Parent coach Mary Van Geffen joins the podcast to discuss parenting “spicy kids.”

This new season of The Family Brain Podcast focuses on “What to Expect When You Are Expecting a Teen.” I remember my early parenting days gobbling up whatever parenting books were recommended, and I found comfort in their pages, even if the reality of parenting was much more nuanced and complicated than the books let on. Likewise, parenting a teen is not a one size fits all program, and in my conversation with Mary Van Geffen, a parenting coach for “Spicy Kids”, I am reminded of one principal of parenting that seems to fit most situations, and that is that often the point of work is not so much about the child but about the parts of the parent desire for control. I will admit that this conversation came at just the right time for me. Some days parenting feels like a breeze and there are other seasons where I question everything I know. If you have every felt like this, I hope you find hope in this conversation. I know I did.

Parenting Spicy Kids

"The typical child so wants to please you, and they want to stay in connection with you. The spicy one...has more of an inner drive to follow the call of their own heart and we a lot to learn from that, and wow that is hard to parent."

– Mary Van Geffen

In this episode:

I kick off a little shaky, and flub Mary Van Geffen’s name, but once we get rolling there is no stopping us. We get going talking about how Mary came to the work of helping others parent spicy kids. Mary was a “spicy” kid and that came with some rough times and some rejection. Once she became a parent, she wanted to do things differently for her children and now shares what she has learned with other families. I love when one person’s story and past feeds into their work. Mary talks about how parents of spicy kids and particularly spicy teens bring a great deal of intensity to situations, and how its on the parent to lower the energy in those interactions. Spicy kids have a high loyalty to themselves and intensely follow the call of their own heart. Mary says we have so much to learn from them. Spicy kids are not people pleasers and so often do not fall prey to as much peer pressure and are also not as eager to please their parent. I love that integrity to themselves, and as Mary suggests it can be challenging to feel like a competent parent with this kind of intensity.
Mary talks about how the little (not so little) secret is that often the place for the work in a parenting situation is not so much to do with the child as with a parent’s unresolved need for control. OK that spoke to me. I have been feeling in the teen parenting years a lot like those early parenting days of no control, and I clearly have more work to do in that area.
Mary notes that often the spicy kids she talks about are inflexible, highly sensitive (sensitive to tags, sounds), and are persistent and often louder than the average child. This came come with some great benefits like staying true to self and goals and being aware of the world in rich ways. It can also come with some frustrations like when things don’t go as planned or when the child is able to get what they expected. It can lead to challenges with friendships and at school. Mary has the great reminder that a parent’s goal is not to control the child’s behavior but rather for the parent to stay as they want to be regardless of how the child is in any given moment. She talks about how teens often trigger in parents their own tender parts as a child at that age, so for example my 11-year-old may bring me back to things that I loved or had a time with as an 11 year old myself. I reflected that nothing seems to quite shine a light more on the unhealed parts of yourself better than your child.
One key lesson I got from talking with Mary is the idea of creating slow customer service with our teens. I know I can be quick to fill requests to clear the list of things to do and tidy up my own anxiety. Welp, it turns out that creates repeat customers with more and more requests. I am committing myself to slowing down my service. Mary suggests cultivating a inner patroness, like an inner guide to help create a inner mentor of how you might like to engage. I am working on who that could be for me.
The other big take away from Mary is that often she sees parents who lead with what they are worried about for their child and a high focus on what is not going well. She helps families shift to a focus on what is going well, and a focus on the child’s strengths. She says that instead of strengths approach we focus on their weaknesses but the world will figure that out. We need to magnify the good and blow that up for them.
We end remembering the Mr. Rogers document, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” and how he reminds parents that what kids need is to be reminded that you love them exactly how they are. Mary suggests that when we give qualifiers, it creates a unspoken message that “I would be more comfortable if you were different.” Mary talks about noticing bids for connection from your kids, and that those are the key moments to build relationship with your teens. I know I am paying more attention to those bids for connection after talking with Mary.
Mary Van Geffen has such great perspective on connecting with teens and I hope you get as much out of this episode as I did.

Megan Gipson 00:02
Hi, and welcome to the family brain podcast. This is a podcast dedicated to the glorious and messy world of family life and mental health. I'm your host, Megan Gipson. I'm a licensed clinical social worker with a private practice in Austin, Texas. I try to keep it real, and I invite guests who I think might help us navigate this journey of being human. Thanks for listening. Hi, today I am starting my new season of the family brain podcast with Mary van Geffen, who is a parenting coach of spicy children. So I just want to welcome everybody to this new season of the family brain. And we're going to talk about teens What to Expect When You're Expecting teens because I know I personally need more information on that all of a sudden I'm in this land. So welcome, Mary. Hello. Nice to see you. It's so I'm excited. So I learned about you from a couple of my friends who have been following you forever and I was like, How did I miss you have a very fun Instagram presence, which I really enjoy. I check her out at Mary Geffen at Mary Geffen right as your Instagram handle. Dan Geffen's. Oh my god, did I say it wrong the first time to just now you Okay. Okay. At Mary van Geffen. So, I don't know, you want to tell me a little bit about how you got into spicy kid work? Where did that originate with you?

