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Healing Our Own Emotional Wounds To Become A Better Parent

Elise Knox is a former middle school teacher turned life and wellness coach. Mama to 2 and step-mom to 1, her passion is helping moms and preteen/teen girls get through challenging times with more connection and ease.

Elise is a Certified Trauma-Informed Life Coach. She knows that if we do not heal our own wounds, we bring them into our parenting as a means of protection.

You’re gonna love our conversation today!

Scroll down to read the full episode transcribed.

What You Will Learn: 

  • How do our parental wounds as children affect the way we parent our kids? 
  • The purpose of asking ourselves, “why is this so triggering for me?”
  • What happens with our relationship with our teens when we are constantly looking for the negative? 
  • Challenges of being in a step-family and relating to step-kids.
  • How noticing where we want to control things with our children can help us have better reactions to our teens. 
  • Getting comfortable saying sorry to our teens.
  • Admitting to our kids when we don’t know the answer to something.
  • What questions to ask your teens instead of giving advice?
  • Fallback questions or statements to respond to your that give you time to compose yourself.
  • Changing our role from “fixer” to “listener”.
  • The burden moms put on themselves around guilt and how it sucks our joy.

Where you can find Elise:

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And here is the episode typed out!

Welcome to the Moms of Tweens and Teens Podcast. If some days you doubt yourself and you don’t know what you’re doing. If you’ve ugly cried alone in your bedroom because you felt like you were failing. Well, I just want to let you know you are not alone and you have come to the right place.

Raising tweens and teens in today’s world is not easy. And I’m on a mission to equip you to love well and to raise emotionally healthy, happy tweens and teens that thrive.

I believe that moms are heroes, and we have the power to transform our families and impact future generations. If you are looking for answers, encouragement, and becoming more of the mom and the woman that you want to be, welcome. I am Sheryl Gould. And I am so glad that you’re here.

SHERYL:  Welcome, Elise, to the Moms of Tweens and Teens Podcast. I’m really looking forward to talking to you and the meaningful conversation that we’re going to have today. 

ELISE:  I’m so excited to be here. Thank you for having me.

SHERYL:  When I got your email, I watched the video you sent me – which was really cool that you did that. I read about your philosophy, your perspective, and where you’re coming from in the way that you support moms and teens that you work with. I was like, “I’ve got to have you on the show.” 

We’re so aligned with where we’re coming from. I love that you’re willing to go deeper. One of the things that you talk a lot about what I’ve read about you is how our wounds play such a big role in how we parent our kids, which I agree with. I feel like that’s a place we don’t want to go. 

I know when I started out on this journey – my oldest now is just turned 32. When she was a tween, I took her to get “fixed.” I took her to therapy. Then through that, I was like, “Oh, I think I’m the one that needs help here. I think maybe there’s some unfinished business.” 

We can focus on our kids and what needs to be fixed, and all those things and supporting them are important. But when it gets down to it, it really is about what’s going on with me that this is so upsetting for me, and this is what is triggering in me. 

I would love to hear what you’ve learned. And you have two girls, and you are a stepmom. So what have you learned about yourself? And it sounds like the journey began with your stepson, who’s in his 20s now, but can you share a little bit about what led you to focus on wounds and how that impacts us?

ELISE:   I did a health coach training program, which kind of got me into coaching. I wasn’t planning on working with teens. I had my own health challenges, which was what got me to health coaching. I found myself working at a middle school with students as a health coach, which was very interesting.

SHERYL:  Back in middle school.

ELISE:  It was great to connect again with middle schoolers in that one-on-one setting. It was my jam, and not creating a curriculum for them. It was kind of in a vacuum. I was working with the middle schoolers. And some parents would like to contact me, and we would have a conversation. But a lot of times, we wouldn’t. And it was like I can coach these kids all day long, but if they’re going home to the same environment, where their parents aren’t receiving support, nothing really changes because our environment matters. 

Which is how I kind of wound up where I am supporting moms of tweens and tweens. I have moms that contact me, and they’re like, “my daughter needs help.” I have a call with the mom, and I have a call with the team. And I’m like, “Oh, she could use some support for sure. And how can I help you?”

