfulness practice is the big umbrella term that has many kinds of contemplative practices and meditation practices. 

So there’s many ways of being mindful. The definition that I love to use is Jon Kabat Zinn’s paying attention, on purpose, to the present moment, non-judgmentally. But you described it by saying just now, that moment of peace, that moment of awareness, when you are in the airport, when you are traveling, from the train, to this, to that, to the bus, and all of that, that’s the moment where we take our meditation practice, and put it into our daily life. They are different, they serve different purposes. They are wonderful, wonderful. 

I so appreciate that you are giving yourself that time to do it. So the mindfulness practice that I’m talking about in parenting, is being able to both model that you’re taking that moment, you are bringing that awareness to yourself, and maybe even saying it out loud, like, “Wow, I noticed I just had a thought that I should be doing something different.” Or, “I noticed I just had a worry thought about, am I going to be able to get there on time?” Or, “I noticed that judgment thought.” And so when we start to speak this stuff out loud, we are laying down a path for our children to witness: What do adults do? And what do we want them to do?

So that putting them on the path of mindful awareness and mindful living, intentional living—that’s really something we want to help them do. It addresses right now, this feeling of being overwhelmed, this feeling of having so much on your plate, and just having all of this emotion and these thoughts. And it puts into practice this meditation practice; translates it into your everyday life. Which is beautiful. Does that make sense?

19:55  Alice:  Absolutely. I mean, this is something that I think about a lot, actually, because right now, I’m sharing my parenting time with my ex. And I’m so grateful—it’s very amicable. And I noticed that when I’m with the kids, I’m kind of on the whole time. And then when they go away, then I’m like, “I can catch up on other stuff. And I can rest.” And my goal is to have them see me do the bounce, to not be drained all the time. They know that I do these practices, both when they’re here and when they’re not. But I haven’t yet gotten to a place where I don’t feel that I am on when they’re there…and then I’m performing—that’s the word I’m reaching for.

20:50  Leslie:  And there’s another way that we describe it in the dialectic behavior therapy world, is a dialectic between our doing mind and our being mind. 

Alice:  Oh my gosh, yes. 

Leslie:  Isn’t that beautiful? And they both are necessary, right? We need our doing mind. There are a lot of things in life that are demands—you’ve got to  take care of the kids, you got to feed them, you got to put them to bed. So we have our doing mind. And we have our being mind and what you sort of described—I’m going to exaggerate it—is when I’ve got the kids, do-do-do-do-do. I’m doing things, right? And when they go, that’s when I get to breathe, I get to have a moment of peace. I want to support the idea that we want to bring these together. Find a middle path of finding those moments of being present, just being…even when we have our kids and there’s a lot to do.

[Music: Acoustic Motivation by Coma-Media]

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22:42  Leslie:  Do you have your kids right now, this week?

22:44  Alice:  Not today, but they’ll come back in a couple of days.

22:47  Leslie:  Okay, so when they come back…create a scenario where they’re home. Maybe you’re cooking dinner. Give me an example where you’re going to put this into practice. I want you to imaginally rehearse this right now; or describe where you think you could take that breath.

23:04   Alice:  Yeah. So I guess as I think through this, I’m realizing that I have a little internal definition, or a little job description, that says it only counts if we’re interacting together. And so I guess my initial question was going to be, well, could the being times be when we are together, but not like talking or looking at the same things? What’s your response to any of that?

23:43  Leslie:  Oh, my goodness, it helps me understand how you are thinking about being. And I think we’re going to change that definition of being. But I love the idea that you brought up a myth, that the only way to do it right is to be together, it’s to be doing things together

24:02  Alice:  …to be interacting in some way. Having kind of quality time—I’m using air quotes—quality time interactions. Like, we’re cooking together, we are reading together. We’re going to the park together, something like that. Like a doing, right? It’s a doing.

24:21  Leslie:  It’s a doing and, yes, I’d like to come back to the idea of connection. Because to me, connection is the foundation of your relationship. And we want to be tending to that foundation over and over again. So the connection piece is wonderful. And I like the idea that you’re looking for it. It doesn’t only come through doing things together. So let’s say you are cooking, and the kids are playing. So when you’re cooking, in order to bring in a little bit of the being mind while you’re cooking…Do you know what that means, before I give you some ideas.

