July 9, 2024

Louise & George Part 3 of 3: When a Parent Feels like a Trainee

LSometimes when parenting a child that is struggling, tensions arise between the parents. 

This especially goes for parents with different parenting styles, or those with different levels of experience with young children. This is what Leslie gets into on this week’s episode with Louise and George. In her third and final session with the parents of six-year-old Anna and a newborn baby, Leslie uncovers the vulnerabilities of parents who want to break away from the way they were parented and feel like they want to do better when dealing with their daughter who has intense emotions. This session is a raw look at what it means to make mistakes as a parent and we invite you to listen with compassion and openness.

Time Stamps

  • 3:30 How to use the T-graph with your child
  • 6:39 Unpacking what it means to be an equitable parent vs being a “secondary” o or “trainee” parent 
  • 8:35 A dialectic approach to holding both concepts together: being equitable and being a trainee
  • 10:50 Making the goal of parenting a process of lifelong learning as your priority
  • 11:24 Concepts of worthiness, learning, levels of contribution
  • 15:50  How to give feedback to your partner
    • I have an idea that might work for you  
    • Is there something I can do to help out here
    • Set the stage –  I respect that you are doing the best you can
  • 18:39 Dealing with timely matters and feeling the pressure of time: getting to bed, getting out of the house
  • 20:27 Celebrating differences in parents so children learn about tolerance and have a chance to learn from each parent
  • 22:56 Your child is going to help you learn as well
  • 26:00 Golden nuggets from Leslie
    • The qualities that drive you nuts now are going to be positive attributes later
    • The idea that the quality of your child is a reflection of you is a LOT of pressure
    • Focusing on the process rather than the outcome of parenting
  • 28:10 Children may only show their big reactions at home and not in public
  • 29:30 Being the “trainee parent” doesn’t really exist; we’re all trainees. Have faith in the process
  • 36:06 The cost of aggressive anger in a parent and how to be responsible for it
  • 38:30  The Three Step Apology
    • State what you did
    • state how you it affected the child and yourself
    • Make an amends: talk about what you will do differently next time
  • 40:45 Power struggles with your child
  • 41:40 Children help us see what need to work on and we are all parents in training

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: Focus on the process of parenting, not just the outcome.


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

0:03  George:  Everybody knows, in the end, if Daddy wants his way, he will get his way. That’s kind of crummy. And in realizing that, I kind of got like, “Okay, I see the real cost, long term, of having that power and using it.”


0:22  Leslie Cohen-Rubury:  The dad you’re hearing is saying, “I want to do better,” and he’s also saying, “What I’m doing is not working.” He’s holding the dialectic that parents do make mistakes and they need to improve. 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.


George and Louise are back for their third session to talk about parenting their six-year-old daughter, Anna, and their new baby. In our earlier sessions, we touched on the idea of parenting differences; and in this session, we give that topic the time it deserves. Yes, these parents are different, and I am someone who celebrates differences in parenting styles. We also come back to a theme that regularly comes up on Is My Child A Monster?: wanting to do things differently than our parents. Louise and, especially, George are swimming upstream against the ways that they were parented, and we all have to acknowledge we’re in the water. 


Now, I want to take a moment to validate that you may find it hard to hear from parents who are trying to do things differently and want to do better, when that wasn’t the case for you. We’ve heard in our Is My Child A Monster? Facebook community that some of these sessions have been upsetting to some listeners because they relate so deeply to the children in our episodes. Please know that there is work that happens outside of these recordings in terms of prioritizing the safety of every child in every family I work with. 


This episode is just one example of where we need a heavy dose of compassion for ourselves and for others. Now, as a reminder, all the names and identifying information have been changed. And though I am a licensed clinical social worker, this show is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for therapeutic intervention. So let’s begin.


2:42  Leslie:  Hi George. And hi Louise. How are you guys doing?


2:45  Louise:  We’re doing okay, thanks, Leslie. Nice to see you.


2:48  Leslie:  I’m glad to have you back. Sometimes you want to just jump in with the situation, which is fine. And sometimes I like to say, okay, you’ve had a few weeks to practice, to review. Is there anything that was working for you or not working for you that you want to go over? 


 3:01  George:  The perspective of attributes that are annoying now can be valuable later as adults, has been a nice perspective to have. I’ve wanted to sit down with Anna and draw out a T diagram and be like, “So, tenacious–when does this work? When does this not?” [Laughter] But the times where it occurs to do that is when she’s upset and lost in it. And then, you know, life is happening other times, and we don’t get around to that. 


3:27  Louise:  I did mention it to her after an upset, you know, that this is a quality that she has, that sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t. But we didn’t get to the whole, “When does it work and when does it not work” part.


