March 12, 2024

Salimah Part 4 of 4: When Parenting Feels Relentless

This week’s episode is our last with single mother of three Salimah. After three sessions focusing on each one of her children, today Leslie turns the attention to Salimah and the many roles that she plays.

Let’s face it, being a parent is hard. It’s important for parents to supply themselves with an anti-burnout toolkit while also giving themselves grace. In addition to learning to reduce and prevent burnout, Leslie and Salimah also talk candidly about how to advocate for yourself, how to ask for help, and how to get the support and validation you need from your community (and not just from your kids).

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.

Resources: 

Leslie-ism: Ask for help because you deserve to get it

TIME STAMPS:

  • 6:47 “Kiss your brain” an expression of compassion when you are trying to be kind to yourself
  • 8:50 Parents should give themselves grace
  • 13:51 Braided hair analogy: the separate strands represent each child and you are them, woven together
  • 17:18 Correcting other people when they get your name wrong – why that can be so hard
  • 26:23 Praise vs feedback
  • Tool box for burnout:
    • 10:43 Lowering expectations
    • 14:45 Get in touch with your values and beliefs
    • 21:07 Punctuate your life with pauses and taking breaks
    • 25:14 & 30:45 Get someone to acknowledge how hard you work
    • 26:56 Give yourself credit for effort
    • 28:00 Keep your head down and stay present
    • 33:30 & 36:39 Learn to ask for help
    • 34:31 Random acts of kindness
  • 37:39 When asking for help: How do you make sure you’re not over-asking?
    • 38:04 Collect data – get the facts and ask yourself, am I really asking excessively?
    • 38:34 Is there any reciprocity? Identify the relationship and ask is what you’re asking for fair from this type of relationship
    • 39:12 Give them permission to say “no” when you go for the ask and tell them you have other options
  • 40:51 Its ok to talk to strangers

TRANSCRIPT OF SHOW:

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

0:03  Salimah:  As soon as I walk in the door, I’m doing dishes, I’m cooking food, and now I’m angry because why are the dishes even here? Like, “You’ve been here for hours.” I wish somebody would see how much that I’m doing and want to take something off my plate.

0:26  Leslie Cohen-Rubury:  Welcome to 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 38 years of experience helping families navigate this question. And no, your child is not a monster. 

This is my final of four sessions with single mom, Salimah. Our first three sessions focused on her relationships with each of her three children. Today, we’re focusing on Salimah herself. Parenting is not just about your kids—the accumulation of everything that goes on in your life both inside and outside your home has a direct impact on your relationship with your children. Salimah is feeling burnt out. And she’s not alone—parenting often leaves people feeling overwhelmed and frustrated. Parenthood is not a reciprocal relationship. As much as you’d love to hear, “Hey, Mom, hey, Dad, you’re doing a great job,” it just ain’t gonna happen, so don’t hold your breath. 

In this honest and vulnerable session with Salimah, we talk about how to honor the hard parts, manage the burnout, and develop practical skills to help make the job of parenting a little more sustainable. 

Okay, now 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. So let’s get started. 

2:14  Leslie:  Hi, Salimah, how are you?

2:16  Salimah:  I’m good. How are you?

2:18  Leslie:  I’m good, thank you. All right. So it’s been a little while since your last session. And I’m so curious. We talked about Terrel, we also had those previous sessions with Alani and Rene. But where are you, and how are things going?

2:35   Salimah:  So pretty much, it’s just a bit of trying to keep everything relevant, trying to remember, I’m not too good with consistency. So in those moments where you feel big emotions, it’s just remembering to stop. You may not remember why you’re stopping, but you just stop.

2:53  Leslie:  And that’s something you feel like you’re doing new, that’s new that you weren’t doing before, possibly.

2:58  Salimah:  It’s increased. 

3:00  Leslie:  Good, that sounds really good. When we are in that intense emotion, we can actually think about: “What am I supposed to do? What skills should I use? Why am I upset?” In that moment, as you just said—I want to reinforce it—just stop it in a way it allows your emotion mind to quiet down, and possibly something will come to you.

3:20  Salimah:  I’ve noticed my go-to is trying to solve the issue. And that’s kind of part of the issue. So in taking the minutes to stop, it’s like, “Okay, everything is very intense, you’re going to stop, but it doesn’t make the intensity stop. So focus on the intensity and the fact that you don’t like it, and then let it subside.”

3:40  Leslie:  And are you talking about your intensity, or your child’s intensity?

3:44  Salimah:  All mine, because I keep the ring of fire in my head. So I’m not trying to get burned. “I can’t help you. I’ve got to do me first, when I’m good, then I can come back to you.”

3:56  Leslie:  Right. And that is something I used to say, and I think it’s really important to send the message, “I’ll be back.” Because if you just say, “I’ve got to get out of here, I’ve got to take a moment. I’ve got to get away from you,” whatever message you’re sending, it does feel like you might be leaving them and that could speak deeply to a feeling of, “Is she gone? Am I alone? Am I abandoned?” We don’t want the child to feel that way. So I love adding those few words, which is, “…and I’ll be back.”

