Navigating the Parent-Child Dynamic with Meg Stafford

Navigating the Parent-Child Dynamic with Meg Stafford

by Chris Tompkins | June 15, 2023

Meg Stafford has been helping families work on their relationships, with a focus on helping teenagers connect with their parents, for over 35 years through her private practice in Massachusetts. She is also an award-winning author, having put a humorous spin on her experience with breast cancer in her first book, Topic of Cancer: Riding the Waves of the Big C. More recently, she documented her travels with her adult daughters in Who Will Accompany You? My Mother Daughter Journeys Far From Home and Close to the Heart, in which she examines the necessary parental role of loving and letting go.

Learning to talk about the tough stuff

Meg cites one of the biggest barriers between teens and their parents as the inability to talk about the tough stuff, often because of the way the parents were raised.

“Many of us grew up in families where [having difficult conversations] was either not invited or not accepted,” Meg says on the Shaping Our World podcast. “And so a lot of us get right into adulthood without the practice of that skill — because that really is what it is. It’s not something we’re born with or not, it’s something that we can learn.”

In an effort to have those conversations, Meg underlines the importance of families giving one another uninterrupted time to sit down without devices and really talk. She urges parents to realize that they don’t need to have all the answers and says that just listening often gives teens the support they need.

Undoing the knots

Interestingly, Meg says that a positive thing about the pandemic is that it shone a light on the fact that everyone needs help sometimes regardless of age or where they’re at in life. While some people might need more therapy than others, needing help is something that we all share at various times throughout our lives.

“We all need help undoing those knots that sometimes, we don’t even realize have formed,” Meg explains.

How parents can help their kids

Meg talks about the importance of giving our kids agency — putting them in the position where they can make choices that affect their life — even at a young age. It can be as simple as letting them choose the colour of their cup or what they want to eat for dinner, but if we take the time to hear their opinions, it helps build their confidence as decision-makers out in the world.

According to Meg, the hallmark of a close parent-child relationship is when a child knows they are respected for who they are. She explains that the child has to know that “it’s possible to hold different opinions but to still enjoy time with each other,” and this is precisely how her book, Who Will Accompany You? came about. Meg met her daughters where they were in terms of their interests, joining them on their trips to a meditative retreat in the Himalayas and the Colombian countryside, respectively. But even if a far-flung trip isn’t in the cards, Meg says that you can do the same thing by making that space where their choices are celebrated and where they can talk about things that are confusing or difficult.

Meg also emphasizes the importance of having fun together, saying that something as small as cooking together or playing a game can lead to meaningful conversations.

For more on what Meg has to say about parenting and letting go, listen to the complete episode at the top of this post.

Visit our website to discover a variety of other guests that we’ve had on the show. Shaping Our World episodes are also available wherever you get podcasts.

Transcript

[00:00:12.580] – Speaker 1
Well, hey, everyone. I’m Chris Tompkins, and welcome to the Shaping Our World podcast. For those of you who don’t know, this podcast is about inviting you into a conversation that will leave you more confident in understanding and inspiring the young people in your life. Each episode, we talk with leading experts and offer relevant resources to dive deeper into the world of our youth today. We’re talking about shaping our world. And today, we’ve invited Meg Stafford to join the show. Meg is a writer who loves exploration of all kinds. Her 2011 memoir, Topic of Cancer, won six literary awards, including being named best first book by the IBPA’s Benjamin Franklin Awards for its engrossing and hilarious portrayal of surviving and thriving after a life altering diagnosis of breast cancer. Her latest book, Who Will Accompany You? My Mother Daughter Journeys Far From Home and Close to the Heart, shares reflections on what it means for a parent to love and let go. For 25 years, she’s also been observing how small remarkable moments enrich our lives in her monthly newspaper column, A Moment’s Notice. As a social worker in private practice, she’s been helping others negotiate the terrain of relationships and connections for over 35 years.

[00:01:37.860] – Speaker 1
Currently, she lives in Massachusetts with her husband, two dogs, and one large cat. I know you’re going to enjoy the conversation we have with Meg today about parent-child relationships. There’s so much in this that I think you’ll find helpful and insightful. So let’s listen in in our conversation with Meg. Meg, it’s great to have you with us. Thanks for joining us.

