How to raise perfectly imperfect kids with Lisa Sugarman: Podcast Episode #152
Lisa Sugarman, author of How To Raise Perfectly Imperfect Kids, discusses positive parenting and balance with Kristin. You can listen to this complete podcast episode on iTunes, SoundCloud, or wherever you find your podcasts.
Welcome. You’re listening to Ask the Doulas, a podcast where we talk to experts from all over the country about topics related to pregnancy, birth, postpartum, and early parenting. Let’s chat!
Kristin: Welcome to Ask the Doulas! I’m Kristin, and I’m so excited to chat with Lisa Sugarman today about parenting and the power of positivity. Lisa is a parenting author, a nationally syndicated humor columnist, and a radio show host. She writes a syndicated opinion column, It Is What It Is, and is the author of How To Raise Perfectly Imperfect Kids and Be Okay With It: Untying Parent Anxiety and Life. Welcome, Lisa!
Lisa: Thank you! Thanks so much for having me!
Kristin: Let’s get into it! I love talking about positive parenting. What are some of your tips for parenting young children or new parents starting off this big transition?
Lisa: Yeah, it’s a scary transition. We’re just as new at all this as our kids are, and that’s the thing that we tend to forget when we have our first children, at least. We’re so excited on the fact that we’ve got to teach them everything. We’ve got to empower them in all the ways. We completely forget about the fact that we’re complete newbies to the whole parenting game ourselves, and it can be really challenging. It can be really debilitating. It can be just a really hard road to navigate when we want to set ourselves up for success right alongside our kids, but we’re all kind of learning as we go. One of the best things that I’ve found as a mom and through all the work that I’ve done with parents over the years: it’s really just a matter of your attitude and just giving yourself permission to be that newbie and to learn and to screw up and to change course and to just try and set yourself up in the best way that you can to be successful as a parent.
Kristin: What are your tips for starting that relationship strong, especially in the toddler stage when infants are learning so much about boundaries and themselves? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Lisa: I think the idea of cutting everybody some slack just from the very beginning is something that is a really powerful tool. I think we get so wrapped up inside our own heads about kind of our kids toeing the line and us making all the right decisions and not fumbling the ball, but the fact is, we do it, and they do it. And I think that if we can encourage our kids to go for it in whatever way they want to go for it, at whatever age they are at the time, whether it’s getting on your little scooter or whether it’s getting behind the wheel of a car, we need to empower them that occasionally it’s not going to go right, but that’s okay. That’s really okay, and it’s really all about maintaining that positive attitude, that even those screw-ups are so valuable. I think that’s one of the greatest tools that we can give to our kids and that we can utilize ourselves as moms and dads.
Kristin: Yeah, giving them freedom to make discoveries on their own versus helicopter parenting where we’re hovering and trying to make sure they don’t fall, as you said with riding the bike and so on.
Lisa: Yeah, because the fact of the matter is, we’re going to make those mistakes and those bad decisions and have those dark moments or those scary moments, and I think they’re tempered an awful lot by that power of positivity that we’re talking about because if we’ve been in a situation before that maybe didn’t work out, as a parent or as a child, and we understand that there’s another side to it, that we kind of have to navigate through the crappy part to get to the potentially good parts or figure out that what we just went through didn’t work, and how do we make it work. By staying positive and kind of taking our learning from the things that didn’t go our way, we can kind of transform those things into that resilience that allows you to kind of power through and keep going.
Kristin: Great advise. Lisa, what are your thoughts on just changing the language as you’re having these teaching moments with kids and using positive words and affirmations versus anything as simple as, you know, “stop fighting.” What would you use to replace some of the common parenting terms?
Lisa: It’s hard because we’re all so naturally inclined to be like, cut it out or you made a mistake or that was a bad choice. I think we’re just hard wired, a lot of us. Just human nature hard wires us to blurt those things out, but we do need to soften things, and I think that for me, what I always tried to do with my own kids was really lead – and again, we just lean right back into positivity. You lead with what was good about what they did. What was helpful about what they did? Good for you for trying that thing that you just messed up on, or you tried a new way and it didn’t work, or you tried a new way of, I don’t know, talking to a friend who you’re having a challenge with and it backfired in your face. You maybe just didn’t follow the rules and you misbehaved. Instead of hammering our kids about the things that they did wrong, try to kind of dig through that and get to the part that maybe is worthwhile, the parts that are helpful, and celebrate those things. And then just watch your tone. I think sometimes it’s not even what we say sometimes as much as it’s how we say it. So even if you have to have a tough conversation with your child, start with that positivity, and then you just make sure that your tone is one that maybe is not necessarily approving, because maybe they did do something they shouldn’t have done, but you’re not chastising your kids. Then they’re just going to shut down. At whatever age, your kids aren’t going to respond if they think you’re screaming at them or you’re barking at them or you’re dictating to them. So I think leading with whatever it was that they did that was positive and then just make sure you’re soft about the way that you have a conversation. And maybe ask them. And this is age-appropriate, too; if you maybe have a tween or a younger child who you can have a conversation with, ask that child, what do you think just happened that shouldn’t have happened? Put it on them so that maybe you’re not the one giving the bad news or the hard feelings, and maybe let them do a little bit of soul-searching themselves to figure out what didn’t go right.
