A parent writes that with her firstborn, she had listened to Janet’s advice and used many of her parenting methods with great success. To her surprise and relief, motherhood was relatively easy, and “I had friends comment how amazing I was as a mother.” After the births of her second and third child, however, things deteriorated. Tantrums, fighting, screaming, hitting, throwing, and all the typical toddler behavior. Gradually, she found herself yelling, threatening, using time-outs, and even spanking. She says she felt terrible and hated her life. As a veteran with 4 deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, she says ironically, “That life was easy. Being a mom is hard.” Recently, however, she remembered “Unruffled” and the experience she had with her firstborn. She started devouring episodes and says that it all started coming back to her. Her letter describes how she adopted a new perspective and applied Janet’s methods and advice immediately—with miraculous results. “It has been an amazing shift in the household ever since I have adopted this approach… so many more hugs and them telling me they love me.” Janet uses this parent’s hopeful letter to illustrate how small alterations to our interactions, and especially our perspective, can transform our relationship with our kids and bring the joy we deserve to the parenting experience.
Transcript of “How an Angry Mom, Hating Parenting, Found Immediate Success”
Hi, this is Janet Lansbury. Welcome to Unruffled.
Today I’m going to be sharing a note I received from a parent, the subject line, “Immediate Success,” and she details what she did to break out of this pattern that she was in that wasn’t working. She was doing all kinds of things as a parent that she doesn’t believe in, that she didn’t want to do. Feeling angry. She says, “I defaulted to anger and to what I’d seen my parents do.” And then she made a shift, which she talks about. Now her children are telling her they love her and she’s feeling worlds better about their relationship, herself as a parent, and their days. I’m excited to share this note with you and also offer some commentary on why I think what she did is helping.
And the reason I thought this would be a wonderful thing to share today on my podcast is that I’m often offering examples of what to do differently, but to actually hear from a parent what she did differently is, I think, much more powerful and will be much more helpful to you.
So here’s the note I received:
First off, I just have to say, wow, thank you. I’m not normally inclined to leave feedback either positive or negative on things. However, I just had to let you know the impact you have had on my 4-year-old, 2-year-old, and 11-month-old, and me this last week. I will never go back to the way it was before.
Here’s the story. I had listened to some of your podcasts and read some of your blogs before my first was born. I remember thinking how great it sounded to parent with this style and wanted to implement it. I did, of course, do things as you and others recommend throughout the beginnings of my daughter’s early life without much effort. Telling her I needed to change her diaper before doing so, giving her a heads up on things to prepare her for transitions, etc., And it was pretty easy going for a while. I had friends comment on how patient I was and how amazing I was as a mother. It felt really good to hear those things because I had no experience with children prior to having one, so I was worried I would be a terrible mother.
Then I got pregnant with my second. My daughter was about 10 months old at the time. Things were still going pretty well, until she was about 16 to 18 months old. She started throwing tantrums and exhibiting behavior that people would call the terrible twos, and I began to worry because she wasn’t even two yet. Why is she having such strong feelings already? I really struggled with this because I have a pretty flat affect and I was the good kid in my family, because I saw with my older sister what happened if you didn’t toe the line. Don’t get me wrong about my parents. My sister was a hellion and I just wanted nothing to do with it. I had a very loving home and my parents are my best friends. And I want that so badly for my children, to have that kind of strong relationship with my husband and I.
Fast forward to the present and the situation that brings me to this email. I now have baby three, which will be turning one next month. And your teachings had all but gone out the window due to the stress of strong emotions from my toddlers, fighting between the two toddlers, my son not being nice to his baby brother and saying that he doesn’t like him. Tantrums, screaming, hitting, throwing, and everything in between. I have spent so much time in the last four years being so much angrier than I ever wanted to be as a mother. I defaulted to that, I defaulted to what I had seen my parents do. I had tried timeouts, spanking, and on a number of occasions yelled to where the crying and screaming that set me over the edge went up to a higher decibel of noise.
I couldn’t handle it anymore. I felt terrible and thought terrible things about the fact I had these three beautiful children, but I hated my life. I was in the military for 15 years. I went to Iraq and Afghanistan four times, lost friends, been blown up, can’t hear very well—and I wanted that life back. That life was easy. Being a mom is hard.
