Ep 51: Hack Your Parenting

Episode Summary

Susan Groner, founder of the Parenting Mentor, shares her wisdom and parenting “hacks” with Andy. Discover Andy’s favorite tips from Susan’s latest book Parenting: 101 Ways to Rock Your World, and Susan’s #1 reason why fights break out between parents and teens. Plus, what to say instead of “Because I said so.”

Show NotesParenting ScriptsWorkbook ExercisesInterview TranscriptGuest Bio

Full Show Notes

What kind of support do you need as a parent? When you pick up a parenting book, what are you hoping to find?

  • Information that’s quick and digestible
  • Advice that fits into your life’s current rhythms
  • Maybe a reminder that not everything you’re doing is wrong

That doesn’t sound like too much to ask for, but how often do we pick up a parenting book only to put it down, thinking… 

  • This author doesn’t know what they’re talking about
  • That sounds great, but who has time to learn this crap?
  • This book makes me feel like a terrible parent!

Being a parent is hard work! Parents should have the kind of support they need, when they need it. That’s why I sought out the opportunity to talk to the amazing parenting mentor, Susan Groner.

Susan Groner is the mother of three grown children. Though, when she was in the throes of motherhood, she felt overwhelmed by the challenges. She didn’t find parenting books helpful at all. She thought there had to be some creative parenting hacks to help her through the tough and joyful times of parenting.

Eventually, she developed her trademark CLEARR™ method and founded The Parenting Mentor. The Parenting Mentor is a website where she provides coaching for parents of children of all ages. Plus, her techniques are easily applicable and build off of what you’re already doing! Needless to say, I was thrilled to talk to her about her new parenting book, Parenting: 101 Ways to Rock Your World.

Fast and Feel Good

Susan’s Parenting 101 has been dubbed the “parenting book for parents who don’t have time for parenting books.” This is completely by design.

When Susan was asked to write her book, she knew immediately that she didn’t want to write a traditional parenting book. Those were never helpful for her, so she wasn’t going to just play along.

She wanted a book that was designed for parents to pick up, read for two minutes, and put down. 

She wanted a list of quick creative parenting hacks to uplift parents and to remind them they’re already doing a lot of stuff right!

Like any job, you’re probably going to do better work when you’re feeling confident and competent. This is why parents should feel good about what they’re doing! Raising another human being is a hard enough job description. The additional stress and anxiety that parents go through because they don’t feel good enough is unnecessary. Susan doesn’t want parents to feel angst, especially when there are creative parenting hacks that can help.

So what are some of these creative parenting hacks?

The CLEARR™ Method

All of Susan’s creative parenting hacks come down to one acronym: CLEARRTM.

  • Communication
  • Love
  • Empathy
  • Awareness
  • Rules
  • Respect

How we talk to our teenagers is so important. 

If a teen hates a rule in your house, it’s important to understand why. Even when you do feel strongly about a rule, Susan says that your response shouldn’t be: “Because I said so!” That’s just laying down the law. That’s a fight waiting to happen.

Instead of laying down the law, Susan suggests you respond: “Let’s talk about that.”

You want to know why your teen thinks a rule stinks, and then clarify why the rule is still important. A conversation with love and respect, where your tone of voice is kind, loving, and empathetic will go much better than a shouting match. You’ll be amazed by how quickly a simple change in your response can diffuse your teen’s frustration. Susan’s creative parenting hacks pretty much all revolve around this.

Timing, Manner, and Intonation (Tip #5 of 101)

We didn’t have time to go through all 101 of Susan’s creative parenting hacks, but we did get to touch on a handful. For example, #5 from her book is titled “Timing, Manner, and Intonation.” These are three factors you can leverage when talking to your teen about tough topics.

Susan breaks them down really easily. Think about timing. When do you want to have a tough conversation with your teen? You probably don’t want to talk about their friends’ smoking habits while you’re also pressed for a deadline at work. So what are the creative parenting hacks for having this hard conversation? Susan offers several suggestions.

Timing: Create a time to set aside. Schedule a time to go for a walk, or have a cup of tea together. If you both like gardening, do some yard work. Anything that relaxes both you and your teen. Once that is scheduled, you’ll be able to approach the topic with an easier manner and intonation.

