Episode summary:

Susan talks with Elisha Goldstein, co-founder of The Center for Mindful Living in Los Angeles, about how mindful families can embrace imperfection, communicate courageously and repair difficult moments with honest communication.

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. is co-founder of The Center for Mindful Living in West Los Angeles and creator of the 6-month coaching program A Course in Mindful Living. He is a psychologist, author and speaker who offers practical strategies to calm our anxious minds, transform negative emotions, and facilitate greater self acceptance, freedom and inner peace. He and his wife, Stefanie Goldstein PhD, host renowned summer Mindful Family Retreats in beautiful Costa Rica (next retreat to be held June 15th – 20th, 2020). You can learn about Elisha here: elishagoldstein.com

Things you’ll learn from this episode:


  • How to bring mindfulness into the chaos of daily life
  • How to use embodied awareness when tempers are running hot
  • The importance of embracing imperfect parenting

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Transcript here:

Speaker 1: Hello and welcome to the Parenting Without Power Struggles  podcast. I’m Susan Stiffelman. I’m a marriage and family therapist and I’m the author of Parenting Without Power Struggles and Parenting with Presence and I’m very happy that you’re here. My guest today is Dr. Elisha Goldstein. It’s so great to be here. We’re going to be talking about ways to fold mindfulness into your daily parenting life in very practical ways. I think you’re going to really enjoy this episode. I know I’m going to have fun recording it with you, Elicia, but first, here’s some information for those of you interested in what we’re up to in the Parenting Without Power Struggles world. If you visit my website, SusanStiffelman.com you’ll find lots of parenting support, including my free newsletter with a lot of tips and inspiration, the newsletters, really the best way to stay in touch with the work I’m doing and hear about special events including a masterclass I’ll be doing soon with Dr. Dan Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson.


For those of you who would like to incorporate the ideas that you’re hearing in this podcast, I would love for you to test drive our monthly Parenting Without Power Struggles membership program where I work personally with parents. So you can go to SusanStiffelman.com/membership and if you use coupon code Podcast19 your first month will just be a dollar, so I hope you’ll check that out. It’s a great way to get personal coaching and support if you want to change old parenting patterns and habits. Also at SusanStiffelman.com you’ll find a list of masterclasses on everything from Chores to raising screen wise kids to handling homework and Helping Anxious Children Thrive. So there’s lots of great parenting resources for you at SusanStiffelman.com and now let’s get started. 


I want to tell you a little bit about Elisha Goldstein, PhD, and then we’re going to jump into some wonderful tips and ideas for incorporating these ideas of mindfulness into your actual real life. Because I know Elisha and his wife Stephanie very well, they’re dear friends and they have three young boys and I, you guys are really living it, aren’t you?


Speaker 1: Part of the three boy club. So every time I go over to their house and I see their sort of the chaos and the serenity and joy, I’m, I’m really heartened by, you know, seeing so much of the things that we talk about and write about being lived in real life. But let me first tell you a little bit about Elijah. He’s a psychologist, author and speaker who synthesizes the pearls of traditional psychotherapy with a progressive integration of mindfulness to achieve mental and emotional. He is co-founder with his wife, Stephanie Goldstein of the center for mindful living in West Los Angeles and creator of the six month coaching program on a course in mindful living, which I think starts again in March, right?


Speaker 2: Yup. And this’ll be our fifth or fifth run of it.


Speaker 1: That’s fantastic. Dr Goldstein has published extensively, he’s the author of so many bestselling books including uncovering happiness, overcoming depression with mindfulness and self compassion. The now effect, how this moment can change the rest of your life and mindfulness meditation for the anxious traveler. His website is Elijah goldstein.com E L I S H a goldstein.com. So welcome. Let’s talk about this great article that you and Stephanie recently published in mindful magazine on seven things mindful families do differently. I loved the list and I loved that at the end of each of the tips you had specific practices for incorporating these ideas into your life. So I chose a few that I wanted to talk about starting with embrace imperfection. Can you say more about that?