[00:02:08.800] – Speaker 2
Thank you. Delighted to.

[00:02:10.110] – Speaker 1
Be here. We’re recording listeners when we listen to this at a different time, but we’re recording in the middle of an abnormal heat wave in April. So it’s a nice day where I’m calling in from. And you’re around Boston area. You’re enjoying the nice weather there, too?

[00:02:29.000] – Speaker 2
Loving it. My office actually gets so much light that it gets very warm and I have the air conditioning on.

[00:02:36.110] – Speaker 1
Yeah, good. It’s that time where you debate should it go on or should it not. But it’s been so warm and it probably needs to, so that’s great. Well, listen, our podcast is called Shapping Our World, and we want to dive in by finding a little bit more about what has and what is shaping your world. So when you were growing up, Meg, what were some of the biggest influences for you? What shaped your world as a child or a teenager?

[00:02:59.920] – Speaker 2
There were a lot of things. So there were people, and then some of the things that I did and the people I did them with. So certainly my family and my parents and grandparents, music was a big part of my growing up. My dad was a professional musician. I played a lot of music and had a lot of friends through music. Photography also I did as a senior and spent a lot of time in the dark room and with friends doing photography and also tennis, biking to the tennis courts. And I would also say that my summers at camp, of which there were many between day camp and overnight camp, and then my trip to France when I was a teenager, when I was 14, turned 15 over the summer, had a huge influence on my thoughts moving forward.

[00:03:55.960] – Speaker 1
That’s great. We’re going to get into some of these themes and topics as we get going. But what’s shaping your world today? Tell us a little bit about you. What do you like doing? What are your hobbies, interests? How do you spend your time?

[00:04:06.550] – Speaker 2
There are a number of them. Some of them have followed through. So I do do a lot of cycling still and a lot of hiking. And then I started to travel and do both of those things and love spending time with my dogs and walking them and the cat and being on trips with my family and just spending time with them, cooking, finding fun places to eat and listen to music. And so a lot of the interest carried right through to now.

[00:04:38.920] – Speaker 1
Okay. So I’m getting a little… I don’t want to go too far off track, but it sounds like travel’s important to your kid, travel, family now. If I say what’s your favorite, most memorable trip, what would be the first thing that came to your mind?

[00:04:52.410] – Speaker 2
Oh, wow.

[00:04:54.890] – Speaker 1
Or place in the world. If you’re telling listeners you got to go see this or be there.

[00:05:00.410] – Speaker 2
Oh, that’s a tough one. One of the most recent ones was doing a hike around Mont Blanc. Oh, wow. And that was really fun because we started in Chaminne and then in France, and then we went through Italy and then Switzerland and back to France. Mountains are a particular happy place for me, and it was just stunning and an incredible vista at every turn. I just love the hiking and the whole process. That one pops to mind because it was last summer. But so many places in Europe, the place I’ve been, Machu Picu was incredible. I hiked in Nepal. That was amazing for all other reasons. And of course, there’s so many places in the states as well. Awesome. I’ll leave that one there.

[00:05:57.380] – Speaker 1
Yeah, we’ll keep moving. We could probably have a separate travel podcast at another time.

[00:06:03.630] – Speaker 2
Too deep a.

[00:06:04.310] – Speaker 1
Rabbit hole. Yeah, our family loves travel. I grew up traveling around the world, so I just always am curious about that. So our listeners would have heard your bio coming in, but just give us what’s shaping your world as far as your career, your vocation, the things that you’re doing right now. We heard about being an author and clinical social worker. Tell us a little bit about that part of your life as well.