Manner & Intonation: The language you choose, and the tone in which you say it, is so important when communicating with teens. Teens do NOT want to hear judgment at all. So using nonjudgmental language and a kind tone is a priority. You can be firm on your family’s values without bashing the behaviors of your teen and their friend group. As long as your words and tone indicate that you’re not mad at your teen, but empathetic and loving, it’s likely they will listen and be responsive.

Even with our best efforts, though, it’s hard to be perfect. What do you do when your teen does get angry about something?

Unintentional Judgments

Susan thinks that a lot of reasons why fights in the house start are because of unintentional judgmental comments.

For example, let’s say your teen comes home from school and slams the door. WHAM! Your kid is obviously pissed about something. Still, most of our gut responses to the dramatic entrance might be:

“Why’d you slam the door? Don’t slam the door in this house!”

You can imagine how your teenager might respond before marching off to his or her room and slamming their door again.

Susan says that sometimes teens just want to be heard. So you want to use words that show you see they’re upset, and that you want to be there for them. You might say:

“Wow, sweetie, you seem really angry. Is something upsetting you today? What happened?”

You’re not going to fix whatever happened or promise to make it better, but you can listen and be empathetic. Maybe a teacher disciplined them. Again, our gut response might be to say:

“Well, what did you do?”

That’s a surefire way to make your teen defensive, though. Those words make it sound like whatever happened was the teen’s fault. Even if it was, their teacher already disciplined them. If your teen needed more scolding, you probably would’ve gotten an email from the teacher. Susan states that the most effective creative parenting hacks needed for this situation are comfort and understanding. For now, just a little validation and love is what your teen needs. Sometimes, you don’t even need to respond to your teen! Just make sure they know you hear them.

Susan says that if you can adjust your response to teenage explosions, it will make a huge difference in your relationship. Sometimes the best of the creative parenting hacks is just hanging out with them in silence for a little bit. 

Scratching the Surface

Helping parents with easy and concise creative parenting hacks is what Susan does best. There are so many problems parents have to solve every day, and the good news is that you’re probably already doing a great job! I addition to creative parenting hacks, Susan shares her views on:

  • Respecting Teenage Privacy
  • Creating Family Traditions
  • Setting Rules and Boundaries (a.k.a. “Standards”)
  • Redefining “Chores” as “Contributions”
  • Getting Out of the “Rescue Business”
  • Better After-School Pick-Up Conversations
  • Tip #86: Teach Kids How to Advocate for Themselves

Susan is so generous with her wisdom. She has so many creative parenting hacks to share. Be sure to check this episode out!

Parenting Scripts

Word-for-word examples of what to say to your teen

1.  When your teen questions your rules:

“Well let’s talk about that. Because you don’t agree and you think it’s crazy, I want you to know where I’m coming from.”

-Susan Groner

2.  Your teen slams the front door when they get home from school:

(Members Only)

3.  If your teen comes to you about something that went wrong try:

(Members Only)

4.  When your teen tries and fails, keep it simple:

(Members Only)

5.  Instead of “how was your day?” try:

(Members Only)

Workbook Exercises

Step-by-step guides for applying the ideas from this interview

1. Get Out of the “Rescue Business”:

Susan discussed with me how she “got out of the rescue business” with her own daughter. Rather than jumping to action every time our teens need “rescuing” Susan suggests parents get out of the rescue business. And not just for your own sanity! Having to solve problems or face the consequences can help teens develop problem-solving skills and resilience in the face of difficulty. Recall one or two times this past week where you “rescued” your teen or they asked you to “rescue” them. These “rescues” should be smaller things that could have been avoided by your teen, like when your teen asked you for a ride because they didn’t get ready fast enough to catch the bus, or when they texted you to bring their lunch to school because they forgot it. On a piece of paper, write down what would have happened if you had declined to “rescue” them. Were the consequences as dire as they seemed in the moment? Maybe they would have had to pay for an Uber out of their allowance or been a little hungry for a few hours at school. Now write down what you could say to you teen to decline. Using the following formula:
EMPATHY + DECLINE + “set the bar high” + ADVICE  OFFER
[Example: That really stinks that the shirt you bought doesn’t fit right. + I won’t be able to return it for you, + but I know you’re resourceful enough to figure out a solution. If you want help brainstorming ideas, I’m here.]

2.  Creating New Family Traditions:

(Members Only)

3.  Because “Because I Said So” Never Works with Teens…

(Members Only)

Complete Interview Transcript

Andy: The book is Parenting: 101 Ways to Rock Your World. And it literally is 101 specific parenting strategies that you can use and they’re all just really, really immediately applicable. So how did you come up with all of these 101 awesome tips and what inspired you to put them all into this book?