 3:39  Leslie:  Great. I love that you had it on your mind. I love that you might have thought about it. And I love, George, that you’re just looking for opportunity, and it’s not so easy when they’re in emotion mind. When it comes to your mind front and center to think about when doing it, you’re on the right track. And remember, this is a long term investment when you’re parenting, so you’ve got time and try to keep it front and center, bring it to your forefront, and eventually you will find that moment. But all of that is good because A) it changes your perspective. And B) you’re starting to plant some seeds when you just name it with her. And that’s good. Those are the first few steps. 


4:24  George:  I don’t know what we want to get into here. Did we have a plan?


4:28  Louise:  No. I mean, I think that the incident that happened, that you made some notes about, would probably be a good starting point.


4:37  George:  Does it speak to the thing that you’ve wanted to address with me?


4:42  Louise:  I think so…I don’t know.


4:44  Leslie:  Can I interrupt you to say, just so we can sort of create an agenda here that might be helpful, was the thing that you wanted to bring up, Louise, related to where we ended last time, about the differences in parenting, Anna’s reaction to you as a dad versus Anna’s reaction to Mom…you’re nodding your head. So that would be a place for us to continue. And…George, you’re not saying yes.


5:11  George:  I mean, this is sometimes a difference in reaction between Mom and Dad, and sometimes it’s just her being a six-year-old. 


5:20  Louise:  Yeah. We could start with a difference in parenting styles, because I feel like we’ve wanted to talk about that for the last two sessions, and we haven’t gotten around to it because we’ve been talking about incidents. I think it could be really fruitful for us.


5:34  Leslie:  I’m good with that. If I can segue and get us into that, last time I mentioned going home and trying to smile more. I like that homework, and at the same time, I want to be very careful not to diminish or dismiss the challenges between parents where, “How come we never do it my way?” Or, ”Why does it feel like I’m always being told that I’m doing something wrong?” So I want to honor that, because I think that’s what is at the crux of, sometimes, the parenting differences. So I’ll let you speak to both those things.


6:08  George:  Like, “What’s there for me when it comes to parenting differences?”


6:13  Leslie:  Sure.


6:17  Louise:  Can I say things that you’ve said to me before? 


6:19  George:  Yeah.


6:20  Louise:  Like, you said things like, it feels like you’re always doing it wrong, or that I don’t value the way that you parent because I’m often making suggestions for you to do things differently, or that you just don’t know what you’re doing.


6:35  George:  I mean, societally, there’s this expectation right now, in the type of relationship we’re in, that we are equitable partners in being parents. And I want to be part of that. When I’m parenting, it often feels like Louise takes the lead or coaches me or overrules me, or is preferred by Anna. And so it makes being that equitable parent hard to realistically think that I’m doing. But if I shrink away and become like the secondary, if I’m the assistant to Louise and like, “Hey, do you think this…,” if I’m checking in with her as the lead parent all the time, it feels like I’m fulfilling this idea of like, “Oh, the man who’s just helping out. Thanks, guy,” by doing 20% of the work, or 30% of the work, or something like that. 


So it feels a little bit like a Catch-22 of, I can’t actually be an equitable parent, because I’m not…my instincts and style is not welcomed. At 50% I’m always going to be overruleable. And yet, I also don’t want to be the assistant, but that’s kind of the only role I think I can assume while still being overruleable. 


And this comes up with parenting styles. We can get into specific things that I would do or not do, and oftentimes she’s right. Oftentimes, in retrospect, I look back and I’m like, “Yeah, she was right” about this or that thing. So maybe it is that I’m kind of more the trainee and Louise who has experience in being a teacher for years, and I don’t.


8:15  Louise:  …and has younger siblings that I helped raise,


8:19  George:  Yeah, that I do have things to learn from that. But am I going to be able to fulfill the promises I made to be an equitable parent, if that’s the case?


8:30  Leslie:  So it sounds like being an equitable parent and being a trainee at the same time seem like they’re mutually exclusive to you.


8:40  George:  Yes.


8:41  Leslie:  And maybe my brain is not so rule-oriented, because in my head, I am absolutely holding those two things together. I’m, like, sure those two things go together. Because for me, one feels like a perception of equanimity, that we’re both in this together. But it does say that we have different skill levels, so our skill levels need to be respected. We’re going to both respect our different levels of skill, but there’s a foundation of, “And yet we respect each other equally.” So I want to turn to you, Louise, and say, do you respect, or can you hold those two things together?


9:35  Louise:  Yeah.


9:37  Leslie:  Explain that.


9:38  Louise:  Well, I think that, for me, the equality of parenting is actually diminished by George. Because what happens when he feels like he’s just a trainee or whatever is that he does tend to kind of step away and let me just do it. And then I am doing a lot more of the labor of parenting. And so because holding himself as a trainee keeps him from holding himself as an equal partner, it falls a lot more on me. 


