Regulate & Rewire: An Anxiety & Depression Podcast

What To Do When Parenting Feels Dysregulating

September 26, 2023 Amanda Armstrong Season 1 Episode 32
Regulate & Rewire: An Anxiety & Depression Podcast
What To Do When Parenting Feels Dysregulating
Show Notes Transcript

Episode 32

Have you ever felt like being a parent is simultaneously the best and hardest thing you'd ever done? In my opinion, it is both of those things. Today's conversation is guided by some incredible and vulnerable parents who submitted questions to my AMA form that I want to provide some support for today. We chat through navigating anxiety & depression, activation and shut down, as parents. I'll offer a simple way to audit your "load" as a means to increasing your capacity (something I'll also expand on in next week's conversation).  Hit play for some tangible ways to move through parenting differently to decrease overstimulation and increase your capacity to show up the way you'd like to!

CLICK HERE for full show notes + 3 takeaways!

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Welcome to regulate, and rewire and anxiety and depression podcast where we discuss the things I wish someone would have taught me earlier in my healing journey. I'm your host, Amanda Armstrong. And I'll be sharing my steps, my missteps, client experiences and tangible research based tools to help you regulate your nervous system, rewire your mind and reclaim your life. Thanks for being here. Now let's dive in. 

Today's conversation is guided by three incredibly vulnerable parents who shared some of the mental health related things that they are struggling with in their role as parents to my ama asked me anything form things like feeling like you're barely making it through the day, your kids triggering you how to navigate strong willed kids or emotionally unsupportive partners, how to get out of years of shutdown just to be the parent, you want to be just feeling like you are constantly falling short of that. You love being a parent and hate being a parent somehow at the same time. And even if you are not a parent, I think there are some really poignant things you're going to be able to take away from this episode too, as we talk about balancing and acknowledging your capacity and your load and navigating different beliefs that you might be unconsciously subscribing to that are making life harder than it needs to be. But I am going to be talking today through a lens and specifically to parents. And it's going to follow kind of our traditional ama format, where I'm going to read one of the submissions and then offer some reply to that submission, and also some extra thoughts that I think might be applicable to those of you who are listening. 

So jumping right in this first person shared, I am struggling with just making it through the day as a parent with multiple mental health issues. I love my four year old, but she is incredibly strong willed. I want to do more with her and be happy and just feel like I'm actually living. But no matter what I try so far, I end up right back where I started at least a couple times a week from parents and actually even from non parents in my membership, or in my DMs I hear something like this something like I am just struggling to make it through the day. And there's a lot to unpack with that statement. So as a response to this particular person, not knowing any of the details of the multiple mental health issues that you mentioned, I want to speak more generally to this concept of struggling to make it through the day for a minute. And the reality of this is often frustratingly simple in concept, and yet very challenging and execution. If you are struggling to make it through the day, then there is simply an imbalance between your load and your capacity. And this is far far too often the story of parenting, especially when you are a parent struggling with nervous system dysregulation, anxiety, depression, unhealed trauma, feel unsupported, etc. So with our clients, one of the things that we do, it's one of the basic things we do, especially with our one on one clients is to take a personal look at both their load, and their capacity. So we help them assess their load with that stress bucket exercise that you've heard me talk about in previous episodes. And just quick summary, this is a simple inventory of all of the things that you are carrying and juggling things like home life, work life, relationships, nutrition, hobbies, environment, trauma, or illness, all of the things that you put on your schedule, the mental load that contributes to it, and on and on and on. So we take a look at those unique contributions for that particular person. And once we have all of that down on paper, we look through and we see what parts of your load, what parts of all of the things that you're trying to manage in your life are more or less optional than others, which category seems to be weighing down the heaviest on you. So essentially, we're doing an awareness exercise and then an audit exercise together on the load that you are currently carrying. Then we shift to looking at current capacity. So getting really honest with the window of tolerance. So how easily Are you triggered? How long does it take you to recover from that? How much time do you spend feeling activated versus shut down versus regulated? What is your default nervous system state and we look at your current capacity in relation to the current load that you're carrying. And almost always there's this moment of just Oh, it's not hard because I suck. It's hard because I'm trying to carry way more than I have the capacity to carry. 

