Of course, you love your child, but how do you show it? Do they even know it? And what about those moments when they make you so mad the affection is replaced by steam pouring out of your ears? What happens to the love in that case? It's still there, but depending on how you react, your child may only see and feel the anger.
In this episode of Parenting the Mental Health Generation, we talk with Lisa Ehrlich-Menard from Response for Teens about the importance of unconditional love, how to express it, and what to do in those moments when kids put parents to the test.
This is the conversation you aren’t having with your kids' doctors and teachers because time doesn’t allow it. Or, with your friends, because they just don’t get it. So put in your earbuds, take this 30 minutes for you and join our conversation because mental health matters.
Amy O. (aka the mom) is the founder and Dr. Lisa (aka the psychologist) is an active board member of CATCH, Community Action Together for Children's Health a 501c3 based organization on the Northshore of Chicago with a mission to empower
families to foster resilience and prioritize mental health and emotional wellness in their children through educational programming, access to resources, and peer support.
© CATCH 2022
To find all of the resources CATCH provides to caregivers of young people struggling with their mental health, go to www.catchiscommunity.org.
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CATCH, Community Action Together for Children's Health, is a 501(c)3 that provides support and education for families around mental health topics. Original content and materials from CATCH and its collaborators are for informational purposes only. They are provided as a general resource and are not specific to any person or circumstance.
Lisa Erhlich Menard (00:00):
Loving them through not liking them and being willing to see the ugly parts and the mistakes and all that stuff. And saying, we love you through this is really important.
Dr. Lisa (00:13):
It's February the month of love. And on today's episode of Parenting, the Mental Health Generation, we're talking about loving our kids unconditionally, even when we may not like them welcome. I'm Amy O the Founder and Executive Director of CATCH Community Action Together for Children's Health based in Chicago's northern suburbs.
Dr. Lisa (00:34):
And I'm Dr. Lisa, I'm a licensed clinical psychologist. And as a CATCH Board member, I'm the liaison between CATCH and the mental health providers in our community
Amy O. (00:44):
Together. We are the hosts of Parenting the Mental Health Generation, a place where we discuss the topics that concern us as loved ones of young people, struggling with their mental health. Today,
Dr. Lisa (00:55):
We're speaking with Lisa Erhlich Menard Coordinator Outreach and Community Education at Response for Teens and a mother of two,
Amy O. (01:03):
You know that you love your kids, but did they know that? Today we talk about how to respond to our kids in a way that truly conveys our unconditional love for them.
Dr. Lisa (01:14):
Put in your earbuds, take this 30 minutes for you and join our CATCH Conversation with Lisa.
Amy O. (01:25):
February is the month of love. And today we're talking with a very loving woman about the importance of love and parenting. And I just wanna start out our conversation, Lisa E by welcoming you and just asking you why is unconditional love important in parenting?
Lisa Erhlich Menard (01:48):
Thank you. And thank you for having me talk. I love any time I get to talk <laugh>, but I really appreciate it because I really respect CATCH. And, and what you all do, I think before even saying, like, why is it important? I think every parent will say, well, of course it's important. Like unconditional love. I love my kids unconditionally. What's important isn't just that you love them unconditionally, but that they know it. So it's the showing of it. That is the important part. And where sometimes I think all of us get tripped up because loving is so complex. Relationships are so complex, loving doesn't have to be, but our kids are traversing, really difficult situations COVID and pre COVID and post COVID. And we want to be not even just their rocks, because I actually don't. I think that vulnerability is important, but I, we want to be there for them, even in the sense that we don't want them to be afraid. Fear is what keeps our kids from telling us things. And we can't help them if they don't think that we will always be there for them. And that's what you want as a parent is to help your kids end up having as happy and healthy as a life as they can.
Amy O. (03:08):
So it seems like we don't want them to be afraid of who they are, of what they're doing, of their choices of everything. Is that what you're referring to?
