April 9, 2024

Molly & Alastair Part 3 of 4: When your Co-Parent Steps in to Help

Today’s episode is the third session with Molly and Alastair where things take a turn inward. Molly and Alastair first contacted Leslie to get help with their two daughters, 8 year old Elizabeth and 4 year old Catherine but in the process began to face their own struggles with their belief systems and expectations.

In addition, in this session Molly and Alastair face the complexities of family communication and interactions. This episode throws a spotlight on the delicate dance of respecting different parenting styles. Leslie shares strategies to increase effective communication in their relationship. In this heart-to-heart conversation you are bound to feel a shift in their perspective and possibly a shift in your own perspective as well.

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

  • 3:00 When the parents “gives more” the child ends up cooperating more
  • 4:30 Connection = mutual respect = trust
  • 5:03 Refocusing from the “end goal” to the present moment
  • 5:17 Children remind us to be in the present moment
  • 6:50 As a parent your battery gets worn down 
    • Worry and stress about kids getting along
    • Desire to do things right causes us stress
  • 9:50 Parents avoidance to letting the child get upset
  • 11:30 Generational myth to make sure everyone is happy
  • 11:50 Kids relax when parents aren’t constantly trying to fix them.
  • 12:30 Parents are learning to get used to when the kids are upset with each other or with you.
  • 13:25 When the second parent steps in to the interaction between a parent and a child. Ways to step in:
    • You can say “Is that working for you” 
    • come in with a neutral non-judgmental stance
    • You can say “I notice there is a bit of a struggle” 
    • You can say “Can I be of help to either of you?”
  • 19:30 Doing things the right way and letting go of wanting to be right  
  • 21:08 Find the positive intention of another person’s behavior
  • 26:05 Accurate communication: Put words to those chaotic moments – Narrate it 
    • One minute check in
    • Expect and accept the bumps and rough spots in parenting 
    • Molly’s idea of naming the “unicorn parent” who is the parent on point

Resources: 

TRANSCRIPT OF SHOW:

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

0:03  Molly:  I feel like he feels, like probably like: you’re being watched and judged a little bit. I think that doesn’t make it easier for him to focus on the interaction he’s actually having with the kid.

0:22  Leslie:  This is s 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.

0:51 Leslie:  So often, parents come to me thinking they’re struggling with their child’s behavior, when really they’re struggling with their own belief system and expectations about parenting. It’s so much easier to fight with our children than to fight with our inner demons. 

Molly and Alastair are no different. They came to me in their first session to talk about the sometimes challenging sibling dynamics between eight-year-old Elizabeth and four-year-old Catherine. But over the course of our three sessions, the focus shifted to changing their own behavior as a way of impacting their children’s behavior. And to do that, they have been taking notes during our sessions and practicing the skills we’ve gone over. 

In today’s final session with Molly and Alastair, I challenge them to face their inner struggles, which is not an easy ask, or task. Maybe this session will get you thinking about your own inner struggles. 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. 

Leslie:  Hi Molly, hi Alastair, how are you today?

Molly:  Hello.

2:18  Alastair:  Doing pretty good, thanks.

2:20  Leslie:  So here we are today, and I am so curious to hear about some of the things we talked about last time and some feedback. Do you have any feedback for me?

2:36  Alastair:  Yeah. I’ve been trying really hard to not be stern about making sure that our youngest does all the things herself rather than solely for the sake of just imposing my rule, if you will. And that’s been going a lot better. I feel like there’s a lot less friction, and it sort of allowed her to get to a point where I can ask her to do something and tell her that I’ll help her once she’s at least tried, and that has really, really been nice, not having that friction for the sake of having friction. 

3:22  Leslie:  Wow. So, a few weeks ago, when you first learned this and we first started, you tried it and it caused less friction, less conflict, a lot more ease. And now you’re beginning to see that it’s actually having an impact on changing her behavior, where she’s more willing to try it a little bit on her own. So it’s almost like now you can ask for a little bit more, because you’ve actually given and created that. You gave and you’re getting more is what I’m trying to point out. Does it feel like that?

3:51  Alastair:  Definitely yeah.