And so my request has often been, “Can you be a trainee, can you be educating yourself, can you be learning more…and being an equal partner?” But that’s hard because there’s ego involved in it, and there’s feelings of worthiness. And I know he wants to be good at it already.


10:31  George:  And also I’m not going to, like, magically upload a dozen years of early childhood education experience into my brain.


10:38  Louise:  Oh, totally, right…which I’m not asking for, but…


10:45  George:  Isn’t that what would be required to reach that?


10:49  Louise:  That’s only if your only goal is to have equal skills to mine right now, instead of having your goal be to just be learning.


11:00  George:  But be learning is a lifelong thing, and likely would last a whole life. But in the meantime, and this time that is finite with our young kids, I’m going to be in the be learning phase…


11:09  Louise:  Yeah.


11:10  George:  …under the logic of, I need those skills to be able to participate or contribute as an equitable partner; where it’s not shifting over to you, I would need those skills, and I’m not going to have them.


11:23  Leslie:  So I’m going to jump in here. I love it. I mean, really, you guys could go at it, because I want to hear more about that. But I’m hearing worthiness, how you feel about yourself: “Am I good enough, will I ever be good enough?” I hear another, separate path about learning, and learning new parenting skills. I mean, that’s why you’re both here now. You’re stepping up and saying, I want to learn. And then the third piece, which I don’t think has been discussed, is that you’re making the assumption, although I don’t even think you’ll agree with it, that you have nothing to contribute, and you do.


12:02  George:  Well, I do know I have things to contribute, and there is certain things that only I can contribute.


12:08  Leslie:  Right.


12:10  George:  Yeah, there’s certain things that only I can contribute, and uniquely from Louise’s personality. I know that, and yet it can…it can end up being like a minority contribution. 


12:22  Leslie:  Alright. So, Louise, I heard you say that some of the things you’ve heard in the past is about…let’s go down that first path of worthiness. Do I look like I’m wrong? How do you give feedback to each other? How do you guys actually communicate the learning piece? Do you say, “You’re doing it wrong?”


12:48  Louise:  I’m trying not to. I work very hard not to give feedback in that manner. Sometimes it’s in-the-heat-of-the-moment feedback. So, sometimes George’s instinct, when Anna is starting to be violent towards me, is to use his body, his larger physical body, to pick her up and carry her away and put her in her room, for instance. 


And recently, she’d done a couple of little, like, bumped me with her shoulder, and kick in my direction, kind of things. But she hadn’t, she wasn’t hurting me. And George swooped in and grabbed her, and took her to a room, and that escalated the situation immensely. And in the past, when that has happened, when the instinct has been to use physical force on her, I have intervened in that moment and said, “No, please don’t do that.” 


13:47  George:  And that’s probably the sharpest kind of immediate feedback given. I mean, other times it’s like, “Hey, I think Anna would respond to you better if there was some warmth, like, when we get home. Or when you go do teeth and bath with her, it just seems like you’re going into it with drudgery.” I don’t know if you use word, “drudgery.” And she picks up on that, and so she’s going to give that back. So no wonder it’s kind of difficult,


14:18  Louise:  I think I’ve called it, like, annoyed resignation, or something like that.


14:24  George:  I call it stoic responsibility.




14:28  Louise:  There’s some facial expression or eye roll or something present before the interaction even starts with Anna. And then I feel like Anna picks up on that and then doesn’t respond as well, because there’s already sort of an expectation present in just facial expression of, like, “Anna’s going to be difficult,” or “This is going to be a hard interaction,” and then it kind of is a self-fulfilling prophecy. So I’ve said that before. Like George said, I’ve tried to speak to why might the differences between the way Anna reacts to us be happening in an exploratory way. 


15:06  Leslie:  Okay, so you talk about giving feedback in the heat of the moment, which we can imagine is not going to come out quite as eloquently or wise minded when you’re in the heat of the moment. And it’s not usually received on your end, George, you’re not going to want to hear it when you’re in the heat of the moment, either. It might not feel very supportive or validating in that moment, and there’s the idea that it might feel disrespectful in front of Anna, if it’s happening in the heat of the moment. 


But I do think that there are some…you already demonstrate some skillful ways of this might work differently. What I would like to focus on, to make it a win-win-win situation, is that we focus, for you, George, on the fact that your goal is to feel better about the interaction, so that you’re not feeling the dread, those heavy feelings about, “This is not working. I’m not good enough. I don’t know what I’m doing…”


16:08  George:  “…This is a waste of my time. It’s taking three times longer than it needs to.” 


16:13  Leslie:  All that stuff that’s going through your head. And if you get the feedback that there may be a different way, if you can say, “Okay, this is going to work for me,” when Louise talks to you. And maybe Louise, you even set the stage by saying, “This could work for you.” So that we’re actually speaking and making you very important in that moment to say, “I have an idea that might work for you.” 


