Casey O’Roarty is an author, speaker, and parenting coach. She speaks candidly about parenting through the teenage years, helping her daughter manage severe anxiety, and coping with her husband’s cancer diagnosis.
- “We all see the whole positive parenting umbrella and the positive parenting movement. What I love about Positive Discipline is it’s not an umbrella. It’s a capital P capital D, an actual philosophy based on theory, and a formed program.” – Casey O’Roarty
- “We are all wired to feel a sense of connection and to know that we matter, and when connection is there and mattering is there, we show up pretty well.” – Casey O’Roarty
- “Kids are great perceivers and they’re really unskilled meaning makers.” – Casey O’Roarty
- “I work a lot with parents around how to be with the messy, how to be with the uncertainty, and how to be with the fact that our kids are actually walking their own path and their own journey.” – Casey O’Roarty
- “That’s where relationship comes in because the most influential, powerful tool that we have for influencing our kids’ behavior is the relationship that we nurture with them.” – Casey O’Roarty
- 1:02 – Becoming a Positive Discipline Facilitator
- 3:01 – Key aspects of Positive Discipline
- 8:28 – Testing on the parenting journey
- 11:43 – Parenting a teenage daughter
- 16:20 – Having a loved one diagnosed with cancer
- 22:43 – Inspiration for the struggling mom
- 24:21 – Casey’s book
[00.00:00] Mothers of Misfits: Welcome to the Mothers of Misfits podcast. Join me for conversations about how to advocate for our kids in a one size fits all world. Be sure to subscribe, so you never miss an episode.
[00.00:17] Emily Melious: Hey, everyone. Welcome back to Mothers of Misfits. I am so glad you’re here. We are talking to Casey O’Roarty today. She is a facilitator of personal growth and development. Her work encourages parents to discover the purpose of their journey, and provides them with tools and a shift of mindset that allows them to deepen their relationships with themselves, and their families. She is a busy gal, and you can learn about what she does at joyfulcourage.com. Most importantly, Casey lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and two teenagers. So you’ve got a lot going on in your world and we’re going to talk about all of it.
[00:00:51] It’s been a crazy year for most of us, but you’ve had a particular set of challenges that I want to get into. But first Casey, what led you to becoming a positive discipline facilitator? And what is that?
[00:01:08] Casey O’Roarty: Well, I mean, a million years ago I was a school teacher, and anyone who was a school teacher before they have kids is under this illusion that having kids probably won’t be that hard. And you’re five steps ahead because you’re so versed and child stuff. And, you know, that is not true.
[00:01:28] Everyone out there I see you, all you teachers. And I also come from some conditioning as far as how I was parented, that I knew I didn’t want to bring into my own parenting. And then having two little kids realized, wow, this lives pretty deep inside of me. And I want to learn how to really navigate who I want to be as a parent. Even as a teacher, I was very family focused and I would do home visits, and really get to know the families of my kids and the parents of my kids. So it wasn’t a big move for me once my kids came along to shift into focusing more on the parenting. So I left the classroom and was home with my kids and started to do the parenting work.
[00:02:14] And I had a girlfriend who was raving about positive discipline as an approach, as a program, as a philosophy. And I was really confronted by my own shortcomings as a mom and was like, alright, I’m going to check this out. And I looked it up online and there was a training, like three weeks later in Seattle, which was not far from where I lived, and I went, and it was transformative.
[00:02:41] It was transformative for me as the daughter of a dysregulated young mom. It was transformative for me as a mother with little kids, and I knew that I had to share it with others.
[00:02:57] Emily Melious: So for those who aren’t familiar with this concept, what are the key aspects of positive discipline?
[00:03:05] Casey O’Roarty: Yeah. So, we all see the whole positive parenting umbrella and the positive parenting movement. What I love about positive discipline is it’s not an umbrella. It’s capital P capital D, an actual philosophy based on theory, and a formed program, right? And so it’s based in Adlerian theory, and Alfred Adler was one of the first social psychologists, and his work found that human behavior is motivated by our perceptions of belonging and significance. Basically, we are all wired to feel a sense of connection and to know that we matter, and when connection is there and mattering is there, we show up pretty well.
[00:03:49] And so what happens then is when our beliefs around how and if we’re connected, how and if we matter, gets skewed, then our behavior kind of goes sideways. And so when we’re talking about kids, it’s all about perception, right? It’s about their perception of belonging and significance.
