As a military wife, Lauren found herself in Japan, overwhelmed and alone with a toddler and an infant. She speaks to the challenges of parenting in isolation and gives strategies for re-creating “the village.”
- “We all have these moments where parenting just feels all over the place and nothing specifically prepares you for the moments you’re going to encounter on a daily basis, because you’re always getting something new. You never know what’s going to show up that day, and that can be especially overwhelming.” – Lauren Tamm
- “You need to stack your resources. You need to be honest with yourself about the fact that you need some lifelines and you shouldn’t wait until the house is burning down to wake up and say, hey I need some help.” – Lauren Tamm
- “Be honest about the fact that we were never meant to do this alone. We never were. And historically as humans, we lived in villages where we had generations of families.” – Lauren Tamm
- “We live in this isolated world where we’re just little islands, and we just were never meant to do it alone.” – Lauren Tamm
- “Don’t wait until you’re at your wits end, you’re totally exhausted and done for to ask for help, but we need to build in those people and measures and stop gaps along the way so it never gets to that point.” – Emily Melious
- “Through my perspective, when you have a child that is quote unquote, strong-willed, what you may actually have on your hands is a child who is very self-directed, who has been trying to set their own boundaries for a very long time who does not have the maturity to do that. Yet, they need some help with how to set their own boundaries, how to be self-directed, and they’re also very persistent and independent kids.” – Lauren Tamm
- “You and your child are not equal. You’re not. I think it’s important to make that distinction. You are the parent, you are the authority figure, and you’re there to help guide and coach your child.” – Lauren Tamm
- 0:47 – Parenting is chaotic
- 3:45 – Life as a military wife and mom
- 7:58 – Language of Listening
- 9:57 – Where parents falter
- 14:55 – Language of Listening with strong willed children
- 20:27 – Taming big emotions
- 25:39 – One thing to change today
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, everybody. I’m glad you’re back for another episode of the Mothers of Misfits podcast. We’re talking to Lauren Tamm today. She’s a military spouse, mom of two, and founder of The Military Wife and Mom. She’s also a Language of Listening master parent coach, where she helps parents raise kids to advocate, problem solve, and think critically for themselves, even when no one is looking. I love that. Welcome Lauren.
[00:00:43] Lauren Tamm: Thank you so much for having me, I’m excited to chat.
[00:00:45] Emily Melious: Yes, and I told you this minute ago before we started recording, there’s a little blurb on your homepage of your website, which I love, and I’m sure every mama out there can totally identify with, but I want to hear why this is something you put front and center on your homepage. So, you say, parenting, it can feel a little chaotic. In fact, some days it can feel like seeing a tornado smack dab in the middle of a trailer park. Stuff is flying everywhere, it’s loud, and more than anything, you’re just trying to survive. And you say, I’ve been there too friend. And I just had to chuckle, but at the same time, like say, yeah, that’s an excellent analogy. So how do you identify with that in your own mom journey?
[00:01:30] Lauren Tamm: Sure. So in those moments that I wrote that, we were living overseas in Okinawa, Japan. My husband was gone all the time, I had a toddler and a newborn, we lived in an apartment building, which meant any time you would do something up and down, up and down. And just, everything felt heavy sometimes on days. It was like, my son’s on the floor at the post office, and people are like, do you want to travel and like, go see the great wall of China? And I’m like, I can barely survive getting to the grocery store and back without carrying one kid under my arm like a sausage.
[00:02:12] Emily Melious: We’ve all done it.
[00:02:13] Lauren Tamm: And in the I have the purse and carrier. And it just was this idea that, just little things felt like a lot in those moments. And I think any parent can relate to that regardless of what your life is like in a variety of circumstances. We all have these moments where parenting just feels all over the place and nothing specifically prepares you for the moments you’re going to encounter on a daily basis, because you’re always getting something new. You never know what’s going to show up that day, and that can be especially overwhelming.