Last week as I was driving home with my children asleep in the car after a visit to my parents’ house that didn’t go very well, I thought, Enough is enough. This isn’t working. By the grace of God, I remembered Unruffled and immediately started devouring the podcasts on the drive home. It all started coming back to me on what to do. So as I got them in the house and put them in their beds asleep, I knew I would give your way a shot, starting fresh in the morning.
It has been a life-changing difference in just one week. Sure, there’s still sibling infighting going on, some mild tantrums here and there, and my son still likes to pick on his baby brother. But everything has just been so much calmer and happier in the house, especially me. I have been happy. The toddlers have been saying “I love you” so many times throughout the day that I know they can feel how much different it is in the house. I’m here for them and I’m on their side now.
The biggest testament to the success of the switch was on Sunday. We go to a traditional Latin Mass Catholic church that is an hour away from our house. Sundays are so hard. I don’t think I’ve been able to pay attention in church since my daughter became mobile, and then it has gone progressively downhill since then. I knew that Sunday was going to be the test to see how much this has helped. It was a miracle. Sure, I still didn’t get to pay attention in church, I was still having to manage the children by giving them snacks, making sure they were staying in the pew, and doing stuff all parents have to do in church to keep the peace. But it wasn’t an absolute fight. I wasn’t angry with anyone. It was just calm direction.
I can’t even describe properly the change that has come to our family without writing a novella to you about the last seven days. Bless you and all that you do to save us parents from ourselves and help us to be the best we can for our children.
So here’s what I wrote back to her. I basically wrote back that I do want the novella! I said:
This news is so wonderful to hear. Thank you, thank you, thank you for taking the time to share with me. I’m wondering if you’d like to share more about what you’re focusing on or doing, what shifts you’ve made specifically that are helping you. But no worries at all if you’re too busy. If you are open to allowing me to share your story (anonymously), it can sometimes help parents a lot to hear how others are using this approach and making positive shifts. Please know that either way, I’m so grateful to you for making my day—or month, rather!
And she wrote back to me that she’d be happy to do that, but not right now, she was too busy. And then eventually she wrote:
Sorry for the delay in response. Some of the shifts that I’ve made with my toddlers:
- Instead of saying things like, “Knock it off,” “Don’t hit so-and-so,” “Don’t take that toy from the baby,” and other such demands, I’ve really worked on rephrasing it to things like, “Hmm, seems you really want that toy. I won’t let you hit so-and-so.” “Wow, seems like you’re really upset.” And it’s really helped me defuse the situation before I get angry.
- Another example that had just happened this morning with my 11-month-old. I’m guilty of doing whatever it takes to stop babies from crying. That normally means picking them up and holding them, nursing, changing diapers, etc. Mostly picking them up and holding them if I know they don’t have other immediate needs. This morning I was trying to do something in the kitchen and my son was playing with a couple of trucks when all of a sudden he started crying. Normally I would pick him up, but instead I looked at him and said, “I hear you. What is it that you need from me?” I sat down on the floor with him and waited. He crawled over and handed me a truck. I said, “Oh, you didn’t want to be picked up. You wanted me to play with trucks with you. I’ll try to be better about responding to your needs in the future.” We sat on the floor and played trucks for quite a while.
- Another example this morning with my toddlers. They were scratching each other, leaving really bad scratches, something they had never done before. I tried things like, “It seems you really want to scratch. I can’t let you scratch your brother.” Then time would pass and another scratch would occur. Finally feeling a bit defeated but determined to avoid my old ways, when my four-year-old daughter asked to be on my lap, I talked with her. “It really seems like you want to scratch your brother. I don’t understand what’s going on. Can you maybe tell me about it?” This is where I figured she wouldn’t really have the words to explain anything, but I was open to whatever came next. She said, “Yeah, there’s a lot of snow outside and we’re inside. That is why I’ve been scratching.” My response: “Wow, thank you for telling me. I’m sorry I didn’t understand what was going on earlier. Let’s get all our snow clothes on and go outside and play while the baby’s taking a nap. When he wakes up, we’ll come inside. So let’s be quiet and hurry up and get ready so we can play longer.” Immediately, the shift in attitude was clear and happy again. Phew!
