July 2, 2024

Louise & George Part 2 of 3: Parenting Your Child Without Punishments or Rewards

Louise and George have committed to parenting without force and want to parent without punishments or rewards, but what happens when their six year old Anna has what feels like never-ending tantrums? 

In her second session with them, Leslie reinforces the importance of connection, and sheds light on the pressures Anna may be putting on herself. Leslie also continues her conversation with George about helping him find joy in parenting. In an incredibly honest and vulnerable conversation, they talk about what it feels like when there’s a favored parent, what might be causing this behavior, and what Dad should do to change that.

  • 2:34 How a child’s frustrating attributes will be beautiful qualities when they’re an adult
  • 4:05 How noticing and naming a child’s behavior can be effective in helping them change it
  • 6:18 Example of how connecting with your child increases cooperation
  • 8:27 Defining processing speed
  • 9:10 Dealing with what parents would call “temper tantrums,” or what Leslie would say is a child having trouble regulating their emotions
  • 12:35 How feeling trapped negatively affects mental health
  • 15:45 It’s all about connection and disconnection
  • 16:03 Staying one step ahead: Identifying and naming your child’s vulnerabilities as prompting events
  • 18:40 How to not reinforce unwanted behaviors by not giving in, but inadvertently reinforcing behavior by ignoring it
  • 21:57 Speaking to your child’s expectations that maybe they’re not even aware of 
  • 24:04 Teaching your child a T graph: when does this quality work for you, when does it not
  • 28:07 Discussion of different parenting approaches 
  • 29:10 Children have a common worry of disappointing their parents
  • 33:30 Relationship between mom and child vs dad and child
  • 35:35 The challenges of co-parenting: when one parent feels invalidated by the other

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.


Leslie-ism: Try to stay one step ahead of your child. 


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

0:06  George:  I’m left without any good solution, and we just all have to endure while this child screams amidst a bunch of other humans, and we’re all having to deal with it.


0:22  Leslie Cohen-Rubury:  Being left without any good solutions is another way of saying, “I feel trapped.” Many parents feel trapped when they don’t know what else to do, and when doing what their parents did is certainly not the path they want to take. So they throw up their hands, creating even more tension that the child feels directly. Could Anna’s behavior be a response to her dad feeling trapped? 


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. Today, in part two of my three-part series with Louise and George, we discuss how to get unstuck and speak directly to the elephant in the room: the tension in the family. 


Louise and George have a six-year-old daughter, Anna, and a newborn baby. Parents aren’t the only ones who feel stuck. George, feeling like parenting is a slog, is very similar to Anna’s thirty-minute meltdown over a spilled drink. Both Anna and her dad feel trapped by their limited options to solve the problem at hand. I talk a lot about not shaming our children, and in this episode, I really hope everyone listens with non-judgmental ears so we don’t shame parents. 


Now, as a reminder, all the names and identifying information have been changed, and though I’m a licensed clinical social worker, this show is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for therapeutic intervention. So let’s begin. 


2:11  Leslie:  Hi Louise. Hi George,


2:12  Louise:  Hi Leslie.


2:13  George:  Hi Leslie.


2:14  Leslie:  I just want to start with checking in with you and seeing, after our first session, what you might have practiced, what you might have thought about, anything that you held on to or want to bring up now, in terms of feedback.


2:28  George:  Things that really stuck with me is the idea of, there are attributes of our child that are annoying and uncomfortable and inconvenient now; that are, as adults, really positive attributes that we would say, “Yes, we really want our child to have willpower and perseverance and stick with it…


2:48  Louise:  …creativity and opinions and…


2:52  George:  …wanting to finish things. And it’s given me some peace as far as when Anna’s being a certain way and I can be, like, This is good, in some way.


Louise:  Yeah.


George:  It’s going to be uncomfortable now, and that’s just, that’s how I’d want it to be.


3:05  Leslie:  Okay, so that makes a lot of sense, and a beautiful takeaway; that you actually use the word, it brought you a little peace


George:  Yes. 


3:15  Leslie:  Not fighting against her in those times—is that what it feels like? You’re just like, it’s there, because it’s there. 


George:  Yeah.


3:22  Leslie:  That’s great. I’m very excited to hear that. Louise, what about you?


