In this episode, we discuss a topic that is so necessary to our mental health as mothers: what to do with all that pesky rage? Author, Hunter Clarke-Fields, explains what is happening to us when we lose it, and how we can be less reactive. She talks about the importance of assessing our own baggage from how we were parented, in combination with improving our communication skills, and how that can rewire our brain – and its response to anger. She also opens up about inheriting her father’s temper and how it directly affected her mothering and her relationship with him. And then we cover how the incessant demands of motherhood effect our ability to think rationally (i.e. we can’t when we’re having a stress response), which plays an interesting part in homework battles. We also laugh about a too-real quote from a mother in the 1800’s, the seemingly flawed design of humans, and Hunter’s crazy ass paintings! She also gives us her take on spankings.
Brandy: Hello Adult Conversation Podcast listeners. I hope you’re all holding onto your sanity or at least part of it, as we descend into the mouth of the holidays. For today’s episode, we’re discussing a topic that is so necessary to our mental health as mothers – what to do with all that pesky rage that seems to find us after we have kids. I know I’m not alone in my surprise at the level of anger I was able to feel as a mom whose identity (and body) had just been turned inside out. I didn’t see the rage piece coming at all. Today’s guest, Hunter Clarke-Fields, explains why this happens and how we can undo some of it so we can be less reactive. She talks about the importance of assessing our own baggage from how we were parented in combination with improving our communication skills and how that can change our brain – and our rage. She also opens up about inheriting her father’s temper, and how it directly affected her mothering. And then we cover how the incessant demands of motherhood affect our ability to think rationally (ie – we can’t, when we’re having a stress response). We also laugh about a too-real quote from a mother in the 1800s, the seemingly flawed design of humans, and Hunter’s crazy ass paintings. She also gives us her take on spanking.
Brandy: I want to give a quick shout out to my newest Patreon peep, Caity Felderman. Thank you! If you want to join Caity and others in making this podcast possible, you can go to patreon.com/adult conversation. That’s P-A-T-R-E-O-N.com/adult conversation. Onto the show.
Brandy: Today on the podcast we have Hunter Clarke-Fields who has her own podcast called the Mindful Mama Podcast. She also has a book, Raising Good Humans: A Mindful Guide to Breaking the Cycle of Reactive Parenting and Raising Kind, Competent Kids, which comes out in a few weeks. So welcome to the podcast, Hunter.
Hunter: Thank you, Brandy. And actually it’s already out. Amazon is shipping it early. It’s crazy pants.
Brandy: Okay, well this is good news. And I want the listeners to know something upfront. I have a pretty well-honed bullshit detector. I don’t subscribe to philosophies that are full of platitudes and outcome-focused goals that are impossible for moms to actually succeed in. I’m looking at you baby sleep books here! And when I was on your podcast, Hunter, I was pleasantly surprised at how down to earth and realistic you were. So your take on things is not some for privileged moms only BS. It’s not some platitude that’s unachievable and it’s not woo-woo. It’s legit. So there’s that.
Hunter: Thank you. I appreciate that. I’m glad you can see that. I know sometimes when I talk about mindfulness and I’ve got this Mindful Mama name, it’s like people expect me to exist in long, flowy skirts, and have crystals dangling from my ears.
Brandy: You aren’t? You don’t? Well that’s right. Because I think when people hear “mindful,” I know for me, anytime I hear the word “mindful,” I zone out a little bit. Because I’m like, “Oh, the thing that I can’t actually achieve.” So when you asked me to be on your podcast, I remember emailing with you and I said, “Have you heard my podcast? Like are we a good fit, is this real?” And then talking to you, I was like, oh yeah, you have some insight into things. And something that I love about you is, you’re not about this perfect parenting. You’re very clear about the good enough parent and about how we’re human and all of that. So I feel like talking to you, we can be human and we can be the good enough moms and we can have these mess ups and it’s part of all of it rather than we’re trying to fix something that’s broken. And I so appreciate that.
Hunter: Amen sister. Yes.
Brandy: So when we talked about what are we going to talk about in this interview specifically, because there are so many things we could talk about, I know you had said, “How about talking about my journey from rage to mindful parent, and tools that your audience can implement right now to help them navigate their frustrations and rage and parenting?” And I thought, I honestly can’t think of a more needed thing to talk about or a better thing to talk about. So I’m excited for this today. And part of it too is, I notice that today we parents are expected to not only parent in the right way, like whatever the hell that means, but to also have worked on our own emotional baggage so we can validate our kids even though we weren’t necessarily validated by our parents. So in a sense it feels a bit unfair to expect that we can do all of that when we were never shown how. But I know so many of us, myself included, try to, and so I’m looking forward to you sharing your insights that you might have about that today.
Hunter: Yay, let’s dive in. I love it.
Brandy: But first, what is something the listeners need to know about you?
Hunter: Well, this is something that I wanted to share with you too, because I don’t come by this whole thing because I was really good at it, and I was actually really bad at it. But one of the things that really informs my work with all of this is that, I’m a painter and I’ve been exploring this kind of stuff for a long time through my artwork and I make weird, crazy paintings of nude female pregnant women with animal heads. Mostly predator heads, and they’re like huge. They’re these six-foot-tall – some of them, are these six-foot-tall kind of art historical, nude, pregnant African wild dog-headed women.
Brandy: Oh my God, this is just the kind of weird shit that I’m into. Thank you.
Hunter: I felt like this issue that I explored in my painting for a long time is something that meshes perfectly with the work that I do, and the issue that I was exploring with my painting is that animals and particularly predators, they don’t have any guilt or shame about their aggression. When we’re pregnant, we’re really shown that we’re animals. Like we are mammals. It’s weird and it’s gross and it’s oozy.
Brandy: Yeah, I mean, birth. Oh my God. Yeah.
Hunter: All that stuff. And I really appreciated at the time, any kind of art or any kind of – I remember there’s a song by a band called Lamb that was a song about pregnancy and it was called “Alien,” and it was singing about this little alien in your body that you share this body with. And I just really appreciated the perspective, looking at this whole process of motherhood and this incredible transformation. And looking at it from not this fluffy pink, “get the right stuff” point of view, but from what really matters and what we can learn about ourselves? And for me, it was this process of accepting myself as this human animal, right? And the idea of looking at predators and not seeing them as being guilty for hunting the gazelle or whatever. Right? Just exploring the idea of morality around this, morality around emotions and we add all these layers of meaning and all this stuff, but ultimately we’re animals qne get frustrated and angry and we have this whole range of emotions and we kind of shame ourselves for this. But this is just natural. This is just the way it is. And part of it was kind of working through accepting that.
