I recently flew out to Boston to be with my daughter for spring break, and we had an amazing time, I took my youngest son with me, and my daughter in college - she showed us all of her favorite little spots with yummy food and book stores and Japanese clothing shops, so fun.
On the plane ride home, I sat by a gentleman who asked me what I do for a living when I got my laptop out and started writing - I told him I’m a life coach and I help women love being a mom.
It just popped out of my mouth.
I don’t think I’ve ever introduced my work like that before.
And he asked me, I could tell he was going to be a talker, dang it, but he asked me how I did that? And I said - moms come to me for coaching with problems they’re facing, especially the teens these days, - and I help them solve those problems.
I told him how I always tie a coaching session into a true principle about human behavior, and I help parents see that it’s not personal, when their kids are difficult, nothing is personal.
And he said, I don’t know if I believe that. When my son was little, he’s strong willed, but he gave me and my wife a run for our money, and I know he did that on purpose. He challenged every single aspect of our parenting.
And I said, "of course he did. He was supposed to. "
And he paused. . . and he said , "what do you mean? I can tell you have work to do - but if you could boil it down to a few things you teach about parenting, what would they be? We’re doing great with our son now, but there were times when I was scared.
And I said, I hear you. It is scary. Especially the part where our kids are supposed to challenge us. I really believe that’s how they grow and own their character. When they decide for themselves what to keep and what to let go of."
And I gave him the ten things I'm giving you, here.
I told him how kids are like little Tom Sawyers, and asked him if he read that book, he said yes, and I asked him what he thought about Tom. He said he liked him and he felt a little sorry for him. And I said, - - but would you want to be Tom Sawyers parent? And he said, actually, I think I could have done a good job with him.
And I told him that it sounded like he trusted himself, which then led to
Let me explain. Example: my daughter’s college decision. She could have gone to a more conservative cost college, in our home state, everything paid for, but she chose to go to Boston, find a job to supplement what the scholarship didn’t cover, and see if she could make it work. Trust had to work in so many aspects for this to happen: me trusting her she knew what she wanted, me trusting myself that I could handle the separation vs. thinking I couldn’t bear her being so far away, her leaning on that trust as she learned to trust herself, and it’s hard to say who had to trust who first, but I think I had to go first, in order for us to be where we are today.
Or with little kids, what they want to wear or activities they want to pursue. Example: I learned early on that Kate had a mind of her own, and to give her the space to explore while also honoring what’s important to me. We had this epic struggle early on with a dance recital, and dancing on a stage, and wearing the blue sequin outfit. She LOVED soccer, but dancing was something she was doing for me because I grew up dancing and loved it. After the night of the dance recital, and the blue sequinned outfit, I decided I could trust her to make her own decisions, and I learned to listen to her at a young age with what she wanted to do.
When kids experience disappointment from the outside world, help them make sense of the emotion in such a way where they take ownership of the emotion and don’t shift blame or seek to avoid it at all costs. What I mean here is – I see lots of moms doing cartwheels and twisting themselves into pretzels in order to ‘make’ their kids happy and avoid being disappointed. I just think this is so hard for kids to grapple with when they get older, and it becomes harder and harder to keep up the façade that life is supposed to be fun. It’s kind of easier to make life fun for kids when they are little. All the toys, the Disney movies, the cartoons, just going to the park, kids can learn the false idea that mom can create the fun and if they feel disappointed, mom should fix it.
But it’s best that kids grapple with some boredom, and that they grapple with being told No to the new toy, or the big birthday party. Not always, but sometimes, yes. And teenagers too. It’s harder for teens to manage the basic emotion of ‘disappointment’ the older they get, if they haven’t learned to deal with it in doses as a younger child. And so what this sounds like is saying things like:
“You’re disappointed. You really wanted to (do that fun thing.) ,You state the obvious, and you give your child the gift of naming the emotion called disappointment. It’s so valuable. This is how you counter the tendency to spoiling a child. You teach them that they can handle it and you can be there with them, you say, “it would be fun to do it, I get it.” And you let them cry, or even tantrum, I’m serious. And you allow the emotion as a neutral observer, you offer a hug, you let them grapple with emotional discomfort. Why? Because they are going to have to learn to grapple with it eventually. And why not now, in the safety of your love and grounded energy? Don’t try to fix, don’t change your mind, or make future promises, just stay present and let your child be sad.
