My guest this week is Hunter Clarke-Fields
In this episode, Hunter and I discuss generational patterns that impact our parenting and specific mindfulness strategies to help us become more aware of how and why we think and act the way we do as parents with our kids. We discuss many tools to be a successful mindful parent, including an “Oh, crap” menu and how to bring more calm and peace into daily life so that we can keep the things that are working well and change the things that aren’t serving our children or our adult selves.
Hunter Clarke-Fields is a mindful mama mentor, creator of The Mindful Parenting course, host of The Mindful Mama Podcast and widely followed author of Raising Good Humans, A Mindful Guide to Breaking the Cycle of Reactive Parenting, and Raising Kind, Confident Kids. She helps parents bring more calm and peace into their daily lives. Hunter has over 20 years of experience in meditation practices, and has taught mindfulness to thousands worldwide. She’s also a mom.
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Introduction to Hunter Clarke-Fields … 00:01:50
Anger Toward Your Children & Generational Patterns … 00:05:45
Self-Compassion and Unconditional Love First … 13:30
What You Don’t Transform, You Transmit … 00:19:55
Not Accepting Negative Generational Patterns as the Norm … 00:25:50
Change Your Parenting from How You Were Parented … 00:32:52
Proactive and Reactive Strategies Take Practice … 00:37:35
Communication & Benefits of Modeling Out loud … 00:41:26
Mindful Parent Resources … 00:47:45
Dr. Nicole Beurkens
Hi everyone, welcome to the show. I’m Dr. Nicole, and on today’s episode, we are talking about how to be aware of the generational patterns that impact our parenting, and specific mindfulness strategies to help us respond to our kids and challenges with them more effectively. We all bring our own experience as children and our own history of interactions and relationships with parents and other adults into the relationships we have with our own children. And this happens, whether we realize it or not. And it often means that we are responding to some things with our kids in ways that maybe aren’t helpful, or ways that we maybe when we were kids swore we would never do when we became adults. And when we become aware of these patterns, we can change them. And that’s where the mindfulness piece comes in.
Now, we have covered mindfulness as a topic on the show several times before, but today, we are really going to approach it from the angle of how to use mindfulness strategies to help us become more aware of how and why we think and act the way we do as parents with our kids, so that we can keep the things that are working well and change the things that aren’t. And to explore all of this with us today, I’ve invited Hunter Clarke-Fields on the show, let me tell you a bit about her.
She is a mindful mama mentor, and the creator of The Mindful Parenting course, host of The Mindful Mama Podcast and widely followed author of Raising Good Humans, A Mindful Guide to Breaking the Cycle of Reactive Parenting, and Raising Kind, Confident Kids. She helps parents bring more calm and peace into their daily lives. Hunter has over 20 years of experience in meditation practices, and has taught mindfulness to thousands worldwide. She’s also a mom. Hunter, welcome to the show. Thanks so much for being here.
Thank you for having me, Nicole. I’m happy to be here.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens
So let’s talk a little bit about how you got into this whole realm of mindfulness for parents, because it sounds like you were on this journey with mindfulness before you became a parent, and so I’m just curious how all this has evolved for you.
Yeah it all stems from me from the thing I felt like I was really failing at, like, I was really, really, really pretty bad at. For me, mindfulness came into my life because I really needed it, and I had started a study meditation practice a couple years before my daughter was born, and it really transformed things for me, giving me more equanimity, and all of this as a highly sensitive person. And then my daughter was born and everything goes up in the air, and you’re just like, “Oh, my God, life is transformed”, and when she was about 18 months, or two years old, that’s when they start walking and talking, and also saying, “No”, and fidgeting back against you, and for me, I had this anger come up, this temper and I was very frustrated with her. And it was just that push and pull. I was kind of probably repeating and saying things, unhelpful things that my parents might have said, and she was like, “This is not working for me.” And she had a lot of resistance, she had a lot of big feelings, and when she had those big feelings, I yelled, and I could see I scared her, I could see it in her eyes. And I remember just lying on the floor of the landing and just crying, feeling so guilty, just seeing this pattern and being so frustrated with it, and I really could see that this was exactly like how my father was.