Brandy: Yeah. And in your book you talk about… which your book I loved, by the way. And you talk about how when you had your daughter, you had so many anger issues come up, which then you explain about how you were parented, and you kind of got passed down your dad’s temper, but that was so relatable. Reading about how that was for you and how your daughter would push these buttons that you didn’t even know you had. And I think you had a great quote somewhere that said, something like, “Want major personal growth? Six months with a preschooler can be more effective than years alone on a mountain top.” I just felt like, yes, yes it can.
Brandy: And so will you tell us a little bit about how that anger manifested and these buttons that were being pushed and your experience that led you, and maybe the moment where you realized, “I need to change something. I need to do something different. I need to figure out how to be in this parenting relationship without all of this irritation and annoyance and frustration.”
Hunter: Yeah. Yeah. Because that all just builds up and builds up. For me, I really do remember collapsing in a heap on the landing at the top of the stairs, outside the room and just crying and feeling so guilty because I had scared my two-year-old daughter who’s a highly sensitive person too, go figure. She’s really who taught me in so many ways how to parent because she’s extremely resistant to anything that I say or do that isn’t in alignment with whatever – I mean all kids are resistant, but she was very resistant to everything I was saying as a new parent because I was just kind of using the language that is in our culture and that my parents use, and it happens to be that we use very habitually the language of, we think we’re asking someone to do something but we’re really ordering and commanding our kids. And-
Brandy: But isn’t that one of the tricks of motherhood, where you ask a question in a way that’s like, “How about we come over here and do this now?” But in your mind you’re like, I’m giving them a choice but really deep down you’re like, there is no choice. So that’s not a positive tip?
Hunter: Well, I mean, sometimes that is a positive tip. I think that is great to kind of check the way we ask our kids to do something. But normally we’re like, “Put your shoes on, do this, do that.” And we’re not saying it in a mean way, but if you’re two, you’ve got hours and hours of commands and orders flooded at you daily, if you really think about it from their point of view. And so she was being resistant, and then she would get upset and if she had a temper tantrum or if she had big upset feelings, it was like this tornado happened in my body where it just felt so completely unacceptable to me. Like I had to do something, I had to fix something, I had to change something. And then I realized, in the moments of crying, in the aftermath of scaring the poor thing, that it felt so unacceptable to me because it was just, this is a pattern that was passed down. It was unacceptable to my father. And he showed me that through his rage. So I learned that lesson that these feelings are unacceptable. So then you don’t really get much experience in a regular adult life without children, of having to deal with someone’s big upset feelings right at you. And so, when I came across this again in this now parent/child relationship, it just felt so deeply unacceptable. And I felt like I had to change it and then I was just perpetuating the same darn thing. And I remember my father’s rage, and I love my father deeply. He’s amazing. But he had things passed on to him. You know what I mean? The suffering just kind of passes down through the generation. I’m not blaming him for that, and I’m not blaming myself for it, but at the time I did. So it really made me see that – I was like, “This is not working. I need to change.”
Brandy: Right. And when you think about feeling that way and then you think, “Well, only 18 more years of this,” I think that that helps us see the things that aren’t sustainable, we have to try to change in some way because it’s not sustainable for the amount of time that you’re a parent. And especially as you’re having more children, you’re just elongating the amount of years that you have to be in this. And so yeah, I think many of us have had that moment of crying in a heap or many moments of doing that and thinking there’s got to be a different way. And for me, well, I’ve read so many books and I have a background in some of these mindfulness techniques from some of the childbirth preparation that I used to teach and things, but it always felt like none of it could actually touch the thing that was frustrating, that could actually get me out of it because it always felt like the kids hold all the cards in some way.
Brandy: But then reading your book I was like, “Oh! There are two – and you talk about it in your book – kind of two major pieces of this. And I wonder if I had gone back when my kids were younger and utilized some of your tools if it would have been different. But when you talk about the two pieces, it’s this mindfulness piece, which for people who immediately like zone out on that, it’s like being present, and then also the skilled communication. It’s the two things. But I really love the first part of it, which requires one to do lots of excavating, about what baggage and what agreements are you subconsciously (and then hopefully you realize consciously) bringing to this parenting relationship? And once you start to notice those, that’s where it seems like you can untangle some of this stuff so that you aren’t reacting in such a, for lack of a better term, a reactive way, and you can actually use your brain. So will you talk to us about that?
Hunter: Yeah, yeah. I mean, I remember at that time, I was like, let me learn, and all this great parenting advice, and I would hear all these great parenting experts in their whole – everyone always says, “Your first step is to pause.” And I’d be like, “But I’m losing it! I can’t pause.” And so I really saw that we needed to bring these two pieces together because there really are ways to change the brain and change the reactivity. And it takes a lot of practice over time and it takes practice outside the moment and it takes practice in the moment. So basically what’s happening when you’re reacting and you’re losing it, is that your brain, your fight, flight or freeze stress response is taken over, and your heart rate raises, your muscles get tense, all of that stuff. And it actually literally bypasses the upper part of your brain, which is your prefrontal cortex. And that’s where your verbal ability, your empathy, your communication skills, all that great stuff is there, that you need. And so what is exciting about the practice of mindfulness – and you define it beautifully: being in the present moment with a sense of kindness and curiosity. I kind of think of it like a brain hack and you can practice mindfulness in many ways, but a sitting meditation practice is the gold standard for practicing because you’re not distracted and you have to kind of deal with what is coming up and practice being nonreactive to it. But what’s cool about that, to go back to that losing it moment, is that studies have shown, consistently repeated studies have shown a steady mindfulness meditation practice over about eight weeks can literally shrink the flight, flight or freeze areas of the brain and literally grow more dense, the prefrontal cortex areas of the brain and make the connective experience between them stronger. So you’re actually making yourself – you’re changing your brain to make yourself less likely to not be able to access that higher order thinking.
