Are You Practicing Parent Self-Care?

Notes from the Backpack

Episode 44 │ Are You Practicing Parent Self-Care?

Wednesday, May 12, 2021



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Show Notes

Episode 43 podcast image
Did your last power struggle with your child leave you feeling burnt out? What if we shifted our mindset around parenting and stopped trying to make our kids happy all the time? Clinical psychologist and author, Dr. Shefali—whose work has been endorsed by Oprah—joins us to discuss parent self-care. She shares her own parenting experiences and philosophy, and offers advice on letting go and learning to live in the now.


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Helen: I'm Helen Westmoreland.

LaWanda: And I'm LaWanda Toney, and you're listening to our Healthy Minds miniseries focused entirely on our family's mental health and social, emotional wellbeing, all five of our episodes are out now.

Helen: So, we've been talking with experts about addressing some serious mental illnesses and challenges, and about also how we can proactively help ourselves and our children manage their stress, their anxiety. Today, it's time to focus, especially on the grownups. In order to be able to take care of kids, we have to be able to take care of ourselves, and that's not always easy, especially during this past year.

I've been personally bingeing, Netflix as my little self care, but we know self-care is more than a couple of things you do. It's a mindset, which is why we are so excited to introduce today's guest.

LaWanda: Yes. I agree, Helen. Today, we're welcoming Dr. Shefali to the show.

Dr. Shefali is an expert in family dynamics and personal development teaching courses around the globe. She's written four books, three of which are New York times best sellers, including Superpowered, Transform Anxiety into Courage, Confidence, and Resilience. Oh gosh, who doesn't need that? We all do. Oprah has also endorsed her work as revolutionary and life changing.

We are so happy, Dr. Shefali, to have you on the show today, welcome.

Dr. Shefali: Thank you. I'm so excited to be with you. I think, you know, what the PTA does and education is so important in terms of parental self-care and teachers self-care. So I can't wait to dive in.

LaWanda: Awesome, so let's kick things off. Tell us a little bit about yourself and your own kind of parenting philosophy.

Dr. Shefali: I am a clinical psychologist. I have been in the field of self care and self growth and healing. Since my early twenties, I'm also a meditator and I teach meditation. So this is right up my alley. And I began to realize when I became a parent that I was burning out, like by day, you know, day and a half, I was already burnt out. I couldn't, I couldn't do it anymore. And, I had so much love for my kid, but I was not enjoying the process. And, for the next couple of years, actually, I did not wake up to why, and then I realized why this was so troublesome for me and why I was exhausted and why I was putting pressure on myself and having guilt and anxiety. It really was because, I was being a different kind of parent that the one I should have been. And what do I mean by that?

I began being a parent that was raised in the traditional parenting paradigm, where achievement and competence and success meant a lot. So, I was getting lost in the perfect way to raise my kid. And I was getting lost in raising a product and a trophy child, and I was missing the entire process and the whole point of it, which was to raise myself.

So, that's when I began writing about conscious parenting, which really shifts the whole paradigm from the traditional model, to the conscious model. Which is, it's not about your kids, it's about your inner wounds and stop projecting your inner wounds onto your kid. And you're making your kid a mess because you're putting onto your kid, all these pressures to achieve your unmet needs and fantasies, and that was the light bulb. Oh my goodness, I'm not enjoying this child because I'm not connecting to this child because I'm putting onto this child all my own unmet needs, anxieties and expectations. So, that was the light bulb moment for me, and that's what made me write about conscious parenting.

LaWanda: That's awesome. So do you think that during the pandemic now, are we doing more of that? Are we pushing more of our needs and desires and things that have been unmet on to our children even more during the pandemic? What have you noticed?

Dr. Shefali: Yes, we are in many ways, because we are going through our own identity crisis, our own culture shock. So, we are not used to living without our own distractions, our own addictions, and there is a global anxiety. Publishers reached out to me three years before the pandemic to write a book on how to help kids cope with anxiety, which we eventually did. And, it came out in the pandemic. It's called Superpowered, because anxiety was already on a steroid level.

One in three, us children are diagnosed with anxiety, so can you imagine now in the pandemic, how much higher our rates of anxiety are? So we parents need to really take this time out, we've been given, given this global timeout to really reevaluate who it is we are. All our false belief systems around achievement and competence and success, and use this time out to really reorganize ourselves. But, it is causing us anxiety because we, we don't know how to be without our busy schedules.

Helen: Yeah.

Dr. Shefali:: And now we're busier than ever, even though we've been given a time out, so we don't know how to negotiate, and we are burning out. We are a hundred percent burning out. We're exhausted and we're exhausting our children.

