My guest this week is Penny Williams. Penny helps parents of challenging kids feel less alone and break down the barriers to success and joy for their families and for themselves. Through her podcast, award-winning books, online parent training programs and conferences, parent coaching, and mom retreats, she has helped thousands of neurodiverse families survive and thrive in the face of ADHD and/or Autism.
In this episode, we get to hear all about Penny’s experience as a mom of a neurodiverse child and how she rose to the challenge and became an expert in helping parents and families see the right path for their children. Penny has so many encouraging things to say to parents and gives some good take-home tips as well. Learn more about Penny here.
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Letting go of the stress on the parent and child
- When we stop trying to make kids fit a certain mold, then the pressure’s off, then the stress is off of us, and then our kids can actually move forward
- When we’re under that stress and we’re passing it on to them, it really shuts them down
- Try to let go of the expectations you had for your child or the expectation the school has for your child
- Tune into your child to start learning what they need intuitively, they are telling us what they need through their actions and behaviors
Mindset is the most important tool for raising a neurodiverse child
- The mindset that ordinary expectations don’t have to be your expectations
- The mindset that your child is doing the best that they can today with the skills and development that they have
- The mindset that they can be successful and happy and not take a traditional path
- The mindset that my child’s behavior is not personal, it’s not a personal attack on me, it’s not my failure of my child
- The Manifesto of the Neurodiverse Family outlines the belief system you need to adopt to help your child succeed and your family thrive
- For example: My child isn’t giving me a hard time, my child is having a hard time. They’re going through something that they don’t have the skills to appropriately communicate and show me, so it’s coming out in this negative behavior
- That shift of your understanding of what’s happening in those instances immediately puts you in a different frame of mind, and one that is much more helpful and also less combatant
- When parents can get clear on their overarching philosophy or values system around these things, it makes it much easier to sort through the jungle of information and approaches and strategies and recommendations out there
Follow Penny here
Episode Intro … 00:00:30
Penny’s story … 00:02:07
Letting go of stress … 00:14:43
Mindset … 00:25:20
Manifesto tips … 00:27:30
Manifesto framework … 00:40:07
Episode Wrap up … 00:46:00
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Hi everyone, welcome to the show, I am Dr. Nicole, and on today’s episode, we’re talking about raising neurodiverse kids, and how parents and families can embrace both the joys and the challenges that come along with that. I find that when parents and even entire families can really gain a new understanding of what’s happening beneath the behaviors and the struggles, and embrace the strengths and the opportunities for growth, everybody benefits and thrives. So to share her story and help us think about a family manifesto for neurodiverse families, I’ve invited Penny Williams on the show today. Let me tell you a bit about her.
Penny is a coffee-lovin’, neurodiversity-obsessed mom on a mission, honored to help families on this always chaotic, often stressful, anything-but-ordinary parenting journey.
Penny helps parents of challenging kids feel less alone and break down the barriers to success and joy for their families and for themselves. Through her podcast, award-winning books, online parent training programs and conferences, parent coaching, and mom retreats, she has helped thousands of neurodiverse families survive and thrive in the face of ADHD and/or Autism. That’s one of my favorite bios ever to read. Penny, welcome to the show, thanks for being here!
Thank you so much for the invite, I’m really excited about this!
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
When I came across your work online, and particularly this manifesto, I was like I’ve got to reach out to her, I need to have her on the show, we need to talk about this and just expose families to what you’re doing. So I’m thrilled to have you here, and I’d love to start by actually having you tell a bit of your story around this because you didn’t just one day as a professional say, “You know what? I’m just going to start working with these families.” You really have a personal journey alongside this, that I think so many of our listeners can relate to, so I’d love to have you share that.