Kristin: I love it. So you use a lot of humor in your writing and on your appearances. What role do you think humor can play in positive parenting?
Lisa: I think it plays as much of – you know, the overarching umbrella of positivity is, I think, our biggest crutch. Being able to laugh at all the stupid stuff that happens as a parent, I think that’s absolutely as clutch as anything else that we can lean into because how many times have we gone somewhere or done something or had an interaction with someone, and it’s just gone completely off the rails in a way that you just stop and think, this isn’t even possible, how badly this is going right now. And we’ve got two choices in those moments. We either kind of let it take us down, or we understand that it’s part of life. Stupid things will absolutely happen, an stupid and silly, and it’s not to say that we have to make everything a joke, because everything is definitely not joke-worthy, but at the same time, too, we have to be able to laugh at ourselves. Especially on the days when you’re struggling just to get up out of bed in the morning because maybe you were up with one of your kids late and night and you try to get dressed and you spill your coffee on yourself. You can take that in one of two ways. You can let it just take you down, or you can just look at yourself and say, well, just another day in the life of being a mom or being a dad.
Kristin: Exactly. The spit-up when you’re out in public or the diaper blowout. There’s so many hilarious moments, if you look at it that way, of course.
Lisa: Yeah, absolutely, and I think when we do choose to look at it – and it’s a choice. We have to make that conscious choice to kind of frame it. It’s the whole idea of, ugh, I have to do this, versus, oh, I get to do this. It’s all how you spin it and frame it, and the more often that we can laugh at ourselves – because we’re all going through the same stuff. We’re all dealing with those diaper blowouts and the vomit and the ridiculous moments, and we think that we’re not because parenting can be so isolating. You’re kind of in your own little bubble dealing with your own stuff, and you forget that moms – millions of moms everywhere, dads everywhere, are covered in vomit. It’s strength in numbers for sure, and there’s humor all over it.
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Kristin: So how do you get both parents on board with positive parenting? Many couples have different styles individually in parenting.
Lisa: Yeah, I think getting both parents on board with just being positive is kind of symbolic of just getting both parents on board and cohesive in your parenting styles. You really just, I think, have to kind of have a united front and really do a lot of really good communicating as a team, because that’s what you are. It’s definitely a collaboration between both caregivers, and I think just talking about your approaches and being unified in your approaches and when a situation comes up, and it could go either way, you could just get furiously mad or completely flip out. I think a good tip, and this is something that my husband and I do all the time – we still do all the time, and our daughters are 21 and almost 25. If one of us sees the other one completely overreacting or maybe underreacting and we know that we’ve been consistent in a certain way that we parented, we’ll kind of nudge each other or we’ll take each other side. We’ll give each other a gentle reminder of, like, hey, look, we kind of agreed that we would do this in this situation or this in that situation. So I think it’s just staying unified and really communicating with each other about kind of what your core values are. And when you can both recognize and appreciate how much positivity and humor plays into parenting, then I think you just kind of play off of each other, which my husband and I have done that for 25 years. It’s a great alternative to being completely wrapped around the axle all the time, which is the other kind of state of mind that I think parents end up in so much of the time. So we kind of nudge each other and remind each other to just see how dumb certain situations can be and laugh about it.
Kristin: I love that. And then also I think it’s key to get other caregivers on board with your parenting style, and as you said earlier, communication is key. So not only with your husband, partner, but if you have a nanny, or sometimes grandparents are helping caregive. So just really getting everyone on the same page.
Lisa: Yeah, and I mean, the more consistent we can all be as kind of that big overarching unit of people who takes care of your kids – you’ve got teachers; you’ve got, like you said, caregivers and relatives and friends. The more we can all be unified in the way that we interact with our kids, the better because it’s so hard to parent kids when you’re getting mixed messages, when mom says one thing and dad says the other; grandma lets you have free range. I think there are a lot of parents who get very, very, I guess, timid about telling people how they want to parent their kids. Like, for instance, parents who have, for instance, live-in grandparents who are an incredible source of help and support, and yet I see all the time – I am affiliated with some websites and portals and platforms where I talk a lot to new mothers who are struggling with the fact that maybe they live with their in-laws or family members and people are undermining their authority or their choices, and it can be really hard to voice that opinion and hold that line in terms of, like, hey, this is actually my child, and this is how I’m choosing or my partner and I are choosing to parent. So it’s really important to have those conversations, and there are ways to do it, which goes back to what we talked about a few minutes ago as far as, you know, it’s what you say and how you say it, and I think if you’re gentle in the way that you have these conversations with people around you, people are going to understand. You know, this is what you want; these are your expectations, and you just need to honor that. You need to make sure the people who are helping you honor that.
Kristin: Yes, exactly. So what are your top tips for new parents to, again, begin applying positive parenting very early on?