And then I started to just sit with it and start to explore and really could see that when my daughter had these big feelings, to me, it felt completely unacceptable, in my bones, I felt like this is unacceptable. And so it caused this reactiveness in me, it caused this response in me that was just like my father’s temper, and I could see that, “Oh, I have that feeling inside my body because when I was little and I had these big feelings, he had this big scary reaction.” And I could see, oh my gosh, I’m just perpetuating the same pattern. This is how these patterns get perpetuated. Even though that was exactly what I didn’t want. If I could have just been like, oh, I would like to check a box and make a choice, this was not the way to parent my child. And I had to be able to start to see it before I could do anything to transform it.
Just telling myself I was a shitty parent didn’t help at all, it left me feeling helpless and unable to process anything. But looking at and saying okay, trying to Look with eyes of understanding, trying to bring that curious mind, that mindfulness perspective of kindness and curiosity, allowed me to see that as my teacher, to see my anger as my teacher. And that’s where it all kind of came from, it was really that moment of failure.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens
I appreciate you being transparent about that. It’s tough for us as parents to talk about these vulnerable things, right? Like, “Wow, I have a lot of anger towards my kids”, or “I found myself recreating these patterns.” And yet it happens for all of us in various ways, and so I want to dig into that a little bit because I don’t know if you see this in your work with parents, moms, especially, I do in mine, where moms really tend to beat themselves up when they see these things happening. Like you said, “I have all this anger, all this frustration with her.” And I think so many parents feel that way, and then get into the cycle of beating themselves up like, “This is bad, I’m bad for feeling this way.
I shouldn’t feel this way.” And yet, as you said, to use it as your teacher and to look at why we may be reacting that way, and what have been the patterns in our history, because I think we come by these things really, honestly, and often we don’t examine it. And it’s easier to go to the “Well, I’m just a terrible human being and a terrible parent that I feel this way.” But really, when we start to look at how these patterns get entrenched, we see that “Oh, we are actually just sort of following the same pattern that our parents and their parents have for generations before us.” And I think that, to me, has allowed me to give myself more grace, it’s allowed parents I work with to have more grace, like, “No, we are not terrible people or terrible parents. we are just stuck in these same patterns that have been there for a long time.”
Yeah, exactly. All of that. Yes. Yes. Yes. I mean it’s interesting because no one woke up in the morning and said, “I would like to yell at my child!” No one chooses that. No one chooses that, yet, we are so hard on ourselves that we have these reactions. And so it’s really so important for me to be able to say — The word I like to use is a word that comes from my teacher, the Zen master Thích Nhất Hạnh, and he calls these kinds of things “habit energy”. And I love that phrase, because it’s so neutral. It’s just like we have this habit energy, right? And we have to accept that we have all of the range within us, right? We have all of that within us. And none of that, we chose. We didn’t choose any of it. It wasn’t like, we were like, “Please, I would like to be all angry.” No one chose that at all. And so when we can start to look at things with more objectivity, with a little bit of space to say, “This isn’t me, I didn’t choose this, yet, it’s my responsibility.”
It’s not my fault, but it’s my responsibility, my temper. So I have to start to understand it, I have to start to take care of it. I have to start to deal with it, because when I’m triggered, when I’m losing it — I mean, at that point in my life, I got so frustrated because I would listen to parenting coaches, I was trying to learn and do better. And I got a lot of advice that was like, “Just respond this way,” and I couldn’t implement any of that when I was getting frustrated and losing it. And the truth is like no one can, because your nervous system is hijacking your brain, right? So you’re bypassing the prefrontal cortex, higher order thinking area of your brain, literally bypassing that so you can be reactive, and so the work that we do in mindful parenting, of calming the heart, the mind, and steadying the heart, the mind and nervous system, that has to come first, because otherwise you can’t even access any of that.
