0:05 THE STUCK-IN-THE-HOUSE PARENT
We’ve got stay-at-home parents; we’ve got working full-time parents. We have entered into a new category of parenting. This is the stuck-in-the-house parent.
This is our first episode of A Mom’s Retreat podcast with Lynn Lyons (my sister-in-law). This podcast has stepped in to take the place of in person parenting retreats we began in the fall.
Lynn explains why we feel like we are riding a new emotional rollercoaster, and why we feel so exhausted, as our brains are working overtime to absorb our new life conditions. She compares this time’s mental and emotional drain to having a newborn at home for the first time.
3:27 CATASTROPHIC LANGUAGE
Lynn asks that we pay attention to the undeniable anxiety we feel and to avoid patterns of catastrophic language in front of our children.
4:47 David Barlow
She references David Barlow who defined anxiety as an overestimation of a problem and an underestimation of your resources to deal with it but shares we are in the opposite of an underestimation of the problem with an overestimation of our resources.
6:13 CATASTROPHIC PARENTING
Lynn validates that we have reason to be worried. We have reason to feel uncertain, we have reason to feel as if we’re off our kilter a little bit.
Lynn gives guidance on communicating uncertainty reasonably and catastrophically with our children.
8:09 KEEPING YOUR COOL and the power of silliness
Lynn talks about taking a reset or a reboot. She explains what she means be learning to be vanilla ice cream for your kids.
Silliness and doing things that are unexpected are a great way to shift the emotional tone in your family. Lynn gives examples of how consciously injecting play can rebalance both parents and comfort children and gives examples how.
Lynn talks about her own childhood memories of her parents doing the twist in the kitchen to At the Hop albums.
15:15 SLOWING DOWN in social distancing
We talk about the gifts that can come from this chapter with more time together at home when children’s schedules are lighter. Lynn encourages us to fill this time as a family with more play in a way that doesn’t feel like an additional chore for parents.
Lynn’s book Anxious Kids, Anxious Parents has several examples at the end of every chapter of ways to be silly, inject surprise, and make family time more playful as a practice.
She discusses the power of external connection among our family and friends to stave of the anxious and depressive patterns we are vulnerable to right now by stating in an internal state.
So, thanks for joining us on this first episode of A Mom’s Retreat. You are not alone in this. Join us next episode as we discuss the milestones we are missing.
We are all in this together. The purpose of this is for us to feel connected, validated, and supported.
Producer of A Mom’s Retreat
Our show music is called “First Little Steps” by Peter McIsaac.
For those who don’t like listening to podcasts, you can read the transcript instead.
The stuck-in-the-house parent
Lynn Lyons 0:05
We have typical categories of parenting. We’ve got stay-at-home parents; we’ve got working full time parents. We have entered into a new category of parenting. This is the stuck-in-the-house parent.
This is new. This is different. This is unlike anything that most of us have ever experienced before. And it is really challenging.
Welcome to a Mom’s Retreat
So hi, everybody. Welcome. I’m Lynn Lyons, and this is our first episode of A Mom’s Retreat podcast. My sister-in-law Robin and I hosted a mom’s retreat this past fall and our goal, our hope— and it still is our goal and still is our hope— is to offer retreats in the future for parents as a way to connect, as a way to feel rejuvenated, as a way to learn how to best manage things that are going on in your family. But of course, we’ve had to put our plans on hold.
And so, this podcast has stepped in to take the place of what we are hoping to accomplish with connection. Normally my typical month as a psychotherapist would include seeing some clients, if I were home, (I still have an active private practice). But I also was doing a lot of traveling, a lot of teaching, a lot of speaking. And now, of course, that has stopped as well. So, I welcome you to this first episode.
Our new emotional rollercoaster
As I was saying, this is a new category of parenting. We’ve got stay-in-the house parents.
And one of the things that I was thinking about is how similar this feels to those first few months with a newborn. If you remember, you were in the house. You didn’t know what the future was going to be. It all felt so new, so tiring.