Lisa Erhlich Menard (03:19):
Yeah. So I, I think that whether we know it or not, our kids are afraid of disappointing us and they paint a picture of us as their parents, regardless of what we've done sometimes. Right? We, we have influence in that. And sometimes they're adolescent, like I will talk specifically about adolescents, adolescents have this mindset and fear of being judged. And whether you have told them over and over again that you won't judge them, there is still a fear and finding ways to show them how much you value them as a person, how much you love them when they make mistakes. You love them when they are mean as much as you love them. When they do things that society says is a really good choice.
Amy O. (04:04):
What if we don't feel in the moment that we actually do love them?
Lisa Erhlich Menard (04:08):
I think we do. We're. I think we don't like them. And I also think that's okay. I have told my children, my, my kids are in fifth and seventh grade and I have flat out, looked at my seventh grade and been like, I love you. What you said. I don't really like you right now. You hurt my feelings. I'm gonna go away for a second. And then we're gonna come back and talk about it. But I love you. You can't like your kids, all, you can't like anybody all the time. I don't like, oh, I just think about that. Like expecting to like someone all the time. Isn't real. But the things that make us not like them, they still have to know that we love them through it. And that we see them as people through it, not our kids, not who they are to us.
Lisa Erhlich Menard (04:48):
I haven't had grandparents for a long time. And my youngest child is named after my, my Bubbi, my dad's mom, when we were at our baby naming. And he said something where it was like, we don't know our parents as people until it's too late. I think a lot of times the same can be said for our kids that as parents, we don't always know our kids and loving them through, not liking them and being willing to see the ugly parts and the mistakes and all that stuff. And saying, we love you through this is really important. And also making the distinction that loving doesn't have to mean liking, because my kids can tell me, I don't like you right now. And it hurts and makes me angry and want to cry. And then I think about why they don't like me, but they still love me. And we kind of process through that.
Dr. Lisa (05:37):
Lisa, I so agree with everything you've said so far. And I wonder other than the obvious of literally telling our children that we love them, no matter what mm-hmm <affirmative> how do we show them that we do truly love them unconditionally?
Lisa Erhlich Menard (05:54):
I think there's two things. I think one, I actually think most people don't say it enough. So I think that seems like the obvious go to of physically saying it, but I can, I can tell you, it was never said to me growing up and I had a friend whose parents were divorced and her mom would say, I love you. And I would hear her say, I love you on the phone every time. And one time I said to my parents, why don't we say, I love you. And my, and my mom looked at me and goes, do you doubt that we love you? I was like, no. And she goes, well, then we shouldn't have to. And that stuck with me. And for sometimes I was like, oh, okay. That's okay. And then later I was like, no, it's not, it's not okay. I shouldn't have to make assumptions in the same way that you tell me that you want me to do the dishes and you hate how messy my room is.
Lisa Erhlich Menard (06:47):
Tell me that you love me so we can say, I love you. And I love you all these, but it also has to be paired with how we respond versus reacting to them. How do we listen to them? How do we respond to them? Especially when we're really angry at them or when we are so fried and frustrated. My two kids are not even two years apart. They identify as cisgender girls. They are at each other's throat all the time. Well, how do I respond to them when they're fighting has driven me so crazy that I wanna start screaming just to get them to stop screaming. They both feel harmed by the other. So how do I respond and how I respond? How I show up when I am upset, when I'm not upset, that is how you also show them, right? Because you can tell them, I love you. And then when they tell you something, you react, that's going to negate your words. It has to be a combination of showing them in how you respond and interact with them and also verbalizing it.
Amy O. (07:51):
How about when you interact with them in a way that you instantly regret or that you wish that you had done differently all the time? I mean, not that that's ever happened to me, but
Lisa Erhlich Menard (08:03):
Of course not, or me
Dr. Lisa (08:04):
Amy O. (08:07):
But is that important in how you then, you know, go back at them and say, Hey guys, yeah, yeah.