[00:02:52] Emily Melious: And likely, you’re sleep deprived on top of it. I think that’s a lot of what was hardest for me, I think back to the early years. So my kids are seven and five, so we still have a good bit to go, although I know it goes fast. But I think back and can get hard on myself some days about, why didn’t I do better at this, or do better at that? Or why didn’t we go take advantage of the things to go see and the activities? And then I remember that I was in a constant state of sleep deprivation. It’s hard, and sometimes it’s not one big thing, it’s just a lot of little things that make that moment overwhelming. And, you know, I’ll be the first to say that I was the hardest on myself in that, but we have to cut ourselves some slack, cause it is like being in the middle of a tornado sometimes.
[00:03:38] And, you know, carrying your kid like a sausage to the post office is often the best thing to do right then. I love it. So, Lauren, what do you wish other people knew about life as a military wife and mom?
[00:03:52] Lauren Tamm: Well, I think we’re all similar, right? We have those similar needs, common ground as mothers. And the only aspect of military life that is simply different culturally is you’re moving around a lot, there is a lot of uncertainty. Your service member, spouse, may be gone on and off a lot, and you’re usually far from family. And, in difficult times of parenting it is often family or very close friends that you grew up with, aunties, uncles, cousins, that you may rely on and those resources are separated. So that’s really the main differences, but I think our experiences as mothers are as often universal. One family who’s separated from extended relatives may experience others may have challenges in other ways.
[00:04:46] Emily Melious: Right exactly. Yeah, and then somebody who’s living across country from family might experience some similar challenges. How did you cope with that? With being in Japan and having your family I’m assuming back in the States, and your husband gone a good amount of the time?
[00:05:02] Lauren Tamm: Yeah, I think you need to stack your resources. You need to be honest with yourself about the fact that you need some lifelines and you shouldn’t wait until the house is burning down to wake up and say, hey I need some help. You know, it’s this idea of someone says, let me know if you need anything, and you’re like, I’m fine. It’s fine, I don’t need anything. It’s good. We’re fine. And you can hear say this in your own head, right, and it almost makes you laugh, because it’s like you say these things all the time and we’re not fine. So it’s really this idea of, okay, I definitely need to be intentional about making close friendships, that we can rely on each other and seeking people out intentionally in my community.
[00:05:45] I need to possibly get some hired help going on. If it’s a low budget thing, perhaps I need to look for teens in my community that would be willing to do some community service or volunteer hours. Or if you’re connected to a church, and seeing if there are people who are willing to volunteer and help you, even if it’s just a mother’s helper who’s coming into your home to play with your child, while you can get something done uninterrupted for one or two hours.
[00:06:13] And being honest about the fact that we were never meant to do this alone. We never were. And historically as humans, we lived in villages where we had generations of families and it’s like, well if the kid didn’t want to go to the pool that day, or they’re having a meltdown, you just said, no big deal and left them with auntie Sue and off you went, and that was the end of the story. And now it’s like, we feel like we don’t have anybody. And we live in this isolated world where we’re just little islands and, we just were never meant to do it alone. And so flipping that for yourself and saying, hello, you know, this is not how I was meant to live, and I need to be intentional about seeking out some real legitimate resources for myself so I can show up as the mom that I feel good about when I go to sleep at night.
[00:06:58] Emily Melious: Yeah, when you talk about that village mentality, and of course we’ve all heard it takes a village to raise a child, but I’ve never thought really about the way you just laid it out, which is we’ve lost the village. And even more so in COVID times, we’re forced away from the village. So a lot of that loneliness and isolation, and just feeling totally overwhelmed and having to be all things to all people, especially to our kids all the time, is so intense.
[00:07:29] And I truly never thought about until this moment that that’s more of a modern thing, that that really is not something that through the ages has been our experience as parents. And so navigating that in today’s world is definitely more challenging. But I love it, it’s don’t wait until you’re at your wits end, you’re totally exhausted and done for to ask for help, but we need to build in those people and measures and stop gaps along the way so it never gets to that point. So I want to turn our conversation just a little bit to your expertise in Language of Listening. So for those of us that are unfamiliar with what that is, can you outline it for us?