Speaker 2: Oh yeah. Well this is, this is, this is the one of the founding foundations that we kind of pose our, our family on because one of the things that we get, that people project on us quite a bit is like, wow, you’re both mindfulness teachers and you’re both psychologists. You might have, must have like the most perfect family. Everyone’s like emotionally aware and zenned out and you know, that’s, that’s just absolutely not true of course. And so one of the things that we serve, serve as like a foundation for ourselves as parents is, you know, embracing imperfections because for every parent, you know, as many books as there are and wonderful books like parenting without power struggles that there are about, parenting, you know, in that live moment, you know, when we’re being kind of ruled by our, you know, our history and our emotional setting of what’s there, like we’re going to make mistakes, we’re going to be imperfect at what we do.


Speaker 2: You know, one of the things we say in the article is like, maybe you didn’t like make the perfect Instagram worthy lunch or you know, maybe you didn’t, you know, present in front of the, the other kids’ parents in the way that you wanted to, or maybe you, you, you yelled at your kid or something happened and you know, that’s all, you know, that’s all a part of it. And so what we have to do is we have to recognize that and say like, Hey, this is a tough moment and it’s a real opportunity to, to strengthen something that’s so practical. And maybe this is the first tip that that’s worth giving to everyone. because it’s been enormously helpful in my life as a parent. I know my wife’s life as well, and it’s a great model for our kids is to recognize that in life we’re all imperfect.


Speaker 2: and we can say to ourselves like, Hey, this is a tough moment right now. Like, this is an imperfect moment that I’ve had. And in parenting, you know, this happens, you know, in life this happens and I’m not alone in this. I can just imagine, you know, how many parents right now just around my block, that are having a similar experience to me right now. And so how can I be kind to myself? What do I need and what does my child need right now? And you know, it’s an opportunity to soften our bodies and get back into a state from disconnection and to connection. So I’ll just remind yourself that three step process right there just to make it real practical. This is a tough moment. You know, this is an imperfect moment. We just name it. And, and in life, you know, this is a reality. This is part of parenting. This is part of being human. But the question is like, what am I needing right now? And if I can see my child right now, like what is he or she needing right now? And and then we can get back, go from a state of disconnection back into a state of connection. I love


Speaker 1: that so much because one of the things you snuck in there was what you’re modeling for your children. When you acknowledge that we’re imperfect creatures, we’re, we’re subject to emotional overwhelm and fatigue and fear and anxiety and frustration and all kinds of narratives in our head that kick in. And of course we’re going to have walnuts when we lose our way or we lose our cool with our children and to show them that we can recover from that. That we can both acknowledge and make amends or apologize as needed, but also not beat ourselves up or internalize this story about ourselves as being, you know, the scum of the earth or, you know, I’d never should’ve had children. Can you just kind of summarize again cause those steps were so great. Let’s just name them one, two, three. In the moment when a parent is recognizing, oops, this is an imperfect moment, what can they do?


Speaker 2: That’s it. That’s another way of saying it. I love that. You know, this is an oops moment, right? this is an imperfect moment. So the first thing we want to do is name it, cause when we name it, so here’s where the mindfulness piece comes in. This is one thing that we really try and go deep into in this. We run these family retreats every summer in Costa Rica where families come together from all over and we try and really kind of integrate mindfulness in play into this. So we want to, we want to be playful with this too. So we don’t want to be too rigid as we’re doing this practice. But the first thing is to name it. So when we name it, we step into a space between stimulus and response. You know, where there is choice, possibility and perspective. So that’s the first step.


Speaker 2: We name it has an imperfect moment. This is an oops moment in that moment. What we can do is our body’s likely tensing up. I don’t know. You know, Susan, if you remember this also, and, and also a lot of parents kind of listening to this, when you get into these reactions, you’re having a physiological reaction. So your body’s like literally into a fight, flight, freeze response. It’s what we want to do is we want to, in that moment that we name it, Hey, this an imperfect moment. This is an oops moment. We want to take a step back and we want to soften our bodies. Like by softing, our softening, our physiology. We’re actually going to shift our brain state in that moment, shift our state of awareness and what’s available to us in that moment. So we want to soften our bodies, take a deep breath, and we say, Hey, this is an imperfect moment.


Speaker 2: This is an oops moment. That’s number one. Number two, we say, you know, in, in life there’s, imperfect moments and his parents, his imperfect moments. One of the things that I’ve, I’ve taken to heart and one of my, experiences that I had is around bedtime. Earlier on when the kids were having a tougher time going to bed. And, you know, I would get kind of frustrated cause I was exhausted. Like you were saying, Susan, I was exhausted. I just wanted to rest. I saw my mind kind of anticipating that moment of like, Oh, I’m going to get to have space and rest in a few moments. But no, that wasn’t actually the case. So my expectations weren’t met. And so I had kind of frustration coming up and, I, and I’d have to say to myself like, you know, after I did that, Hey, this is a, this is a tough moment.