SHERYL:  Exactly. You’re hitting on something. I’m a huge believer that it’s how we need support as moms, and we need to be working on ourselves. It’s wonderful what the schools are doing with social and emotional learning. But if you go back home, and we’re not learning this and practicing this in our own home, it does impact our kids, and it makes a huge difference when we are practicing it in our homes. I love how you saw that you saw the need to fill that gap.

ELISE:  I have a very, very big wound of getting my heart broken into a million pieces by my high school boyfriend as a freshman. It still impacts me today. So that is something that I already fear, and my daughter is nine, and I already have so much fear about that first heartbreak. 

Really looking at how my fear and anxiety around what happened to me are playing into how I interact with her. She hasn’t had a boyfriend yet – she’s going into the fourth grade next year, but the hose is going to start happening. 

I have an immense amount of awareness around it. When I work with teens who are in this phase of getting their first boyfriend, they will say to me, “I don’t talk to my mom about it because when I brought it up to her, she immediately went to like pregnancy, heartbreak, drugs, alcohol. We’re literally just holding hands. 

SHERYL:  Yeah, it brings up so far, and it’s a trigger. 

ELISE:  That’s a perfect example of if you’re not really clued into what is my stuff or their stuff. Our kids are their own little humans. They are very different from what we were. Their parents are different from our parents were their social circles. Everything’s different. But we’re like, “I went through this, and I’m gonna help you with this.”

SHERYL:  I just want the moms to hear this. So much of what we can end up doing is that word projection. I don’t know if everybody knows what that word means. I think it’s used more nowadays, most of us know. But where we’re putting ourselves on to our kids and our experiences. I have that, too, even though my kids are older, and I have a granddaughter, and she’ll say, “Oh, I have a crush.” She’s going into second grade. I just noticed inside myself panicking already. I have to give her this sermon on what kind of boy he is and who he is and kind. She’s going into second grade, and I’m relating to you.

ELISE:  Yeah. as a parent, it’s like, “let me be really intentional and clear with like, noticing when I’m really triggered by something.” Maybe sitting down and journaling about it or really thinking it through because life is so busy. If we don’t take the time – somebody described it to me as we’re bumping up against everybody’s and our own traumas or wounds. If we don’t slow down and say, “why is this so important or triggering to me?”

SHERYL:  I think of it as a pinball machine. Trigger, rather than slow down and be curious. 

ELISE:  Yes, and with my stepson and what I learned and what I’m choosing to do differently this time, he also had some wild spirit in him. I was always just looking for the bad and looking for the lying. I was like, “I’ve done everything. You can’t get anything past me.” And that is not a great place to come from in parenting.

SHERYL:  Do you mean the suspicion and then not trusting? Before you even know what’s happening, you’re already not trusting based on what you were doing at that age. Am I correct? 

ELISE:  Yeah. And sometimes, I was correct. Because he was doing things that were things that I did but were things I didn’t want him to be doing. I was always looking for the lie or the mischief.

SHERYL:  Yeah, the negativity is like, “you’re not for me, you’re against me. I don’t trust you.” It’s almost like you’re going in with that negative energy of fighting against rather than fighting for somebody. Maybe fighting is not the right word, but you’re for him. But instead, it puts this spin on it where you’re not as supportive as what they need at the time. 

So what would you do differently? If you had to go back – and we’re not going to live in regret or guilt ourselves, but what do you wish you maybe did differently? Or maybe you’re doing it differently with him now?

ELISE:  I want to first acknowledge the challenges of being in a split-family home for everybody involved. It was hard for his mom, it was hard for my husband and me, and it was hard for him. It’s challenging. And then you add teenagers to it and rebellion, and it becomes even more challenging. I will say that having moments of really trying to connect with him instead of wondering why’s he being shady. 

I think it is so important to have the foundations prior to going into these teenage years. I make a habit of always apologizing to my daughters if I lose my temper so that I will be able to do that when they’re teenagers. Because I’m sure I will at times make mistakes in those years. I think if you don’t have that foundation, it feels scary to admit when you’re wrong.

SHERYL:  Say more.