Yeah, I actually never imagined that I would be in this kind of work. It completely just was my life journey, really. My son was diagnosed with ADHD at the age of 6, which was almost 13 years ago, back in 2008, and I was really confused and lost. There wasn’t a lot of information on what I should be doing to help him. The developmental pediatrician gave me a couple of fact sheets and a prescription and said, “I’ll see you in 3 months.” I just didn’t have a clue what to do. He was struggling so much already by age 6. He was really sad all the time, crying all the time, he just felt like he could never succeed because he was never meeting expectations, and I had no clue what was happening. When he was really little, I thought he was just a rambunctious boy. I was scared to death to have a boy, and this is exactly what I was scared of, right. I didn’t know how to contain his energy and his enthusiasm, and it was exhausting. When he went to school, we just started having a lot of challenges right away, and finally got the diagnosis in first grade, but I had been reading, waiting for that appointment and felt certain that he did not have ADHD, because he could focus on things if he wanted to, which is a huge myth around ADHD, but I was really blindsided by it because I had decided that that just didn’t fit. And it really did fit. It fit a lot. And the more I started to learn about it, the more I really saw how much it did fit. I was still struggling to find information and guidance on what we needed to do other than medication and maybe therapy, those sort of basic treatments. And I struggled for a long time because I was really looking through books and websites and magazines and really researching, but I was asking all the wrong questions. I was looking for “How do I make this kid sit still in school? How do I make him less hyper?” All of these things that I can’t really change about him. And looking back, I don’t want to change about him. He is who he is. And that’s really the biggest Aha for me over the years, it’s been that the parents are the ones who need to change. Our kids don’t need to change, they are who they are. And there are many wonderful things about them despite those challenges, and so it becomes a matter of: How do we change our parenting and our understanding of our kids in a way that really helps them to be able to succeed in a world that isn’t so forgiving for neuro-differences, right?
When he was 12, he was also diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, and that was added. He’s very much on that sort of “high-functioning”, I hate that term, but high functioning end of the spectrum, so it was really hard to see. It actually took a few clinicians before they were diving deep enough to really see that it was there. It was clearly there. And school has always been a struggle, and just really working to try to figure out who my kid is, what does he need from me? What will be the spark for him to be successful and happy? And along the way, I started blogging first, like “Somebody please find my story and tell me what the heck is going on and how do we deal with it?” Honestly, it’s what I did, because I wasn’t finding answers. And the more I blogged, the more people showed up, especially moms back then, and we started talking a lot about ADHD and I realized that I had been so obsessed with it for so long that I gained a lot of knowledge in that area, and so I wrote a book, which led to more books, and then online courses and then private coaching. The mom retreats started several years ago between some moms that I met through my blog, and we do that every year. So it really just snowballed from having this kid who needed me to find a different way to parent him.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Yeah, and you’ve now walked the whole childhood portion of that journey, you are now in the young adulthood portion of that, and so I think that is helpful too, now, having that perspective of what you maybe thought was important or needed at 6, now having the perspective of hindsight and having a young adult going, “Okay, I maybe have some different thoughts or perspectives on what is really important for kids at that age”, and you can guide people with that because I think what you’re story really demonstrates is what so many parents say to me when they come into the clinic, which is “Look, I know my child has some challenges. Clearly, I’m aware that we’re struggling here.” But there’s just this lack of real quality information and support to help people know what to do beyond the typical things, right? I think your story is until today, in 2021, unfortunately so common — all these years that passed, and still it’s like “Yup, my child’s primary care provider just gave us a diagnosis and a prescription and told us to talk to the school about it”, or “sent us to a therapist or whatever,” and it’s so unfortunate because there are so many things that can be done. Information — and it’s also interesting that in a world now where the internet is full of almost too much information, parents struggle too with knowing: What do I listen to? Everywhere I turn, there are different opinions. So I think the clarity that you’re able to provide, not only based on what you learn, but just based on your own lived experience, that’s so valuable for other families.