It has been an amazing shift in the household ever since I have adopted this approach. I’m more open and honest with them about stuff too, thinking that maybe they can handle my emotions too. For example, “I need you and your brother to go play in the living room while I finish making dinner. I’m getting really frustrated with you guys leaving toys right here that I end up tripping on.” Sure, there’s probably a better way to go about that, but it’s better I get it out that way than letting my feelings escalate to where I yell at somebody or something.
There have been many instances prior to this switch in approach where my son or daughter would say, “Dear God, make äiti happy. Amen.” Äiti is the Finnish word for “mother,” and it just breaks my heart that these little people are trying to pray away my frustration. Since taking on this approach, they haven’t said that once. Instead, there have been so many more hugs and them telling me they love me.
I know I have a long way to go. There are a lot of times that I’m not sure exactly what I should say in the moment. It will get easier with time, I’m sure. Eternally grateful.
So one thing that seems amazing to me just off the bat is that this parent was able to make a shift so quickly. Because that can be hard to do, right? We get set in our ways, our children get set in theirs, and even if we have an idea of what we might try to do differently, it’s hard to really keep the focus on doing that. So kudos to this parent for so many things, and especially for sharing all of this so that I could share it with you.
And now I want to suggest three things that are definitely all related that I notice that she’s doing differently, that are helping her to make this shift.
First, she’s seeing beyond the behavior. She’s noticing, she’s seeing in. It can be so challenging to see past those icky behaviors our children are showing us, right? We just want to snap back or say, “Stop doing that. What are you doing? Cut it out.” But the problem with that is it keeps us stuck on that level with our children and can create more and more distance between us. And more discomfort for everybody, which means more behaviors like these. When we see beyond, to the cause of the behavior, and consider the why, we get ourselves unstuck from that judging, correcting place that’s on the surface. That’s how we make a difference.
And with this parent, she said, “Instead of saying things like, ‘Knock it off,’ ‘Don’t hit so-and-so,’ ‘Don’t take that toy from the baby,’ and other such demands, I’ve really worked on rephrasing it to things like, ‘Hmm, seems like you really want that toy. I won’t let you hit so-and-so.’ ‘Wow, seems like you’re really upset.’ And it’s helped me to defuse the situation before I get angry.” So she talks about this as rephrasing, which is definitely what she’s doing. But what she’s also really doing is speaking from a place that represents a mind shift in her and in her perception in the way that she’s seeing her child. She’s shifting to a place in what she’s saying to being open to the feelings, to the point of view of the child, and by doing so, dealing with the behavior at the source, at the cause level. And that is the only real way to solve or change any dynamic that’s going on with our children and us.
What happens if we work on making this shift at the perception level of what behavior really signifies and what our role is in stopping the behavior, if we want to look at it that way, or certainly changing the dynamic, that will free us from this need to have to feel like we’re searching for words and rephrasing. Though sometimes it does help to start the way this parent explains that she is—although I think she’s doing more than rephrasing here, I think she is changing her perspective—but when we shift our perspective to even go a little in that direction, the words come to us naturally. So that’s the direction to keep going in. And it’s okay to go from the outside in, with words, but the real change and the most effective change will come when we keep working on that perspective, which is what I talk about all the time in this podcast.
The second response that she’s offering here that’s helpful is actually wanting them to express their feelings, to share those feelings however they can, and acknowledging them. And this is also something you hear me speak about all the time on this podcast. The reason I do so is that it’s countercultural, it’s counterintuitive for us to do this. As she said, “Another example that just happened this morning with my 11-month-old. I’m guilty of doing whatever it takes to stop babies from crying.” So I don’t see this as any reason to feel guilty, but that is a pattern that a lot of us are encouraged to start with babies, that they are somehow this sort of slightly different species or this different stage of life where their crying just needs to be stopped. And all of it is expressing a need for the parent to do something other than listen. And while that is true, a lot of the time with babies, it could be this automatic response that we give. There are times when they really just need to share.