Speaker 2: This is an imperfect moment, whatever way I was dealing with it and in life, this is imperfect. So this is where step two comes in, where I’m, I’m, I’m impersonalizing it a little bit and saying, you know, in parenting there’s imperfect moments in a family’s, there’s imperfect moments. So, you know, and in my mind, I visualize all the other parents in this moment that are having a similar experience this. And so what that does is it allows me to recognize, Hey, I’m not alone in this, so I don’t feel so alone in this. My nervous system’s kind of reacting to kind of feeling like I’m in a corner here. But the reality is none of us are alone in this. We’re all kind of in this together really. If we’ve got a group of parents together, you know, like a group of a hundred parents or 10 parents and we raised our hands and say, Hey, who has these imperfect moments?


Speaker 2: Like it would be unanimous. Yeah. So, so we name it, we name it. Second thing we do, like as I was saying, we in personalize it. you know, in, in parenting there’s these imperfect moments. So number three, number three is just what do I, what am I needing right now? And part of that is like softening my body and recognizing that like, I had an expectation it’s not being met. Right. But, and, and then what is my child needing right now? You know, I love and parenting without power struggles. Just to give you a little plug, how you’re kind of like, you kind of shift this moment early on when you say like, well why, why should my child be acting this way? Versus cause the brain saying like, why shouldn’t they shouldn’t be acting this way? They should be going to bed or they should be, you know, not throwing that ball across the room and or whenever it is, right? Maybe they should be or they should, they shouldn’t be. They shouldn’t be coming home by their curfew or whatever. So why, why should they be acting the way that they’re acting? Just so we can put ourselves in their shoes so we can kind of see them a little clear so we can get a clue clear on what they’re needing right now and we can kind of move towards, towards a meeting that, you know, a little bit better.


Speaker 1: That’s just it. And I love how practical it is and how doable it is. And you know, I think you may share this experience with me as a family therapist. I’ve worked literally for almost 40 years with parents who’ve come into my office, closed the door and revealed the truth about their lives, which often doesn’t look like what everyone thinks it looks like we’re all struggling. It’s hard to be a parent. It’s hard to, you know, sort of rise to the occasion, moment after moment. So I love normalizing and bringing that kindness and compassion into the picture. So the second one I wanted to talk about briefly here is communicate courageously and you talk about how being vulnerable can be hard. So we often avoid these difficult conversations, but that, you know, when we’re clear and honest and we express how we feel, it’s actually a way to create trust and connection. And I would love to hear you talking about that with your kids. You know, the practice that you might do where maybe something they’ve done has been bothering you. And instead of the long lecture or the scolding or criticism, can you talk about how you could bring up something in a more vulnerable way that actually fosters closeness?


 2: Yeah. You know, [inaudible] just to give a little, behind the scenes of this, of this tip around, you know, or this kind of thing that mindful family do differently, communicate courageously. So my wife and I were going back and forth and we were writing this article and, you know, one of the things that, cause one of the things that’s so important with, you know, raising families of that we tend to not, not think about it as much cause we tend to, this really dovetail dovetails really well, on embrace imperfections, which is we think that we have to like do it in the moment, right. Or, or, or not make mistakes. Right. And, and, and really the reality is, is that it’s, it’s about the repairing moments, you know, that are there. So we really want to communicate courageously. We were kind of going back and forth and maybe it should be called make repair, and, and communicate courageously, kind of goes a little bit wider and includes it kind of transcends and includes in some way make a repair.


Speaker 2: Because what’s most important that we’ve found, a lot of families come, come to us because, or parents come to us because they want, they want to really integrate this kind of mindful, like a compassionate approach. Know that we can be imperfect, but to know that what’s, what, what, what matters in the end is that we can come together and communicate about it and talk about it. you know, and be able to out ourselves for making errors to our kids so we can be vulnerable and brave and, and model sense of courage, of recognizing like, Hey, you know, when, when, when you did this, you know, this is what feeling came up for me. And oftentimes, sometimes in the moment I know that we are, we’re better than others at at modeling that, you know, in that moment I’m noticing like right now as you’re doing this, my is starting to rise.