3:52  Molly:  I think from my perspective too, I’ve noticed that a little bit. I don’t know if it’s building trust or something between the two of them, but I was noticing this morning, when he was getting Catherine ready for school. It was a little more playful than usual. She was pretending to be a cheetah and Alastair was playing into that a little bit. You know, having the cheetah go do whatever cheetahs need to do with their shoes, joining later, and it did feel less charged, less intense.

4:23  Leslie:  Great. And you said, maybe building trust. I’m just, for the sake of simplicity, going to say you’re creating connection. And, yes, that trust is there—it’s respect, it’s you’re respecting her, she’s respecting you back.

4:39  Alastair:  Yeah, and I think also just sort of slightly taking the focus off of the end goal and just being about, “Okay, we’ve got to get all this done as quickly as possible.” It’s definitely, I feel, helped a lot.

4:56  Leslie:  Right. I mean, parents definitely have an agenda: “We got to get it done.” And they’re on a time schedule: “We got to get it done and we got to get it done now.” And children just don’t have either one of those agendas. They remind us to be in the present moment. They remind us that, “Hey, this is the only moment I have to worry about.” And maybe there’s stuff, like, “I don’t want to get to school,” or, “You’re rushing me.” Yes, there’s always those things too. But children really do remind us about being in the present moment.

5:25  Molly:  Yeah, it’s true. And it’s not that everything has been, since our last session, it’s not that everything has been perfect or anything. But I do think things have been…it’s been a relatively less stressful few weeks. Part of that’s probably because Alastair was out of town with the kids last weekend, so I had some time to recharge. 

[Laughter]

Leslie:  Good for you. 

5:47  Molly:  But from my side, I’m trying more…I think the main thing I’ve been trying to do is, when Elizabeth is setting boundaries, so for example, they’ll be, they’ll be playing for a while, and Catherine will get very, very insistent that she, for example, wants to be the leader the whole time. They’re on their scooters, they’re playing a game. She doesn’t want her sister to get in front of her, doesn’t want her to get a turn. At some point Elizabeth will just say, “Okay, I don’t want to do this anymore, I’m crossing to the other side of the street, I’m going to do my own thing.” And, for me, what I’ve been trying to do, is kind of let that happen without myself getting kind of stressed out about that or feeling like there’s a conflict that makes me uncomfortable. Even in the past, when I wouldn’t step in, it still, I think, bothered me in a way that might come out later.

6:45  Leslie:  And you just said—which all parents need the chance to recharge their battery, so to speak—but those things…holding on to, “They’re not getting along. What’s going on? I got to work this out.” That is stress that wears down the battery. Or trying to get them to do something different. So getting involved or worrying about it, those are two ways that parents wear themselves out.And I’m really glad to hear that you’re, like, “Do I need to step in?” Remember last time we talked about: Whose problem is that? I wonder if that was stuck with you.

7:19  Molly:  Yes, yes. We’ve tried a couple of times, to change the subject, If I had a magic wand. Or the superpower one: If I knew, I wish I’d known that you wanted to do the rice krispies, or I wish I’d known that you wanted to…whatever it is, I don’t know if I’ve noticed any sort of difference in Catherine’s reaction in the moment, but I’m hoping it’s sinking in.

7:50  Alastair:  I do feel like it’s not been as dramatic and intense a response, comparatively. Or at least there have been fewer occasions, it seems to me, where she’s blown up because of, say, pouring the rice krispies or what have you. I think it’s been going a little better probably because of that, I think. yeah, well, I’m noticing too.

8:16  Molly:  Yeah, well, I’m noticing too, I think, she’s in a stage right now where she’s really into wanting to be a helper, wanting to please people, wanting to do things, and then sometimes that manifests as a, “I want to do everything myself,” or, “I want to do this for you,” or,”I want you to close your eyes for 10 minutes while I get some surprise ready for you.

So I’ve also had success in, I think, kind of asking her as a favor, to let me do something once in a while, like this morning it was pouring her cereal. It was a very big box with the rip in the side, and I just didn’t want her to pour it all over the floor, all over the dog. So I ended up doing…I don’t know if you’re familiar with Bluey, but they have something called a Please Face. So I kind of played up that, “Oh, please, please, will you let me pour your cereal?” And she let me do it, kind of as a favor to me, I think. So I think she felt—not that I want to do this all the time—like she needs to do her own thing sometimes. But I think she was able to be, like, “Okay, this is the way I’m helping, letting Mom do something that she really wants to do.” 