I want you to feel like you’re the priority here. It’s not about Louise’s way. It’s not about what Anna needs. It’s like that you are elevated into: let’s make this work for you. Am I making sense? 


16:54  George:  Yeah. 


16:55  Louise:  You’re totally making sense. I feel like George has really, in good faith, tried to implement a lot of the things that I’ve suggested, and they haven’t immediately gotten great results with Anna. And so there’s now kind of a tendency to be like, “Well, sure, I’ll try that, but it’s not going to work.”


17:14  George:  Yeah. And the moment of feedback from Louise to me is always, it’s positive. It goes well, I might start cranky, but then I come around. I’m like, “No, you’re right.” It’s then in actually shifting my context, actually shifting how I’m acting, actually shifting my feelings when I’m interacting with Anna—that’s the part that’s more difficult.


17:35  Leslie:  Am I getting confused, or did you start off last session by saying that your shift in perspective brought you a little peace?


17:43  George:  It did, and that’s helped; at times where I’m, like…my complaint a moment ago, where I was like, “Oh, this is taking way much longer than I need to,” that’s quieted that a bit. So my own mental distress, if you will, is softened. But I haven’t seen myself be more effective with Anna. And maybe that’s not the goal. Maybe it’s like she’s going to take an hour to do this thing, and that’s just she’s always going to take an hour to do this thing. And if I think it’s going to be different, I’m the silly one who’s going to be frustrated.


18:12  Louise:  But then it doesn’t take an hour when I do it. So then we’re left with this feeling of, “Well, what’s different, what is happening, does it have to take an hour?” We’re talking about nighttime routine, or getting out of the house in the morning, or anything that involves timeliness and Anna being asked to do a task that maybe she doesn’t want to do—maybe she doesn’t want to go to school, maybe she doesn’t want to go to bed. 


18:39  Leslie:  And maybe each of you have different relationships with time. For a parent—now you can tell me if this is either one of you—for a parent who’s like, “I’ll get there. when I get there, I am not stressing over this. We’re going to make it,” and you don’t feel the pressure of time, then those time transitions may go easier for you, because you don’t have the additional stress. Whereas, if it’s “We’re on a schedule, we have to get it done.” And I know you said this last time, George, there’s a lot of shoulds, that there’s a lot that has to get done, and there’s a lot of shoulds, then that pressure can cause things to actually take longer and be more stressful. 


19:23  Louise:  Interestingly, George is the one of us that I would describe more as what you initially said, like, “I’ll get there when I get there. I’m a little more relaxed about timelines.” And I’m the one that is like, “We are on a schedule. We must get there on time.” I get really stressed out if we’re not. But in order to help me be less stressed out, he has tried to adopt my time consciousness, and that stresses him out. 


19:50  George:  I stress about time, but I just cut it close a lot. I am the Boy Scout who’s got to be prepared and got to remember the five different things I wanted to bring with me when we leave a place. So I cut it close, and I’m stressed about time. I don’t recommend this for people—it’s not like a great approach to life—but it’s what I do. Whereas Louise is more,”I’m stressed about time, and I will arrive 15 minutes early, so I’m not stressed…”


20:12  Louise:  …and I will start preparing an hour before I actually have to leave, so that when it’s time to leave, I have already done all those things, and I’m ready to go.


20:21  Leslie:  Okay, so I want to celebrate differences as well. I love the idea that there are differences in the way you are, and it’s really a gift for Anna to see that you might approach the world in different ways, that you can respect each other’s differences. That is so beautiful for children to grow up with, that they actually can see that Mommy and Daddy do it differently, that they are different people. So, embracing the good, the bad, and the ugly.


[Music: Acoustic Motivation by Coma-Media]


21:09  Leslie:  George, do you feel like you’re trying to do the best for Anna and at the same time also trying to do the best, in Louise’s eyes?


21:22  George:  In the moment of trying to get Anna going on a timely pass, like leaving in the morning or going to bed, it doesn’t cross my mind, like, “What would Louise do here? Well, Louise will be disappointed if I do this.” It’s more just like, I know, for me, I have a goal of, “Let’s get her out or done.” And I just start lamenting that we’re falling behind, and kind of complaining to myself. It’s not effective, but it’s where I go. Yeah, and if anything, I’d kind of use that Louise has a different effectiveness, more as ammunition for why I’m maybe bad at it, or why Anna prefers Louise.


22:05  Leslie:  Okay. So being real with your daughter is actually lovely. She might view Mommy as, “Oh my god, Mommy has it all together. Mommy’s always perfect.” And she might see that, “If Daddy says, that didn’t go so smoothly,” she might eventually feel a little more comfortable with the idea that, “Dad’s giving me permission to learn, to grow, to not be perfect.” We don’t know how Anna’s going to see the two of you. What we talked about is the warmth that maybe you want to work on. 