Helen: I want to follow up on that, before you jumped on Lawanda and I were chatting, but my, so I have a three-year-old and I hit my breaking point last night, we were potty training this weekend. That was not going well. She didn't want to eat her dinner and, I realized I was locked in this little power struggle with her. And you, I feel like have such a helpful perspective on understanding your own power and powerlessness with your child. So I had my little breakdown last night, and then I was like, thank goodness, we're talking to Dr. Shefali tomorrow morning so I can get a little advice.  Could you talk to me and our listeners a little bit about, just to how you think of power and power dynamics with your kid and.

Dr. Shefali:: Yes.

Helen: And, what to do to not be crying in your bed with your three-year-old because she wouldn't eat your dinner or use the potty.

Dr. Shefali: Yes, people need to really understand and metabolize what I'm about to say, because I really feel bad for all those who don't. The reason we burn out is because we have an unmet expectation from reality AKA our children that is not being met. So, right now in the global pandemic, all of us have a global expectation that is not being met and we're having a temper tantrum. We feel powerless and we want to control our environment. The pandemic is teaching us there is no control.

Well, parenthood has been trying to teach us this from day one, but we don't want to listen. So, we keep fighting reality to give us our expectation and to meet our needs and fantasy. When our children don't, we suffer, we resist, we fight, we enter into a power struggle. We blame our children. We disconnect from them. They get it more anxious and angry. Now we've created our own cycle of misery. What we need to understand is that every time we are about to enter a power struggle, we need to check in and realize that we are forcing reality to be something other than what it can be.[RB1] 

You cannot get blood from a stone. It's like that, we're banging our head against the rock and saying, give me blood, give me water, give me nectar, give me honey. No, it is what it is. And it is our resistance to the is-ness of our children’s worldview or temperament, or capacities that creates our own misery.

It's like we're taking the acts on our own foot, because we can't accept that our child is who our child is, in this moment. Now, we also put all sorts of unrealistic pressures on ourselves. Like you put last night, you acted as if, if she did not get potty trained that moment, she would be an eternal loser and never leave your couch or something, or would be walking in diapers, right?

Helen: Yeah. I did have these catastrophic visions.

Dr. Shefali: Yes, and when we, then when we expose these visions, we all realize we have them. We think our kid is goingto get pregnant, if we don't teach them this lesson right now. Or our child is going to be an axe murderer, if we don't teach them this lesson right now. Similarly, if we don't potty train them right now, we have put some catastrophic consequences as a reality in our minds. No wonder we're freaking out, but we do this to ourselves. So self-awareness is the first key to self-care because we're doing it to ourselves.

LaWanda: No, it's very true. And Helen, I don't want you to feel alone, because I have my own issues. My son is eight and he doesn't know how to ride his bike yet. Right. And my husband and I, at first, we were playing cool, fine, you'll learn, it's not a big deal if he doesn't know whatever. But as it starts getting warmer, now everyone's outside, we are internalizing it and saying, he should learn. We should make him learn how to ride this bike. And so, at first we were like, let's go outside see if he grabs the bike.

[00:10:21] He doesn't, he does everything else. He'll go and play basketball. He'll go take a walk. He'll do whatever. He won't grab the bike, but inside I’m burning up, like he's going to be the only kid outside, not riding his bike. And, and you saying that really is my internal struggle, it's my own way of I didn't like riding a bike as a kid. So, I feel like I need to make him have a better experience than what I had. I had an accident with a dog and I was like done with that scratch on my leg. I was like, I'm over it. So, I am projecting on him and I'm realizing that now. So I just want Helen to know you're not alone, we all do it. And now we're learning to do better. So I appreciate what you said.

Dr. Shefali: Right. We put these self-imposed timetables on ourselves and self-imposed, you know, responsibilities to play God in our children's lives, as if we can control their life experience. And this is all being done by us because we are trying to avoid the pain of their pain. We are trying to avoid the helplessness in case they are helpless. And, it's so connected to our own childhood experiences of powerlessness, as you said, Helen, and it's all tied in. So my daughter's 18, and you would think she would be chomping at the bit to drive. Now she's literally the only one of her entire friend group of like 25 kids who is not driving.

So, I have the same thing like you do, but 10 years later, right? So I'm like, what is wrong with this chick? Or what is wrong with me? Why is she so slow, developmentally is something wrong with her? But I know by now after 18 years of having this internal conversation, that these things are self-imposed and I'm not playing God, and actually it's such a relief, that she's not driving and that she's taking her time. And, I have trust you see that now by the age of 18 and having done this so many times to myself, I now have a greater degree of trust, that children will develop when they're meant to. And, if they are not meant to have that experience, it is not my responsibility, to quote unquote, expose them to every life experience.

Maybe she would be a person who takes the bus and isn't that more environmentally friendly? [RB2] And it's saving you so much insurance money, what am I going on and on about. LaWanda, do you really want to buy a bicycle? And then the helmet, then you'll be arguing with your kid about the helmet and the pads, the knee pads. Now, Helen wants her kid to be toilet trained, because she really is tired of the pressure from other people, teachers that she's not toilet trained number one. Number two, diapers are not environmentally friendly and they cost a packet, so Helen out of all of us is the only one that some legitimate reasons to panic.