[00:08:09]Lauren Tamm: Yes. So Language of Listening is a three-part framework that I use and teach to parents. And in its simplest form, there’s three parts. Say what you see, can do, and strengths. And so, say what you see broken down is simply, approaching a child, you say what you see which is describing what the child is thinking, feeling, doing, or saying without teaching fixing judgment or questions. And you don’t have to get anything done in this step. This is just simply meant to connect with your child so they feel heard and understood. You’re putting on your perspective goggles through your child’s eyes and seeing the world through their lens, because when your child feels heard and understood, they’re far more willing to open up to your guidance. And then comes the can-do part where if you see something you don’t like, you can name a can-do, which is an alternative that child can do instead. Helping them step into problem solving, critical thinking, and helping them be more autonomous. And then if you see something you do like you can go ahead and name a strength, which is something that the child does well, but it’s not praise. It is something that is tied through observation. So it’s never fluff and the child can see it in themselves. And those future actions of the child is based out of those strengths. So when you see a child pick up the toys you can say, you picked up the toys, that shows you’re tidy. And, it’s tied to something the child is actually doing, there’s the proof there.
[00:09:41] Emily Melious: And this reminds me a lot of a guest we had on many weeks ago, Yael Walfish, and she talks about a nurtured heart approach. And she said something very similar in that framework and that was such a phenomenal conversation. Everybody, if you missed it go back, definitely have a listen. I’m curious to hear from your perspective, Lauren, because they seem pretty simple and straightforward when we talk about it, but I know it’s hard, right? I mean, all of parenting, right? Just starting from what we started this conversation, right? It seems it should be easy and then you live it and wow it’s hard. So where do you see parents getting most hung up in those three parts?
[00:10:19]Lauren Tamm: Well, I would say one, the can-do part, because one, parents struggle with what their real boundary is, what’s the core boundary? So for example, let’s say you want your child to go to bed. And the whole idea of a boundary is like, I have to make them go to bed. When in reality, your real core boundary might be simply that everyone gets enough sleep to be rested.
[00:10:45] And so, when you think of it more as a holistic boundary, rather than I have to make them right now at this moment, do exactly what I say, or else this whole parenting thing is going to crumble beneath my feet. And they’re going to turn out, just in the worst way possible. So, the boundary part I think parents struggle with getting in tune with what is the most important boundary to them in that moment. And then the can-do part which is that, it’s this idea that we have to fix everything for our kids, or we have to make them happy, or we have to stop the crying. And that is somehow our job, or we take responsibility for the emotions of others and we see our child crying and it’s like, gosh, I have to do something about this cause it’s my job to make sure my kid is happy.
[00:11:30] And, when you start to see your child as completely capable and that all kids are born with every possible inner strength, it’s only a matter of drawing that greatness out that you see your child crying, and you say to them, this is hard for you. You’re really sad about the fact that you have to go to bed now. There must be something you can do. And looking at it as a child as a whole piece, who is a person who’s completely capable of figuring this out, if you’re willing to provide the right coaching and support. And kids are incredibly creative and wise and, this sounds oversimplified, and it has to be for this talk that we’re having.
[00:12:09] And I will say, Language of Listening is not easy, but it is simple. And following a three-part framework in parenting sometimes feels much easier because it’s simple, but it doesn’t make it easy. You know, there’s no way, in general, I think to make parenting easy. Now it can be easier because you’re using simple tools.
[00:12:31] Emily Melious: In many ways, we’re training ourselves just as much as we’re training our kiddos, right? And in the work that I do, I help families, and actually people of all ages but for the context of this conversation families, discover how their kids naturally operate. So that concept that you and I share about every child is equally capable and gifted with being a natural problem solver. I mean they already have all the equipment they need, what they need from us is the freedom to get there in their own way, and to have those healthy and safe boundaries. But I like what you turned for us. So instead of you go to bed now, it was, you need a full night’s sleep. You need to be fully rested. And that’s a result. I talk about this all the time with families, and frankly, I talk about it in my work with companies because, managing someone in this way, it’s not all that different from being a parent, which is agree on the result. Because you can get that child’s buy-in on why it’s so important for them to get a good night’s rest, and remember how cruddy you felt that one day when you went to bed too late and the next day was really rough, remember that? So can we agree that getting a good night’s rest is so important, and you grow, and your brain needs it, and you can really come together on that. But then do the hard work, like you said, of stepping back and letting them be a part of the problem solving process, or even better, leading the problem solving process of getting there.