Yeah, I have certainly lived a lot of trial by fire. I know what we have tried and works, what we have tried and does not work, at least for my kid, and really sort of whittled down all the noise, but it took a long time to do, and that’s why I really started writing and being more public and trying to help other families. We really suffered for 2 or 3 years, not making any progress after diagnosis because I was just trying to find it on my own. I was trying to find the guidance and the information, and fortunately now, there’s a whole lot more of what I do out there for families. And there’s a lot more guidance. It’s really important to have that. Most of us don’t intuitively know how to help a kid with ADHD or autism, and even if you’re a parent who has one or both of those diagnoses, your kid can still be wildly different from you and have completely different strengths and weaknesses.
So what worked for you may not work for your child. That’s really the foundational piece, it’s that we have to understand our child. What strengths do they have? What weaknesses do they have? What sensory sensitivities or sensory-seeking behaviors are at play? What is driving their behavior from day to day? What is driving what happens from day to day? And there’s a lot of science behind that that can really help us? And then there’s also a lot of being a detective of your child, figuring out what works for them, what doesn’t work, and asking why. Always asking why, that’s the biggest piece. Why is my child tearing up his math homework and throwing it in the trash instead of doing it? I can get really upset about that and say “How dare you?” And give a punishment and pull it out and tape it up and sit him back down in front of it, or I can try to figure out why he’s struggling with that math. One is going to be way more useful than the other one, right? Way more useful. And again, it’s kind of stepping outside of my own experience. I do not have ADHD or autism, I grew up in a home where academics were really important, I was gifted and I could skate through school, honestly. I did as little as I needed to do to get A’s and B’s, and I did fine. And I really had to completely step out of that experience to understand that there are other experiences, and my kid’s journey is way different than mine. I learned different values from that, that I had to throw out. I had to completely rewrite the parenting rule book for the kid that I have, and that’s really the biggest piece.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
And those expectations, right? We all — I say to parents all the time, whether we realized it or not. We have an entire story that we tell ourselves before we even have our first child, of what that experience is going to be, what it’s going to be like to be a parent, to have kids. We have it all mapped out well into the future, whether or not we’re aware of it, and when you have a child then who is quite different from you or operates outside of the box that you envisioned that life as a parent and as a family is going to be, there can be a lot of uncomfortable feelings that come along with that. There’s a grieving process, there’s an acceptance — there are all of these things, and I love what you said about the real foundational thing that we need to be thinking about as parents, is looking at our child as an individual outside of the label, outside of everything. Who is this child and what is going to be important and necessary. And I think when families can make that shift, it makes such a world of difference, because as you sort of shared early on in your journey with your son, I see that in so many parents: The initial goal that they have is to make these problems go away. “Okay, yes, I understand, he has these challenges, okay, you’ve given me the diagnosis, but you don’t understand: He needs to “normal” in his second grade class, or he needs to be getting A’s, or he needs to be functioning on the travel soccer team,” or whatever, which really is more about our expectations and needs as parents. But I think really looking at it, as I talk with families whose children are now older, most of them have come at some point in their journey to realize that: Oh wait. I need to focus on and parent and love and foster the child I have, not try to fit this wonderful, amazing kid into this box that the world expects or that I expected, and I think that shift, when parents can make that — oh man, does that change everything, right?
It’s liberating, honestly. It’s completely liberating because we focus so much on being in that box. That’s the way we were raised, that’s what our culture teaches us, we don’t choose it, it just sort of happens, and it’s the expectation, especially around education. So we have pressure from outside forces telling us that our kids should behave a certain way and do certain activities, and it’s really hard to sort of push against that and say “No, my kid is an individual.” And truly, every child should be parented as an individual, not just neurodiverse kids, they all — we need to start celebrating the differences and the strengths and it’s a long time coming, and I think it’s a long way off, still, unfortunately. But when we stop trying to make kids fit a certain mold, then the pressure’s off, then the stress is off of us, and then our kids can actually move forward. When we’re under that stress and we’re passing it on to them, it really shuts them down. It really causes a lot of unwanted behavior, right? And things don’t move forward, they don’t succeed. Everything deteriorates under that pressure because they don’t fit those expectations, necessarily. I know for myself when I really said “You know what? I’m letting go of everything that I thought, I’m letting go of everything that people tell me leads to success, and I’m going to let my kid guide this journey and we’re going to figure it out together.”