Helen: I've also just decided I'm like, she's ready. I've, I have decided. So like, I think what you said about playing God is really important, because we get these cues, societally from our teachers, from our schools, from what their other friends are doing and put this pressure. And I'm curious, Dr. Shefali, cause you talked about the first step being self-awareness and I feel like I have moments of self-awareness. It's the acceptance of the limited control I really have, that is hard for me personally. What sort of tips do you have for our listeners around wherever they are in their journey of being more self-aware or actually accepting their limitations? What are some things we can do to build that muscle? That is a muscle to take care of ourselves.

Dr. Shefali: Well, really it's about pricking the balloon of our narcissism. And once we get that, that, Oh, we're not really being loving and we're not really doing this for our children, we're doing it because of our agenda. That's what I just keep in front of my face all the time. And, at first, one will be horrified how everything really we do for quote unquote, for our children, to expose them is really coming from our own worldview and our own belief system and our own desire to be one of the crowd, to be the cool parent, to not be the only one, who has a parent, who has a kid who doesn't go to the bathroom at the age of eight on their own. Right.

We're so afraid of the shame of that, that we're constantly defending against our own pain and, Helen knows, everybody will tell you how then there is no kid, who's 12 years old who is walking around in their diaper, but yet you don't seem to trust. There is some shame in us that our kid will be the only kid who will disprove that. Right.

Look how little faith we have in our genetics and in our children. This comes from our own shame of what if I have the only kid on the globe who will wear a diaper for the rest of their life. We have some shame, and this is where we're operating from, from fear, and shame, right? And until we acknowledge that our own inner lack is really on blast, we will not snap out of this bubble that we're in. My kid was applying to college. I promise you, I had a constant hum, a voice that said, what if your kid is the only kid who doesn't get accepted into any school? Right. But that was lack of trust, complete shame about my own academic history of feeling like I will not do well, and I was projecting it onto my kid.

And then, when my kid got into some school, you should've seen me. And my kid was like, mom, why are you so surprised? I was like, Oh, I'm just proud. I wanted to tell her how much fear I had, so we are living in a fear based culture, and that is what is draining us, our constant fear, constant fear.

What if my kid is not good enough? What if my kid feels right, this is coming from our own fear because let's go there, what if your kid fails? How does this have anything to do with you? Right. But again, we think we're God, and we have such projection onto our children, that they are a mini extension of ourselves. We're like, then you're going to look at me badly. So, actually I don't really care about the kid, I'm just like, don't look at me bad. Right? So, we have to unearth these things because they are the, the rip tide that we're fighting that, and that's why we're burned out.

LaWanda: Hmm. Wow.

Helen: We’re going to take a quick break.

LaWanda: What can we do to teach our kids not to be us? You know, as we're trying to unlearn certain habits, we also don't want to project those habits onto them. So what can we do to make sure that we're not doing that?

Dr. Shefali: Well we can’t make sure of anything. So even that question has the presumption that we, okay. Yeah. And then we can control our neuroses not being absorbed. Right. We don't have any control over it. Really. The only control we have is how many cookies we buy at home and that's about it, right? Like, okay, let me just not buy the trash and let me not talk trash, and let me not act like my own inner trash is all over the place. So, healing ourselves taking care of our own business. You know, that's about it.

When we come from wholeness, we will have a greater bandwidth with our children. We will have trust. Okay, you're not brushing your teeth right now. You will brush your teeth. I'm just going to keep at it with joy humor, creativity, playfulness. But see the minute that fear goes into our brain and infects us, that you need to learn to brush your teeth right now. Now we've lost control, and Helen, when you yelled at your kid yesterday, didn't it drain you?

Helen: Oh, I felt so bad.

Dr. Shefali: And, now you're guilty. And now guess what? Now you're going to give in to the 16th cookie. Now you'll have another problem, right? So this is how fear pervades our parenting. Now we're guilty, now we're going overboard with the guilt and we're exhausted by the cycle.

Helen: It's so true, and I think one of the things I really appreciate about your work, Dr. Shefali, and I've heard you talk about is you mentioned this expectation and so much of that fear comes from not meeting some expectation and we obviously talk to parents all the time and ask them, what do you want for your child, what do you want for their future? And, almost regardless of the specific study or the question, parents say they want their kids to be happy. And, you find real issue with this as part of the underlying fabric of our inability to take care of ourselves and our kids. Could you talk to our listeners a little bit about why the bar of being happy, sort of sets you up to be frustrated?