3:26  Louise:  I think one of the things that you mentioned last time we recorded was that sometimes when Anna is getting a little bit violent in her upset, that I had in the past, sort of like, removed myself from the situation. I don’t want to get hit, so I’m going to walk away. And instead, staying with her and giving her some space to restate where she is. Like, “You’re feeling really upset, you’re hitting me right now,” I definitely tried that out, and it was actually really helpful. Just calling her attention to the fact that she was hitting me helped her to realize that that wasn’t what she wanted to be doing, really.


4:08  Leslie:  Right—she doesn’t want to be hurting you any more than you want to be hurt. Oh, that’s great. Those are two great takeaways. And in your case, the example you use brings up, I just want to rename the skills. One was, I mentioned that you could almost be a reporter. The idea of witnessing and observing what’s going on. That’s a great description and language that she can then learn from. It’s often presented non-judgmentally. 


The second thing that you said was, even though she’s hitting you, it seems like she’s pushing you away. The real social signal is, “I need your help. I need your help. I need your help. I’m out of control.” And when you hear that message—not the message of, “I’m hitting you, and I need you to get away from me”—you responded differently,


5:01  Louise:  Yeah, and she clearly did want me there.She wanted me to be giving her attention and love and helping her through the upset, instead of leaving her alone. 


5:15  Leslie:  Very excited to hear those things. So, you were talking about connecting to her, that that’s really what she wanted. And George, I’m wondering if, when you’re trying to get her to do something, right at the end of our session, I suggested maybe connect with her before the ask. Did, by any chance, you try any of that?


5:34  George:  I spent some time just playing or having fun. I don’t think that changed her speed of doing anything, but I guess it let me have a better time of it. 


5:44  Louise:  Can I just interject with an example where I do think this was successful that maybe you’re not thinking of in that context? Since the last time tooth brushing—it’s a sore point for us. And I think another thing that you had suggested was, if we do it with her, she wants to connect with us. That might be more successful. And we’ve been doing that. It’s like, one of us brushes our teeth with her every night. She gets a huge kick out of being the one that directs which part of our mouth we are brushing at that point. She’ll be like, “Top left, outside, top left, bottom,” and so on. And it’s playful. We’re brushing our teeth together, and we’re doing quality control, making sure that we’ve got all the different parts of our mouth. But like, we’re also playing with her in that moment, and connecting and letting her be the director, which she loves to do. 


And both of us have been doing that with her, and I think it has actually been way more successful in getting her to brush her teeth, and also in getting her to do a better job brushing her teeth, so that we don’t have to then be like, “Well, if you’re not going to do it, then the adult’s going to do it for you”…which she hates.


6:56  George:  I don’t know if that’s connected. It’s not, I don’t know if that’s like, spending some time connecting ahead of time.


7:03  Louise:  No, not ahead of time. But it’s in that moment we’re connecting with her. Like, “We’re doing this with you.” And we’re making it a together thing, like a connected activity.


7:14  Leslie:  So yeah, there are two different things, and both on the topic, because I had asked…I think, George, you’re getting to my question specifically is, if you connect with her, will it make the next step easier? And you’re saying, it may not have made her move a little faster, do it a little quicker, but it made you maybe a little less stressed about it. Is that what you were saying?


7:39  George:  To that effect.


7:40  Leslie:  That’s great. That helps. I mean…


George:  It’s an improvement.


Leslie:  It’s an improvement. So, great. Again, we are not looking for perfection, because we’re talking about human beings, and we’re talking about children, and it’s going to be challenging. But I love the idea that it’s improvement. And it just gives you a sense of maybe being more present, maybe not being quite as stressed. There’s a benefit to that little bit of connection for you. Great. 


Okay, I do have a question that I don’t think I asked last time. There’s something called processing speed, how quickly she processes information. Can you tell when you give her directions, does she get overwhelmed? Like, “Wait, wait, wait, I can’t hear all that”…? Or, “Give me time”…? No, you’re both shaking your head, no.


8:29  Louise:  She has great auditory processing. She hears and understands and is able to implement. It’s more will than ability


8:38  George:  That almost makes it more frustrating.


Leslie:  I bet.


