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How To Break The Cycle of Reactive Parenting & Raise Good Humans with Hunter Clarke-Fields

We cannot give what we do not have. When I am thriving, when I have calm and peace within – then I can give it to my children.” – Hunter Clarke-Fields

This episode is a breath of fresh air! I’m talking with Hunter Clarke-Fields who is a mindfulness mentor/coach, host of the Mindful Mama podcast, and author of  Raising Good Humans: A Mindful Guide to Breaking the Cycle of Reactive Parenting and Raising Kind, Confident Kids.

Hunter is she is so relatable and real in this interview that you can’t help but feel calmer and more compassionate towards yourself. 

 

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In This Episode You Will Learn:

  • Her own challenges as a mom who struggled with anger, yelling, and feeling like she was failing.
  • How she chose to see her daughter as a gift and take the courageous steps to heal the unhealthy patterns she grew up with.
  • How your ability to remain grounded affects your parenting,
  • Communication skills to help your child to process their big emotions, self-regulate, and cultivate a deeper connection with them.
  • What you can do to be less reactive and become a more calm and connected parent and provide your child with what they truly need.

Sit back, listen, and glean from all Hunter’s wisdom!

 

Where To Find Hunter Clark-Fields:

Website: Mindful Mama Mentor

Hunter’s Book: Raising Good Humans

Mindful Mama Podcast

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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’re 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 am on a mission to equip you to love well and raise emotionally healthy tweens and teens that thrive. I believe that moms are heroes, and we have the power to transform our family and to impact future generations. If you are looking for answers, encouragement, and becoming more of the mom and woman you want to be, welcome. I am Sheryl Gould, and I am so glad that you are here. 

 

SHERYL: Hi moms and welcome. I am so happy that you’re joining us today. And I know that we’re going to learn a lot from our guest, from Hunter Clarke-Fields. 

 

We’re going to talk about how we can become less reactive and calmer parents, how to be more present when our kids are struggling and have big emotions, how to take a mindful approach to problems, and actually use conflict to create a connection with our tweens and teens. 

 

Hunter is an expert on that and what we can do to strengthen our relationship with our kids. Hunter is a mindfulness mentor. She’s the host of the Mindful Mama Podcast, creator of the Mindful Parenting Course, and author of an awesome book, Raising Good Humans, a mindful guide to breaking the cycle of reactive parenting and raising kind, confident kids. So welcome, Hunter, I am so happy that you are joining us today. 

 

Tell us a little bit about your story and how you started down this path?

 

HUNTER: Well, the short answer is that I had a really difficult kid — incredibly sensitive and challenging. And I was like, why is it so hard? I think this is a question we all ask. But the longer story started when I was little, and I had those big ups and downs. I was a highly sensitive kid, and I would get into these pits of despair. So I started studying mindfulness as a teenager just wanting some relief. And finally, as I practiced 10 years later, I sat down to do it. Lo and behold, that’s actually a lot more effective than reading about it. And then I had some big transformations. 

 

For me, I stopped falling into these pits that I would fall into every couple of weeks. And, it was hugely transformative. So then, when I was gonna have my children I was meditating. Well, I had this big pregnant belly, and I’m like, “Oh, yeah, like, this is gonna be awesome.” So calm. But my temper came out, and my temper was my biggest teacher. I realized I had to kind of double down on my mindfulness practice to really dive in more deeply and bring it more fully integrated into my life. And I also needed to kind of understand. I was playing out a generational pattern. 

 

My big feelings were when my daughter had a big tantrum, like, it felt completely unacceptable to me. And I just had this feeling like, “This is unacceptable” It was visceral. And I could really see that, like, “Oh, when I was a kid, this is what I was taught that my big feelings were unacceptable by my dad’s rage and difficulty.” And that was really kind of ingrained in my bones.

 

And now, I’m perpetuating the same problem. I’m scaring my child by yelling because I have that same feeling. And so I could really see that this was a pattern that needed to be healed and changed. And so I started to say, “Okay, instead of lying here, crying on the floor, feeling apathetic and helpless, and like I’m a terrible mother, I’ve got to do something.” I’ve got to make some changes. 

 

I started to really dive more deeply into mindfulness practice and learned about how it helps the brain. At the same time, I started to learn skillful communication because one without the other is not enough, right? It’s great to be able to remain calm, but then if you say something that’s kind of unskillful that your parents might have said to you, it kind of sets off that time bomb of at least my case is a highly sensitive child again. And I can’t access that skillful communication unless I can calm myself down and access my whole brain, which is what mindfulness really does on the other side. So that’s what started the journey of wanting to learn and train better.