So okay. Again, the goal here is to balance this equation, how can we decrease load and or increase capacity. And usually it's an end. And when we talk about increasing capacity, the place that we usually start with our clients are things that are biologically imperative, to human beings functioning well, and optimally, looking at things like sleep, nourishment, movement, social support, looking at the places in your life, where you can do less or have less to make more space. So again, doing this awareness, exercise, and then auditing your capacity, how can you meet yourself where you are, and then make small shifts to slowly over time, increase your capacity, so that you have more space to hold for yourself, for your partners for your children. And so this is some of the tangible strategy work that we do in our coaching practice with our clients that they've often felt was missing, in maybe their traditional talk therapy experience support they've gotten from a doctor or other practitioners. And what I have found and is personally and what's often echoed by clients we work with is that therapy was a really beneficial holding space for them for processing, for helping them to understand kind of the why behind their struggle, maybe some of the deeper roots of it. But they didn't feel like they walked away from sessions with a lot of tangible strategy, the what and the how to make things different in their life. And that is something that we specialize in our practice, we all have a lot of training and guided behavior change alongside this focus on nervous system regulation. 

And when it comes to the how the taking the first steps to kind of balance this equation of load, and capacity, we know that our clients and many of you listening right now are coming to us with pretty low capacity, like was shared in the submission, you feel like you're struggling to make it through the day every day. So we often start with the things about their load, or their capacity that are the easiest to shift. A lot of times when we set goals for ourselves, or when we look at the changes we want to make in our life, we start with Oh, that is the biggest thing that's going to make the biggest difference, let's go towards that thing. But when your capacity is low moving towards the hardest thing to move, it's like going going up to a weight at the gym, right, you're like, I'm going to pick up the 200 pound weight, when you actually only have the strength to pick up the 50 pound weight. 

And so the way that we approach behavior change is we focus on the small wins, because the research shows us that collecting small wins over time, improves motivation to keep on being active in this work. And it's those small wins, just like you get stronger by being able to lift five more pounds and five more pounds and five more pounds. And eventually you can lift 200 pounds. But it is in increasing our capacity in these small ways by collecting these small wins and tiny behavior changes. That gives you eventually the capacity to take on the bigger and harder parts of your load. So I know that was pretty conceptual. But it's going to framework some of our conversation later when we talk about just it comes down to this as a parent so often is our capacity and our load do not match. So what can we do to bring those things in more alignment with each other. And to briefly touch on to other parts of this person's submission. As your capacity increases, as you cultivate the ability to notice yourself shifting into activation or shutdown, and have some tangible tools to manage that you will have more natural capacity to hold space for your strong willed child. And to show up as the parent that a strong willed child needs. strong willed children like any child needs, consistency, structure, boundaries, co regulation, all of which is really, really hard to offer when you are a parent hanging on by a thread.

And when you shared that you just want to feel like you're actually living and you feel frustrated that everything you've tried so far leaves you right back to where you started. I feel that in my bones, we hear this from people every day. And so I want to shoot it to you and to everybody listening, I'm going to shoot it to you straight. If nothing changes about the way that you are living your daily life. You will almost always end up right back where you started. Something needs to change in the way that we are living our daily life. If we You want things to be different. And, and and, and making changes to your daily life is hard, especially when you feel like you're barely making it through the day. But it can be done it is the work that we help clients in every single day with this combination of nervous system regulation, habit changes that help you to meet your basic physiological needs to being human. And it happens 1% at a time. And there's an order to this work. And when it's done out of order, or when parts of it go unaddressed, it can absolutely feel like you're spinning your wheels and not getting anywhere, or that you seem to see improvements for just a moment, but inevitably end up back where you started. 

