Ep. 52 – Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – Conscious Parenting: The Stories We Tell Ourselves Pt. 2
- Conscious parenting and how we get there.
- The 90 second rule - The stories that emerge when we’re shocked or surprised.
- Two concrete truths every parent needs to know.
In her newest book, Parenting Right From The Start, Dr. Vanessa writes, “to believe that your thoughts are your concrete reality is probably one of the most torturous misconceptions humans experience.”
In this episode, Vanessa describes how the practice of ‘thinking about our thinking’ allows us to select narratives that will best serve ourselves and our children.
Dr. Vanessa LapointeDr. Vanessa Lapointe is an author, parenting expert, and registered psychologist who has been supporting families and children for more than twenty years. She is the acclaimed author of Discipline Without Damage and Parenting Right From The Start.
Dr. Vanessa is known for bringing a sense of nurturing understanding and humanity to all of her work, walking alongside parents, teachers, care providers, and other big people to really see the world through the child’s eyes.
She’s a regularly invited media guest and contributor, educator and speaker, a Huffington Post Parent blogger, and a consultant to research projects and various organizations promoting emotional health and development.
Ep. 52 – Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – Conscious Parenting: The Stories We Tell Ourselves Pt. 2
Rachel Cram – Well, welcome back listeners, Vanessa you and I are going to continue on right from where we left off. So, we ended with you talking about how, in our parenting, we really have to mind our mind and make sure we are constantly engaging in inquiry around our thoughts. This has recently been termed ‘Conscious Parenting’. Let’s start the second part of this conversation with this. What does it mean to be a conscious parent?
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – I’ll tell you that by walking you through my own experience as a mother. I have 13 years of post-secondary education in the field of child development and psychology. I’ve been at this career for about 20 years. My eldest son is 17 and a half years old now, so I’ve been at this parenting gig for almost 18 years, and I know a lot of things about what kids need, about how we as parents ought to behave, and all of the pieces in between. What I have discovered along the way is that I can have an infinite amount of head knowledge about parenting, which is entirely different from actually being able to bring that into play in my day to day life as a parent.
Ranbir Puar, who’s another guest from your podcast, she has this gorgeous expression which she says in her language but translated into English the quote is that, “The longest path one will ever travel is the path from the head to the heart.”
Conscious parenting is about being able to understand why, in spite of having a whole bunch of head knowledge, we’re not always able to be that kind of parent. We become regressed into childlike versions of ourselves. We yell and shout and punish and do all of the things that we know are contrary to what’s good for children, and yet we go to these big sorts of reactions. When we can consciously understand that those reactions are driven by subterranean narratives and stories, we bring the unconscious world up to the light of day, thereby making it conscious, it then alters the way that we will engage with our children.
So it’s not enough just to be developmentally informed and relationship or attachment based in the manner that you parent. That’s not enough. To really deliver on it you’ve got to bring consciousness into the mix because you can have all the head knowledge in the world. You can even have a doctoral degree. And still find yourself in the muck of it just like everyone else. And so consciousness is how we make sense of that muck and ultimately grow ourselves so that we can grow our kids.
Rachel Cram – Thanks for that explanation of conscious parenting Vanessa, and for your reference to Ranbir Puar. I love her quote about the “long path from the head to the heart,” What’s episode number was that of Ranbir’s Roy? It’s very complimentary to what Vanessa is sharing.
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – I love it.
Roy Salmond – Just looking it up. It’s episode 20 from our first season. And do you remember what it was called?
Rachel Cram – The Kind..
Roy Salmond – The True and the Necessary.
Rachel Cram – Yeah, The Kind, The True and The Necessary.
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – That’s it.
That’s the episode. I love these kinds of tie-ins, so thanks for that Vansessa, and want to keep exploring that long path from our heads to our hearts and stories that trip us up along the path and then I have an idea for an ending that I think will bring it all together.
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – OK.
Rachel Cram – Talking about the making sense of the muck, in a chapter called Expressions of Aggression, you refer to a biological response that we all have, which you called the ‘90 second rule.’ The 90 second rule comes into play when we get dysregulated in some way; something or someone shocks, surprises, or affronts us and immediately, chemicals flush through our body and puts us on high alert. Right?