ELISE:  I never felt a strong foundation of a relationship with him, partly because I was new and I was a lot younger. I was never trying to be his mom – I didn’t want to be his mom. I just didn’t have a strong foundation for a relationship. So to say, “Oh, hey, I overreacted – sorry,” felt not safe because the relationship wasn’t there. Whereas my kids, they’ve been hearing me apologize since they can remember me talking, and the foundation is solid. I feel totally safe doing that.

SHERYL:  Yeah, thank you for clarifying. I want to pause and say thank you for saying about how it’s challenging being a step-family. A lot of our listeners are in that situation. They’re dealing with exes and different ways of parenting, and it’s it is challenging. 

I grew up in a stepfamily – I was part of a stepfamily for five and a half years. And there are a lot of different emotions. I don’t know if this happened to you, but feeling rejected and like you’re not really the mom. “Who are you to tell me what to do?” That’s a big one. 

ELISE:  I think looking back on the knowledge and information, and experience I have working with parents of this age. My husband got to the point where the connection with him is the most important thing, and micromanaging his behaviors is not helpful. He got there a lot earlier than I did. I think that probably speaks to him being the biological parent and me being the step-parent and feeling often like it wasn’t always my first choice to be step-parenting at a young age. My husband got to “I just want him to be safe and okay” versus “I’m gonna like spy on him and figure out what he’s doing wrong” much sooner. My husband is an amazing father. So that speaks to how I want to be with my girls. 

SHERYL:  Focusing more on the connection and the relationship and not the other stuff that oftentimes we cannot control. It sounds like you were trying to control things, trying to find out what he was doing. That never works, does it?

ELISE:  No, trying to control just puts a wedge in the connection because you’re constantly searching and micromanaging and analyzing instead of the connection to them.

SHERYL:  It doesn’t mean that we don’t need to be aware that there are things going on and have boundaries. But if we’re going about it at the expense of the relationship. Our kids need us to be seeing them and listening and trying to get to know them and where they’re coming from first. 

ELISE:  I would say that is the piece that I work with moms on most. “Yes, take care of you. Try not to micromanage. And yes, you have boundaries, and you’re concerned for their safety, and you’re expressing that to them. And there are still rules.” 

It’s not like just connecting and no rules or boundaries. Those are also still important. We can’t lose the connection piece.

SHERYL:  Yeah, I liken it to bringing the inflammation in the relationship down. If your relationship is really inflamed, and there’s this heightened tension and animosity, it’s going to be hard with the other stuff. With setting boundaries and all those things. 

So, how is your relationship with your stepson now? Just the work that you’ve been doing on yourself?

ELISE:  It’s very interesting. That’s a great question. It is one of the areas that I still find I get the most triggered. In the winter, there was something that happened, and I immediately went back to a trauma response times 100. There were some hard times with him, so I’m not discounting the trauma that I experienced with him. My nervous system was responding to him when he was 16. And he’s 24. 

I think it was especially hard for me because I was like, “this is what I do. How am I having this response?” I felt bad about it. But that doesn’t help anything. So I just expressed it to my husband. I said, “I’m just going to be really honest with you. My response right now is not in modern day. It’s in past high school days. I’m gonna seek some help for this because this really doesn’t feel good for me.”

SHERYL:  That is so good for moms to know – we think we’re going to arrive one day, and then it’s just not going to happen anymore. And it still does. But the difference is you recognized it, and you knew it was happening, and you knew you needed to express and needed support to work through whatever was happening within you. That’s the growth.

Did you notice you responded a different way? It sounds like you did just based on going and talking to your husband, and he’s a safe person to do that with. It sounds like you’ve worked a lot on that. Going to our husbands and spilling that might not always be the right person, depending upon what it is. But you took it, and you knew you had to be proactive, but did you respond differently to him than you would have in the past?

ELISE:  I put some space in between us so that I had time to process my own stuff before I had to be with him in a calm and regulated way, which has always been my role. I don’t know exactly how I feel about that – I was never the one to enforce things. I was behind the scenes and saying, “it doesn’t feel good. What are we going to do about that?” My husband was usually the face of the conversation. I think my stepson and I have some healing to do around all of it. It’s just such a complicated relationship. I think the work that I’ve done can be done by everybody. It’s not easy. It digs things up, and it feels uncomfortable, and not everybody wants to go there. And it’s where real healing happens.