But to speak about those generational patterns, it’s so interesting, because I remember with my father, I remember he came down to visit when my daughter was little, and I was doing this work and had started to work with this. I remember he was sitting on the futon where I had them ensconced, it was really interesting, he said to me, “When I was little, my father, he beat me with a strap, a belt, and when you were little, I spanked you, and now you’re not doing any of that.” And I was like, that’s so fascinating. It was so good to have this kind of conversation with him. And it was also not good enough for me to just not hit my kids. I wanted to do better than that. So it was really interesting to kind of see and to think about the suffering that has been passed on. In every family, there’s some suffering that has been passed on.
And just like I wouldn’t say that it’s my fault, I wouldn’t blame myself for my temper, I don’t blame my father, either. And I don’t blame his father or mother. These are the causes and conditions, and blaming and shaming doesn’t work, it isn’t helpful. It’s nice to be able to understand where things come from, and that can give us a lot of insight, but to bring the attitude of mindfulness, which is this attitude of kindness and curiosity. Can I be curious? And if we can start to understand, if we can be curious, then we can say, “Okay, this is what it is. These are the habit energies that are passed on and what can I do to work with these?” And then there are many things we can do to start to transform those and water better seeds.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens
I think that piece about your dad talking about how he was raised and some things that happened to him, and then how he carried those over to you. I think sometimes we are reluctant to delve into that piece of these intergenerational patterns, to look at maybe things that our parents did with us or our grandparents, because there’s this sense of, if I do that, it means that that I don’t love my parents, or it means I’m being critical, or it means that I’m blaming them. And I love how you’re talking about this. It’s like, no, this is just about awareness and understanding. I can love my parents very deeply. I do.
And I recognize so many wonderful things that they brought to their parenting of me, I recognize some cycles within each of their families that they broke and how they parented me and my siblings, and at the same time, I can look at some things that perhaps were not so great, and that are part of me in my experience growing up that I have a tendency to bring into my parenting and say, “Well, that piece can change now with me.” And so I think this being curious, this examining it, I just want to point out to people, it doesn’t mean that you’re saying you don’t appreciate things that your parents or your grandparents did for you, it doesn’t mean that you’re saying they were terrible at raising you, it doesn’t mean any of that. It just means examining the whole picture, the good, and maybe the not so good.
Yeah, because when we come into judgment about it, it’s a dead end, right? It’s just like there’s nothing to discover. There’s nothing to grow from that. I mean, actually, I can see that with my father, he’s very judgmental of his father. They are at a dead end. They are really hard with each other. But yeah, when we can bring curiosity, then we can grow, then we can learn. We have to bring that understanding. And part of that, I think that allowed me to do that, was the work I did previously, before Maggie was born, with my mindfulness practice, and the little I was kind of holding on to in that first year, just kind of being able to see, that was what allowed me to have the perspective.
I mean, I had those moments on the floor, where it’s like, “I’m a terrible parent, what’s wrong with me?” But then I was also able to step back and say, Okay, this isn’t working. telling myself I’m a terrible parent isn’t going to help. I’ve got to learn from this, it has to be my teacher. We have to accept these parts of ourselves before we are going to understand them. It’s just like our children need from us. They need unconditional love, which means we love and accept them, no matter what. We accept them, even when they are being really bratty, and we still accept them for who they are, we don’t reject them, and that allows them to feel safe, to open up, to have more understanding. It’s actually kind of the same thing with our feelings, our habits and all the things that we bring to the table.
When we can accept all of it. When we can say, “Oh, I’ve had those feelings. I’ve had those crappy thoughts. I’ve made those mistakes.” When we can say, “I’m human. I have a lot of mistakes and all those things.” When we can allow ourselves to be human, then we can grow. They even showed that in the research on self-compassion. It’s so fascinating that when you have more self-compassion, you’re able to begin anew and start again, because you’re not facing a terrible voice in your head when you inevitably make a mistake and be human.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens
Yeah, that self-compassion piece, I’m glad you use that term because that’s exactly what that’s about. And it’s so important for us to be thinking about it. And I’ve heard you say, in some of your work, that the most important relationship in parenting is the relationship that we have with ourselves. And I think that’s really what you’re getting at here, right? We can’t be a partner and have this strong positive bond and relationship with our kids in the way that we want to have it, if we have got a really crappy relationship with ourselves.