Mary Van Geffen 01:33
First of all, I was a spicy kid, I was a tough teen. Yeah, I was fired from my first two jobs. I just sort of burned some bridges along the way. And then when it was time for me to have a daughter, I found myself having thoughts about her that were super negative. And, you know, thinking that she was bossy and selfish and dramatic. And as I now can look back and say that's because those things were said about me. And I was sort of reproducing some of the way that I had been raised. And so I went on a journey to how do I parent Well, this intense person who really feels like they don't need a parent. And along that way, realize there wasn't a lot of people resourcing other people that are raising boss babies. And there's a lot of, of sort of making those people feel bad, whether it's the church saying, Well, if your relationships good with God, then you should be able to shepherd a Child's Heart, you know, or it's the people on the playground are like, Well, why don't you just tell them not to do that. And there's some kids where it doesn't work. And so I feel very equipped in the teen years, because spicy kids are strong willed kids or cactus kids, whatever you want to call them, are like little teenagers at

three, four, or five, six, and seven. And so I've already I've moved past the need, or the the knee jerk reaction to take things so personally. Yeah, I had a client yesterday who said, Oh, my daughter said the meanest thing to me and it was so hurtful. And I said, Do you want to share with me what she said. She said, You don't love me. And I was like, sweetheart, if that feels really mean to you, then we gotta get some work here going because we've got to open up our ability to handle the off gassing of a angry child and not make it so personal and such such an emergency. And we've we're the ones in the relationship that need to lower the stakes, because the teenager is going to just by nature of the brain they're dealing with, they're going to exacerbate things and so we can't both go there. Yeah, developments are

totally and it gives me flashbacks. So I am a therapist, and when I was a wee child, like in my early 20s, did not have kids, and was sent on missions to help people learn to be parents. And I mean, that's horrifying to me horrifying, because what I was taught was structure limits, here's the expectations, and then it just all kind of falls into place. And so here I was telling these really in pretty desperate situations. Well, this is what you know, what you need to do. And it just and so now having spicy children also, I just feel like I wish I could do a goodwill tour and say, sorry to all of those people. Like I had no idea. I think they knew I had no idea, you know, but it's just

the we live in we learn. Yeah.

And it's I think that it's tricky. Like you said, Well if you just do this, or have you tried just telling them no. Yeah, I thought of that. I did. I didn't think of that.

Oh, it's just my stories we were talking about. We've got Kids that when you say the answer is no, I don't want to talk about this, it doesn't stop. And they follow you into a different room and they upgrade level because they have such a high loyalty to themselves. And that can look like, you know, they're they're counterculture, they're not the typical child, so wants to please you, and they still want to stay in connection with you, the spicy one as I call them as more of an inner drive to follow the call of their own heart. And we've got a lot to learn from that. And, wow, that's hard to parent. And we can't simplify it with little trite. Oh, just do step one, and three and four. It's, it's really, we need to practice unconditional love to someone who is refusing to earn love. And it's very hard.

It is it is. I love Well, I just want to mention, I love the term spicy, because I think it just gives I

mean, I think language informs so much of how what we keep in our brains, you know, I caught myself saying something that I wish I hadn't the other day. And it's nothing like it's nothing horrible. But just like, the language just kind of like keeps that loop going in our brains. And I think if we can think about it, as you're saying as spicier, like we have a lot to learn from them. And it's and it's really hard, you know, that it just creates a word that isn't so shaming or like defeating.