Brandy: Yeah, and you know what? That’s probably one of the reasons why even if I read books about Love and Logic or Mindful Parenting, and all of these things, my response would still be frustration, but part of my story has been that (and this is basically one of the themes of my novel) is the stifled sort of thing where what I’m feeling inside and then what I say to my kids are two different things. So inside I’m sort of raging, but I know enough and I’m trying to be the kind of parent that validates and has respectful communication. So it’s like I manage to eek out something that’s validating and loving most of the time and I’m not a yeller, but inside what’s happening to my body and the frustration that I’ve felt sometimes, it’s like I took all of that on myself.
Brandy: And so I think that some of the techniques that you talk about could be really helpful. So for example, like one of the quotes that you had in your book, is you said, “Most parenting books don’t tell you that all their good advice goes out the window when your stress response kicks in, as in you literally can’t access the areas of the brain where your good new skills are stored.” And so I kind of go back to thinking about my own experience that I don’t think I realized that I was having a stress response. I still did my best. I still feel like my kids sort of won on that, because most of the time I wasn’t saying damaging things or completely losing my shit, but inside it was happening. So my kids didn’t see that. But I think if I had known, “Oh this is a stress response,” I could have maybe saved myself a little bit.
Hunter: Yeah, yeah. Taken some tools. I think it’s just so helpful to know that, because then we stop blaming ourselves – it’s not, this isn’t about your willpower or about your moral failing or about anything. Your nervous system is having a stress response. No one wakes up in the morning and says, “I think I’m going to lose my shit at my kids at four o’clock today. That’s going to be fun.” You just don’t do that. Like no one chooses to do that. And also that piece I want to bring in here about if we can practice to also stop blaming ourselves and start to be kind to ourselves, really practicing self compassion, it’s very practical because judging ourselves and being hard on ourselves makes it less likely for us to be able to grow and change and do things that are a little outside our comfort zone. But if we can practice responding to our inevitable mess ups with kindness, then we can start to grow and change and do these things. So we need to understand that, yeah, we’re only human. Yeah. We’re going to mess up. And actually, yeah, our kids kind of need us to mess up. They need to see that like, “Oh look, Mommy gets angry. Mommy gets frustrated. These things happen. And I’m watching her in real time, take care of these feelings and show me how to skillfully deal with the energy of anger.” What are you modeling for your kids? Are you modeling, just don’t feel those feelings? Right? Which is what our parents mostly modeled for us. Which isn’t so helpful until you explode in a rage. Actually I got really angry at my kids not too long ago. They’re a little older now and we’ve gone through all these practices that I show in the book, so things are a lot, lot smoother. But I got really angry a few weeks ago after a movie night, my nine-year-old was a little manic and she had to go to bed, and she started laughing at me and I was like, “Oh…” (angry tone)
Brandy: “How dare you?”
Hunter: I really hadn’t felt an anger like that in a long time. I was like, “Oh, hello, Temper, you’re back.” And what I did is, I yelled, “I am really angry!” And then I did slam the door. Yes. And I did throw my library book on the floor of the driveway, but I didn’t blame her. I’d had enough practice with all of this to be able to use an “I” message and say, “This is how I am feeling right now.” And then I went and walked it off out in the dark, up and down my street for 20 minutes or something. But how are you going to deal with these feelings? Much of the time, our instinct – and you’ll see it in kids – is to blame others for when you’re not feeling good, and so for you as a parent, when anger arises, to then be able to handle that either by yelling skillfully, I guess as I would describe that, or maybe sighing it out or splashing water in your face or putting your hands on the floor or whatever it is. Your kids need to see that stuff.
Brandy: Yes. That’s what I’ve learned too. And then a couple things that I want to make sure that we talk about in this section is, when we’re talking about the quote that you had said about all the good advice, parenting advice goes out the window when you have a stress response and you can’t access the part of your brain that has learned something or is learning. This also applies to our kids when they’re doing homework, which is why homework battles suck so much. Because if you get in the battle, which I don’t know how you sometimes don’t get in the battle (it just depends different kids and different subjects and different times of day), sometimes it can just be like total resistance. But I know that I have to get, specifically my daughter, I have to get her so that she’s not having any sort of stress response in order for her to even learn anything. So the other night she was kind of frustrated and probably having a stress response and so we went over some spelling words, and the next day I drilled her on them, and she hadn’t remembered anything that we had learned. And then as I was reading your book, I was like, “Oh this is what was at play here.” So I think that that’s something we need to think about too, is our kids’ stress response and their lack of ability to learn in that.
Brandy: And then it makes you question – which would be a whole other podcast – in school, if they’re feeling a stress response, how are they even learning? So that was one of the things that I wanted to make sure to mention, but when you talked about getting angry and then walking it off, I don’t know where I read recently, and it’s not like it’s new information, but how when your body has this stress response, how walking and doing physical movement tells your body that everything’s okay, we’re operating normally and it helps to dissipate all of those hormones that just flooded your system like adrenaline and cortisol and all of those things. So that was something that was sort of new to me.
Hunter: Oh yeah. And actually you can shake as well. You can shake your hands, like literally imagine shaking it off. Like you would shake off, like a dog shaking off liquid. There’s a great book called, Why Don’t Zebras Get Ulcers? Do you know that book?
Brandy: Yes, I do. Yes.
Hunter: And it talked about that there literally is this tension and energy you’ve built up in your body and yeah, you’ve got to shake it off, move it out of your system. Actually a sigh breath is great for that. If you can’t go for a walk, if you ahhh (sighs), they’ve done some studies and the louder and more dramatically, you sigh – so you do that five or six times – it completely changes your brain chemistry. It’s really helpful. I do it in the car a lot when nobody’s around.
Brandy: I was going to say, when there are other people around and you’re like, “Ahhhhhh,” (sighs loudly) everybody’s like, “Yeah, do you want to say something to us?” And then you’re like, “No, ahhhhhhhh” (sighs loudly). “All right, like we’re listening.”
Brandy: I like this idea. And then one of the other things that you mentioned in that, in what you were just saying was this idea of the “I” message, that you said, “I’m really angry,” and I thought that was one of the great points in your book too, is the difference between a “you” message and an “I” message. Will you talk a tiny bit about that?
