April 16, 2024

Molly & Alastair Part 4 of 4: When Everyone in the Family has a little bit of Anxiety

This is the second half of the final session with Molly and Alastair. Their kids, Katherine (4) and Elizabeth (8), are benefitting from the changes that their parents are making at home.

As parents we want quick behavior fixes, but let’s not underestimate the power and impact that modeling behavior has on children. Molly and Alastair are no different. Leslie’s focus on the parents helped them realize that anxiety exists in the family—from the grandparents, to the parents, to the children themselves. Together, they face these generational patterns head-on. It’s often surprising how anxiety can fly under the radar for everyone in a family, but it’s a significant factor in raising kids, so how can we better identify it and, more importantly, learn to manage it.

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.

Time Stamps

  • 5:25 Myth are mistaken beliefs that we may have learns from childhood or society
    • It’s not ok to experience the natural consequences because its too painful
    • It’s my responsibility to make sure everything goes “right”
    • If something goes wrong, someone is going to be blamed. It has to be someone’s fault
    • It’s your job to make sure everyone has to be happy
  • 7:03 Generational anxiety – stop the cycle
  • 7:55 Dichotomous thinking of seeing things as right or wrong, good or bad.
    • Use the phrase: That’s your version,  this is my version.
  • 10:20 Find another interpretation skill – to teach that there are other perspectives
  • 11:15 Molly added the expression:  Don’t yuk someone else’s yum
  • 14:55 Wanting everything to go right is a way of expressing anxiety
  • 16:10 Compassion is an effective way of dealing with one’s anxiety
  • 18:10 Preparing our children to handle the uncomfortable situations (see The coping skills toolbox for Anxiety in show notes below)
  • 19:50 Various ways that Anxiety presents itself
    • Suppress it, avoid, procrastinate, go into a hole
    • Get into a frenzy, ruminating, making sure everything is “right”
  • 21:55 Modeling for your children
  • willingness to be vulnerable and willingness to be uncomfortable.
  • Choose your long term value as a guide for the dialectic dilemmas

Resources: 

TRANSCRIPT OF SHOW:

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

0:00  Molly:  I don’t think it’s like I’m going over the top with what I’m doing. But I do feel ultimately responsible for everything. If something falls through the cracks or things don’t happen the right way, it’s hard for me to let that go.

0:21  Leslie Cohen-Rubury:  I’m Leslie Cohen-Rubury. And 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 a parent and a therapist with 38 years of experience helping families navigate this question. And no, your child is not a monster. 

Today is our last episode with Molly and Alastair. It’s the second half of their final session. In the first half, we turned the focus onto Molly and Alastair and how they co-parent their eight-year-old, Elizabeth and their four-year-old, Catherine, and the challenges that naturally come with the territory of parenting. Go back and listen to the first half, if you haven’t heard it, for strategies on accurate communication, and how to model respect. 

The second half of this session is vulnerable and revealing. Molly shares with us how her challenging relationship with her father continues to impact her daily life and the steps she is taking to change some of the patterns and beliefs she learned as a child. It is so hard to break those patterns, and something so many parents want and need to do. And then we’re going to touch on the most popular topic of the day—anxiety—and how sneaky it can be. 

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 begin. 

2:09  Leslie:  Do either of you…I think maybe Molly a little bit, you may put a little more pressure on yourself, than is maybe helpful. Again, you said, “It’s nice to recharge my battery.” Do you drain your battery because you may try too hard?

2:27   Molly:  Probably yes. I mean, I don’t think it’s like I’m going over the top with what I’m doing. But I do feel ultimately responsible for everything. I feel like it’s hard for me to let that, kind of, that go. If something falls through the cracks or things don’t happen the right way, I do feel like that that’s kind of on me, I guess. Yeah.

2:58  Leslie:  So if you have the answers, what’s the right way? Because I haven’t gotten that book or that memo that tells me how to live life the right way. What’s the right way of raising your kids? What is this? Tell me, tell me. 