And I think that’s why this feels so tiring. Not only is it a daily emotional roller coaster of what’s happening out in the world, what’s happening with our family members, what’s happening with our income, what’s happening with our kids’ schools, but we also are experiencing a steep learning curve.
One of the things that our brains like to do is they like to find automaticity in things. And what I mean by that is that you learn with repetition, to put certain tasks into an automatic part of your brain. And we’re not doing that right now.
So at the end of the day, if you feel exhausted, if you feel frustrated, if you think “why does this feel so hard?” remember when you had that new little baby, and at the end of the day, you said, “What did I do all day and why did this feel so hard?” We’re sort of in that place now.
Robin Hutson 2:55
Yeah, Lynn, that makes perfect sense because I’m dressing like I just had a newborn. I definitely feel like that period. And that’s actually comforting to realize that that is a place my brain has been before.
But I know everyone I’ve spoken to just figuring out this new normal brings all sorts of fears, uncertainty, moments of panic. And it is just like, “What do I do with this new little baby?” Well, what do we do with this big new world?
Lynn Lyons 3:27
Right? So, I know when it’s an interesting time, because knowing that I’m an expert in worry, an expert in anxiety, I’m always talking to people about how to tolerate uncertainty. And a lot of worry has to do with the stories that we tell. A lot of anxiety has to do with the thoughts and the stories that we tell.
And so, this is different, because we’re all in this place of uncertainty. We’re all in this place of anxiety. And there really is this differentiation to be made between what is an anxiety disorder and people telling these catastrophic stories, and how are we really managing what’s absolutely happening right now in the world.
Robin Hutson 4:13
I think that’s a great point. Because, as you know, people think about “anxious” as a label. And so now we’re in this period where everybody has to manage this uncertainty.
And part of anxiety is maybe fearing future of events that won’t necessarily happen— like worry for no reason. Right? Maybe that’s how, as a layperson, that’s what I might think of as someone who’s really anxious. But right now, I would think everyone is feeling a lot of worry that they aren’t used to managing.
Why everyone is anxious now
Lynn Lyons 4:47
Yeah, absolutely. And there’s a very well-known anxiety guru named David Barlow. He’s retired now, but he defined anxiety as an overestimation of the problem and an underestimation of your resources to deal with it.
But doesn’t feel like that now. And in fact, we sort of were all thrown by the fact that it was sort of an underestimation of the problem, and an overestimation of our resources to deal with it. So, it feels like it’s been shifted.
And I think where we’re in the moment right now is, we’re trying to find our footing. Even amongst all of this uncertainty, the things that we knew, the routines that we had, the income we counted on, the places that we went, the people that we saw, have all been pulled away from us, and it’s a bit of an emotional roller coaster.
Even though we’re all feeling this worry, even though we’re all feeling this anxiety, we do want to pay attention to the catastrophic language and the catastrophic storytelling that we can do in front of our children.
Robin Hutson 5:55
Yeah, but what does that mean when things do feel kind of catastrophic in a sense? How do we know when we’re venturing into unhelpful territory versus validating real problems, real concerns, and real stresses many families are facing?
Lynn Lyons 6:13
Yeah. We have reason to feel uncertain, we have reason to feel as if we’re off our kilter a little bit.
Avoid Catastrophic Parenting
Catastrophic thinking and catastrophic parenting are when we talk a lot with our kids or even around our kids—because they are hanging on our every word in general and certainly during this period of time— is that when we talk a lot about worst-case scenarios.
So when we when we start ‘what-if’ing, when we start saying, “Oh my gosh, we have no idea what our lives are going to be like in a year from now!” And when we jump out into the future we create these scenarios. What we want to do instead is we want to talk to kids about being uncertain.
We want to say, you know, “It’s absolutely true that we don’t know how long this is going to last. But here are the things that we can do now, here are the things that we’re doing. Here are the precautions that we’re taking.” So, we want to talk about in a way that conveys to our kids that we’re paying attention to the information, that we’re doing the things that we need to be doing, but that of course, we’re going to have some worry mixed in there.