Hunter: Absolutely. Yeah. It turns out, if we say, “You did this and you did that,” that’s really blameful and if I say to you, “Brandy, you didn’t have my audio ready,” or whatever it was for the podcast, you kind of get a little defensive, right? You’re like, well, hey, wait a second. Right? And then you might kind of rise up and argue with that. So that’s like, if I accusing you of something, you’re going to defend yourself. That’s kind of the natural way of saying things. But if I tell you, “I feel really frustrated when this happens,” there’s not really much to argue about. I’m not talking about you, I’m just talking about how I’m feeling. And so when we talk to our children, instead of blaming them (which makes them kind of resentful), if we talk about whatever the behavior is, how it makes you feel and how it affects you, there’s not much to argue. You’re basically showing them these are the effects of your behavior on me. And then it invites them into this response from the inside out, can I change my behavior? Not I’m telling you to do something, but oh look, this is how this behavior effected me and now you have an opportunity to change it because you care about this person. And it’s a really intrinsic motivation way of communicating rather than the sort of, top down approach.
Brandy: Yes, totally.
Hunter: The idea of the adolescent rebellion, the teen rebellion, I really don’t believe that it’s this – we think that it’s this natural normal thing, but I actually don’t think so. I actually think that what they’re rebelling against is the parent’s culturally acceptable, destructive kind of techniques. Right? They’re just tired of being ordered around and threatened and having power used over them and having all those solutions push down on them. And what these more skillful communication techniques show, is that there are a whole bunch of kids who grow up without ever having felt like they had to like hate their parents when they were 14.
Brandy: That’s something definitely to strive towards. It would be amazing to get to that. I mean, of course there’s always going to be resistance and rebelling in some ways. But that’s one of the things that I strive towards, is talking to my kids in such a way that – obviously I’m the parent, but I always want them to feel that I understand and care about what they find valuable. And that, I think, is one of the main things in middle school and teen years, is to find that common ground. Because I think a lot of times we as adults pull away from that because we just don’t get them. Like my son for example, has this teacher right now, he’s in seventh grade, and he has this teacher who he loves and he’s like, “Oh it’s a lecture in his class today. I love his lectures!” It’s about the rise and fall of Ancient Rome or something that you wouldn’t maybe necessarily expect a kid to be excited about. But this teacher has such a way of bringing it into what the kids are interested in and involved in, and making it fascinating and then listening to their take on it that I just, I think he does such a great job of modeling that. I mean, the whole rest of the other teachers don’t do this and most of our day when my son gets home is spent talking about how ridiculous they were treated by these teachers. But I think it’s all part of the same thing, which is this respectful communication that you’re talking about and this validation and this just, being seen as valuable.
Hunter: And that’s beautiful because you’re listening, right? And you’re hearing him and you’re seeing him and we too often get into this mode of like, “I’m going to fix you and change you.” And actually when we can be more real with our kids, when we can be more authentic about how we happen to be feeling, what’s going on and we can relate to them as a real person and not just from this position of this role, things end up working so much better because you can have a respectful exchange like you’re talking about.
Brandy: Exactly. Something that your book talks about too is that taking inventory of our baggage. And I really liked the questions that you had for people around it, and talking about the different things that can trigger us into this stress response. So some of them you had talked about, common triggers, were: feeling misunderstood or contradicted, lack of control in a situation (which I know nothing about haha), feeling like someone is upset with you, disrespect or injustice, being excluded, tiredness, physical discomfort. And then you have this section that talked about information to track. So when you have an outburst, asking yourself who you yelled at? What happened (what was the surface trigger)? How you felt and or what is really the deeper trigger going on? Was anyone tired or hungry? Which is such a great question, and what you could have done differently?
Brandy: So I think in terms of “mindful,” when we all think, “Okay, is it sitting on a zafu, in the Zen pose?” I think that this is the mindfulness that you’re talking about and that’s so necessary, which is being aware of what just happened here and being able to break it down on what is really at the root of this. We see the surface, but then what really went on here?
Hunter: Yeah, exactly. I mean, our brains are meaning making machines and they’ll just kind of tell a story about them. And so to actually sit down and say, wait a minute, let me question what I know about this, what is really going on and what’s happening? What are my overall stress levels? That’s a huge piece of this, right? Our overall stress levels, if you think about that nervous system response, it takes very, very little to tip it into reactive mode. And if you notice a moment that’s recurringly really difficult, like getting out of the house in the morning, there’s an invitation to slow that moment down and make that place a moment of deliberate practice. Because really anywhere where it’s difficult, you’re feeling badly, that’s just a message to your body that there’s something to learn here. That’s one of the invitations, is to just look at these moments of difficulty and see what they can teach us. That goes back to that… “more enlightenment than Zen on a mountain top” because yeah, you’re going to learn a ton if you use the difficulties as teachers.
Brandy: Yeah. And you had mentioned in your book anger as a strong motivator for action and change. And I think that that’s a great way to look at it, is if you find yourself in these moments, it’s like, okay, well, what needs to change? And I liked at the beginning of the book, you had a bunch of great questions about, how do you feel about parenting right now? What are your frustrations, what do you want to feel instead? And then think about your own behaviors. What would you like to change? You have some really great tools for people doing this inner work and assessing what do you want different. And I think anger always brings us to a place of “something needs to shift.” And the hard part is, in parenthood and specifically in motherhood it can feel like, “Well, all the things I want to shift can’t,” that’s I know how I felt. It’s like, “Well, I just have to wait for the next 12 years or whatever it is, because I can’t make somebody put pants on.” But of course as we know, we can’t control those things, but we can control our stress response to that and how we react to it.
Hunter: To some degree, to some degree. I mean, it’s important to remember-
Brandy: Yeah, actually true.
Hunter: It’s funny because we think, I’m going to just make these kids be happy and then if they do the things I want them to do, then I will feel better. And we can’t control them. We can barely even control ourselves. We are our own responses, but that in ourselves, that is where we have the most locus of control I would say.
Brandy: Okay, what are some of your tips for how we get ourselves to be less reactive and to build that muscle of being mindful and being able to be present? What are some of your tips for that?