[00:06:31.480] – Speaker 2
I have worked with teenagers for really almost my entire career in one setting or another, both inpatient, outpatient as directing a halfway house. They have been consistently really interesting people. I love being able to help them hear their own voice and really be able to identify what’s important to them and what their choices are and what they would like to choose to shape their own world. That has been something of a mission. It is something that I think about would be a really wonderful thing to be taught in schools. At first I used to think taught in high schools, but I really think it should go back to earlier in kids lives about how to have conversations that are difficult. How do you bring up the stuff that is not easy to bring up? It’s definitely possible to do that. But so many of us grew up in families where it is either not invited or is not accepted. And so a lot of us get right into adulthood without the practice of that skill because that really is what it is. It’s not something we’re born with or not, it’s something that we can learn.

[00:08:05.540] – Speaker 2
I love being able to help kids and families to access that.

[00:08:10.870] – Speaker 1
Well, our listeners and you and I, because of the world we live in, we know how important those relationships are and how significant they can be to healthy development and growth, and quite candidly, how difficult they are sometimes. I would just jump right into diving into some of this. Through your practice, like you mentioned, you help families deepen their relationships with one another. In your experience, what are the most common barriers to connection between parents and their kids? W e’re going to start right off in that to help us think through that.

[00:08:51.420] – Speaker 2
Sometimes is where we just were with not having had the, for the parents, not having had the experience or the practice as kids to know what it’s like to have those difficult conversations or being worried about what some people call silence or violence, worried if you bring something controversial up that you’ll either get the silent treatment or that there can be violence in the home. U nfortunately, a lot of people have experienced that. I think one of the first steps is overcoming that lack of experience. One of the other things is time. People really need to make the time on both ends, both parents and their children, their teens, adults at any age to sit down without devices and really be willing to hear each other, really be willing to listen. I think sometimes parents feel like they need to have the answers. If we’re able to ask more questions and listen to our kids, there is just a gold mine of information there and can take some of the pressure off as well.

[00:10:11.700] – Speaker 1
I think that whole feel like you need to have the answers. I mean, that’s an intuitive thing right in us. I think one of the things, too, we recognize, too, is, and I don’t know if it is or it isn’t, but sometimes it feels like the issues kids are coming to the table with or the world they’re living in is far more complex or difficult than maybe our experience was or what we know about. And you’ve had 35 years of clinical experience and you’ve obviously seen how things ebb and flow as families relate to each other and their desire to connect. I’m asking that because I think as we look around and hear things emerging from people who are in this world and watch our own kids, we recognize that… I think it was probably happening already, but with the pandemic shining a bit of light or accelerating some of this, just this rising anxiety, even to suicide rates among young people. It just feels like these things are heavy and difficult and weighty. From your perspective, do you think parents are more concerned about how to navigate relationships as they were in the past?

[00:11:30.050] – Speaker 1
Is it more complicated and complex?

[00:11:35.060] – Speaker 2
Tricky to generalize. The pandemic was difficult for everyone, but I do think that… The pandemic was difficult for everyone, but I do think that there were some groups for whom it was more difficult. And I would definitely put teenagers in that group because that’s when they’re really wanting to connect with each other and be with each other and explore new places on their own and test out their own independence. And that was exactly what was shut down during the pandemic. So I do think that they bumped up against a lot of walls, whereas for those of us who are older or already in the workplace, for me, it was just a transition of moving online. And it was different, but not the same challenge that teenagers faced. And the one sliver of helpfulness that came from it is that it really did shine a light on the fact that everybody needs help sometimes, whether it’s younger, older, and whether it’s for just a few meetings or whether it’s for a lot of meetings. It is something that we all share at various times. We all need help undoing those knots that form that sometimes we don’t know how it formed.

[00:12:55.750] – Speaker 2
That reflected in my practice in terms of numbers of referrals that it just spiked in a huge way during the pandemic. I tried to increase my hours and I did for a time but also need to be careful to balance my own life. But my experience with the parents who came in is that I think maybe they’re more able to pay attention.

[00:13:24.820] – Speaker 2
It’s cyclical. Kids better able to speak up, parents able to listen. And so if people are able to access the help that they need, that’s a plus all around.