[Laughter]

3:11  Molly:  Well, I think for me, it just makes…so we’ve got a lot, I mean, in our family, we’ve got a lot of moving parts and logistical things, especially because Alastair doesn’t have a regular set schedule and things like that. So I think for me, it’s a lot of just making sure. And maybe this is the avoiding conflict or things like that. But it’s making sure that the homework that’s due on Friday, a little bit of it gets done every day, so it doesn’t go to the last minute. And then, you know, Elizabeth, crying and upset that she has to do it all. 

And so maybe part of it is, for me, trying to avoid uncomfortable situations for everyone. I think that’s probably part of it in the mornings, too, which is, “need to get out at the door on time.” Because if this doesn’t happen, then this doesn’t happen and if this doesn’t happen, this doesn’t happen. And maybe it’s maybe it’s too much avoidance of natural consequences that aren’t the end of the world if they do happen. 

4:18  Leslie:  Oh, say that again. [Laughter] Say it again. It’s so true. It’s so true.

4:26  Molly:  Yeah, avoiding natural consequences, even if those consequences aren’t the worst thing in the world if they do happen,

4:33  Leslie:  Right. As a matter of fact, that’s why we call them natural consequences. Because it’s natural. It’s okay: we all experience natural consequences.

4:48  Molly:  Yes. It’s trying to avoid my kids having the natural consequences, of my actions or omissions, affecting anyone else. But as I say that, I realized how ridiculous it is because, of course, we all affect everyone else, and nothing can be perfect.

5:07  Leslie:  Right. So again, I would take a moment to look and say, “Where can I grow in this capacity? And where in my childhood or society, did I learn that handling the consequence is really too painful? Did I learn that that’s not okay?” And it sounds like if your dad didn’t want anyone to be even in neutral zone—he only wanted that happiness—then it might really signal to you that things are not okay if everything’s not going the way you expected it to. I can understand that. 

Molly:  Yes.

Leslie:  A lot of pressure.

5:48  Molly:  The funny thing is, too—I don’t know, if I mentioned this, this is a little off topic, but—so, I’m actually seeing a therapist with my dad right now. Because we’ve had a…it’s only been a year or so. But since we’ve lived in the same area, this stage of life, the relationship has become much more difficult. So we’re seeing someone and one of the things that that therapist pointed is something that my dad, I guess, grew up with his family of origin, and then probably passed it on to me, which is this idea that if something goes wrong, someone’s going to be blamed. Like, it’s got to be someone’s fault. 

And so then I think one of the things that he does, when we talked about this, was—totally made sense to me—as kind of a defense mechanism. If something goes wrong, he will sometimes try to blame someone else as a defense mechanism, because otherwise, they’ll feel like it’s his fault. Or he did something wrong. So I probably have some of that too, I would imagine. 

6:59  Leslie:  Do we want to pass it on to your children? 

Molly:  No. [Laughter]

Leslie:  No? Well, you know what, it’s amazing to hear you say you’re going to therapy with your dad—how cool is that? Your dad is willing to take a look and both of you are taking a look, understanding some generational patterns. Generational patterns get passed on to our children, unless we do really, really hard work of standing up looking at ourselves, and saying no, I can look for other ways. 

First, I have to look for ways that this is showing up, that I’m going to pass it on. And there are ways that I can change that. So, kudos to you for taking that and working with that. You talked about blaming. I look at blaming as a way to protect oneself from feeling uncomfortable, from feeling like I’ve done something wrong. And there’s many ways of looking at it. One way I like to look at this—and it can help with your children—is that black and white thinking, or all or nothing thinking, says there’s a right way and a wrong way, a good way and a bad way. And if there’s a right and wrong, then someone’s wrong, someone’s at fault. So catch yourselves when you’re talking to each other. 