Lisa Erhlich Menard (08:15):
Apologizing is huge. We have this sense. Sometimes that, and it's from years, you know, age old things of like, well, parents don't apologize to their kids. Like that's showing a sense of vulnerability that you shouldn't show. And it's actually like, no, it's the opposite. <laugh> you should show that vulnerability. You should show that you are human and you make mistakes. And you realized it. I will say though, is to make sure that you're giving your kid space. I always use stories for my own life, but I, I have a temper.
Amy O. (08:44):
You do not.
Lisa Erhlich Menard (08:45):
And I am working on it. And my oldest child is me. She has my sarcasm, she has my biting sarcasm. And sometimes it hits me in such the right spot that I lose any amount of anything that I ever had and become my father. And I lose it. And I know in the instance, but I've also learned that I cannot go right up to her and apologize because I have hurt her and she needs space and she will not be able to hear anything that I have to say because she's hurt. And so I've learned with her how to figure out the right kind of timing with my other one. If I wait, anything, she'll come storming back down the stairs and be like, is anyone going to talk to me? And I'm like, okay, like they're different, right? Like, you know, and I've had to learn how to apologize differently to them. Like I have to pay attention to them. It it's like the whole thing of like equity is not the quality. My kids are different people. I need to interact with them differently.
Amy O. (09:53):
I'm imagining that there are parents out there listening to us right now saying, yeah, but you don't know what it's like to have a kid who comes home with D's all the time or you don't know what it's like to have a kid who last week decided to tell you that he's identifying as a gay man, or you don't know what it's like to have a kid who suffers from mental illness and is very difficult to parent day in and day out. How would you help those parents understand the importance of acceptance in those situations and ways to check themselves so to speak?
Lisa Erhlich Menard (10:33):
<laugh> I am familiar with some of those and I was some of those. And I think there's two things to think about. So the first one is remembering that as parents and as children, you're all full human beings who have emotions and needs. And I think about the three examples that you gave me, and there is a reason that they say that it takes a village. And there's also this village of keeping your kid's confidentiality. When I think about a child who lives with mental health challenges, I think a lot of times when our, our children are suffering like that, we look at helping them and we forget that we're an integral part of the equation and that we need help as well. And that working with someone who is totally designed to listen to you and help you manage and deal on a daily basis is really important. The best thing I ever did was get myself to a therapist to help me process some stuff that was going on with my kids.
Dr. Lisa (11:34):
I can chime in there too. I think, you know, we're talking about a lot of emotions that, that we, as parents can experience. And we're talking about anger and frustration with things our, our children do or don't do. But I find that a lot of the time, the strongest emotion underlying all of that is fear our own fear.
Lisa Erhlich Menard (11:54):
Dr. Lisa (11:55):
And being able to figure that out, recognize that, and then work with it. What is it that I'm actually afraid of? If my child does fail this test or, um, you know, does have that conflict with their friend, having a better ability to navigate our own emotions around what that means for us, I think is huge.
Lisa Erhlich Menard (12:18):
Yes, exactly. It's huge. And I, I think about, I think I've talked about this before, you know, <laugh> thinking about what are you responding to? What is spiraling for you when you see something? So like with my oldest is very sensory. Like she will rub like an apple on her cheeks. And my gut reaction is I need to stop her because she's going to do that with friends and friends are gonna pick on her and then she's not gonna have friends and then she's gonna be lonely. And this is the worst thing that could happen to her because I'm a social person and I know how much I need social people. And I go down this spiral, she's just putting an apple on her face. And my level of reaction, would've been so much higher if I didn't stop and settle my glitter and like take check of what was being cued in me and what my reactions were. And if it was really reacting to what she's doing or all of the things that I'm afraid of, like a domino effect of what's gonna happen if this happens.
Amy O. (13:25):
So Lisa, are you talking about being very conscious of separating who you are from who your kid is
Lisa Erhlich Menard (13:32):
Hundred. Yes, we need, I think it is so hard, but we do need to separate who we are from who our kid is.
Amy O. (13:37):
I really liked what you said about, you know, these are individual people with feelings and thoughts and being, I think that's a really important thing to remember when we are getting so enmeshed with our kids and trying to determine how we're gonna react to things that make us uncomfortable.