4:26  Salimah:  We did talk about that one when we were speaking about Rene. And it’s funny, because the other day she was having a meltdown because she wanted to wear a skirt, but the skirt was too tight. So usually, I let her get away with it for the day because I left it in her room and as an option. But it just it wasn’t okay—she couldn’t wear it. She wasn’t trying to wear tights. So I told her she had to take it off and she was so upset. She cried. She was hiding around the house.

And there was a point where I was trying to get her to put pants on because I was late for work. And I just I was like, “You know what, I can’t do this I’m walking away, I’m walking away because I don’t want to hurt you. And this can escalate. I’m just going to leave.” And I walked out the room and I closed the door, and I stood in front of the door. And I heard her start moving. And I spoke to her through the door. I was like, “I’m still here. I didn’t leave. I’m still here. You’re not alone. But Mommy had to leave the room.” Because you don’t want to lie.

5:17  Leslie:  Wow, I want to cry. I really feel very emotional hearing you say that, because I feel like if I were Rene, I would feel, “Gosh, Mom’s there. Mom is there for me. “And wow, what a clear message you’re sending of, “I’m going to take care of my emotion. And I’m here for you. And we’re still connected.” Beautiful. Very hard moments. These are hard moments parenting, right?

5:43  Salimah:  Very much so. And they come very often.

5:47  Leslie:  They come very often…Well, tell me more about that.

5:52  Salimah:  So when you hear that someone’s a parent, you think about what they’re doing with their kids. But that isn’t everything. There are other compartments to life. And so what I just said to you is the start of my day. That doesn’t even touch on the anxiety of, “I’m late, I have a meeting to get to, I have to drop off my son.” So that’s just the tip of the iceberg. So navigating through the moment is just one part, the next part is taking the time to acknowledge that you even had a moment. And then moving on to the next thing.

6:20  Leslie:  Right. So acknowledging that moment is a way of having some compassion, is a way of supporting yourself to go through it. But how do you not get completely…the snowball effect of, “Okay, now I’m going to be late and I have to get him to school. And I have a meeting.” And the momentum is building of anxiety and stress and all of that.

6:44  Salimah:  So what I’ve noticed is I haven’t been doing it. And so it’s a new practice, where I know that I need to acknowledge it. And I may not have the space to do it, in the moment. But when things slow down, you have to remember that you had that moment, and you have to give yourself that pat on the back, you know, kiss-your-brain moment. You have to.

7:04  Leslie:  I love that: kiss-your-brain moment. Did you just make up that saying?

7:09   Salimah:  No, we use that in school—we mostly use it for like elementary into middle. 

7:14  Leslie:  So taking that pause, even if it’s after the fact, is totally great. Sometimes the guilt or the feeling of being a failure, or inadequate or not good enough—as a parent, it’s so easy for that to show up. But it’s so sad, because we don’t need to add that on top of the difficulty of raising a child. Why are we going to make it worse by then judging? And many parents—that’s a whole separate issue—feel judged by other people. Like, if you’re late to work, “What’s wrong with you? Can’t you get your kids together?” Do you feel that outside judgment as well?

7:50  Salimah:  I know that it’s a possibility in my head, and it mostly comes from me. So it’s me thinking about what other people could be thinking, when in actuality, no one’s seeing it. And you know, when people come up to me, and they tell me that I’m doing such a good job, all I can think is, like, “If only you knew.”

8:07  Leslie:  “If only you knew.” Yeah…

Salimah:  Yeah…

Leslie:  That’s something for you is to be able to kiss your brain and kiss yourself and give yourself that hug that…it’s not always going to be pretty. It’s not always going to be easy.

8:22  Salimah:  Yeah. I think taking the time to give yourself grace is not something that’s taught to parents. First, you have to learn that there’s a need for it, and then you have to learn how to actually do it. 

8:34  Leslie:  So let’s break that down. There’s a need to learn that there’s a need for it. And that there’s, How do you do it? Because you’ve had 13 years of being a parent, how are you doing with acknowledging the grace that is needed? When did that kick in? 

8:54  Salimah:  So, she’s 13 years old, and you would think, “I’ve got this, I’ve done it before. It’s just redoing it.” But it’s completely new. Every kid is different. So it’s a new journey. And it’s like you’re walking down three different roads at once. I figured out that I need to give myself grace, because I did get her this far. Like, she’s not broken. There might be a few cracks in there, you know, drop her here and there.[Laughter] But I’m still willing to put in the work. I haven’t given up.

9:28  Leslie:  Okay. So, we’re also talking in this conversation about parent burnout.

9:32  Salimah:  Yes. 

Leslie:  Do you feel it? 