Do you see why this is so important? You are teaching yourself and your child that life goes on and you can still be happy in time. You can regroup and move forward.
Kids and teens are having a harder time with this basic skill these days. I think some of the reason why is that it’s hard for moms to see their kids experience disappointment. It’s not a problem to fix. You don’t have to solve it. You don’t have to give them some ice cream. Just hold them in your arms and hug them and say, “I can tell you are disappointed.” Coach them through the emotion. I still do this for my kids. Our kids are never too old to learn this. You can make this shift if you have teens or young adults, it’s never too late. And I LOVE it when my kids come to me and want to talk about their setbacks and their disappointments – they rebound quicker. They don’t spiral and rail against life being unfair. They don’t expect other people to make them happy either. And this makes me happy as a mom, I know they are learning to be realistic with their emotions. They learn what it means to manage disappointment on their own terms. This is confidence.
For me, I speak to what I call “the easy way and the hard way. . . “ so an example: when you do well in school, you are choosing the easy way, because it feels nice to have options down the road, and it feels so good to know about how things work in the world. When you don’t do well in school, you are choosing the hard way because it feels chaotic and unsettling to ignore responsibility. It actually takes more effort to fail because you have to hide and pretend, and that takes a lot of energy.”
I started using the easy way / hard way principle early on with my kids. Maybe to the point of them getting a little tired of it, but I wanted them to connect the dots with their choices, and what those choices lead to.
Have you noticed how kids are constantly assessing whether rules are worth following or not? You can see the wheels turning in their brains when you ask them to do simple tasks, like honey, it’s time to pick up your toys now. . . ‘ Their brains are wondering why. And so I love the easy way / hard way conversation where you can speak to the reason and the consequences of why you ask them to do what they do. The more you can speak to the reasons and consequences of things you ask your kids to do, the better.
Sometimes I see parents underestimate this power. They think their children will get tired of hearing from them. I’ve definitely experienced my fair share of eye rolls and “I know” replies. But I’d rather err on the side of over teaching versus under teaching, if there even is such a thing as over teaching. When my kids say “I know mom” I say “Oh good, I love that you know. That’s awesome. Show me that you know by your actions, not just your words.” That’s what I say. And they know that I’m aware.
One of my friends said to me recently, “how come your kids ask you what you think? I wish my kids would do that more.” And I said that it’s important to me that they like their reasons for making choices, and we like to talk through it together. But I told her it wasn’t always this way. I had to figure it out in some of the hardest moments of my parenting journey.
It started when my kids were toddlers. My middle son is super strong willed. I have stories about him as a toddler – ones that involve strangers coming up to me in public places and telling me their opinion of his character flaws. Haha. And so I had to learn really quick that he needed reasons for why I wanted him to do what I asked. And – he is so smart, he is the kid who grew up LOVING debate team in high school, he was born a debater, and I decided early on, you want to debate, ok, I’m going to have to up-level my game here, let’s go! And if my son was going to obey, the reason had to absolutely make sense to him. I could see his brain calculating whether it was worth it to listen to me or not, whether the consequence for not listening to me mattered or not.
Sometimes I coach other moms on this dynamic, they say things like, ‘it doesn’t matter what I do, my kid doesn’t care. I can threaten, I can ground, I can take away privileges, and my kid doesn’t care.” And we dig deeper and discover that mom gives in eventually. Or – mom doesn’t know what is the most important currency to that child in that moment. Or, when kid pushes, mom shuts down instead of seeing it through. If the kiddo doesn’t care whether he’s grounded or not, he either doesn’t believe you that he’s grounded, or he knows that he can just play in his room and wait it out and it’s no big deal. So grounding isn’t his currency. But if playing with dad when dad gets home from work is something kiddo LOVES, then that goes away if he doesn’t listen to you. And then you follow through no matter what. And you help him see that earlier he chose the hard way, and you really hope that tomorrow, he doesn’t choose the hard way and that he gets to play with dad when he gets home tomorrow, and you really hope that tomorrow he chooses the easy way, because you love it when he gets to play with dad.