And I've shared a lot in previous podcasts about what this order looks like. First, you need to have that education, you need to have a structure, that awareness and that personalization of what that means for you. Then stepping into regulation, you need to have practices to help give you capacity in the moment, before you're going to have the capacity to make some of the bigger changes. Then comes the rewiring, right? This pyramid of healing you've heard me talk about. And so right here, right now, I can't tell you what this looks like for you in a podcast because I don't know enough details about you and your life and your circumstances. But I can share with you the promise that I make to every single one of our clients, in hopes that it gives you enough hope to keep trying and a desire to find a practitioner who will make a similar promise to you. And it is that we understand that healing feels like a 1000 piece puzzle. If you're a devout podcast listener, you've heard this before, we know that so many of you have been trying for so long to piece it together. You maybe found some pieces that fit but oftentimes it felt more frustrated than triumphant in the pieces that aren't fitting that aren't working. And the reality here, especially as a parent, the stakes feel high because you're not just putting together your healing puzzle for you. But you're putting that together for your kids, for your family. And you ultimately have to put that puzzle together. But our promise as coaches as practitioners that rises we is that we promise to pull up a chair next to you for as long as it takes as long as you will have us there to support you. When you feel frustrated yet again, another thing didn't work. The role that we take is that we promised to remind you that there are so many other pieces. And when you can't make heads or tails of your puzzle, we can come in with strategy and education to help make things more clear. 

So to you to anybody out there healing, especially parents, if you feel like you've tried everything in the most loving way I can. I want to tell you that you haven't. Don't give up hope. The stakes are too high. When those tiny humans depend on us. There is always hope for more healing, you sometimes just need a different approach, a new form of support. And again, as a parent, being in your healing is one of the greatest gifts you can offer your children. And it's one of the hardest things to do amidst all of the other things that parenting demands of you. It can help to not walk through this alone. Whether that support is personal, or professional. We'll get more into this in a minute. This is not something that we can walk through alone. 

Okay, submission number two reads. I have been a faithful listener of your podcast since it first started, I have been working towards taking baby steps in regulating myself and bringing more tools and awareness into my life. As I have been mapping my anxiety, I have noticed that one of my main triggers that sends me into hyper activated state are my three children, their noise, their mess and their chaos. I will go from being very regulated and feeling like my stress bucket is empty. But the moment I am reunited with them, I am at a heightened and dysregulated place zero to 100. Obviously, I can't just eliminate the stressor from my life. But it is very defeating and brings with it a whole host of mom guilt and shame, which further spirals me into shut down. So then I'm rebounding between activation and shutdown sometimes multiple times in a day, which takes a major toll on my body. What do I do? I know I can't be the only one struggling with this. Please share your wisdom. 

Okay, friend, I can assure you you're not the only one struggling with this. And I'll share with you what wisdom I can hear. Again, we're talking about this balance between load and capacity. And I'll even add some thoughts here about our beliefs. So first, I am so proud of you for taking what you've been hearing in this podcast and putting it into action in your life, you are laying the groundwork for healing to happen for change to happen in this awareness. And this is so normal. When you start to have more awareness, you start to pay more attention, you are met, sometimes with even more frustration, as you see things with new eyes, things become more clear. But what you can't see or are unwilling to see in your life, you cannot change. So thank you for being willing to see some hard things and for stepping in to ask for support and change. I love that you've been mapping your nervous system. And like I said, it's become more and more clear that this is a part of your life that adds significantly to your dysregulation. And so here's here's why. 

Let's talk about why kids can be so triggering why parenting can so easily send us into states of activation or shutdown. Number one, it's often overstimulating, like you said, the noise, the mess, the chaos. And as your capacity increases, it might feel less overstimulating. But in general, parenting, especially young kids, it's a lot. It's a lot for those of you who don't know, currently, as I'm recording this, I have a three year old and a four month old. And I know like I'm in it, I'm in it for the next little while in the noises, the mess, the chaos. And it can be helpful for me to remind myself that this is a season, this is a season that will likely come with more overstimulating elements than future seasons as independence increases as they go to spend more time at school, etc. But we often make it harder on ourselves by playing into unhelpful beliefs and adding to the chaos. So here is what I mean by that. We often think that our kids rooms need to be clean, their clothes need to be folded, the counters need to be wiped off every night, I even saw someone on Instagram talking about this amazing new way to clean their walls. And I was like, ma'am, I don't need you to show me one more thing I am not doing. I am not cleaning my walls, I'm just not. And because I have done a lot of belief work. I didn't consume that content, and immediately think, oh, man, I suck. Because I'm not the mom that cleans my walls. I was able to laugh and be like, ma'am, I'm glad you do that. But like my walls are staying filthy for at least the next 13 years. Because like, I just can't, I just I can't. 