 

SHERYL: Yeah, you were living, you are now teaching. Chasing what you have personally lived out in your own life and the transformation that’s happened in your life and parenting.

I really loved your book. I can say this with all honesty, it’s one of the best parenting books I’ve read. And it reminded me a little bit of Dan Siegel’s book. And I saw that you had interviewed him inside out parenting, but what I love about your book is you really drilled it down. You talk about healing, and not passing down those generational patterns that we grew up with. And how do we break that because we can say this is what you need to do and teach all those communication skills which we need. But if we’re not parenting from the inside out, and starting with ourselves, it’s really difficult to do that. It’s like slapping a bandaid on a gushing wound.

 

You broke your book into two parts. So I want you to talk about that. Can you talk about the inner work? Where do we start?

 

HUNTER: Oh, that’s so important. I remember thinking how do you do these things? How do you just respond this way? Like, I would love to just respond this way, but I can’t because I’ve got all these intense things going on for me, and parenting brings up so much. It’s physically challenging, psychologically challenging, and you’re not getting enough sleep. 

 

Your back and that parent, child relationship. Your things are brought up that have maybe little to do with your child actually, in that moment, and have a lot more to do with your own past and the baggage you’re carrying. We talked about being triggered. When they push my buttons, we have to think where did these buttons come from? Like, why are these your buttons? So we want to kind of unpack that and start to have more awareness of ourselves and lower our reactivity. This is the inner work: there’s two people in a relationship. And the one thing we can know for sure in parenting is that there’s so much about modeling, 

 

If we’re yelling at our kids, our kids are gonna yell back at us. And so we have to ask ourselves why are we having a tantrum? When our child has a tantrum, right? Why am I saying to my child, you behave so that I can feel better, you do what I want you to do so that I can I can feel better. I can’t control my own feelings, and your behavior is what controls my own feelings. So why are we saying that to our children? There’s a lot of work to look at our own reactivity. 

 

We can start to step back and lower that reactivity. That’s so much of the problem. We’re just kind of on this autopilot; we’re just reacting, reacting, reacting. And that’s where mindfulness work comes from. Self compassion is a big part of that inner work because you’re gonna fail, you’re gonna mess up. So how do we treat ourselves, when we mess up? It matters a whole lot. It turns out, if you’re mean and harsh, and judge yourself really harshly when you fail, you’re actually going to feel really debilitated and unable to take steps outside your comfort zone that are required to grow and learn. 

 

But if when you take steps outside of your comfort zone and you fail, you respond with a softer landing. You tell yourself, “Yeah, it’s hard. It sucks.” A lot of people are suffering in this way. Then you say, “Okay, well, it’s not about me, this is hard and you can then take those steps to do something different and go outside your comfort zone.” That piece is so important. 

 

Then, how to take care of our difficult feelings? Like we’re telling our kids we don’t want them to explode and be angry. A lot of times the same messages that were given to us, which is to not have those feelings, which is crazy. We have to model how to take care of those feelings. And there’s a middle path for that right between blocking them out and then just drowning them. So these are just essential life skills. 

 

SHERYL: So many of us grew up with I think the majority of “stuff down those feelings.” And of course we don’t learn how to manage our anger. If that was not okay, in our family, or if anger was scary, and no, stop it, don’t have those feelings. But I love how you talk about noticing those triggers. Can you give an example of what made that connection with your father and how that was playing out? And what was one of those messages for you? One of those triggers to give an example.

 

HUNTER: I found one just a few months ago. One of them was like, don’t be upset and don’t yell. Also, not being listened to as like the youngest child in the family. I’ve been thinking about them, my oldest daughter’s 13. Now, she’s wonderful to be around at this point. She was so hard. She was one of the catalysts for, like all this work. And I really feel grateful because I do believe that teens are not rebelling against parents.

 

They do separate, yes, but the rebellion against destructive parenting techniques that just push kids away and lead to so much resentment over time. So we lose our influence. I think that’s what happens with adolescence. And right now, it’s good for me and my team, I feel very grateful.

 

SHERYL: I think that connects with that control. We want to control it, but then we feel powerless. And then we’re reacting out of that powerless feeling. That doesn’t go so well. Versus listening, you talk a lot about using conflict for connection and how to listen and how powerful that is. Talk about how we can actually use which is so counterintuitive to use conflict for connection with our kids.