I’ve seen this in my classes. This new person came in the room. I don’t know this person. Another parent coming in the class, let’s say, a new parent that they haven’t been exposed to before. And they’re coming and sitting near me and I feel their energy. Some children are very sensitive to that. Or, Ahh, I’m overstimulated. It’s all too much. Everybody was talking, or we went out to a restaurant or to a market. Babies are very sensitive to that. So there are reasons that they cry other than, I need something right now. And yes, they do need something, but sometimes what they need is just to share that, to discharge it, to unpack it with us.
If we can start seeing babies that way, it will help us to make a seamless transition—or a more seamless transition, at least—to the toddler years, when there are tantrums and meltdowns and whining and all kinds of expressions that children just need to share, without us jumping to fix them. There’s nothing wrong with picking up a baby, for sure, or picking up a child of any age, but as this parent realizes, that’s not always the answer. And having that mentality that we’re supposed to do that can make it harder to adjust and not be this fixer. And the fixer of feelings is going to get worn out with a toddler, for sure. Especially toddlers that are a little dysregulated like these seem to be, with all the transitions in their lives and maybe absorbing the feelings, the anger that the parent has had. That’s normal to do. Children absorb it, then they vent it out in all these different ways. So ideally, they need to be allowed to, right? The feelings, right from the beginning, right from our baby’s birth, the feelings are healing.
Also, often, the feelings are the key to all these behaviors that are going on with our child on the outside, the ones that we want to get mad about, right? I mean, it’s normal to. Those feelings are what’s driving the behavior. And the ability to reason—which young children have, babies have—it often takes a backseat or it doesn’t come along at all when there are feelings. So letting feelings be, welcoming them, rolling out the red carpet. You’ve heard me say all these things. Yes, it’s hard to let children have their feelings. We all want to fix them as soon as possible.
This is especially common, even often advised, with babies. Just pick them up. And one of the problems with that, besides that it’s not encouraging our child to communicate nuances to us, is that we’re perceiving all their crying in a kind of black and white manner, as one-note. And also, again, encourages these reflexive habits in us. It’s harder to try to make a transition than it is to work on perceiving feelings as nuanced communication from our baby’s birth. Wanting to know what they’re saying, being attuned, wanting to understand so that we can respond accurately. This is the beginning of developing an attuned relationship with our children. Acknowledging doesn’t mean giving in to what our child wants in that moment.
And one little note for this parent: I only want to encourage her, but also add that as she gains confidence in the benefit of her children expressing the feelings, how healthy this is even when it sounds really bad to us, she’ll be able to brave the next step. Which is not trying to fix them another way by giving our child exactly what they say they want in that moment if that’s not convenient for us, if that’s not what we want to do. Because that’s not always going to be possible or sustainable. Maybe we don’t want to play with trucks at that moment. That’s valid, and it’s not as positive for us or our child to do things for them just to please them. It’s a quick way to depletion, to resentment, to more frustration. And it’s less practice getting somewhat comfortable (we’re never going to be super comfortable) being in disagreement with our child. Having them be mad at us, disappointed in us, frustrated because of us, or even just frustrated if it isn’t because of us, to allow that to be. We all need practice with that, again, because it’s countercultural, counterintuitive, the hardest thing that we do as parents. But this is really what’s helped her to make the shift.
Now I think she’s going to be ready soon to take it even further to, Oh, I don’t have to please my child after they’ve communicated to me, either. Just that communication and me accepting it and acknowledging it has a bonding effect, is giving my child what they need. They don’t need me to say yes all the time. What they need is for me to be honest, actually, and say yes only if I really feel yes, from a place of genuinely wanting to do it, not yes, because I can please you and I will.
Now the third thing. Again, these are all very interrelated, as you can tell. From this open, accepting, nonjudgmental, undemanding place this parent has found: explore. The example she uses is:
Another example this morning with my toddlers. They were scratching each other, leaving really bad scratches, something they had never done before. I tried things like, “It seems you really want to scratch. I can’t let you scratch your brother.” Then time would pass and another scratch would occur. Finally feeling a bit defeated but determined to avoid my old ways, when my four-year-old daughter asked to be on my lap, I talked with her. “It really seems like you want to scratch your brother. I don’t understand what’s going on. Can you maybe tell me about it?” This is where I figured she wouldn’t really have the words to explain anything, but I was open to whatever came next. She said, “Yeah, there’s a lot of snow outside and we’re inside. That is why I’ve been scratching.”