My anxiety plummeted, and I already have anxiety anyway, so I’m already worried about everything all the time. And adding that to it was not helping. And it really brought me down, which brought the whole family down. It’s not just that your child has ADHD or Autism. The whole family is impacted. We all have a truly huge impact from that, it changes who we are, it changes how we relate to each other and what our relationships are like with each other, so you have to understand that piece and recognize your role in it. We play a big role in our kids’ behavior. And a lot of times, it’s unintentional. We’re not moving with intention and purpose and making decisions about it. We’re just on autopilot and we’re emotionally reactive like our kids are, right?
So we have to get to a point where we can recognize that and recognize that we are contributing positively or negatively, and when we let some of that stress of the cultural norm go, it’s truly freeing. It’s liberating. It’s such a big sigh of relief. And for us, everybody in the house then felt so much better. Everybody. Because I wasn’t still obsessing about ADHD or obsessing about doing well in school. I had to accept that a brilliantly gifted kid could barely pass school, and that that is not okay, but it’s educational system in which we are in, right? So I have to accept some reality and that can be hard, and it’s truly a process for parents. I always talk so much about this and I get so many parents who say “I don’t know how you just flip the switch and do that.” Well, you don’t. It’s a whole lot easier for me to sit here and tell you what I did, and tell you in 15 minutes when really it took me 10 years to fully shift that way.
Parents need to know that too, that it’s a real long process and it’s something we’re constantly working on. I mean yeah, sometimes my kid pushes my buttons and I still get emotional instead of remaining calm like I know I should do, but most of the time, I’m able to really be what he needs me to be, and that’s where you’re trying to get. There is no perfection. And honestly, we need to be real with our kids. When we hide our mistakes, and we put up a front, then they feel like they’re never going to be that, they’re never going to measure up because they can’t succeed always, and they make mistakes. It’s really crucial for us to show them that we’re human too.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Such a good point. As you were talking about your own experience of shifting and letting go of the expectations of how he needed to be, especially with school — and I’ve done whole episodes on the educational system and all of those things, school creates so many problems for these kids in so many ways and in so many levels, the way that most schools are structured, at least in the US, and what’s interesting about that, you said you had to let go of the idea that this brilliant kid was going to barely get through school. And I look at that and I go “Yeah. Through no fault of his own. Through the system.” And that’s the shift there too, I think, for families, especially with school, because so much of the angst that I see in parents, especially early on with their kids with some of these challenges and diagnoses is related to school performance, school behavior, grades, all of that. And what I so want parents to understand is our assumption that a child’s ability to get through or be successful in school as it is set up in this country and in many countries has no bearing on success. And in fact, most of what goes on in schools is a total catastrophe for most kids, so setting the bar that success means that your kid doesn’t have any issues in school and gets A’s on their report card, that may or may not have any bearing on what success in life looks like. And I think that’s a sort of mind-blowing thing for a lot of parents to consider, but many come to find that as their child gets older and goes through the school system and realize “Oh, wait. I thought this was how this needed to be, but actually this is not where the focus should be now that I’m looking at what the rest of my kid’s life is going to be and what constitutes success.” So I just think that’s an important thing.