George:  No, she heard the ask.


 8:43  Leslie:  So, you said you wrote down a few different examples of what’s going on now. Would you like to jump in with some of those examples?


8:51  George:  Why, sure. Sometimes she gets really upset for a long time. So, my parents were visiting, and they were over for dinner. We had a good dinner. It’s been nice. My parents are there helping clean up. It’s just about time to go do teeth-and-bath routine before bed. And as we’re cleaning up, nobody was looking at the table. We hear a glass fall down, and we look over and Anna has spilled her drink. She’s just kind of looking at it, doing nothing. And we go over and we’re like, “Oh my gosh.” We’re cleaning it up and trying to do it. So we cleaned it all up. 


And then she’s like, can you make me another one? And I say, “I’m sorry, it’s time for teeth and bath. You need to go do that now.” And she is like, “No, you should make me another one.” And then launches into this screaming, like, “I want another Shrub water!” Shrub is the thing we’re adding to it. “I want another Shrub water!” and just sitting there yelling. And at this point, I’m like, “Well, definitely not going to give her to her now,” because I don’t want to encourage her getting what she wants out of just going upset and loud. 


So I thought, “Okay, well, maybe she’ll get over this.” And having gone through obsessive form, like, maybe 10 minutes, 15 minutes. Well, I think I timed it. It was 20, 25 minutes of this. So, just screaming as loud as she could in the dinner room with my parents there. We’re, like, understanding, but also it’s tough. I’m kind of graded on it. One thing I’ve learned to do is I go and I get these headphones that are muffling for, like, when I’m running the blender. And I put those on when she’s doing this, because it slows me down and me getting upset at her.


10:33  Louise:  The baby is asleep, and the screaming is waking up the baby, and I’m getting upset because the baby’s getting woken up. And I’m like, “Okay, I’m going to take the baby and leave the room.” 


10:43  George:  I’m getting ready to pick her up and bring her somewhere, just so that…like, I’m like, anxious that she’s going to set off my parents or something. And it took so long. Well, my parents later commented on it. Like, “Oh yeah.” Not that they were saying you should punish your kids. They weren’t saying that. But they were like, “Oh yeah, we wouldn’t have been doing that with kids, or…”


11:03  Louise:  It wouldn’t have happened in my family, with my mother. My mother was very much like a, “Oh, you’re crying. You think that’s bad? Let me give you something to cry about…” kind of a parent.


11:12  Leslie:  Right. The fear, the expressions of, “Wait till Dad comes home.” Or, “I’ll give it to you, if you’re…” all those things that made children obedient out of fear.


11:24  George:  And I’m so compelled when it’s happening to go there. My instincts are: go there. And my principles hold me back from doing it, but then I’m left without any good solution. And we just all have to endure while this child screams amidst a bunch of other humans, and we’re all having to deal with it, and we wasted time.


11:45  Louise:  Your dad would be set off by it.


George:  Yeah.


11:49  Leslie:  Okay, really uncomfortable. So I really appreciate that you’re here. You’re refraining from using fear or force. And at the same time, you don’t want to feel quite so helpless and you want to figure out what would work. Like, is this the best we can do? Or is there something we can do? 


12:09  George:  The best we can do is, yeah, it’s on my mind. 


12:11  Leslie:  Okay, so forget what’s the best we can do. But what other options do you have, as parents? Because mental health actually is dependent on feeling like we have options in life. When people feel trapped, that’s when mental health goes down the drain. We do not want anyone to feel trapped. Your daughter, in that moment, felt trapped by her need to have that drink. She actually felt trapped, “I have no choice! I have to have that drink! Nothing else is going to work!” So look at what her behavior was. She felt trapped. 


And that’s what people do when they feel trapped, like, “There’s no option out of here. I’m just going to scream my way out.” So we want to help her have options, and we want to give you options. So that’s the main framework. Now, what are some options? Well, first of all, I have a question for you. Do you ever give in?


13:01  George:  Yeah, give her what she wants. Do we?


13:05  Louise:  I think usually it’s like she has calmed down. We’ve had a discussion about it. We’ve come to some sort of negotiated compromise about it, where she gets maybe a little bit of what she wanted and a little bit of what we want. Rarely do we just say, “Oh my god, you’re screaming here. Just have the shrub water.”


