SFP 170: Overly-Responsive Parenting?


Is there such a thing as overly-responsive parenting? I believe so. Early in parenthood I found myself being a mindreader. It is important to be in tune with our kids’ needs, but we also need to give them the opportunity to step up and advocate for themselves.

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Full Episode Transcription:

Hello, it’s Denaye. Thank you so much for tuning in. This is episode number 170. Today, we’re talking about a less is more approach to parenting.

In our family and on Simple Families, I talk a lot about responsive parenting. I don’t always call it that, but responsive parenting is more or less being in tuned with our kids’ emotional and physical and social needs. In many ways, that’s what ‘good’ parents do. They know their kids, they know what their kids need, they’re in tune with them, but today we’re talking about taking responsive parenting a little bit too far. I know that this has happened to me before.

Last week on the podcast, we talked about too many toys. This is a real problem, at least here in America, and I know what I’ve heard from all of you from different parts of the world that you also experience this problem, that problem of too much stuff. But not only do so many of us have a problem with too much stuff, but we also have a problem with, more or less, too much parenting, parenting, a little bit too intensely or maybe a lot bit depending on the family. That’s what we’re talking about in today’s episode, the idea that we do truly want to be responsive parents. We want to be in tuned with the emotional and physical and social needs of our kids. However, we can take it a little bit too far sometimes. We need to start recognizing when our kids are actually better off with us stepping back a little bit and putting a little bit more of the responsibility into their hands. But first I have a little bit of an announcement to make.

Last week I talked about the fact that we are in the middle of the launch for the Masterclass, which starts on September 16th which is Monday. Enrollment is currently open, and I have actually just decided that this is going to be the very last round of the Masterclass. It has been such an amazing experience to work with hundreds of families throughout this process and I am so excited to bring in a new group this month.

However, it does really take a lot out of me. It’s an eight-week course and it’s really important to me to be heavily involved and present throughout the process, to be there to support you and to really get to know the families who are involved in this program with me. Many of you know that I have started to homeschool our kindergartner, so I’m going to be reallocating some of that time and energy back into our home. Now, nothing else is changing. The Mental Unload is staying, I’ll still be offering that a couple of times of the year. The podcast is still going to be weekly. The only thing that’s changing right now is the Masterclass is ending. This is the last time that we’re launching it.

This is going to be our last hurrah, and I think it’s going to be a great one. We’re going to go out with a bang. We’ll spend the first four weeks talking about simplifying the home. That means we’re going to talk about having fewer toys, fewer clothes, how to make the stuff in your home flow more smoothly, and how to make choices about what to keep and what to get rid of and to develop systems that really serve your family. In the second four weeks of the program, we’ll be talking about simplifying parenting, how we can strive to find a balance between being responsive and overdoing it, and knowing when we can step back and our kids will be better off for it.

I get a lot of questions about how the Masterclass is different from The Mental Unload. The Masterclass focuses on simplifying the home and simplifying parenting, and the mental unload focuses on your own personal wellbeing and on partnership. I think both are important, but different in their own ways.

Go to simplefamilies.com/masterclass if you want to be a part of this very last round. I would love to have you. The early bird price is still in effect until Thursday, that ends on Thursday, September 12th. If you’re listening to this podcast on Wednesday or Thursday, September 11th or 12th, jump on to simplefamilies.com/masterclass, and you can still claim the early bird price. I hope to see so many of you there.

I wanted to share a quick listener spotlight from Lisa, and she’s sharing a little bit about her experience in the program. Lisa shared, “I had little knowledge of what Simple Families was all about before diving into the Masterclass. My thoughts were it couldn’t hurt. My life wasn’t heading in a direction I was confident about and I desperately wanted to change. I felt unnatural, unfocused, overworked, unsatisfied, and just plain mean sometimes. Once the lessons began, I applied my newly learned knowledge and immediately felt a positive change. I finally had direction, answers, and understanding. Life felt a little bit lighter every day. My home is a place I want to be, my children are more calm and better at playing without direction, and I feel more natural as a mom. I am hooked and determined to live a simple life with my family. Denaye, thank you for changing our lives for the better.”

Thank you so much for sharing these words, Lisa. As always, I appreciate hearing from you all and hearing how Simple Families has touched and changed your lives.

For now we’re talking about responsive parenting, and I want to share a little bit of a story for you from my early days of motherhood that was a pretty big wake up call for me. We had our first child in Montessori school for three years. My son who’s now five, who is kindergarten age, he spent, he started when he was just before his second birthday. His very first teacher conference when he was two, I kind of laugh when I think about a parent-teacher conference for two, but I think it was good. We could touch base with the teacher, she could tell us any concerns that she had, any things that she was seeing that we might want to know more about, answer any questions that we had, yada yada, you know what I mean.