Happy moms know that whatever their kiddo chooses in those moments, is neutral. You’re just there to help them see the consequence of their choices and to follow through. Deep down, moms know the kid will eventually understand consequences, and that their kids are smart, so they use that smartness to their advantage. One mom asked me once, when I explained this, she said, “aren’t you being manipulative by always using their currency to get them to do what you want?” And I said, no – not if there is good and clean intent behind it. I call it Clean Bargaining. If you are being mean and enjoy seeing your child go without the thing they love, then yes, that can be turned into a manipulation dynamic and your child will resent you for that – that’s not what I’m talking about here – so it’s important to keep it clean and neutral. But don’t confuse using your power with being mean. With great power comes great responsibility, for sure. What is true for spider man is also true for moms. Aunt May was very wise.
Take this in as great information to apply where it is relevant to you and your situation. Happy moms know this because the comparison trap is a no win game. Do you have a mom or a family that you notice and wish you were more like or your kids were more like? Most of us do. I remember who that mom and that family and those kids used to be for me. I gave her a lot of my happiness, I gave it away a little bit.
You will always come up short and notice your weaknesses. The scales will tip in such a way where you feel less than. And – on the flip side - if you are noticing your strengths, it feels a little hollow in that the thinking can put you in this false elevated space as well. Don’t measure yourself against anyone else.
I tell my brain we aren’t doing that. Our brains just naturally gravitate toward noticing and measuring. I think it’s part of how we grow and improve. It's not a bad thing. But we have to keep our hands on the reigns with this tendency, like a horse, I always have my hands on the reigns here, I don’t ever set the reigns down and let the brain run wild with comparing. It saves me from a lot of unnecessary mind drama about how well I’m doing or how well my kids are doing. I’m at a place right now where I don’t even notice other moms or other kids anymore. I like it this way. It feels liberating. Happy moms manage this with some intention. It’s worth the effort.
-Home cooked meals every night, and decided grilled cheesers and canned soup was a fabulous dinner. Sometimes, cold cereal is an amazing dinner, too. Takes minutes. Boom. Also, mcDonalds is delicious. After swim workout, one of my son’s favorite dinners is a big mac and a smoothie. He definitely earned that after swim workout, let’s go.
-All kids learning a musical instrument. I mean, I am a piano teacher. And I had dreams of raising a pianist. That didn’t turn out well. Nope. I don’t have one child who is a pianist. Dang it. Now, raising other musicians in the family, that worked for my older two kids, they chose different instruments. but my youngest son was a No with music altogether. He was a stinker about practicing from day one. And how I knew to let go of it was when he would actually learn a song for a recital, I would ask him if he felt proud, and he would say, “no, I don’t care.” and he meant it. He would just pound the piano keys and it was like he was a robot, like “are you happy I’m pushing these buttons?” I did that for two years with him, and all the wise and meaningful and deep things I would say to my piano students who – as a piano teacher you know the “I want to quit” conversation is going to come up at some point, and I’m actually really good at helping kids work through that – but my youngest son, nope. None of it landed. So I let go of him learning an instrument and it was the right thing.