25:02  Alice:  I can suggest things that would feel like they’re a recharge. If it feels to me like a recharge while I’m cooking, and I’m doing it with a bit of joy and creativity, then it’s different than being in the mom-wants-to-get-dinner-on-the-table mode. So I guess though, that’s the little internal instinct that I would go with. And so some things that would be part of that, for me, would be to turn on music or some funny word humor podcast that I can listen to while I’m cooking. 

Or it would be things that kind of recharge me. Another one that actually totally recharges me is when Jake, the six year old, wants to help. He often wants to help. And it’s so fun. And it like, I circumvent…he has some chores he has to do in the kitchen every day that he doesn’t love. But he’s like, “Hey, Mom, I can help you. Can I help make dinner?” And I was like, “Yeah, cuz if you help make dinner, then I could do that job you don’t like because then I’m not…” you know, whatever. So it’s so funny and sweet. And just organic. Like we start flowing then. And that doesn’t happen all the time. But when it happens, it feels to me like it’s a being because it recharges me or like, the listening to music would be a recharge for me too.

26:32  Leslie:  Okay, so it’s a recharge, because your mind is not somewhere else. When you’re cooking, and you’re like, “Oh my god, I’ve got to get the kids to bed and I have to get ready for tomorrow. And when I have to get the kids to bed. I got to do this…” and your mind is somewhere else. That’s not being because we’re not present. So when you do put on your music while you’re cooking, you’re probably very present to the moment. You could do it….I mean, all the ideas you mentioned are great. I’m going to mention a few additional ones, which might be: just be present to the smells, to the visual, to the cutting, to the activity of what you’re doing. And you’re practicing just being present when you hear the words being present. 

And so that is a way. Now, does that mean you’re not being present with the kids? You are—we don’t have to have every moment when we’re with our children with our attention on them. That’s a myth. I don’t actually think it’s a good idea for us to be hovering over our children, I think space and distance is just as beautiful as connection. I think when I’m apart from my children, even if I’m in the kitchen, and they’re in the other room, that’s great. 

So we can be present in the way you just described—that’s being. Now, if you are moving so quickly that you don’t notice it, then you’re just in the doing mode. And so it’s just a matter again, maybe slowing down. I just saw a quote today: “Sometimes the fastest way to get somewhere is to go slow.” So there’s often a paradox that the more we want to connect to our children, the more we want to, you know…it’s not about being together and forcing that happening. It may be observing them, it may be taking interest in what they’re doing, but not doing it with them. It may be listening to them. So there’s many, many ways of connecting more than just, “We’re going to do everything together.”

28:37  Alice:  Yeah, thank you. That’s validating. It’s actually validating, because I feel like I’ve been taking steps in this direction. And half of me has been uneasy with them. And half of me is like, this feels pretty good. For example, none of us, none of the three of us love dinnertime. We just kind of eat dinner, but then we’re like, “Okay, now we can get to the good snacks that we have after dinner. So lately, we’ve just been calling it sninner and we’re like, “We’re going to have a little after-school snack when we first get home, so we don’t eat our, you know, wrists off, the arms off at the wrist. But then we’re just going to…like, those snacks that we like after dinner, that’s just going to be dinner and we’re going to contribute…we’re going to kind of collaborate so that it still ends up being somewhat balanced. It tends to…I’m even transparent with them. I’m like, “This is my need as your mom to make sure some good other colors get into your body, besides the blonde, cracker color,” or whatever. 

But in that sense, it’s kind of I’m just flowing with what…I’m taking off the shoulds of, “You have to eat dinner as a family every night. Dinner has to be a square thing you eat everything at your plate,” whatever. And I’m like, “Let’s kind of collaborate on stuff that’s working for us.” So I guess we’ve been doing some things like that. And it’s kind of felt awesome. And then half of me is like, “But I’m not teaching them manners and,” all this stuff. 