[00:13:38.360] – Speaker 1
Yeah, that’s really good. I love how you even phrased that about undoing the knots. I think in some ways we look at the world and we’re like, man, it’s complicated and complex. But as parents, if we’re showing up, like you said, if we’re willing to listen as kids are more reticent to talk about some of the things in a new way, I think it at least puts us in a different disposition. In relationships and parents and stuff that kids are going through, what are some of the knots and what are the things as parents we can… I know showing up and listening, but what are some of the things we can do to help kids? I think particularly around, as we intro this, a growing sense of awareness of mental health. What are some of the things that you’re seeing and tips and ideas for parents to help as they invest in their relationships to help untie or give agency or encouragement to young people as they’re working that through?

[00:14:42.110] – Speaker 2
Some of it starts really early on when we can afford our children to make choices. When they’re young, it can be something as simple as, Would you prefer the red cup or the blue cup? Or would you would you like Mac and cheese or chicken nuggets? But simple choices that get them used to making choices and having more confidence about making choices and asking them their opinions about a movie they saw or a TV show they watched or what it was like to spend time with their friends or how are things going with friends. But if we’re taking the time to hear their opinions, they’re getting used to knowing that they do have agency and they can gain confidence in their ability to be decision makers in the world. That is true for something as small as what they would like to order at a restaurant, to something as large as what work do I want to do in my life, or who is right for me as a partner? Do I want a partner? The more experience and practice that we give our kids making choices, and the more that they know that we value what they have to say, the more the confidence just grows right within them.

[00:16:16.690] – Speaker 2
They know that even when they make wrong mistakes, wrong choices, or what can feel like mistakes, none of us are perfect. Mistakes are just a part of the learning, and we can get right back on course after that.

[00:16:33.340] – Speaker 1
I love that. Your thoughts on this, I think, are really connected to the next topic that I want to dive in because you’re an author and you set out on this journey and you wrote a book about traveling with your daughters. You’ve had a lot of experience navigating the parent child dynamic with your own kids, so much so that it led you to do this and write this book that’s called Who Will Accompany You? My Mother and Daughter journeys far from home and close to the heart. It’s all about traveling with both your daughters, it explains the duality of parents of young adults, inevitably face, which is wanting to keep our kids safe and close, but also wanting them to be independent. I’ve got so many questions about it because I have one child, Meg, and she’s 16, and she’s super independent, finishing grade 11. We’re about to be empty nester soon. And my wife and I are right in the thick of this, of this. She’s about to drive and it’s like wanting to be close and we’re already grieving her leaving but then maximum anyways, before we get into details of this, what led you to do this?

[00:17:50.260] – Speaker 1
How did you decide this is what you wanted to do with your daughters and how did it lead to you actually writing a book about it?

[00:17:58.390] – Speaker 2
It started with their interest in travel. At first, my older daughter was interested. We took a trip as a family. Our first international trip was to Mexico to visit my mom and her partner who were spending the winter there. Our daughters were nine and 13 at the time. That, I found out later, was hugely instrumental in their desire to want to travel further. Gayle, our older daughter, then spent a summer in Costa Rica through AFS Exchange, which is wonderful. Then during college, she spent a semester in Chile and Argentina, and she spent seven weeks in Peru, where I visited her when she was 19. That was the first mother daughter foray. Our younger daughter, seeing this, decided that she also wanted to travel. As part of her senior project in high school, at her school, they encouraged them to go off campus if they would like to. She decided that she wanted to study meditation and Buddhism as part of her senior project on the question, what is happiness in Nepal? Wow. We decided that we could not just write it’s like, okay, that’s really cool. We ignored her at first thinking that she would just forget about it, but she didn’t.

[00:19:32.640] – Speaker 2
A friend of mine said, well, why don’t you just say no? But I couldn’t do that. I was so thrilled that she would want to do that. But we couldn’t just put her on a plane halfway around the world at 17 and say, Well, go have a nice time. So we decided that I would go too and tread to the Annapurna base camp. And it was on the return from that that I thought that it would be really interesting to see her perspective and my perspective as we’re both really far away from home and doing something both meditative in very different ways. Hers was more, she was literally sitting and learning about that. I was trekking, but with so few people, it was also very meditative. I thought it would be interesting to go back and forth between our voices. Then later realized that when our older daughter had spent time in Columbia as an observer witness, and then I spent a week visiting her there, that it would be also interesting to hear her voice about what it was like to be there and doing that work. And for me, what it was like to have her go and be doing it and living in a community that was a 45 minute open air Jeep ride an hour and a half hike up to the community where she was living.

