Susan talks with bestselling author Rachel Macy Stafford about how to forge deep connection with our kids while encouraging them to develop their own voice and support them to become who they’re meant to be.

 

Rachel Macy Stafford is the New York Times bestselling author of Hands Free Mama, Hands Free Life, and Only Love Today. Her fourth book, Live Love Now, was just released. Rachel is a certified special education teacher who helps people overcome distraction and perfection to live better and love more. Rachel’s work has been featured on CNN, Good Morning America, Global News, TIME.com, FoxNews.com, as well as in hundreds of other online and print publications. Rachel loves taking long walks, baking, and volunteering with homeless cats and nursing home residents. Rachel lives in the South with her husband and two daughters who inspire her daily. Listen to a sample of Live Love Now here.
https://www.handsfreemama.com/

 

In this episode, you’ll learn:

• How to deepen connection by supporting kids’ dreams
• How to make it safe for reluctant kids to open up
• Rachel’s three parenting roles: the encourager, the truth teller and the guide

 

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Transcript here:

Speaker 1:

Hello and welcome to the Parenting Without Power Struggles podcast. I’m your host, Susan Stiffelman. I’m a marriage and family therapist and the author of Parenting Without Power Struggles and Parenting with Presence. And I’m very glad you’re here. My guest today is bestselling author and enormously inspirational writer and speaker, Rachel Stafford. 

 

Today we’re going to be talking about relieving pressure and deepening connection with our kids. Really good stuff. I’ve been lucky enough to preview Rachel’s upcoming book Live Love Now, which is coming out in April. And you’re going to love what she has to say and the beautiful way that she shares guidance. So again, Rachel, I can’t wait to get started with you. So happy to have gotten to preview your book. Thanks again for writing such a gift for parents. 

 

Speaker 1:

Thank you, Susan. I am so excited to share what I’ve discovered.

As I prepared to write this book and while I wrote it, I discovered so many things that not only I felt would help other people, but they helped me with my own teenagers in real time. So I’m SU, I’m super excited to just dig in. 

 

Speaker:

Okay, good. Well I always like to start the podcast with a little bit of information for parents who are interested in what we’re up to in the Parenting Without Power Struggles community. So if you visit my website, Susanstiffelman.com, you’re going to find lots of parenting support including a free newsletter with a lot of tips and it’s a great way to stay in touch and find out about upcoming master classes and events. You’ll also find a list of masterclasses on topics like helping anxious children thrive, raising screen wise kids, kids handling homework and highly sensitive children and parents. And then for those of you who want to incorporate the ideas of presence and parenting without power struggles more into your day to day life, I would love for you to test drive our monthly Parenting Without Power Struggles membership program where I work with parents personally.

 

Speaker 1:

You can go to Susanstiffelman.com/membership and use coupon code Podcast19 and your first month will just be a dollar. So I hope you’ll check it out. It’s a great way to get personal coaching and support and we have a lot of fun. So let’s get started.

 

Rachel Macy Stafford is the bestselling author of three books, hands-free, mama, hands-free life and only love today, which are by the way all on my bookshelf. And now she’s got an upcoming book due out April 28th called live love. Now Rachel is a certified special education teacher who helps people overcome distraction and perfection to live better and love more. So her website is hands-free mama.com but make sure you listen because at the end I’m going to talk about how you can get some special gifts if you want to preorder her book. So Rachel, one of the things I love about you is that you’ve been such a tremendous voice about how various things like technology can pull us out of connection with our kids and you really offer practical ways to stay the course and to be present with them. And in particular, you know this idea of connection, which is just the cornerstone of my work. In fact, last week I did a masterclass with Dr Dan Siegel and Tina Bryson on the power of showing up. So we’re still aligned here. One of the things that I love about the beginning of your book as you share some of the things you’ve heard kids say, things they’ve shared with you, can you say more about that and I know that that informed what you ended up putting together here in this book?

