Episode summary:

Glennon Doyle joins Susan in conversation about helping children through sorrow, loss and grief. Although our instinct is to cheer our kids up when they’re sad, you’ll hear why it’s important to help them feel their feelings–even the difficult ones.

Glennon Doyleis the author of the #1 New York Times bestselling memoir Love Warrior, which was selected as an Oprah’s Book Club pick, as well as the New York Times bestseller Carry On, WarriorGlennon is also the founder of Momastery, an online community reaching millions of people each week. She is the creator and president of Together Rising—a non-profit organization that has raised over Seventeen Million Dollars for families around the world through its Love Flash Mobs, which have revolutionized online giving. www.momastery.com

Things you’ll learn from this episode:

  • How grief can become holy
  • Why it’s difficult for parents when kids are unhappy
  • How to use challenges to cultivate resilience

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Transcript here:

Speaker 1: (00:16)

Hello and welcome to the parenting without power struggles podcast. I’m Susan Stiffelman. I’m the author of Parenting Without Power Struggles and Parenting With Presence, and I’m very glad that you’re here. Everything you’re going tohear in this podcast is going to be in service of theidea I came up with many years ago about being for our children something I call the calm, confident captain of the ship. So throughout these episodes, you’re going to hear me referring to that idea basically that we are the grownup in the room. We’re the ones capable of ferryingtheir ship through sometimes stormy, rough seas. And it’s all a reflection of my work for over 40 years as a teacher and as a family therapist working with thousands of families. So whether your kids are toddlers or they’re young adults or anything in between, this podcast will help you have more connection, more fun, and fewer power circles.

Speaker 1: (01:14)

Do you find yourself offering words of comfort or advice to your kids when they’re upset? Just think about that for a minute. Imagine the last time your child was upset and picture yourself. Did you try and comfort them? Did you try and cheer them up? if so you’re not alone. Most parents instinctively do things to make their kids happy. You cheer them up when they’re having a hard time in this episode, I’m going to talk about that and I’m going to talk about how to help children through their sadness and disappointment in a way that may feel a little counter intuitive but that helps them become resilient adults. And I am going to be joined by Glennon Doyle who is the author of carry on Warrior and the author of Love Warrior and the founder of Momastery and Together Rising and basically a real change maker and beautiful light in the world.

Speaker 1: (02:08)

Glennon and I met a few years ago when she joined me on one of my summits. And since then we’ve done a number of things together including co-teaching three part parenting class, which was tons of fun. In this podcast you’ll hear a clip from one of our conversations where we talk about the importance of helping children discover that they can live through pain and disappointment. And believe me, I know it’s not easy to do, but as you’ll hear, we both believe that our job is not to make sure that our children are never unhappy or that they’re never frustrated, but rather that what they need from us when they’re upset is our loving presence so they can find their way through life’s difficult moments and become more resilient in the process. So I’m going to play the clip. And after the clip I’ll talk about why it’s so valuable to give our children the chance to feel what they feel, including the frustrating, sad, or difficult emotions that just come with living life.

Speaker 2: (03:12)

As parents, we often approach our kids with “it’s not so bad” or “things will be okay.” Or we try and talk them off the ledge with left brain, logical, rational justification so that they don’t feel what they feel. And what I love about you and, and, and the way you wrote this, it was so beautiful was it’s so much about witnessing and being present and staying still and quiet when someone we love is hurting. And that’s it. And that process alone, which I call act one because that’s where I’m, I’m inviting the child to nod her head or say yes a few times. So she feels like actually heard that process is the healing process.

(03:58)

Exactly. And all you have to do to think about the power of that is to think about how you feel when you share your pain with someone. Um, and that person tries to explain it away, tries to tell you why it doesn’t.

Speaker 2: (04:14)

“It doesn’t hurt as bad as you say it does or why it’s not too bad.” Yeah. All you have to do is show better. Is this? Yeah. Just the idea that grief and pain is holy and it’s not something that we should snatch from each other. You know, thing that if we teach our kids that they can handle it and the way we teach them that they can handle it is by not taking it from them. Exactly. I just, I say that now. I say, this is this painful. Your heart is breaking. This is as painful as you think it is in it and you are strong enough for it. Yeah.

(04:48)

And you, and I’ve taught me about that, but that actually delivers to them the method. I remember us talking about this in one of our other things that we did about how it actually conveys, I have faith in your capacity to cope.

Speaker 2: (05:02)

I have faith in your resilience.