But I didn’t let go of: using the time you’d practice an instrument with becoming good at something else. I didn’t let go of learning how to make yourself proud with something and sticking to it. For my younger son, that meant visual arts, drawing, and being on a swim team. Before he could quit piano, he had to choose something else to do for his time. He said he didn’t know, and I said, Oh, I have lots of ideas, I’m happy to pick if you can’t decide. So he made a decision within a week and chose swim team and drawing, which is great, because that’s not what I would have chosen. But now, He practices drawing and he’s becoming really good at it. He’s learning to make himself proud. The fight with piano lessons was hard with him, but with art, there’s no fight, just his inner fight of not being in the mood to draw. I’ll ask him what he’s been working on lately, and he knows I expect him to show me something, we started that conversation early on. And so I’m happy, I don’t feel like he’s lazy or that I’m a failure, I think happy moms learn what to let go of and what not to compromise on in their parenting strategy, the things that are important to them.
It’s important to have clarity on what is important to you that your kids learn and spend their time on, and then have good reasons for it. So when the struggle comes, you can hold your ground, or come up with a compromise everyone feels good about.
We do our religion in a way that doesn’t put pressure on our kids to be active in all the things. I’m not saying this is the answer for every family, but for us, the only expectation is to have daily prayer together, to have a family scripture discussion on Sunday after Sunday dinner, and to think of others. We talk a lot about being a giver versus a taker. And we use our religion and the scriptures as a scaffold for examples of people who lived giving lives, versus taker lives - but we don’t pressure our kids to be active in all the programs of our church, mainly because it’s a lot.
If I noticed my kids were feeling pressured or were doing things to people please, we pull back on that energy. It works for us. The last thing I want is for my children to resent being in the church meeting house, or having to do things out of obligation. I’ve had some of my church leaders ask me why my kids don’t go to the summer camps or the weekly activities, and I tell them the truth, I say, because it’s too much for them. They are learning to decide how involved they want to be, or not, and I trust them. I encourage them to attend, but I don’t nag. Nope. No nagging with religion or spirituality.
I love how God doesn’t nag us. I don’t feel like God nags me. And thanks heavens. Because if He did, I would kind of hate that. He invites. God invites me all the time. And most of the time, I say yes, absolutely, I’m all in. But there have been times when I’ve said no, and I know God is fine with that, there is still so much love, and that makes me want to say yes all the more. I’m trying to recreate that same energy with religion and spirituality for my kids, and it feels more peaceful, more authentic, it makes me happy. So I wanted to offer that to you as something to consider.
My personal definition of success is: connection to my kids, connection to their emotional intelligence, also – knowing where they are with their capacity to work at things, whether they are equipped to handle hard work and not be lazy. And then, something that is very important to me is: whether they are givers versus takers in society. If I can say that my kids meet those standards of having some emotional intelligence, having the ability to work hard at things, and choosing to be a giver more than a taker, then, I feel like I’m doing my job as a mom. And this job is never done, by the way, not even with college age children, or young adults. The conversations just look and sound different as my kids get older. But these are the core principles I want to measure my success by, how well I’m honoring those principles in my parenting.
It is a proactive pursuit, these things are constantly on my mind and heart. Not in an anxious way, it’s actually very grounding to know what is important to me. And so if we can do that for ourselves as moms, then we will know what to focus on and what to put on the back burner. You are going to want to come up with your own version of what is most important to you as a mom so you can define for yourself what success means.
And by the way: this is all about what I can control in how I show up in the role, none of it has to do with my kids using their agency. So for example, if I do my best to teach my kids to be givers, but they choose to take, take take, and grow up to be takers, I want to be able to say at the end of the day that I did my best to teach them. Does that make sense? I’m not measuring my success based on their choices, just on how I show up knowing what I know.
I want my kids to have a sense of the grand adventure of it all as well, because I know they will grapple with their own 50/50 in their own way. As they see me grapple with mine, hopefully with a little grace, but not always, then they will see a real life example of how life is supposed to be full of contrast, we aren’t supposed to be happy all.the.time.
The media doesn’t teach our kids this. The media makes life look like life should be more 80/20, and if we are unhappy or bored, then something has gone wrong. I think this is false. We are supposed to feel less than happy 50% of the time, that is normal. And knowing that brings so much peace when you can help kids see that it’s normal to feel less than happy. I’m not saying you should say to your kids, “yep, life is hard, get used to it.” Maybe a softer approach like, “yep, me too. I feel that way sometimes too, tell me what’s going on for you, what are you noticing about. . . “ and get them to talk about their loneliness, their boredom, their frustrations, all those not so fun emotions, help them build a tolerance for uncomfortable emotions.