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – Umm humm.
Rachel Cram – Can you explain this 90 second neurological response and the story we choose to feed ourselves after that 90 seconds is past.
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – Right. And so one of the best descriptions that I’ve heard about this, I think was offered by Eckhart Tolle, although I stand to be corrected on that if needed. And he talked about the idea of ducks on a pond. And they’re paddling around and they’re a little bit territorial. So if other ducks come into their area, there’ll be some flapping of the wings and a little bit of a stir up and then the other ducks go away and these ducks just settle back down and continue to paddle along because they don’t have a story.
You know, “That duck, he always thinks that he can strong arm us out of our part of the pond. We’re going to show him. We need to come up with a strategy. We need a plan…”
Ducks don’t have those kinds of stories. So they flappy flap their wings and then they carry on to gliding across the pond.
Rachel Cram – No blame. No shame.
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – There’s no blame, no shame, no reactivity, no anything. Us human beings, however, we love to hang on to our stories. And so when somebody crosses a boundary or we are triggered by somebody in some way, we have the 90 second chemical dump and then we perpetuate the chemical dump with the story. “I cannot even believe that you think it’s OK to talk to me that way. I gave you life and this is how you treat me. How many times do I have to? Thou shalt not. You won’t dare.”
Right. So we have these stories that perpetuate that reactivity within our body and if we continue to live in the story, we continue to live in the stress. And from there, we will not be responsive. We will be reactive. And we just stir up more challenging dynamics.
Rachel Cram – So with the 90 second rule in mind, at second number ninety-one, what are we saying, doing? What’s the story we’re telling ourselves that moves us from that chemical reaction into a mindset of healthy thinking.
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – Yeah. I think even just to know that that’s how the body works is a great place to start and be constantly reminding ourselves of that. And if you can have an inner mantra that you can go to in those moments just to hang on to yourself. You might find initially that you need to bite down on your cheeks to prevent yourself from getting reactive. And so take a breath and you might even have that as part of your mantra. “Just take a breath.”
The other mantra that I go to all the time is, “All there is, is this moment and this moment is perfect. This is for me and not to me. Do not react.”
Rachel Cram – Like the story of you on the bus. That’s what stopped you from jumping onto the bus.
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – Absolutely. And a previous version of myself may have actually jumped on the bus. And so take a breath. All there is is this moment. This moment is perfect. It’s not to you. It is for you. And I commit then to allowing myself space and time.
I used to be the person where, like, you know, I’d get that complainy, annoying email from someone, and immediately I’d want to fix it by writing back and blasting them with my defenses. And I know I never do that anymore. This is the wrong time to offer forward any kind of response, because it’ll be so toxified by what is happening inside the mind and the body.
Rachel Cram – That 90 second cortisol dump.
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – So just take a breath. Allow yourself some time and space. You can even say if you’re in the middle of an interaction with someone. “I’m really looking forward to talking about this with you later.”
Or, “I’m just not really resourced right now to have this discussion with you. And I know that we will sort it through when the time is right. I’m going to let you know when that is.”
Buy yourself some time so that you can begin to think about your thinking and come to a place of peaceful neutrality before you step in and engage.
Musical Interlude #1
Rachel Cram – I’m thinking about those ducks on the pond, and the 90 seconds of flappy flappy, as you so articulately described. As a parent, 90 seconds of flappy flappy can do a lot of damage, even if we do get our story under control once the moment is passed. Do we just have to wait and hope that we will wisen up with time and experience, or are there practices to help us flap less when those cortisol dumps occur?
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – Yes. And I immediately come to two thoughts about that. The first is that we have to engage, in a consistent way, in the act of inquiry in order to really pull apart our thoughts. In the same way that you brush your teeth every day, that you have other healthy habits that you invite into your daily life, I really encourage parents, and engage in this myself, to have daily practice of thinking about thinking, where you have set aside time to engage in inquiry. I do this every morning when I’m waking up.
Rachel Cram – What does that look like?