So we also believe things like our kids need to be entertained. They gotta go to the best private schools are being all the activities, they we've done something wrong, if they're upset with us, so on, so on, so on. And to this, I want to say says, oh, like says who? That any of those things have to be true for you. So many of us have just started living out these unconscious patterns of well, my parents said it this way, or society says this, or this woman or man or other person on Instagram is doing it this way. So like I must to, like says who? And I often hear from many of you like how are you juggling at all? How are you doing so much. And the reality is I am juggling a lot in my life right now as a parent, my mental health practice this podcast, a book, which actually, I'm not sure if I'm supposed to talk about that yet. So more on that later. But I have a toddler, a baby, a dog, a house, like it's a lot. And in order for all of this to fit into my life, I've had to get ruthless about the things that I decide matter in this season of my life. And I have had to seek out a lot of support.

So in full transparency, the most amazing woman comes to deep clean my house twice a month. And in between the two weeks when she's there. I don't touch a toilet. I don't do anything to clean my bathrooms. I vacuum because there's a lot of dogs in my house. And I wipe down the counters maybe a couple times a week. But if you come into my house and you are somebody who like likes a really high level of cleanliness, you will probably be uncomfortable. Because I just can't I just can't keep up with all of that and still sit here right now and record this podcast with you or to be present with my clients. And as somebody who is a recovering people pleaser. It's taken a lot of work for me to not hyper fixate on cleaning before someone comes over like this is just the state of the home that's been lived in the way that we're living in it right now, meals for my family are simple. And we repeat them. I am a sucker for systems, I have about eight ish meals that I know everybody in my family likes, I can put them together in less than a half an hour, and we eat those a lot. Cooking does not bring me joy. So I've made it as basic and as simple as possible. I do not hold my kids clothes, he has a drawer with little pictures on them, because he's three, and he can't read. And most of the time, I throw his clothes, either just in the drawer or sometimes on a pile on his bed, and he can put away his own clothes. Now, I've created a system in which he can be independent enough to do his share. We live in a pretty small house, and I like it that way, it's less for me to manage. And even with my systems in our small house, it recently felt like it was starting to be too much to manage. So my husband and I cancelled all of our plans for two whole weekends. And we went through every room closet and drawer with a vengeance and got rid of anything that could be gotten rid of, I got rid of half of my kids toys a month or so ago, and he didn't even notice. 

So when we talk about the mess and the noise and the chaos in our homes, how much of that? Did we kind of accidentally create? How much of that can we play a role in simplifying and the reality here is I had to have some measure of capacity to be able to go into deep cleaning mode, to put those systems into place, and so on. But it started with a single drawer, it started with a small win, that over time increased my motivation, and momentum and capacity to do more. So this is just my invitation for you to take a look at your home the the things that you're doing, how you're doing them and to ask yourself, like says who says who this has to be done or done in this way, says who that my kid has to be taking piano soccer and karate. Like says who that my kid can't be bored. 

At least once a day, my kid asks me to play with him and I reply, right now it's mommy's job to clean and your job to play. And he doesn't always like that. And I usually just reply with some options and repetition. You can play with your playdough or go outside with the dog, but It's mommy's time to clean and your time to play. And if a meltdown ensues, like that's okay. He can be mad about it. And I can feel okay about it. Because I know that I make time to play with him other times and often. And because I no longer subscribe to the belief that I'm a bad mom, when my kids upset with me. At the park, I've started telling him that the park is for you to play and mommy to rest. And when he insists I'll follow it up with it's time for you to play and mommy to rest. And when you're done playing, we can go home. And if you go play and let mommy rest How about I play with you for the last three minutes before we leave, and you know what it's working. And I'm doing the most novel thing friends is I actually rest. I don't hop on my phone and scroll and try to catch up on work emails, I am actually letting myself rest I'm looking around, I'm doing some of my breathing drills, my vision therapy drills, I watch him play. Because I know those are things that give my system more capacity, right and capacity that I'm going to need for the inevitable meltdown that will likely happen at some point later in the day. Because he's three, he's three, and how developmentally appropriate for him to have really big feelings he doesn't know how to manage, I want to make sure I have the capacity to help him walk through that. 

