Have you seen all the amazing stuff your friends’ kids are doing while scrolling through social media? Are you worried that your kids aren’t keeping up and that maybe it is your fault? Or that maybe it’s because you are a terrible parent?
Join us as today’s guest, Dr. Carla Naumburg, explains why you are not as bad at parenting as you think. Dr. Naumburg shares why parents may think this way and what you can do to stop.
Carla Naumburg, PhD, is a clinical social worker and mother. She’s the author of four non-fiction books, including her international bestseller, “How to Stop Losing Your Sh*t With Your Kids” (Workman, 2019), as well as “You Are Not a Sh*tty Parent,”and the forthcoming “How to Stop Freaking Out,” the (completely swear-free) middle-grade adaptation of “How to Stop Losing Your Sh*t With Your Kids.”
Carla’s writing has appeared in a variety of online and print publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, Mindful Magazine, Slate.com, Psychology Today, WBUR’s Cognoscenti Blog, Brain, Child, Motherwell, Parents.com, PsychCentral, and Today Moms.
Carla completed a bachelor’s degree in psychology at Middlebury College, a master’s degree in social work from Smith College, and a PhD in clinical social work from Simmons College in Boston. Carla grew up in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and the Bay Area of California and she currently lives outside of Boston with her husband and two daughters.
Gabe Howard is an award-winning writer and speaker who lives with bipolar disorder. He is the author of the popular book, “Mental Illness is an Asshole and other Observations,” available from Amazon; signed copies are also available directly from the author.
Gabe makes his home in the suburbs of Columbus, Ohio. He lives with his supportive wife, Kendall, and a Miniature Schnauzer dog that he never wanted, but now can’t imagine life without.
To book Gabe for your next event or learn more about him, please visit gabehoward.com.
Producer’s Note: Please be mindful that this transcript has been computer generated and therefore may contain inaccuracies and grammar errors. Thank you.
Announcer: You’re listening to Inside Mental Health: A Psych Central Podcast where experts share experiences and the latest thinking on mental health and psychology. Here’s your host, Gabe Howard.
Gabe Howard: Hi, everyone. I’m your host, Gabe Howard, and calling in to the show today, we have Carla Naumburg, Ph.D. Dr. Naumburg is a clinical social worker and mother, as well as the author of four nonfiction books, including her international bestseller, “How to Stop Losing Your Shit with Your Kids.” Her latest book, “You Are Not a Shitty Parent: How to Practice Self-compassion and Give Yourself a Break,” is out now. Dr. Naumburg, welcome to the show.
Carla Naumburg, PhD: Thanks, Gabe. And call me Carla. Dr. Naumburg is my grandfather.
Gabe Howard: I really appreciate that. Thank you so much, Carla. I want to ask, I myself do not have children. I am not a parent. So, I do want to know, do you think that the typical parent really does believe that they are shitty, to borrow your phrasing?
Carla Naumburg, PhD: Oh, yeah, for sure. And I did for a long time too. And I, I think that it’s shitty parent syndrome, which is a syndrome I made up for the purposes of this book. Because, Gabe, the cool thing about writing a book is you get to just write stuff in it. And while self-compassion is an evidence-based practice for sure, shitty parent syndrome is a thing I totally made up that I think is really real and relevant, and I define it as the thought, belief or perception that you are a shitty parent when in fact you’re not. And I think it is rampant in this generation of parents.
Gabe Howard: One of the things that you said about shitty parents syndrome is that it leaves the parent feeling confused and insecure about how to raise their children. And it sort of reminded me of like, that deer, right? The car is driving down the road, the deer comes out into the road, sees the car, and if the deer moves, everybody’s happy. But the deer freezes. And that, of course, is the worst decision. Is that what happens to some parents? That they’re so afraid of making the wrong decision that they make no decision, which, again, in the deer analogy turns out very poorly?
Carla Naumburg, PhD: So, I love the deer analogy. I hadn’t previously thought of it, and I think it’s great. And let’s just draw it out a little bit further, which is that the car is coming down the road, it’s got its headlights spotlighted on you, which very much can feel like parenting feels today, where it feels like everybody is watching us and judging us, whether it’s on social media or just in our local community or in our family or whatever. But then the driver also has like a bullhorn right on the car saying, you suck, you are the worst deer ever, and you are screwing up your little deer baby, fawns? What are deer babies? I don’t know. Like you are screwing up your baby deer.