Susan: Well, I was asked to write the book by the woman who had started this series 101 Ways to Rock Your World. And so I was happy to do it and when I started, I started to keep notes on all the different things that I felt were important as a mother, as a parent. Some of them come directly from my own personal experience, things that I learned not to do. And there were some that I learned to do that always worked really well for me, there were some that I looked at as just being overall kind of common sense and important. And I really wanted the book to be something that a parent could pick up for two minutes, look at, put down, not feel pressured to have to get through the whole thing all at once and also not to feel that they were being judged in any way. Personally, when my kids were younger, I would read parenting books or start them anyway and feel like I was a terrible mother.

Andy: Right.

Susan: I would say, “Oh my God, I didn’t do this and I didn’t do that and I’ve already screwed up my kids.” So I didn’t want a book like that at all. And one of the comments that I get fairly often is that when people read my book they feel good. They feel good about what they’re doing and the things that they’re not doing, they don’t seem overwhelming.

Andy: Can you just talk a little bit about the parenting mentor? Because you talked about your experience writing this book, but you have been doing this thing, the parenting mentor, which does kind of virtual coaching for parents and helps them kind of through things.

Susan: Yeah. I started this because I realized that all the stress and anxiety that we go through as parents is so unnecessary. I was a stressed out anxious mom, especially when my kids were in middle school, those middle years. And then I realized, wait a minute, I don’t have to feel this way. And I didn’t want other parents to have to go through all of that angst and instead learn these skills to make parenting much more joyful than it is stressful. And there are a number of things that we can do that make things so much easier. One of them of course is to kind of relax and not worry that everything that’s happening at this particular moment or even this particular year are going to make or break your child as an adult.

Andy: Can we jump into some of these 101 Ways to Rock Your World here. A number of these I thought were just like really, really applicable and helpful, especially for teenagers. And one of them, number five, in here is about Timing, Manner and Intonation or TMI. Can you talk about how we can leverage these three factors with teenagers to talk about tough topics?

Susan: Yeah. Well, timing is so important if… Just think about yourself, right? Do you want to get into like a heavy conversation when you’re exhausted or when you’re stressed out about something or upset by something else? No, right? If you want to talk about something really important, go for a walk pick a time where you’re in the car together, driving to something fun, have a cup of tea together, like just… Or even if you’re doing a project, if you’re doing yard work and it’s together, just so it’s not so focused and not so rigid and strict and judgmental, the tone of voice also is so important.

Susan: Like, “Hey, there’s something I thought would be cool for us to talk about,” or, “Sweetie, I could really use some help right now,” as opposed to, “I really need you to help. Can’t you ever offer?” You know what I mean? When you speak like that, it comes out as judgment, right? No one wants to hear judgment and gosh knows our teenagers do not want to hear judgment from us at all. And so that manner and timing and that intonation is so important.

Andy: So tip number 10 in the book is about creating your own family traditions. I was wondering how this plays out with teenagers, whether it’s too late to kind of start new ones and it’s like the time to focus on reinforcing the traditions you already have or what you would recommend parents of teenagers focus on in terms of traditions.

Susan: I don’t think it’s ever too late because hopefully you’re going to have relationship with your kids as they get older and become parents of their own. So, if you don’t have any, your own special family traditions, that’s okay. But now you have the opportunity to talk to your kids about it.

Andy: And also because traditions change as they mature, right?

Susan: Right, and maybe brainstorm about it at a meal like, “Hey, I was listening to this podcast and they were talking about creating family traditions. So things that are special just to your family, and I thought that was such a cool idea and I thought it would be fun if we started some. And maybe each one of us can pick one that resonates with us and let’s talk about them.” Right now, I think every time we want to talk to our kids about a change, that we involve them in the conversation. They’re important family members and instead of an eye-rolling episode of like, “We’re going to start doing this and I thought it would be really fun so this is the way it’s going to be,” say, “Hey, what do you guys think about this? Let’s try one. Anyone have a good idea?”

Andy: As parents, there’s such a strong instinct to kind of just dictate what it’s going to be, “Now, hey, we’re starting a new tradition and it’s going to be this,” but I love that just involving them in the process.

Andy: So the flip side of that is how do you set boundaries and rules?