You have a lot to teach your daughter. She is lucky to have you as her dad, and you both have a lot to teach, and you both have a lot to learn. Your child is going to help you learn things as well. So, Anna may be uncomfortable, and there may not be the perfect way to treat Anna every time. It’s just there are going to be difficult times. So for both of you to think about what you’re contributing and where you’re growing is a very nice way to hold yourself. And sometimes it’s, “I can say it’s hard being me,” so then I have compassion for myself. “I’m doing the best I can. I really am showing up, and I’m going to keep showing up. But sometimes it’s really hard.” 


23:27  Louise:  Yeah, that’s powerful,


23:28  George:  Yeah, and she’s already picked up on our differences. I mean, she just, two weeks ago or something, she was like, “Daddy, you’re the one who often makes us late.” [Laughter]


23:40  Louise:  But I’m the one who often forgets things. Because I’m like, “We got to get out the door.” It doesn’t matter if I didn’t bring my water bottle or whatever, it’s like, “We’re going to leave now.” Whereas George will be the one who remembers all the things that we actually need, because he took the time right before we left to go through the checklist again. Whereas I was like, “Oh, my God, you’re going through the checklist again. Can we just leave?” But then I’m glad.


24:03  George:  A little bit further ago, I remember her sharing with me, like, “Daddy, you’re the one who lets me have my feelings the way they are.” I’m pretty good at just accepting her feelings the way they are, and not talking her out of her feelings, just like letting her have those feelings. And that was really special to me when she told me that. Because it is something that I use in life with adults and myself—the way you feel is the way you feel. And it’s important for us to just listen and recognize that.


24:29  Louise:  Yeah, I’m more likely to try to comfort her and make her feel better, instead of just letting her sit with whatever uncomfortable thing is happening. 


24:37  Leslie:  That’s great. As parents, we do know Anna has challenges: being sensitive, having big, intense emotions, reactivity. And I’ve got to tell you, I say this again so parents understand, that if you happen to have a child that has an easy temperament, that’s easy going, easy with transitions, easy with accepting “no,” there’s a lot of different qualities that make it easier or more difficult in terms of their sensitivity and reactivity. It’s different parenting the easy child. Everyone feels like a great parent. But it’s not necessarily true that you’re a great parent because you have an easy-going kid and you feel good about it because they smile at you. They say, “thank you.” They say, “please.” They help. They’re cooperative. It’s like, wow, if every parent was like that, I’d be out of business, for sure. And I am far from out of business.


25:31  George:  That’s definitely in the culture we swim in, of parenting. And I apply to that theory, in a way that the theory that…the quality of the child is a reflection of the quality of the parenting. And it’s not solely that variable. I guess I still hold on to the idea, like, there is some influence from the parents, so we have some responsibility in how she turns out. But yeah, especially this age, it’s not the only variable. 


26:00  Leslie:  So, I’m going to give you three little nuggets—I hope they’re nuggets, golden nuggets for you. One is the one you’ve already discovered, we talked about in the previous sessions, about the qualities that drive you nuts now are going to be positive—very, very likely to be positive—attributes later. Two, is this one you’re talking about right now, which is the idea that her behavior is a reflection on you, and it’s your responsibility, up to you to raise this decent human being who’s going to be happy and healthy and successful in life, right? 


26:34  George:  It’s a signal on the quality of what we’re doing. 


26:37  Leslie:  What pressure—no wonder why you dread parenting. That is a lot of pressure, because it’s based on the outcome. Can I suggest that you let go of the outcome? Because we have no control of the outcome. That’s an illusion. I really have a hard time when parents say to me, “Oh, you’ve done such a great job with your kids.” I say I showed up in their lives, but it’s their life, not mine. I really don’t want to take responsibility for it, and it’s a little pet peeve of mine. 


But I don’t need that pressure, and I don’t think you need that pressure. And I am not going to take away your responsibility as a parent. That’s why we’re here. So I’m saying two contradicting things. I’m saying: yes, show up and learn. And at the same time, if we’re doing that and we’re doing the best we can, they’re on their journey, and I am going to do my best to show up on that journey with them, alongside of them. But I don’t get to control them. 


27:37  George:  Especially right now, with her being six, I think I haven’t yet gotten to embracing that as a guiding principle yet.


27:44  Leslie:  So if you focus on the process rather than the outcome, you are more likely to see it with the outcome. If you focus on the outcome, then fear and stress and anxiety is going to be part of your everyday parenting.


28:01  Louise:  Yeah. I was going to say one thing that has helped me in that regard is that I also get to see her at school, because I work at her school. And so I can see Anna interact with other kids and just sort of be out in the world away from us. And some of the things that bring up the biggest fear response in me, like, “Oh my God, my kid is a monster,” you know, bringing up the title of the podcast, when she’s with me, she never does that with other kids. She never does that with her teachers. 