Gabe Howard: [Laughter] I like that. I Like that, deer baby.
Carla Naumburg, PhD: Deer babies. They’re going to be the worst deers ever. So, and then the poor deer that’s stuck in the middle of the road actually does have those deer babies, those little fawns or whatever they’re called, like nudging and nagging and whining. Mommy, I need you to come wipe my little deer tushy and Mommy, when’s dinner? And Mommy, you know, And so. I think for the modern parent, yeah, we all have these moments when we feel so stuck and confused. And so even though our psyche might feel like that deer stuck in the headlights, our bodies are still moving because we have to respond to our kids. We have to help them with their homework or clean up the spill or tie their shoelaces or get them to school or get them to the dentist or whatever. And so, we I hadn’t thought about this before, but it’s so interesting. I think many of us are stuck in this place of feeling like on the inside we’re so confused. It’s like we’re bogged down in this mud of anxiety and fear and self-recrimination, but our bodies are actually still moving, and that makes for a really, really stressful parenting experience.
Gabe Howard: I’ve decided that I really like deer analogies for this show. I haven’t quite decided why.
Carla Naumburg, PhD: [Laughter] Let’s do it. Let’s do it.
Gabe Howard: But I’m going to stick with one. A couple of years ago I hit a deer with my car and
Carla Naumburg, PhD: Oh, I’m sorry.
Gabe Howard: Yeah, I mean, you know, it happens, right? I was
Carla Naumburg, PhD: It totally happens.
Gabe Howard: I was driving along and I hit the deer. And of course, I made the decision to hit the deer. And you’re thinking to yourself, Gabe, why would you make a decision to hit the deer? I was driving along, the deer jumped out. Now I could have swerved into another lane, but I didn’t know if there was a car there or not. And obviously hitting a car is a much more dangerous and life threatening than hitting a deer. So
Carla Naumburg, PhD: Sure.
Gabe Howard: I hit the deer. Now the question becomes, in the Monday morning quarterbacking of all of this, why did you hit the deer? Why didn’t you slam on the brakes? Why didn’t you move out of the way? All of these questions by people who were not there judging the outcome. Now, I know because I was there, that here were my two choices, hit the deer head on or swerve into a lane that there might have been a car in and therefore risking the lives of all the passengers in my car and the passengers in that car. So therefore,
Carla Naumburg, PhD: Yep.
Gabe Howard: Once you have all of the facts, I made the absolute right decision. I hit the deer. Nobody was injured, got a new car. That’s what insurance is for. It seems to me that in parenting, the choices are bad or worse. Right. And again, in my deer analogy, I hit the deer and everybody wanted to discuss it. In parenting, you have I don’t want to call them bad decisions, but you have two challenging decisions and you make that challenging decision. And everybody wants to talk about the decision that you made versus getting that full picture. And I can see where if everybody is questioning your decision, well, again, to borrow your term, you would feel really shitty because again, I did hit a deer. I did total my car. I did have to be picked up 2 hours away from home. I damage occurred on my watch and people were judging that. I am just fortunate enough to be secure in my own decision that I didn’t let it bother me. But you know, totaling in a car is way different than raising children. And I can imagine that if I made a decision and people were judging it and I was like, Huh, did I mess up with my kids?
Carla Naumburg, PhD: Wow, you just piled a whole lot in there. Such good stuff. So, let’s kind of take it piece by piece. So, I think there’s a few different things going on. First of all, I’m sorry you hit the deer. It sounds like you did make the best possible choice. There is no judgment here. The second thing I would say is, yeah, especially during the pandemic, parents were the way I think about it is we parents were often stuck making a choice between bad and worse. And the example was when we were still trying to decide, do we send our kids into a school building where they might get COVID, bring it home to family members, grandparents, whatever, or do we keep them at home and potentially, hopefully keep them safe from this very dangerous illness but then they lose out on all the social, emotional, academic learning. Right. And the problem with the bad and worse choices, Gabe, is in the moment. We didn’t know which one was bad and which one was worse. So, we’re like doing our best to make the right choice, but we have no way of knowing which is ultimately is going to be the better choice. I wouldn’t say either of them were right. They both stink, but they are what they are. And I think that’s true for so much of parenting. We try to decide do we force our child to play the sport they don’t want to play, or do we let them quit in the moment? There may be one option that makes the kid happier, but ultimately, we have no way of knowing which is the better choice.