[00:04:08] And when you’re three or five or 10 or even 16, your filter, your perception filter is pretty immature, right? You haven’t had a lot of experience to make meaning of what you’re seeing. And so kids are great perceivers and they’re really unskilled meaning makers. And so that’s a lot of why wonky behavior shows up. And then as parents, we’re doing the best we can with the tools we have in the moment. And so sometimes our kids are acting out because of this sense of disconnection, but it’s getting under our skin and triggering us. And so we respond, lots of times, shooting from the hip and actually feed into our kids’ beliefs around whether or not they’re connected, whether or not they matter, unknowingly.
[00:04:59] And so positive discipline is about being kind and firm at the same time. It’s about mutual respect, which looks like respecting the person in front of us and all the dignity and worthiness that they get because they’re humans, right? Nobody needs to earn dignity and respect, and mutual respect is also about respecting ourselves and the situation.
[00:05:20] So it’s a shift from, well, if you want to be respected by me, you need to respect me. It’s different. It releases that, and instead it says, I’m going to respect you and I’m going to respect myself. So mutual respect is a big piece. Focusing on solutions versus consequences and punishment is a big one.
[00:05:41] And relationship, relationship, relationship, like it’s really founded in, what does our relationship look like with our kids? And I work primarily with parents of tweens and teens. I feel like there are so many people doing really powerful work for the early years in the school aged kids. And we get into the teen years and the terrain changes. And I know in my own experience, I was like, oh my God, was I duped? Like, what does positive discipline look like in this situation? Like, I was really struggling early on and couldn’t find the resources, couldn’t find the messy conversations, couldn’t find people saying something that I now say, which is the messiness of this era is not an indication that you’re a bad parent or that your kid has character flaws.
[00:06:27] It’s just a messy, messy time. And so really, even expanded from the positive discipline work, I work a lot with parents around how to be with the messy, how to be with the uncertainty and how to be with the fact that our kids are actually walking their own path and their own journey. Even though we want to make it as easy as possible for them, and support them, and not making terrible choices, and we want that control. And, especially my son, who’s 15 is like eight inches taller than me. As if I could control that kid, right? And so that’s where relationship comes in because the most influential, powerful tool that we have for influencing our kids’ behavior is the relationship that we nurture with them.
[00:07:14] Emily Melious: I say all the time that human beings are messy. And it’s just a part of the journey, but you’re so right. And we’ve had lots of guests come on and remind us that relationships endure so much more hardship, than a lack of relationship. And when we have that foundation of a strong, trusting, respecting relationship, we can weather much bigger storms as a family and as a parent and child, than if we haven’t done that good work ahead of time.
[00:07:49] Although I also know from the encouragement our guests have always shared is it’s never too late. You can have adult kids and it’s not too late. All of these things you can start right now, today, and still make a difference.
[00:08:04] I love that you’re honest about, you know there’s the theory, and then there’s the in practice. And as somebody also who coaches people at all walks of life and has helped with parents and families, I feel the pressure of eating my own peas, you know, cause that’s what it looks like, right? To have integrity in the work that we do, but man it’s challenging. And I get it, because of the messiness that comes our way. So when did you feel most tested on your parenting journey?
[00:08:34] Casey O’Roarty: Well, I think that, that time early on, like really confronting my conditioning, that was pretty big. But then, like I mentioned, I have a daughter who’s 18. So she’s almost three years older than her brother, and when she moved from eighth grade to ninth grade, and the last three years up until about a year ago, hardest years, hardest years.
[00:08:59] And anyone out there with a daughter who’s 14, 15, like I see you, I feel you. I have a really good friend who at the beginning of it was like, you know Case, we lose them for a little bit, but they come back, and like just have faith and trust that things are going to turn around. And I remember thinking to myself, yeah great, thanks Jess. You know, not really helpful right now.
[00:09:22] Emily Melious: Not helping.
[00:09:24] Casey O’Roarty: But it was, and you know, what we found in our experience, and my daughter has actually been on my podcast and let me interview her about this time. So she’s, wired for anxiety, like big time. And, looking back, there were tons of indicators. She was really good at coping with it through elementary school, and even through middle school, but once high school hit and puberty hit and the boys started paying attention and she’s super introverted.