So from an open, nonjudgmental place, this parent wants to understand. She’s going beyond the behavior, seeing the communication, that there’s something here that’s being said. So this open, accepting, nonjudgmental part is really important because it isn’t going to be helpful, it’s not going to work if we say this differently. Like, “Why are you doing that?,” with judgment. So we have to work on one and two: First one, seeing beyond the behavior, and two, wanting children to express their feelings and point of view, to share them however they can. So those two elements have to be part of us exploring. Or else it’s not exploring, it’s criticizing, shaming, lashing out at. All those things that can be reflexive for us to do, but they don’t help, as this parent has noticed. What she’s doing does help.
I love that she said, “This is where I figured she wouldn’t really have the words to explain anything, but I was open.” She was open. And children surprise us when we’re open to them, when we believe that they probably know more than we think they know. That they probably do understand way more than they can say. And in this case, she was able to express it, too. Beautifully, actually. So that right there is the response, what this parent did.
Here again, I just want to lovingly caution this parent that her relief in making her child happy with the snow, going out and playing in the snow, it’s a little bit part of what she mentioned earlier about doing whatever it takes to stop her babies from crying. I don’t think she should feel guilty about that, but it’s something to look at, because she does that with this outdoor play and with playing with the trucks. So that’s where I recommend she keeps heading in that direction, into normalizing all the strong disappointments that her children need to express in a day.
In times like these, especially as the parent has shifted some things in only a week, there’s going to be some carryover that children need to vent from this change. Even though it’s such a positive change, right? But still, there are feelings, there are feelings about every kind of change. So all the more reason for this parent to trust herself and what she really wants to do. And that the feelings are the healing, and it’s not up to her to stop the crying. Often we will disappoint children in the moment by giving them what they need in the bigger picture, a safe place to vent and to feel accepted. It’s an opportunity, if we look at it that way.
I love how this parent shares her process and the way she frames it, that she’s starting with changing the words. At the same time, it really does seem that rephrasing is helping her to understand and feel this new perspective. And to answer what she says at the end. “I know I have a long way to go. There are a lot of times that I’m not sure exactly what I should say in the moment. It will get easier with time, I’m sure.” I want to say yes, it will get easier. And she will know what to say if she keeps practicing wearing this lens with those three elements, this relationship lens. It’s a relationship between two whole people who both have needs and wants, one of whom is much newer to the world and more open and easily overwhelmed by their emotions and expresses them impulsively. So these are not two people on an even plane in terms of ability and maturity, far from it. And that’s why they need us so much to see them, to help them express all their feelings in safe ways. To show them, through these opportunities, what an unconditionally loving, respectful relationship between two people with sometimes opposing wants looks like. And it doesn’t unfortunately look like pleasing our child at our own expense. We matter too. Our child needs us to, even when we’re displeasing them.
I promise this parent and everyone listening that with practice, this will become our lens and guide us throughout our children’s lives. Once it sticks, we never lose it. Sure, we might get sidetracked by our own feelings and stress levels and priorities for a while, but we can always readily find our way back. We can do this.
And I have one more thing to share with you. If you’re sometimes confused or aggravated by your toddler’s behavior and you find yourself pleading, manipulating, or bribing, threatening or punishing your child. It doesn’t feel good, right? Maybe you end up yelling and then feeling guilty or just breaking down in frustration. I get it. If you want to learn how to remain more calm and present, not faking it, but feeling it, even during your child’s most difficult behaviors, the No Bad Kids Master Course is for you. If you’re exhausted by all the parenting tips and tricks and quick fixes, and you want a more fulfilling, effective way to relate to your child, this course is definitely for you. And if you want to build a lifelong bond with your child based on love and mutual respect, if you want to learn to really enjoy and take pride in your parenting, let’s go. I promise you, we can do this. Go to nobadkidscourse.com.