Betsy Chasse interviews parenting expert Jennifer Waldburger, MSW, co-founder of Sleepy Planet Parenting. About staying cool and collected while raising our kids.
Q: Who Is Jennifer Waldburger and how did you end up helping moms stay calm?
A: I grew up with a single mom, and I think my kid self saw how hard itwas for a mom to be single with no map and no resources. My mom did an amazing job raising my sister and me, but I also wished things didn’t have to be so hard for us as a family. I was a sensitive kid who took my parents’ divorce very hard, and the stress we all felt affected our relationships with each other. We didn’t know then what we know now about the benefits of practices like mindfulness and meditation.
So, it’s no accident that I grew up to have a company that offers all kinds of supports for moms and parents to feel confident in their own instincts and be the kind of parents they want to be, and to teach mindfulness to kids and families. I discovered mindfulness and meditation in my early 20s, and those practices took me from a very high-functioning but highly anxious person to one who finally felt comfortable in her own skin and could trust herself – not to mention relax and enjoy life!
Q: How do you know how to guide parents without being a mom yourself?
A: In many ways I am a mom to the moms! Although I don’t have children myself, I have a very clear memory of being a child going way back to when I was in the crib believe it or not, and I can help parents understand what their child may be thinking and feeling and what that child needs. I believe that parents don’t need parenting advice as much as they need help and support in tapping into their own instincts, and the path that feels right to them. I’ve been studying child development and working with families for 20 years, but every parent is the only true expert on her own child.
Q: I often hear that when I’m calm, my baby or child is calm. Can you suggest some ways to relax when I’m overly stressed?
A: The easiest and most effective thing you can do is to take a deep breath, or several. It sounds too simple, but has an amazing and
immediate effect not only on your own physiology but on your child – and your spouse! In my parenting groups, when babies start fussing, we stop our conversation and I have all the moms take 3 deep breaths. That’s all we do – inhale and exhale slowly, three times, without talking. Without fail, at the end of the third exhale you can hear a pin drop in the room. Moms are always shocked that that’s all it takes to help both yourself and your little one feel more settled.
Q: As my kids grow older and life gets stressful for them, are there any techniques that they can use to manage that stress?
A: No matter our age, what each of us wants almost more than anything is permission to feel what we’re feeling and have the life experience that we’re having. Parents understandably have all kinds of wishes and wants for their child, but the implicit messages that kids get about who parents want them to be – vs. who they actually are – is one of the most stressful things they can experience. When parents learn to attune to their child and genuinely listen first and foremost – to not only what they’re saying but to the emotion they are expressing underneath what they’re saying, and the truth in their body language and tone of voice – that child feels such a sense of expansion into, Ahhh, it’s OK to be me. What a relief! Kids can be taught from an early age to recognize the emotions they’re feeling and to welcome them – and even better, that they are safe to express these feelings. Go ahead and parent your child and teach them what you feel you need to teach them, but if you start from this place of authentic connection, you will create an environment of trust and safety in relationship that will carry your child through whatever she experiences socially, academically, and beyond. Even more important, you will teach your child to trust herself, and to trust her own internal guidance system as she navigates the ups and downs of life.
Q: What about when I’m in the grocery store and my kids decide that watermelon makes a great bowling ball?!
A: Every parent will have that moment when people look at you and think, Why is that mother letting her kids do that? It’s nobody’s picnic to be that mom! At the same time, every parent will experience those moments, so it’s a good idea to send love to that mom when it’s not you, and give yourself some love when it is. On your easier days, you may be able to laugh about your kids’ shenanigans or difficult behavior. When you have a shorter fuse, you might be tempted to yell or react. Once you’ve taken a few of those magic deep breaths and acknowledged your own annoyance / frustration / exhaustion / overwhelm, the key is to come into balanced relationship with your child in that moment. If they’re simply excited, a clear directive to return the watermelons to the fruit table (or replace the cookies you aren’t getting to the shelf) might be all that’s needed. If they’re testing and not listening well, you can get down on their level and use touch and eye contact to bring them back into connection with you, along with your explanation of what you need them to do next. More often than not, kids act out when they’ve lost connection with you – maybe because you’re tired or distracted, or maybe because they are.
Either way, as the parent you can always reestablish connection through your own breath and the intention to be decisive with your words and actions without making kids feel bad or ashamed. It can be easy to forget that kids feel safest when parents are in charge; no matter what it seems like, they are constantly looking to you to set the tone and pace in relationship, and they’ll respond when you’re proactive about this – while being respectful and kind.
Jennifer Waldburger, MSW, is co-founder of Sleepy Planet Parenting.
She has been working with children and families for more than 20
years, offering private sessions and classes that incorporate
mindfulness and holistic practices gathered over 25 years of study on
these subjects. She is co-director of the Mindfulness program at
Stephen S. Wise School in Los Angeles, serving administrators,
teachers, parents, and kids. Co-creator of the award-winning book and
DVD The Sleepeasy Solution and the newer release Calm Mama, Happy
Baby, Jennifer has been featured in a wide variety of media, including
Good Morning America, the Today Show, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, People, Variety, and Parenting. Jennifer’s passion is to help families to create a loving, peaceful environment in which both kids and parents can thrive.