Salimah:  Yes, very much. It’s funny, because I was recently having a conversation about this. And what I realized is I feel like she’s upset because I’m putting so much pressure on her and I put a lot of pressure on her because I’m self-aware of myself and how I was as a kid. So I’m trying to cut certain things out of life for her so she doesn’t have to go through the struggles I did. But I’m not allowing her to be her own person. 

And so all of the expectations that I have for her, when she doesn’t meet them, It upsets me. And it fills her with shame. As a parent, you have to be mindful of that. But as your own individual person, those things really do upset you. So it’s, like, when I’m trying to get you to be responsible, and you’re just not showing it…And to you, you’re really like, “It’s not that serious, it doesn’t matter—like the garbage will go out, it doesn’t have to go out now.” For me, as a parent, it’s, “No, I gave you a directive, I need you to follow through with it and finish it so that I know when you’re an adult, you’ll be able to do this.”

So, doing that across the board with three kids. It’s a lot. And the expectations are different with age.

10:43  Leslie:  Okay. So, you have expectations, and you’d have to look at all your expectations and say which ones may be a little bit unrealistic, or a little bit too much in terms of an expectation. Not all of them need to be thrown away. But some of them may be the ones that cause her shame, and then cause what you were saying: the stress of, well, “She’s not doing it, now she has shame,” and you start to feel this is not working. 

So, the burnout is when it’s just that kind of situation where what you’re doing is not working. And it might be making it worse for you. So recognizing those situations is not easy for a parent. And I really, really love to talk about how to help parents not burn out.

11:32  Salimah:  I think that’s needed. 

11:34  Leslie:  Good. So, one idea is lowering some expectations. Or it’s your perception that, “If I don’t teach her because…” you just said it right there, “If I don’t teach her take out the garbage now, then she will not be an adult who does that.” Where did you get that research? Where’s that proven?

[Laughter]

11:53  Salimah:  Oh, it’s not written anywhere. It is something that I created in my head. And one day, I’ll let it go. Maybe.

12:02   Leslie:  So, we want to stop and look and say, “Okay, wait a minute, that might be arbitrary, these expectations, or: they really are they my fears. I’m looking at her as an adult. And I’m thinking this moment is predicting the future.” And the truth is, even weather reports are wrong. So the idea is that predictions are just that: they are predictions, they are not facts. And you may wonder, but wonder can turn into fear. So if you fear that she will be an adult who doesn’t do that, that’s going to cause the stress for you. And for her.

12:39   Salimah:  I think that goes back into our conversation about her where I was concerned about her being like me. And so it’s related, but it’s also the opposite. So, yes, I am worried about her being like me, but it’s because who I am and what I had to do at a certain age, that is my expectation. So it’s like, “Yes, you’re thirteen. But in my head, you’re an adult, because at the age of 13, I was taking care of things as an adult. So why are you not picking this up? Why are you not on the same level? I did it, why can’t you do it?” And that’s not right. 

13:13  Leslie:  That line right there: “I had to do it, why can’t you do it?” is definitely one of those paths that lead you down the road of burnout. So our kids are going to do things differently. And that is challenging for a parent. And if we can stay with our child, to see them who they are—-you said that earlier as well—wanting to see who she is, wanting her to blossom into who she’s going to be: she’s got a different journey than you. You might be very similar in many ways, but she is on her own journey. 

13:47  Salimah:  That’s a lot. She’s just going to leave me in the dust. 

13:50  Leslie:  Oh, she’s not going to leave you in the dust. There’s that beautiful kind of weaving paths in and out of each other to separate paths. It’s like a braid. I think a braid is either three or four pieces. And you’ve got your three children and you’re woven in there with them. But they’re different strands.

14:08  Salimah:  I like what you did there. That does make sense.

14:11  Leslie:  So, yes, she’s on her own journey. Let’s not let that be scary as if she’s, “Oh my god, I can’t reach her and I can’t be connected.” Well, your braid weaves in and out of all the strands. As a parent, now and later, can be weaving in and out. We do want to feel separate, and we want to see our children as separate. 

14:32  Salimah:  Yeah. It’s just scary if you don’t know if they’ve taken away the values that you have, or if you even know what the values you want them to have. 

14:41  Leslie:  So, this comes back to something that will reduce burnout, which is: get in touch with your values. Get in touch with your beliefs. Have confidence and have faith in those beliefs, that if you live a life according to your values, you’re going to model that. We don’t really want to force feed it down our children, because when it becomes an extreme, we lose the value of it. 

So, if you live according to your values—first you have to identify them and check them out—then it’s a leap of faith, you don’t know that your child is going to get them. But I believe that when we really model it, and we let them know that we have these beliefs, and all of that, but we don’t force it on them. We expose them to our values, we expose them. So they would learn the value if they live the value. 

Salimah:  That makes sense. 

Leslie:  Remember, they are on their own journey. They’re not going to be imitations of you. But as you describe with Alina, she has a lot of qualities that you have. Actually, they all, in their own ways, have some of your qualities. So we want to see that, if we allow them to be on their own journeys, it’ll help reduce some of our burnout.