When I remember from the last time, when Catherine said, “Daddy, you didn’t do it, right. You toasted it and I was supposed to toast it.” And in her head, she’s working with: there’s a right way and a wrong way. And you can say, “Yeah, there’s two versions. There’s the version in your head. And there’s a version in my head. One is not right, and one is not wrong.” So in small ways, from now till forever, when someone is talking about the right and wrong, I catch myself—even though I’ve been working on this for years—I still catch myself when I’m thinking in the dichotomous right and wrong way of thinking. And I just say, “No, it’s not right or wrong. It’s just you’ve got one way, I’ve got one way; that’s your version, this is my version.” And just say that and that’s teaching: there’s no right and wrong. So there’s a lot of ways to come at this idea of blaming, fault, and working on what you and your dad are working on so beautifully so that you don’t pass it on to your children.

9:12  Molly:  I like that. That’s the version in your head; this is the version in my head. I should use that. Yeah.

9:22  Leslie:  I know you said you love those expressions, these little mantras. Go for it. Alastair, you were going to say something. 

9:31  Alastair:  I think that’ll be helpful in that that’s a really useful lesson to learn as soon as possible; then, you know, what’s going on in my head is not necessarily what’s going on in your head. And also just having an awareness that somebody else might have a different perception of what’s going on, I think, could be a really useful thing for I mean for everybody to learn, but a useful thing to help our kids understand.

10:05  Leslie:  And another suggestion might be at the dinner table; and someone says,”Oh, this thing happened on the playground,” or some event happened. You can also play a game that I call, find another interpretation. It’s based on a DBT skill that I teach young adults and adults. But the find another interpretation helps them have more flexible thinking. And it gets us into remembering that people have different perspectives. So what was the perspective of the teacher on the playground? And what was the perspective of the child who got hurt? And what’s the perspective of the child who was hitting? There’s just many, many perspectives. If there were five of you on the playground, there might be five perspectives. And so you can take a situation and everyone can go around and say, “My perspective is this. Okay, Catherine, what’s your perspective? Okay, Elizabeth, what’s your perspective?” And nobody gets to argue with anyone else’s perspective, “No, that’s wrong. That’s not what happened.” Nope. We have no argument, because everyone is allowed to have their perspective.

11:12  Molly:  It’s like when we talk about food all the time, “Don’t yuck someone else’s yum.”

11:17  Leslie:  I love that. I always forget that one. “Don’t yuck, someone else’s yum.” I love that one. Thanks for reminding me of that.

11:23  Molly:  We have used that alive because I’m very different food preferences… 

Alastair:  …and very specific and very narrow.

11:35  Leslie:  And it’s not narrow or whatever, that’s great. It’s not a right and wrong. “It’s wrong that you don’t like this food. It’s right that you…” Nope—let’s get away from that. So you can together try to come up with as many different ways of looking for that right and wrong thinking and work to expand it to be more flexible, and to actually say, “Yeah, right and wrong thinking.” 

Now remember, it’s out there in our society, all over the place. We have, you got the test, right, you got the test wrong. If your child comes home, or does some homework—you do homework with your daughter, let’s say—and the answer’s wrong. Say, “You know what? I’m very curious how you got the answer.” That’s the question you want to say, instead of, “This is wrong, sweetie.” There’s nothing wrong with saying, “Do it again,” or whatever…”This is not the answer your teacher’s looking for. Tell me how you got your answer. I’m really curious. What are you thinking?” 

Because when you hear how your child got the answer, they think they did it right. So there’s something that they’re thinking that was working. And then if they say, “No, I don’t want to do it this way. It’s like, “Okay, how does that work for you? If you go to school and your teacher’s expecting one answer, and you did it differently, can you explain that to your teacher? And are you okay if your teacher actually takes off two points for that? Like, it’s, it’s really okay.” So yes, out in our society, there’s a lot of right and wrong. So you’re up against that as well. And you can point it out, “Hey, how can we change that sign so that it’s less about right and wrong and more…” But you do that when your kids get older. This is going to be a work in progress.