[00:14:02] And even things like cleaning your room, right? Oftentimes, and I’m super guilty of this too so I’m here and always learning this lesson, but it’s hard for me not to tell my child how to clean his room, or how to do the school projects. We’re in the middle of making a skeleton out of dry pasta right now. And, you know, going into that project, I thought, okay here’s how I would do the whole thing. And I really had to stop and say, okay, nope, this isn’t my project. So I got really clear with Mason about, okay, what’s the result? What do we want to have happen? And then I’m here to help, you tell me, what do you need from me?
[00:14:39] How are you going to make this happen? And once you can get that process down, or sort of that mindset shift instead of us having to dictate the how, but really just agree on that result, it’s a game changer. And I think you and I are saying similar things in that way. So, for those listening and they might say that sounds great, but you don’t know my kids. And I’ve got the most amazing, but incredibly strong-willed child. Does this process work with kids who are strong-willed?
[00:15:08]Lauren Tamm: Yeah. I think that there’s this idea out there that, you know, you think your child is strong-willed or that’s the lens that you see them through. The component that comes with that is when you continue to tie strong-willed to your child’s behavior, they see it in themselves and they almost start to resign to this idea well, I’m just difficult. I’m just defiant. This is just who I am, and I just give people a hard time apparently. And their future actions are based out of that.
[00:15:37] And through my perspective, when you have a child that is quote unquote, strong-willed, what you may actually have on your hands is a child who is very self-directed, who has been trying to set their own boundaries for a very long time who does not have the maturity to do that. Yet, they need some help with how to set their own boundaries, how to be self-directed, and they’re also very persistent and independent kids. And those are all actually some really amazing qualities that will carry them very well into adulthood. Now it’s only a matter of, working together. You know, it’s like when you have a strong-willed child, the perspective for some is, if only I am harder on them, if only I start using more consequences more punishments, that will surely turn this child around.
[00:16:23] And what you often see is an escalation and things, escalating to a level that it’s just an explosion level. And that’s because the child keeps trying to be self-directed. And what happens is, an even narrower window of the child allowed to be self-directed. And so the opposite is happening. Now, when you can say that, hey, this child really wants to make a lot of decisions for themselves and you can get in tune with what your core boundaries are, then it’s like, okay, you know, this is the morning routine that we have to get done. Tell me the order you want to do this in, tell me which parts you don’t want to be part of the routine, tell me what part you want me to do that’s part of the routine. It’s always like, you know, this idea that we’re the ones who are always going to tell our kids what to do, but if they tell us one little thing, it’s this like, oh my gosh I’m so disrespected. When in fact it’s a teamwork thing and it can be a great way to model for your child, how to take constructive criticism.
[00:17:20] And then, you know, you can check in with yourself and say, am I okay with this? Am I not okay with this? And it’s like, oh, well, what my child is actually asking me to do is really no big deal to me. I’d be fine with that. That could work for me. And so letting them be more self-directed but working as a team on the front end with whatever the problem is, rather than on the back end, which can be very reactionary and back you into a corner as a parent where you feel like you have to resort to threats, bribes, and escalated yelling, because it helps you feel like you’re doing something. Because when you’re backed into a corner, you really feel like you better start doing something as a parent, otherwise you might be permissive. Or like I said earlier, your kid will just turn out terribly. You know, these are just the thoughts I think that run through our heads as mothers. You wouldn’t resort to yelling or threats or bribes if you didn’t love your child. Like, most parents are doing it out of love because they want their kids to turn out well. It’s just that you’re not seeing the results that you want, and it’s not leading you where you want to be long-term.
[00:18:26] Emily Melious: And what would you say to parents who object that by making your child’s equal and getting their input, in other words of, you know, what do you want to do in your nighttime routine? If they come back and say, well I don’t want to brush my teeth. You know, doesn’t that undermine our authority as parents?