30:19  Leslie:  I keep coming back to the myths. There are definitely myths—societal myths, the ones that you grew up with in your family, the ones that are still present. So those are going to be there and we just want to recognize those. So that’s good. I do love the idea of giving myself permission to try something different. And you use the phrase, “Doing what works.” And so this is working, because it’s something that your kids are not going to forget. “We used to have…” what did you call it”

30:47  Alice:  It’s sninner, it’s like snack and dinner

30:51  Leslie:  I love it: sninner. Great word. And so you’re being creative, and they’re not going to forget that. I worked when my kids were little. But most of the time I was home for dinner, I made the meals, I love, love cooking and made good meals. And then the two nights that I worked in the evening, my husband had them. And he didn’t want to cook. But he had the tradition down in Florida, where we were living at the time: He would take them to Swenson’s, take them to CD Solution, which was a record and CD place. 

Did I think they ate the best? No, I think that they created a connection, which was a thousand times more important than that nutritious meal. Because the nutrition was the connection and the ritual and the tradition that they formed together. So that gets a little into: we have relationships, and our partners are going to do something different than what we do. And there’s a richness to that diversity.

31:51  Alice:  Yeah. Man, I am learning so much about that now and appreciating that with my ex, who…part of what we struggled with is that I did everything. And he didn’t step up. And now that he has, he is committed. He’s like, “Oh, I want these kids half the time.” He’s making, they’re making awesome traditions together. And I’m like, “Why didn’t this happen years ago?” But I’m so happy it’s happening. I’m really grateful. 

But I see that on both sides, and I appreciate it. Just to add to that, the trip was good for this, too. The phrase, feeding them, is coming into my mind a lot because I see other things, other activities or new experiences for them that are feeding them. And so I think in that one way, when your husband would have the kids sure, maybe they had hot dogs at the corner stand. But what was feeding…they were really being fed. I’m trying to be more observant these days to the things that I watch where I’m like, that kid wouldn’t eat all night if he could continue to do that activity, that I didn’t even know he had ever experienced or is interested in. So I’m trying to pay attention to the areas…and myself too, where, “Wow, I just was so fed by that experience. Let me just at least reflect on that and savor it.” If not, then go do some more of it.

33:22  Leslie:  Yes. And so sometimes it’s going to look different and your dinner idea is one of those. So yes, giving yourself permission to do something different—giving yourself permission to create new things in your head, new pathways that may be feeding you—like you said, it’s a beautiful metaphor. It’s not just food, it’s these ways of being in the world and experiences, and then just being present to the experience. So a lot of appreciating what is going on in that moment, rather than any nagging thoughts. And if they are there, if those shoulds or those judgments or feeling like a failure, feeling like you can’t do it all—if those thoughts come up—they’re not bad, they’re understandable. Let’s have compassion for them. And so when you showed up today, and said, “Yeah, I don’t know how much I did. And I’m overwhelmed. And I’ve been so busy, I’ve been going…” I’m like, “Okay, let’s start with some compassion. Let’s begin with compassion for our children, for ourselves; and let’s model that.” Do you want to go back to the idea of connection or is there another direction you want to go in?

34:34  Alice:  It connects with the thread that we were talking about with Dan, the kind of politeness. So a couple of specific examples, and maybe you can help me connect in how I can be mindful of what’s going on and and just kind of take us on a journey that might get in get us in a direction or…I don’t know…I’ll back up because I guess I have some shoulds in my head about a couple of things. One is just basics of politeness with other people, especially who don’t know you, who are getting to know you through social interaction, of basic kindness. So: please, thank you, acknowledgement, hellos, goodbyes, eye contact, body…all of that—there’s that one. So the should in there, or the aspiration is that they are able to be fluent in at least our society’s basic customs around that. 

And this might be a stretch because I don’t want to dictate their feelings, but that they are at least acquainted with a sense of respect inside for those other people. That they’re not born out of fear, but are not born out of forced respect; but there is some understanding in there that, “Well, this other person is another person like me, they deserve the little time and energy it takes to follow these social customs.”