Lisa Erhlich Menard (13:58):
Right. And find space to talk about what makes you uncomfortable. Like one of the things we talk about with parents supporting LGBTQ kids is you can mourn if your kid comes out to you and it is not what you expected and it's not what you thought, great, not great, sorry, but like, okay, you need to mourn separately and you need to deal with it. And your kid needs to see nothing but unconditional acceptance and love. And all of those worries that you have, if you think that they haven't already thought about it and thought that you're gonna be worried about it, <laugh> you're wrong. They have thought and cycled through all of this. What they need is to see that it doesn't bother you. That you'll take it as you come. Right. And that happens with us as kids with the parents who are constantly coming home with, like, with "Ds", I see how frustrating it is because in our society, we have decided that grades make a person. And we talk about college and we talk about this as someone who's taught seniors in high school for 15 years, they are going to be okay. Like they are going to follow the path that they figure out and follow. And it might not be the path that we thought for them. And I think that is really important in understanding that both people in the equation need to be taken care of parents need to take care of themselves so that they can be there for their kids.
Amy O. (15:17):
I'm wondering about making safe places for our kids to be, and say what they need to, to us as parents. Like what advice do you have for us about helping our kids feel as though we are available to them and it is a safe place to be.
Lisa Erhlich Menard (15:38):
So I think it depends on the age when you start, you know, I think from the time my kids were young, my bed was the safe space and they still go to it. I mean, they're still young. We'll see if they start. If they keep going to it. Once they are in high school, that has been our place where it's like, no matter what they tell me, there is no getting in trouble. There is no repercussions right now. If you want to share it with me, if something needs to happen, we'll talk about it later. But you are not, there's no trouble ever. And no disappointment. We've been doing that since they were little. But I will say I still have one kid. She's a work in progress. I can't get her to talk about emotion. She deflects and Def like emotions terrify her emotions, terrify her.
Lisa Erhlich Menard (16:24):
She goes to angry or excited. And so even though we have this safe place, she herself does not feel safe enough. And so it's like we're pulling in extra help because it's beyond what I have the capacity to do. As a parent. At this point, we're working with someone to help even just some small things we used to read every night together. And we switch now that they're older and now we do roses, thorns and buds every night, we lay in bed and do roses, thorns and buds every night. And they talk about whatever they want and I share too, right? So it's not just them. It's me sharing as well. I think that is really important. I also think though, you can try to create a safe space, but if your daily actions and responses to them, don't show that you respect them on a daily basis, a safe space won't inherently be safe because it's unpredictable, right?
Lisa Erhlich Menard (17:25):
And so if you show them about how you react on the daily, when there's something big, they can go to that space. And I think, and I've said this before, too, is talking with other adults that you feel really close. Whether it's, in-laws like aunts, uncles, we're the only people in our families who live in Chicago. So we are very close with friends, inviting other safe adults that you trust into the circle of who your child can talk to is really important. There's a couple things. One, it shows them that it is about them and what they need, not about your need to be the person that they go to. And then two, even if you create this SP safe space and you do everything, quote unquote, right, to create it, you cannot always control how your child is going to react and be afraid to tell you things, to disappoint you. And so sometimes having an external person who you trust, who still knows, if something's really up, I'm gonna tell you that's really valuable to me. We have those people. I am that person for some of my friends' kids.
Dr. Lisa (18:25):
Lisa, I'm wondering what some of our listeners might be thinking about this idea of a safe space, where there truly is no judgment. There are no consequences. It seems to fit really well within the parameter of, you know, showing unconditional love. But that's not necessarily our only role as parents. And so how do we balance that with also helping them learn right from wrong and, you know, set appropriate boundaries and other things, if maybe there does need to be some further discussion.