16:01  Salimah:  Umm…real quick. 

Leslie:  Yeah…

Salimah:  I think you wrote her name…you spelled her name wrong. And so you’re reading what you wrote. [Laughter] And that’s not her name.

16:11  Leslie:  Oh, what’s her name?

16:12  Salimah:  Because you said, Alina. I’m like, No: Alani.

16:17   Leslie:  Oh…Alani! I did spell it wrong! I switched the “A” and the “I.”

16:21  Salimah:  I was like, “This sounds great. But it’s not what she’s trying to say.” But I’m like, “No, that’s not right.” 

16:26  Leslie:  Okay. Beautiful. So, I don’t know if that we’re going to keep that or edit that out. Why don’t you correct me again, and I’ll switch over to Alani. So go ahead and just remind me it’s Alani, and I’ll go, “Oh, good. Thank you for helping me.”

16:42  Salimah:  I was like, “This is too much pressure.” 

[Laughter] 

Leslie:  You’re doing great. 

Salimah:  Ah, nope, I can’t do it. [Laughter]

16:52  Leslie:  You can’t correct me. 

Salimah:  Nope. 

Leslie:  Isn’t that amazing? 

16:58  Salimah:  Ah, yep. Now it’s getting hot. It’s a whole thing. It’s a whole thing.

17:04  Leslie:  Okay, I believe you. It’s totally okay. 

Salimah:  Oh, man. 

Leslie:  You did it. You already did it once.

17:12  Salimah:  Okay….So, I want to ask you, how do I do this?

17:17  Leslie:  Start off by saying, “I noticed…” the same advice I gave you with Rene, to notice her behavior. Notice. Say, “Hey, Leslie, I noticed that you might have switched how you’re saying my daughter’s name.”

17:35  Salimah:  This should not be this hard. 

17:37  Leslie:  No, it is—that’s okay. That’s okay. Because we feel like when we correct someone, do you have a right or maybe…I don’t know what your belief is underneath it, but I can handle it. Not everyone can. I can handle it. And I just want you to know you’re safe. You may not have always been safe to correct someone, because people get upset with us.

18:01  Salimah:  I can’t even make this make sense. This is ridiculous. [Laughter]

18:07  Leslie:  Kiss your brain, kiss your brain—it’s totally fine. This is hard for your brain. Kiss your brain. 

Salimah:  Okay. I can’t get it. 

Leslie:  So, if you say—and this is what your children go through—you can try one more time by saying…it’s what I say when I’m going to jump in cold water: “Yes, I can do it. It’s cold, here it comes. Yes, I can do this.” And then don’t even let three seconds go by and just start. That might be something you can do: “Yes, I’m safe. I can do it.”

18:45  Salimah:  Okay. It’s overthinking. Like, I’m trying to get through…

18:52  Leslie:  That’s why I’m saying: three second rule. Overthinking…definitely once you get to five seconds of thinking and you’re on another train. So the three second rule is you just jump into doing it and you see that you actually are safe. But you need that exposure, that progess. 

19:16  Salimah:  Okay…okay.  So I need you to do me a favor. 

Leslie:  Okay.

Salimah:  I need you to say the name again, so that I can catch it.

19:25  Leslie:  Okay. So Alina has been doing, you know, is very similar to you, but she’s on her own path.

19:35  Salimah:  Real quick, I just noticed you said Alina. It’s Alani. 

19:41  Leslie:  Oh, that’s so helpful. Thank you. That is so helpful. I did switch that in my head. And I’m going to make a very mindful effort to make sure I say her name as it is, which is Alani, which is an important thing. Thank you. 

Salimah:  Thank you.

[Music: Flowerpot by Olexy]

Leslie Cohen-Rubury:  Salimah’s sensitivity to the pronunciation of the names is real. Even though the names are fake, the challenge Salimah was dealing with was how hard it is to correct people. And I’m grateful for her vulnerability with me. Now back to our session. 

20:21  Leslie:  So, we’re going to keep going with this idea of burnout. And burnout means sometimes we’re working too hard. I mean, it’s almost like how do you not work hard when you’re a parent of three? But do you feel like you’re working too hard?

20:47  Salimah:  I feel like that all the time. And it does not stop. 

20:51  Leslie:  Okay, so one, it feels like you’re working too hard. And two, it feels relentless. Is that true? 

Salimah:  Yes. 

Leslie:  Okay. Remember that you said the word earlier: pauses. Maybe your big reactions are reminding you that pauses are needed, in order to help you. I actually wrote a newsletter, which I can send to you called, Punctuate Your Life. And I want to send it to you. It’s so cool, because I love this idea that if you try to read a paragraph, without punctuation, it would be hard to make sense of it. It wouldn’t make sense because everything’s run on and everything. There is no punctuation. Punctuation serves a very important purpose. So, if I were to say to you: in life, what would an exclamation point mean to you?