Hunter: Well, there are a lot of ways to practice mindfulness. They’re wonderful. Like you can practice slowing down and being very attentive to your walk from your house to the school or your house to work and just practice breathing and slowing down in the moment. You can practice mindful dishwashing and all kinds of things. But I actually do… I encourage everyone that you can have a small formal practice, and what I mean by formal practices that maybe you sit somewhere like, your Lazy Boy and you set a timer for 60 seconds or use a three-minute guided meditation and you deliberately practice to follow your breath or feel the sensations in your body. And why I encourage even a teeny tiny formal practice is that then it’s every day I wake up, I do this little breathing thing and this mindfulness thing, and then you’re setting an intention every day to then, then maybe you’ll actually remember to do the slow walk from the car to the work.
Hunter: Because if it’s not something that’s like a little anchor in your day as a daily habit, then you’re just going to forget in two weeks from this, a week from listening to this podcast. It’s gone out of your mind. It is a practice. It is a muscle that you build that non-reactivity. Everything in our lives right now, is teaching us to be more distracted and more reactive in some ways. That instant gratification we get from everything on the internet and our phones, that everything is leading us to even more distraction. And to take a deliberate step in the opposite direction towards less distraction and to focus and to mindfulness, it’s a muscle that you have to build. So you’re not going to send your kid to the little league world series without ever going to a practice. And you’re not going to have much of a chance of ever controlling your reactivity in the wild tantrum if you’ve never practiced like on a daily basis. So you can’t expect that of yourself if you don’t build that muscle in the calmer times. There are lots, so many resources everywhere. But for people who buy the book, there’s a guided meditation, but really it’s taking a moment – it could even be after you take a shower – you sit on the toilet for 60 seconds, and you practice paying attention and you’re just kind of building this habit of a muscle. And that’s so much better than sitting down for a 20-minute meditation once a month. Just to build that habit and intention at a daily basis can actually make a big difference. It can be really effective and you can then maybe build up to something like a 10-minute practice a day can be really helpful because it is sort of dose dependent, as far as feeling the effects of them, less anxiety, less depression, greater wellbeing. All of these effects that studies have shown with mindfulness practice.
Brandy: Are you assuming that the 60 seconds is without the kids at the door and banging and asking questions and all of those things? Or do these, the mindfulness, is it imperative for this stuff to be completely alone and to have space away from distraction to do it or can it be while your kids are banging on the door and like, “Mom, where are you? Mom, I need this. Mom, a granola bar?” All of those things. How important is the being alone?
Hunter: That’s a great question.
Brandy: I mean I know how important it is for me, but I’m just saying like science-wise.
Hunter: Yeah, it’s much better if you are not distracted, and so if you have young kids or your kids have a radar that they wake up like the second you wake up and all of that stuff, you probably have to be like a little creative. You might arrive to preschool five minutes early and sit in the car or something like that. I’ve worked with clients with very young kids and it really is possible to carve out three minutes out of your day of quiet. I know it’s not easy. I know it’s hard, but it’s actually something that ends up giving you – as far as your brain and the ability to kind of be more present – it’s something that actually ends up giving you what feels like more time because as we practice focusing our attention in the present moment, we build that muscle and so then when we are working we have a better ability to focus on exactly what we’re doing. When we’re with our kid, we can feel the touch of their hand on their skin. We’re not a million hours in the future planning, whatever. We can actually be present for those moments, and kids are like a river. They’re never the same twice. So, if we want to be able to be here for this experience, it really helps to train our brains, which are just wired to sort of be planning, and it is not about stopping thinking, so don’t feel like that. And it’s not about feeling a certain way, it’s just about practicing to bring your attention back to the present moment 500 times in those three minutes.
Brandy: Right. Oh my gosh. Right. Something in the book that struck me as fascinating, was you have this part that says, “Because of our wiring for survival, we all have an innate propensity to be aware of things that could threaten, which is called a negativity bias. The lower brain makes sure that we notice the negative more easily, which was helpful in the struggle to survive. However, today the negativity bias can undermine your connection to your child, aka, the glue that makes parenting easier. We see the uncooperative moments. How about the cooperative ones? We see their selfishness, maybe missing their generosity. Our view of our children can become narrow and biased.” And I thought, wow, that’s interesting that biologically, when we’re in survival mode that we’re wired to do that. And it’s also fascinating and enraging because motherhood puts so much of us in survival mode. Like what a shitty design. I sometimes think motherhood – and maybe it’s just modern motherhood – is such a shitty design. It’s like we’re going to put all of you in intense survival mode and then you have to raise these beings who then hopefully don’t grow up and repeat the same mistakes, but in a sense, that does let us off the hook – well, not let us off the hook, but it shows how much of this stuff like you’ve been talking about is biological and not necessarily a moral issue or us being crappy parents.
Hunter: No, no, I mean it, yeah, the default is you’re going to be kind of grumpy and you’re going to be looking at all the critical stuff and you’re going to be yelling at your kids. That’s basically the default. So don’t be mad at yourself. Like that’s just the way our nervous system is. And so it actually just, it takes deliberate practice to have a happier experience. And actually I wanted to share this with you Brandy, because it happens to be sitting on my desk, but there is a wonderful New York Times editorial by Jessica Grose that says, “Early motherhood has always been miserable.”
Brandy: Yes, I saw that go by!
Hunter: And she has quotes from people from the mid 1800s who talk about these things just as we might. And so can I share this with you? I love this.
Hunter: Okay. “‘I fear I am not very charitable toward babies,’ wrote Loula Kendall Rogers after the birth of her first child in 1864, ‘as I find myself at such times wishing for a lodge and some vast wilderness where the cry of babies might never reach me more.'” Right?
Brandy: She wants a She Shed, she’s looking for a She Shed, is what’s happening!
Hunter: Yes. The design is kind of crappy. It’s always been this way. And yeah, right now, when we’re all alone, it’s a really terrible design the way we have it. I mean, one of the things I really encourage my members, my clients to work on is to get some support. It is crazy-making to be the only person with small children 24 hours a day. That’s not a recipe for sanity. And nobody enjoys that. It’s very rare that somebody really enjoys that because kids can be irritable and frustrating and they’re just not mature. That’s their definition. And so, yeah, the design of the way we have things set up right now is really crappy. I completely agree.