Lisa Erhlich Menard (19:00):
Yeah. Oh, a hundred percent. The problem is is that you can't create a safe space and treat your child as a human whole person, respect without acknowledging the power dynamic in your house, which means that you create boundaries, but it's not. I'm the parent. And you're gonna listen to me because I'm the parent. It's, here's why our rule with our house is our job is to keep you safe. And we talk about all the things that that means. And we have like a contract for how we all use media. All of us put our phones up at eight o'clock at night. Well, my kid snuck a laptop into her room and we found it when we walked in there. And so the answer was okay, let's go back to the consequences. This means that you're gonna have to lose this for this amount of time, because we need to be able to trust you.
Lisa Erhlich Menard (19:50):
And so when you create that safe space and it's like, no fear, no judgment. It doesn't mean that you don't talk about it later. It means that in the telling of it, they are allowed to get it out and say it without any type of snap reaction. So for example, I can't remember what it's about, but I know that my child divulged something to me and I literally in the bed took a deep breath and I was like, okay. And she was like, are you upset? And I was like, no, this is your space. It's okay. And she said, okay. And so I asked her some questions about how did you feel, how do you feel now that you're telling me? She said, oh, I'm I I'm okay. because you're, you're not reacting. And I said, mm she'd hurt somebody like emotionally. And I said, well, what do we need to do? And so in that zone, I brought her in to slowly start thinking about what do we do together to restore the harm that was caused. I'm trying to think like if it's drugs or alcohol, I pray that my kids come to my bed and tell me about drugs and alcohol. I pray that they do, or I pray that they tell some other adult
Amy O. (21:00):
Be careful what you wish for.
Lisa Erhlich Menard (21:01):
I will, but I will tell you, I would rather as I would, as the person who, as a person who drove drunk in high school and my parents had no clue for a long time, what was going on, I would rather her tell me and know and help her work through some of it. Does it mean that I'm happy that she tried something? No, but does it mean that then I sit with her and she's a part of it. She's a part of the consequence. All actions have consequences, negative and positive. And I think that that's something too where it's not punishment. It's consequences.
Dr. Lisa (21:37):
I'm wondering how to do that while also remaining your true, authentic, genuine self. I feel like we've talked a lot at other times about how important it is to, you know, show that we are also human, that we have a range of emotions that we maybe are actually gonna be upset. If you do something like drive drunk that we all know you weren't supposed to do. And so where does a allowing the space for our own emotions to tie in at all? Or do we have to do that separately and not show our children that we do in fact, have those emotions?
Lisa Erhlich Menard (22:21):
I think we can totally have those emotions. I think it's where, and I think it's where, when and how we have those emotions. A lot of times, what we don't wanna do is have our gut emotions, lead everything. I'm a, I'm a 43 year old woman and my dad can still make me cry when I disappoint him because I missed a flight. You can have your emotional reactions, but in the moment when we feel them, sometimes if we don't pause and breathe, we take our emotions out on our kids. So if you're hurt, I've said to my kids for I'm hurt, I'm walking away. I'm a human being. You can't talk to me like that. I'm gonna step away when I'm disappointed because of a choice my kid made, I do try to check myself in front of them and talk to them through being disappointed and not scream at them. I think we can have genuine emotions, but I think we have to be really careful
Amy O. (23:12):
Because they're not capable of understanding the difference or of
Lisa Erhlich Menard (23:19):
Amy O. (23:20):
Their brains are not in the place of being able to say they might feel it. Like mom doesn't love me in what you are is just angry, but it's hard for them to distinguish the two.
Lisa Erhlich Menard (23:29):
And they take it as who they are,
Amy O. (23:31):
Right. Rather than what they did. Yeah. That makes sense.
Lisa Erhlich Menard (23:35):
Here's my difficulty. And thank you, Amy, for taking that. My difficulty is this. We can be our authentic selves and we have to remember that we're people. We also have to remember that raising our kids is a job that we signed up for. And that part of the requirement of the job is to try to do as much as we can, to make sure that we are not causing harm. And sometimes that means stepping back, breathing through your emotions, going to text someone, going to call your friend and let your anger fly with your friend. And then coming back and telling your kids. I'm really disappointed. I'm angry. I'm scared of what you like. I'm afraid but I love you.