And so I think what I'm here trying to get at is that there's no amount of nervous system regulation that can handle an unmanageable load of a cluttered home a schedule that's bursting at the seams, and trying to subscribe to every belief that's ever been fed to you about what it looks like to be a good mom, dad, parent, housewife, kids and so on. Part of healing is getting clear on who you are. What actually matters most to you, honoring your capacity and then choosing the things that matter most to you that meet you in that capacity, even if it disappoints other people. And so if you are struggling right now and feel like you are barely coming up for air, this is your permission to tell your kid that they need to pick just one extracurricular that they love the most, to let go of the others, at least for now. Instead of more stuff. Decide between you and your partner that maybe this year's birthday and Christmas gifts is that you're going to hire somebody to come deep clean your house once a month. If the kids have too many toys that they are overwhelmed by cleaning that up, instead of getting frustrated at them for their mess, what if we believe to them, that the amount of toys that they have is overwhelming for them. Because again, the reality is that we as parents control the amount of things in our home that contribute to the mess. And oftentimes, it's our inability to let things go. That creates the clutter and the chaos, or it's our inability to manage our, our kids being upset at us for a few days. And you're not getting rid of their toys as a punishment. And so make sure that it's not framed as that you can either do the minimizing like I did, I just got rid of him when he was asleep, and he didn't notice, or bring them into the process. Let them practice making hard choices, choosing between two things that they like and want to keep, but only getting to keep the thing they want most. That's what I'm asking you to do with all of your schedules. I'm asking you to choose between a lot of things that you want to keep, you might want to keep all of their curriculars on the calendar and your social engagements and a clean house and this. But keeping all of those things in your bucket is crushing you, I'm asking you to choose between two things you want to keep in your stress bucket. But having to let go of one that maybe you just like a little less. And what a beautiful opportunity for us to help our children learn to flex that muscle as well. 

And I've done this with my kid too. I've told him and again, he's only three. Hey, we're going to pick three toys today to give to other kids who have less toys than you. Which ones do you want to give? And this almost always starts with Well, Mom, I want all my toys. I know, I know you do. But three of them need to go and either I can pick them or you can. Which three do you want to give away? And if protests continue, I sometimes shift my my MO and I'm like, Well do you want to instead tell me three toys that are your favorite. So if I pick three to give away, I make sure that I keep your favorite. And again, if a meltdown ensues manage the meltdown. This is a hard thing that we're asking them to do. It's a hard thing I'm asking you to do to let some things go to unsubscribe from some beliefs that you've maybe Oh, really held on to that narrative that this makes you good, bad, right or wrong. But you set the rules, they pick it or you do. So manage that meltdown, go to dinner, and then after their they go to bed, choose the three toys to get rid of the goal here is to simplify the home. And in a few days, if they asked about what are the toys that you got rid of, you get to remind them lovingly, kindly, compassionately. Remember I said we were going to pick three toys and either you did it or I did it? Well, you chose not to do it. So that's one of the three toys I gave away to a kid who doesn't have as many toys as you and they might have a meltdown. That's okay, they get to be mad, they get to be disappointed. And you get to remind them next time, I would love for you to pick out those three toys so that I don't accidentally get rid of one of the things you like. 

Our kids need to learn how to manage disappointment. My model for parenting has become firm, but kind, firm, but kind. And it is only with capacity that I can be firm and kind when my capacity starts to slip. So do one of these. Either I'm placating and I don't hold my boundaries because I just like can't even handle right so I'm not firm. Or I enforce what I've said. But with an iron fist write more accurately or a loud voice. I'm not kind.

So the bottom line here is you need to decrease your load and increase your capacity. And there are a million ways that this can look. It can look like taking better care of yourself by getting more sleep or nourishing food etc. It can look at decluttering the home or decluttering your family's schedule. It can look like bringing in more support systems. 