13:26  George:  So that time, we didn’t give it to her. But the next week, we got a friend over. We were going to go to the park and play. And I said, “Okay, let’s go.” And Anna says, “Let’s play hide and seek once up here before we leave.” And me and the friend were both ready to go. So we’re like, “No. I mean, we’ve been waiting to go. Let’s just go.” She launches into this, just screaming, upset for 20 minutes. We were there waiting. Me and the friend went down to the garage and played around with wood while she was still just screaming upstairs. And then eventually—eventually—we were like, “Okay, we’ll play hide and seek once upstairs.” We gave her what she wanted.


14:04  Louise:  My experience of this is so totally different. I was with the baby, and Anna comes down to me, after she’s been crying and upset for a while, and I asked her, “Hey, you’re really upset, what’s going on?” And she says that her friend and Daddy have basically sided against her and are making her feel really excluded…


14:25  George:  …we didn’t listen…


14:26:  Louise:  …and that they weren’t listening to her like that she kept giving suggestions of things that she thought would be fun to do, and that the friend and Daddy were together shutting her down, time after time. And that that was her perception of what was going on, was that she was just getting shut down, and she just needed a win. 


And I explained to her that the cleaner was here, and that that was why Daddy and the friend wanted to leave the house, because we wanted to get out of the way of the cleaner. And she was, like, “But I don’t want to do a long game. I just want to do something really short.” And in that moment, I encouraged George to compromise, to just do a short game with her, so that she felt heard and so she didn’t feel excluded. Because with this friend, the friend’s older, and she already often feels excluded. The friend tends to generate, you know, like, go towards the adults and not towards her, and she just really wants to be part of it.


15:19  Leslie:  Okay, so right away I want to start…I want to go back to the night with the drink. But I also want to acknowledge that, once again, it’s very front and center: it’s all about connection and disconnection. So once again, this second example is, “Oh, wow. She really cares about being connected.” I mean, all humans do, but for some reason it’s really showing up. 


And as parents, you want to know what her four or five, what I call, sort of, issues are, or prompting events or vulnerabilities. They’re really vulnerabilities. So you want to know what these are, so that if all of a sudden you see a whole bunch of kids going off on the playground, you say to yourself, “Uh oh, this could make her feel disconnected. How do I get one step ahead of her to say, ‘Hey, they ran off. Do you want to join them?’” So it’s not about disconnect, it’s about how to give her a roadmap to that connection. Or, “They’re playing, they’d love to play with you. You can play by yourself, or you can join them.” So just as parents know that that is a vulnerability of hers, that if you stay one step ahead of her, you can actually name it if it feels like it’s happening. 


And when it seems like, “We’re going to the playground…”I mean, you were going to go to the playground, versus stay and do hide-and-seek. In the second example, it’s, “Wait a minute. Do you feel like your friend and I are ganging up on you or leaving you out?” And it’s so you could almost get to know your daughter so well that you’re one step ahead of her. I keep repeating that, because that’s a theme that I like to do when I’m parenting. I like to stay one step ahead so that if I see myself…Just because it’s natural that two of us are going here, she is going to likely interpret it as, “You’re leaving me out.” It’s not that you’re leaving her out, but you have to deal with her reality, and that’s the way she sees things. So that’s just one little suggestion. 


17:23  Louise:  So, in that case, George acknowledging that reality of hers could have been helpful, in and of itself?


17:30  Leslie:  Yes, because she would have said, “Yes, I feel like I’m left out.” She would have acknowledged that. And then what you’re doing when you’re raising your child is you’re teaching her, guiding her about who she is. The job of a parent is less about getting your child to follow the rules and do what you tell them to do. It’s more about raising them so that they know who they are. So by the time they’re 18, they go out in the world and say, “If these friends are texting and I feel left out, that’s going to be an issue of mine. That’s a vulnerability. I want to feel included. I have an issue. This is something my parents have taught me my whole life, and I’m working on it.” 


18:12  Louise:  That’s going to set them off. 