Susan: Hopefully, there are certain things that have been non-negotiable in your family since your kids were little, now that they’re teens, I think it may be… Some of them may be worth revisiting. I mean, I think we’re sort of conditioned as parents with certain rules that we grew up with in our own households. And I think we have to check ourselves and say, “Why do I really believe that this is an okay rule or a necessary rule?” What really is that, except that you were told that rule over and over and over again in your own house. There’s no book of rules. Every family is different and so even if you grew up with a certain rule, doesn’t mean that you have to have that same one in your house. So really think to yourself, what was the meaning of this rule? How have things changed? How do I really honestly feel about this? And if this never was a rule would it be one I would want to implement?

Andy: I feel like that is a big part of it’s like the rules that happen in your house. Bonnie Harris is a parenting expert we had on the podcast awhile ago, she talks about standards, she calls it, where you kind of grow up with these things in your house like, family always eats dinner together or the kids always make their bed before they leave the house or whatever and you start to develop these kind of rules or standards in your head about what a good parent is or what a good family is. And it’s interesting to just kind of, I think, bring those out in the open.

Susan: And when you do feel [inaudible 00:09:19], the answer isn’t, “Because I said so.” The answer is, “Well, let’s talk about that. Because you don’t agree and you think it’s crazy, I want you to know where I’m coming from.” That’s the respect again. Right?

Andy: Yeah.

Susan: So important. The empathy, my CLEARR method, that’s Communication, Love, Empathy, Awareness, Rules, and Respect. And it’s so important with our teenagers how we talk that tone and intonation, right? The kind and loving tone of voice, right? The empathy, “I know how you feel. I know that this really stinks and I get why you want to do this, I get why you want to be on your phone all the time. And you’re so lucky that you have that little thing that you could hold in your hand and stay connected to all your friends, 24/7 if you want. Gosh, I wish I had that when I was a kid. That’s amazing. But sometimes it’s good to not have it also. And let’s talk about some rules about when we as a family can put our phones away.” How different is that than, “We’re setting down the law, we’re setting some rules and now these are the rules and from now on blah, blah, blah,” instead of just… That’s a fight waiting to happen as opposed to this other way of talking to your child with love and respect.

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Susan: A lot of the time, a lot of the things that cause, in my opinion, that cause fights with teenagers is our unintentional judgemental comments. So your kid comes home from school and walks in the house and slams the door. And obviously is really pissed about something. Now, the parent’s reaction usually is going to be, “Once you slam the door, don’t slam the door in this house,” right? Instead of, “Wow, sweetie, you seem really angry. Something upset you in school today? What happened,” right? Once like, “Hey, I want to make a connection with you. I see you’re really upset and I want to be there for you and support you and validate how you feel. I don’t want to fix what happened, I don’t want to make you feel better. I just want to listen to what you have to say and validate it.” “Well, my teacher was really nasty and blah, blah, blah, and took away by book and won’t give it back to me until tomorrow,” and again, we want to say, “Well, what did you do? What did you do?” Right?

Andy: Yeah. Right, right.

Susan: By saying, “Well, what did you do,” is saying, “Clearly it was your fault.” Right?

Andy: We’re not on your side. Yeah. Right, right.

Susan: “Yeah, it was your fault, you shouldn’t have done that.” Oh, I don’t even have to go that far just by saying, “Well, what did you do?” Then they march up to their room and they’re really pissed. “You don’t understand me. You don’t get it.” And slam the door again. Right? We don’t want that.

Andy: Yeah.

Susan: Just a little validation and love. Sometimes you don’t even really need to respond. All you need to do is sort of shake your head, “Yes, I hear you.” Our kids just want to be heard. We don’t need to get into it.

Andy: Yeah, right.

Susan: “Want to I sit down and just hang out for a few minutes?” Just that’s all. And there’s no judgment. If you can change that one thing with your kids, it will make a huge difference in your relationship with your teen. Huge.

Andy: One issue that you talk about in your book is privacy, and how to respect your child’s privacy. And I wonder if we could talk a little bit about how this kind of manifests during the teenage years, where do you kind of draw the line?

Susan: Well I think that’s a very personal thing. And so I, as, especially as the parenting mentor, I will never say, I think you should check your child’s phone or you should go through their drawers or… I will never say that. I think that sometimes a parent may have a gut feeling that they need to check on something and then if that’s what they need to do, that’s what they need to do. I think that if we give our kids phones and we pay for them, I never felt that it was a wrong thing for them to follow our rules with that particular thing.