So wrapping up some thoughts on this specific response parenting is triggering parenting is triggering because it often pings that some of our own childhood wounds especially if you are a parent trying to parent differently than you were parented. And the noise and the mess and the chaos can be a lot. You mentioned specifically going from zero to 100 when your kids are around and this is likely because either a the noise mess and chaos triggers your own childhood wounds. Maybe because appropriate childhood noise mess and chaos weren't allowed. for you, and or B, your stress bucket isn't as empty as you think. And the kids just become that last straw that takes you from zero to 100. And again, obviously, you cannot eliminate kids stressors from your life. And really when it comes down to it, you don't want to, you probably love being a mom, you love your kids, and you're overwhelmed by it. Those two truths can exist at the same time. 

Maybe you don't like being a mom, when you don't have support or systems in place. What can you do about that? And then you mentioned how this brings on that whole host of mom guilt and shame and spiraling you into shutdown. That's where we get to take a look at some of those beliefs. Do you believe that in order to be a good mom, you never get overwhelmed by your kids? Do you believe in order to be a good mom that you have to like being a mom all the time, or that your house has to be cleaned, or that your kids have to be well behaved again, says who you can throw all of that out the window, you do not have to subscribe to any of those if they're not serving you. But in order to unsubscribe, you need to get clear on what rules you're living by. Many of which are happening unconsciously right now. 

So you do the bottom up work, that nervous system regulation work to help you create capacity, so that we can do the top down work of rewiring and unsubscribing from some of these beliefs, even if especially when people may not agree with how you're doing it. And can you be okay with that. So in summary, my wisdom that you asked for boils down to, something's gotta give, probably lots of some things have to give to recalibrate your load and capacity, and possibly to get really honest about some childhood wounds that are triggered when you feel like your kids aren't listening or aren't behaving the way that they should. And our practice integrates both the physiology of nervous system regulation, and the psychology of trauma and stories that we carry around through a parts work lens. We are constantly helping our clients assess whether their reactions to situations feel appropriate to the present moment. And all that they're juggling, right is this just layer upon layer upon layer, where your your load and your capacity don't match. Or if your reaction feels disproportionate to what's happening in your present day life, then there is always an element of our past lived experience that's at play and some deeper healing that needs to be worked in. 

Now, in summary for today, being triggered by your kids does not make you a bad parent. It means that you are a human, probably in need of support and healing. And next week, we'll also talk about that support concept in a lot more detail. My hope is that I was able to provide some guidance to those of you who wrote in, and that this was helpful for more of you who found yourself in similar situations. 

Let's bring it all together with our three tangible takeaways today. Number one, often what it comes down to is a mismatch between capacity and load. Start with cultivating more awareness around your capacity and your load and the beliefs that often fuel parental burnout. And then make time to audit your load and your beliefs. How can you simplify what can you let go of and then how can you dial in things that cultivate capacity, better sleep, more nutritious foods, quality, social interactions, time outside, rest. All of these are biologically imperative for wellbeing. And I encourage you to do this work alongside a trauma informed practitioner if that is available to you. 

Takeaway number two, if you are overstimulated. How can you manage your environment? Declutter send the kids outside even if they're annoyed about it, where noise cancelling headphones decrease bright lights at night spend less time running around from one activity to the other create systems that simplify it and so on and on and on. And again, this can look a million different ways and it starts with one drawer. One shift one decision. 

And number three, if this all still feels like too much to navigate on your own. Bring in reinforcements. If your load feels too heavy. allow somebody else to help you lift it for a while. I would love to support you inside our rise membership, parents, you are doing so much better than you think. The fact that you listen through a whole episode like this means that you care that you're a good mom, you're a good dad, you're a good parent. 

We are all in this together, there is so much hope for your healing and that healing will have ripple effects, to your children, to your community, to your friends in such a beautiful way. So thank you for being here. I'll see you next week. And in the meantime, sending you so much hope and healing. 

Thanks for listening to another episode of The regulate and rewire podcast. If you enjoyed what you heard today, please subscribe and leave a five star review to help us get these powerful tools out to even more people who need them. And if you yourself are looking for more personalized support and applying what you've learned today, consider joining me inside Rhys, my monthly mental health membership and nervous system healing space or apply for our one on one anxiety and depression coaching program restore. I've shared a link for more information to both in the show notes. Again, thanks so much for being here. And I'll see you next time.

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