21:39  Salimah:  Excitement.

21:41  Leslie:  Right. We want to have exclamation points in our life. What would a question mark mean to you? 

Salimah:  Confusion.

Leslie:  Confusion, curiosity—yes—ask a question. Great. What would a comma mean to you? 

Salimah:  Extra detail. 

Leslie:  Extra detail—super. I sometimes also think about it as a pause. And what would the period mean to you? 

Salimah:  Stopping.

Leslie:  Okay. Do you see a value of bringing those pieces into your life? 

Salimah:  Yes. 

Leslie:  Do we need a pause? Do we need more detail? Do we need a stop every once in a while? Could the punctuation help you reduce the sense of burnout and relentlessness of parenting? 

Salimah:  I think it’s possible. 

Leslie:  Okay. And it doesn’t mean these big things, like, “I need to go and spend an hour or three hours with a friend to take a break from my kids.” No, it could mean: take a pause. Take a look outside, step outside. Look at a budding flower or scroll on your phone at photographs that bring a moment of, “Oh yeah, remember when that happened? That was the holidays…” or something like that, that might have been pleasant. So pausing, stopping, having moments of exclamation, having moments of confusion, curiosity, all of these can help reduce some of that burnout. Okay?

23:07  Salimah:  Okay. When they’re really doing a lot, I’ll definitely be like, “I’ll be back. I’m driving. I’m driving to Starbucks and going to Walmart.” [Laughter]

23:16  Leslie:  In DBT it’s actually a vacation. But a vacation is very mini, it doesn’t mean, “I get on a plane and go away.” It means, “I’m going to go to my bedroom and read five pages of my book, I’m going to go and run an errand and I’m going to get something at Walmart.” Whatever it is, these can be little moments away. But if you go away, and you take that ride to Walmart. 

But if you are in your mind ruminating about what just happened and how it should be different and all that, what kind of vacation is that? That’s not helping, you really have to do it all the way where, “Okay, that problem is going to be there. It’ll be there when I come back in 15 minutes. So I’m going to go and give 15 minutes to myself, and I’ll be back.”

24:00  Salimah:  Yeah. For some people, these things are normal, these are done regularly, it was modeled for them. So acknowledging that this is something new, and it has to be tried and has to be learned, that’s also frustrating in itself. Because it’s, like, “I’m an adult, why do I have to learn this now?” So it is frustrating. But as a parent, you have to, because if you don’t do it, they’re not going to do it.

24:25  Leslie:  And the willingness to change and grow and be vulnerable and all that, that you’re doing right now…you know that that makes me feel alive. I don’t know if it makes you feel alive, but I look at it as: it’s hard. It’s not easy to learn new things. And I happen to personally love the sense of accomplishment when I see myself trying something new. Do you ever get that sense of accomplishment?

24:50  Salimah:  Usually after a task is completed, not in the trying…oooh…maybe? Maybe. 

24:57  Leslie:  That’s so interesting, because in schools we used to only grade the accomplishment—you got an “A” on the paper, you got an “A” on the test. But maybe now report cards also show the effort, “This child works hard, this child puts a lot of effort into it.” So that effort, which is very important to give that feedback to children, so many studies show that focusing on the effort is the best feedback we can give rather than focusing on the production or the product.

25:27  Salimah:  So when you say that, I agree, but kids are different, right? So for me, the type of kid that I was, I think the part that was missing was the why. You could see my progress and you could tell me I’m doing a good job. But I’m literally only hearing what you’re saying, like, I’m just hearing you say that I’m doing a good job. I don’t know why you’re saying it to me. So if it hadn’t been explained to me, you’re doing a good job, I want you to know, you’re doing a good job, because it’s important that you know—I think that piece was missing. 

So although I might have heard the things that needed to be said, I didn’t correlate why it was being said to me. It was, like, “Okay, everyone says that: do a good job.” Actually, which ties in to what I said earlier about someone saying, “You’re doing a good job.” And I’m like, “Okay, if only you knew what it really looked like.”

26:13  Leslie:  Oh…okay. That’s when it might feel more like praise. If it feels more like praise, then you only understand that they think you’re doing a good job, but you don’t understand it. And feedback gives information to you as to, there’s the why you just spent 20 minutes thinking or working on your paper—you just did an hour of your homework, that’s a long time to stay with and stay committed with doing homework. So the feedback is the why

I don’t know if that makes sense, but going back to burnout, giving yourself that kind of credit for the effort—I do want you to give yourself, you call it “grace,” I want you to give yourself that sense of accomplishment when you are working on it. It may not be perfect, you may still have reactions that, “Well that didn’t work, that may be shaming my child.” But wait a minute, the effort is, “I recognize it. I know, I don’t want to do it. It’s not according to my values. I’m going to try something different next time.” Any aspect of the changes you’re making, I think it’s really great to give yourself what I call partial credit. 