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – I have a little bit of time. And so I will lay in bed, I do that every morning, and then I think about what’s ahead of me in that day. And I often have thoughts about that. In the days ahead for example, I have a bunch of media that I need to be part of. And notice that I chose the word ‘need’ rather than ‘have to’ be a part of? And I could even take it one step further, that I have a bunch of media that ‘I get’ to be part of. And so if I’m having the thought, “OK, what’s on the schedule for today? What’s upcoming in my life right now?”
And I notice that I’m feeling burdened by it, or overwhelmed by it, or frazzled by it, then I just engage in a little bit of tending at the start of my day in order to invite some different languaging, a little bit of different energy around the story, so that I can set an intention to go forward into my day experiencing my life by this modified version of the story that obviously will serve me much better at the end of the day.
So the first thing is to know that by having a daily practice of thinking about thinking, you can be fast on your way to starting to shift the narrative.
The second thing is that, when you get to see how this impacts your children and you get to really be mindful and present about the trickle down impact on your children, the intensity and speed with which that transformation can occur is amplified exponentially. So, the neural pathways around that change much more quickly when we are experiencing the change in real time in the act of parenting.
Rachel Cram – So with these practices and with practice, we can kind of give turbo power to our capacity to hold onto our calm.
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – Right. So the next time your kid triggers you into this crazy state, you’d be like, “Thank you, sweet child of mine.”
Rachel Cram – You’re building my calm.
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – You’re the best.
Rachel Cram – Well, thinking of our kids and how they help us, this might be a bit of a diversion from the stories we tell ourselves, but I’m going to take the liberty.
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – Go ahead.
Rachel Cram – Knowing our children experience their own 90 second cortisol dumps, when they are flapping frantically on the pond, Vanessa, are there practices in our parenting that can help them shape healthy, rather than negative stories? That give them their own turbo power?
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – Absolutely. So if you were to ask either one of my children, and somebody did this just recently and I died laughing at their response. Somebody asked them, “Well, what’s it like to have a child psychologist as a mother?”
And my one son said, “Well, just be prepared to hear, many times a day, the question, “How do you feel about that?”
And so I think one of the things for us to be thinking about as parents is to always respond, when we see our children in distress, respond from a place of curiosity rather than from a need to fix it. The question, “How do you feel about that?”
Or sometimes I say, “Tell me more about that,” really is so that I can begin to pull out the threads of what the experience is; not the concrete reality of what has happened, but what is the experience of what has happened.
And when I’m able to imbue that with this energy of curiosity, it invites the same in my child. So then my child can start to be curious about their thinking, their experience of the event.
I’ll give you a couple of examples. So when my oldest son was eight years old, he got meningitis. And there was a lot of chatter, even though he was unconscious at the time, a lot of chatter in his hospital room from physicians saying, “You’ve got to plan for the worst and hope for the best.”
And I remember thinking very directly as his mother, “My job right now is to ensure that my child’s experience of this event is one where he feels held and cared for and safe. So when, 36 hour in, he came to and woke up and he looked over at me from his little hospital bed and he said, “Mom, am I going to die?”
I knew my job was not to fix that experience for him, but rather to fill that experience with competence and swagger and hopefulness and safety. And so I don’t know exactly what I said to him, but it would have been along the lines of, “My sweet boy, I am right here and you’re doing so well. All of the best people are around you. All you need to do is rest.”
I don’t know what the answer is. And I know I can show up and be big for him so that in that as the child, he gets to just fold into my capable care of him.
Rachel Cram – This is a very extreme example with your son’s life, but it extrapolates to a whole variety of situations when our children are struggling. I’m just wondering Vanessa, why would you not have said, “You’re going to be fine?”
Dr. Vanassa Lapointe – Because I don’t know that for sure. And I also don’t want to rush to fixing it. When we rush to fixing it, the way the child then experiences that is that it becomes negated. So their experience is canceled out by our need to make them feel OK. If we can respond with a spirit of being capable and just really on it, then the child’s like, “OK, no matter what curveballs come my way right now, my mom’s got this and I’m good.”
Rachel Cram – You’re kind of thinking in two dimensions, you’re thinking in the immediate of what am I saying in this moment? But you’re also thinking in the future of what they’re going to do with this moment.