[00:20:57.190] – Speaker 1
Oh, my goodness.

[00:20:58.380] – Speaker 2
Yeah. Okay. That defines remote for sure. So I thought it’d be interesting for people to see what it was like from all our viewpoints about having these experiences.

[00:21:11.540] – Speaker 1
So now I got a bunch of questions. But what I love about this is you joined your daughters in stuff that they love doing, and we’re passionate about that. And I think as we talk about parent child dynamics, I think sometimes we want to pull other kids into our world and what we love. And I love that about what you did, Meg. I think that that’s amazing. And what a great baseline to start with as an adult, choosing to enter. And yes, you love travel, and it was part of your family, too. But this was their choice to go and do this. And you’re saying, I will accompany you in what you’re doing. There’s something beautiful about that that I love right off the bat, which I think probably laid the groundwork for so much of this learning and perspective that you gain from them and that you were able to glean as you were doing it and obviously offer to the rest of us through your book. What are some things for parents like me who are navigating this, like your kids independence and keeping them close? What did you learn from this experience that are tips or advice or encouragement to someone like me?

[00:22:26.020] – Speaker 2
First to remember that the relationship is a continuation of what has already been and that it’s a natural thing for them to want to stretch and an important and a healthy thing. However, we can put the air under their wings is going to be beneficial for them. Well, as we said before, to remember that we don’t have all the answers, that they have many of them. As we take the time to listen to them, then they’re afforded the opportunity to think things through as well. We can hear where their thoughts are and really ask whether they want our input at any given time. Sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t. If we are willing to take our cue from them with that, then we afford them the opportunity to tell us when they’re ready for adult input and when they want to try it out on their own.

[00:23:34.620] – Speaker 1
When you think about parent children relationships, I know for parents as they navigate relationships, it’s thinking about, what are the things that are really important to have your kids want to travel with you and want to have conversations with you? What are the things that make up a really close parent child bond? What are the hallmarks of those relationships?

[00:23:59.650] – Speaker 2
I do think it starts with the kids really knowing that they are respected and appreciated for who they are and that some of their choices may be different than ours, but they know that whoever they are, they are celebrated and respected, and that it’s possible to hold different opinions but to still enjoy time with each other. I took a workshop recently with a couple who wrote a book called The End to Arguing. I’m looking forward to reading that book because they are very practical with their advice about… It was set up around couples, but absolutely applies to people of all ages. Going back to that theme of knowing that you can bring up things that may be confusing or difficult, but that there is a space for that. And it is interesting. It’s really interesting to hear how our kids are different from us and to know that they are thinking about the choices that they make.

[00:25:15.460] – Speaker 1
So.

[00:25:15.600] – Speaker 2
Being able to have those tough conversations and also making space for the fun stuff, making sure that you’re celebrating, making sure that you’re doing things that we enjoy as parents and that they enjoy as kids. And it doesn’t have to be a trip around the world. It can be to your local park. It can be a walk around some conservation land. It can be going out to dinner or going to a movie together, but then making the time when you’re there to make sure that you’re talking about what you’re seeing, that you’re asking questions and just reserving that time. And sometimes it’s even just five minutes of really looking each other in the eye and really knowing that you’re dropping down and hearing about what is happening right then. It does not have to be big and far away, but it can be close to home. There’s lots of interesting stuff to see. Any city, it’s everywhere. It’s just the time we spend doing craftsman together, playing games, cooking, listening to music. All of it is fun and can generate a lot of interesting conversation.

[00:26:37.910] – Speaker 1
Yeah, that’s really good. I want to drill down on one little thing here for a sec. I know, and I would agree with you, we talked about how important it is to help kids make their own choices even younger as they’re growing up and then supporting and encouraging them in their choices. I know sometimes, and you’ve probably seen them in your practice, and there’s some probably parents listening, there’s probably, honestly, some times where I’m like, Yeah, but my kid’s not making good choices. They’re just either I don’t trust them because of the history or I see what they’re doing right, or they’re literally are making poor choices for their life right now. What do we do then as parents where it’s just like, I can’t just let them choose. I got to do some stuff. Talk about that tension and what advice would you give to a parent that’s listening, going, Yeah, my kid’s not making good choices. I got to make choices for them.