Lisa: I think one of the biggest things that a new mom or dad can do as a parent is actually take care of themselves. Living in such a world of self-care imagery and self-care opportunities, and it’s wonderful; it’s amazing. It’s so important just as a human being, but it’s even more important as a parent who’s responsible for taking care of a young child because it’s hard. It’s really, really hard, and it’s frustrating, and it’s messy. And like we said, it’s chaotic. But when we’ve taken care of ourselves, and when we’re at least recharged and refreshed and our own basic needs are met, we’re going to be way more effective as moms and dads. We get this brand new baby home or even have this young child at home, and everything is focused on this child and care and teaching and guiding and nurturing. And we’ve, like, forgotten to eat breakfast and lunch and haven’t put on deodorant and forgot to shower and – you know, like, all these things. And it’s the old oxygen mask in the airplane analogy. And there’s no better analogy to describe the need for that as a new parent because they have you put on that oxygen mask first because you’re no good to anybody around you, let alone your small child, if you aren’t capable of functioning yourself. So I think that’s one of the biggest tips and takeaways that I would hand off to a new parent. And the other thing that I think is equally as important: don’t compare yourself to people around you. Don’t compare yourself to the other moms and dads who are around you because that’s just – it’s a total trap, and we all fall into it. You know, we compare our kids to the little kids on the playground and the moms to the moms on the playground and it just – that will crush you. It will absolutely crush you because you can’t parent your child like another parent can. And you can’t be the same kind of influence and have the same kind of successes that other families have because it’s a different family. It’s a different dynamic. There are different issues. You’ve got to kind of just walk your own walk and learn to let go early on, I guess, is the way I would distill that tip down. Just let it go. Do your thing your way to the best of your ability for you own little family because you’re not in somebody else’s house under somebody else’s roof. It’s yours and your house and your family.
Kristin: I feel like the social media pressure to be perfect, whether it’s Instagram or Pinterest, that comparison game can really be a joy-killer. So I love that. We’ve all got struggles, despite what appearances may be.
Lisa: Oh, yeah. And I’m glad you said the social media piece because that nowadays, that plays such a massive role in kind of breaking people’s spirits, breaking parents’ spirits because you see all these videos of the moms who have redone their refrigerator with 7,000 different snacks, and everything is organized in a certain way, which is great; don’t get me wrong. I’m all for food porn; I love it. And organizationally, that’s my thing. But you’ve got moms out there who can barely pour a bowl of cereal because they’ve got four kids and they’re working from home and two kids are in school. So we need to kind of celebrate our own little wins and not spend all of our time looking at the perfect images that everybody’s putting – they’re curated. Those are cultivated. People are not putting themselves on social media at their worst and more disorganized, chaotic moments. They’re putting them on when everything – the light is filtered just right and the fruit is just perfectly ripe. It’s not reality, most of it. You know, there are a lot of people out there who are being super real, and I love that, and that’s what you should be paying attention to, the people who are on social media kind of like tears in their eyes, saying this is really hard, and I buttoned my pants today and put on makeup and that’s my win for the day. You know, that’s it. And that’s the stuff we should be focusing on.
Kristin: Exactly. So how can our listeners get in touch with you? You’ve got so many platforms, and of course, your book?
Lisa: I’m kind of all over the place, actually. I mean, anybody who wants to find out what I do can just go right to my website. Or you can find me on Amazon. All of my books are on Amazon or Barnes & Noble or in the stores where books are sold. I’m on Instagram @lisa_sugarman and Facebook @thelisasugarman. And I’m kind of nomadic. I pop up everywhere.
Kristin: I love it. And of course you’ve got your radio show, and you’re making appearances everywhere. You also mentioned that you’re on multiple platforms, so are you partnering with other sites, then?
Lisa: I am. I actually have done quite a bit of partnering over the years. I work for – I write for and help develop content for a very cool platform out of Houston, Texas called SocialMama that’s kind of like Tinder for moms. It helps moms connect with other moms based around their area and their kind of geolocation area, and also moms that have unique needs, like maybe you have a child with autism or you have a child with severe allergies or you’re looking for someone who can really relate with you and kind of the parenting journey that you’re on. So I help with content creation there. I’m one of their parenting experts. I also partner with a company called Helpen that is helping families teach children kindness and generosity and gratitude and empathy through prompts at the dinner table. They’re like little postcard prompts at the dinner table and through micro donations that you give to nonprofits, teaching your children how to pay it forward, and I do a lot of content creation for them, as well. And then our radio show that I do with my co-author, Deb Gansenberg, is Life Unfiltered, and you can find all the episodes on iTunes or IHeartRadio. We’re all over the place.
Kristin: Amazing. Thank you so much for everything that you shared with us. These tips for positive parenting are amazing. I will share the resources and some of the platforms you’re involved with, not only with our doula clients, but also our Becoming A Mother students. I think they would be very interested in the SocialMama platform.
Lisa: That’s great. Yeah, they’d love it. They would absolutely love it. They’re a great resource there.
Kristin: Thanks so much, Lisa!
Lisa: It was my pleasure! Thanks for having me!
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