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – That’s right.
Rachel Cram – How they’ll respond the next time they need to tell themselves a story.
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – That’s right. The second example that I’ll offer you, again, goes into the world of co-parenting and divorce, which is the reality for my family. And it’s been very important for me to be conscious about my children’s experience of that within our family. And so the reality is, we divorced, their father and I live under two separate roofs, all of those kinds of things.
My children’s experience of that, in terms of what I have offered forward, is that, “Families are families forever. Sometimes they take on different forms. And a family is a family forever. Sometimes you add new members to your family. Maybe your dad gets a new partner. Maybe I get a new partner. Maybe there’s bonus siblings that come into the mix, but a family is a family forever, no matter the form that it takes. And regardless of whether or not Daddy and I are still married or divorced, I love him like I love nobody else in the sense that he’s the reason you guys exist. There is honor in holding that space and that role in my life, and for that, he will always have my endless love.”
And you could literally see my children in the receiving of that narrative, because, of course it’s very traumatic and unsettling when children have to go through experiences of separation and divorce, you can just see them coming to rest in the knowledge that, “This is where we’re at. This is what the story is. Our mom’s got this.”
Rachel Cram – Well, and that’s where a story is a positive, right, because it’s not that the stories are always negative. We’re always living into a story.
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – Every single moment is a story.
Rachel Cram – So it’s choosing the stories that we want to tell. And you’ve chosen that story about you and your ex-husband .
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – And let’s say there’s 10000 people that listen to this interview. Every single listener will have a different story about what this interview was about. Sometimes when I’m standing on stage, pre Covid times, and there’s several hundred people in the audience, I am very aware that there’s not just one Dr. Vanessa standing on the stage, there’s several hundred Dr. Vanessa standing on the stage because everybody will have a different story about me. And what’s so incredibly freeing in all of that is, that I have no responsibility for anybody else’s story, my only responsibility is to my own story. And if I don’t like my story, then it’s upon me to rewrite it.
Rachel Cram – Yeah. That’s a really helpful answer Vanassa thank you, and thanks for your generous vulnerability in sharing those more personal details. I think listeners will find that very helpful.
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – Yeah, I was wondering if it’s OK to bring the divorce stuff up, because it can sometimes take things in a different direction for people.
Rachel Cram – No, I think you’re doing it really really well. It’s real life right? We all have to swim across the pond navigating ourselves and the other splashing ducks.
Musical Interlude #2
Rachel Cram – Ok, I’m going to ask you about one last factor that affects the stories we tell ourselves and then we’ll head toward the conclusion that I’d love you to explore with me.
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – Awesome
Rachel Cram – Vanessa, in your first interview for Family 360, you talked about neuroplasticity. And the quick description I would give of that, and you can correct it if it could be better, is that neuroplasticity is how our brain changes and adapts as a result of our experiences.
Is that OK? So I think we also now know that our neural network is part of the larger neural network around us. And so the way we think is very affected not only by our own experiences, but by the experiences of the people that we’re spending time with. You’re nodding your head so I’m going to keep going thinking I’m heading in the right direction.
We’d like to think that we’re independent and unique and our own person, but none of us really are that, we’re all highly socially influenced. So with regard to the stories we tell ourselves, I’m wondering about your thoughts around how we pay attention to who we’re choosing to be with, and how their thoughts are affecting us. Even thinking online, perhaps because these days were not so much with people, we’re maybe more online. How do other’s stories connect and weave their way into our stories?
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – I love the way that you used the language of connectedness in a neurological sense, that we are neurologically interconnected with the people around us. We actually know that we can regulate or dis-regulate another person’s brain by the manner in which we interact with them. So I really do think that it requires us to be thinking about, “Who are we interacting with?” not just for us as individuals, but also who are we inviting into the world of our children in terms of who are they interacting with?
There’s all sorts of data looking at that, we’re the sum total of the five people or the six people that we spend the most amount of time with. So who are all those five or six people? I know for myself I choose in terms of my personal life to be spending my time with people who top me up rather than tap me out. I also have been very conscious about who I follow on social media. So when I am scrolling through the feed, what is it that’s landing in my eyes? Is it messages that are consistent with hopefulness and consciousness and the currency of kindness. Or is it fear and intensity and darkness and vulgarity and gossip?