 

Speaker 2:

Yes, definitely. As an author, I was invited to come speak in schools a couple of years ago and because I have a background as a special education teacher, I felt like it was an opportunity not just to inform them about, uh, my career as an author, but actually talk to them and kind of get an idea of what kind of things they were concerned with, what were they dealing with. And I asked a question at the end of my presentation and the question was, if you could give the world one message, what would it be? And I was really not expecting to have quite the outpouring that came from question. , I didn’t expect all the kids to participate and I didn’t expect them to take it seriously in some cases, but it was like they had been waiting for someone to ask that question.

 

Speaker 2:

So over the years, I compiled hundreds and hundreds of these index cards and what they told me was our kids are experiencing a very high level of stress, , beyond what we would even imagine. And they feel like in many cases that stress, that pain is not seen by the adults in their life and they feel alone and they’re trying to manage all of these things, you know, that we managed as young people. But on top of that, they have the whole technology aspect, which brings this whole other realm of stress into their life because they’re kind of trying to uphold these online identities when they feel pressure then from that source about what they’re supposed to be looking like and doing and achieving. And it’s very, very, , anxiety inducing. And so it was so enlightening to read from the kids themselves. And it was almost as if the cards kind of fit into different categories. And what I realized by looking through all these cards is that there were themes that emerged and those themes became my chapters and so then in each chapter we delve into what is the stress that the kids are naming and how do we as adults not only guide them through it, but equip them so that they feel capable and resilient so they can manage eventually on their own and not feel like they’re not prepared.

 

Speaker 1:

Wow. It’s so awesome that you created an environment and a feeling for those kids that they could tell their truth. I’ve seen this as a family therapist that that despite the fact that we like to tell the story that our kids don’t want anything to do with us and that they think we’re really lame and that they don’t want to open up. What you’re really pointing out again and again is that if we create the right conditions, they desperately want to turn to us now at various times, at various ages and over various topics. But in general, I’ve heard this again and again also with kids that they want our guidance and they need our guidance. But that often the way that we show up with them or react to them tells them or teaches them, no, no, no, no. Don’t go in this direction, mom. Just going to react. That’s just going to cut heavy and give me advice I haven’t asked for. So what are the, the six themes that emerged as you organized the responses that you received from the kid?

 

Speaker 2:

So we have kids that are feeling unseen and unheard. We have kids that are describing the feelings of isolation, of not belonging, of rejection. We have the area of feeling untethered, , ungrounded because of the drifting that goes on in the online world. , we have kids who are feeling worried because of all of the threats that are happening in the world of all this pressure to know what they’re supposed to be doing with their life, you know, so they feel overwhelming worry. , we have kids who are feeling, lack of capability because their parents are micromanaging them. So we have kids who want to do for themselves. They want to talk about what brings them passion and excitement in their life and what they feel like their path is. And we, and their parents or other, the, the educational system is putting them on a narrow path that says, no, it’s this way.

 

Speaker 2:

And then lastly, we have the pressure, the pressure of, , that comes from the academic world and from parents and what that pressure does to the, the ability to be authentic and to set your own course and what makes you feel fulfilled. So we have kids who are feeling unfulfilled. They’re feeling like failures because they’re not able to dictate the calling of their heart. And that sets them up for a life of feeling meaningless, newness and, , having no purpose. And we don’t want that for our kids. And that’s one thing that I think will open a lot of eyes because I come from a place in this book of, , truth for my own, my own challenges, my own struggles, my own mistakes. And I never knew that, you know, some of the things that I was doing to my children were damaging.

 

Speaker 2:

And I think a lot of parents, you know, we want what’s best for our kids. We want them to have successful lives and we then we tend to like want to control and we want to dictate and we don’t realize how that is hindering them. So that’s another piece is, you know, asking yourself, okay, why is this so important to me that my child is successful? And so we have to kind of deal with our own stuff. We have to face some really painful but healing truth about ourselves if we can, if we are going to be a healthy role model, a trusted confidant in the, in the parenting world today.