Speaker 2: You know, I know that this is actually happening right now. You know, so our kids are, you know, 11 nine and five. So that languaging still works. If your kids are, you know, 19 and 17 or it might still work actually. Yeah, it might still work. I’m noticing this is happening right now. So you’re kind of like, you’re there. There’s a, there’s a, an experience and we’ll just, I’ll just note this cause this, this might be really helpful to everyone called embodied dialogue. So embodied dialogue is basically is that’s great for us to do with ourselves, which is just kind of like in our minds we’re kind of narrating what’s happening with ourselves emotionally and physically in that moment. Mentally. Just like that thing I’m noticing my chest starting to tighten, I’m noticing my muscles starting to stiffen. I’m noticing I’m starting to, I’m starting to get more frustrated.


Speaker 2: My, my thermometer is starting to rise so that everyone in the room, including our kids and our partners know what’s happening, you know, to us so they can kind of be theirs. You’re creating awareness within the physical space and within other people. So that’s part of communicating arrayed courageously is also about being able to communicate and narrate within ourselves, be aware within ourselves. We’re almost kind of bringing mindfulness to the moment about what’s happening so everyone can kind of shift and be aware of how they want to, how they want to relate or respond to it. And so it’s not a surprise, you know, when you know there’s something that falls on the other end, like a consequence or something like that or, but if we do erupt in a way that we say, Oh, I wish that was such an imperfect parenting moment, we can come back afterwards and have that communication.


Speaker 2: We want to do that as much as possible because the reality is what’s remembered with anything, and this was Dan or Daniel Kahneman’s work, which was what’s remembered when it comes to our memories is what happens mostly. At the end of an experience, the end of an experience really colors the whole experience. So that, that, that opportunity to be brave and vulnerable and also empowered to make repair at the end with our kids, to be able to, to be able to say like, Hey, here’s where I made an error, but here’s where I noticed what you were doing. This is really what I needed in that moment. I wasn’t feeling, I was getting in that, let’s see if we can make a compromise in the future, you know, is is really powerful and important.


Speaker 1: That is so cute. And you know, you know, my son, in fact babysitter, he was a teenager and he’s now close to 30 and we still have, yeah, I know indeed it does. But we’re still having these conversations not only about present day experiences but about things that happened when he was much younger and there’s so healing when we can talk about something that we’ve realized is still sort of hanging, working in the atmosphere and move through it. And I see that talking with him about it is so healing for both of us. And also empowers each of us in our own respective lives to kind of bring that approach to living to our other relationships where we can be present, we can express what’s going on for us. And so I just, I love, I love the idea of communicating courageously and, and I love that you folded the idea of repair into that.

Speaker 2: It’s, it’s huge. And you know, one thing I’ll say for everyone who’s listening here is that, you know, one of the ways to really get this, and this was, this is one of the, to me, we, we’ve listed seven things here that, that mindful families do differently, but communicate courageously. It to me is one of the most important once, and, and it’s hard to do and, it’s hard to, to learn to do and it’s really great to have a space where you can kind of practice together, you know, to do that. And so sometimes going to like more immersive live events where families go together can be, you know, a real opportunity to practice this stuff together. you know, in that moment. So that go home and saying like, okay, yeah, we’ve had the experience together and doing this, in a kind of a controlled setting or do that in a therapy setting or something like that can be really powerful.


Speaker 1: That’s the cool thing about you guys do this amazing retreat, which I wish I had a young child so I can come in Costa Rica. And you know, one of the tips you talk about in the article, at mindful magazine is don’t forget to play and have fun. And maybe you can just say a few things about the retreat because I want people to know that for those who really do want to drop in and practice and kind of live in, integrate some of these ideas, there is this unbelievably cool thing that you do every summer.


Speaker 2: Yeah. We love it. This is our, like our also like our fifth time running this retreat. and we, it’s June 15th through the 20th of this of the summer. and it’s beautiful. One, the most beautiful areas of Costa Rica. And, we did it because we created it because, you know, we wanted something like this for our family. And the reality is it just didn’t exist anywhere. And we, I often say like the parents come because they want to learn mindfulness and they want their kids to learn mindfulness and compassion and like really weave this into their family and what the parents learn is how to play again. cause we, we, we even mindfulness and adventure type of activity to bring mindfulness to ziplining, you know, but we also, you know, have, have learning experiences every single day, you know, that are for the parents and the teens and the kids together and separately and, and then the parent that the kids come in because they want to play.