My kids are starting to say things like, “this is the part where. . . I feel overwhelmed, but I know it will pass, it’s just part of life. . . “ I can see that they are learning to trust themselves.
Our first Disney land trip. I had a lot of expectations for making my kids happy and having fun. None of it turned out the way I’d imagined. That was a hard trip. I learned the hard way. . . So for family fun, my definition has become more and more clear over the years. My kids love to play games with their dad – whereas I’d rather go on a big walk and explore the countryside, the resort, wherever we’re staying. I don’t love board games. I feel trapped sitting there and impatient while everyone takes their turn. Except for Settlers of Catan, but other games, especially if there are tons of rules,that is not my definition of fun, so while they play and laugh, I’m so happy for them, I go do my own thing. And it’s so fun. Everyone gets to have fun in their own way. And I don’t make them go on the walk with me, and they don’t make me play the board game.
Also, I’ve always dreamed of having my kids in the kitchen with me baking cookies together and listening to good music. I know it’s a little silly, but I just have always loved the idea of that. Turns out, not everyone thinks that’s fun. I mean. . . how is this possible? But again, I use the givers and takers principle in this one, this is one area in my parenting journey that I won’t compromise – we will have fresh baked cookies, we will have good music going on in the background while we make them together, and we will have fun while we make the cookies, dang it.
So, my kids know that it is important to me, and guess what? All of my kids know how to make their favorite cookie recipes. I feel like this is a huge win on my part, I feel very proud of myself here. If the kids complained over the years, and of course they always wanted the cookies, but they didn’t always want to make them with me, then I taught them that it’s fun for me to make the cookies together, and so join me and let’s make time for each other, let’s create the fun, let’s create the mood even if we aren’t in the mood. This is really the only thing I’ve been super insistent on with my kids making the fun with me, otherwise I’m in charge of my own fun in every other way, but cookies? It is a joint endeavor.
This is true for my music students. I always praise their effort and ask them open-ended questions to self-assess if they feel good about their effort or if they could have done more. I don’t give them a grade on things. I’ve learned that kids already have a strong sense of whether they did their best, and what they can improve on. So I let them govern themselves on that. If they need a little boost, sometimes I’ll demonstrate or show them an outside source of how someone has worked hard and what is possible from that kind of effort and work, but I don’t push. I just speak to how I admire effort.
The reason I love to praise effort so much is that it is so motivating to kids. And this makes for a happier mom experience, to see that kids learn how to generate their own motivation, you don’t have to be a nagger. I could do a whole podcast on this one. . . but happy moms love to see the light in their kids’ eyes turn on when they praise their kids for their effort and their work because they see their kids quickly turn that praise into desire to keep at it. It’s so gratifying.
And so that’s what I’ve got for you today.
These are powerful things to live by as a parent. I think it’s the secret sauce to enjoying this role.
I hope I’ve given you some ideas on how to go about making motherhood more fun for yourself and your kids.
I know it comes with a lot of hard. Believe me. None of this is meant to gloss over the hard. But we create what we focus on the most, and for me, it’s always been important to focus on how being a mom is also a source of happiness, there is a lot to celebrate with being a mom.
Okay. Let’s enjoy our kids. Let’s enjoy ourselves enjoying our kids, more.
You with me?
Have a beautiful day my friends.
In this mini course, I'll take you through the Emotion Coaching framework that is a gamechanger for cultivating more peace. Plus you'll discover how to shift the 'frustration habit' and parent from a place of trusting yourself more.
In this free mini course, I'll take you through the Emotion Coaching framework I've taught hundreds of moms and dads for cultivating more peace. Plus you'll discover how to shift the 'frustration habit' and parent from a place of trusting yourself more.