Absolutely, yeah. And it’s fascinating. Even the attachment research shows that. We want our kids to have a secure attachment, so we may do all these things, right? But it really has nothing to do with how you sleep with your child, or whether you carry them or not, even though those things — whatever, do you. You be you, do what feels good, but don’t do it because you want it — a strong attachment really comes from you being able to — because it’s a relationship, right? Attachment comes from sensitive caregiving is what Mary Ainsworth called it. Mary Ainsworth’s research on attachment. And sensitive attuned caregiving means I’m tuning into you as my child. But to be able to tune into another, we have to be able to tune into ourselves. There’s no getting around that. We want to just be like, “No, no, no, I don’t want to look at me. But I want to just focus on my child, I can hate myself, but I can love my child.”
Sorry, not true. It’s not going to happen. The research really shows that give someone a strong attachment, we have to be able to be present with ourselves, we have to be able to feel our feelings, feel our difficult feelings, be kind to ourselves, be attuned to ourselves, because then when we get into that relationship with the other, with our child, we are not this big ball of mess trying to attune with you. We are then maybe like a calm or like a steady — we have steadied our heart, our minds and our nervous system, that’s really the key, because we have to live what we want our kids to learn, we have to be the model. They are watching us, right? So for them to attune to us, they want to be able to attune to someone who provides that steadiness, that ease, right? A certain measure. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but a certain measure of “I accept myself for who I am, and I’m taking care of me, just as much as I’m taking care of you.”
Dr. Nicole Beurkens
And when we don’t do that — because a lot of moms say, “Well, no, it is all about my kids. I don’t have time to look at my own stuff, I don’t have time to have compassion for myself, to develop a better relationship with myself.” But you’re exactly right: Where that gets us in trouble is there’s no possible way then to be the way that we want to be with our kids if we are not willing to pay attention to that. And what I see happen so often with the best-intentioned parents, they don’t realize that they are doing it, but when we have unexamined stuff, when we have a terrible relationship with ourselves, when we are just not in a good place, guess what? That automatically shows up in everything with our kids, and we unintentionally put a lot of that on them, and pass on those things, whether we are explicit about it or not. We don’t say to our kids, “I really hope that as a child, and as you grow into adulthood, you feel as horrible about yourself as I feel about myself”, right?
No one says that, and yet, that is the message, that is what ends up being passed along if we are not intentional about examining that and figuring that out for ourselves. It just seeps into the way that we are with our kids and what they perceive. Kids are so attuned. Right? And they get that. When we have a really negative relationship with ourselves and we are always beating ourselves up, when we don’t have compassion, when we are not attuned into our own stuff, that has an impact on them, whether or not we mean for that to happen.
Oh, definitely. And there’s a lovely little phrase that helps us to remember this: You don’t transform, you transmit. It’s true. And I’m sorry, it’s like bad news, good news, right? The bad news is yeah, you’ve got baggage. And you’re probably going to transmit this baggage if you don’t start to heal and deal with some of it. But that’s also an opportunity, because I can feel like “Oh crap like that’s a lot of bad news.” But It’s also an opportunity because what’s nice about it is it’s a two for one deal. If you can practice to steady your heart, your mind, and your nervous system, if you can practice to start to understand and transform your triggers, then you’re giving your child a slightly smaller backpack of baggage for them to pass on. We can’t do it perfectly. We can’t.
But the best we can do is good enough. And then as we come into this realization, as we come into this place of “I accept myself and my humanity, I give myself grace, the best I can do is good enough”, — what’s lovely about this, it sounds like, “Oh, crap. If I’m not going to be the perfect mom, caregiver, I’m giving up”, it’s not true. So as we start to accept these things, then we relax. We start to have more ease in our being, and as we relax, as we have more ease, we start to have the space and the capacity to be curious about, “Hey, who are you? What’s going on with you?”, rather than “I have to make you into this perfect being”. As we allow space for ourselves, we allow space for our child to grow into who they are going to grow into. And with that acceptance, with our acceptance of ourselves and others, it really is about being in our bodies, being with the sensations we have, being with the feelings, — the feelings are messengers, and have starting to make choices to bring the space into our lives to be able to do this work, to be able to process.