So what do I choose to fill myself up with? And how do I make sure that I have been very present about filtering out the things that don’t serve? It’s not a head in the sand approach. It is a very conscious choice to construct the world in which I will allow myself to be marinated. Especially right now.
Rachel Cram – Yeah, well, what is true for online connection is also true for face to face connection in that when you start to follow one person you get more and more of who they’re attached to coming onto your feed.
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – Absolutely.
Rachel Cram – Yeah, and I, I think in real life it’s the same; who you spend time with, for better or for worse, connects you to new ways of thinking, and sometimes, you end up telling yourself a story, back to the theme of this, you end up telling yourself a story that isn’t the story that you really wanted to be telling to yourself.
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – And it doesn’t serve. What’s going to be the end result of a story filled with fear based narratives compared to a story filled with love based narratives? The end result is going to be black and white, different.
Rachel Cram – Yeah. Well, as a quick recap before moving toward what I know you will nail as a fabulous conclusion to this very long interview, and to give you a chance to take a sip of your, what is it that you’re drinking there anyways?
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – I’m going to take a slurp of my first pumpkin drink of the season.
Rachel Cram – Which looks delicious.
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – So good.
Rachel Cram – So, here is what we’ve covered so far with stories we tell ourselves. From part one, you talked about how our stories are shaped by generational and childhood traumas, by the way our parents interacted with us, and by believing that our thoughts are our concrete reality. That was all in part one of this interview.
In part two, we’ve looked at the 90 second rule and how we mind our mind when we’re triggered by those chemical dumps of cortisol, and then, lastly, you just talked about paying attention to how our brain picks up and absorbs the stories of others.
So hopefully you’ve replenished your electrolytes with your pumpkin spice, and we will shift gears as we go toward the conclusion.
Right at the beginning of our conversation Vanessa, we talked about there being so many moments throughout a day of a parent where you have stories that you can create. And there’s so many of those 90 second moments. You’re in the bathroom and you hear a smash in the kitchen and a scream. And you know that it was the milk that you told your child not to touch.
You’re exhausted and you’ve just put the baby down and there’s that “whaaa.” Our days are filled with these moments and we have that 90 seconds and then we’re going to respond. The whole last half of your book, you are looking at practical parenting information, including examples of how we shaped the stories we tell ourselves in those moments, how we consciously parents and I have a thought.
Could I give you some really common parenting situations? And then you demo how the story we tell ourselves consciously or unconsciously affects our response?
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – Have at her.
Rachel Cram – And I know you have some of these in the book, but I’m sure that you can come up with ones that don’t give away that punch line in the book. So do you want to do some of those?
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – Let’s do it. I love it. .
Rachel Cram – OK. So let’s start with the first one I just mentioned. You have finally got the baby to sleep and you are exhausted and you’ve just laid down, you’re just drifting off and you hear that whaaa come again. What are your options in that moment? What are the stories you can tell yourself and how does that affect how you’re going to respond?
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – So probably your knee jerk is going to be like, your stomach sinks. And you’re like, “Oh, I’m so tired.”
And that’s the story,
Rachel Cram – I’m so tired.
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe- Like imagine then that you live that out the rest of the night and then you live it out into the next day. And you can literally create layer upon layer of fatigue from the repetition of that story.
I would really just invite your listeners to have some grace for themselves in those moments, because we are velcro to the negative just as a default. So that likely will be your first knee jerk response. Notice it and then think about a story that feels lighter and has a different kind of energy.
“I really love that I get to be present and available to my baby when they need me. I so enjoy what it is to have this quiet special time with my child in the still of the night when nobody else is around and my attention isn’t pulled in a zillion directions. I love that I get to just sink into this moment and experience what it is to be the big person that’s coming to the need of a child.”
You could choose any line out of that narrative. And immediately the energy of that is different. Immediately. And then you find your way forward.