[00:09:51] So it’s part like, oh yay see me, notice me. And then the other part is, don’t look at me. And it was just, the coping that she was doing at that time was super unhealthy. And like all the things that I thought like, okay, cause I was pretty wild in high school, so I was eyes wide open. And I was like, okay, I know we’re going to have to deal with all the things, I did not expect that we’d have to deal with all the things her first year of high school. And that was when I really lost my footing and I was very much in reaction. I was so in fear, because at the same time she’s saying things like, I’m depressed and I’m anxious, and I just have no experience with that. And it was also like, yeah, well, it kind of sounds like you’re 15. You know, so it was trying to differentiate between, is this an angst? Is this, what am I supposed to do? And she was just so angry and so dysregulated all the time, and it was really scary. And she moved into online school by choice her sophomore year, and then in the fall of 2019, we had moved and she was getting ready to start this new program at the local community college, and made it about three weeks in and said I’m done and completely dropped out of school.
[00:11:02] And I was like, who can’t graduate from high school? Well it turns out, as I’ve shared, so many people that I know and love have actually got their GED and bailed on high school. But that was really like, fall of 2019 with her was really scary.
[00:11:17] We just were really worried about her health and wellbeing. And that was like precursor to 2020, which that was probably the hardest. Those three years with the pinnacle of the fall of 2019, super tough. And we also dealt with like substance use and intimacy, boyfriends, like all the things, all the things. And she’s killing it right now.
[00:11:43] Emily Melious: Yeah, I was just going to ask, how is she doing? And how did you go from, the pinnacle, as you describe it to where she is today? Cause that’s a family journey, you were all moving through this in your own way, but talk us through, from there to now. Cause it’s so exciting to hear that she’s doing, not just alright, she’s thriving.
[00:12:07] Casey O’Roarty: So there was a long period of time where I had to just continuously choosen to surrender. Like continuously choosen to being okay with being uncertain. I had my own therapist, I got my own support. I have my work, my podcasts where I’m pretty candid. I get permission from my family to talk about my experience of our life. And that was really helpful to me. And it was really helpful to show up authentically like that and to hear from people who are like, thank you. I’m there with you, I’m experiencing this, like that was all really helpful to me being inside of, just that period of time. And I made a lot of mistakes. I also kind of freaked out, I also wanted to fix things. I would do a really good job of being kind of removed and unattached, and then I would come in cause fear would get the better of me and, I don’t really think that there’s kids that exist that literally don’t want to do anything with their lives. Like there’s something else going on. And I knew deeply that there was something else going on with her, and that consequences and rewards kind of defeated the purpose.
[00:13:16] It wasn’t getting underneath things, but my therapist did say he had this whole like contract around, you know, expectations. And so I kind of tweaked it, made it my own, and I was like, hey, let’s just give you some structure. I handed over this like eight page document to her and she made it through like two pages and it was so much, it was super overwhelming.
[00:13:35] So just one of many attempts of me being like, I need to be a responsible mom, I don’t really know what this looks like, but I know that contracts and agreements are important. And then what happened was she went through a couple of different therapists that weren’t very helpful, and I finally got her in to see this gal that I had heard about and knew would be a good fit.
[00:13:55] And we sat for six months on a wait list to get into a DBT program, dialectic behavioral therapy, that they do up here where we live, that’s done with fidelity. There’s the teen and parent workshop every week, as well as her private counseling. And that actually came perfectly timed with the other big events of 2020, which was my husband being diagnosed with cancer. So, she and I started that work and it was so supportive for her and for me, and I’m like, sign me up. I get to sit on zoom and express myself and learn new skills, I’m all about it. It took her a few months to warm up and really be engaged. And once she got there everything shifted and, the depression is still a part of her life, anxiety is still a part of her life, but she has completed her GED and a couple of weeks from now is going to start esthetician school and is super excited about that and where she can go with that kind of career. And she’s really engaged with the family, and is funny, is easygoing, can laugh at herself, like so many things that were just completely off the table a year and a half ago.
[00:15:14] Emily Melious: That’s so exciting. Oh, we’re all so proud of her. That took a lot of work and bravery on her part to turn things around and really rediscover herself, or maybe discover herself for the first time.
[00:15:28] Casey O’Roarty: Yeah. Yeah, and I think that, you know, something that I’ve always said to my kids, which I kind of have come to find out wasn’t always helpful, but made sense to me is, you know, you design your life. And when she was in her darkness, that was a lot of pressure. We talked about this on our podcast episode. That was a lot for her to hold, and she’s come to a place now where I think that she is like, yeah, I get to design my life and I get to choosen to what I want it to look like.