Yes, yeah, that's really important to me, because so many moms that I talk with are so under like this shame blanket, because of the way they're describing their kid and the way they're describing themselves. Like, I just got off the phone with a client who said, like, I should know how to do this instinctively. And I was like, Whoa, can you write that down? For a second? I should know how to do this instinctively. What does someone who believes that? Like? What kind of resources does that person have available to them? None. Because they don't ask for help. They're supposed to know how to do it. They're like just that language. Like, that's not true. No, a lot of this stuff is not intuitive, especially if we weren't parented gently or kindly or with respect. So we just kind of go back to what what was done to us, and it didn't feel good, but now it feels instinctual. And so I just want to say that I'm a big believer, like an intuition and what your heart is telling you, and I think a lot of us have a lot of pollutive thoughts we have to get through before we can get to what our heart is telling us. And we might not know, like I just said to a client that who's has a bully, her set her her mild child because some of us have a spicy one in a mild job, or mild child has a bully on the bus, punching him in the face and stuff. And I said, what about what about role playing, how to be with this bully, and taking us in different characters, and she was like role playing, she's like, I know that, but I never would have thought to do it. And we, we can't isolate ourselves. There's so many people that have ideas that will infuse some creativity and some hope into our parenting. So buckling down and doing this alone is is is just, it's a hope drainer. So I just love that anyone listening to this has already chosen to let you speak into their life, and infuse their parenting with some new creativity and hope. And I think that becomes really important when they're teenagers because they, they doubly don't need to please us now there that part of them is sloughed away. And in fact, they are much more curious about novel people and voices they aren't familiar with than they are with our own voice. Like in their brain, their brain gives them more dopamine when they hear somebody else's voice than ours. So there's a lot stacked against us. And I just want anybody listening to this. To get yourself some support. Whether it's taking, you know, a one hour parenting class or telling a friend can I just tell you what my life is like without getting advice from you. I just need somebody else to track with me. Tell me I'm not crazy. I just don't want folks to do this alone. Yeah,

I love that. And I love that you're providing that resource and connection for people. So if somebody's listening and they're thinking, well what exactly does a spicy kid look like? I saw on your website there's like a good solid list like what comes to your mind when you first think like okay, are we actually dealing with a spicy kid here? What? What are some of the characteristics to kind of know that that's what's happening perhaps. Okay, I

want you to know there's like two ways to go here because there's I can drive the kid. But sometimes it's not the kid. That's like the secret. Sometimes it's the moms own need for control piece. Order. She

wrote that down when I was reading your website because it would it said What is it actually the kid or is it your needs? to control things and I was like, Well, okay, that's as my therapist would say that's very confronting.

Because a lot of us don't realize we needed control until we get to the teens, and we don't have it. And the people with spicy kids, they get confronted with that truth way earlier than your typical parent. So we're going through this like upheaval in our soul, while other parents are like I told her to sit and she sat you don't I mean, so. So there's that branch of it is like, Where where is your wounding or your unchecked unconscious needs for certain things, making your children seem more spicy and somebody else like if your sister was with them, or that's that's a bad example, because your sister at the same mother as you. But if you're, if your best friend has taken them to the park, and they have a freakout, your best friend unfazed, maybe if somebody else doesn't see them as spicy as you do, sometimes you're a big part of that equation. But a typical spicy kid is pretty inflexible. They want what they want. And they aren't easily distracted or taken off course, they're usually highly sensitive, so they notice things. So they have a lot more inputs coming in, and they are aware and they are aggravated by things like a tag on a sweater, or the sound of you chewing that maybe somebody else wouldn't be.
They're very persistent. So they continue to go towards something, even when they get some negative reinforcement around it. They have a high, like I said before loyalty to their soul.
They're usually very intense and a little bit louder than your typical kid, if not in general than definitely when they're feeling emotions, their emotions are bigger and more explosive and last longer than your typical kid. And, yeah, that's what comes comes to mind. So far. I do. I do like memes, where I show there's so many things about a spicy kid like they, they don't, they don't really succumb to peer pressure the way that others do. And they don't always notice their impact on their friends. So they will have a lot more friendship desktops than a typical child.
And you know, they might see themselves as the victim. But sometimes they are the villain in those stories. And so it's tricky to walk alongside a spicy child as they figure out there place in the world, because they're just like I said earlier, they're gonna burn a lot of bridges. Yeah.

So as you're talking, I'm listening to this list. And I'm like, that was me. Also, when you were a child, did you know your spicy kid? Or did you is that like, you reflect on that now and see, like, Oh, I did all these things, too.

And didn't know the term spicy. Because, sure, hey, I thought there was something wrong with

me. I mean, I have ADHD. And I thought, why do I make my mom so mad. So part of why I'm here doing this work is I don't want kids to grow up feeling wrong or broken. And I think when the mom hasn't done her work, that that can be the result. So I knew that I was different than a lot of my friends. And then I took more risks than they did. And I was funnier. And I was more out there. And I knew that I was having a lot of as a teenager, I was breaking a lot of roles with my mother and having a lot of big, inflammatory interactions with her. But I don't think I knew I didn't see the positives of that. I just thought, you know, what I was thinking, which I wasn't super self reflective. At the time, I just thought something was wrong with me.

Yeah. That's what I just, I work with other families also. And so I can say it, but then I also am experiencing myself of like, you had nothing sort of helps you shine that light on the unhealed parts of yourself better than your child. You know, like, you could think, Oh, I yeah, I worked on that. I'm good. I've kind of figured that part of me out. And then something new will come up with one of your kids. And it's just like, oh, I have a little more. I have a little more work to do there.