Carla Naumburg, PhD: Is it better to sort of teach them the lesson of persevering and continuing on the field and blah, blah, blah? Or is it better to like, see their needs in the moment and acknowledge their wishes and let them quit? I don’t know. Who knows? Nobody knows. But with this influx of parenting advice and parenting experts and I realize it’s a bit cheeky of me to say this because I am allegedly one of these people. We are led to believe that there are right and wrong choices in parenting. And we’re many of us are so freaked out about making the wrong choice that again, we end up feeling like a horrible parent. So now let’s talk about the judgment piece. And then really quickly, I’m going to bring it all back to compassion, which is what the book is about. And I think the antidote to all of this. So, yes, there is so much judgment in the parenting world. I think some of it comes from other parents. Some of it comes from parenting experts and then I think many parents just judge themselves, right, which is kind of a natural human way to react to mistakes. I’m glad you were able to look at the deer situation and say, I made the better choice.
Carla Naumburg, PhD: But I think there are other people who might come out of that and say, Oh my God, I just hit a deer. I’m a horrible driver, I’m a horrible person, I should blah, blah, blah, blah. And so judgment is everywhere. And I think the antidote to all of this too is compassion. And when we can start to have compassion for ourselves, we see our own parenting choices in a broader perspective, right? So, we’re not thinking, I’m a terrible parent because I kept my kid to home during COVID or I sent them to school during COVID. What we can say is parenting is hard. Parenting was unbelievably hard during the pandemic. So, it’s okay if it feels hard and I’m really struggling. It doesn’t mean I’m a jerk of a parent. It just means I’m trying to do a really, really hard thing. It’s really challenging for all of us in very different and unique ways. And just because it’s hard doesn’t mean we’re doing it wrong. So, I really see self-compassion and compassion for others as kind of this secret sauce that makes everything about parenting easier and more fun.
Gabe Howard: I imagine there’s a lot of parents listening right now that are like, okay, well, I want to have self-compassion, but that’s easier said than done. I know that I myself want to be a billionaire, but I have no idea how to become one.
Carla Naumburg, PhD: The cool thing about self-compassion is it is a practice. And by practice I’m not talking about like when you say you have a yoga practice, but you put on your yoga pants and then go sit on the couch, which is a thing I may have done a time or two. When I talk about practice, I mean something that when you first start at it, you don’t know what you’re doing. It feels weird, it feels hard, it feels confusing. But then you keep showing up and you keep trying and you keep experimenting and you keep learning, and eventually it becomes something you’re quite good at. For anyone, for example, who’s had a kid play soccer, when my kids were two and three years old, I took them to the soccer field. They had these tiny little feet and this big ball, and for some reason they could not get their tiny little feet to connect with the big ball. They were terrible at it, right? And I could have said to them at that point, Oh, my God, you guys are terrible soccer players. Forget it. We’re giving up. We’re never going back. But I didn’t do that because it’s easier to have clarity with a three-year-old who can’t kick a soccer ball than it is with our own brains. And so we kept showing up at the soccer fields. We kept signing them up for teams and going to practices.