(05:03)

And that’s the lesson of our lives, right? I mean, I think it’s so important to me because as an addict, an early, early addicts and I became bulimic when I was 10. And that is what addiction is, is a belief that we can handle. Yeah. Like we hide from pain. So for me, like teaching my kids that, you know, they don’t need to be afraid of their pain is if they could learn that, um, I, that could avoid so much suffering. But then later, everything we need, all the courage and wisdom that we need to become the people we’re meant to be. It’s actually inside that hot loneliness. That’s why when our children tell us they’re in pain, we say, I see it. I believe it. I know it. Yeah. Let’s just be still with it. Because if we panic and say, no, you’re not, it’s okay ever.

Speaker 2: (05:56)

We deal with people, you, it’s, it’s, “it’s, um, darkest before the dawn and God never gives you anything more than you can handle and blah, blah, blah.” All the things we say that teaches people, oh my God, you can’t handle this. Yes. Even not for you. I gotta get this away from you as soon as possible. And so, especially with parenting, it’s utterly amazing to me because it’s like we try to steal from our kids. The one thing that will actually make them become the people that are meant to be right. Because the best people are not people who have never overcome anything. They are people who have overcome and overcome and overcome and overcome.

Speaker 1: (06:42)

The best people are the people who have never overcome anything. The best people are the people who’ve overcome and overcome and overcome and overcome. Wow. The first time Glennon and I got together, we ended up actually staying on the phone for over an hour after our interview. We just clicked and we talked about all kinds of things related to raising children.

(07:09)

But we really dove into this idea that although we love it, of course when our kids are happy and we love it when they like us, our job is actually to help them learn to feel all their feelings including disappointment and frustration and sadness. And that is not easy. But here’s the thing, when we try to talk her kids out of their upsets or we try to fix their problems, think about what you’re also communicating because the way I see it, we’re also saying, I don’t believe that you have the capacity to deal with this problem.

Speaker 1: (07:48)

When we jump in and we try and fix everything for them, we’re also conveying a lack of confidence in their capacity to cope. So that’s not something that helps kids become resilient or sturdy in the face of their inevitable life difficulties if we want them to become that person who as Glennon said so sweetly is able to overcome and overcome and overcome.

(08:12)

If we want to raise a resilient adult, which most of us do, there is no way around it. We have to help our children learn that feeling frustrated and angry and sad and disappointed is part of being human. That they can survive those painful emotions and that when they’re feeling those difficult emotions, we are rattled. We don’t feel panicked or desperate to make them go away because the fact is, at least based on my experience and what I’ve seen as a therapist, as well as my own life, human beings actually do come preloaded with the resources that they need to cope when life is difficult.

Speaker 1: (08:52)

So how do we help our become healthy adults who can handle it when a boyfriend breaks up with them without stalking them or who can cope when they’re faced with a job loss without drinking or numbing themselves to dull the pain? You know, we, we can’t just hand over resilience to our kids on their 18th birthday. It’s really forged in the thousands of experiences that they have throughout their childhood where they’re faced with disappointment and you know, with our support, they find out that they can feel their painful feelings and come through the other side stronger and sturdier and a little bit wiser for lots of parents. This is really hard and I think it has to do with the fact that from the time our babies born, our instinct is to do everything possible to keep them safe and comfortable and happy. And of course that’s a really good thing because we’re supposed to nurture and protect our little babies.

Speaker 1: (09:54)

It’s important that we’re attuned and that we respond to their cries and do our best to meet their needs because when they start out in life, they’re completely helpless and completely dependent on us. But as they grow, part of our changing role is to help them find out that they have within themselves the resourcefulness that they’ll need to meet life’s challenges and disappointments so they don’t completely fall apart when life isn’t going their way or things are getting tough. And I’m sorry to say this does not happen. If we regularly aggression to fix their problems over scrambled, to talk them out of their upsets. Our kids need practice riding the waves of life’s difficult moments. I guess you could sort of say it’s like surfing, which I don’t do, cause I never could figure it out. But you don’t get up on the board the first time you fall and you fall and you fall and you learn how to balance yourself again and you, you do that all through experience.

Speaker 1: (10:52)

Now when parents jumped through hoops to prevent their kids from feeling sad or frustrated, it may be because they feel like they’re failing as a parent if their child is unhappy. Or I’ve worked with lots of parents who just get so uncomfortable when their kids are mad at them because they’re not giving them what they want, that they regularly, you know, give them what they want. And this is what I’ve seen. I’ve actually worked with hundreds of kids in my therapy practice and, and the kids whose parents do everything possible to give them everything that they want or to fix every problem, grow up to be much less confident, much less empathetic, and actually much less happy than the kids who when they bump up against a frustration or disappointment, have parents who create space for them to feel their hurts without trying to make them go away.