She doesn’t, for instance, get frustrated and start hitting people out in the world. She really only does that to me, so it’s comforting. It’s like, I can know that I’m the safe place where she feels like she can be really out of control, but that she doesn’t just act out of control all the time. 


28:51  Leslie:  She has those skills. 


28:53:  Louise:  And so, she is learning to regulate herself. It’s just like I said, we’re the people that it’s safest for her to be out of control with herself; to have those deep, big feelings. But it also means it’s hard for us. 


29:09  Leslie:  It is very, very, very hard for you. And long term parenting and having faith by both believing that you’re showing up, you’re doing your work, you’re learning. I mean, if you’re not learning, then I can’t say that to you. I can only say it is if you’re willing to learn. And that brings us right back to the idea that you’re not really a trainee. We’re all trainees, right? 


29:34  George:  Yeah, that sounds like faith in the process. I’ve studied, you know, I’ve studied this, I’ve had these conversations. I’ve looked at it and I’ve come to: this is the process I want to follow, and I’m not going to have strong evidence with the immediate outcomes, perhaps for years, that it’s…


29:51  Louise:  …working.


29:52:  George:  [Laughter] …it’s working.


29:53  Leslie:  That was beautifully said.


29:55  George:  …and take solace that I’m following the process I’ve chosen to, and I have integrity in doing that.


30:01  Leslie:  Wow, isn’t that great? That’s beautiful. All right, do you guys want to segue into the other piece?


30:09  George:  Let me set the scene. We had had some family, another family, over for dinner, and it was a good time, and had gone a bit late. And so then they finally departed. And so now it’s like an hour, hour and a half…it’s a long time after when we usually start teeth and bath, and…


30:26  Louise:  …and Anna’s already tired. Plus she had a little extra sugar at dinner, and is now experiencing sugar crash, like…


30:31  George:  …some candy afterwards…


30:33  Louise:  It was all the stars aligned to have her be in a not good space for trying to get something done and get to bed. 


30:41  George:  So we asked her, “Please go into the bathroom and start brushing your teeth.” And she kind of dawdled and didn’t. And we kept asking her. She moved to the other room and we asked her. And then at some point she was crying and kind of upset. “Okay, she’s doing this.” 


And then she sort of got over that. We’re now 30 minutes in, 40 minutes in. And she says, “Okay, Daddy, drag me to the bathroom…”, 


31:05  Louise:  “…by my feet.” 


31:07  George:  “…by my feet.” And I’m like, “Okay, all right, yeah.” And so, I go up to her, like, “I’ll drag you to the bathroom. If I drag you in, will you brush your teeth?” She’s like, “Yes.” Okay, so I drag her by her feet, cross the ground to the bathroom, step up to the sink, time to brush her teeth. “Brush your teeth.” I’m ready with the floss to do it with her. And she’s still not doing it, still not doing it. And I’m starting to get more upset because I’m like, “Oh my god, it’s been 50 minutes and she’s breaking promises, and I’ve told her this.” And so I leave the bathroom, and I’m like, I need some time. So I go and I sit by the kitchen table, and I tell Louise, “Anna’s stalled out again, not doing this.” And then you step in.


31:49  Louise:  So, the baby had been put down already, and was downstairs. And I’m listening to the monitor trying to keep tabs on both, make sure the baby doesn’t need me. I step in, and I said what he said. I said, “Okay, you need to make a choice. Either you can brush your teeth or an adult can brush your teeth,” because sometimes when she’s tired, it’s easier to just have an adult do it right. But what George hears is different. 


32:14  George:  What I heard was different. It was like, “You’re going to brush your teeth, or we’re going to brush your teeth,“ was what I heard. I was like, “All right, it’s time. Let’s do it.” So I walk into the bathroom with her to assist this. And Anna has not started voluntarily brushing her own teeth. So Louise had stepped her down to the bathmat to start getting her down. So she’s mid-way getting down. And then the baby starts crying. And Louise is like, “I’ve got to go,” and leaves. 


And so there I am with the toothbrush, with Anna, and I hold her down, and I work the toothbrush in. She’s screaming through all this, and I’m brushing her teeth calmly. I have headphones on because I knew this was coming. And I stay calmer when I have big ear muffling, like the kind of headphones you wear for a power saw. And I’m just brushing her teeth and she’s screaming and hitting me with her hands. And I hold her hands down. She kicks at me with her feet, and I get closer so she can’t do that. And I’m doing this. Meanwhile, Louise is downstairs with the baby…. 


33:13  Louise:  …hearing this, all of this screaming, like, somebody is trying to kill her.