 

Speaker 1:

Absolutely. And I love that story after story in your book illustrates this idea of your authenticity with your kids, helping them in an appropriate way, kind of witnessed your, the shifts you’ve made internally as you’ve navigated yourself to a path that’s aligned with who you’re supposed to be. Because one of the basic tenants of my work is that, you know, raising a child is just like unwrapping a miracle and you don’t know that’s supposed to be, you can, when you impose your own agenda on who that child is supposed to become, you deprive yourself and the child of whatever magnificence they’re here to kind of, you know, express and manifest. And so it’s, it’s, but we get triggered ourselves and in a way that contributes to how we are able to be present with your kids. You know, one of the things that came up in the class I did with Dan Siegel and Tina Bryson was the value life, the lifelong benefit for a child when they have a parent who’s attuned with them and to them who’s able to really forge that attachment that creates the secure sense of self that they carry forth then into the world.

 

Speaker 1:

And your whole book is really about how to do that. So, , what are some of the ways that are practical ways that parents can encourage their kids to open up and trust them when they want something? Because I know a lot of us trip over ourselves. When our child opens up their mouth about a challenge and we immediately, they go, great, I can share my pearls of wisdom. So what are, you’ve listed some of them, what are some of the things that parents can do so their kids know that we can just listen, that we value what they have to say, that we can be a support without trying to fix everything.

 

Speaker 2:

Yes. Well, one thing is just to be aware that our kids, if they can solve the problem themselves and take ownership, they’re more likely to be successful at overcoming that challenge. So if you can try and they come to you or you can see they’re upset, you know, try to be very nonjudgmental, very matter of fact, you know, I see something’s bothering you. You know, would you, do you want to tell me about it and then just shut your mouth, which is hard sometimes. And just listen. And I love this idea, that Lisa Damour shared in an article about using a glitter jar analogy. And you have these teenagers or young people that they’re very upset and they, you know, are kind of like emotionally having this emotional outbursts. And if you think about the glitter jar and when you shake it up, you have to let that glitter have time to settle.

Speaker 2:

You can’t, you can’t come to any conclusions. You can’t have a sensible thought process until that glitter settles. And so I’ve showed that to my daughters, this glitter jar analogy that, you know, and I don’t do it when they’re upset, but when they’re, when they’re calm, I’ll say, you know, when you’re having an emotional breakdown or an emotional moment and you’re very upset, your brain is like this glitter jar. And so it, it’s good if you just give your time, yourself time to kind of cry it out to vent, you know? And then once that gets out, then it might be time to come up with strategies. And I find it really amazing that when I ask questions, rather than telling my daughters what to do about a situation, like one one for example, I noticed that my 16 year old was keeping them really late hours.

Speaker 2:

Well, you know, there’s so much studies on how sleep affects everything, their wellbeing and their brain functioning and their growth, you know, so I tend to get a little panicky like, Oh my gosh, she’s only getting six hours of sleep and you know, but I calmly went into her room and I said, Hey, you know, I noticed the last couple of nights you’ve been up really, really late. You know what’s going on with you. You know what? I see that you’re working really hard. Instead of going in, you know, accusing, I’m saying, you need to get this under control. What are you doing? So first there was a little defensiveness, but I stayed neutral. And what eventually came out was kind of like an emotional outpouring of all the things she felt like she was dealing with. So because I went in as someone who was on her side, she did feel like she could tell me and I empathized.

 

Speaker 2:

I listened. , and then I said, what do you think you could do to maybe go to bed 30 minutes early, earlier tomorrow night? What’s something that we could think of rather than here’s what you need to do. And she had ideas and then the next night, lo and behold, she was in bed earlier. So you know, there’s going to be things all day long that are teenagers and kids are doing that. We think this is harmful. I’m scared what’s happening and we want to rush in there and we want to tell him what to do. But it’s going to backfire. So the more that you can stay neutral, the more that you can show. I am on your side. I’m, I’m telling you this because I care about you. And if they get defensive, try not to take it personally. It’s not about you.

 

Speaker 2:

Okay. There’s something, you know, when I talk to my kids about technology usage, again, I’m trying to empower them with information so that they can make good choices, set good limits. That doesn’t happen. They’re teenagers. So whenever I broached the subject, Hey, I just saw this study that showed if you have your phone next to you while you’re studying, you’re, you’re less likely to retain the information. Then when the phone is in the other room, like I’ll just casually tell them about things that I’m learning. Well guess what? They don’t want to hear that. Sometimes they want to get defensive, but I have to remember I don’t, I’m not here for them to like accept it and be overjoyed about it because that’s not it. I’m here to sh to give them this information that they are going to hear, they’re going to remember. And when sometimes when you’re not looking, they use the things that you have offered them. These pieces of empowerment because they’re navigating this territory that none of us have had to navigate before. So just trying to be what I call an encourager, not an enforcer, that role, that’s a role of the 21st century that we need to embrace an encourager, not an enforcer. You’re not there to stand over them and tell them what to do because that is not going to do them any, that’s not going to give them any favors for the, for the future. They’re not going to be equipped.