There’s so many terrible things about the pandemic, there’s so many things I have issue with, we are so isolated, all those things, but one of the things that can be positive, is if it has — and it may not have done this for you, if you have small kids in your house, but if it’s brought in a little more space to be able to not fill that with screen time and phone time, but a little more space to be able to do some of that processing, that being with ourselves, that healing work.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens
I think that that definitely has been an opportunity for all of us, and maybe an opportunity that we have done more with at certain times over the last two years than others, but to recognize that the opportunity is there. And I think this piece about acceptance is — this is such a big intergenerational pattern that I see. And I think it’s particularly relevant to all of you listening who have a child, who maybe has some more significant challenges, whether those are diagnosed or not, whether they have got specific issues. This piece about acceptance is tough for all of us when our kid has some extra needs or a specific diagnosis.
And I think part of what’s so hard is many of us were raised in families of our own growing up, where acceptance perhaps wasn’t the primary thing, where it was more about compliance. Hunter, you mentioned about generational patterns of things like spanking and physical sort of punishment types of things, and I think those were really common when we were being raised, when our parents were being raised, when their parents were being raised. But also beyond that patterns of things like, “Well, we just don’t talk about those things. Just put a smile on your face and act like everything’s okay.” Not feeling like it’s acceptable, or that we are accepted for having big feelings about things. No, big feelings aren’t okay. You stuff those down, you act like that’s not bothering you, you put your big girl pants on and you do what you need to do. Right? Those are patterns that can get passed down, patterns around appearances. No, that’s the most important thing. It’s not about accepting who each of us is as an individual, it’s about making sure that we look acceptable to other people.
So I think those are the types of patterns that without realizing it, we bring those into our relationship with ourselves as adults, and then certainly into our parenting, which can make this piece of accepting big feelings or behaviors or things that happen with our kids, it can make it so tough for us. Maybe we don’t even realize, “Why am I so upset or yelling about this?” And then we pause and we step back and we go, “Oh, because I remember growing up, it was not okay to say or do something different than what everybody else was doing. And I learned how to really stuff that down, and now that’s being triggered by the fact that my kid is having this opinion or having this emotion.” And suddenly we realize that so much of what happens with us moment to moment with our kids now, today is really impacted by experiences that we had decades ago when we were their age.
Yeah, yeah. It’s so true. I had a member of mindful parenting; we have a work on disarming your triggers. And she did this work, and she realized, “My toddler is spilling juice.” This is normal toddler behavior. This is so normal. But for her, it was triggering these huge feelings in her. And she did this work, and she realized it was one of those patterns you mentioned. It was about appearance. Appearance was so important. And her house was so important, to have it clean was a huge value in her family. And all that stuff was coming into, “My toddler has spilt some juice.” And so to be able to see that and be aware of that is an opportunity. It’s an opportunity to say, “Oh, hello. Hello, baggage. I see you there.” That’s what our kids are great at doing, like, “Here’s some baggage, and here’s some baggage. And here’s some baggage.” It’s so true.
We are changing, collectively, we were changing as a society. You talked about spanking. Actually, the most recent numbers I heard on that, which may have been 2015 or something, was that 69% of parents still spank. Just so interesting to kind of think that we are still passing on this. But yeah, there’s a huge number of us who are seeing “Oh, hitting my child is teaching my child to hit, is teaching my child aggression, is teaching my child that the strongest one wins.” But the thing is, we don’t have other tools. So it’s unexamined. As a society, we also don’t go to school for parenting. We don’t do a lot of parenting classes and things like that, and so when we get to this moment of “My child is not complying with me. I’m in a frustrating moment”, all of the way we collectively think and the way we were raised, all that stuff really comes back instantly.