Leslie:  Beautiful.

9:21  Alastair:  I think also it’s been really helping, when those events arise where she wanted to do something, you’ve been really good at quickly coming up with another thing that she can do that’s really helpful as well, and sort of taking advantage of the fact that she wants to help and sort of quickly redirecting to another useful thing that she can do, and I think that’s been working really well.

9:47  Leslie:  Sure, redirecting is a strategy that works very well at any age, really, to tell you the truth. And so that’s a great skill. I’m just beginning to wonder with, If I had a magic wand or the superpower one or even the please, please, please… Do you feel like you have to, not entertain her but, make it all pleasant so she doesn’t get upset? Is there, inside of you, an avoidance to getting her upset?

10:18  Molly:  Definitely on my part, yes.

10:20  Leslie:  Yeah, you’re really nodding your head.

10:22  Molly:  And I think part of it is. I mean, I think that’s always been kind of my inclination. And I think it’s sometimes hard to figure out the difference between sometimes wanting to do that because you’re heading off something that’s going to be very disruptive, especially when they’re much younger. But now that they’re getting older, it probably makes sense to do more of a transition. And that is—I think we talked about it before—something that in my family of origin is pretty common. So if they’re having a little bit of a meltdown, for example, or even, you know, in front of my dad, for instance, if one of them’s not smiling but just kind of staring out the window, he’ll wonder, “Are they okay?” It’s very like, “Let’s fix any unpleasant or uncomfortable emotion.” So, yes, I think that’s probably something I’m doing. Not on purpose, but…

11:23  Leslie:  Great awareness to make that circle, to bring yourself back to, “Yeah, what happened in my family of origin was that.” And you see it now with your dad, like you just said, he wants everyone to be happy. If there’s not a smile on the face, there must be something wrong, right? And you even said, when you gave the example of if Elizabeth crosses the street because she’s done, “I’ve had enough,” you let it be—you don’t have to fix it. I got to tell you I think kids relax as well when their parents aren’t trying, constantly, to fix it. Like, it’s no big deal—let’s keep going.

And trying to stave off a negative reaction or an uncomfortable emotion for you, it’s like saying, “These are not okay, these are not okay emotions.” Whereas if we just go with, “Yeah, you’re going to get upset.” And you did mention in the first or second session we had together, I think you said you don’t like seeing your children upset or having anybody upset with you. And so this is a big getting used to it for you, right? You’re really learning to get used to your kids being upset sometimes.

12:31  Molly:  Yeah, and with the example of Elizabeth crossing the street, being upset with each other. So sometimes I see those things and I think, “Okay, if someone said that to me, as an adult, that would be very upsetting.” But I think when you’re talking about kids interacting, that’s more normal for them and they’re in charge of their own relationship, and I need to kind of step that back a little bit. 

And I think it probably also has to do with, like, my parents were divorced, so there was very much…I’m used to kind of being the intermediary. And that’s something I do at work a lot, too, sometimes, is try to explain people to other people, or I’m in the middle. So I’m trying not to do that with the kids. And also this just occurred to me as I was thinking about it, but with regards to Alastair and the kids sometimes too. 

13:25  Leslie: Ah, stepping in, right—that’s an interesting thing. Tell me what you do when you step in.

13:34  Molly:  Well, once in a while there’ll be something, and I think it’s because we have kind of different styles and I’m the one who, as much as sometimes being upset or the big emotions might be uncomfortable, I really have tried to get them to talk about their feelings all the time. And I’m very receptive to that, probably to a fault, because I want them to be able to do better than I did or realize things earlier than I did. But they’ll come to me and they’re probably playing it up but, “Daddy hurt my feelings when he said this,” or, “I didn’t like this,” and they’ll ask me to talk to him and I usually try to encourage them to go back and talk to him themselves. Or if there’s some sort of interaction and I have a suggestion for you, I’m like, “I think she’s feeling like she needs some time or attention.” I’ll say that, in the moment, which is probably not helpful.