SHERYL:  Yes, where real healing happens. I realized, with my oldest when she was a teen, I was making her bad a lot because it was my stuff. I didn’t know how to deal with it. She was a kid that was more impulsive. She had ADHD. She was angry, which anger was not okay to talk about growing up. So it was triggering.

I thought I wasn’t angry, but it turns out I was pretty angry. But blaming her and thinking she’s a bad kid – she was not a bad kid. She’s a great kid. I just hadn’t healed a lot of my own wounds around how to deal with her anger because I had never had a safe place to process my own anger. 

I love how you’re talking about healing, paying attention, the trauma-informed parenting. I would love for you to define that with our listeners.

ELISE:  The simplest way to describe it is this analogy if two people go to the desert and one person has never seen Joshua Tree, it’s beautiful. It’s amazing. They’re looking at all the cacti, the trees. It’s just so cool. And the other person had a really bad experience with a snake when they were younger. They’re gonna go to Joshua Tree, and they’re going to be constantly looking for a snake because they’ve heard that there are snakes in Joshua Tree. And so they’re like, “where’s the snake? Where’s the snake?” They’re not enjoying themselves. They do not see the trees. They do not see the cacti. They’re looking for a snake. 

So this is the difference between someone who’s had trauma with getting broken up with or maybe getting into bad behaviors, or maybe as they struggled in school as we talked about. Or maybe they got shamed for expressing big anger and big emotions as a child. So they’re like, “where are these things happening? Let me find them.” 

We all have different reactions as parents that and you’re on high alert. I think we all have a fair amount of “small t” trauma. Some of us have big “T” trauma. I would say I don’t have any big many big T traumas in my younger years at all. But I do have these little things. So like with the example of my daughter and reading, she just like wants to look at her yearbook, and I’m like,” You’re not going to love school anymore.” Because I’m looking for where she might not be doing well in school or where she might not be loving reading.

SHERYL:  Yeah, and what’s the belief underneath it? If she’s not reading, then what’s going to happen?

ELISE:  If she’s not reading, then she’s not going to feel confident in her reading. She’s not going to do well in school. Her love of learning at this age is so inspiring to me because I didn’t have that. I do have that now. So that’s the conversation that I get to have with her. When I repaired from my initial, “you have to read 20 minutes.” I said, “Listen, I know, you know me as someone with my head in a book every time I have a few moments. However, I wasn’t always like that. Reading was really challenging for me, which made school really challenging for me. So when you said last night that you just wanted to look at your yearbook. My response came from like my own insecurity about my ability to read, and I was afraid that you weren’t going to love reading anymore.” She’s like, “Okay, mom.”

SHERYL:  Everybody that’s listening, I’m sure they’re relating. I certainly am. You don’t want her to feel the pain that you felt.

ELISE:  Absolutely. And that is where as a mother, all of our responses are coming from.

SHERYL:  We don’t want them to hurt.

ELISE:  I think that’s where all of it as a mom is coming from. I imagine I speak for most moms. I feel their pain in my body.

SHERYL:  I do too. Like right now, my heart hurts. As we talked about this, I felt it in my chest, and I remember when one of my kids was having trouble learning and had been tested. They were in first grade. I remember them bringing me in, and they’re like, “You better get them to read by third grade, or they’re not going to be able to read.” I remember I went out and into the car, and I bawled because it was that very thing, remembering what that was like. 

ELISE:  Every human could use a little trauma-informed information so that they don’t say things like that to parents. As an educator, as an administrator, and as just a human in the world. Suppose we could communicate a little bit more, with more loving intentions, so that we could avoid things like that. It would be amazing because that’s heartbreaking as a parent.

SHERYL:  Yeah. And then seeing where we want to control things. Like when you said, “Okay, you got to read for 20 minutes.” And you talk yourself down off the ledge, and then you apologize.

ELISE:  Yes, and I cannot say enough about the power of apologies and repair because we all make mistakes. We’re never going to get through this thing without making mistakes. And so get really comfortable with saying sorry and repairing. 

