53: Parenting Beyond Happiness: Building Resilience to Embrace the Human Experience with Parenting Coach Margaret Webb
“…What I want is to help my kids be as fully human as they can, and to be open to the full breadth of the human experience. That includes happiness and it includes a whole bunch of other things in between, and the more capable I can let my kid be themselves and experience and understand the resilience of moving through the breath of that human experience, that's a lot more important than me trying to keep them happy all the time.’ I was like, ‘Dang that was good!’” -Master Certified Coach Jill Farmer
In today’s episode, Jill talks with Parenting Coach Margaret Webb. “Whether you are parenting a child that you didn't expect when you were expecting or you're just finding parenting in general really challenging especially with the pressurized life of a physician, today we have some ideas. Margaret is going to share a specific process that she's found to be wildly successful both in her own life as a parent and as a parenting coach and that seems to work really well with physicians.” -Master Certified Coach Jill Farmer
Excerpts from the show:
“So Margaret, give us just a thumbnail sketch for those of us who don't know your story about your life and what you know about physicians when it comes to parenting the child that they didn't expect.” -Master Certified Coach Jill Farmer
“Yes, I'm excited to be here. I am married to a neurosurgeon and we have been married for 25 years. We were married at 23, so I've been through the whole medical school, residency, fellowship, practice starting process with him. While we were doing that, I was teaching as an elementary school teacher and then became the mother of our now almost 18-year-old son who is autistic and is like Jill said, ‘Our best teacher ever,’ and really challenges us to look at things differently, which at first was really frustrating and kind of challenging, but it's actually been one of the best gifts ever. It's taught us so much about ourselves and how we approach things. I'm really excited to share the process that we use all of the time that helps us every single day.” -Margaret Webb
“So walk us through it a little bit if you would.” -Master Certified Coach Jill Farmer
“Yes, so it’s TIANT. Kind of like giant but with a T... So the letters stand for T for Tension, I for Intention, A for Attention and then the NT stands for No Tension. However, I like to clarify that with it (sometimes) being Less Tension. When I first learned about the importance of setting intentions I thought, ‘Ok, this is great. Setting an intention is wonderful. So I'm just going to start with setting intentions for how I want parenting to be or how I want the day to go or how I want this trip to be.’ Then I realized that there's a step before that. Because usually in life, at least in my life, there's usually something that causes tension that leads me to want to set an intention. So that's why the T is very important. When my husband and I would talk about this he's like, ‘Yes, people come to me and they've got tension in their life. They’ve got something that's wrong. Like they're not feeling well, they've got pain, they've got symptoms and so that is what is causing them tension. Then we figure out what is the intention. They want to not have pain, they want to feel better. Then the attention is what are all the different approaches that can help us to address this. Then at some point there are things that we can't control, which is the no tension or less tension.’ When I apply that in parenting it's the same thing. It's realizing, ‘Ok, this particular situation is causing me tension.’ It might be, ‘Oh my child is having a tantrum or a meltdown,’ or, ‘They are having certain behaviors or there's problems at school.’ So that causes tension. Then to take a pause and think about what is our intention? What do we want? Why do we want this? And I find this so fascinating because oftentimes people will recommend certain therapies or certain activities and they’ll recommend them to their friends. They'll say, ‘Oh you need to do this. You need to go see this person or you need to try this therapy. You need to do this particular activity, sign them up.’ And parents are like, ‘Okay.’ It's kind of like they end up playing a game of whack-a-mole where it’s, ‘Ok we’ll just do this, do that.’ But if you press pause and think, what is the intention behind why we want to do this, why we want to try this, what is it going to give us? Then that helps to bring clarity whether or not that actually feels good. Whether it fits in the family plan, whether it's in alignment with what you're wanting. If so, then awesome. Then you go to the next step which is the attention. Ok, well then, what does this look like and what questions need to be asked? What information, especially if you have a child who has special needs or learns differently or just has information that you know could help those who are working with your child, bringing that to the conversation to kind of get the big picture of what is the attention I can give to this? That's so empowering before you even get into something. Now if you check in with your intention and it's not something that you feel ok with, then the attention shifts to, ‘Ok, that's good information. It's not a good fit for us right now.’ That's another thing, sometimes people don't know what to say when other people are giving recommendations. So having something like, ‘Well, that's very interesting and I'm so excited that that worked for you,’ or that you love that, but ‘That's not a good fit for us, for our family, right now and I’ll just tuck it away.’ Having things like that can be really helpful just to help you feel more comfortable in challenging conversations like that. And then the No Tension (or the less tension) is releasing the need for things to go in a specific way because we're not in control. We can't control everything and if we feel like we can control things then that brings a kind of needy, graspy energy to the situation which doesn't leave room for learning and growth. It’s, ‘It has to go this way and it has to go right the first time,’ which, as a physician you know that you're not in control of everything and of how things go. Sometimes things work great and sometimes they don't work great and you have to go back to the beginning of the process of ‘Ok, now here's the tension and what do we do, and how do we proceed from that?’” -Margaret Webb