Lisa Erhlich Menard (24:17):
And when we come in hot, all of that emotion shuts them down immediately. And then there, it doesn't matter what we say after that, because they're done. They're shut down. They go into their protective mode. They go into their trauma response. And I think that we need to be careful when we are calmer. We can say what Amy just said. I love you. I am disappointed in the choice that you made. I love you for who you are.
Amy O. (24:41):
That's a good place to end this wonderful conversation, even though I would like to continue it.
Dr. Lisa (24:49):
Lisa, following in the footsteps of some of the podcasters, we listen to like Brene Brown. We like to CATCH up with our guests by asking, what do you do to calm yourself when you are feeling escalated?
Lisa Erhlich Menard (25:03):
I'm laughing right now because I get escalated a lot. I do two things. I breathe and I take a minute, but I'm really clear about when I take a minute, I'm not very good at hiding my feelings because of my face and my kids know it. And so sometimes I will say, I'm feeling strong emotions right now that aren't about you. They're about me. Give me a second. And I literally leave the room. But that part about saying that the emotions are mine and it's not them. My kids actually ask me to do that because when I would sometimes leave, they would be like, we just think that you're so angry with us, that you have to leave the room. And I'm like, sometimes I feel that way. But I say to them, it's my emotions. And I'm figuring out how to have my emotions right now and not yell because you don't deserve to be yelled at as mad, as I am or as upset as I am. You don't deserve to be yelled at because, oh, I'm gonna step outside for a second. And when I come back, we're going to be able to handle this. It's not perfect. Not at all. And I try to breathe when it's not anger and like shock. I, I try to just breathe.
Dr. Lisa (26:06):
Did you also say something about settling glitter?
Lisa Erhlich Menard (26:09):
Yes. So settling your glitter is there used to be this app and now it's almost impossible to find. I used to tell all the parents that I work with to take it, and it's called settle, your glitter. And it used to be, you would take your phone and you could press anger, hap like whatever emotion that you're feeling. And then it would, it would look like a snow globe on your phone and you would shake it really hard, like as hard as you could. And then the phone glitter would settle. And then there would be a blow fish on the screen. You would have to breathe with the blow fish and it would like blow up and exhale. And it was really therapeutic breathing. It's triangle, breathing, all that, because you would have to hold it and let it go. I remind myself to settle my glitter and I have kind of whose emotion is it? What am I reacting to? What's being activated for me in this. Am I responding or am I reacting? Am I breathing? And am I able to be that duck on the pond? Am I able, even though my brain's going a thousand miles a minute and am I able to still be calm and show them what they need love? And sometimes I am and sometimes I'm not. And when I'm not, I apologize.
Amy O. (27:13):
I am gonna channel my inner duck on the pond from now on. That's awesome. Um, Lisa, if there was one message about mental health that you could leave for our listeners, what would it be?
Lisa Erhlich Menard (27:30):
I think it's really important to remember that kids mental health, everybody's mental health challenges, didn't start with the pandemic and that COVID exacerbated a lot of it, but that some kids finally feel heard and that when things quote unquote, go back to normal, that mental health still needs to be a priority because it is that center from where we all exist. And that is my biggest concern is that once it's not acute crisis, it will go back to being ignore in adolescents and teens.
Dr. Lisa (28:08):
Thank you so much for your time and commitment to our community's mental health. Lisa, we just so appreciate you having you here.
Lisa Erhlich Menard (28:15):
Thank you. I appreciate being allowed to ramble and talk. I, you know, always.
Amy O. (28:21):
Thanks for joining us for another episode of Parenting the Mental Health Generation
Dr. Lisa (28:27):
Stay current on all CATCH programming by liking us on Facebook @CATCHiscommunity or by visiting our website CATCHiscommunity.org.
Amy O. (28:36):
If you don't have your mental health, you don't have anything. There is a community of people out there that understands find it.