Okay, so that’s the first thing. And the second thing that really came out at my parents’ house was helpfulness. The idea that they understand that the family has some joint tasks that they need to get done; around for instance, mealtime, and that everybody needs to pitch in in order for it all to get done. And it’s something that we have at our house a little bit more regimented, as in, “Here are your jobs as part of the whole thing, here are your jobs.” And I just saw there they didn’t know how to translate that into another person’s house. And so I felt like I should be teaching these children how to, not just teaching them how to, I want them to be more helpful. Are these even realistic things to wonder or to ask to aspire to? Again, I don’t want to dictate their feelings. They might not feel helpful, but I want them to be helpful. But I would really love it if they could look at a situation and be like, “Oh, I see that I could contribute to that.”

37:37  Leslie:  Okay. There’s a lot there. And I like that. And we’ll just focus on this before we wrap up. So, in terms of the politeness, it is not a fact that the people who say please and thank you are polite. There are a lot of people out there who say please and thank you, and they are invalidating, they are rude. It is not a sign that that person has the kind of kindness that I’m looking for. And I’ve met many people who don’t say please, and thank you, and have hearts that are as big as the sun, and warm and generous. 

So, first thing I want to do is say, it’s nice. It’s standard. There’s a standardization of that practice in our society; there are cultures that probably do not put as much weight on please and thank you. So that I want to keep in mind, I want to keep the bigger perspective, and make them realize that, “You know what, I’ve seen many, many people who say please and thank you that I’m not very comfortable around. So that’s one. 

Number two, I want my actions to speak louder than my words. Am I modeling it? So many times, I’m sorry to say, but in my years of years of practice, people come to me and they’re trying to get their children to be decent human beings and civil and responsible. And then I’m appalled at the way they may interact right to each other. We expect our children to respect us. Meanwhile, parents are fighting cat-and-dog. Where are they learning respect? So we need to make sure we’re modeling; because we’re all hypocritical, I’m not saying…I’m not pointing any fingers. I am hypocritical as well. So we want to try to move and be aware of: are we doing what we want our children to do? 

So, do I make eye contact, do I say hello—that is so powerful. Even if you don’t see your children doing it, they are copying you. Think about the three-year-old that picks up a block to talk on the phone—they’re copying everything. It’s innate. They’re really doing that. So the modeling is really important and the perspective that we’re not going to make this the most important thing in their life. The rule of it, the rigidity of it, is important to you, and I’m gung ho and happy to help you with that. 

We need to give them time, right? Young children who do it, if I walk in and someone says to me, hello, please, thank you—I don’t know if that child is just a people pleaser. I don’t know if that child is scared to death, and they do it out of obedience. That’s one of my huge lectures. My huge lecture was always: what is the difference between raising an obedient child and a responsible child? When we’re trying to find that now in terms of our children saying please and thank you, we don’t know if that child is just being obedient out of fear. And we also don’t know if it makes sense to the child. So we want to actually understand when they do it, or if they’re doing it, do they get it? Is it just the words? And we want to give them time. 

We want to give them time that we believe that my modeling is going to make a difference. That my gentle, compassionate, instruction, when I need to prompt them, and I can do it ahead of time, rather than a shaming. There’s two ways of doing it. You can shame the child in front of ten people and say, “Where’s your please? Where’s your thank you?” It’s subtle. Sometimes we have a tone, and we’re really shaming our children. And other times, it’s like, “We’re going in. Can you remember to say please, maybe three times,” or, “I’ll be listening, I won’t say anything. But I’m going to be listening for the pleases and the thank yous, go for it.” This is a game. It’s like I Spy. 