There are so many successful, happy people who do not have a college education. And in fact, I have a friend that tells me the statistics all the time. We just talked about it earlier today, 66% of American adults do not have a college degree. Two thirds do not have a college degree, and I promise you that many of them are successful and happy. It is not the only path. And we really have to just let go of the idea that there are particular paths and let our kids create our own. For example, my son graduated 6 months ago from high school. Right now, he is doing nothing but healing from that experience. He is gaming, he is sleeping a lot, he just needed time because it was so traumatic for him. And I still have to fight back feelings of “Oh my gosh, he is doing nothing, he can’t live his whole life this way”, right? I’m still freaking out about that at times, but I know that that is what he needs and that we will figure out his path. We knew that a 4 year university straight out of high school was not right for him, he is not ready for that in any way, shape or form. So we just decided to explore different things, give him different opportunities, let him come to it in his own time, which is not to say that he is still going to be 30 and doing nothing, I would not let that happen. And it’s important to note that because we’re sliding expectations, we’re not squashing expectations. We’re just honoring when they’re going to be able to be successful with that.
There are kids on the spectrum I know of who tried to go to college in their twenties, didn’t make it past a year of that, and then in their thirties, they go to college, they get a master degree, a PhD — it just has to be when it really clicks for you, when it’s the right thing for you to do, and when you really want to be there. So many 18 year olds who are neurodiverse are not really there for that reason, right? They’re there because somebody said this is what you do. It’s a fight. There’s a lot of friction between culture and the parent that we need to be, but we have to be okay with doing something different, right? We have to get there. And for me, with all my anxiety, it was really hard for me to throw out some of that stuff. It was a process, and I worked on it. I chose to work on my own emotional and mental health in a way that would help me to really accept my kids, accept my life, accept what I’m doing, all of these things, and decide that that was the right path. If this is where I am, this is where I’m supposed to be. And if this is where my child is, this is where my child is supposed to be. Again, I still fight with it from time to time. Who wouldn’t have an 18 year-old in their house gaming and sleeping and not get a little freaked out sometimes? It’s natural, but I can still honor who he is and still allow this part of the process instead of being “Oh my gosh, you’ve got to get out there, you’ve got to take a class, you’ve got to get a job.” It will come, and that’s okay. And it’s hard.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
You know that you’re going to guide, that you’re laying the foundation now for him mentally and physically to reset to be able to move forward, and you’re trusting in that, and you know that just because that’s going on right now doesn’t equal forever. And I think that’s where so many people — we get stuck whether it’s with our young child who is having temper tantrums or whatever, and we jump in our minds to them being 50 year olds and still having temper tantrums, or you think “Okay, he is just sleeping a lot and gaming right now, oh my gosh, this is forever” and part of that work around our own mindset and perspective as parents is being able to step back and go “Okay, just because this is happening right now, doesn’t mean this is forever”, and that there’s that sliding, as you said, those sliding expectations, depending on the context. I think that’s a skill to hone, right? The ability to step back from it and to take that perspective, it’s hard.
You have to work on your mindset. And that’s really the biggest piece of parenting neurodiverse kids. It’s that mindset. The mindset that ordinary expectations don’t have to be your expectations. The mindset that your kid is doing the best that they can today with the skills and development that they have, the mindset that they can be successful and happy and not take a traditional path, the mindset that my child’s behavior is not personal, it’s not a personal attack on me, it’s not my failure of my child. And parents of younger kids who are struggling especially, we feel like we’re failing them in school. I went to so many meetings, I’ve written thousands of emails, I advocated tooth and nail, and my kids still really struggled in school. And when he was really young, it felt like a failure of my own. I had to realize that I was doing everything that I could with the knowledge that I had and the ability that I had that day and the day after and so forth, and that was all I could do. That I’m working within someone else’s parameters. And that again, as a piece of that mindset, that we’re doing the best that we can. And truly, if a parent is listening to this podcast, a parent is online, looking to help their kid, they’re a great parent! They’re already understanding that there’s a challenge and they want to help their child, they want to empower their child. So you’re on the right path and the more you learn, the better you can do. And you just keep going forward with that knowledge.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Absolutely. And you talk about these mindsets, and really, I think these are the pieces that you learned on your own journey that you kind of pulled together into this manifesto, right? About this Manifesto of the Neurodiverse Family, which really focuses on some of those things you mentioned, but I’d love for you to touch on that and what this manifesto means to you, what some of the key parts are, why you think this is so valuable for families to — Because it really is sort of a set of core values of how we’re going to understand each other and operate as parents and as a family.