 

Speaker 1:

So the other thing I love about that is that when you hold yourself in a place where your kids see you coming and they don’t have that panic, now what are you going to tell me to do or not do? But rather there’s sort of a, ah, an exhale or relaxation because they see us as an ally. They see us as a safe place to process things that they’re struggling with. And it’s just so fundamentally important. However, we both know that one of the things you touched on, which is such a cornerstone of what I do in my work, is that it’s easier said than done. Sometimes we get so activated by things our kids share with us. And that’s where I’m so happy that you talk about this in your book and in your work. We do have our own work to do so that we are posing on our kids, you know, all of our unfinished business and unhealed wounds that were playing out as they struggle or short things out. Yes, absolutely. I love that. When you talk about listening, I mean you’re very specific all throughout the book, but you talk about listening to your kids, not just their complaints or their pains but their insights, their dreams. Can you just give parents before we wrap up a few ways that they can foster that kind of deep listening or the, the, the joy that kids can have when they’re with us and they know that it’s safe to just wander in their musings and want to hear who they are and what they’re thinking about. Well, one thing that I’ve realized, with my own children and as a teacher of high school students with special, special needs, specifically behavior problems, sometimes it’s not comfortable to sit down like adults do and you know, have a face to face type of conversation. But what I find is if you can invite them into something that you’re doing. Now for me it’s, this is kind of funny, but I on the weekends I like to pick somewhere in the house to kind of organize. It makes me feel really good to get a closet or a pantry organized. And so what I found is my 16 year old also has a lot of joy that comes from organizing. And so I will invite her to come join me to organize a closet or something, you know, in the basement.

 

Speaker 2:

You know, all these pins are, all these colors are wrong in these pins. We need this. You know, and it’s so funny because first she’ll be like, uh, I’m, I’m busy or I’m kind of doing something else right now. And I’ll say, well, just come down when you, when you can. And she makes her way down there. And that is when we have some of the best chats because we’re sitting there side by side, doing something together doesn’t take a lot of brain activity. , and also another thing that I do in the, in the invitation realm is I invite my daughters to go on walks with me. And I would say maybe 50% of the time they say yes, but, and that’s okay. You know, there’s no pressure. But I noticed that after me asking them for a while, my, again, my older daughter, she said, would you want to start taking walks on Sundays?

 

Speaker 2:

She found this hiking place and her freshman year, that Sunday hike saved really saved our relationship in a way because she was going through a lot of turmoil that I didn’t know, but it would come out on those hikes. And so I would just encourage parents to keep inviting and they’re not always going to say yes and they, they may, you know, turn you down nine out of 10 times, but don’t give up on inviting them into the sacred of our life. And sometimes it requires leaving the house, going into a new environment, asking them, you know, Hey on Saturday I noticed you’ve got some free time, why don’t you pick something for us to do? You know, I would just love to spend some time with you. And in that, you know, they, they might look like mom wants to spend time with me or Diane once you know, deep down who doesn’t want to hear, I want to spend time with you.

 

Speaker 2:

Who does not want to hear that. So try not to look at the outward appearance of what the limitations mean, but just think, okay, I’m going to say this. And, and that’s another thing I like to talk about in my book is we’re going to have to have conversations with our kids that feel real weird coming out of our mouth. And we’re like, I don’t really know what the right words are, but try anyway. There are just certain things our kids need to hear. The delivery does not have to be perfect. They see you trying, they see you trying to communicate. That means they can come to you when they don’t have the perfect words and they’re going to stumble on their delivery. But just keep trying to, to make those connections, have those conversations that they don’t feel like they’re being interrogated. Just keep reaching for them.