Brandy: Yeah. And nobody tells you that motherhood is rewiring your body’s default settings. Like you don’t realize like when you have a baby and you have a kid, you don’t realize that you’re basically going to be overwriting instincts and survival mechanisms. It’s like a resistance. Motherhood sometimes feels like a built-in resistance that you have to fight, where your body and your brain and your hormones and your lack of sleep, where they put you at, you have to fight against that in order to be the kind of parent that you want to be, and to have these connections with your kids. And I mean, there are lots of ways that our bodies wire us to do that with bonding and oxytocin, and all of those built-in things like when we smell our baby’s heads and we just can’t get enough and all of that wonderful stuff. But sometimes it just feels like did somebody spill coffee on the blueprints and they were just like, “I don’t know what that part supposed to be?” Because sometimes it feels like there there’s got to be an easier intrinsic way.
Hunter: Yeah. I agree. I mean I think that what we have go back to the idea of the questions that I ask in the beginning, we have to look at what is that vision, that North star that we’re going for? So then when we have choice points, we can make choice points in that direction. In the book, Raising Good Humans, I offer a lot of different practices and tips. But the truth is you’re probably not going to be able to go through and do every single thing, which I would say rock on if you can. But if you can take small steps that are bit by bit over time, that are in the direction of helping you become a little less distracted, helping you become a little less reactive and feel a little more peaceful in your life, and then making those small steps towards understanding the way your language and your communication, how it’s affecting your child and maybe making some small changes. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but really those little bits can make a big difference over time. It’s worthwhile. I mean, I think about my father and I love him now, but when I was young, he was kind of like, “Yeah, be this wonderful wild kid and have fun.” And then when I was 14 he was like, “Do what I say because I say it and I’m your father.” And he was very authoritarian and he had a temper all throughout my childhood. Because of that, he didn’t have these tools, he didn’t have this awareness and understanding, our relationship was damaged for a long time. Well into my twenties I felt I had a lot of anger towards him. I couldn’t spend time with him without us arguing and getting into fights. And it’s sad, but a lot of people have a very similar experience where they don’t have very loving relationships with a parent because of the way they acted and what we have the opportunity to do… And you’re right, like it’s like kind of unfair that we have to deal with all our baggage and then maybe start to make these kinds of challenging changes, but it’s also an opportunity to then hopefully make relationships for a lifetime that are closer. Right?
Brandy: Exactly. And less trauma for our kids to have to work through. I mean, none of us gets through this unscathed or does it all the right way, but just hoping that some of those kind of major touchpoints are there that maybe for some people weren’t.
Hunter: I know. Almost like every single problem in the world can be related back to people not being able to take care of their difficult feelings. Look our president or people who do things like violent acts, right? They’re unable to take care of their difficult feelings. No one taught them that. And so if we can take one thing – Dear Listener, if you take one thing from this conversation, I would invite you to think about that. Like, how are you showing your kids how to take care of their difficult feelings? How are you taking care of your own difficult feelings? Can you start to shift that to be a little more transparent, a little bit more loving of yourself, a little bit more forgiving of yourself and think of these as energies that can be released and transformed and can be talked about and accepted?
Brandy: Yeah, and I really loved in your book you had sort of two ways of looking at difficult feelings. Obviously there’s more than two, but you had talked about people who are blockers versus people who are flooders. Will you explain that a little bit?
Hunter: Yeah. I mean this is kind of like our society’s default ways of taking care of difficult feelings. And the blocking – this is the, just don’t feel the feeling. And these are kind of two sides of the same coin, right? So if you’re blocking them off, you might be numbing. Ways to not feel our feelings include, of course, drinking and drugs as well as shopping and phone usage and Facebook, right? Distracting ourselves. All of these are ways to numb ourselves. And the problem with that is that you can’t selectively numb and that if you numb yourself to your difficult feelings, you’re also numbing yourself to your good feelings too. And you will be less available for the joy of your life.
Brandy: And would a blocker be somebody who would wear a t-shirt or a hat that says “Good Vibes Only?” Would that be a blocker?
Hunter: Maybe, yeah. I mean, because if you’re only allowed to have good feelings, then that doesn’t leave any room in acceptance for letting the energy of the difficult feelings move through your body and through your life. To say “only have good feelings” is like, yeah, good luck with that. Have fun. Like that just doesn’t really happen. It’s not-
Brandy: You have zero friends. Okay, so then what about the flooder?
Hunter: Well, it’s almost the flip side of blocking, because the analogy I like to think of is, like if you take a beach ball and you push it under the water, you’re trying to block those feelings at some point. It just pops up in some random place, higher than ever before. And flooding is just getting really drowned by your feelings. And this was my experience for the first 27 years of my life, is that I would have some bad feelings, and they just felt so overwhelming to me that I couldn’t handle life. I would drown in them. And that drowning can be like a rage. It can be just tears, it can be depression, it’s like drowning. And those feelings can come out in different ways. And what I’m teaching in the book and that we’re looking for is that middle path, right? Like what is the middle path to mindfully feel these feelings? And it’s really the only way through them. I really think of our our difficult feelings are like little toddlers. “Look at me, feel me, I want to be seen and heard!”
Brandy: “Mom, watch this, Mom, watch this.” Those are our feelings.
Hunter: Exactly. And until we give them that attention, they’re not going to be satisfied. And that’s really the truth. Right? And it’s funny actually. Sometimes just acknowledging those feelings can provide so much relief. So just by saying, “I’m starting to get really frustrated,” that provides a lot of relief because you’re actually tying in that verbal part of your brain, but you’re actually acknowledging what’s happening and that just provides relief. So you can do that for yourself. You can do that for your children. “Ugh, that sucked.” Right? Then you’re like, “Yeah,” and then that provides a lot of relief. So they need to be seen and heard and felt.
Brandy: Yeah. So that middle ground, it sounds like some of the tools to get you there are the same tools that you’re talking about for the mindfulness – in both cases it would help both the blocker and the flooder to be more mindful, to be able to be in the present, to examine where they came from and what agreements and baggage is theirs and what isn’t theirs and how they want to move forward. All of those things seem like they bring both of them to the middle, from the edges.