For me, the thing that comes back when I’m in a really frustrating moment is threatening, and I’ve learned to, say “I really want to threaten you”, which I think is hilarious, but it’s so interesting, because we need to not only be able to steady our hearts and minds and nervous system, we not only need to say, “Oh, okay, there’s something going on with me”, but then we need to have other tools. We also need to have a clear intention too, because the intention of the past was always compliance. And that may have been for safety. That may have been for many different reasons, that “You have to do as I say instantly”, and now we understand that instant compliance isn’t actually like a super normal human behavior, right? My husband doesn’t instantly comply with everything I say, unfortunately. We have to think about our end goal, right? For me, my end goal is I want my kids to be comfortable in their own skin, and I want a strong relationship with them. Those are two things I want. I want them to be comfortable in their own skin, I want them to be kind, confident human beings. I want those things.
And to be able to handle problems in the world. And if they are comfortable in their own skin, if they can accept themselves, I know that they can do that. And I want a good relationship with them. With my father, he didn’t know what he wanted, but at certain points, it was like, “Do as I say because I say it”, and that was that compliance thing and the spanking thing, and what that does is it damages that connection so profoundly. I don’t think we had a very positive relationship until I was in my 30’s because it was so damaged from when I lived in their home, and so we have to think about how a lot of people say “I was spanked and I turned out okay.” Are you, really? And what did that do for your relationship with that parent? And so kind of thinking about that idea of: What do we want? And then thinking about getting the skills to get us there, especially if we were raised with a way we don’t want to parent our kids.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens
Well, let’s move into that. It’s a great segue into some of the approaches and strategies that you think can be most helpful for parents who are saying, “Okay, I hear all of this, this is making sense to me. Boy, as you’re talking about this, I can think back to some clear patterns, it’s helping me be more aware of why I’m triggered by the things I’m triggered by.” But then the next piece is okay, how do I stop myself? How do I get better at doing things in a different way? And I know you’ve got so many tools for that. So let’s pick a few, and have you kind of talk through them, some of your favorites maybe.
What I teach, The Mindful Parenting Method always starts with calming your reactivity, because as we talked about, your whole brain literally is not on board when you’re triggered, when you’re about to lose it, all that stuff. So it’s not that you’re not allowed to ever be angry at your child. It’s not that you’re not allowed to ever be frustrated, that’s definitely going to happen, but how can we get back to a place where we are regulating our emotions, when we have steadied our hearts, our minds and our nervous system? So that always has to be kind of step one. And I am a big proponent of a regular mindfulness practice because it really just builds that muscle. It builds a muscle of non-reactivity. The researchers aren’t really sure how that works, but I think that as you sit and you’re like, “Oh, I have to do this later.” Feelings come up, all these thoughts come up, and you just don’t respond to any of them. You just continue to sit. You practice non-reactivity, not reacting to those things. So you practice that pause, that space.
So I think that really gives it to you. But I really encourage people to think about understanding that you’ve got a nervous system, wired for survival. You’ve got a nervous system that is hair triggered to be reactive, and to be in fight, flight or freeze. So you really have to have a plan in place to be able to down-regulate your nervous system. And this is just our human biology, we are all wired for this. So it’s not that useful at the moment, nervous system. So we have to learn how to down-regulate it. And one of the biggest things you can do for that is to just lower your overall stress in your life, get enough sleep, see your friends, take breaks, all those things. But also, I really encourage people to have kind of a “Oh, crap” menu. When things are going down, you have a menu of things that you’re going to do. So when you’re starting to lose it, I encourage people to have five different post-it notes around their house with a little menu of things you can do. That menu can include the six deep slow breaths, which are cliche because they work.