The conference was great. She was actually one of the best educators that I have ever experienced. If Ms. Patty from the Alcuin School in Dallas is listening, I love you and you’ve definitely changed my motherhood and my parenting for the better. I think we all have people who have touched us along the way in our journey to parenthood, and she was definitely one of those people. Such a calm presence and such a genuine love for her work.

We went in for our conference with Ms. Patty when my son was just two, he was just turning two, and she shared a concern with us. She said that he didn’t ask for what he needed, so when he needed something, whether it was a diaper change or a drink or help getting a toy out, whatever it was, he just kind of stood there and looked around. I wasn’t really expecting to hear this and I didn’t really know what to make of it at first, but my immediate reaction was, well that makes sense because I’m a really responsive parent.

During this time, our son was in school in the mornings and I was with him in the afternoons. I was finishing up my PhD, writing my dissertation in the mornings, and spending the afternoons and evenings with him, and he was my everything. I was there responding to his every need, physical, emotional, you name it. I thought I was doing a pretty good job, and I was, I absolutely was because our kids need us to be tuned in and they need us to be responsive. But this was also a little bit of a wake up call. Even though he was still really young, it was something that I needed to very seriously consider, this idea that I had to give him the time and space to speak up for what he needed, to be able to ask for what he wanted in his life.

Although I don’t think that the teacher was super concerned about this at this point, but I can imagine that the teacher had probably observed me and parents like me before and just kind of knew that this was a seed that she needed to plant. As we know that most two-year-olds have very limited verbal skills, I was still very much tuned in and very responsive to his needs, but I also started to be more intentional about stepping back and about waiting and giving him the opportunity to speak up when he needed something or when he wanted something.

I started to let go of this idea that I needed to be the all knowing, all seeing omnipresent mother. I think that many of us, I know myself, I fell into this trap very early on, if you’ve never heard of the term maternal gatekeeping, it’s basically where the mother starts doing everything. She thinks that she’s the only one that knows how to do everything, and because she’s the knower of all things and the doer of all things, she pretty much pushes other people out. I knew about maternal gatekeeping, I was super aware of it, but I had my first kid and it wasn’t going to happen to me. I was definitely not going to be that mom. I definitely was that mom.

I was the mom who wanted to know everything and do everything and be everything for my kids with the best of intentions, of course. But what I slowly came to realize was that it’s actually not good for anybody, for me to do that. It’s not good for my kids because they need the opportunity to do for themselves and to think for themselves and to speak up for themselves. It’s not good for my marriage because it alienates my husband. It’s not good for myself because it puts me in the position of doing everything and carrying a very heavy mental load.

I feel like the past few years of parenthood for me have been learning how to let go, how to be tuned into my kids without being this omnipresent gatekeeper, without being everyone’s everything. I would be totally lying if I said that I have this all figured out. My five-year-old still says to me, “Mama, you’re my everything,” and my heart just gets all warm and mushy when he says that. I think that’s the catch-22 of this idea, that it feels good to have this unconditional love from our kids, feel like we are so important to them in their lives, but it can also very quickly start to feel heavy when we are their everything. I’m sure many of you listening can relate to that.

In the past few years I have had the opportunity to get to know young adults. I taught some undergraduate courses and we’ve had some Au Pairs in our home. I’ve done a lot of observing of young adults in their early twenties, and something that I’ve seen a lot of is there are a lot of young adults out there today that struggle to speak up for themselves and they struggle to speak up for what they need and for what they want. I remember when I was teaching undergraduate courses and I had some students in my class every semester that had learning disabilities. When they had learning disabilities, they were entitled to certain services, like extra time on tests or extra help writing the notes, whatever it might be, but in order to get those extra accommodations they had to ask for them. I will tell you that I never had a single student come to me and ask for those accommodations, not once. At the university level, it’s really not the responsibility of the professor to reach out to the kids and say, “Hey, I know you’re allowed to have extra time. Do you want to take extra time on this test?” It’s the responsibility of the student, of the young adult to come to the professor and let them know their personal situation and their own personal needs.

My kids are still young, obviously, and I don’t expect them to be able to articulate and verbalize everything that they need all the time, but it is something that I’m mindful of all the time. I don’t want them to be 20 years old in a college classroom, afraid to ask the professor a question or afraid to ask for extra help. I don’t want them to be 30 years old and in a job and deserving of a promotion or of a raise and afraid to ask for it. I want them to know that you will only get out of life the things that you ask for. You can not walk around expecting other people to be mind readers.