 

HUNTER: I mean, any unresolved conflicts, they can really breathe and get really dicey, right? Because we don’t talk about our conflicts. Kids tend to blame themselves for these things. If we’re not kind of processing these things, kids tend to blame themselves for what’s happening or they can, and it can breed resentment for their parents. 

 

I think sometimes people who are drawn to mindfulness want to avoid conflict. We want peace, ease in our lives, and we want to have loving relationships with our kids. But conflict is a natural human part of life. If we can accept that, we have less resistance and difficulty around conflict in general. But conflict with our kids, what I’ve really learned is we have needs and our kids have needs, right? 

 

All conflict usually is that I have this need, and you have this need at this point. And these needs are kind of overlapping with each other and causing a problem. So what can we figure out like, what are you needing? What am I needing? And can we be honest with our kids. If they give you a kind of mean teen attitude that really hurts my feelings. You say, “I feel sad when you talk to me that way.” And we can be honest about how we open ourselves up to those sorts of vulnerabilities in some ways. 

 

Then we can get past the serve role, right of like, mother or child or father and chid. And into the truth that: I’m a human being and you’re a human being. When you do that, this is what’s going on for me and this is how it affects my life. Then our kid sees us and has that empathy for us and vice versa? 

 

When we start a conversation sometimes with our teens, we have an agenda, right? Like, “you’re coming to this thing no matter what. And because family is important, you have to be there”. And we don’t listen to hear the other side. We don’t sit, we don’t try to understand. And yeah, sometimes my teen says to me, “Can you listen?” And I say, “Oh, that’s it, ding, ding, ding.” Okay, let me stop, let me listen. And then when we can show our kids that we really hear them and truly try to hear them, we become open minded. Hear what they’re saying, and then they give us more respect, empathy, and care in general. We must first give it to them. 

 

SHERYL: It’s crazy how it works when we can learn how to do that. I have found and I want to give everybody hope that’s listening. I want to quote you. Anger. And I could have written this, it was when I read this anger would well up, that I hadn’t felt since I was a child. Before I did the excavation work to understand what was triggering me, I blamed my daughter. What’s wrong with her? Why won’t she listen to me? 

 

It was clearly all her problem. If I could fix her behavior, then everything would be better, right? And I was like, Oh my gosh, yes. I mean, how many of us can feel that way? And you talk about, name it to tame it. And so explain that maybe some of our listeners have heard that. But explain what that means.

 

HUNTER: Yeah, Dan Siegel talks about this. And it really is part of the brain, the upper parts, the prefrontal cortex, or the higher later evolved parts of our brain, that are unique to human beings. We have the verbal ability in there. And when parents asked me a lot, “Okay, so how can I slow down my yelling? How can I stop yelling?” And part of it is this name to tame it strategy because what happens is we’re like, “I’m going to be the mindful parent, I’m mindful, I’m calm.” But we’re really not. We’re kind of fake calm. And we’re just gritting our teeth. And then it gets to the point where we explode. And that’s not such a great strategy because we’re trying to kind of suppress what’s happening, we’re not really acknowledging what’s really happening for us. 

 

Name it to tame it asks you simply to name what’s going on earlier in that timeline. So I’m starting to get frustrated, I’m starting to feel really irritated, because of XYZ. And then when we do that, we are verbally integrating the verbal parts of our brain. We’re integrating upper brain and lower brain. And we’re lowering our own stress response, providing us some relief, but it’s also like, telling our kids what’s going on for us. They can see, “Oh, whatever’s happening, mom is starting to feel irritated, and it can help them to regulate their own behaviors. 

 

It’s also modeling good emotional regulation for your kids. So you can say out loud, “oh, I’m starting to feel irritated.” You’re not a bad parent because you feel irritated. You’re human. And if you can say that out loud, you’re showing your kids what it is like to take care of feelings. And if you were starting to, like, “Ah, feeling really hurt.” That can be a sign of like, let me do something about this. Let me take some steps to help to reduce my stress response and to check myself, check my mood, do some deep slow breaths, which are cliche because they work to you know, shift our body out of this stress response into the rest response. It’s a sign for you to take care of yourself and turn things around that way.

 

SHERYL: I love that because I think we’re proud to say you stopped doing it. Then, you stop blaming, or pointing the finger versus saying, “I’m starting to feel upset and frustrated.” It’s not blaming your child. And like you said, it’s helping them to become more self aware. 