Hunter: Yes, exactly. Mindfulness, it does help us tolerate those feelings. At this point in my life I’ve been practicing meditation for 14 years steadily and I see them just as these sensations in the body. And I also want to say that sometimes that’s not the most skillful choice. Sometimes the most skillful choice is to soothe yourself in some way in that might be distracting yourself. Maybe like a Grey’s Anatomy marathon is what you need right now. So it’s the middle path. What can that be for you?
Brandy: Yeah. I’m also over here thinking about the relationship between a blocker and a flooder, in a family relationship. Like if you have those people in relationship who are on the extremes, what a tough situation that is – and even just meeting people. In my mind, I think of it in terms of, some people are really surfacey and like to stay on the surface, and other people like to go deep, really fast. And so I even think about in friend relationships or social situations, you can pretty much feel this out pretty quickly when you’re having a conversation with somebody. And I know I’m always repelled by the surface dwellers because I’m always like, “Oh man, I can’t hang here for very long.” Like we got to go deep.
Hunter: But just having that recognition and saying, “Oh, this is what is here and this is why this is hard for me.” That can help too.
Brandy: Yeah. What is your take on spanking, or as people like to call it so that it doesn’t sound like spanking, “swatting,” like just a gentle swat, which is actually still physical harm. What’s your take on this?
Hunter: Well, I mean, all the studies are totally conclusive on this that it is completely harmful for kids and it’s associated with all kinds of terrible behaviors that we wouldn’t want. If you think about it, it doesn’t make any kind of sense. You have to be the person you want your child to become. You are modeling the behavior. If you yell at your child, they’re going to yell. If you’re disrespectful to them, they’re going to be disrespectful. They’re learning from you how to do things. So do you want to teach them that the one who hits is the one who wins? No.
Brandy: And this a lot of times I would imagine goes back to how we were parented. I don’t know that somebody would be a parent that uses physical harm, who didn’t have it on themselves. And so I think that that’s one of the things, like you talk about, which is going back and assessing how were you raised, how were you parented, what did you like, what did you not like? How do you want to be a parent? And I would imagine that piece comes up quite often. Have you ever heard of people who weren’t spanked themselves who spank?
Hunter: No. No I haven’t. I was spanked and it’s funny because that was one of the things that made me really not want to spank.
Brandy: Yeah, me too.
Hunter: During all this time with all this work, I had a conversation with my dad. I remember they were like sleeping on the futon in my sun room, and my dad was saying to me, which was really sweet, he was saying, “When I was young, I was beat with a belt and a strap and I spanked you, and you’re not hitting your kids. And that’s awesome.” And I was like, “Thanks.” But that’s like not enough for me, right?
Brandy: Right. Well, and it begs the question too, with the spanking: when it’s happening, is the spanking about the kid and somebody consciously or mindfully thinking this will be the best for the kid? Or is it the adult’s stress, anger response. And I think there’s a clear answer there, which is yes, that’s the adult stress, anger response. It’s more them out of control than, “This will be the best way to teach this lesson to this child.”
Hunter: Yes, absolutely. I couldn’t agree with you more.
Brandy: There was another part where you were talking about shortcuts and routines and labels. So, how we do these shortcuts with our routines and we have these labels for our kids, like the athletic one or the sneaky one and how those things sometimes help us get through the day and organize our thoughts and what we’re doing. But by looking at it from that compartmentalized way, we miss certain messages and signals from our kids when we’re trying to have these respectful lines of communication with them. And yet, like you’ve said too, they’re always changing. So will you speak to that a little bit, about what that is and how that limits us and our kids?
Hunter: Sure. Yeah. I mean we do this because yeah, it’s a shortcut the brain makes, we make shortcuts in thinking, and that’s just very natural. That’s how the brain works, we’re not going to be 100% mindful all the time. But it’s nice to be aware of, “Oh look, I’m making an assumption about my child because of the past.” And what that does is, it prevents us from fully seeing them for who they are now. And so the attitude of mindfulness is to bring an attitude of kindness and curiosity to that moment.
Hunter: So curiosity is non-judgment, and it’s this idea of well, can I be curious about who you are now? And kids change so quickly, their interests change, their size changes, everything changes so quickly. So can we let them be who they are now without being in the straight jacket of who they’ve been in the past? And actually this is a very helpful practice for any relationship, honestly. And that’s kind of the sneaky truth of everything in this book is that, it’s helpful for every age relationship, but who are you now and can I be open to learning who you are in this moment, that’s different from another moment? We’ve never ever been in this moment together in our life and we’ll never be in this moment ever again. So can I be here and really see it, really be here for it?
Hunter: Obviously we don’t have to be an intense laser beam of focus on our kids all the time. That would be certainly way overwhelming for them and undoable for us. But when we are with them and we are choosing to place our attention on our kids, if we can do it with this attitude of acceptance of non-judgment and curiosity, who are you? I mean that’s what we want, right? If you think about love, love is attention. And if you think about when you maybe first fell in love with someone, it’s like, all your attention was on them. It’s this loving attention and to be really present with that, that’s a real gift. That’s how we really show them our love is by really being with them no matter who they are.
Brandy: Right. There was something when you were just talking about this idea of the compassion and being kind to yourself, there was a part of your book that totally hit me right in the feels and I was so surprised by it. And it was the part of your book where, I think it’s like maybe halfway through and you’ve given a bunch of tips and a bunch of questions and ways that people can help things and tools and all of this. And then you have this section that basically says, “I know I’ve given you a lot of stuff but now I want you to do none of them.” And maybe it didn’t specifically say “do none of them,” but you have this part that was about non-striving and you talked about how in our society we are so into striving and we’re so into outcome-focused and how just even that energy of having this checklist of all these things now that we’re going to do differently and we’re going to explore, how that has a feeling around it that were broken, and that we need to be fixed and we need to move quickly to fix that.
Brandy: And I got so emotional about it because I still fall prey to that so easily with books and things that can help “fix” things. Really what you’re saying was so profound, which is just sit for a minute, just sit with this stuff and don’t move forward as if you’re broken. What I loved is you’re preaching all this stuff about self love but then you’re not like, “Okay and go fix yourself.” You’re legitimately like, “And now just sit and know that you are good enough.” And I just thought that that was so beautiful, the idea of non-striving. And my friend Kathie, who’s been on the podcast a couple of times, I immediately messaged her and read her that part because she exists in that place of non-striving and cultivating the attitude of non-striving and she’s struggled with it because people who are more like A-type (like me) – she and I, we always joke about how she can get lost in a day by looking at all the beautiful things around her. So I messaged her and I was like, “Kathie, guess what? You win, you have it all figured out! Your non-striving is the thing that we’re supposed to be striving for. And within that, that’s messed up cause I’m still outcome-focused but Kathie, you win!” But I just wanted to say I so appreciate that part of the book and I think it’s so, so important.