What does that look like with young kids? I have a three-and-a-half-year-old and a five-and-a-half-year-old. For me sometimes that means I play dumb. I play like I don’t know. We have the expectation that our kids are going to speak up when they need to use the bathroom or when they’re hungry. Those seem like small things, but they’re not for some kids. If you’ve ever carried the mental load of reminding a small child to use the toilet or to eat, you will know that this is a very heavy burden to carry. In some ways it’s one that we take upon ourselves by constantly queuing and prompting our kids.

How do we slowly fade off if they give me this knowing look like, oh, you must know what I want, you must know what I need? Even though I often am still able to read their minds at this age and I often do know how to respond to their needs without asking for them, I look to create opportunities for them to advocate for themselves. Sometimes that’s at home, sometimes it’s at a restaurant. We went out to dinner on a Friday, and my daughter usually doesn’t sit in a high chair, but she wanted a high chair. I said, “Okay, well you have to ask for it.” I pointed towards the person who she needed to ask for the high chair, and she approached them and asked for the high chair. She wanted it, and the way to get what you want is to ask for it. Sometimes it is a little bit scary.

I mean, I think as adults we can all agree that we’ve been afraid to ask for things. I think this comes full circle in this idea that we need to give our kids more opportunities to speak up for what they need and we need to recognize they need to be their own advocates, but we also need to do it ourselves because many of us can speak up for our own needs a little bit better, especially women. A lot of us don’t do a great job of tuning into our own needs and speaking up for what we need, especially after we become mothers. If we’re trying to teach them this important life lesson of first and foremost understanding their own wants and needs and secondly speaking up for those wants and needs, then we have to lead by example.

Taking us back to the last episode, 169, too many toys. I got a lot of questions after that episode about how do you talk to the grandparents about it. I think this is a perfect example. How do we have a difficult conversation? How do we speak up for something that’s important to us, something that we value, something that’s important to our family? If simplifying and cutting back on the toys or the stuff is important, then it’s a conversation that you need to be having with the people in your life, in a polite and tactful and encouraging way, of course. But we need to be able to ask for what we need from the people around us. Our kids see us doing that. They see us recognizing our own needs and being advocates for ourselves. Just like our kids can’t expect us to be mind readers, we can’t expect our extended family members to be mind readers. We can’t expect our partners to be mind readers.

If you’re feeling unsupported by your partner and your partner has asked you, what can I do to help, and you’re not able to give concrete things that they can help with, then it’s going to be really hard to get the support that you need. Maybe that’s a step in your process, is being able to identify what’s important to you, what’s valuable to you, what you need, and then speak up for it and advocate for yourself, so that you can be your best self and present your best self for your kids and for your family.

Maybe you are a super responsive parent, but you’re stressed out, unsupported, overwhelmed, it’s going to catch up with you. Those things will catch up with you, and they will have an impact on your relationship with your kids, your relationship with your partner.

That’s just a few thoughts on overly responsive parenting. We can be responsive parents without being mind readers. We also need to keep in mind that the people around us are not mind readers, also, especially our partners, because for whatever reason we expect our partners to be able to read our minds and to just know, to just know what needs to be done. When they don’t, we get disappointed.

I hope that you can relate to some of the things that I’ve been talking about today and sharing and understanding that responsive parenting and being in tuned with our kids is a really beautiful thing. But also knowing when to step back and let them to be advocates for themselves, and to be responsive not only to our children, but responsive to our own needs because that’s going to make us better parents as a result. If tuning into your kids made you tune out to yourself, it’s time to start reevaluating.

I hope you’ve enjoyed today’s episode. If you are interested in simplifying your family, simplifying your life, I’d love to have you join us in this upcoming round of the Masterclass that starts on Monday. The early bird pricing ends Thursday, September 12th, so make sure you hop onto simplefamilies.com/masterclass. I would love, love to have you join us. You can go to simple families.com/masterclass for all the details.

Thanks for tuning in, and I will talk with you all next week.

Denaye Barahona

Denaye Barahona is a loving wife and mama of two. She's a therapist for moms, an author, and the host of the top-ranked Simple Families Podcast. Denaye holds a Ph.D. in Child Development and is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. She has been featured on the likes of The Today Show, Netflix, The Wall Street Journal, Real Simple, Forbes, and numerous other media outlets.