But you really want to be careful that you don’t go catastrophic in terms of saying, “Oh my god, this is this is terrible! I do not know what’s gonna happen!” And “Oh my gosh! what if we like…”
Don’t “what if”
All of that stuff is not going to be at all helpful for your kids. And, honestly, it’s not helpful for you, either.
When you go into your head and you start jumping into the future, things become problematic.
Keeping your cool for your kids
Robin Hutson 7:56
When you’re a parent and you realize, though— you’re in the moment, and you feel really triggered by what’s going on— and you can tell you’re starting to feel catastrophic, what do you do to turn things around?
Lynn Lyons 8:09
I think it is perfectly fine for you to take a timeout.
In the moment, I think it is perfectly fine for you to, for one, take a timeout. And it really is okay for you to go into another room. Remember, kids are watching our faces, they’re watching our expressions. So, it’s perfectly fine for you to say, “Hey, you know what? I’m just going to go upstairs and do a little something, something,” at that point.
Be vanilla ice cream
Just take a moment. Just take do what I call a reset or a reboot. A lot of people talk about calming down. And I feel like sometimes the idea that we can be calm through this is not really all that realistic, but to do a reboot and a reset, so that you even look in the mirror.
I talk a lot about being vanilla ice cream. I talk a lot about relaxing your face. There’s some really cool research about the fact that what you do with your face actually impacts the way that you feel. So, it’s really okay to fake it. But I really want you, in the moment, to find a way to get that vanilla ice cream back.
Silly saves the moment
The other thing too, that we want to think about is what are we showing our kids about how we can manage this creatively? And silliness and doing things that are unexpected are a great way to shift the emotional tone in your family.
So it may be that you decide that you are going to have dessert for dinner one night, it may be that you come downstairs, wearing all your clothes backwards, it may be that you put a silly hat on the dog, anything that you can do that can sort of get you out of that catastrophic place, that is actually an internal place.
So, anxiety is an internal state. And it’s a reaction to things that are external, but where it really gets going is when we go inside with our worry, with our anxiety, with our catastrophic thinking, and we have a little tea party in there.
So do things that get you externally connected, so, you really just sort of snap yourself out of the ruminating that you’re doing.
Robin Hutson 10:20
Perfect. Yeah, that makes a lot of sense.
Adding play isn’t complicated
Lynn Lyons 10:30
So, I think sometimes we can get a little overwhelmed or even overcomplicate the idea that we can bring play into our family’s lives. And I think what the message I’d want you to hear is that little things matter. And it’s not as complicated as you think.
And you don’t have to put it on another list of things for you to do during the day while you’re trying to work from home, or you’re trying to homeschool your kid, or you’re trying to do this or trying do that, I want you to really think about how, in little moments, you can just inject a bit of playfulness and a bit of connection into the day. And just make that a habit.
Robin Hutson 11:13
Well, so what would you recommend people do that’s not feeling like another chore?
Lynn Lyons 11:20
So, if you think about doing something like I was saying before, something a little silly. If you put music on and have a little dance party, if you tell a joke, if you give your kids a homework assignment, a little assignment that everybody has to bring a joke to the dinner table.
If you play a little game of hide and seek for two minutes (although I know if you have a toddler then they will not give up after two minutes), but anything you can do that feels a little different than your normal routine in your house, because surprise is one of the elements of playfulness that really works.
The power of play and surprise
And if you listen to stand-up comedians, they will say that one of the things that makes something funny is the element of surprise. So just thinking how you can inject a little bit of surprise, something unexpected, something playful into your day, even in the smallest of ways makes a huge difference in changing the emotional tone of what your family is going through.
And the other thing that is so important about this, is that when you are silly and playful, when you have those moments of being silly and playful, it is enormously reassuring to your child and to your children, that you are okay.
When they see you laughing and being silly, they will feel better about the circumstances that they’re in. I cannot overemphasize the importance of you showing them that it’s okay to be silly and have fun.
Robin Hutson 13:00
Do you think that there’s a correlation with the families that you see that are really trying to manage their anxiety that the households that have the greatest amount of worry, probably also have the least amount of play?