[00:27:30.630] – Speaker 2
And sometimes we do. Absolutely. Sometimes do need to make choices for them, particularly when they’re younger, but also sometimes as teens. Even if we want them to be making more choices as they get older, there are times when they’re not able to make choices or they are making poor choices. Depending on the severity, sometimes teens need to come in for some mental health treatment. And sometimes it needs to be a higher level of treatment. And when I worked in the hospital setting, I was amazed at how many kids came in being really resentful about being there and left being really appreciative that they had the time to sort things out and figure things out in a setting that was away.

[00:28:32.410] – Speaker 1
From home.

[00:28:34.350] – Speaker 2
That requires some trust on us as parents to know when things are sliding deeper than is really healthy and being able to know who to turn to to step in. I was working with parents recently who were really concerned about some of the things that they had found in their child’s room. But when we talked about it, child was doing well in school, was spending good time with friends, involved with sports, had a job that she was going to, and that was going really well, applying to colleges. Down the line, there were so many positive signs. When they said that out loud, that was really a striking thing for them, particularly. You started this conversation asking what the world was like for me as a teen. I often do that with parents because we look back and the world that we lived in had some things in common, but some things very different. It’s important to remember that part of what shaped the world for us may or may not be the same for our kids. Clearly, there are vast differences of technology right off the bat. But appreciating that what our norm was may not be the same for them.

[00:30:01.890] – Speaker 2
And that puts us right back in the place of being able to listen to them and to hear for them what’s normal. I remember when my younger daughter was studying and she had music on and she was texting with her friends and it’s like, That’s ruining your concentration. How can you do that? And she kept telling me, It’s fine. It’s fine. And it’s like, Okay, well, let’s see how she does. S he was doing fine.

[00:30:28.270] – Speaker 1
It’s.

[00:30:29.890] – Speaker 2
Like, Okay, I need to just back off because I would be totally distracted by that. I could not write a paper if I’m responding to a million different things, but that doesn’t mean that she can’t.

[00:30:41.200] – Speaker 1
I’ve had the exact same conversation in our house. Those are great study habits. It’s like, do you see the grade I just got on that assignment or that test? You’re like, yeah, I don’t have much to argue with anymore on that. Exactly. Right. Yeah. Just one thing I would add, too, from our perspective and our work is, and we’ve talked about this with different guests and show is, having healthy, appropriate boundaries for kids at all stages.

[00:31:09.530] – Speaker 2
Absolutely.

[00:31:11.340] – Speaker 1
We have a thing in our leadership studio that we use for workers and employees around leadership development that’s called the Sandbox, which is like you define the walls of the Sandbox, and within the Sandbox, you can play all you want. And as you gain more responsibility and get a proven track record, the walls of the sandbox start to expand, right? And the play area gets bigger and bigger and where you can make your own decisions expands. And to me, that’s like what growing up and maturity and development is about as a parent is like, what are the walls of the sandbox? Play all you want inside, make all your own decisions, put things there or whatever. And I think one of the dangers is we do two things as parents. We define the walls of the sandbox and then we jump in and say, you can’t build the castle here. Or we don’t really have defined walls either. And I found even talking with my own daughter about why the boundaries are where they are and not just saying, well, these are the boundaries. What’s that about? Why do I care about that as a parent?

[00:32:22.430] – Speaker 1
Why do I think that’s significant? She can disagree with me on that, but at least she knows the heart in where that’s coming from. It’s not just because I hate cell phones and don’t like TikTok or whatever. It’s because this is what I see in these things, and this is why I want to give you some healthy boundaries to work in. Absolutely. Yeah. And as kids grow and develop and prove themselves if they’ve made poor choices… Your point, like, Oh, actually, I may be looking at this one poor choice, but look at all the other good poor choices. Maybe we do need to think about boundaries in a different way or whatever.