Rachel Cram – Yeah. It is incredible how it works. I experienced what you’re saying, although I didn’t have the language around it that you are so beautifully providing right now. I remember when my third child was an infant and she and her older sister were only 18 months apart. So often through the night, both of them would be up. And I remember one night having that happen and her waking up, and I remember thinking to myself, “I can’t do this.”
At that moment, I just thought, “I have to do this. Like, who else is going to do it? No, there is no other mama for this child and there is no one else with the breast milk.”
And I just remember thinking, “I’ve got to get rid of this.”
And in that moment, I thought, “This is the only time in the day that I get with just Sarah by herself. The rest of the time, my other son and daughter, there’s other people around.”
And I thought, “Think that. This is the only time in the day it’s just you and her.”
And I sat up the bed and I went into her bedroom and I held her and I remember thinking, “This is beautiful.”
And it changed everything. And I remember that probably happened when she was about, oh, I don’t know, three months. But I remember when she was about 18 months feeling like, “I’ve got to stop nursing her, but I don’t want to because I love this beautiful time with just her by herself.”
And so I just want to say, It works.
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – I love that. Perfect.
Rachel Cram – It’s so amazing. So amazing.
OK, let me give you another situation. You are carrying your child out to the car because they don’t want to get into it. And so you’re saying, “Hey, I’ll help you, I’m going to carry you out. We’re going to have a great time.”
And they turn and they bite your arm. Really hard. What stories can we tell ourselves?
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – Right. And so especially that thing about physical boundaries and injury like that, for parents, it’s a tricky one, because you’re going to immediately be propelled into this fight or flight kind of reaction.
Rachel Cram – The 90 seconds.
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – Oh, it’s going to be a big one. And so notice that and then deep-dive into “Where’s your kid at right now?”
Your child, who loves you more than anything else or anyone else on the planet, just bit you. Imagine how terrifying that is for them. They literally bit the hand that feeds. And their life depends on them being connected to you. So how unnerving, how overwhelmed must they be that they just engaged in that behavior?
So the thinking might be, “Oh, my child is having a really hard time right now. My child is completely overwhelmed and needs a safe place. My child needs a lighthouse in the storm. Right in this moment I’m going to be that lighthouse. I love that I can show up for my kid in that kind of way. I love how much swagger I can bring into this very overwhelming, uncertain moment for my kiddo and just have them feel at rest and settled in my care. I’m going to be that right now. I love you.”
It’s a completely different mindset.
You know, I was speaking to a parent in an online community a few weeks back as part of a question and answer event. And she said, “You know, this sounds like a lot of work.”
Rachel Cram – That’s true actually
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – Yeah, there’s energy that goes into constructing these narratives in ways that serve us. I’m going to tell you what else is a lot of work. Not constructing a narrative that serves you better. Either way, it’s hard work.
So you just get to choose what kind of hard work are you up for? Are you up for hard work that’s going to continue to perpetuate this heavy, burdensome life? Or are you up for some hard work that’s going to make it feel lighter and freer? You get to choose. It’s all a story.
Musical Interlude #3
Thanks for listening to Family360 and the second of our 2 part interview with Dr. Vanessa Lapointe.
In our next episode you will meet a family. In his late teens, Josh Warneke was diagnosed with a mental illness which was eventually identified as a combination of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. His parents, Suzie and Cal, share their deep dive into challenge, change and personal growth, as Josh describes learning to live on his unanticipated path of self discovery. It’s an exploration into the messy complexity of wholehearted living and love and I invite you to join us for this encouraging and thought provoking conversation.
And now back to our conversation with Dr. Vanessa and more practical examples for how we shape and share the stories we tell ourselves.
Rachel Cram – Awesome, Vanessa, I’d love to do a few more examples. Ok, let’s say your child has come home from school, we’re talking about a middle schooler here, somebody who’s 12. They walk in the door as they have the last few days and it’s the same thing, they come in and your eyes are ‘lighting up’, I know you’re all about this. You’re like, “Hey, honey, how was your day?”
And they’re like. “Um.”
“Would you like to come have a cookie? I’ve just made some freshly baked cookies.”
This is like a prime moment of a mom. And they just aren’t interested. They walk out and they go up to their room and shut the door. What stories can happen there?