They are teaching them to Navy SEALs and active-duty Marines. So it’s cliche because it works. Take three to six big, deep, slow breaths, it down-regulates your nervous system. You can also have on there some mantras to help you. “I am safe”. We tell ourselves, “I’m safe. This is not an emergency. I’m helping my child” These are mantras that can help our nervous system, which is feeling threatened, to feel safe, and calmer, and steadier. So I really like to offer some of those tools. You can use other body tools, like you can shake it out. That energy of fight, flight or freeze sends tension into your extremities. You can shake it out. That’s what the zebras do after lions chase them. They shake it all out. As we are starting to take care of our nervous system, then there’s a whole host of tools for communication, right? Because our parenting is basically a moment to moment — it’s about communication. It’s about connection. So how can we communicate so that we are causing less of that resistance and struggle with our kids? So I’ve just downloaded a lot on you, I’m sorry.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens
That “Oh, crap” menu is so great because you’re talking about several pieces here: The first piece in the big picture, the more proactive longer-term strategy is us having more mindful moments and practice in our life, right? So sitting and being mindful, whether that’s with an app or however you do that, and practicing it when you’re not in the heat of the moment, the reducing of our overall stress. Those are the things that we say, “Okay, in the big picture of our life, these are the things we need to be doing.” But then there are the moments where it’s like, “Okay, I’m in this moment right now, I need something right now to do.” And so I love that “Oh, crap” menu, the post-its, I think that that’s such a great thing, because we need reminders. we are not in our logical thinking brain when we are getting triggered in that way, and we need to have the post-it there, probably preferably a bright color, those bright color post-its, so that our brain sees it and reminds us “Oh, yeah, take three deep breaths. Oh, yeah. lock myself in the bathroom for 60 seconds, and just shake and work it out.” We need to have those things, because in the moment, we are not in our logical thinking brain to access those things.
We always think “Oh, okay, I’ll do this”, it is not working. That’s not going to work for you. We have to practice those things. It’s literally a practice and what you practice, gets stronger, which is cool. But you can’t just expect yourself to get in that moment and make a rational and thoughtful choice, because it’s just like anything. You wouldn’t send your kid into the Little League World Series without them ever having gone to a practice, learning, getting a little muscle memory to swing the bat, right? You would never do that. And we can’t expect ourselves to do that. Our brain repeats, takes shortcuts, and we have to build habits. But the good news about that is that we are always constantly growing and changing, and what we practice grows stronger. So the more we practice, even as awkward and weird as it feels at first, silly, the better we get. And we can start to regulate our nervous systems more easily.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens
It’s such a great model too, for our kids. Because often I will hear parents say, “Wow my child’s been in therapy, my child’s learned these coping tools, and they don’t use them.” And it’s like, okay, first of all, we need to practice with them when we are not in the heat of the moment. And also the same thing for them, when they are in the midst of their moment, their brain isn’t pulling up. “Well, let me try to remember what my therapist told me last week, that I’m supposed to do”, so by modeling, by having these things on post-its, by doing them ourselves, we are creating a powerful pattern and modeling for our kids to be able to do the same things.
Yeah, it’s like that 2 for 1 deal, again. You do it for yourself, and then you model for your kids, they see you start to say, “I’m feeling really frustrated, I need a break”, or even if you don’t go somewhere, maybe you can’t go somewhere because you can’t leave a crazy toddler in the situation. But you put a hand on your heart, you put a hand on your belly, you do the big deep breaths, you shake it out, you say to yourself, “Okay”. You may even just close your eyes and put a hand to the heart. They see all that, they see, “Oh, this is the path of how to do this.” If it’s modeled for you — kids are not great at doing what we say, but they are really good at doing what we do, so you just model it. It’s so much more effective.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens
Before we wrap up, I do want to touch on the communication piece, because you said something a few minutes ago that I thought was really interesting that I think is worth spotlighting: You said that sometimes when you’re having moments with your kids, you will say out loud, “I’m really feeling like I want to threaten you right now.” And I so appreciate you saying that, and I want to have you touch on that a bit more in the realm of communication, because I think there’s this idea that so many parents have, that we shouldn’t be transparent about that stuff with our kids, that we shouldn’t be open about maybe mistakes that we have made and how we have handled things with them, or that we shouldn’t share with them something like “I am really having an urge right now to come down hard on you, or to give a punishment, or to threaten, and I’m struggling with that and I’m going to stop myself”, and I think a lot of parents feel like, “Oh, we shouldn’t own that.” But I’m a huge proponent, depending on their age and understanding, of putting that out there, because again, that’s such a good model. And it’s true.
I had a moment with my daughter just this morning where I overreacted to something that happened in the moment, and very quickly came back around and said “You know what? I totally overreacted to that. I’m sorry about that. Let’s try that again. Here’s what I actually wanted to say to you about that.” Now she’s 15. That’s different than maybe how you would say that with a five-year-old. But I think that that type of communication is so powerful. And so I’m curious, your thoughts on that?