14:23  Alastair:  I think there have been some occasions where it’s actually been helpful, when I’m sort of to the point where I’m not remembering to take a deep breath and remember that it’s not personal. It’s when I am falling back into the old habits of just being stern and dictatorial in how I try and interact with them. So it has been helpful from time to time to just have that gentle reminder.

15:03  Molly:  But do you feel like I get in between, sometimes?

Alastair:  Sometimes, yeah.

15:10  Leslie:  It sure is natural.

15:12  Molly:  Yeah, I’m trying to think of examples. But it’s hard to think of examples. I just, I just feel like that’s happened.

15:17  Leslie:  It sure is natural. I’ll say it one more time because I mean, I probably… it’d take me a second to think of examples from 30 years ago or 15 years ago when my husband and I would get involved like that. I mean, here I am, I’m supposedly the parenting expert, right? And my husband—that’s not his expertise. And so you bet I had a lot of opinion.

[Laughter]

But interestingly enough, I knew intuitively that there’s a little bit of evolution here that says: let’s get the best of both worlds. The feeling is, is that he’s got something to offer them and it doesn’t mean it’s going to be the same as what I have to offer my kids. And so I don’t want to make the assumption that maybe arguing till you’re blue in the face is maybe something they get to practice with him. They won’t practice that with me because I won’t engage in it. But he actually believed with one of my daughters that he needed to have the last word. And guess what? She believed she needed to have the last word. 

So I would just say “Is that working for you?” You know, maybe I would take that and I’d say to him, “Is that working for you?” Other times I’d just let it go, because I’m like, they can discuss this till the blue in the face, because I don’t know if she’s…maybe she is going to be a lawyer, you know, maybe that’s honing one of her skills. So who am I to really come in and say, “Don’t do that.”

Now, there are some really important times when we need each other, when the spouse can step in. And what I recommend—I’ve probably said this before to people—but, what I recommend is, if you are going to step in, you do it the same way you would do it with sibling rivalry. You don’t walk in there and say, “Okay, what did you do, what did you do? Why are you doing this and why are you doing that?” and start with the blaming. You come in with a really neutral stance. Instead of thinking, “Alastair, you’re doing it wrong, don’t do that, don’t do that.” You come in and say, “Well, I noticed there’s some discomfort here. I noticed there’s a bit of a struggle.” First, I might say, “Do either one of you feel like I might be helpful. And then, Alastair, you get to say, “Yes, I sure could use some help,” or no, “Thank you, we’re doing fine.” 

Alastair:  Yeah.

Leslie:  I love you both looking at each other, nodding, “Yes, keep going.” [Laughter]

17:43  Molly:  It seems very obvious, but I never in my life have actually asked if my help is needed or wanted. [Laughter] 

17:51  Leslie:  Love it. It’s so obvious, but you missed it. You haven’t thought of that.

17:56  Molly:  That could probably be good. Yeah.

17:57  Leslie:  And what does it do to both…how would Alastair and your daughter feel…either daughter. Alistair, you can speak for yourself. How is it going to feel if someone comes in and says, “Hey, I noticed that there’s some discomfort, some struggle, is there anything…can I be a help in any way?”

18:15  Alastair:  I think that would be…it would feel better on my end than when…It does feel a little dismissive sometimes when you come in and sort of take over and shut everything down. Not often, but every once in a while it would have been nice to be like, “Hey, take a less direct approach.”

18:47  Leslie:  Right, You’re not coming in and saying, “You’ve got to calm down, you’re all too upset.” It’s like you’re coming in and telling people what to do. And I remember, Alastair, you appreciated, and pointed out, that some of the strategies we’re talking about give the person—your child, your four and a half or your eight-year-old—the ability to feel like they’re managing their own emotions or managing their own problems and situations. That’s a wonderful feeling and you deserve that same respect.

19:17  Molly:  And then it’s more like we’re a team. Like, “Is there an issue, is there something we need to address?” Versus, assigning blame or responsibility to one person.