SHERYL:  Sometimes I’ll recognize a moment, and then I’ll be like, “Can we rewind, like, let’s start over? Let’s rewind that tape.” However, our kids don’t rewind tape anymore.

ELISE:  It also models for them that it’s okay to make mistakes and that you can fix problems. It’s so powerful for them to see. I think, as a parent of a younger person, they really look at us as the person with all the answers. And so the more that I can say like, “I don’t know the answer to this, and just made a mistake. Let me see how I can fix this problem,” is so important.

SHERYL:  I think you bring up something important that you’re entering those years, and you know this from being a middle school teacher and working with parents, but where they don’t want our advice. We’re giving them advice, rather than what you said – asking them, “What do you think about this?” 

It’s very different. And not that they don’t need guidance. But what I find with parenting tweens and teens, we want to tell them so they don’t make a mistake. So they aren’t feeling or experiencing pain or anxiety. We’re trying to tell them what to do. That’s not what they’re asking for. So often, they just want to be heard and to say, “Well, what do you think about that? What do you think might help you?”

ELISE:  “Tell me more” is a phrase that I love. Because sometimes, as a parent of a tween and a teen, your response to whatever they’re sharing or saying – you’re caught off guard. And so if you can just have a few like,” Oh, tell me more,” or “Interesting, I would love to hear more.”

Anything like that where you do not have to come up with a response. Because likely your response will shut them down. And it’s important to think about your facial expressions and the energy that you come with. But it’s also really important to have some fallback questions or statements so that you can have a little time to compose yourself and be in that open listening place, rather than the advice-giving. 

SHERYL:  Yes, I love that. Because we are tempted to say those things, and we can say not to give advice, but that’s not as helpful as what do we do? What can we say instead? Rather than being like a turtle and putting their head in the shell, and like, I’m not going to talk to you because I’m gonna get a lecture.

ELISE:  I think another thing with that is, “What would you like? How would you like me to show up in this situation? Would you like advice? Would you like me to just listen?” Getting clarity from what they want because they’re coming to us with a problem. We have been the fixers for their whole lives as mothers. And so, it’s hard to step out of that role. 

They typically don’t want our advice when they’re tweens and teens. You still really want them to share with you. Every mom of a teen and tween and teen is like, “They don’t tell me anything anymore. I feel like I’m walking on eggshells.” So how do you like to keep that communication open? You say, “what would you like for me to do in this situation? Do you want advice? Or do you want me to just listen?”

SHERYL:  I think that’s good. A good way to take care of ourselves too. “What do you want from me?” And then if they say, “I just want you to listen.” Then that’s good feedback. 

ELISE:  Yeah. It’s important along with having support, whether it’s a friend, or preferably not, a friend who’s also a mom of a teen in your kid’s friends circle. Sometimes it can be isolating as teen parents because your teen might not want you to share things. When they’re little, you go to the library circle and talk about potty training and sleep and all of those things. All those things are fair game. 

But when they’re tweens and teens, there’s some stuff that we might not want to share with their friends’ parents. Because either your shame or they’re like, “Mom, don’t tell your friends.”

Having support, whether that’s a therapist, a coach, or a friend who lives 100 miles away because if you are changing the roles from fixer to the listener, you’re going to be taking on a lot of stuff. And you are probably going to want to like talk to somebody else about it.

SHERYL:  I started our Inner Circle Membership a couple of years ago, and this year was the first time we did groups where moms could meet over zoom, and we had a facilitator – you would be a great facilitator by the way. It was so powerful because moms could come in there, and they could just vent, and they could chill there. 

Then we find out we’re not alone because so many moms feel like they’re the only ones because they don’t feel safe being able to talk about it. They don’t know if someone will judge them or their kid, or it might get back to my kid, or I might be betraying their confidence. 

I want you to talk a little bit. I know we’re coming to an end. But you talk about mom’s guilt and shame and how we put such a burden on ourselves, and it sucks our joy. Can you talk about that a little bit? And how do you work with your clients? Because I don’t know one mom that doesn’t have that struggle?