I couldn’t agree more. And I think you could say that to a five-year-old, that’s beautiful for them to see. That provides a safety, “Oh, mom’s human. She’s got to be human. But then she’s coming back and having this connected moment. And look, this is how we do this. This is how I reconnect with someone. This is how I begin anew; this is how I do those things.” Yeah, I think it’s really helpful for parents who say, “Hey, I’m going to be trying to yell less.” I think that’s fine. I think it’s great for you to say to your kids. What a beautiful intention to share, and kids are really good at holding you to it — One thing with my older daughter, we had an interesting moment. One of the skills I teach is very simple, reflective listening.
When somebody comes to you with a problem, “Nicole, that must have been so frustrating this morning with your daughter.” You’re reflecting back whatever is the emotion, the content of what that person is saying. And that’s a way to help others, just kind of to say, “I see you and I hear you”, and to help them kind of solve their problems. And sometimes with my daughter, sometimes when we reflectively listen to somebody who’s upset, particularly with you, it kind of goes array sometimes. So I had this moment with my daughter where she was saying something to me, I can’t remember what it was, snd it triggered some feelings in me, some reactiveness. And I didn’t want to lose my beep at my daughter at that moment, right? So I breathe, I practice to kind of reflect back, and she could feel like I was trying to hold down my temper, and she could feel in my words that my emotions weren’t necessarily matching my words.
Kids, they have amazing BS meters? Right? They know. But I was trying to do that from a place of love. Because I don’t feel it’s necessarily a super great and safe thing to lose it on my daughter, and I know my temper, right? I’ve learned from my temper. But it was interesting with her as an older child, as a teenager, I was able to say to her, “Listen, when I respond to you that way, it feels like I’m not being real, but I’m just trying to down-regulate my temper, because I don’t want to lose it. I don’t want to yell at you.” She was able to receive that, she was able to say, “Oh, yeah, okay, you’re human, I get that.” And it’s really interesting, we had a kind of a reversed situation another time, where I was upset with her.
And she was trying to hold it in, and then she said to me, she said, “Mom, this is just like you trying to…” I was like, “Oh my God, this is amazing that we can have this conversation”, and that’s a piece about transparency. As we are real and transparent with our kids when they are younger, then we can be real with them when they are older, and it only makes you — there’s going to be conflict in every relationship, it’s totally normal. And that repair, even if there’s conflict, when you can come back together and repair, that can ultimately make it stronger than if there was no conflict at all. And I think that’s really valuable.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens
I love that. It can be even stronger than if there was no conflict at all. What a beautiful note for us to end on, that this idea that we have that everything is supposed to be perfect, and if we are not doing it right then it’s something bad about us as a parent, and for you to say that no, actually there’s going to be these breakdowns. There’s going to be these issues and it’s in the working through that and being transparent and handling that in these more mindful ways, that actually we create stronger bonds and stronger relationships with our kids, and help them develop the tools as they grow. It’s beautiful. This is such an important way to think about parenting, to think about our relationships with ourselves, with our kids. I want to make sure that people know where they can find out more about your work, what you’re doing. You have a ton of resources, so share where we can find you.
Sure, you can find Raising Good Humans anywhere books are sold, audiobooks, etc. It’s in Bulgarian, it’s crazy.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens
It’s just such a good title.
And everything else is at mindfulmamamentor.com There’s The Mindful Parenting course and membership. I’m actually doing a teacher training for people who want to bring it into their communities, who are therapists or teachers and things like that. Doing a teacher training program, and The Mindful Mama Podcast can be listened to anywhere podcasts are listened to.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens
Fantastic. We will have all those links in the show notes. Hunter, thank you so much for the really important work that you’re doing, and for taking the time to share it with us today. Really appreciate it.
Hey, thank you. Thank you so much. I really enjoyed this conversation. It felt lovely, and I’ve enjoyed spending the time with you.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens
Awesome. And thanks, as always, to all of you for being here and for listening. We will catch you back here next time.