[00:15:59] And, you know, and there’s no blueprint for that. And for her, as an introvert, Gen Z, coming of age inside of a pandemic, I can’t predict what that’s gonna look like, nor should I, right? I just get to be in total celebration for all the future successes and challenges that she moves through.
[00:16:21] Emily Melious: You mentioned your husband’s cancer diagnosis. Talk us through what it’s like to get that kind of information as a family and how you managed that information as a family. I mean, how did your kids respond? How did you manage that from a parenting perspective while you were also trying to focus on your husband’s health?
[00:16:44] This is a big whammy as an understatement, and it happened as you said, while your daughter was healing, while COVID was happening. I mean this is, to say the least, been a challenging season of life. So looking back, what do you feel worked best for you in managing such a serious diagnosis?
[00:17:05] Casey O’Roarty: Yeah, that’s a great question. So we’re coming on a year, April 4th. Actually April 3rd, my daughter took my husband to get an MRI because he had been living with some chronic pain that they were unable to diagnose and have been doing PT, and he started to lose the feeling in his legs. And finally, insurance and doctors and everyone said, okay, go get an MRI.
[00:17:30] And, the poor MRI technician, what they found was a giant tumor on his spine, on the top of his spine. And so he went straight from MRI to the ER up here in Bellingham where we live, and then from there called me, cause Rowan was with him, but not with him because it was COVID so she couldn’t go in with him. Called me and said, we have to go to Harborview, which is in Seattle because the people in Bellingham didn’t want to touch, I mean it had nearly severed his spine. So it had been eating away at his spine, yeah.
[00:18:01] So we go down to Seattle, get him checked in, and then I have to leave cause COVID, and the next morning he went through a six hour surgery where they took this tumor off and rebuilt that part of his spine. And I was in Seattle for about four or five days. I just stayed down there near the hospital, I couldn’t go in. The kids were up here, and I just trusted that they were fine, I stayed in touch. And to your question, I mean, it was just one day, one moment at a time.
[00:18:30] It was scary being in the unknown. First thing was the spine surgery, so when he was released, he had this huge brace that he had to wear and left with a walker, and then slowly is feeling stronger. And then, two weeks later we find out that the tumor is multiple myeloma, which is a blood cancer.
[00:18:53] And so my step-mom, God bless her, she’s large and in charge in a crisis, and she was like, you need to call the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance and get on their books and get down there, do it. I was like, okay. And so, we’ve been totally honest and open with the kids. We haven’t hid anything from them.
[00:19:13] I think both Ben and I, we have very different personalities. He’s the quiet giant who’s just tender and sweet and not super expressive all the time. Whereas I’m like, crazy expressive all the time and not quiet and sometimes not that sweet. But we both have just stepped into this journey, taking it as it unfolds. And I think that personally, speaking for myself, all the work I did with Rowan, and moving through her experience, really prepared me to be with this diagnosis in a way that, of course there’s fear, of course there’s worry, of course there’s worst case scenario, and I am able to be with it and to just trust, I have really deep faith. I had a tough day a few months ago and I was kind of freaking out, and I thought to myself how people say, I didn’t sign up for this, right? And I thought to myself, yeah, but I really believe that I did. I really believe cosmically, energetically, I did sign up for this. This is all a part of the evolution of my soul, my spirit, the purpose that I’m here to live out. And that gives me a lot of peace. I mean I’m still, you know, resentment shows up, anger shows up, fear and worry and sadness. And I was talking about this with a friend yesterday because she’s going through a really, really messy divorce and is just trapped in the fear box.
[00:20:42] And she’s like, how do you not live here in this place of fear? And it was really hard for me to articulate it. I don’t want to spend the time that I have worried about something that may or may not happen. I’d rather just wait till it happens and then handle it. Like I want to live right now in connection and love with my family.