18:13  Leslie:  Yes, exactly. So going back to when I asked you, “Do you give in to her?” that’s what led to this. George, I loved when you said, “I don’t want to reinforce escalating emotion.” You didn’t say it that way, but that’s what you meant. You don’t want to reinforce behavior that’s escalating, because when you react, you are reinforcing whatever behavior you’re reacting to. So if she screams and you give her what she wants, you have now reinforced screaming behavior. So I agree with you a hundred percent and, at the same time, do you realize you’re reinforcing screaming behavior because she goes on for 20 minutes? 


So, you’re in a dilemma. It’s like, “Which way do I go? I don’t want to reinforce escalating behavior, and I don’t want to reinforce 20 minutes of escalated behavior.” So when she calms down on her own, that’s great. You may not be reinforcing that. What I suggest is—as a matter of fact, when she calms down—if you say at that moment, “Wow, I noticed that you’re in a talking voice. I noticed that you’re ready to go upstairs. I’ve noticed that your yelling and crying has ended. Would you like to tell me how you feel?” You reinforce the calming down, which is just reinforcing it by stating it, observing it, and all that. 


But going back to the beginning, when she is screaming. I have a feeling you do this—but I just want to reinforce—you can say, “You’re yelling, you’re in emotion mind, if we can talk in wise mind, we can discuss this problem. We can maybe think about solutions.”


19:54  Louise:  So ultimately, I went into her bedroom with her, and I did that. I used almost exactly that language. We talked about the flipped lid. I said, We’re not going to be able to resolve this until your lid is flipped. The answer is not going to change as long as…screaming isn’t good. The answer, let’s try and calm ourselves down.” I stayed there with her. I offered to give her a hug, if that would help. And ultimately, after she calmed down, she ended up asking, “Well, can I have shrub water tomorrow?” And I said, “Yeah, absolutely.” 


And that was it. And then she was totally fine. And leading up to that point, though, George’s main response had been, “This is going to play itself out. I’m just going to ignore her. Okay, so I’m not going to listen. I’m just going to pretend it’s not happening. And that didn’t work.


20:41  George:  I’ve attempted to talk to her about, like, “Hey, you’re really upset right now. We can’t resolve anything while you’re really upset.” I’ve tried that and I’m going to continue trying it. I’ve never found it to change anything. I think there’s some value in it, but I don’t think it…It hasn’t been effective in resolving of the upset often. After she’s been upset for like, 15 or 20 minutes, and is kind of…I don’t know, the tiring out from that, she becomes able to communicate. 


And another thing you said at the time this…so this is about the drink, and my parents and…”We told you we’re not going to make you another drink, and it seems like you think if you just cry a little louder, a little longer, maybe that answer will change. But I want you to know it’s not going to change.” Like, that was something too,


21:31  Leslie:  One of the things that may be happening that you may not be aware of is about: what are her expectations that she’s not even aware of, but that she’s basing it on? So she had that drink, and when it spilled, she became aware that she had a drink that she was expecting to drink. She might have gone to bed without drinking if it hadn’t spilled, but because it spilled, it brought up this awareness that, “I’m supposed to drink,” and it became a rigid rule or expectation in her head. 


I think another way of staying one step ahead of her is to speak to those expectations. The same thing when she had the friend over and she wanted to play hide-and-seek, “You have an expectation that you can’t do anything else until we do the hide and seek.” And she’d go, “Yes, we have to do the hide and seek.” I have a feeling it’s that intense for her. “I have to have this drink.” 


So it’s less about her being able to be reasonable, but the incredible pressure she feels. Which I think I don’t know about both of you, but George, I’m hearing the pressure you feel to get through a week, to get everything done, to do what you need to do. That’s pressure. Those are the have-to-do’s. And I think she has these hidden have-to-do’s, even though she’s a little girl. And we go, “Wait a minute, your life is innocent. There’s no pressure.” And it’s like, no, she lives by a lot of pressure. Is that possible?


23:00  George:  Yeah, definitely. You can tell in those upsets that she has really become attached to the thing that she’s asking for. And it might have been like, “Poof, whatever,” before. But now that she’s upset about it, she’s like this thing to the point where she’s like, forgotten why she wants it. She just knows that she’s upset, and this is the thing that she wants, it seems. 