Susan: I would always discuss it and say, “Hey, this is what I’m thinking, how do you feel about it? Do you think this is reasonable? Do you think this is unreasonable?” Or, “We need to develop some rules around cell phone use in the house. Let’s talk about it and come up with the rules together.” I think with a kid and if they have a room, it’s always nice to knock. I mean, kids need privacy, teens need some privacy. We don’t need to know every single thing our kid is doing. We need to know that our kids are safe.

Andy: Sure.

Susan: Right? That they’re not hurting themselves or hurting others, but we don’t need to know every single thing they’re doing and every single thing they’re talking about.

Andy: So how do you replace chores with contributions in your household? I feel like chores are one of the big things with teenagers that parents are struggling with. How do you get them to do chores? But you have a cool section in here on getting rid of chores and replacing them with contributions instead. So I was interested in how you would do that with a teenager.

Susan: Yeah. They’re the exact same thing, but it’s just calling it something else because it sure sounds really like a negative thing, right?

Andy: That does not sound good, yeah.

Susan: No one wants to do a… right. A chore just sounds like a horrible, boring, dull, tedious task, right?

Andy: Right.

Susan: A family contribution is doing the same thing, but you know what, “Hey, we’re all part of the family here. Everyone needs to chip in. Let’s make a list of all the things that need to be done in this household. Let’s sit down and do it together,” and I think when you do that, your kids will be surprised at something they didn’t even realize half the stuff that needs to be done. Make your list and then say, “Okay, you guys can pick first. You can pick first the things you want to do. You take all the things you want to do and maybe you guys rotate each week, which ones you want to do, but then those become your thing, right? And the other big piece of it is you’re taking on this responsibility. I don’t want to have to remind you to do it. I don’t want to be the nag. I don’t want to be the family contribution warden. Right? So how do you think you can do this so that you’ll remember?”

Susan: “Oh, well maybe I should put a reminder on my phone.” “Yeah. That’s a great idea. Why don’t you give that a try. Let’s see how it works.” Maybe it doesn’t work. Maybe there’s another way and then you try the next way, “Let’s give this a try for a week and then let’s meet back here again and we’ll discuss how it all went. See if you liked the chores you did, if you want to do something else,” all of a sudden this isn’t like I’m forcing you to do these things because I said so. Now we’re like, again, it’s the process. So the first week and the second and the third week, maybe it doesn’t go so smoothly, but that’s okay because it’s what you’re working towards. And maybe you put the parameters on there, “Okay, I like to have, if you’re going to do the dishes or I like to know it’s done by five o’clock. Does that seem reasonable?”

Andy: Yeah. If I’m going to be cooking, that really makes me feel good to have them done when I start, which would be at [crosstalk 00:19:44],

Susan: Yeah. Not the moment you walk in from school, but by five o’clock or whatever time it is.

Andy: I do think that time is really important though, because then it also gives you… If it’s five o’clock and now they haven’t been done yet, then now it’s time to say, “Oh, okay, well, hey, wait a minute, we talked about this five o’clock was the time-

Susan: Right.

Andy: “What’s going on?”

Susan: And if you’ve had to remind your kid every day for the whole week, then when you sit back down at the end of the week and you talk about it and say, “Hey, you know what, did you realize that I had to remind you all week long about this? And I don’t want to have to do that so what do you think you could do?”

Andy: It makes me feel like a nag, yeah.

Susan: Yeah, “What do you think you could do so you remember it yourself,” right? That’s such a great question to ask our kids when something goes wrong, instead of offering up solutions, we offer up the question, “Well, okay, what do you think you could do differently next time?” Right? Let them start to think that way. The more we ask that question, the more they’ll internalize it and start asking themselves that question over time.

About Susan Groner

Susan Groner founded and currently operates The Parenting Mentor, where she coaches parents through the tough and the joyful times of having kids. When faced with the challenges of motherhood, Susan was overwhelmed. Having always been confident in her abilities in her professional work, she was confounded with problem-solving at home.

Through her experience as a mother to three (now grown) children, Susan came to find what was essential for making the most of childrearing: Communication, Love, Empathy, Awareness, Rules, and Respect. Or, her CLEARR™ method, which she utilizes in her coaching practice. Her latest book is Parenting: 101 Ways to Rock Your World, has been noted as the “perfect parenting book for parents who don’t have time to read parenting books”!

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