And I don't you think it's 20 year spiritual, like you retreat, to be trying to show up the way you want to. And these things keep coming up that you couldn't have planned for. And I resonate with, like I did. I did therapy all through my 20s and then found myself on the phone with a friend, when my daughter was three saying, I hate her. Something's wrong with her. And thankfully, my friend was a therapist and was like, you know, I think this might be a new remembering context. And I'm like, What's a remembering context? She said, you you are experiencing what it is to be three again, and you haven't done that for 30 years. And so here you Part Three again, but just on the other side of the mother daughter relationship, and we get to be three, then we're four, then we're five, and we're experiencing this intimacy again, but with an adult's perspective, and things are coming up. And so we kind of are never done. I have an 18 year old now. And I'm 18. Again, I am remembering, I'm seeing her in all her glory. And her sexuality. I mean, this girl is wearing crop tops, and smacking her booty as she walks out the door. And I am quote unquote, allowing it and it is healing my 18 year old, who felt ashamed by her by her need to, to seek out boys for attention. My daughter doesn't need to do that, because she's also had a very involved dad who dotes on her. And, you know, I think she has a really strong sense of self. But it's it is healing the 18 year old in me to be kind and open and curious with the 18 year old and her. And I think that happens at every single age.

Yeah. Now that's really good. Yeah, it's, I don't know why I continue to be surprised by it, though. You know what I mean, it's like, oh, this again. Okay. But it is, I think, I think I love the way you talk about it, because I feel like it gets me just re attuned to that process of growing myself, you know, instead of instead of trying to push it away, and oh, this again, it's like, oh, this again, you know, kind of, okay, what am I going to do this time? Yeah, I hear what

you are doing is like welcoming it in versus rolling your eyes as it comes in, like, this is the work, this is not the interruption to the work, this is the work. And so many of us have these inner critics that feel like there is a right way to do this. And we're screwing it up. And so we become really aware of that part of us, as we try to lead into gentle, conscious, respectful, whatever we're calling it today parenting. And I can hear that a little bit in that thing of like, not this again, are you kidding me? Like that's the inner critic who thinks we should be done and have figured this out? And that's just not really a helpful perspective. I love saying, Wow, I'm not sure what to do here. And just the freedom of saying that with compassion, and not judgment. Yeah, can I be okay with myself? Can I still love myself? When I don't know how to respond to that? My my daughter's calling me a pick me these days and a try hard. Did you know that those are the ways to put down people who feel strongly, you know, who am I like, basically, she's seeing the part of me that is trying to build connection. And she's calling it a pick me and a trihard. And I love that I have done the work. I'm like bragging on myself, but I've done the work to be like, oh, you know, like she is she's struggling with that part of her. She's not yet able to be sort of vulnerable and ask these kinds of questions. And so me doing it is an affront to her because, you know, Mother daughters were so a meshed and how we see ourselves and each other. So I've just, I just wanted everyone to be aware that you have this part of you that wants to judge you, your inner judge this critic. And often, it does the most damage when we're unaware of it when we're basically operating out of it. Yeah, like we like, that's good, that's bad, this should get better. This could be better. I could have done this did. That's the judge. So I want everyone to find their most flowy kind of inner compassionate, like, everybody, it's something different for everybody. I have one client who calls it her dumb or inner Dumbledore if I'm not a huge Harry Potter person, but she imagines from the first two movies, how gentle and sagely he was, and she finds that in herself when she's not sure what to do, she's going to take on that persona. I have another client who like this is called having a Patronus or Patronus. And I have another client who chooses marami, from Little Women, who's always sort of unflappable, who takes a moment to breathe out before coming into the chaos of her daughter's doesn't try to fix anything, but it's really a great sounding board for it. So if you didn't have a mom that was able to be with you, as a team, find one in media, maybe it's Mrs. Huxtable, who just has some of the things you want to draw into yourself. And usually when you see that out there and it resonates, it's because it's within you. And we're not trying to add it to you. We're trying to call it up. It's within you, but sometimes we need role models,

right? Yeah, I love that idea. Well, I was thinking about how important community is and I like how you create a community of people who can support each other be Because what I've noticed for myself is I could be feeling great. And then you get around some people who are operating in a more intense way, which I'm trying to move away from. And so then you're already you're already ratchet it up. And

that's a generous retelling of somebody who's being judgey. You're saying they're operating in a more intense way. And I get,

well, sometimes it's just how they're parenting. And so then I get in my head of like, do I need to be doing that? And it's just, and it's funny, it happens less often now. But it still happens. And it's, and luckily, at this point, I can kind of see it differently. But I like that idea of, you know, having some that also just traveled with you, you know, so that you can, like you said, you can call it up and say, Okay, what is that part of me? See in this situation? I love that idea.