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – I love how on track that whole scene is developmentally. So obviously we can be hurt and wounded by that. We can feel rejected by our kid. We can feel affronted by that. Like, we’re so showing up for our kid and they can’t even give us their eyes and say hello. Who put this roof over your heads? You know, da dee da dee da…”
Or we can think to ourselves, “Oh, he is so perfectly 12. It’s so incredible that my kid has had the experiences up to this point that are presently allowing for him to be emergent.”
Because it’s really developmentally, not just typical but necessary for children as they enter into adolescence, to begin to step away from their parents. Step into the fold of mentors. Step into the fold of community. Step into the fold, slowly, of increasing depth in their peer relationships. We want for that to be happening. You want your kid to come through the door at times and not have eyes for you when they’re in that age group. “I love how perfectly on track my kid is developmentally. I am nailing it as a Mom! Nailing it!”
Rachel Cram – Great. I wonder if there’s one that we can do, Vanessa, with a partner like, you both put your child down for the night. You’re really hoping for a romantic night with your partner. It’s been weeks. Months, because you’ve got little children. You’ve finally got all your kids into bed. And the baby starts to cry. And one of you feels like “Just for tonight, let’s see if they can just cry themselves back to sleep.”
And the other one feels like, “I’m not about that.” And so they go into the room and they pick up the baby. What’s the story?
Does that work for you?
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – Sure. And we can take it from both perspectives. So the partner who’s just been rejected and is now laying alone in bed, you know, might be quick to fall into a wound like “Am I chopped liver? Do I never get any time in this household anymore? Does all your love have to go to the children?”
You can hear the victim’s story in all of that. Or that partner might choose to lay in bed and be like, “Man, did I ever hit the jackpot? I love how he or she shows up for our kids. If only every kid could be so lucky.”
Right? And if you are the parent who’s gone to the child, you could have the story, “I cannot believe that bleep-diddy-bleep, actually thinks we should not respond to our child. Like, did they not read Parenting Right From The Start?”
Right? And so you could be full up of all of that. Or you could have a thought, “What a wonderful relationship we’ve created. I am so blessed to know that he/she so wants time with me still; actually likes me, wants to be with me and have those connected moments with me. That’s everything. What an amazing family we have.”
Whatever direction you go, the outcome is going to be so different. And I actually sometimes think, you know, energy is a real thing, if you’ve ever walked into a room where two people are engaged in a cold war, like not speaking to one another, you feel it as soon as you enter the room. It hits you like a blast of frosty air. And depending on the kinds of thoughts you’re having about your co-parent, you can think about them just kind of like electrically traveling through the air and landing in the psyche of the other person. It changes the field of the family and the home when we can have that kind of narrative about our partners.
Rachel Cram – And sometimes, I think a lot of the time, that’s actually the harder narrative to shift, partner to partner than parent to child.
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – I think you’re right. There’s some kind of inherent accountability that we have within us as parents, that we get that it’s our job to carry this and to be on this for our children. And I think within the partner to partner dynamic, we’re a little bit quicker to push it off to the other person; to have it be their problem to fix, rather than knowing that it really actually only takes one person to have a good relationship.
Rachel Cram – Oh, I just can’t leave that hanging there.
Musical Interlude #4
Rachel Cram – I know we need to start winding down, but can you expand on that? Why does it only take one person?
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – The relationship that I have with any other person in my life is completely constructed within my mind. So even if, let’s say, a concrete behavior is the other person is constantly reactive, constantly in some kind of flipped lid sort of state. If my repeated narrative that I choose to construct about who that person is, is one that is filled with love and light, I will experience within myself a good relationship with that person.
You know, I think a lot of people are very surprised to know that I do not have the kind of relationship with my children’s father that has us continuing even post divorce to go on family vacations and have family dinners. It is not like that. But I got to tell you, in my own mind, I experience that relationship as exactly what is needed in the present time and in the present moment. I create the relationship in my mind. That’s the only place that it exists. Which means it only takes one person, the person who’s the holder of that mind, to create the relationship. You experience the relationship from a subjective point of view, always.
Rachel Cram – Have you experienced a shift in feeling within yourself in making that your story?