So a colleague and good friend of mine, Sarah Wayland and I, are putting together this new initiative called The Behavior Revolution, where we’re trying to change people’s perspective and approach on behavior to one that is much, much more effective, which is something I learned the hard way over the years. So we wanted to start with what our beliefs and foundational principles were. What is the guiding force behind everything that we teach? And the manifesto is something that parents need to adopt. These are the mindsets that will help you be the most effective to your neurodiverse kid. So an example is that behaviors and underlying symptoms of a challenge — something we learned from Ross Greene, author of The Explosive Child, and Raising Human Beings, behavior is communication. When I can step back and say, “Okay, my child isn’t giving me a hard time, my child is having a hard time. They’re going through something that they don’t have the skills to appropriately communicate and show me, so it’s coming out in this negative behavior.” That shift of your understanding of what’s happening in those instances immediately puts you in a different frame of mind, and one that is much more helpful and also less combatant. So it allows you to be able to maintain calm and co-regulate with your child instead of co-escalate that, right? And that’s so very important. We so often — somebody comes at you and they’re yelling at you and saying ugly things, our instincts, our natural body instinct is to do that back, and all that does is escalate the situation, and it’s really not honoring the fact that our kids are struggling, right? It’s saying “You’re choosing to treat me this way and I’m going to choose to treat you this way back”, so it’s really a lot of those sort of mind-shifts, little pieces that we just have to sort of look in a different perspective, and then we’re able to stay calm. We’re able to understand their behavior and improve it. We’re able to have a really nurturing and loving relationship. That relationship that we have with our ids is a big deal and it feeds a lot of behavior, both positive and negative. So we just really wanted to set forth these tenets of what you would need to understand and adopt and accept in order to see a revolution of behavior within your family, related to kids with ADHD, Autism, anxiety, those sorts of things that we typically put in that neurodiversity bucket.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
It think what’s so wonderful about that too is when parents can get clear on their overarching philosophy or values system around these things, it makes it much easier to sort through the jungle of information and approaches and strategies and recommendations out there because you can more easily then look at — let’s say somebody says to you “Oh, XYZ approach is great, you should really do that!” And sometimes parents feel like “Oh my gosh, I’ve got to do all these things!”, but when you can step back and go, “Okay, what are the guiding tenets of what I believe and understand about my child? Does this approach that whoever has recommended, does that align with this? I think it’s grounding and practically helpful when parents are sorting through all of the options and all of the information too, to match that up: Does this align with our guiding principles and understanding and our vision? And I think that’s really helpful.
Yeah, and I hadn’t really thought about it that way, but it is kind of a framework to maybe vet some other approaches as well: Does it fit within this framework? And really, that’s kind of the way that I got to where I am. I started with Ross Greene, and that really resonated with me, and it worked with my kid. It made sense and it worked, and then the other…
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
I’ll say it for those people who are listening who maybe missed — this was an episode probably back about a year ago towards the beginning of the pandemic, but Ross was on the show, so for people who missed that, that episode provides a really nice foundational understanding of what Penny is talking about here with Ross Greene’s approach.
Yeah. Basically, behavior is communication. What is it telling you? And then that puts you in the detective mode, to be able to start asking why and recognizing that they’re having a hard time and all of those things. So as I’ve learned more and researched more, I was kind of putting everything else against that framework that Ross Greene lays out, and figuring out that yes, some things were great and I should try them, and some things probably didn’t fit and weren’t going to be a good fit for my family, and it is hard. There is so much out there, especially in ADHD land. As a parent of a kid with ADHD, you learn to be very skeptical, not really believe what you read online. There is a lot of misinformation out there. And so you do need something, some sort of belief system or some sort of foundational parenting approach to really say “Okay, does this fit?”