And when my kids were really little mine was Glinda, the Good Witch, because I didn't know how to be firm, and kind at the same time. Like I was, that was one or the other. And so I was still learning how to sprinkle gentleness over my firmness. Yeah. And so Glenda being like, No, we can't let you do that. But you can go here is sort of like that preschool teacher that's so magical. I would pretend to be that while setting boundaries. And now I think my, my inner sage is more like Frankie, and that that show or Lily Tomlinson is sort of always Hi.

That that works for me. Grayson, Frankie. Yeah, I love her. Yes. Yeah.

Is it Frankie? I think it must be France. Frankie. Yeah. Yeah. So I just think of myself of like, whoa, like slowing down, because there's a lot of insults that come at you from teens, or they don't even mean to be insulting, but they're allergic to themselves and so frustrated easily. And so, being really slow to react and having sort of slow customer service, and being thoughtful.
And, like, even just repeating back like, are you gonna make us breakfast this morning? Oh, that was intense. So you're, you are needing some help with breakfast? Yeah. Okay, well, I hold on, I need a second cuz you're coming at me kind of strong. Like, I basically pretend like I'm Frankie, who's getting over on a bad trip, you know, like, be gentle with me.

So I this is going to be my biggest takeaway, I think is I am going to start providing slow customer service. I love that. Because I do I think it's like, I'm not intending this to be just about me. But it's hitting me today, where it's just like, you know, I think sometimes being so responsive can be detrimental to the whole picture of things. So I like that

this the people you were mentioning before who are parenting more intensely, what they're really doing is they're parenting with anxiety. And when we have to get have to get a certain level of service, and there's an expectation and I need to be this. That's anxiety. And it you know, our kids are these sponges and these tuning forks that send it right back to us. So you

choosing to I like to say sloth parent, like the slot that the DMV from that. What was that movie? Did you see that cartoon movie? The podcast listeners who are actually can remember their words are going to be like screaming while they listen to this. But utopia and Zootopia they go to the DMV, and they're in a hurry, they gotta get this thing could we? Do you mind just stamping this and the slot is like I would love to and you're like, ah, but finding your inner sloths and knowing that it's not about speed, there is no emergency. It's about slowing down checking in with yourself. How am I doing? Before I kind of get into this interaction with my team? Let me check in with you, sweetie. Hey, how you doing? And to the exterior that looks like a mom, it's a little out to lunch for a second. That's okay, you can be out to lunch, and it makes you kinder and calmer.

I love that. I love that. Well, I just like I think that you are really good. And this is what I really enjoy about your Instagram page about like, little snapshot moments that I think sometimes we don't even realize are causing some of the like, I think life can happen so quickly that you don't even realize where you're feeling overloaded by a lot of the input. And one of the videos you did recently was preparing to have a conversation about setting boundaries about what it's going to be like driving your car.


I mean, it's a big deal. You're like trapped in this little space. And if you don't set a boundary around how it's going to be, which I don't currently, and I need to. It can just be like a little hell on wheels. I was just gonna say I like that snaps like these small moments can build, you know, and so it's like, okay, what

do I do in that moment? And choosing like, rather than stepping back and going, Oh, I just don't like the way my teen is turning out and I don't like her A relationship which is so big and and fixable, like just finding a small, doable change some tiny micro habit or thing you're going to do that makes small headway is enough. And so deciding in carpool, I'm going to ask everybody, what was your role and your thoughts on today? And if they're all over 15, they all get to roll their eyes and not answer. But I am going to be responsible for me to have a welcoming space. And I'm going to have some music going. And like, Chris, just kind of choosing how will I be even if they're all grumpy, and they stare at their phones? And they're not even my kids? So what am I supposed to do here? But choosing so so much of I think, intentional parenting is choosing who do I want to be with, regardless of who they are?


I am curious, in your, the clients you work with, what are the biggest, maybe stumbling blocks or challenges for people when they are coming to you with teenagers? Do you see like, here's something that I just see that is often going wrong, or is is each circumstance just really unique based on the parent and the child.