Carla Naumburg, PhD: And now I’ve got a kid who in eighth grade is scoring goals and making assists and passing to her friends and defending whatever and doing all the things because all these years she’s been practicing. And the cool thing about self-compassion is you don’t have to schlep your kids out to a practice late at night. You don’t have to have a whole team around you. Although it is helpful to have compassionate people around you, all you have to do is show up a little bit at a time. But a first great step is just to start noticing when you speak to yourself in a really horrible way, when that voice shows up in your head that says you’re a terrible parent, you’re screwing up your kids, everybody else is doing it better than you. Notice that voice, make the choice not to believe it because. Right. We don’t have to believe everything we think, Gabe. And then we can start to replace those thoughts with, Hey, you know what? Parenting is really hard for everyone. Just because you’re having a bad day, that doesn’t mean you’re a bad parent. Like all of these more helpful, supportive thoughts we can start to bring into our minds. And at first, again, it’s going to be hard to remember to do it. It’s going to feel weird. You might struggle with the language. That’s okay. Stick with it, it’ll get easier.
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Gabe Howard: And we’re back with Dr. Carla Naumburg, author of “You Are Not a Shitty Parent: How to Practice Self-compassion and Give Yourself a Break.” It still seems that the stereotypical parent believes that they should know what’s best for their family and their children, and they’re protective of that. And they don’t want to share for fear of looking like they’re missing something or missing out or just failing in some way. Is connection important to parenting?
Carla Naumburg, PhD: Oh, my gosh. Connection is crucial. It is. It is an absolute necessity. I really talk about it as an important piece of self-compassion in that we want to remind ourselves that we’re not alone in the challenges of parenting. I’ve said this multiple times on the podcast so far that it’s really hard for everyone and we’re not the only ones who struggle, but also, we want to spend time with people or in community or connect with people on social media who are going to respond to our challenges from a place of compassion and kindness and care as opposed to judgment. And I really think that. That that is so important to happen in person. And so many of us really turned to social media, especially during the pandemic, when initially it didn’t feel safe to gather with other people. And I think we need to get back to, whenever possible, connecting in-person with real people. And I’ll tell you one important reason for this, Gabe.
Carla Naumburg, PhD: So, it used to be that the people we connected with before the Internet and I actually grew up before the Internet, so I remember this. The people that you were comparing yourself to right and connecting with were people who lived in your community. Now, this wasn’t all a good thing because if you were a person who was different in any way, if you were a person of color living in a white community or an LGBTQ person living in a predominantly straight community or a person living with severe and persistent mental illness in a community that refused to acknowledge it or support people with it, that was really painful and hard. But for many parents, the people they were comparing themselves to were people who, for the most part were parenting in the same context, with more or less the same resources, the same challenges, the same support. So, you were all going to the same grocery store. If there was a snow day, everybody had the snow day on the same day. If a school had to shut down for a freaking pandemic, which didn’t happen then, but just for the sake of example, it was we could only look at what other people in our community were doing with the same challenges.
Carla Naumburg, PhD: Now, thanks to the Internet, we’re not just comparing ourselves to the person next door. We are comparing ourselves to literally every other parent on the planet, including parents in different cultures and different societies and different countries and parents who have unlimited resources. So, when I was in my worst headspaces, Gabe, around parenting for some reason that I still cannot explain to you, I used to compare myself to Gwyneth Paltrow, and I would say, Oh my gosh, Gwyneth Paltrow. She has fresh fish delivered to her house every day. She finds time to exercise every day. She does this every day. She does that every day for her kids. And I would be like, she’s clearly an amazing parent and I clearly suck. Gabe, that is bonker balls. She is a person with unlimited resources who has an entire staff, right? I have none of those things. And yet somehow, I saw that to be a reasonable comparison. I might as well have been comparing myself to that of, like, I don’t know, a giraffe. Like, it’s a totally different world.
Gabe Howard: I like your point about how parents are doing this. We’re comparing ourselves to people who have different resources, different families, different cultures, different states, different, different everything. And then finally, I really think that it’s worth pointing out that we don’t really know Gwyneth Paltrow’s home life.
Carla Naumburg, PhD: Absolutely.
Gabe Howard: We know that she has unlimited resources, but perhaps every single day she fights with her co-parent, perhaps every single day she’s fighting with her children. And we’re just seeing this curated thing and feeling bad over it. But let’s shift this ever so slightly, because I do think that there’s a modeling for the children. If parents are constantly thinking that they’re shitty, how does it impact their children and what can they do to make sure that it doesn’t impact them negatively?