[00:33:01.120] – Speaker 2
Certainly, the part of the hard conversations is when we are setting boundaries that are not appreciated by our children. Both kids, there were times when it was freezing rain outside, so roads were terrible, and one of them wanted to drive someplace. No one should be on the road with ice all over it. S he was livid and furious. And it wasn’t about her driving, but it’s like we would drive. So being willing to weather that storm and know that their judgment is not fully developed. So they do need those boundaries of the sandbox as it expands to feel safe in and starting from young and moving right up. If we can allow ourselves the time to slow ourselves down and offer ourselves, both, but ourselves the time to reflect and think about yoga, meditation, walking, journaling, anything that gives us time to really pause before we react. There was a time when I came home and there were cigarette butts on the porch and I flew off the handle. But fortunately, no one was home. I was inadvertently afforded some time and space. And by the time my daughter got home, I could ask her about it in a calm way.

[00:34:42.490] – Speaker 2
And she did not get defensive and just said, Oh, yeah. Her friend George has been struggling with smoking and he’s really trying to stop it. Yes. And she apologized for leaving them there and we’re cleaned up. And so what could have been a really nasty blow up was much calmer because I was afforded that extra space to calm down before approaching her.

[00:35:12.630] – Speaker 1
And that’s so good. Slowing down, gaining different perspective, entering in. I think that’s really good. It also segues to where I want to land about creating space, not just for how we respond, but for the relationships and for really important things in life. You’re also a newspaper columnist, and your column is called A Moment’s Notice. It’s about these small remarkable moments that enrich our lives. On your website, you say that one of the benefits of psychotherapy is learning to find joy in each moment. It sounds like that’s really significant to you. You’ve honed the skills where as I know some parents are, we’re so busy, we get lost in the complexity and the big picture of all of life that we live, scattering around and living from one major vacation to the next and get lost in the middle. I think when it comes to our kids and these moments, we don’t have a whole lot of time with our kids at home. When we talk about these moments, what advice would you give parents as far as creating them for themselves and for their kids and for their family and their relationships? How can we practice living in the moment a little more often?

[00:36:32.930] – Speaker 2
It is exactly. It is a practice. It is not something that we do once, but it’s something that we can bring ourselves back to over and over again to remember to take the time to ask about each other’s day, ask about what they found interesting. I’ve known some families that do a high low that at dinner, hopefully having together at least a few nights a week, they’ll ask, What was the best part of your day? What was the most challenging part of the day? Just doing that as a habit is a really lovely way of bringing out the little moments because especially if you ask it frequently, then it’s not going to be necessarily like this big thing. But just having had a conversation with a teacher that day that was interesting or with a friend that you hadn’t seen. I also knew a family that I always thought this was a good idea. On New Year’s Eve or sometime close to New Year’s, they would all film each other about what their favorite things from the year were. Again, it’s that making space and looking back and taking the time to look at the things that have happened and remember that no stage is permanent.

[00:38:04.570] – Speaker 2
Anything that we’re going through is only of that time. It’s one of the columns that I wrote. I’m compiling them actually for my next book. T here are so many that I wrote when the kids were young, which, of course, they haven’t seen because they were not reading when they were two or three. So one was about what my daughter was going to wear for her kindergarten photo. And there was a dress that she would… If it was clean, it was on her. So she loved it.

[00:38:35.550] – Speaker 1
And it was a great fit. And maybe sometimes when it wasn’t, because just wanted to go there.

[00:38:40.140] – Speaker 2
Right. Yes. But she always wanted it. And it was like, oh, this will be the perfect kindergarten picture. It’s so characteristic of where she is. And it’s great dress. And of course, on the day she wanted nothing to do with it. And I tried everything to cajole her into it. And she had determined that she… I don’t even remember what the alternate thing was, but I finally realized this is just part of it. What do I care, really? And whatever she’s in, it’s going to be great. I could back off from wanting that picture perfect moment. It was going to be whatever plaid and flower print she was going to put together would be just fine. I was talking about this with a friend who said that her daughter, for her first grade picture, had squirlled away a fancy hat and a boa and some necklace of hers, her mom that she particularly wanted to wear for her picture. So it’s like, they have their own ideas. And I thought I was such a stitch, but better to follow their lead with that. Like, why am I going to argue about this?