One thing I see a lot of is fear is running the show. And so there, they want to tell me all the fears they have for this child, which leads into all the ways they need to fix the child, and they have lost their affection or delight for the child. And so I think it's important to be able to share with somebody your fears and to voice them, or to journal them, that's important. But then we need to do that much harder work of shifting into what is my hope for this child? What is the positive thing I see a glimmer of that I want more from this child? What? What do I love about this child, it's like we, it's easy to see what you love about a cute four and five year old. But something it takes actual work to remember What's brilliant about your older child who almost because of their size, and their attitude can feel a little bit like a competitor. And not this this this child. So I will ask those people I hear all that. And that sounds really hard. And can you just spend a moment telling me three to five things that are just brilliant about this child, the things you admire so much. And once you get a parent to start doing that, like the whole energy changes, and sometimes they cry, because it's like, I know, this is the truth of them.
And so I think the biggest thing I see is that people are fixated on the thing they gotta fix because they're fearful, like, time is running out, you know, only get two more years. He's an awful roommate. And I think shifting to what is beautiful about them, and how can I like create a campaign for good, where I can start naming that thing. Like, I'll tell you about my child, the mild one, I get really fixated on how often he wants to be on video games, or sometimes I can't tell if he's on Discord, but he's once a helmet on and he's doing a bunch of screaming and laughing with friends. And I want more screaming and laughing with me. It's totally selfish, but I want more time downtime with him. And I can get like, you know, I think you're spending too much time and, and, and I and I'm worried about it. And then I can remember, right, this guy plays tennis. He has warm friendships with people. He's so kind, he he's willing to do his chores, if he's reminded he's not like a Savior. And he's a funny person. He, he also plays guitar. Like, there's all this goodness. And for some reason we get into this, instead of a strength based, we look at the weakness and are like, well, I got to work on this weakness. You don't, the world will figure it out. You need to blow up, magnify, bring attention to the goodness of your child, and just keep echoing it back to them. And if and there's a real art to affirmations, we start off with like, I like how you helped me today. And that's kind of like beginner, right? The greatest affirmations really have nothing to do with you. There's no I in them. It's, you are a kind, man. You help your friends. You're very kind. And we leave it at that. We don't look for some great mutual reciprocation. But we have taken a moment to drop this acknowledgement and I see this part of you. It's beautiful, and it's not about me liking it or you pleasing me. I don't need to be so proud. We love to say I'm so proud of you. Okay, I mean, there are kids out there who never were told they were proud. I think that matters. But it's not it shouldn't be the one you're hitting a lot. What you're hitting is just naming what you see in your child, you have a light that shines within you. You really care about your friendships, you feel things so deeply. And you're just naming it so that later, the hope is in 10 years, they might say that kindly to themselves. I just feel things really deeply. Or I'm a light, I bring light to people, because they are going to be saying the things we say to them. And I don't know, I'm going on and on. What do you think? Is that good? Yeah. It's I think some of those small things really stick to there's a really good new podcast with Anderson Cooper,

have you heard about this is how I hear there is all that's left. And he's talking about grief with losing his mother. And he has he had Stephen Colbert on and Molly Shannon and Molly Shannon was talking about her mom died when she was really young. But she remembers her mom telling her, I think you're gonna have really strong friendships. And she remembers this from being a little tiny, and it just sort of manifested in her, you know, and just those small, like, one small sentence can just really hunker into someone's soul. And I just

can't tell you how convicted I feel right now. Because I have said on multiple occasions, I'm worried about your husband to my spicy, because she can be so hard on her her younger brother, and will be much more powerful is to say you are learning to be such a beautiful partner. Yeah, and roommate. So yeah, the words really matter.

It does. And I mean, like I said, I just said something about one of my kids, somebody gave me a compliment about my child. And then I said something negative, like, Hi. And I mean, it struck me, which I appreciate like, Oh, let me notice that and what is that about? And like, move forward? You know?

But I think same way when someone says, You, gosh, I love your hair today. Oh, no, you don't like there's something that we can't take in the goodness, because we're, we have to earn our keep, you know, so that's what I think parenting kind of brings up in us like, my Yeah, I may be rejected from the pack if this child doesn't meet expectations. And so let me get in there first and be the one judging them and myself,

especially if they the way they're showing up is a little bit different than the posse or the other aged kids. Yeah, there is some documentary The Mr. Rogers documentary did your set. Oh, it cried. But he talks about just really telling your kids I love you exactly how you are, right this second, and not so much like, Oh, if you did this, or and you think about it, if someone told me, Oh, I, I would love you better if you you know, dressed better. Like, okay,

we don't say that. It's like, so it's hidden, right? We don't say love you more of us better, we'd say you just need to if only you would, but the under Line statement there is I would be more comfortable. I would be more comfortable if you would be different.

Yeah. And I think that's it's just that awareness, right of catching ourselves and keeping, keeping working on it.

That awareness and also the humility to circle back and apologize. Hey, I didn't like who I was being yesterday. I feel like I get sometimes where I, I pepper things at you. And it's I can't stop myself. And I want to say I'm sorry, because you're amazing. Like, sure, I want you to get your license. But you can I'll drive you around to your 40 if you want because you're amazing and fun to be with. And I'm sorry that I wasn't being kind yesterday. Yeah. Yeah, they talk about like, that's the rupture and repair is like just as important as you nobody's going to show up and parent perfectly. But then how do you? If there is that rupture? It doesn't you don't show up the way you want to? How do you then make it right, and kind of model that for them? So they can do that in the world? Yeah, I'm reading Brain Body parenting, which really applies more to to young kids like two to six. But she makes a great point that even research shows that more often than not, we will be mismatched with our child mismatched and individual interactions where we will notice something and we will think this is what they need and we will be dead wrong. And that is a normal part of a relationship. It's the repair and the and the adjusting. That creates that that sense of intimacy. So we don't need to like, feel so bad about the about the being mismatched in that moment. But we do come back around and we fix it.