Carla Naumburg, PhD: Oh, such an important question. We parents often think we can hide stuff from our kids. Right? We can hide, I don’t know, relationship stress with our co-parent or spouse. We think we can hide our own sort of mental and emotional state. We think we can hide all sorts of things. And parents, newsflash: kids know more and realize more about what’s going on than we ever think they do. And one of the problems is they can sense when things aren’t going right, but they may not have the information or maturity to understand it accurately. And so then they make up all sorts of stories and that often the stories they make up are actually worse than what’s really happening. So how does it negatively impact our kids when we’re walking around thinking we’re terrible parents? Well, chances are that’s going to come out in the way we talk about ourselves. So, I really screwed up that, Oh, blah, blah. I, I’m terrible at this. I’m just the worst. And then our kids are going to start to take on that language for themselves. Now, you may see your kids taking on that language anyway, even if you don’t talk that way. Why? Because it’s the human condition. It’s just the thing that comes very naturally to humans, to blame ourselves.
Carla Naumburg, PhD: So, we’re really trying to create a new narrative. So please don’t worry. Like if your kids I have one kid who’s just inclined to say, Oh, I’m off with this, Oh, I’m terrible at this. When the truth is, it’s just something she’s new at that she doesn’t know yet. So please don’t blame yourself if you already see your kids struggling with this. But the cool thing about this is we’re always modeling something for our children, whether we not want to be or not. Just like we’re always practicing something, whether or not it’s something we want to get better at and so we can practice self-compassion. And so, when my kids were really young, I was dealing with really, really bad postpartum anxiety. It made me very irritable, which is a symptom of anxiety that many people don’t realize. And so, I was often shouting at my kids or yelling at them or snapping at them. And then I would blame myself and think I was a terrible parent. And then that would just increase my anxiety because it’s really hard to do something when you think you’re awful at. That that makes you feel anxious. And then I would snap at them again.
Carla Naumburg, PhD: And when I started practicing self-compassion and when I got into therapy and on meds for my anxiety, all of which was really important. But when I started practicing self-compassion, especially my language changed. The way I would talk about what was going on changed. And so now what my daughters hear from me is, Oh my gosh, today is really hard. I’m having a very hard time today. I’m feeling stressed out today. I’m not my best self today. All of which is really different language than I suck. When we are constantly shaming and blaming ourselves, that’s going to come out in front of our kids. And the language you use, and the irritability and the tone, all those things. But the cool thing is when we start practicing self-compassion, that’s also going to come out and we’re going to be teaching our kids that as well.
Gabe Howard: Carla, I can’t thank you enough for your vulnerability as a mom, do you have any last words for our listeners?
Carla Naumburg, PhD: Absolutely. I’ve said this before. I’m going to say it again. Parenting is an incredibly hard thing to do. And just because it’s hard, that doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong. So hang in there, parents. You got this and you can do it.
Gabe Howard: Carla, where can folks find you and your book online?
Carla Naumburg, PhD: Yeah, I live on the internet at CarlaNaumburg.com. I’m also on Instagram and Facebook and the book is available as a paperback, an audio book and a digital book. And you can buy it at your favorite local independent bookseller or online retailer.
Gabe Howard: Carla, thank you so much for being here.
Carla Naumburg, PhD: Gabe, thank you. And thank you for all the important work you do. I’m really grateful for voices and experiences like yours. I actually feel like we had a really lovely conversation. I thought you brought a really creative angle and framed them in ways that other people haven’t asked me. I just really enjoyed this conversation and I wish you all the best with your speaking decisions and career.
Gabe Howard: Thank you so much, Carla. And a big thank you to all of our listeners as well. My name is Gabe Howard and I am the author of “Mental Illness Is an Asshole and Other Observations.” I’m also an award-winning public speaker who could be available for your next event. My book is on Amazon because, well, everything is where you can grab a signed copy with free show swag or learn more about me by heading over to gabehoward.com. Wherever you downloaded this episode, please follow or subscribe to the show. It is absolutely free. And can you do me a personal favor? Recommend the show whether you share it on social media, bring it up in a support group or, well, you know, text somebody or word of mouth sharing the show is how we grow. I will see everyone next Thursday on Inside Mental Health.
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