23:22  Leslie:  Right. It’s tenacity. It’s what we call tenacity. Now we’re back at that feeling of some of the things that your daughter may be showing right now are going to drive you nuts. But later they’re going to be beautiful qualities that work well for her. 


[music: Acoustic Guitars Ambient Uplifting by Oleksii Kaplunskyi]


23:47  Leslie:  The other thing you can do—she’s a little young for it—but you can make a T graph. And say, “When does this quality…” and you can teach her, it’s called tenacity, you can say, “When does this quality work for you and when does it not work for you?” I actually did that over the holiday with my grandson. There was a lot that he was asking for. A lot of things were being given to him. And I said, “Do you know the word, reciprocity?” Nope. And he knows a lot of vocabulary words. He’s eight years old. He’s got a big vocabulary, and it was really fun. He said, “No, I don’t know that word.” So we talked about reciprocity, and we talked about examples of it. 


So in this case, with your daughter, you could use, “Here’s the word tenacity, when you really, really, really, really want something and you don’t want to let go of wanting that or getting that.” And say, “When does that work and when does that not work?” And then you just try to, over time, maybe she’s playing with a friend, and you know they’re both playing outside in the cold, and they have tenacity to keep playing and being out there in the cold, but having fun. So you just try to find ways where it works. And you’re going to probably need to help her identify places where it works and where it doesn’t, because she may not even understand what we’re talking about here.


25:03  Louise:  Building her emotional intelligence, name what’s going on and deal with it powerfully. 


25:10  Leslie:  You got it. And some of parenting is that sort of long term investment, because you don’t see an immediate result when you sit down and do that kind of thing. When she becomes an adult and she says, “I have impulsivity. When does that work for me? When does it not work for me?” It’s not, “I’m good, I’m bad.” But rather, we really look at it both ways.


25:33  Louise:  She does tend to go into that “good kid, bad kid” binary.  Often, when she’s done something that upset us, she’ll get into the “I’m a bad kid.” 


25:44  Leslie:  So if we want to teach her some flexible thinking, then in the example—I just keep using this one example, so we can come up with lots of options—in the example…and this might work really well for you, George, I have a feeling it might. When she’s screaming, come over with paper and pencil and say, “We’re going to come up with as many different options as possible. “You’re so mean” is an interpretation, “You don’t let me do anything” is an interpretation. And then you can list four or five other interpretations, which is, “I may not have been drinking my drink,” or “There’s a lot of people in this room, so yelling is…” 


So you could come up with other interpretations, but you could also start brainstorming with a piece of paper and pencil. Say, “Okay, I need your brain. Let’s sit down and figure out, can you have this drink tomorrow? Can I give you a little sip now? Can I make it and then put it in the refrigerator?” Just have fun making up different options, and that gets her into a wise minded place, because you’re distracting her from the emotion. Do you think that would work with her?


26:50  George:  I’ve never been able to have any kind of constructive, thoughtful conversation with her when she’s really upset,


26:58  Leslie:  So the paper and pencil make it concrete. That would be why I’m specifically saying, and really make a big deal out of it, “I’ve got a paper. Here’s number one. Here’s an idea.” You really pull her into the activity. The other thing you can do, which you will probably need to do as she grows, is find some distraction techniques that bring her out of emotion mind into wise mind. And I would discuss this with her when she’s not in emotion mind. Just driving home from school, “Hey, do you want to count by fives when you’re really upset?” Or, “I’m going to put a piece of paper and coloring in front of you so when you’re really upset, you can color, then when you’re calm, we can try talking about the drink.”


27:44  Louise:  Maybe one thing that I would love to dive into a little bit is, often George and I try the same strategies with Anna. And I am more successful with them than George is, and that’s really frustrating for George, and it makes him feel really bad, obviously.


28:04  George:  It doesn’t make me feel good, but it also it mostly leads me to disengage and not try.


28:10  Louise:  Yeah, I don’t know exactly what’s going on there. But I have a hypothesis, which is that Anna just already feels more connected to me. And I’m not sure that Anna always feels like George is approaching her from a place of empathy or connection. And that’s maybe what’s missing. 