Speaker 2: But they learned, they also learned mindfulness and compassion. And, and one of the things that we do do there is really an entire day really focused and dedicated, you know, around communicating courageously and and so they can kind of have that experience together and have that dialogue together so they can then bring that home. The idea is that they have some credible experience, and you know, over the course of five days and then, and then, then when they go home, they also have these skills that they can really continue on and integrate because they’ve had the experiences of them already. it’s one of our favorite things to do, period. All year long is run this retreat and and families absolutely love it.


Speaker 1: That’s so cool. And how can people find out more if they’re interested?


Speaker 2: if you could just go to, the mindful living la.org website, and and just go under retreats, or it’s at the MLO Institute. so if you just Googled Imiloa Institute, I M I L O a Institute, and family retreat, it would be the thing that popped up under your Google search.


Speaker 1: Thanks, Elisha. Yup. So let’s wrap up with a tip. I always like to leave parents with something that they can practice in the week ahead. Let’s choose something that you think would be valuable for parents to try. What’s something that you want to share? An invitation to parents from today’s conversation.


Speaker 2: Okay. So hard to choose one. but I’m just gonna, I’m gonna just mention one thing and then I’ll mention the, the final tip, which is like, one of the things I think is so important is, within a family is, to practice really forgiving each other. you know, for the, for the missteps that happen. And you know, I always quote Lily Tomlin who said forgiveness means letting go of any hope for a better past. So the past, the past, right. And we can’t do anything about that, but we’d also don’t want to just let it go as like this. Like, Oh, this just didn’t even, it doesn’t matter. It’s the past type of thing that’s called spiritual bypassing. And, but we want to do is investigate it. And that’s where the make repair kind of comes in. We want to be curious about it.


Speaker 2: That’s the mindful, mentality is like the sense of engaged curiosity. Just want to be curious about our partner. We want to be curious about the other person’s part in it. and then we want to kind of communicate courageously around it and then we want to invite ourselves. And so this is where the final tip comes in, you know, to me, which is the 15th century, poet Kabir said an Indian polka bear said wherever you are, that’s the entry point. So there’s no place you have to start from or be at to be able to practice any of this type of work and bring this into your life wherever you are. That’s the entry point. So if you’re in a wonderful moment, if your family is just doing amazing, that’s an opportunity to practice gratitude and generosity with each other. you know, recognize people having good moments and say, Hey, this is a great experience.


Speaker 2: You know, we can, we can flip that other model by the way, where we say, here’s a tough moment in life. There’s tough moments, but we can say, Hey, this is a great moment and in life there’s great moments and, and, and support each other around those great moments. We really try and do that with our kids. and, and support them in like planting seeds in them and doing that with each other slowly, slowly as I say. So, and then, but then also, you know, if it’s, if it’s tough, you know, if you’re having a tough moment in your family right now, you can definitely start from there. You know, it’s the moment of just that recognize a moment of mindfulness. Like, Hey, this is, this is we’re having a tough time right now as a family. One of my children is having a tough time. The other ones are flourishing, whatever it is. And, and so we soft, we take a deep breath, we soften our shoulders and with intention. We, we say from this point, you know, what, what, what am I needing right now? What did they ever need right now? Wherever you are. And that’s the entry point. And however you falter or however you stray from any of this stuff,

Speaker 2: it’s an opportunity to, for yourself, forgive, investigate, and invite. And you can always begin again


Speaker 3: and again and again.


Speaker 1: Start where you are.


Speaker 4: Thank you so much Elisha. Again, his website is Elishagoldstein.com so glad you got to join me. That was so great. I’m so happy to be with you. Always my pleasure. And for all of you listening, thanks for joining us and being part of this conversation, becoming those emissaries to take these ideas out into your communities and the world at large. I hope you enjoyed today’s conversation. I encourage you to subscribe to the podcast, and if you’d like, you could leave a rating or review. That’s really helpful. And again, visit SusanStiffelman.com if you’d like to get our newsletter or you’re interested in the masterclasses, and don’t forget the special Podcast19 coupon code if you want to give the Parenting Without Power Struggles membership program a try. I look forward to joining you on our next episode. Meanwhile, remember that no matter how busy life gets, look for those moments of sweetness and joy.


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