27:30  Salimah:  Yes, that’s needed.

27:33  Leslie:  Partial credit can help you with burnout. One other idea about burnout that I think is important, that goes back to that feeling of: it’s first thing in the morning, your daughter’s not getting ready, I’m going to be late for school, I’m going to get my child late, I have a meeting I’m not going to get to—that snowball effect. One of the things that causes burnout is that looking ahead and seeing either the worst case scenario or everything that’s going to go wrong. And that puts a lot of pressure, that causes a lot of burnout. 

There’s a saying. My mother was a golfer, she was a great golfer, and we grew up hearing her say, “You need to keep your head down.” Generally, you hit the ball, and you want to see where the ball goes, so you look. If you’re a golfer, you’re told: keep your head down, even after the ball goes. So to me, keep your head down means, stay in the present. Now I know we need to make a phone call if you’re going to be late for a meeting and saying, “Hey, I’m running late. Difficulties parenting, I’ll be there as soon as I can.” I understand that we might need to make those considerations about what’s coming down the line. But sometimes the fear takes us out of the moment and causes a little bit of burnout. 

Salimah:  I can see that. Yeah. 

Leslie:  So, can you think of an example where staying in the moment actually might help you rather than the fear or anxiety that you’re going down the worst case scenario path?

29:04  Salimah:  There’s really just narrating what was happening in the moment. Because it’s like, “Okay, all of these things are gonna make me late. She’s going to be late for school. He’s going to miss breakfast,” and it was like, “Okay, although those things are going to happen. I can’t change that they’re going to happen, so, why dwell?” So it was like, “Okay, we know he’s going to miss breakfast. So let’s get him a bowl of cereal now.” So instead of being upstairs while she’s melting down, take a trip downstairs, get him the cereal, give him that he’s situated—one kid down. Go back upstairs and go back to the other situation. So that, yeah, that worked. 

29:39  Leslie:  So, staying present with what needs to be done in the moment, staying effective and saying, “What do I need to do? How can I be effective in the moment?” We’ve acknowledged that it can feel relentless, that the problems just keep going. Because then you go to work. You might not be with kids. It might be a break, but it’s not a vacation.

30:00  Salimah:  I used to see it as a break. But now that I’m in a middle school, the break is gone. Because now I’m going to a new location to deal with even more children. And it kind of feels like I spend my entire day giving my energy to these kids. And then I come home. And it’s like, “I’m over it, I’m done.” 

And so now my kids don’t get the happy mommy that they deserve. It’s like, I’m tired. But as soon as I walk in the door, I walk straight into the kitchen, I’m doing dishes, I’m cooking food. And now I’m angry, because why are the dishes even here? Like, “You’ve been here for hours.” So it’s not the best moment, but at the same time, it’s like, “I wish somebody would see how much that I’m doing, and want to take something off my plate.” 

30:48  Leslie:  Acknowledgement is…oh, my goodness. I want to say to you: you do the work of 100 people, you do the work of 10 people. 

Salimah:  Thank you. Oh…yeah. 

Leslie:  And maybe we can pay it forward. You say that to a friend who’s trying to parent or trying to live their life; that you recognize how much effort they put into their life, into their day, into their work, into their children, whatever it is. And to let people know that every once in a while, you need to hear that. And some of these affirmation cards: make yourself a little note that every once a while, you need to go read—keep it under your pillow. And every once in a while, pull it out and say, you do the work. Just give that to yourself. But it does feel so incredible when someone recognizes that someone else outside of ourselves recognizes that.

31:42  Salimah:  Even as you say that, I’m sitting here, and I know exactly who to say it to. And it brings me full circle to: these are the things that I would do for other people. But who is going to do it for me? Like, that’s what makes it more…we’ll just go with upsetting. Like, why doesn’t anybody think to take care of me the way that I take care of everybody else?

32:10  Leslie:  I really respect that. And I don’t think you’re alone. The irony is other people are saying the same thing. So we all feel a little isolated. Many of us can feel isolated in that feeling of nobody…or it doesn’t feel like other people are doing me what I would love to do to others. So I think we’re moving too fast. Many people are functioning at a burnout level. Moving, moving, productivity, everything get done—we reinforced, the more you work, the better you are, and it’s like, oh, no, no, no, no. 

And so we’ll go around and say, “Oh, you look beautiful,” or, “I like your clothes.” We’ve trained ourselves to give that feedback to each other—we don’t give feedback on the effort. I see what you put into one day. That’s like a lifetime of effort that you’re putting in every day. You put in enough energy to last a lifetime. And I know I’m saying it in an extreme, but I think it would hit home when people can see our effort. So, can you teach? You’ve spoken of your sister, maybe you want to ask her or maybe you want to ask a friend to say, “You know what? Maybe every month, you and I surprise each other with recognizing the effort we’re putting into getting through each and every day.”