13:13  Molly:  We could probably do it with books and stuff, too; like characters and books. Watch movies together.

13:19  Leslie:  Yes. “Wow, that person thinks they’re right. I wonder if that’s going to make it easy for those two people to get along. That might make it a little hard.” Yeah, that would be great—books and movies. And don’t overdo it with the kids. You guys are very gung ho—I love it. [Laughter] The poor things. Don’t overdo it with them. Just sprinkle it in accordingly. 

13:47  Molly:   Noted.

[Music: Forest of Dreams by Olexy]

13:59  Leslie:  The other thing I want to bring up about this right-and-wrong, is two things. One is, there are people who are wired to be more dichotomous. Their brain works that there’s a right and a wrong. It’s just the way their brain is wired. I don’t blame them. That’s not broken—that’s just the way they work. So, for that person, it’s going to be a little harder being dialectic. I do know that my daughter sees everything in right and wrong, and she was born that way. And she knows it now. So she knows that she’s working on that there’s no right and wrong. There’s a fairness and an unfairness. Kids who feel that there’s a fairness and unfairness, they’re looking for the correct; and boy, do we know that. 

There’s so many ways of looking at something. What’s unfair to one person may be very fair to another. It’s a really challenging concept. But that also leads to the fact that for some people, and it might be your dad’s case, it might be yours, and it might be your children. Have you ever thought of wanting everything to go right and according to the way you said it before, because it’s anxiety? 

15:11  Molly:  Yeah. I think that it probably is, yeah.

15:15  Leslie:  That was a quick answer. [Laughter] I thought you were going to have to think about that. 

Molly:  Yes.

Leslie:  Okay. That’s fair.

15:22  Molly:  I think it is. Definitely. I mean, I think it’s…yeah, partially, family partially, anxiety, which I think is also slightly I’m predisposed to. And I think my dad is, too, probably, maybe my kids at some point. And then I think, also, some of it is societal stuff. That’s passed down from my mom, just the fact that we’re women in this society. And I was the oldest kid, and, you know, being competent, and running things and stuff like that, were, you know, the early… 

Alastair:  It was sort of expected of you.

Molly:  Yeah. And that was part of my identity, probably, growing up. 

16:08  Leslie:  So there’s many reasons why you may be thinking the way you do, which is a very compassionate way of looking at it. There’s no blame here. It’s not like saying, “Oh, my God, you’re doing this all wrong. You’re anxious, you’re making the kids anxious.” No, no, no. Yes, anxiety may be a part of you being a parent. And right now, beginning to understand and have some compassion of it makes sense. It makes sense that from society’s messaging, from my family history, from my biological makeup, these are all very good reasons why, “I’m trying to get this right.” 

And that might be the way I’m leaning. But I can lean away from that, I can grow in other directions. It might not be so easy for me to look at the anxiety around this, to try to change my thinking around the dichotomous right-and-wrong to more dialectic flexible thinking. So yeah, acknowledging it certainly helps you turn towards the direction of changing it. Accepting it helps us lean towards change. Does that make sense?

17:19  Molly:  It does. And I think also, I would not be surprised—I mean, there’s nothing really over the top, but—I would not be surprised if that’s something that Elizabeth needs to work with, too. Maybe Catherine, but she’s already kind of…we already have to work on a little bit, if she doesn’t get her homework done in time. “It’s not going to be at the end of the world. Do you really think your teacher is going to be mad at you and embarrass you in front of the whole classroom? Probably not. Everyone makes mistakes. Sometimes your teacher doesn’t get her work done.” All those…but she’ll get really, you know, she also…

17:54  Alastair:  She does take it a little hard, sometimes. 

17:58  Molly:  She worries about it…

17:59  Alastair:  Yeah. I mean, not that she takes it too hard. That wasn’t the right way to phrase it. But it definitely affects her. And I see that too. 

Molly:  Yeah.