Yeah. So one of the things I'm curious about I feel like you seem to have a lot of fun in your job and kind of like, I don't know, I'm curious what your outlets are for yourself to like, keep your spicy self alive and just kind of I don't know, I'm just kind of curious. How do you because I feel like for me and I and parenting in general. It seems like that It's an important piece of like, how do we keep ourselves in this mix? You know, as we're trying to manage and, and attune to our kids and show up the way we want to show up like, Do you have any special practices that kind of help keep you?

Well, I do. And I want to say that like, it's like a seesaw where I'm so good at this. And then I look up six months later, and like, wow, I have no life other than work. So it's a constant, correcting and adjusting, nobody figures it out, because we keep changing. But I have figured out in the last month, that I need to sing every day to feel like a whole person. And that's been a really interesting realization, because it feels very decadent to sing, it also feels it can feel selfish, like, what it gets, it's sort of counterculture. But when I open up and sing, and just to myself, especially the car is the easiest, you know, there's so much good nervous system stuff that's happening, but it also just feels like I'm being fully myself and expressing myself. And sometimes I don't give myself the gift of having music around. And I just, Oh, I'm just gonna drive here, or I'm gonna make it happen and to pause and to say, let me figure out how to open

up Sonos or Spotify, whatever it is, pick a song, and then feel the shift in my body, and then use my voice to be interesting to my cat. That has been really life giving. And then for the last five years, my thing is pickleball. Pickleball is tennis for all people whose bodies no longer work. And it is so fun. I've never played a game and not laughed. But I've also never played a game and not screamed. And there's something about twice a week, I get to go on a court and do a guttural scream when I miss a ball, or, or a taunt to my one of my best friends when I slam it on her face. And she's able to stop it with your paddle.

I'm laughing because I just didn't play pickleball twice. I just played yesterday. And this stuff that comes out of my mouth in terms of grunts in terms of like, No, that was out like I lose, but like it feels good, because that's a part of your playing. Yeah, hang on, just this morning, I thought you know what I played twice in like the past five months, I am committing to figuring out how to do it more often. Because it is play. It's just fun. And when we play, I think we release that. That the whole that that part of us has about like,

you've got to make things right, you've got to fix this team, when we can experience play. It's like a reminder, it's all okay, we're it's okay, this part of being human is to have fun and to have connection. It's not all about achieving and meeting goals.

Yeah, I love that. Those sounds really fun. I just got a message from somebody because I was having a harder day in terms of like boundary setting. And I got a message about basically the idea of like, yes, you can figure out how to say no to your kids and set those boundaries. But it's more about the Yes, like you're What am I saying yes to I'm saying yes to singing. And I'm saying yes to playing pickleball and playing? And I don't know, that's a helpful mental shift to because it's like, not just about the work? Because the work can feel like just a grind sometimes. Yes.

So what are you saying yes to? Yeah. And what would that look like when you're having an interaction with a team? You think?

I think bringing it back to? I'll be honest, sometimes when I'm having the interactions, I don't have a lot of reflection space in my brain. I think it's more like, yes. So I think that just knowing that parenting a teen is tough. I mean, it's, it's, there's a lot of hard parts about it. And I think I can show up better in that space. If I'm making sure I get time for some play and some release of of what I need.

And extra points if that play can be with your teenager, there is nothing more bonding because we do get ourselves in a situation where all the last if we look back at the last 20 interactions with our team, they've either been declarative, you will do this thing or some kind of order or some kind of judgment. And what is John Gottman, say that you need like I want to say you need five positive for every 10 Negative there's there's some ratio and we're all out of ratio with our kids. So play is a great way to infuse like I'm not asking anything of you other than to just delighting you right now. So and and being open to it. Like there have been times where my teen plops himself on my bed and I don't put my phone down. That's it. That's a missed opportunity. There was a bid made there for play, and I should have said it right down and you know I didn't. But then there's other times where my daughter just had a birthday. And there's all these deflated balloons everywhere because no one's had time to go around and pop them that's on my list of things to do. And I was on the ground using one of those neck. I bought this thing off Amazon that it's 19 bucks, and I swear by it, it's like, pulls your neck. And my son came and threw a ball at me through a balloon at me. And I was able to deflect it. And I just in that moment was like, Wait, come down, you be on your back. I'll be on my back and try to hit the other person as hard as you can. But you can only use your feet. And he's like, all right, like he loves a challenge, a physical challenge. Or I'll say, Oh, I bet you can't get up off the ground without using your hands or crossing your legs. And he's like, let's do this. So that works with him wouldn't work at all with my daughter, she would roll her eyes and walk away with her. It's like, can I braid your hair? Do you want to French braid? Or do you want to watch the Kardashians? But I watch the Kardashians on my own? No, but I know, she does it. And does she do it the way I want her to with like, nope, she's on her phone the entire time. But I I know that that's our form of play that we're like, legs next to each other watching the Kardashians and checking, you know, our Instagram. So finding the play with them. And even like giving yourself an assignment, like I want to have three interactions with them that are either me affirming