19:28  Leslie:  Right. It’s just letting go that, “I think I’m right,” and, believe me, I love being right, so I know what that feels like to, “I want to get in there and tell them I’m right, and tell them I know what to do.” But sometimes it’s just a matter of backing up and saying, “Hey, is there any way I can be helpful here? If not, I’m okay.”

19:46  Molly:  And the thing I like about that, too, is if you’re addressing it to both people, both Alastair and the kid, then it’s also saying you’re both responsible for whatever interaction is going on.

19:58  Leslie:  Excellent, because that’s the truth.

20:02  Alastair:  Yeah, and it helps not sort of assign blame in the situation, too.

20:08  Leslie:  Excellent. Yeah, so you’re starting from a safe place. It’s safe space that you’re coming in and creating even more safety for everyone if they want. And it’s teaching to ask for help. So either Catherine, in the moment, or Alastair, in the moment, is going to say, “Actually, I could use some help. Yes, would you help us out?” What a wonderful thing to teach our children—and adults—to know how to ask for help. 

I really like to emphasize how important it is to teach people to ask for help, because there are some adults, some kids—they just don’t like asking for help. Your child who’s independent or who thinks that that’s a weakness; there’s lots of either myths or just the way that people are wired that actually may make it hard. So it’s a really good thing to practice. 

[Music: Stand in the Forest by Olexy]

21:08  Leslie:  I have a second idea. Can I share that with you? 

Molly:  Yes. 

21:10  Leslie:  Okay. The second idea—because this is a great topic about how to step in—the other idea is something I call: finding the positive intention. Finding the positive intention is when you walk in there and you’re curious and you look and say…You actually try to figure out: What are they both trying to do? It’s not pretty, what they’re trying to do, as they argue with each other. Or Alastair, you’re trying to power over her and it’s not pretty. But there’s something positive motivating you for that power struggle, which is: you want the best for your daughter. In this moment, you’re just trying to help. It may not be graceful, it may not be the most effective, but underneath it all, that’s your motivation. So the positive intention is sometimes we have to go below the surface to say: What are you trying to do? What’s your good intention here? Do you know what I mean by that?

22:09  Molly: no-transcript. In a discordant relationship with the parent or the child.

22:43  Leslie:  Right, because looking at who you are, that’s probably a pretty true statement, that you’re not trying to create havoc or struggle or pain. But something’s just not working. But there’s another intention underneath that.

22:59  Molly:  Well, and something I’m wondering about, too, and I wouldn’t mind some advice on how to handle it. So, one of the times this comes up, I think a decent amount, is when Alistair’s working he’s not doing the morning thing. But on the days that he is home, he usually does the morning thing and I either go into the office or try to start early working from home. But I’m around. But I think sometimes the conflicts or whatever it is with both kids, but usually more Catherine, come when it’s getting them ready to get them out the door, and I think part of that might come also from Alastair’s stress of trying to kind of show that he can do it, get it done without me, without getting me stressed. 

And then sometimes, because Catherine goes to school earlier and sometimes there’s leftover homework or reading that I’m going to be doing with Elizabeth before taking her to school, there’s also kind of that pressure to get Catherine out of the way so that Elizabeth has kind of an ability to concentrate. 

So I think there’s sometimes that underlying stress and pressure, where part of your motivation is also trying to protect Elizabeth and I; or make sure that we don’t have to deal with it. Is that…?

24:25  Alastair:  Yeah, to a certain extent, that is a little stressful, certainly. The other thing that’s kind of hard is on days when you’re teleworking. It’s kind of, there’s only so much one can do. We don’t have a completely secluded, separate office for you to work in. And so it’s kind of hard, I think, for you not to notice when things are not perhaps going exactly perfectly. And, yeah, I think it’s, it seems difficult for you not to feel like you have to jump in. But then I feel that sometimes makes me more stressed about it, because I want to allow you to focus on your work and stuff like that. 

25:22  Molly:  I feel like you think that you feel—which I would understand—I feel like he feels like, um, probably like you’re being watched and judged a little bit. 

Alastair:  Yeah.

Molly:  And not that there’s not places I could go, but I also kind of want to pitch in, too, and make sure the homework gets done before school. Anyway, I think that doesn’t make it easier for him to focus on the interaction he’s actually having with the kid.

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

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