28:33  Leslie:  So I do want to get to that, if that’s okay with you, George. Also, we ended last session talking about the different parenting styles. So, George, because of the examples you’ve given us last session, I do think that you’re trying very, very hard, and I do think you care. What I think is going on is that Anna is reading how frustrating it is to be the parent you want to be. I think she feels badly. She’s disappointing you, or she’s hurt because she’s not who you want her to be. Or is she scared that you’re going to be upset again? They’re all different versions of, “I’m disappointing my dad.”


29:21  George:  I mean, that might be there. I don’t get too much signals that a goal of hers is like not disappointing her dad.


29:28  Leslie:  But don’t you think that is every child’s goal, to be loved by their parent?


29:33  George:  It just seems like that’s a later thing. Like, right now at six, she’s mostly, she wants your approval.


29:41  Louise:  Oh, she wants your approval. She wants you to like her. 


29:43  George:  Yeah…


29:46  Leslie:  Probably more than you think.


29:48  George:  Yeah, okay, well…I don’t know what to do with that, though.


29:54  Leslie:  And it can be confusing, because there’s no message that you’re getting that’s telling you, this is what’s happening. I’m going to say where my experience comes in, because you could ask her directly, “Do you think I’m unhappy with you?” Or you don’t need to ask her. And you could just experiment with the assumption that, let’s pretend she does feel disappointed. She is trying to make you like her and love her, and she doesn’t feel like you do, so she protects herself. I get this a lot from parents, where they say, “Why does my child keep misbehaving if they don’t like when I yell at them and I’m angry at them?” And it’s the old saying that any attention is better than no attention. 


Again, it’s like, why she might hit Mommy when she really is very upset is because their behavior doesn’t always communicate what they want. Sometimes we don’t communicate very clearly about how we’re feeling. And I’m going to give her that benefit of the doubt and try and see…maybe she just wants to see that I like her, and words aren’t enough. So how would you show that to her? 


31:04  George:  I mean, just being physical, like, warm and hello and hugs when she gets home. I don’t know. I’m still, I guess I still, I’m still kind of stuck on, like, I don’t find that she wants my…I think she takes for granted a lot that I’m there for her and such. I’m just brought back to, like, the waking up in the morning, going and saying, “Hi!” And her, being like, “I want Mommy. Go away.” It just… it’s fine. I’m like, “Well, maybe when she’s older, she’ll be more into…”


31:43  Leslie:  It’s so, so hard. I really give you a lot of credit, and I hope that your relationship between the two of you, Louise and George, that you give each other the support, because it may be a few years before you get that from her. We can easily misinterpret our children’s behavior and personalize it and think it’s rejecting us, or we’re not good enough. And you may not even be doing that, but it’s still not easy to get to be told, “I want Mommy,” or, “Leave me alone,” or all of that. 


The simplest exercise I might say to you is, can you walk around—not plastered on your face, but—could you walk around with a smile on your face a little bit more than you do?


32:29  George:  Yeah, probably.  


32:31  Louise:  On some level, it’s like, what is Mommy giving to her that you’re not or, why does she prefer me? I don’t know…Like, I’m definitely much warmer and more affectionate and touchy, and…


32:46  George:  You’re also Mom. 


32:47  Louise:  Yeah, yeah, I know. 


32:49  George:  And you’re a special resource, and you are a little bit less available, right now.


32:54  Louise:  True.


32:55  Leslie:  Those are all true. Do you want it to be a male-and-female division, where female is nurturing and male is something else?


33:05  George:  I mean, I don’t know if we want it to be different. But it’s just there’s the special connection between, like, a young kid and their mom. 


33:14  Leslie:  Okay. I’m going to support that and also feel that there can be incredibly beautiful connections between their dad. I think you’re in this situation, and I don’t know if you experienced the nurturing when you were growing up by your mother and your father, but the nurturing needs to come from you, not from her. So there are times when we don’t get what we want from our children, but our children are not here to meet our needs, unfortunately. We’re there to meet their needs, and so we’re stepping up to the plate in a much, much harder role that says, “Okay, I’ve got to be the one if she needs a nurturing approach.” And I want you to be who you are, but also I want to bring you back to the idea that, last time you said you weren’t having too much fun. Do you think that that might help both of you?