ELISE:  This is in alignment with what we were just saying, shame lives in the dark. It can’t really survive in the light. And as the parent of a teen, we keep everything in. And so it’s inside of us. And it’s festering. Mom’s guilt goes across all age levels. But I think the shame can get intense in this in this time.

Because my kid is a part of me, and they’ve always been this pretty well-behaved child, and then they go to the rebellious or the dark side, and it feels like it’s a reflection of us. It’s looking at ourselves and figuring out why this is making me feel this way. How can I support myself and see them as an individual and me as an individual and do my own work? Their behavior and choices, as much as I love them and care about them, it’s not a direct reflection of me.

SHERYL:  Yeah, I love how you told me before we got on here that you felt like you had a very healthy childhood. And you felt very supported. And yet you still work.

ELISE:  My mom passed away. But I have two amazing parents. My mom and I were extremely close. And that’s part of the reason why I do the work that I do. I feel like I lost six years – we had moments of connection all through there, of course, but there was a lot of time of not being connected and not feeling supported, even though she was doing everything she could to support me in the way that she could.

And so, bringing that connection back to this time of life for moms and teens is really important to me. The more you learn about the brain development of an adolescent and then teenager, the more you see it as a necessary step.

SHERYL:  Yeah, that makes so much sense. 

ELISE:  As much as knowing about brain development makes it easier for the mom of a teen who’s doing things that feel so hurtful and not like they used to be. I always do bring it into my coaching in subtle ways because it’s important for them to hear it. It’s important for them to take care of themselves and to be really supported. The science of these phases that every human has to go through to get to a healthy adult human.

SHERYL:  Yeah, a lot of it is developmental. The brain and its development are trying to become more independent and all of those things. The reasoning part of the brain and the emotional part of the brain are in the process of connecting. 

ELISE:  The importance of all social relationships and the lack of care for family relationships – which I remember myself so clearly, can be very painful for parents. It’s a necessary step in becoming a healthy social adult.

SHERYL:  Yes, you want to belong. They all want to belong and fit in and use their voice to say no.

ELISE:  I think it’s so interesting. As I say on my website and when I talk to moms, part of learning is you want them to set healthy boundaries with their peers because you’re worried about groups of peers doing crazy things. We know all that part of that is going to be setting boundaries with you. It’s not like, “Oh, I only set boundaries with friends.” But they’re going to get stronger in all these areas. And that’s going to reflect at home too.

SHERYL:  Such a good point. And to not take it personally. But to know what’s going on. They’re not going to always do it responsibly because they haven’t learned how. 

It’s been fun to have you on the show and talk to you and get to know you, and hear your wisdom and story and how you’re supporting moms and teens. Let them know where to find you.

ELISE:  Thank you so much for having me. It’s been wonderful. I love connecting with people who do similar work and have similar intentions behind their work. So I’m on Instagram, @eliseknoxconnectioncoach, and my website is at eliseknox.com.

SHERYL:  And you’re on Facebook, too.

ELISE:  I am on Facebook, too. I feel like my I hang out most on Instagram, but it’s connected. 

SHERYL:  And you have a giveaway on your website, where they can put it in their email. And what is that? 

ELISE:  I have a communication guide. Because one of the biggest challenges that I come across with moms of teens is, as I mentioned earlier, that everything I say is triggering to them. I’m walking on eggshells. How do I talk to them? I believe connection and communication are what create that foundation that I was talking about that I didn’t always feel like I had with my stepson. 

I am a student of nonviolent communication. And my guide is along those lines. I actually have a short video series because I know a PDF can be a little exhausting sometimes, so I just go through my guide.

SHERYL:  Yeah, I love that that’s so helpful. Because we need those conversation scripts to help give us things that we can pull out. Like you said earlier when we are feeling triggered or we don’t know what to say.

ELISE:  I think with nonviolent communication, the thing that I love about it is that it’s first connecting and working on yourself. And half the time, I take myself through the process. I’m like, “Oh, I don’t even need to have the conversation anymore. I feel complete.” And so much of the work is within ourselves.

SHERYL:  This isn’t even about them. Great to be with you. Thanks so much.

ELISE:  Thank you.

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