[00:39:55.050] – Speaker 1
When our expectations are unmet and we can get distracted in the detail, we can definitely miss out on, Why is this a big deal? Why am I even worried about this? I know for me, when I realized that I’m not living in the moment and missing things because I’m rushing around to do this, that, or the next thing, it’s usually a reminder to me to do a bit more of an inventory of the things in my life that I’m actually running around doing and going, how many of these things are necessary and important? And how do they stack up against the things that I’m actually missing out on because I’m not able to be present? And I think every once in a while, it’s a good reminder to evaluate those priorities because I know that for me is one of the biggest barriers for me to be present in the daily moments and live them out is because I’m always somewhere else that trying to do something else in my mind that’s really, I think, is significant in the moment, but maybe it’s not.

[00:40:58.040] – Speaker 2
Yeah, that’s great. One of my clients recently was able to negotiate working ultimately 10 % less in his job. And he’s so relieved and thrilled because it means that he will have every other Friday off just for him. I could see the relief in his face, just knowing that there was that pocket of time for him, which in turn will make it easier for him to be there for his young kids. It’s because they’re young at the time. So that’s important as well to make sure that we are feeding ourselves in the way that makes us feel relaxed and happy so that we can then be there for the.

[00:41:44.910] – Speaker 1
Rest of our family. That’s great. It’s a great reminder. We need this space to be able to be present and show up for those relationships with our kids and the young people in our life. It’s great. It’s a really good reminder. As we wrap up our conversation today, they make it’s been so great and so encouraging. There’s been so many things I’ve been making notes on as we’ve gone through. Maybe just any final thoughts, words of encouragement for parents who are maybe either struggling or simply just want to deepen the relationships they have with their kids from your experience and from the work that you’ve done. Any last thoughts or encouragement, either what we’ve already said or something brand new?

[00:42:30.070] – Speaker 2
A couple of things. One is that to remember that our kids want our relationships to be positive. They might not want us there all the time, and they might not know how to bring something up. But as independent as they are getting, for the most part, they really want to stay connected. So it might not be all the time or as frequent when they’re younger. But by and large, that is a theme that runs through that even if there is friction, our kids want to be connected with us. Remember that if something is difficult for us as parents, it’s most likely difficult for them as well. They’re often not trying to just bored us or make us upset or angry, but they’re also searching for the way to be connected to us. So I think it can help us empathize more if we keep that in mind.

[00:43:38.950] – Speaker 1
Thank you for that insight and for all the other stuff you shared with us today. I know it was hugely encouraging for me, and I even loved the picture, the phrase you used about undoing knots, like that, even as I view some of the stuff that we navigate in our work. And as a parent, I love that and helping kids make choices and just so great. So thank you so much for the time, Meg. It’s been great listening to you and all the best in your work and your writing.

[00:44:09.010] – Speaker 2
Thank you. Thank you for having me. It’s been really a pleasure. It’s been great and so thrill to know about the work that you’re doing and creating space for kids to learn and grow and play.

[00:44:21.210] – Speaker 1
And it was nice to talk to a camp mom and camp herself. So in our world, there’s always those connections. So again, thanks so much for taking the time to be with us today.

[00:44:33.510] – Speaker 2
Thank you.

About the Author

Chris Tompkins is the CEO of Muskoka Woods. He holds a degree in Kinesiology from the University of Guelph, a teacher’s college degree from the University of Toronto and a Master’s degree in Youth Development from Clemson University. His experience leading in local community, school, church and camp settings has spanned over 20 years. His current role and expertise generates a demand for him to speak with teens and consult with youth leaders. Chris hosts the Muskoka Woods podcast, Shaping Our World where he speaks with youth development experts. He is an avid sports fan who enjoys an afternoon with a big cup of coffee and a good book. Chris resides in Stouffville, Ontario with his wife and daughter.
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