34:12  George:  Having fun while parenting? I mean, always. I think it’s fun and everything is a really welcome thing. I don’t feel I feel like I don’t have enough of it in life right now.


34:23  Leslie:  So what might bring the two of you together and feel closer, which then make her feel a little bit more like you like her, may be the very thing that you’re lacking in your life right now, and that it could be a win/win situation, possibly. 


34:41  George:  Yeah.


34:42  Leslie:  Yeah, not easy. She’s reacting differently to the two of you. And I do believe that you can be who you are. You can have different parenting styles. 


34:51  George:  As far as parenting styles, it probably would be good for another conversation, but to kind of give a prelude to that, or something. I often feel like my parenting style is…


35:03  Louise:  Invalidated? 


35:04  George:  Invalidated and overruled, often.


35:07  Louise:  I definitely might be guilty of that, a little bit. I mean, I’ve been an educator for the last 18 years. I grew up raising my younger siblings. I’ve worked with kids for a really, really long time. And George kind of came to this whole parent thing without any child experience. So I think maybe sometimes I do override a little bit, like with the hide and seek, where in that moment, George’s perspective was, “If I play hide and seek with her, I’m giving in and therefore reinforcing bad behavior.” And my perspective was, “She’s looking for connection. Please give her a little bit of connection, and then she’ll cooperate.” He felt overridden, in that moment.And he did—he went and played a little hide and seek, and she felt connected. And then everything was fine.


35:58  Leslie:  So it’s not about, “I’m right, you’re wrong.” It’s about what’s working, what’s not working. And sometimes there’s a short term answer, and sometimes it needs to be a more long term perspective. So what I’m going to do is—we’ll wrap up here—but you guys can keep track in the course of the next few weeks, while you’re working on this stuff: where is there a difference? And make that T graph for yourselves. “When does my parenting style…” and you might name some qualities of it. Or saying no and meaning no—that’s one thing that you do, George, that you might want to say, when does this work? When does it not work? 


And pick a quality that you have, Louise, and say, “When does this work and when does it not work?” So the two of you can start to look at, you know, we’re trying to get the best of both worlds. So you can start to prep it, and I’ll hear a little bit about what you sort of work through. Because, George, I want you to feel, I want you to validate what feels like it is working, and feel confident about that stuff and the stuff you need to change. And the stuff that, Louise, you need to change, that you’re willing to do it because of your long term value of raising a healthy child doing the best you can.


37:17  Louise:  Totally. 


37:18  Leslie:  All right. Good luck. You got a lot to work on. And again, thank you for sharing these stories. You really…you share so openly. And you’re all learning. And I think that Anna’s very lucky to have you guys.


37:34  Louise:  Thank you. 


37:35  George:  Thank you for the conversation. 


[Music: Acoustic Motivation by Coma Media]


37:47  Leslie Cohen-Rubury:  I’m genuinely impressed and grateful when parents do this work with me. It takes willingness to be vulnerable. It’s so easy to judge other parents, and it can seem so obvious from the outside what parents are doing wrong. Instead, let’s try to step into someone else’s shoes and use our empathy to understand why and how a parent is parenting. When we do that, we create a community of support. As parents or even as non-parents, we need to support each other. 


And that’s not just hyperbole. I want to offer a dialectic statement where two opposite ideas can coexist. We can hold space for parents to make mistakes; and at the same time, we can hold the belief that parents need and want to do better. I want to come back to something I touched on in this episode, the unique relationships between family members—father-daughter, mother-daughter and father-mother—and how these relationships impact the family dynamic as a whole. I don’t know a single family that doesn’t have tension among these relationships. The tension is also a form of communication that says this relationship needs work. 


Now I’d like to put it on you. Where’s the tension in your relationships, and can you do some work toward building better connections?


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


Join us next week when we discuss the perceived parenting inequities between Louise and George and dig deeper as to why George may be feeling like a trainee parent. 

Subscribe to Is My Child A Monster? wherever you get your podcasts, you can find a full transcript of this episode, or sign up for 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, Dale Rubury, and Mia Warren. Our theme music is by L-Ray Music. I’m Leslie Cohen-Rubury. Thanks so much for listening. And this week, keep in mind: connection is the foundation for cooperation.

Transcribed by Eric Rubury

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