Lynn Lyons 13:12
Yes, actually. Here’s how I see it. When I’m working with families that come in, and they’re really tense, the families, if I can get them back into a place of playfulness and play, then things unlock a lot easier and a lot sooner.
There are some families who sort of do that anyway. But when they’re in the grips of this worry, they sort of lost track of it. And so, it’s easy for me to sort of resurrect it, and some families have to learn it from scratch. And that is a little trickier.
Anxiety and joy can’t coexist
But I think that that’s a really good point— that playfulness and joy don’t really coincide with anxiety and worry and fear. It’s hard to do both of those things at the same time.
And so, if we can just back off from the anxiety and fear enough to let a little bit of silliness and playfulness come in, it really does unhook things in a way that feels great for kids and for parents, too.
Robin Hutson 14:16
That’s right. I mean, when we’re all laughing as a family or dancing in the kitchen, things feel okay, don’t they?
Lynn Lyons 14:22
Everything’s Going to Be OK
Yeah. And one of the things that I was talking to— gosh, I don’t even remember where I was saying this— but that if you think back (as an adult), if you think back on those moments when you can remember your parents being playful, that those are often very wonderful and often comforting memories that we had as kids.
You know, my dad knows how to do the twist. It’s the only thing he knows how to do in terms of dancing. And when he had these albums called At The Hop that my mom had gotten him. And when he would put on At The Hop and my parents would twist in the kitchen, it just felt like the world was going to be okay— in that little moment— that everything was going to be okay. And I think that’s what we have to do to help our kids with during this.
Gifts from our slowing down
Robin Hutson 15:15
That’s great. I think one of the other things that I’m hearing from friends of mine is the slowing down part of being at home. I have a friend who has very structured weekends typically with her family. And she mentioned that, because they can’t go on hikes, and they can’t go exercise and go do classes, that they spent a Sunday just playing a board game. And she said, “We never would have done that before.”
Lynn Lyons 15:43
Yeah, and one of the things too, and this is I wrote a blog post about this, — I don’t know few months ago now— I don’t know exactly when, but it really is talking about play and the importance of play.
And I think we’re sort of in this unscheduled time where we don’t have lessons to go to and this and that, that we are going to have more room to play with our kids. And I think that that is going to be a benefit from this if we can give ourselves some room to do it.
Ideas for Family Play
Some of you probably have my book Anxious Kids, Anxious Parents already. So, if you have that book in your possession, just a reminder that at the end of every chapter, there are tons of suggestions and ideas for you to use with your kids. I know that there are some ideas and some ways to get your creativity going in there. So, you can check that out.
Robin Hutson 16:57
One of the things you always talk about when you speak at different schools— because I’ve heard you, you know, speaking in different gymnasiums and auditoriums— are the games. And then you also talk about assigning everyone the task to do something kind to another family member, right? What’s that one, too? Because that’s one if you have older kids who the play isn’t as relevant for.
Lynn Lyons 17:23
So again, it speaks to this idea that worry and anxiety are really internal. And they get in the way of that external connection that’s so important for us now. So, the assignment is that everyone in the family has to do three things to brighten somebody else’s day.
So, you pay attention during the day, and it can be small little things. You bring somebody a cup of tea, or you give somebody a little shoulder massage, or you write them a little poem.
Anything that you can do that can get you out of that internally focused place, and that it really supports the idea that meaningful connection is what we crave and what we certainly need now.
Robin Hutson 18:03
That’s great. We’ll start that tomorrow.
Lynn Lyons 18:06
So, thanks for joining us on this first episode of A Mom’s Retreat. We want you to know that whether you’re listening to this while you’re walking outside and getting some sunshine on your face, whether you’re listening to this at the end of a long day in your bed, or maybe you’re just hiding in your car trying to get some peace and quiet, you are not alone in this.
We are all in this together. The purpose of this is for us to feel connected and to feel supported. And that is what Robin and I are really hoping to do with this. So, enjoy.
We are looking forward to creating more episodes for you. And please go to Apple podcast and download this so that we can support our mission of being connected as this unfolds in this interesting time as everyone keeps saying. So, thanks so much!