[00:18:44] Lauren Tamm: Well that’s why boundaries are super important, and you and your child are not equal. You’re not. I think it’s important to make that distinction. You are the parent, you are the authority figure, and you’re there to help guide and coach your child. And it’s also important to get in tune with what your boundary is. So if teeth brushing needs to happen, then it needs to happen. Everything inside that boundary of teeth brushing might be negotiable. It might be, you know, maybe the child wants you to brush their teeth. Maybe the child wants to brush their own teeth, but they want to do it, you know, right after supper instead of right before they go to bed. And choosing the times of day, this is like the number of times you need to brush your teeth in a day. If that’s your boundary, then maybe the child could pick the times. Maybe the child could pick out their toothbrush at the store. Maybe they could pick out the toothpaste that they’re using. Those types of things are negotiable, but the boundaries never are, because otherwise that will backfire every single time, right? When we don’t honor our own boundaries, that won’t work.
[00:19:41] Emily Melious: Yeah, and that’s a helpful clarification. And it also does press us to think, you know, there are a lot of independent choices that are available even within what seems like the non-negotiable, right? So I like how you lay that out with something that does need to happen. And I know that’s a conversation in our household, but those are choices that would give the child more of a sense of control, that they’re not just always doing what’s being told, right? That they have some sense of problem solving, like you say, and control over the situation, which is important. And it’s great for them to exercise that on small moments so that when they get to be adults, you know, they have that practice. They flexed that muscle, so they know how to be responsible problem solvers.
[00:20:27]You mentioned that explosion moment a couple of minutes ago, and we’ve all been there. How do you tame big emotions in kids? And actually I would even challenge, you know, are big emotions a bad thing? How do we appropriately and effectively deal with those big emotions moments?
[00:20:48]Lauren Tamm: Well crying works, first of all, but there is a distinction right between the tantrum versus a meltdown. There’s a huge difference. Taking your child at their word is very important. This is very real to your child, even to, for example, a two year old, when you take their truck and they fall into a million pieces, it feels like life or death to them in that moment, it really does. Kids feel everything because they live completely in the present moment.
[00:21:12] They are not living in the past, they’re certainly not living in the future. It’s like this little box, and they’re in the box, and here right now in this moment is all that there is. And so when you take the truck, it’s like, it means that truck is gone forever. It can feel that way to kids. Now, when you get in the elementary years, there’s a lot more logic and reasoning that comes into play and it changes. But when kids are feeling these emotions, you can take them at their word. You can offer supportive guidance, but also you can trust that the child is somewhat capable of working on this. Kids set up life challenges for themselves all the time, so if the child is working to learn how to cope with disappointment, you will see a pattern of the child getting upset and crying over things that seem really inconsequential to you, but really it’s the child subconsciously practicing going from anger, to sadness, to whining, to just a few complaints, to calm. That takes a lot of practice in order to do that. So emotions are not a bad thing. It’s like we really have this gut instinct, like we have to fix the crying and do something about it, but crying works.
[00:22:18] It’s adaptive. It helps kids adapt to a boundary. And it’s important to recognize that when you do see your child going from anger, which is enrage, which is the highest form, to sadness, to whining and crying, to just a few complaints that that is a sign it’s a good thing. It’s a sign that your child is working to adapt to your boundary. And so you can name strengths in that situation if calming down is what your child wants. If calming down is what you want, your child will know the difference. And if you’ll say, name a strength, like look, you calmed yourself, and your child knows that’s what you want and not what they want for themselves, all of a sudden they’ll ramp right back up. So it’s just important that when you’re going to name a strength, that it’s really what the child wanted.
[00:23:09] Emily Melious: Could you give me example of in that moment, in those big emotions moments, if it’s not, yay great you’re calming down I can see that, if that’s not what they want, what would be some examples of something else that we could recognize in that moment as a strength?