33:34  Salimah:  Yeah, that’s something that I think I can get a few people to practice more often. Like I said, I am that type of person. Those are types of things that I do. It’s funny, because my sister was having a hard day. And we were texting, she was just texting me how she was feeling and what was going on. And I randomly called her and started singing a song from when we were little. And yeah, I’m going to out her: she was all crying. 

And it was the whole moment. But it was, like, that song is from when I was five years old. And I really love my sister. There was no question, there was no thought about it—she knows what this song means. Just having those moments where someone just…they perform a gesture, but something very specific that shows they know you, this means something. This isn’t for anybody else. This is for you.

34:24  Leslie:  I mean, that saying, whoever invented it is brilliant: random acts of kindness. But like you said, specific random act of kindness. It wasn’t just, “I know you’re having a hard day—I’m here for you. It was, “I’m going to sing a song that you know and I know and connects us to a very specific time.” That’s a great suggestion. If you did it for her, then maybe one day say, “You know, if you ever notice that I’m having a hard day, I would love one of those random acts of kindness right back at me.” So it’s uncomfortable to ask for something you need. And I bet that might be hard for you.

35:01  Salimah:  Yeah…I’m just not going to ask.

Leslie:  Oh, no! Oh my goodness!

Salimah:  I’m just gonna do it myself. Just gonna do it myself. I’m good. I got it. Thanks.

[Laughter]

35:10  Leslie:  Miss Independent, thirteen years old, I did it myself, I’m going to keep doing it myself! What you did at 13 to keep going, to go forward: you adapted to your environment, and you became very independent—you had to be. That was adaptation: you adapted. What is adaptive as a child may not always be effective as an adult. So being independent and not asking for help, probably at 13 helped you go forward and succeed in life, and get you to where you are. But now that may not be the most adaptive. Maybe learning to ask for help or asking for what you need, like we’re talking about, might actually help and be very effective.

35:53  Salimah:  Yeah, I learned that this morning, when I went to go drive my car, and it was covered in snow. Had I moved yesterday and asked one of the neighbors to help I wouldn’t have been stuck. But I got myself out.

36:03  Leslie:  Yes. Because you know you can rely on yourself. That you’ve got such a strong sense of self-assurance, self-confidence—you’ve got that. But what about the I-can-accept-help? 

Salimah:  Baby steps.

Leslie:  Baby steps! I’ll take it! I’ll take it. That seems like a huge ask for you. And I think that’s a great one. Again, another thing to help with burnout: asking for help. Getting feedback on the effort, having someone see the effort, making sure you see your effort, staying in the present, punctuating your life—these are all ideas that can really work. We’re not changing the circumstances, which means you’ve got a full-time job, you’ve got three, four full time jobs, you’re a parent, you’re a special ed teacher, you have a house, you provide food and everything. The number of jobs that you’re doing is…you’re really doing the work of 10 people—you’re doing 10 jobs. 

So recognizing that you’re doing all that isn’t going to change, those circumstances are not going to change. Yes, your kids will grow up and you’ll do the parenting piece or making three meals a day for three people may reduce, but the circumstances are what they are. So we need to help you through those circumstances. Because that’s your reality.

37:29  Salimah:  Yeah. So, with asking for help, what happens when you’re trying to make sure that you’re not over-asking? Like, if you feel like you need help in everything, but you don’t want to ask because you feel like it’s excessive. How do you know how much help is enough? And how much is taking advantage of the situation? 

37:53  Leslie:  One, collect some data. How many times have you asked that person for help? What are the things you’ve asked for? Did you ask them for, when they went to the store, to pick you something up? Did you ask them when they made a pot of soup to give you some? Did you ask them…whatever you ask them for, write it down and ask yourself, “Am I really asking excessively?” So, first collect data, because your head, for someone who doesn’t like to ask for help, asking two times might be “Oh, my God, I’ve overdone it. I’ve overstepped my boundaries.” 

So, first collect data. Two, ask yourself: is there any reciprocity? You know, “Is it fair that I’m asking this person for help? So going to therapy—I’m just using that as an example—going to therapy and asking your therapist for help…well, you could ask a billion times because that’s what you’re there for. So is the relationship, the amount that you’re asking, is it fair? Are they able to reciprocate? And do you have a reciprocal relationship, meaning you help them, they help you? It does not have to be one-to-one. 

Another thing about asking for help and feeling like you’re overdoing it: ask them. Check the facts. So you can actually say, “Hey, I’m going to ask you a favor. And ‘no’ is a perfectly fine answer, because I might have asked you too many times, and ‘no’ is totally fine. I’m going to give you a chance to say ‘no.’ I’m also going to give you a chance to say ‘yes,’ if it works for you.” One of my favorite things, when I ask for help, is to give someone permission to say “no.”

39:29  Salimah:  I can do that. Yeah, that’s on the easier side.