18:09  Leslie:  So, anxiety is showing up in that way—wanting to get it right. What happens if I don’t? What are the natural consequences? And not only really preparing our children is, “You know what? Chances are your teacher is not going to embarrass you in front of the class. And if she does, how will you handle that? Someone can call me out and will I be okay? Yeah, actually, I will be.” 

“But we’re avoiding something that’s telling us, ‘We’re not going to be okay, if this happens,’ and I don’t know if that’s true. Like, let’s check this out. If you don’t get your homework done. What will happen? And let’s see if you can handle it. I’m here. If you can’t handle it, I got a really big hug waiting for you.” But of course, she can handle it. So anxiety may be part of…and we really haven’t focused on that as an issue. But I would say that’s a very, very important thing, is to help you recognizing where your own anxiety is, recognizing where it might be starting to show up—which was a very good example with her homework and getting it done. Those are looking for those places where anxiety might be showing up, starting to work on that. And then Alastair, do you have your own form of anxiety?

19:35  Alastair:  Certainly, yeah.

19:36  Leslie:  Is it worrying about the future?

19:40  Alastair:  I don’t think as much as Molly does. I would say I sort of react to it differently. I tend to sort of suppress it and ignore that sort of thing. rather than…

Molly:  …avoid, procrastinating. 

Alastair:  Yeah, exactly. Avoid, procrastinate—that sort of thing—rather than, whereas you sort of more…

Molly:  …kick myself.

Alastair:  Yeah.

20:15  Molly:  I get into a frenzy, and he kind of hides in a hole, I would say.

20:21  Leslie:  Okay, I’m going to raise something. And that is, when we first met, you weren’t sure you wanted to come to these sessions. Is that the anxiety—avoid, go into a hole, because I’m not sure what this is. And how does that feel now? Was that anxiety?

20:40  Alastair:  I think really, that was more: I don’t generally like being in the spotlight. I usually don’t enjoy being, you know, I don’t like being on camera or…

21:00  Molly:  This is a podcast.

21:05  Alastair:  I realize. [Laughter] I mean, not in terms of this as being on camera, but being recorded, as you know, I have similar feelings about hearing recordings of myself as videos. That was mostly…I don’t know, if that was, it wasn’t so much that I didn’t want to discuss these issues. And I think it’s been really helpful for me talking with you. And so, yeah, I don’t think I thought ahead of time that it wasn’t that I didn’t want to talk with you about these issues. It was more just being kind of shy.

21:42  Molly:  Did you feel anxious about the idea of having your voice out there?

21:46  Alastair:  Yes. Okay, fair enough.

21:49  Leslie:  Okay. And what’s amazing is what you just experienced is something that you can pass on to your children, which is,” I’m going to be uncomfortable, and do it anyway. Because you had this little dilemma,” I don’t want to be out there. I don’t want my…I don’t like hearing my voice. I don’t want to have my voice out there. And I want to get this information. I want to get the help. I want to hear what this is all about.” And so you had this dilemma. 

Remember, we’ve talked about these dilemmas of priorities, and you chose the priority that works for your long term values of, “I want to be a better parent,” or, “I want to learn about parenting.” And that guided you rather than, “I don’t want to be uncomfortable.” This is how we teach children to handle their anxiety. We help them see the dilemma they’re in, which is, “I’m uncomfortable, I don’t want to feel this way. So we’re going to just avoid, avoid, avoid.” Anxiety says, “Yeah, just avoid it, you’ll be fine.” And in the short term, you are fine. But you’re not living according to your long term values, which is,” I want more information about parenting, I want to ask these questions, I want to be part of this.” And so you choose your long term value behavior—the behavior that meets the value of what you want— and you have to deal with the discomfort as well. So you are uncomfortable, and did it anyway.