33:17  George:  And I brush her teeth for a good minute and a half. I get those teeth clean, and then we finish, and I walk her up to spit. She spits out. There’s a little bit of blood in it because she had lost a tooth the day before. But she was like, “I’m bleeding.” And she just like…still screaming, says, “I’m going to tell Mommy and get you in trouble.” 


And goes to the stairs to head down to Louise, and I block her from the stairs. I’m like, “You can’t go down there because the baby is nursing and sleeping.” And so she’s just really upset and screaming with us. And meanwhile, I’m just kind of calmly sitting there, blocking her way. 


Eventually, I bring her into her room and sit her on the bed so that we can take things off. She’s screaming this whole time, screaming really loud. I eventually conclude I’m not making any progress getting her to actually fall asleep now; so I go and I just hold the door closed so she doesn’t leave. Eventually, I’m on the other side of the door holding it closed. This has been going on for 20 or 30 minutes, and that’s when Louise comes up.


34:19  Louise:  So, the baby is now asleep, and I feel like I’m able to leave. I’ve been anxiously trying to edge myself away from her this whole time, because I’m like, “Oh my god, what is happening upstairs?” And I get up there and Anna is in her room, and I come in and I say, “Hey, that sounded really difficult. Do you want to tell me what happened? And she goes into this whole story about what happened. And her story about what happened is, “Daddy held me down and brushed my teeth, and he made me bleed, and then he held me on my bed, and then he locked me in my room.” So, I get her calm, and I get her into bed, and we go to sleep. 


And I come out to George and I say, “This is how it felt to Anna: what happened in her mind is that you used physical force on her, you held her down, and then you locked her in her room. And all of that was super, super upsetting for her.” And I made a request. I said, “I feel like you need to apologize to her. We’re trying to teach her that using physical violence or physical force to get what you want is not okay, and that’s what she feels like you just did to her.” 


35:38  George:  And in the moment, I hear that, but don’t agree to it. I’m like, “Yeah, I’ll…” Eventually, I think later I was like, “I’ll apologize to her.” But I didn’t. I felt justified and righteous about this whole thing in reflecting on it later. I was like, it felt really good to just get my way after an hour of nonsense, and just get to be able to just do it. 


And I mean, you brought up thinking about my dad’s anger and my resentment towards that for a long time in my life. And I couldn’t quite figure out how it connected with this. 


36:18  Louise:  His dad, still to this day, although not very often, will just blow up, zero to sixty. There was nothing going on, and then he is sooo angry. 


36:29  George:  Yeah, he kind of loses his mind. It’s, it’s…there is that. I’ve just resented it. And I was like, “What is it about that?” I’m like, oh, it’s that my dad has this thing that he can do and will do, and we both know that he can do it and will do it, and it’s his trump card that he can use to win any argument or any disagreement at any time. And it causes me to think a lot about how I act around my dad. And I thought, well, I don’t want Anna to be like that with me. 


But I can totally see how if Daddy can use force to get his way, and is willing to do it—and she knows it, and I know it—ultimately there becomes this inauthentic negotiation where everybody knows, in the end, if Daddy wants his way, he will get his way. And that’s just kind of crummy for two persons in a negotiation. And in realizing that, I kind of got like, “Oh, okay, I see the real cost long term of having that power and using it.”


 37:26  Leslie:  Thank you for sharing all that. I mean, you have a history of growing up with a temper from your dad that you resented, as you said. You can see the long term effects of it, and what ends up happening is truly the definition of a power struggle. I love your insight. I love the connection to your dad and understanding it. And there’s a very big question: what do we do? What do we do about all that? And so one of the things that I want to say is that being firm is different than being angry and out of control. 


Being firm can be very, very important. I’m not going to go into that, I’m just going to plant that seed. The other thing that I want to say, as a parent, many parents do get angry, do go into the anger, the temper, even the aggression of putting a child in time out, forcefully closing the door. These are things that are not uncommon, and you can be more responsible around it when we take responsibility for it. 


So I think, very quickly, the three step apologies that I recommend being one, state what you did; two, state how it affected the child and you—”Did you feel badly about it. I felt like we were getting somewhere, but I also feel like you felt really scared.” So you talk about the impact. And then the amends is, “I’m going to talk about what I might do different next time.” So that was a very rushed way of saying there is a very effective three-step apology that lets you take responsibility when you’ve had an impact on your child that could be lasting, could make things worse, not better. Knowing what to do in those moments, having the ability to be firm, it…


39:21  George:  I don’t know how to use that firmness, though. The thing for me is, if I try to be firm, it just goes the direction of what I just described. She knows she can just…


39:30  Leslie:  …she gets into a power struggle. 


39:33  George:  She knows she has a trump card that she can use and will win with. And I, at times, am like, “I’ll show you.” And I’m surrendering that, but it leaves me with a kind of uncomfortable situation where now Anna has the trump card of, like, she could just cry or wait or ask for more and more and more and ask over and over and over again and eventually get her way. 