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – Oh, 100 percent. I would say, particularly when it comes to the relationship with my children’s father, in the early days of leading up to separation, in the early days of separation, I was fueled by venomous thoughts that only served to make that circumstance feel heavier and darker and so stressful and so challenging. And when I realized that I was doing that, that it wasn’t actually up to him or lawyers or anybody else to make that better, that I was one thought away from peace in that relationship, mic drop. Absolutely, life altering freedom was what I experienced.
Rachel Cram – I think some people listening might think to themselves, “That’s very Pollyanna kind of thinking.”
And I think I would want to say, “Try it. Try it. See what happens for yourself.”
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – And it’s hard. You get to choose your heart. It’s not like one day I woke up and I was like, “Oh, I think I’m just going to have sunshine and roses thoughts about all of this.”
I worked at it. There have been days where I have spent time working 60 or 70 thoughts to transform the narrative. I’m 46 years old. I like to think that I have a lot of years in front of me and I want to live those years out to the best of my ability, being transformed into the absolute best version of myself. I don’t want to wither in the darkness of that self created stress and toxicity. I get to choose, and I choose peace over and over and over again.
Rachel Cram – Humm. Thank you. Vanessa as a closing question. We’ve been talking about stories that we tell ourselves. There are some things about parenting that aren’t stories. It’s just the way that it is. It’s biological, it’s scientific, we know it to be true. And you talk about some of these things in Parenting Right From The Start as well. I’d love you to end with some of those truths. What are two aspects of parenting that are always true as we care for our children. Where it’s not about a story, we just know this about being a parent that shows up.
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – I love that that’s where we will end, because it really allows us to differentiate between what is truth and reality and what is the constructed narrative. The story.
There are concrete’s in the world of parenting. The giantest one of all is that kids need at least one, one big person who is showing up for them over and over and over again. We know that to be true.
When you’re showing up for a child, there’s this effervescent bubbling-over piece of yourself that you can’t even contain for the fact that that child exists. They walk into a room and you have that light up in your eyes, you have a light up in your being for them. You literally could not have gotten luckier as their big person. That just shines out from your pores and lands in the psyche of that child. That’s what it is, to show up in the life of a child.
Second, what children need universally is for big people to understand that children are children. They are not tiny adults. When we look at the developmental trajectory of human beings, we look at the manner in which the human brain comes online and matures, the pop culture around child raising has led many of us adults to believe that children should be behaving differently than they are. They should be able to share at age four. They should be able to sleep through the night by age one. They should be able to hold on to their big emotions by age nine. If you’re having a tantrum at nine, well, you’re way behind. This is unacceptable behavior. You need to pull yourself together. Whatever it is. We have these ideas that children should be able to manifest behaviors, performance, outcomes, that mimics what they will eventually be independently capable of as adults.
When children are reacted to by adults who don’t get that the concrete reality is that kids are kids, they’re not tiny adults. And we start to demand and command behavior out of them that they’re not capable of, it just leads to the child being bathed in blame and shame. And you can imagine what kind of narrative and story that creates for the child that they will then carry forward into their adulthood and at some point have to heal.
So the concrete reality is; Development is real. Children are children, they’re not tiny adults. And we need to watch our stories about that. When the kids are, you know, fighting again at the dinner table about ABC, XYZ, rather than finding yourself going to grrrrrr.
You can find yourself going to. You guys are awesome. Yeah. This is like dinner and a show. I love it. And here’s how we talk to each other as a family. Want to give that another try.
Rachel Cram – All right. Amazing, Vanessa, thank you so much for this time. I reflect back on where we started with Maggie Dent’s comment about your book. This is an incredible exploration of early parenting, and you are gifting so many parents with understanding about this ancient sacred dance. And I thank you so much for your time with me today, for your candor and your sharing of yourself as well. This has been a really beautiful conversation.
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – Thank you for having me. And thank you for the light that you are shining out into the world with what you’re doing.
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – Thank you.
Roy Salmond – Thank you, Vanessa.
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe – Thank you. You guys are amazing. I shine it right back. We’ll talk again soon. Bye for now guys.