So you can cue them and prep them for that. And then just keep it on the light side. And then also explain the importance of it. The last area that I want to talk about with the please and the plight and saying goodbye in the eye contact is: Know your child. So if you have a neurodivergent child, an autistic child, they may not look and say goodbye to someone, because in order for them to say goodbye, they actually might need to look away. I work with people on the spectrum who, when they talk to me, they are not being rude when they’re not looking at me. They’re looking off because that’s the way they need to think. So sometimes our brains work where eye contact is actually disrupting our thinking process. So we want to know who our child is. Because for some children, that may be a factor. The ADHD child who’s running to the car, because you’re going to put on their story, they get to watch something. They’re gone. They didn’t even get to say goodbye because they’re gone. So you might want to cue them, “Hey, we’re going to be in the car, you’re going to get to listen. Before you get to the car. There are three things you could do, or there’s one thing you could do.” So there is a lot of cueing, gentle cueing, a lot of prompting and helping them cope ahead with something that you’re working on. Just having faith that it’s a step-by-step process. How does that sound?

42:56  Alice: That sounds good. Yeah, I think that’s the biggest thing. I mean, we’re circling back. You’re taking the shoulds off my shoulders, because it’s like being able to lean back into that faith of like, we’re doing it right. And it’s okay. 

43:14  Leslie:  It’s even getting rid of the right. We’re doing it, we’re doing it. 

43:20   Alice:  It’s like myself 10 years from now, when my six-year-old’s 16. And that self leaning over and patting me on the shoulder now and being like, “He’s working on other stuff now; but he totally knows please and thank you. He’s a compassionate guy.” And just saying, “Don’t sweat it, just keep going,” that’s just hard for my doing mind and you know, a lot of those other things just to be like, “Huuuuh, okay.” Because I only get to see my own kids’ journey. I’m not a child…I don’t work with children. So I don’t know, “Oh, yeah, most kids who are six, they don’t know this yet. They really get it later on.” And it always comes, everybody always eventually gets toilet trained, regardless of whether they did it at two or three year. So I guess it’s just validating to have you be like, “You know what, just keep going. Model it. Do it gently, with compassion. Don’t make it too heavy. Certainly don’t shame them. And just stop worrying about it.”

44:28   Leslie:  Absolutely. And that circles right back to the beginning, where you came in overwhelmed. Because overwhelm sometimes is a sense of burnout, where you’re trying to do everything and do everything right. And I heard you take a breath when you said, “Wow, it’s giving me permission to let go of some of the shoulds.” 

Stay mindful to those shoulds and give yourself more and more permission to show up, because now when you show up in your being mind with your children, all of a sudden you will be developing that connection, which I think is so, so important for the foundation of a relationship. I think you’re doing great. Keep going.

45:08  Alice:  Thanks Leslie.

[music: Fresh Air by Olexy]

45:20  Leslie:  I want to thank Alice for her questions both to me and to herself. Self-reflection and being curious are really good qualities in parenting and in life, and too much of a good thing can get us in trouble. A lot of today’s session was helping Alice turn down the volume on the intensity of that curiosity and self-reflection. Because too much self-reflection can lead to self-doubt. This is a parent who takes parenting very seriously, and kudos to her. Parenting deserves some serious intention and attention. However, I’ve often heard, moms in particular, say, “Oh, my partner’s the one who has all the fun with the kids.” And yeah, it’s hard to have fun when you’re weighed down by your own thoughts and worries. If we bring the being mind into our doing mind, we are less likely to burn out and more likely to have fun. As you heard, the being mind is about being present, rather than attaching to the expectations of what our parenting and our children should look like. It’s about letting go of the external pressures, and showing up mindfully. 

[Music: The Wilds Beyond by L-Ray Music]

Join us next week for Alice’s third and final session, where we focus on specific parenting strategies, and how whatever changes you make—big or small—have a ripple effect on your child’s well being.

Subscribe to Is My Child A Monster? wherever you get your podcasts, so you don’t miss an episode. And thank you so much to our listeners who have left us such heartfelt and meaningful reviews. It has been such a pleasure to read them and learn about the impact these episodes have had. As always, you can find a full transcript of this episode or apply to be a guest on Season 2 by visiting And take a look at the show notes for some links to my blog postings. The Is My Child A Monster? team is Alletta Cooper, Dale Rubury, Gabriela Glueck, and me. Special thanks to Eric Rubury. Our theme music is by L-Ray Music. I’m Leslie Cohen-Rubury.  Thanks so much for listening. And remember: being present is more important than being perfect.

Transcribed by edited by Eric Rubury

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