Hunter: I agree. We’re given, especially women, we’re given this message of perfection and achievement in American culture. The achievement culture is out of control. You get this feeling of you’re only good enough if you’re achieving things and doing things and checking things off the list and that’s exhausting and that’s just not true. And yeah, when we can give ourselves permission to slow down, to stop trying so hard, and that’s actually one of the lessons of meditation too, is that, as we let go and stop trying so hard, sometimes it becomes a little easier. There’s kind of a balance between effort and non-effort. We need to have times, like we need to have full on lazy days and we need to have periods of rest so that then we can have the energy to take on the things that are really challenging and important.
Brandy: Yeah. That was such a great part. I feel like so much of this stuff these days is about “Five Quick Ways to Fix Your Broken Ass,” and so to read that was like, “Oh, thank you. This actually feels like nourishing and real.”
Hunter: Yeah. The whole practice of meditation and mindfulness really has been a lesson for me over the years of non-striving and acceptance being both the goal and the path.
Brandy: Right. One of the things that I’ve found helpful, I was reading about it a little bit ago, but I saw it reiterated in your book, was this idea that when you’re having a feeling, instead of saying, “I’m failing,” or “I’m terrible at this,” or even about your child, or, “Something’s wrong with my child,” is to stop yourself and have the awareness to say, “I’m having the thought that I’m failing,” or “I’m having the thought that I’m terrible at this,” or “I’m having the thought that something’s wrong with my kid.” Just putting a little bit of distance from it, it’s like that awareness where you’re seeing everything kind of from a bigger picture, it’s like you’re looking down on yourself like, “Oh, just because I think that, it doesn’t mean that it’s true. It’s that I’m having this thought that this is true.” And so from there, you can like piece it away a little bit better and not take it and swallow it and believe it and live it.
Hunter: Oh yeah. Yeah. We tend to believe all the thoughts that we think by default. And they’re really kind of shitty most of the time. For most of us, it’s a lot of that sense of the ego of the separate self that wants to keep you protected. Right?
Brandy: Well, right. If we’re in that survival mode that we talked about that happens to most of us as mothers, we have that negative bias also. So that’s part of it too.
Hunter: Yeah, we have all that stuff. And knowing about that is really helpful. And then as you start to hopefully build your little mini meditation practice and start to become aware of those thoughts, yeah, you’re going to start to see that you’re thinking the same 80,000 thoughts a day as you thought yesterday. And a lot of them are habits and a lot of them are not that helpful. Really the truth is our brains are meaning-making machines and they want to explain things away. So we have a behavior and then our brain starts to tell a story about it. And the truth is, it’s just a story. It’s not real. What mindfulness does to thoughts, which is really cool, it’s kind of like before we develop this muscle of awareness, we’re like under a waterfall of thoughts and we’re just in the water. And what this power of awareness does, it helps us to step out in front of the waterfall and say, “Oh look, here are all these thoughts that are happening,” and you can identify more with the observer of these thoughts, and it gives us this little bit of space. We’re still going to have these thoughts. We have all these feelings, but what the power of awareness and the power of mindfulness helps us do, is then choose our response rather than just be reactive and acting without that awareness. Does that make sense?
Brandy: Yeah, absolutely. And in the childbirth prep that I used to do, one of the things that we talked about in terms of pain-coping was, there’s pain and then there’s suffering, and I know that this was mentioned in your book, something like this too, which is the suffering comes from the story we tell ourselves about the pain. And I think that that so goes with so many different things in life, which is the actual suffering, many times it’s about the story about the shitty thing that happened. The shitty thing is just the shitty thing and like you’re saying is if you can be removed from a little bit and see the waterfall, you can go, “Wow, look how it really splashes there.”
Hunter: Getting perspective.
Brandy: Yes. Hunter thank you so much for coming here and giving us your insight. I really love how dual-faceted, I mean there’s more than that, but with your book, about excavating the past and what unconscious scripts you have and becoming more present and more aware, but then also that mindfulness plus the skilled communication, I feel like those are two such huge pieces that can really make a difference. So I really enjoyed your book. I’ve really enjoyed our time here today. And where can people find you online?
Hunter: I’m at mindfulmamamentor.com. You can find the book there or you can find the podcast there. And then if you’re curious about the behind the scenes, I do share a lot more at an Instagram, at mindfulmamamentor.
Brandy: Okay, wonderful. And you said from the beginning, your book is already out so people can already go get it?
Hunter: It’s there!
Brandy: There’s so much here! But wait, don’t do any of it. Don’t strive. But also do. But don’t. (whisper) But do. Hopefully this episode helped you gain some perspective on what was handed down to you that’s playing out in your parenting. And I hope you were let off a hook by learning about our stress response and how it strangles our ability to use all those good parenting tools we learn. It’s not that we’re shit parents, it’s that we have to build that mindful muscle.
Brandy: Hunter’s book, Raising Good Humans, a Mindful Guide to Breaking the Cycle of Reactive Parenting and Raising Kind, Confident Kids has some great meditation practices for those who need and want help. And also there’s an episode of my podcast that walks us through a meditation, in episode 13, Meditation for Moms with Jeanine.
Brandy: And of course for anyone who wants to discuss this topic and episode further, you can find myself and other listeners like you on our Facebook group, the Adult Conversation Podcast discussion group. I’ve added questions to vet you guys and truthfully, one of those questions is just for my sheer entertainment (please humor me). If you are enjoying this podcast, please subscribe or leave a rating or review. If you want to show your love in a deeper way and would like to support a mom on her side gig, which sometimes feels more like a main gig (Hi, me!), go to www.patreon.com/adult conversation. That’s P-A-T-R-E-O-N.com/adult conversation. Thank you to all my beloved Patreon peeps who help keep this podcast alive. As always, thanks for listening.