Dr. Shefali: Because again, it's such an illusion that our kids need to be happy, because I've never met anybody who's always happy. What I would like us parents to replace that with is, are kids being authentic? Now, when you are authentic, you have , crappy days, great days, fun days, but don't set yourself up for making your kid happy. That is an insane expectation because nobody's always happy, happiness is transient. So, I'm not even caring about my kid being happy or even excited. I'm just caring that they're having a genuine life experience. So if I focus on them being authentic and just tell them that this is how life is and not focus on happiness.

Now I don't need to fix or control their life experience. Now, if they had a crappy day, I'm like, yeah, sometimes life is crappy. It's not my job to fix you, your day. It's on my job to give you happiness, it's nobody's job. Life can’t give you happiness, because that's not what life is about. So, when you release yourself, and in your own life, from the expectation of chasing happiness, you begin to just go, it is what it is. I'm here right now, and I'm not expecting it to be other than what it is. That is freedom, that is freedom.

Helen:  And acceptance.

Dr. Shefali: Yes. Acceptance brings freedom. Yeah.

LaWanda: Yeah. I love that. What practices or self-care practices, can families and parents do right now today as they're listening, once they get off the podcast, what's one of the first things that they can do to help, like in a self care practice.

Dr. Shefali: Well, what I'm about to say is very counter intuitive. The best thing I feel I do, Is, I have very low expectations of my day and of people, now you'll be like horrified, but isn't parenting about having high expectations, set the bar high so that the kid can meet the bar. And that's where we get parenting all wrong. And we, we mess our own sanity.

Now, if you have low expectations, meaning just expectations for having a day, you know, I'm having a day, I'm going to have a day. And we don't put the adjective, and we don't put the pressure that it should be a certain kind of day.

So, you are not childishly asking people or the day to meet that adjective that you've said, and you're not expecting yourself. Now you are, again, in the experience of the is-ness. This is the best self-care practice in the world, like live your experience, don't impose an agenda. When you release the agenda, do you know how much energy you have in being surprised when things go well? You're like, wow, I didn't expect that. I didn't ask for that, now you have joy. Now you have abundance. Now you have spontaneous excitement versus, I'm going to do this from 1130 to 1142, and then at 1143, we're all going to sing a song and meditate. Now that's insanity, if you ask me right.

Helen: Yeah.

Dr. Shefali: So it's not flow. So the best self-care practice is really learning that all your agendas come from the shoulds of life  and the shoulds are external impositions and they take you out of flow. So you have to choose, do I want to flow or do I want to suffer? If you want to suffer, keep micromanaging your life, keep over controlling and organizing your life.

If you want to flow, you have a loose idea of what the day is going to look like. But, you're up for dancing with life. And when we have children, that is what is so important. Please don't put them in a cage of constant expectations, but learn to dance with them. And that's the gift of this pandemic. It's taken out all these impositions of the future, and it's really telling you, all you have right now, is the now.

So, manage the now take out all the pressure, and remove all the expectations that I, I have written to my daughter's teachers to back off in a way of all the pressure, because this is a unique time, which demands a unique response. We cannot shove the old ways of doing things onto the current climate.

We have to pivot and we have to, you know, change our entire value system of living for the future to living in the present. This is the gift of the pandemic, but we are missing the gift.

LaWanda: Yeah.

Helen: Absolutely, I could talk to you all day long, but I know you're in high demand, and we're just so grateful that you've taken some time out of your day today.

LaWanda: Absolutely.

Helen: Before we go, I want to be sure to ask you Dr. Shefali about where listeners can go to learn more and resources. Including, a great book that you've written to support our kids as they are navigating stress and anxiety. So, tell our listeners how they can follow you and learn more and, and continue their journey of self care.

Dr. Shefali: So, this book I've written about that I really want every parent to buy for their children is focused on how children can manage their own anxieties. It's filled with activities, filled with exercises and concrete things that children can do today to manage the inner anxiety. The book is called, Super Powered, they can buy it from Amazon. Or, if they want to support indie bookstores, they can go to, So I'm just going to leave them with that link, because that's what I want people to get. But, my name is Dr. Shefali. I also have a website,, but I really want to encourage parents and teachers, it really should be in every teachers and child's backpack.

[00:26:14] Helen: Awesome, thank you so much.

Dr. Shefali: Thank you for having me and for all the wonderful work all you teachers do and parents.

Helen: Yes.

LaWanda: Yes, we so appreciate this conversation today, Dr. Shefali meant a lot to us personally, as well as to our listeners, we know. So thank you again.

Dr. Shefali: Thank you for having me.

LaWanda: To our listening audience, thank you for joining us for more resources to related to today's episode, check out If you liked the episode, please take a moment to leave us a rating and review on Apple podcasts. Ratings and reviews, help more listeners find our show, and we love to hear your feedback. Thanks for tuning in and see you next time.


Notes from the Backpack: A PTA Podcast is made possible by funding from the Carnegie Corporation of New York.