[00:21:03] And I think that modeling that, like my model of that has been really supportive of the kids as well. We lay it all out on the table, there’s really nothing that we don’t talk about as a family. And they know we can handle it if they need to share, like we’re open, we’ve heard it all already pretty much, like knock on wood, God. We don’t need any more like, mom I need to tell you some things. But we’ve just created this really, really solid foundation that has totally supported us. And the kids, I mean, they had to live by themselves for two months. My son started high school online, weird, weird. And Ben and I were in Seattle, he had a STEM cell transplant this fall and like he had to do all the things. And I also think about what a gift, like there’s so many gifts, and what a gift it’s been for my son, Ian, because he’s had to flex into a lot of stuff that I probably would have just taken care of for him because I’m a mom. He turned 15 in October and he was like, well, will you sign me up for driver’s ed? I want to start driver’s ed as soon as I turn 15 and I was like, I can’t deal with that. Like, you’re going to just Google it, figure it out, talk to some people, find out what you need to do, I’ll give you my card when it’s time to pay, but I have too many other things going on to navigate that. And he figured it out, and he did it, and he signed himself up. And it was like little things like that, I’m recognizing like such an awesome opportunity for life skill development.
[00:22:34] He’s going to be just fine when it comes time, both the kids, when it comes time to leave the house and take care of themselves because they’ve had some really real practice.
[00:22:43] Emily Melious: For those moms who are listening and they see themselves in your story, they feel like their world is crumbling down around them, they are doing all they can to hold it together and maybe they’re not doing such a good job holding it together. What do you want to say to them?
[00:23:00] Casey O’Roarty: I want to say to them that everything is temporary. That the people around us, whether they’re our partners or our children, are way more resilient than we give them credit for, and that we don’t have to solve every problem. I think too that it’s really important and I know it’s kind of an eye roll, but if you’re in crisis, you have got to figure out a way to take care of yourself. And I think a really powerful thing to do is to have a practice of stillness. To have a practice where you can be flexing the muscles of just being present in the moment. For me that’s meditation. And not that I sit with nothing in my mind for 20 minutes every day, but I have a practice of like, okay whoa, I am freaking out right now.
[00:23:52] How can I just drop into, in this moment, I’m okay. Everybody’s got something to eat, we’re warm, we’re sheltered. I think that that’s really important, and having a trusted person that can just hold space and listen, and validate that it’s hard. It’s really hard right now. For so many reasons.
[00:24:12] Emily Melious: Such an important encouraging message. Thank you for sharing that, Casey. I know a few people, maybe a lot of people needed to hear just that. So Casey, you published a book that went out in, I think 2019. Can you tell us more about that book?
[00:24:27] Casey O’Roarty: Yeah. So it’s called Joyful Courage: Calming the Drama and Taking Control of Your Parenting Journey, which is hilarious that the word control is in there. I actually wrote it during my daughter’s freshman year. So it’s interesting to look back at it. It’s part memoir, part informational.
[00:24:45] I had a whole team of moms that contributed their practice and their story into the book. I share about how my relationship with my daughter has brought so much healing to my relationship with my mom. But it’s really about recognizing that you aren’t a victim to your circumstance and that there is so much that we can influence when we learn to pay more attention. And my three tools that really came out of that book are, paying attention to our breath, paying attention to our body, and being willing to take the balcony seat, being willing to be an observer of what’s happening and pulling ourselves out of our current experience so that we can see that our current experience is this small thread to a much larger tapestry, which is the entirety of our lives. And our kids have their own tapestries. So the book as geared for everyone. I have a whole ‘nother book inside of me, for sure. Especially being on the other side of that period of time. But it’s short, it’s not very long, it’s a quick read and people have gotten a lot out of it and just feel like they really, like you said, see themselves in the stories and in the sharing.
[00:25:58] Emily Melious: If you want to get a hold of Casey’s book and just learn more of Casey story, go to joyfulcourage.com and check that out. Casey, thank you for coming on and being so open with us and you tell it like it is, the goods, the bads, and the uglies of life, the messiness of it all. But I know I feel incredibly encouraged. And just seeing you power through, and not have to be perfect all the time, but, live in the moment whether it’s imperfect or perfect.
[00:26:31: And I have found so much encouragement from that today. So thank you, Casey, appreciate you coming on.
[00:26:36] Casey O’Roarty: Yeah, thank you so much for having me, love it.
[00:26:39] Mothers of Misfits: Thanks for joining us for this episode of the Mothers of Misfits podcast. Make sure to subscribe, so you never miss an episode. We also invite you to visit us at MothersOfMisfits.com.
- Visit Casey’s website to find many of the resources she mentioned on the podcast! joyfulcourage.com