Speaker 1: (11:49)

As Glennon said, she had told her daughter she was going through something really hard. This is as painful as you think it is and you’re strong enough to handle it. This is what creates healing. And this is what cultivates resilience. And this is what grows our kids into strong and sturdy and compassionate adults. And that is why grief and pain are, as Glennon said, they’re w they’re holy because they are the means by which we learn to feel all of our feelings. And that means we get to become who we truly are as we grow up all of ourselves, the complicated, complex, multidimensional human being with all the different feelings that come with that. I don’t know about you, but as I look back on my life, the experiences that shaped me the most, they almost always had an element of pain or difficulty.

Speaker 1: (12:50)

Trust me, you know, at the time I was going through something really hard. I did not look at those losses or hurts and say, wow, this is so great. Another difficult experience. I’m sure this is gonna help me become a stronger person now. But in retrospect, those tough moments were actually crucial in helping me become more compassionate and more confident and more steady on my feet and able to ride life’s ups and downs, those waves, its practice and its presence. So how does this idea sit with you? The notion that it’s okay and it’s actually even beneficial for your children to experience frustration and upset and sadness? Can you imagine just being with your kids in a loving way when they’re having a hard time without doing something that would quickly get them to feeling happy again? Or is this a touchy spot for you?

Speaker 1: (13:48)

Is it really hard to see your children feeling sad without fixing their problems or bombarding them with advice? Now I just want to clarify something. I don’t mean that we should never give our kids things that they want or that we shouldn’t help them solve their problems. But if you find yourself panicking when your child even hints at being unhappy or freaking out, if they’re scowling at you, cause you’ve deprived them of, of something that they wanted to do and you just can’t handle them being upset with you, you might want to take a step back and consider the big picture. Each time your child lives through disappointment, she discovers that she can live through disappointment. And you know, that’s how it works. That experience over and over again of finding out that we’re stronger than we thought we were, or that even painful, difficult moments when we have support.

Speaker 1: (14:49)

And that’s where you come in as the loving captain of the ship who’s able to sit with your child, who is able to create space for her or him to express what they’re going through to offer loving and care and compassion. Um, with those experiences are children. Discover that those experiences have a beginning, a middle and an end. Um, of course, we don’t want to leave our kids flailing and desperate for guidance and care and imagine or tell ourselves that they’re going to figure it out on their own.

(15:24)

No, we have a role to play, but the role is not to fix everything. Um, when they learn that they take that lesson with them into their adult life, this lesson that they draw upon, every time they bump up against, uh, an obstacle, which is an inevitable part of grownup life. So the next time your child’s upset, try kindly acknowledging her disappointment.

Speaker 1: (15:48)

You might say something like, “I get it, honey. This is so not what you wanted to happen. Or Oh sweetheart, this is so hard. Or you know, come and have a cuddle that sit with this together.” This may be a time for a big cry without scrambling to offer solutions and fixes. If you can slow things down and stay present and convey to your child, I’m not afraid of your unhappiness. We can ride this wave. You have everything you need to cope. I’m here. If you could express those things to your child, whatever way is natural for you, you will be giving a great gift.

(16:36)

Okay. Then that’s it for this episode. Thank you for listening. I hope that I’ve given you some things to think about and of course, I hope you’ll tune in again and subscribe to this podcast. If you subscribe when a new episode is released, it will magically appear on your phone or your listening device.

Speaker 1: (16:56)

If you have a question that you’d like me to address in one of our episodes, you can visit SusanStiffelman.com/podcast so I’m going to close with a tip. Just a suggestion this week. Notice how you feel when your youngster voices a complaint and then notice what you do. Do you rush in to fix things or offer advice? Do you feel really stressed or worried that they might throw a fit or have a meltdown or that they just can’t handle their disappointment? Just notice how you feel when your child’s upset and watch what you do as a result of those feelings.

(17:33)

Becoming more aware of what gets stirred up in you when your child’s unhappy is a really good step toward perhaps making some changes in how you respond when they’re having a hard time. If you’d like to know more about my work, please visit SusanStiffelman.com And I look forward to joining you on our next episode. Meanwhile, remember that no matter how busy life gets, look for those moments of joy. Have Fun, and thanks for showing up. I’ll see you next time. 

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