them, encouraging them, or playing with them. And then I can tell them another thing, hey, can you empty the dishwasher?

I feel like one of the biggest things I'm getting from this conversation is just I think I had in talking about teens. I think I had this like, Okay, here's the teen section. And really, it's like a continuation of the growth process of being a parent. And for me, I feel like all of a sudden I was in this new land. But it's not as much about the child as it is about what's coming up. That's new in me, the child still the child, they're just going through new things, what's coming up for me in this space. And it's just sort of a continuation in a lot of ways of if I didn't get a new kid.

I mean, it's the same kid. Yeah, you didn't get a new kid, but it did get someone who's less

eager to please is much harder to parent.

Yes, that's a very good way to put it. So is there anything else that you wish I had asked? That I didn't ask or something that you were hoping? Yes. How to work with me? Yes, I definitely want to talk about that. I think I need it for sure. So I'm gonna I'm gonna check it out.

Oh, wow. Love to work with you. Mostly, the way to work with me is to either join my mom's spicy ones group program, which is an eight week program where we really start with the stuff we've been talking about here, which is foundationally. What do I need to get right with me?
What do I need to work on myself? That's the first four weeks and the last four weeks are tips and techniques for making a strong willed child more than likely that they would want to connect with you and cooperate with you. So that's a that's a thing that happens twice a year. But I also have a teen course that's one hour. And it's just how do you need to shift now that your child is a teen, because it's a whole different form of parenting? So maybe in your show notes, you could put a link to the teen course. I think it's it's $49. And there's a worksheet with it. So I'm also on Instagram, giving a tip every day for kids to to 20. And then I also have sort of if you're new to gentle parenting, which is I think that's one of the hardest assignments if you're new to gentle parenting, and you have a teenager so you have this whole foundation of being authoritarian and now you're trying to figure out your footing with somebody who's individuating From you, that's really hard. So the I've got some basics, which is gentle parenting one on one, and then Calm in the Chaos Calm in the Chaos is one hour to figure out how do you uniquely self regulate so that you can be the calmest person in the room? I think that's the challenge for a lot of us is I just can't stay calm. I, I lose my my thinking, you know, I'm in my animal brain. So that's kind of I think everybody's body and, and mindset needs something different to get calm, like what calms me might not calm me. Yeah. So that explores that, and then the one on one work, I only have nine clients a year. So that's pretty hard to do. But I have a special place in my heart for therapists. So if you want to work with me,

that's exciting. I love all of that. Well, I'm just excited to share you as a resource because I feel like there are a lot of people who need this kind of support and encouragement really, I mean, you know, even what you're talking about, about regulating yourself. I mean, it's taken me I'm 47 I think it's taken me a long time to realize like, oh, something's not regulated right now. Like we're so used to just like pushing through that, and I have a lot of compassion for younger parent me. Because when you're younger, it's harder to give yourself a little like, oh, that's just how I am. I feel like that's one of the benefits and getting older as you're like, This is how I am. You don't have to make excuses for it or be embarrassed about it. This is just how my system reacts. And so then what do I do? So, well, thank you so much for coming on the show. They can find Mary van Geffen on Instagram, and then your website is what Mary van Geffen. Okay, perfect. Mary van Geffen, married man And I just love talking to you and I love the work you're doing. I find it very encouraging. I had a rough day yesterday. So this is came at just the right time for that. So I appreciate it. And support to not just your listeners. I know it's

just I mean, yes. I appreciate it. And thank you so much. You're so welcome. Thanks for listening to this episode of The Family brain. If you've thought of someone you know, while you were listening, I would love it if you would share this episode with them. And if you really loved it, you could leave a five star review that helps people find the show and spread the word.
Thanks so much for listening

In this episode we cover:

  • Parenting strong willed/spicy kids and teens
  • How to check in with our need for control
  • Parenting beyond limits and consequences
  • Finding support on the parenting journey
  • Creating awareness of your inner critic

Learn more about Mary Van Geffen


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