“I love the last part. TIANT is Tension, Intention, Attention. (Tension) That's the sign post. The intention is how I want to feel and who do I want to be in this process, not just letting yourself get drug by it. Attention is the good old fashioned steps that you're taking. Then the No Tension (less tension), I think that’s something that can be so helpful for physicians, too. Because I know in working with my physician clients, that like a lot of humans and particularly humans who are a little bit prone to perfectionism, there can be a lot of attachment to the outcome. Another thing that is very common in physicians is curiosity, a love of learning. So if you can set aside a bit of the perfectionism and the white knuckling, gripping of the outcome in this situation, whether it's a challenge with a child, whether it's a tough conversation you're having with your vision head, this process works for that as well. Getting curious and being open, as you said, for some growth or possibility after you've taken the action is something that also comes naturally to physicians and it's going to be better serving you than that tightness or attachment to the outcome. Is that how you see it too or am I seeing it in the same way the process was intended?” -Master Certified Coach Jill Farmer
“Absolutely. Yeah, I always look at it like before I would play with the process, it was like a horse with the blinders on. Only a very limited view of what was possible. With this process, it's like the blinders are off and I can be curious and I can be open to brainstorming and to looking at things happening in different ways. In ways that might require some mental wiggling and shifting because it might be a little uncomfortable to venture into different ways of being. But the more I do it, then the easier it becomes and I see I don't take things as personally. Because it's like, ‘Oh, ok, all right let's try this. How about this?’ You know, it just opens things up.” -Margaret Webb
“I know a lot of my clients in academic medicine, when we can reframe those situations like, ‘Wait. Ok, yeah.’ Sometimes results of research that are different than the hypothesis can have even more powerful findings than what it was when things lined up with the hypothesis. I think that taking some curiosity, some willingness to be an experimenter in this process called life, and in this process called parenting, even if you're on your second, third, fourth, fifth kid, each kid provides its own laboratory for learning new things, as I can attest to as the parent of more than one. I know your husband, the neurosurgeon, has said that he thinks this process works particularly well for physicians because they get it, because it's kind of similar to the work they do. Why do you think that is?” -Master Certified Coach Jill Farmer
“Well because when we were talking about it, he's like, ‘This is what we do.’ Patients come to us and this is what we do. We listen to their stories and the listening of the stories then reveals often where the tension lies. Listening to the story then can also help with what they're actually wanting, which then helps him to be able to decide. But having that process also he’s like, ‘It helps to do something else that is really important in parenting that's part of this is to not get tangled up in the stories. Like you're listening to the stories but not jumping into the stories of your patients. Just like you don't want to jump into the stories of your kids, which really can be very challenging. Because it's like, ‘Oh we want them to be happy, our intention is for them to be happy!’ But sometimes we can't control that. So being able to stay separate from that and being the observer and being curious about what's actually going on here that isn't necessarily on the surface, and I think physicians are brilliant at that. They have the brain patterning and they have the experience of hearing the stories that they can be like, ‘Oh wait. Hold on, ok, this person is saying this, but this is probably what's actually going on.’ I think the more that you can do that as a parent, then you start seeing patterns of, ‘Ok what's actually going on is maybe they're embarrassed.’ So this kind of bizarre behavior or their little snarky comments or whatever different things show up on the surface, the behavior looks one way but if you can tap into that curiosity and seeing what’s actually underneath this embarrassment. I mean there's so many different things. A lot of times with kids who have learning differences or who have a diagnosis of a variety of things, it can be emotional regulation, sensory overload, chronological age is different from the developmental age that they're behaving at in that moment, which can be really tricky because they can shift within seconds. So navigating that can be a challenge. Power struggles, needing to close loops, so those are some things. But you have to have kind of a checklist of, ‘Oh yeah. Ok, these are the typical underlying causes, but when they show up they look like this.’ So that's the story but what's the understory? I think physicians are really good at that.” -Margaret Webb
“ I love that. I think you bring up a really good point. We can get really attached as parents whether our kids have challenges. I mean, every kid has challenges. But as parents we get really attached sometimes to needing our kids to, ‘Be happy.’ Which really means, ‘I want my kid to kind of be perfect so I can feel good about myself as a parent and I can feel safe and know I'm doing a good job.’ I got some really good advice from a wise person when my kids were in those younger years of transitioning into early elementary. I was like, ‘I’m trying to do all I can to make sure that they're happy and well-adjusted.’ She said, ‘You know, I really think if I could say something to my young parent self (this was somebody who was older than me by a few decades), I would say what I want is to help my kids be as fully human as they can, and to be open to the full breadth of the human experience. That includes happiness, and it includes a whole bunch of other things in between, and the more capable I can let my kid be themselves and experience and understand the resilience of moving through the breath of that human experience, that's a lot more important than me trying to keep them happy all the time.’ I was like, ‘Dang that was good!’
Margaret Webb is a parenting coach who specializes in supporting parents with children who are on their own developmental timeline or who simply march to the beat of their own drum (ie. Autism, Anxiety, ADHD, ADD, SPD, Apraxic, Dyslexic, Learning Differences, etc.). She and her neurosurgeon husband of 25 years thought that they knew what to expect while they were expecting their now 17 year old son but quickly learned he had other things in store for them. Turned out that the most powerful and helpful lessons for them involved shifting their own expectations and internal rules rather than placing all of the focus on him.
Related episode: Episode 49: Parenting the Child You Weren’t Expecting
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