 

Speaker 1:

Oh, such beautiful, great insights. I love, I love all of it. It just makes my heart happy. Rachel, I always like to wrap up the podcast with a tip, like something very practical that a parent can do this coming week and maybe we can play off of that. What would be something that a parent listening to this could say, okay, this week I’m going to set an intention to, so I would say something that you could possibly see, a dramatic difference if you try this for a week is when they come home from school or when you’re reunited, after you’ve been separated for the day. I would refrain from asking performance-based questions, like, what homework do you have? , how did your test go? What score did you get? , you know, you forgot to take out the trash. You need to do that right now. Kind of back away from those types of questions and try asking hard questions, questions that address that part of them, the whole part of them, the how are you feeling about things part of them. Just if you can for that initial greeting and even a little bit of time after, you know, I understand we’ve got to, we’ve got to ask the more business type questions we, that’s part of life.

 

Speaker 2:

But when you first initially reunite with them, just tune into their heart. Even even don’t ask a question, just say, I’m really glad to see you. I thought about you a lot today. I know you had that test and I just, I’m just real proud of the way you’ve been working. Just just acknowledge them, see them. , you might be surprised how that opens up them to share other things with you that you kind of wanted to know, but you don’t have to ask. And I did this with my daughter when I was aware that I was micromanaging and, and being critical the minute that we got together and I thought, well, I’m, I’m just shutting the communication down, doing this practice. And, and it really was just about a week of asking hard questions, refraining from asking performance-based questions when we reunited and I saw a difference.

 

Speaker 2:

I saw that she was breathing easier around me. So that’s, that’s become the practice of my life and all. And I often tell parents, just think about what, what question do you want to hear when you come through the door after a long night or day of work? For me it would be, how many books did you sell today, Rachel? How many visitors did you have on your blog? Now that is not how I would want to be created. You know, I want to know, I want someone to say, Hey, I know that you had a stressful meeting today. How did that go? How are you feeling tonight? You know, just think about what do you want people to say at the end of the day and then just let that lead you.

 

Speaker 1:

Oh, it reminds me of when my son was really little and we would be reunited and I had this little song and I, gosh, I hope that he doesn’t hear this, but it would be something like, I’m so happy to see you. See, you see, I’m so happy to see you see now and, and you know that feeling that our face, our eyes light up, our heart is lifted when we see the person that we love. It’s so powerful to be on the receiving end of that. So thank you Rachel. How can people find out more about your work and will you make sure to, to share that link because I know you’ve got some wonderful gifts for people who might want to preorder your book, which is coming up very soon.

 

Speaker 2:

Yes. So you can go to Handsfreemama.com and you’ll see the new book there right at the top. And you can just click on that book. It’s called Live Love Now. And click on the book and it will take you to the book page and you can read exactly what the book’s about and you can see what retailers are selling it and like Susan said, if you preorder before April 28th that means you get to have these beautiful preorder gifts, which include four of my most powerful connection tools that you can print out. You can post them. They kind of just help and guide you in being what I called, you know, the encourager, not the enforcer, truth teller, not the task master and the guide, not the half listener. Those are all three roles that I discussed in my book and I give you tools for beginning that journey to be the parent that is the companion, not the enforcer or the critic, and who can actually be then a part of their child’s life.

 

Speaker 1:

I love when I find a book that just sings to me and I’m for sure this one does. Thank you. Thank you Rachel Macy Stafford for joining us and to all of you listening, I hope you’ve enjoyed our conversation. I encourage you to subscribe to the podcast so that you’ll get notified when we release a new episode. You can leave a rating or a review if you’d like, and again, please visit susanstiffelman.com if you want to get our newsletter or try out our Parenting Without Power Struggles monthly membership group. Remember that you can get your first month for just a dollar if you use Podcast19 in the coupon code field, and it’s a great way to get ongoing, deeper support if you like the things that you’re hearing here. So Rachel May, may your book touch many. Thank you again. Thank you, Susan. I appreciate you having me and all that you do. Everyone thank you all for, for being messengers of, of the messages that you hear and the learnings that you hear here. Please share what you’re learning 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 sweetness and joy.

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