39:53  Louise:  Let’s talk about when we’re reading books. We read books for 20 minutes, and then it’s lights out time. And we do snuggles for like, 10 minutes, and she’s allowed to talk during that time. This has all been negotiated many times and has changed over the years, but this is how we do it right now. And then there’s, like, five minutes more of snuggles where she’s supposed to be calming her body and her mind so that she’s ready to go to sleep. And so she’s quietly laying there with us. 


And that’s how it goes when, when I do it—I read for 20 minutes, we do 10 minutes of snuggles, I do five more minutes, I walk out the door. But that’s almost never how it goes for George. And when it comes to me, we’ll get to the end of the 20 minutes and she’ll say, “Oh, Mommy, just a little bit more.” I’ll be like, “It’s lights off time,” and we move on, and that’s that. And she doesn’t push, she doesn’t keep pushing, she doesn’t keep pushing, she doesn’t keep pushing. She might ask a couple times, but she knows that I’m not going to give in. And she’ll sometimes negotiate something out of me, like, “What about 30 seconds more of reading?” And I’ll be like, “That’s reasonable,” and I’ll read to her for 30 seconds…


40:56  George:  She’ll negotiate with me for 20 minutes…


39:58  Leslie:  She’ll negotiate with you for 20 minutes… 


41:00  George:  …until I give her something. And then later on, she’ll add more stuff onto it.


41:04  Leslie:  So I would say power struggles are when sometimes two people are just butting heads. There’s a similar personality. And she’s got a strong will. You’ve got a strong will. You’re trying to not be the parent that you had. You’re trying not to have that anger, that explosive anger, that your dad had. And yet, let’s say she never even knew he existed. Somehow, children intuitively know what we need to work on. And so she engages in that power struggle with you, not because she knows what she’s doing, but because you’re vulnerable in those areas. And when we feel it’s not working, we have identified what we need to work on. 


So I’m going to leave you right now with that idea, that they really do help us see what we need to work on. And we are all parents in training. And to have a lot of compassion for yourself. Keep showing up. And I think these situations are really, really, really hard and great opportunities for us to say, this is not about perfection. This is about showing up again and again. And once in a while, getting a laugh out of the whole thing.


42:29  Louise:  Thanks, Leslie. 


42:31  George: That does come up.


42:32  Leslie:  Because everyone has their stories. You’re not the only parents with those meltdown stories. Yeah, there are some families that do not experience the challenges. But if you ever get lonely, call me, because I have enough of those stories where I also was not proud of those behaviors. It was a real experience, I’ll tell you that much. It still is.


42:51  Louise:  And I’ve had them, too. I’m having slightly fewer of them now, but I definitely continue to have them. Have had them in the past. Yes. So…


43:03  Leslie:  Thanks for being here. Thanks for sharing. There’s so much here, and you don’t have to figure it all out in the next 10 minutes. So let it all digest, slowly, and see where you go from there.


43:16  Louise:  Thanks, Leslie. 


43:18  George:  Thanks, Leslie. We got a lot to work on. 


43:19  Leslie:  Thank you. 


[Music: Live in the Moment by LesFM] 


43:41  Leslie Cohen-Rubury:  Ooof…I know that was tough. And, also, I’m so grateful Louise and George chose to share this with us, because this is how we learn to do better. Working with clients like Louise and George is why I love this work. I know I love to give practical advice to deal with specific circumstances, and that’s not the only thing that’s needed. We also need a framework, and in this session, we really built that framework with three main takeaways. Focus on the process, not the outcome. The behavior that drives you nuts is the quality that might serve your child well later in life. And just because our child is struggling doesn’t mean we’re failing as parents. 


We are all parents in training. George and Louise are not alone in making mistakes. Salima, Emma, Tim and Natasha, Katherine, and the other parents who have joined me on Is My Child A Monster?, have helped us face the truth that we will all make mistakes as parents. Seeing those mistakes and taking responsibility for them is the best thing you can do for your child. 


I recorded with Louise and George about eight months ago, and they recently sent me an update.


44:59  Louise:  I went back to work and spent more time with Anna, which was cool, and maybe reduced a little of the tension between the two of us. But then my evenings were more focused on the baby, because I had been at work all day. And so George spent more time with Anna. 


45:17  George:  Yes, I think one thing that stuck with me from our sessions was I don’t want to push out of her some of the attributes that make it maddening to be a parent with her sometimes. Like, where I have to ask her to do something over and over again because she’s exploring and being creative that might lead to something interesting in the future; that I don’t want her to just be an obedient adult. So remembering that has helped.


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


45:44  Leslie Cohen-Rubury:  Join us next week when we meet Hannah and Alex. They are like many parents who feel that their child is addicted to technology, and who also struggle when saying “no” to their child. 

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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