39:33  Leslie:  Great. So now you’re asking for help, which is hard for you. But you’re making it easier by saying, “If you cannot do this, ‘no’ is a perfectly fine answer; I have other options.” Because it’s true. You always can fall back on yourself or maybe ask someone else. But there are other options if someone says “no.” So I like to use that combination of, “You are welcome to say ‘no,’ ‘no’ is a perfectly fine answer. And I have other options, meaning you’re not responsible for helping me.” And then they get to say “yes” under their own volition. 

So those are three ideas: collect the data, ask yourself about reciprocity and check the facts, give them the opportunity to say no if they need to.

40:14  Salimah:  The thought that comes behind that is, because you named different types of people and those are all people that I would have relationships with. But because of my situation, where I don’t know anybody, it makes it a little trickier. So, it’s like I meet people at work, but they are not my friends. And I work far from where I live. So it’s like, what you said makes sense and I could use it. But in this situation, it’s like, “Oh, we’re back in the awkward position. Okay.” 

40:41  Leslie:  Talk to strangers. I mean, the idea is, how do we ever become friends? I have—It’s a wonderful story—but 40 years ago, we had just moved to Florida. We had a dog. And we were going away. And I saw a woman walking down the street with a dog. And I said to her, “Hey, do you know of any kennels around here? We just got here, and we’re going away, we need to find a place for the dog.” And she said—I mean, not everybody’s going to do this, but she said—”I’ll take your dog while you go away.” We, to this day, are incredibly, incredibly close friends. I made a best friend from that one talk-to-strangers moment. 

And it sounds like, “Oh, that doesn’t happen all the time.” You know what? I talk to a lot of strangers, and I make a lot of friends that way. They don’t all have to become best friends. They don’t all have to become the closest person. But they may be someone who can help you. So that’s one way of talking to people in your neighborhood that you’re just getting to know. Asking someone for help, or offering to help someone—great way to make friends. And then even with work colleagues, just because it feels far away doesn’t mean it’s impossible. So get rid of some rules in your head, which is, “I can’t ask them that. I can’t ask them that.” You can ask them and let them say no. You never know.

42:04  Salimah:  I think that should work. 

42:06  Leslie:  All right. So I want to wrap up and say, this is a lot of stuff we’ve done in these four sessions. I really hope that you allow yourself to go over it and around again, and let it sink in, through thinking about it at different times and in different ways. Be very gentle. Be very gentle with yourself as you’re making these changes to help with your kids, to help with the burnout, to be the best “you” you want to be. Let’s not make it too formal and make it too much pressure. But, just with ease, go forward because you’re doing a beautiful job. And it’s a lot. 

42:47  Salimah:  Thank you. It’s like trying to transform from the rough lady outside to the…what is the word…that nurturing mom.

42:55  Leslie:  It’s all of you. It’s all of you, you have all those parts. And they all have different purposes. So be all of you. Having self-value and self-worth is about loving all the parts of ourself. Getting them to work together. 

Salimah:  Okay. 

Leslie:  Thanks, Salimah.

43:15  Salimah:  Thank you.

[Music: Live in the Moment by Lesfm]

43:40  Leslie Cohen-Rubury:  Burnout is a reality for Salimah. She’s a single mom working a full-time job. She isn’t doing anything wrong. Burnout is a reality for many parents. And there are steps you can take to help yourself through it. We need support, we need to ask for help. We need to look at where our expectations and beliefs might be getting in our way. And we need to practice self compassion: as Salimah said, kiss your brain. And the secret is that the small steps can make it a little easier for ourselves. I’m grateful for Salimah’s vulnerability and I want to thank her for the time she shared with us. We recorded these sessions a few months ago and Salimah recently shared this update about the adjustments that have taken place in her house.

44:31  Salimah:  With Alani, I’m more aware of her emotions, positive or negative. Those shoulder shrugs are definitely something I’ve been reading.

With Rene, I’ve learned that her emotions sometimes they get away from her and it’s okay, because she’s just a reflection of myself. And so I just tried to give her a little space while also giving myself grace. 

And with Terrel, just try to give him a little more attention now. I praise him for what he does, and also give him more opportunities. As a whole for all three, I’m a little more focused now on creating memories with them, giving them opportunities that they never thought they could get. As a mom, I feel like I’m making progress. I feel like I’m learning. I feel like what I’m learning is being applied. And most of all, I’m definitely proud of myself. And that’s important. I’m trying to give myself grace when needed. And we’re going to learn together, we’re going to create a life together. We’re not on a battlefield anymore.

45:35  Leslie Cohen-Rubury:  It is so good to hear Salimah’s commitment to these changes is making a real difference. 

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

Next week, we’ve got a special conversation with one of the hosts of Slate’s Care and Feeding  Podcast, Jamilah Lemieux. She’s joining me to talk about a common dilemma for parents: deciding whether or not to take your child to therapy, and the many questions that go along with that decision. 

Transcribed by https://otter.ai edited by Eric Rubury

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