 

And that is where the feelings really do create that connection that you’re talking about in the midst of conflict. Because then you can seek to understand. And I love how you share that in the book, it just makes so much sense.

 

HUNTER: I wanted to just kind of go back because I don’t think I said that fully when you asked about conflict bringing us together. And that piece about us apologizing to our kids, or saying like, “Hey, I’m sorry, I wish I could rewind and say that another way and I wasn’t very skillful there.”

 

You know, we don’t need to be hard on ourselves. But it wasn’t very skillful there. And this is what I would have liked to say. And you know, I really love you, honey, and all of those things. That’s like that rupture and repair that researchers talk about. And that really does bring us together where kids see, oh, my parent really does care about me. 

 

We’re modeling how to repair a relationship. And it gives our kids more respect for us rather than less to make a good, sincere apology. 

 

SHERYL: Yeah, I love that and how you talk about yelling purposely, or we don’t have to do away with yelling all together. But we can do it skillfully. Tell our listeners about that.

 

HUNTER: Yeah, it might be great to never yell again. But it’s kind of crazy. That’s just not human nature. Most people yell once in a while, and especially if you had a loud household. But we can yell more skillfully, we can work to yell a lot less. 

I talk about things like a yell less formula and raising good humans and how to do that. I think a great step in that is yelling more skillfully. So the last trigger I discovered was a few months ago. My 10 year old daughter didn’t want to go to bed and it was a movie night. We all had a nice time. And then she started laughing at me. And I was responding skilfully and said, “I’m really heavy right now. I need to go take a break.” And that’s always yelling skillfully, as if you can yell, I’m really angry. If you can yell, I need to go take a break. That’s fine. You might trigger a little of that fear response in your kid from raising your voice. But hey, it’s better than blaming language. If you can, then you can come back and do that repair after. I could really feel that heat up my anger. And I’m really great. It’s a great skillful way to yell.

 

SHERYL: What was the outcome? How did that go? 

 

HUNTER: My goodness, I did walk up and down the street for about 20 minutes. And I think by that time, she had gone to sleep. And then the next morning, I said, “Wow, you know, I was really angry last night, wasn’t I?” And they’re like, “Yeah, you were really angry.” And I said, “I think that I felt, you know…,” and then we talked about the situation a little bit more. And I did apologize for yelling, and it worked out.

 

SHERYL: It’s good feedback when we can tell them how we feel. But you also talk about the outer work. And we’ve touched on this a little bit, but those communication skills.

 

Is there anything that you feel like you would like to add that we didn’t, we didn’t cover?

 

HUNTER: Yeah, I think one of the biggest, most important communication skills is not just speaking and listening. We talked a little bit about listening, but when we can really pause, listen, and really try to understand. 

 

And part of that goes back to the mindfulness pieces of practicing to be non judgmental, to notice those thoughts are arising to keep our attention here on what your child or not saying, rather than kind of an autopilot or a labeling place. Then we can start to see our children with fresh eyes. I think listening and also reflecting back is an incredibly powerful skill. 

 

And then we talk about our speaking. Speaking from our own experience, we use “I” messages. I want to offer a little tip. If you’re ever saying, “I feel like you are” that’s having your message disguised as an “I” message. Like, “I feel like you are being selfish”, right? That’s a big one. That’s not so skillful. You know, what are you really feeling and part of that takes a moment of pause and a moment of what is really going on for me.

 

If there’s anger, what’s below the anger? If I’m angry at you, I might actually be really sad and hurt underneath that anger. So I guess I’m kind of pointing back to the inner work, but it really is sort of interconnected.

 

SHERYL: And can you think when you were so triggered by your daughter that when she started laughing. You were angry, what was underneath that?

 

HUNTER: Yeah, that was a tough one. You know, I’m still a little perplexed at why the laughing. Maybe it felt like mocking and childhood stuff like that.

 

SHERYL: Well, thank you, everybody that joined us, and you have to check out Hunter, listen to our podcast. It’s wonderful. She actually does meditations. Are you still doing that on your podcast?

 

HUNTER: Not as much, but during the COVID-19 outbreak, people really needed some anxiety reduction. So I did the daily dose, which is a five minute meditation, which is a little suggestion for mindful living and mindful parenting for 24 days or something like that. They’re very doable, and not too long. 

 

SHERYL: Awesome, thank you Hunter so much for being here. Great to connect with you. 

 

HUNTER: Yes, thank you. Wow.

 

SHERYL: Talk to you later.

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