[00:23:24] Lauren Tamm: Yeah. So when a child is really upset about something, it’s like, you wanted that, and when you want something you don’t give up on it, you fight for it. You are persistent, you know, you’re willing to feel all of your emotions. These are strengths where we don’t necessarily think of as strengths. Or if they say to you, I’m angry. You know, it’s like when you’re upset about something, you can tell me what you’re feeling. That’s really important. Recognizing those types of things, it’s like, just how cool it is that when a child is upset that they feel comfortable enough to express it. You know, you told me that you’re upset about this, that shows you trust me. That shows that we’re in a safe space together. And, I think those are important strengths that you could name in those moments if comb isn’t the goal for the child. Now, if calm is the goal, you can come back a little bit later when everything’s not so heightened, and you can say, you know, that was really hard for you. You were so upset about this and you kept working through it, and you went all the way from angry to calm. And that shows that you have self-control. That shows that when you have a lot of emotions that are going through, you know how to handle it. And that’s a big deal.
[00:24:44] And the child can see that in themselves. Then later, once they’re calm, when the brain’s in fight or flight mode, the child can’t hear you. So wait till later, you can see it in your child’s reaction. You know, they’ll smile a little bit, but then they’ll try to hide it. But they feel that proudness in themselves that they feel capable and they can see it.
[00:25:01] Emily Melious: I’ve done both sides of that. I’ve done it the way you’ve described it, I’ve done it the not so awesome way. And I can see the difference even in my own parenting experience and how helpful that is. And I definitely also appreciate about choosing your timing wisely. I know if there’s an opportunity to talk about something in the moment, that’s great, but oftentimes those emotions are just so front and center that they can’t even hear you.
[00:25:25] And frankly, we’re probably not in a good space. You know, our emotions are heightened, so it’s just, it’s not a productive time. We also had another guest that talked about taking a time out for yourself, and stepping away and calming down and coming back. So, Lauren, you shared so many amazing little tidbits of strategies throughout this conversation, but I’m curious, if there’s one thing, just one thing that moms can take away from this conversation, one small thing that they can change about how they interact with their kids starting today, what would that one thing be?
[00:25:59] Lauren Tamm: You always get a do over. Kids are incredibly forgiving. So you just go up to your child and say, let’s have a do-over, let’s replay that situation together and how we each wish that it would’ve gone. And you know, it’s a great time to go ahead and name a hidden strength for your kids too, when you’re having a do over which is, let’s say the child, just in the most simplest of example had spilled some milk. And there was a big fight over it. You know, you can go back later, say let’s have a do over, let’s spill this cup of water. Really, and kids love this, let’s spill it. And then when they do, you say, you know, I bet that was an accident and you really didn’t mean to do that, that you’re only trying to carry the cup to the table on your own. Or you’re only just trying to have fun at dinner and your arm just swung and it spilled, and just go from there. You know, life doesn’t have to be this perfect thing and it’s messy, and when you say that you’ve done both in terms of, possibly exploding and possibly the calm route, you know, I’ve done both too and still after all these years of doing this, we’re only human.
[00:27:06] You know, and people are like, it’s been 15 years since I’ve ever yelled, like well, this is all about authentic parenting. Being authentic in the moment, and authenticity comes from the fact that we are not always going to show up the way that we want, but when it shows up in a way that we don’t like we can always just go back and have a do over.
[00:27:27] Emily Melious: I love that that is your one thing. And as you were talking about spilling the water, going back and doing it again, it makes me think of one of my very dear friends. Her daughter accidentally dropped an egg on the floor, and her daughter was just mortified that that’s what happened. And, you know, looked at her mom I think for that instant reaction of, oh my goodness, how much trouble am I in? And my friend who’s actually, I guess you could say amateur photographer, but I think her photography is incredible and she documents mom life. And so she put this picture on Facebook and I think it was in black and white and it was just this cracked egg on the floor.
[00:27:59] And she said, today, I dropped the eggs on the floor. And it was after her daughter dropped an egg, and you know, was just horrified. She went to the fridge, picked out an egg, and dropped it on the floor just to show her daughter that, no big deal. We all make mistakes. And I thought, that’s an amazing mom moments.
[00:28:18] So Lauren, thank you so much for coming on and sharing your wisdom. And maybe we’ll all be tipping over a couple extra glasses of water and cracking a few more eggs on the floor, but we’ll be better for it. So thanks again.
[00:28:30] Lauren Tamm: Yeah, you’re welcome. Thank you for having me.
[00:28:33] 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.
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