It’s kind of like writing up your family values. You’re writing up your behavior values. That’s our manifesto. These are our values, these are our beliefs. And everything else we funnel through this lens. And it’s really effective between the two of us. We have three kids who have ADHD and Autism. They’re all young adults, so we’ve been doing it a long time and we just keep coming back over the years to the same things and decided to put them together and really focus on behavior because that’s really what parents get tripped up with the most. School is a big issue that a lot of people ask for help with, but behavior, regulation, emotions — all of that goes in the same bucket. And it’s all typically what we’re struggling with with our kids.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Yeah. And I think to have some of those guiding principles, whatever those are for your family, to be clear about those for yourself just provides clarity in so many ways, whether it’s information that you read, strategies or treatments that might be recommended — even for recognizing ourselves as a parent, when we’re in or out of alignment with our own behavior, with our child, to be able to step back and go, “Huh, that interaction was interesting”, or “This whole thing that we’ve been dealing with for weeks, boy, really not going well. Let me go back to my foundational beliefs about this to sort of ground myself”, and say where have we maybe gotten off track with some of these. So I think that that’s really powerful and I think it’s also helpful. One of the things that I think parents struggle with, and we really did allude to it in our earlier discussion about respecting kids for who they are and looking at kids as individuals, but where treatments, therapies and approaches are concerned, this idea of fixing or curing or changing the child, versus changing things around the child to help support the areas that aren’t as strong, but to really nurture and further them as a human being and to encourage their strengths. Those are such different ways of looking at it, and I think again, this sort of set of values really helps us focus in more on changing things around the child, maybe changing some of the behavior, but not a focus on you as the person needing to change. It’s a different message.
Right. The message is very much that our kids are not broken, they’re not bad. They just are who they are, and their brain works differently, and how do we move forward from there? How do we guide them to have a successful and happy life? That itself needs its own definition for your child. What does success as an adult look like for your child? What is going to make your child happy and fulfilled? And that’s different. For some, it may be a really high level career: A doctor, a lawyer. For others, it might be working at a charity for beans, really, very low pay. But that’s what feels successful and fulfilling. It’s different for everybody, we already know that. We just have to really sort of adopt that for our kids who have differences too.
We should say they could have a completely different path and it can still lead there, but you have to define where that is. Where are you trying to go? And I’m not saying to know what career your child is going to have when they’re 10, right? It’s what do you want that journey to be like? And what will success and happiness look like in general? For a lot of people, it’s really fulfilling. It’s not financial, right? And we grow up thinking it’s financial. We still have a good bit of culture that’s pushing that as well, but we have to be open to it being different, but also be open to defining it differently, if that makes sense. Just being open to the journey being completely different.
And when they’re young, we get caught up in “He’s having a hard time at school, he can’t get his homework finished.” or “He can’t sit still in class, he is disrupting”, it’s hard to step back from that and say “Okay, well he’s going to be a happy and successful adult, and we’re going to get there”, right? It’s just so overwhelming and it’s so far off.
I think even when you have young kids, if you can just say “I know that I am going to help this child get where they need to be. I know that this child can be a happy, successful adult in some way, and that’s what we’re focusing on.” And then, today, the mathwork worksheet not getting done, and the teacher writing a note about it doesn’t quite feel as painful. It’s still pretty painful, but we’re just working towards success and happiness, whatever it looks like, instead of working towards high school, college, and financially successful careers. It’s just shifting that completely, and recognizing that we’re all imperfect and it’s okay. We’re not broken. We just all have differences. We all have a different way of moving through the world, and those different ways are perfectly fine, if not great. Different is pretty amazing sometimes. It’s not a bad thing.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Yeah. And to recognize that for your family journey as well, that the benchmark that we set should be happiness and healthiness for that journey too, that it’s not just defining what the endpoint, what we want that to be for the child, but also what about this journey to look like as a family, and realizing that you don’t have to sacrifice those decades of your life, of thinking well, this all just has to be awful and hard. No, look how to define a set of values and what success looks like for you as a family, as an individual parent, as a couple, as a family. What does success mean for us in terms of our stress levels, in terms of our level of joy, our level of enjoyment of each other? I think that’s all part of that mix too.