23:21  Alastair:  I think, also, another good lesson that we could try and pass on to is that even though your anxiety—I was calling it shyness, but sure, it really is more like anxiety—about having my voice out there. That taking that… going and doing it, even though you do feel that way, can often…it’s often not as big of an issue as you think. Which I certainly I feel like, as soon as we started talking, I was able to, like, I didn’t feel uncomfortable once we got started. And so reminding ourselves that it’s the initial discomfort is…it’s quite likely just temporary, and being able to go ahead and try anyway, certainly is a good thing.

24:15  Leslie:  Yes. And that, like I said, would be such a wonderful thing to pass on to your children, because they are going to be faced with, “I’m really uncomfortable. And there’s something I want to do,” or whatever it is, like, “I want to do my homework, and I’m really worried right now.” Well, can you do both? Can you be worried and still do your homework? Can you turn down the volume a little bit on the worry, and still do your homework? 

So, we want to acknowledge that that worry’s there. Rather than, “Oh, you’re fine. You’re fine.” No, no, no. Remember to acknowledge the worry. And say, “Can you hold both and see what happens? And afterwards, I’ll ask you.” And then it’s like, “Oh, yeah, it didn’t turn out to be as bad; I got more comfortable once I started.” So that’s the same thing you’re going to do with the kids, and you are willing to do it. So, that’s great. 

And if you decide not to do it, that’s absolutely your choice. So I do respect that sometimes it feels like it’s not something you want or something that’s just really a higher mountain than you’re ready to handle at the moment.So, sometimes your kids—you can’t push them into it. You take small steps into practicing this kind of thing.

Molly:  Baby steps.

Leslie:  Baby steps. 

25:34  Alastair:  And I think it’ll be good for me to remember to acknowledge the feeling because I do tend to, if something’s wrong, I come in and sort of approach it as like,” Oh, you’re okay, everything’s fine.” But remembering to acknowledge that, I think, will be a good lesson for me to take away, too. 

25:53  Leslie:  Excellent. That’s great. All right, I think we need to wrap up.

25:57  Molly:  Thank you so much. This has been great. 

26:00  Alastair:  Thanks. It’s really been helpful. 

26:04  Leslie:  Keep going. It’s great. You’re doing great work.

[Music: Dreams in Nature by Olexy]

26:17  Leslie Cohen-Rubury:  Molly and Alastair, like many listeners, are carrying away from these sessions some really useful information. They made it very clear that their appreciation for this work is equal to their commitment to their children. Their enthusiasm for both the practical strategies, and the big picture perspective is contagious. And that is my whole goal of this podcast. 

I want you to walk away with a greater understanding of your children, and strategies and tools to try at home. I want to expand on something we touched on in the session: how hard it is to identify anxiety in your children, and even in yourself. It often surprises me that anxiety flies under the radar with so many children and adults. Perhaps it’s because it presents itself in so many different ways. Anxiety isn’t always easy to recognize. Many people think anxiety is only when you feel that nervous feeling. But that’s not the only feeling. It can also look like anger, acting out, avoidance, withdrawal, and even physical things like overheating or an upset stomach. 

And guess what? This list goes on and on, and is different for everyone. In other words, anxiety can be deceiving. I feel very strongly that the earlier we can teach children to identify the feelings, thoughts, and body sensations associated with their anxiety, the better. We also want to teach them tools to manage anxiety, and you can find more information about some of those tools linked in the show notes. Let’s commit to making children the experts on their own anxiety.

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

Join us next week to hear from my adult twin daughters, Dale and Carrie, in an honest and vulnerable conversation focused on sibling relationships and what it’s like to live in the shadow of a sibling with intense emotions. 

Subscribe to Is My Child A Monster? wherever you get your podcasts so you don’t miss an episode. And if you like what you hear, tell a friend. You can find a full transcript of the episode or subscribe to my newsletter at ismychildamonster.com. The Is My Child A Monster? team is Alletta Cooper, AJ Moultrié, Camila Salazar, 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 this week, help your child see different points of view by saying, “That’s your version. And here is mine.”

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

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