Yeah. And something like our manifesto gives you a framework to sort of build those things from and be able to move forward in a way that is more purposeful and intentional. Then you’re more in control, and then you’re more satisfied and happy. And the more we let go of — The more things that we’re really perseverating on and feeling so anxious about or stressed about, when we let go of that, it leaves room for joy. We’re making room. We’re getting rid of the sum of that struggle that we’re kind of choosing, honestly. We choose how to feel about everything. Everything is neutral to begin with. We choose what emotion we’re going to attach to it and how we’re going to deal with that emotion. And so if I choose to get really upset because my super smart kid is getting a D in English, I’m spending a lot of time and energy on that, right? It’s taking up a lot of space. If I let go of that and I say “Well, this isn’t going to mean they can’t be a successful and happy adult”, now I’ve got space for something else that’s better. I have room for other things.
Every life has struggle. I think that’s really the biggest. Growing up, I always thought if you struggled, you weren’t successful somehow. That other people who were consistently happy just had some other characteristics or life circumstances that were different than mine. I really thought that until I was 40. At 40, I said, “I really am tired of feeling so down and negative, and I’ve got to find a way to change this.” And I did a lot of work for myself and realized that I could choose to be a survivor instead of a victim. That there was so much power in my thoughts and the feelings that I attached, and how I chose to work through something. That is super-liberating, really. But again, it just left all this room now, all these things that I was struggling with and fighting against, when I could let go of some of that, there was just room for happiness and peace. Just a few minutes of calm and quiet would be amazing. It provided that. It provided time, which then of course took care of my health, because the more stressed we are, the worse we feel physically. It’s just a snowball, of course. I hate that in our culture, we tell parents they have to give everything of themselves to be a good parent because really when you are not doing well, you’re doing less for your kids. You can only do the best for your kids when you are also doing your best for your kids. It’s powerful stuff.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
It is powerful stuff, and beautifully shared. I just loved that takeaway of: Make room. Get rid of the things that aren’t working, that aren’t serving you and your child so you can make room for the joy and the peace that you and your kids deserve. Lovely, beautiful, powerful, important. I want to make sure that people know where they can find out more about your work. Community is really important for families, and you have a lot of ways that you offer that, and I know that you also have some really great resources that people can download, including your manifesto. So where should people go to find all these things?
So thebehaviorrevolution.com, you will find the manifesto, you can download it off the homepage there. There are some courses that I already have, there are some webinars based on different themes that we have there, and July 1st of 2021, we’re launching a Behavior Revolution course for parents that will really guide them through everything in the manifesto and beyond, really dealing with behavior. My personal website is parentingadhdandautism.com, and everything is linked up there. So a link to the private Facebook group, which is super supportive. It’s a lovely group of parents. The Happy Mama Retreat, which will finally happen again this September — we didn’t have it for almost two years, and my podcast, Parenting ADHD podcast is there, and I’m sure other things, because I try to do way too many things at one time, but it’s all linked on that one website. But be sure to get that manifesto. I think it’s just something — I have it on my wall. Sarah, who co-created it with me, has it on her wall. We look at it all the time and it’s just such a good barometer of where you are in your parenting. Are you following those values or do you need to sort of shift and refocus?
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Awesome. So go to thebehaviorrevolution.com and also parentingadhdandautism.com for all those great things. And Penny, thank you, not just for being with us today and sharing your story and all of these wonderful insights, but thank you for the time and the energy and the emotion and the effort that you’re putting into really serving parents and families, and spreading the word about these powerful mindsets and strategies. Thank you for everything that you’re doing in that realm too.
Thank you. You too. I’m enjoying the podcast.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Thank you. And thanks to all of you, as always, for being here and listening. We will catch you back here next time for our next episode of The Better Behavior show.