Here at HeyMama, we realize we are uber lucky to have some of the best and most celebrated women in their fields surrounding us every day. We have met founders and CEOs, writers and photographers, doctors and lawyers and everything in between. But I don’t think there is one woman out of this group that has been referred and recommended to us all, except Sue Groner aka The Parenting Mentor.
Sue Groner is a mother of two grown children and knows first hand how tricky it can be to raise little humans into dignified adults. She knows the struggles, the surprises and the joy that comes along with being a mother in a hectic world and has taken her learnings and has become an ally for stressed out parents nationwide. Sue launched her business where she coaches individuals, groups and corporations in both in-person and virtual coaching sessions and we couldn’t wait to sit down to see what she had to share. Read on…
Sue! We love everything you do and we have taken all of the advice you’ve given several of us on the HeyMama team to heart. We want to know, when you became a parent yourself, how were the challenges you faced vastly different than the ones you were used to tackling at work?
For the most part, challenges at work were within my control. It was all about brain power and interpersonal skills. I loved taking marketing problems and developing creative ways to solve them. I thrived on communicating ideas and getting my team and my clients on board. As a parent, there was so much more unpredictability. I had little humans to take care of, so the challenges became way more personal. I was tired and felt like I had little control over my own life. I was stressed out and anxious when my kids didn’t act or think the way I thought they should. Over time, I realized that my children were not engineering projects, but rather thinking, feeling beings that wouldn’t fit into the confines I initially thought were important. Believe me – that was the hardest challenge I ever had.
We know the feeling! How did you apply your problem-solving skills to the new challenges brought on with each stage in your parenthood journey?
I started by asking myself the same question I’d ask my advertising clients: What were my goals? Of course I wanted my family to be “happy” and my children to be “good” and “successful.” But what exactly did that mean? I discovered that my hope was not simply for my kids to “get into a good college,” but more specifically that they would become resilient, self-reliant young adults with plenty of their own problem-solving skills and coping mechanisms. I started small, using a clarinet left at home as an opportunity for my daughter to solve a problem on her own – which she did! With that I started to look at my own role differently. Suddenly, all my “parenting challenges” became “opportunities” for my kids to develop some of the characteristics I had hoped for them. Many of the techniques I used were approaches I’d call upon to make my days at work run smoothly: active listening, empathy, and making sure everyone’s needs and expectations are known. Obviously, not everything worked perfectly 100% of the time, but even when it didn’t, I started looking at the results as yet another opportunity for all of us to learn from each other. And I became a happier, less-stressed parent almost immediately.
Clearly it worked for you! What inspired you to begin mentoring other parents?
As I spoke to more and more parents – friends, acquaintances, a mom or dad in a coffee shop, I realized that everyday stress and anxiety was a universal (and inevitable) parental issue that wasn’t really being addressed. There was a plethora of books and articles on raising kids but nothing that focused on helping parents to be happier and more relaxed. I wanted to share what I had learned with other parents. My strategies were working for these parents and it was fulfilling to me to know that I was helping to create better family dynamics.
I used [techniques]… I’d call upon to make my days at work run smoothly: active listening, empathy, and making sure everyone’s needs and expectations are known.
As a parenting mentor, how do you help parents alleviate stress, fear, and anxiety?
In addition to helping parents make the paradigm shift from adversity as a problem to that of an opportunity, I utilize my CLEARR™ method to deal with specific issues with one child or the whole family. The elements of CLEARR™ are Communication, Love, Empathy, Awareness, Rules, and Respect and can be applied to virtually every situation. It’s pretty simple and I usually don’t need more than an hour or two with parents. I like to do a little role-playing and provide some rough scripts because the way we talk to our kids is just so important. It’s so easy to sound judgemental.
I also share some of my own experiences and what I learned from them. When you are in the thick of it, it’s hard to keep perspective. Practicing some simple strategies and hearing from an expert that “it’s all going to be okay” can make such a difference.
Knowing you aren’t the only one going through a challenge can be so liberating! What are the most common challenges parents share with you?
While every family is unique and has their own set of issues, there are some challenges that seem to be universal. These include:
Sounds about right! In our daily lives, how can we help our kids cultivate independence?
It’s funny. We say we want our kids to be independent and yet we tend to do so much for them. We tell them when to do things and how to do them. That can send the message that we don’t really think they are capable of doing things on their own and thus, we stunt their independence. Instead, if we inspire confidence in our kids, then they in turn will come to believe that they are capable of managing so much more. “I know you’ve got this,” and “ I’m sure you can figure this out on your own,” are positive ways to communicate this message.
Guilty! We definitely need to allow for our kids to figure some things out on their own. We have to ask: what’s your take on screen time?
One word: RULES! Every family needs to decide on their own screen time limits but without clear rules, there is sure to be some unnecessary friction.
There is some excellent research available which can help guide parents on how much is too much, but ultimately, it’s an individual family decision. I know there are some times when an iPad may the only resort and, that’s okay – as long as the rules are clear. As with all rules, consistency and enforcement go a long way – and avoid those unpleasant negotiations with your kids.
The elements of CLEARR™ are Communication, Love, Empathy, Awareness, Rules, and Respect and can be applied to virtually every situation.
Bedtime seems to plague mamas everywhere we turn, from our HeyMama forums to IRL conversations. What is your best advice for bedtime routines?
First of all, it’s important to have a routine and helpful if all caregivers can follow it. Second, if your children are old enough, let them have some control. I’m not a DIY person, but here’s a simple project that can really help. Take some photos of your child doing each task – bath, brushing teeth, etc. Then print, laminate and add some velcro to the back of each. (If your kids are older, you can just use words.) Have your child “practice” each task and time them so they know how long each task should take. Each evening, let your child create the order for each task by sticking the pictures on to a board. Then, set (or have your child set) a kitchen timer for each task. Give lots of positive reinforcement. Now, jump in bed and snuggle!
We don’t always want to admit it, but mom guilt is real. How’s a mama to deal?
It seems like most mom guilt revolves around not spending enough time w/ your children and instead working, spending time with friends, doing yoga, etc. It doesn’t really matter what it is. What matters is that moms carve out a little time for themselves. The better we feel, the more empowered, capable, productive, and emotionally available we are for our family. Sometimes, you’ll miss a game or special performance and yeah, that’s disappointing. By sharing how you feel and explaining the circumstances to your child, you are setting an example of how to deal when things don’t work the way you’d like. This is a mom WIN.
As a mama to two young adults, what do you find most rewarding about this stage of your own parenting journey?
I guess the most rewarding thing is that I know that my kids are capable of dealing with whatever comes their way. They are independent thinkers and doers, they can solve their own problems, they have the grit to get through tough spots, and most of all, they are kind and open-minded. I get to learn so much from them as they offer new perspectives, ideas and knowledge. And, I must admit, it’s quite satisfying when my kids seek out my advice and opinions.
Say YES with joy: This is Tip #1 in my book. Instead of acting like you’ve been put upon, if you know you are ultimately going to do an art project with your child or drive them to the mall, go straight to “Sure!” or “I’d be happy to!” Your enthusiasm will make your child feel good, but better yet, you will enjoy the activity or task, instead of feeling put upon.
Use a kitchen timer: This handy little gadget will be your new bff. Whether it’s time limits, reading time, or “Mommy can play in 15 minutes”, the kitchen timer is something all kids can use. I prefer the old-fashioned kind that you set by winding, and now they come as some cute animals too!
Validate instead of fix: There’s no reason why you need to burden yourself with always making sure your child is happy. Instead, acknowledge that they are disappointed, frustrated, grumpy, sad, etc. After all, these feelings are normal - and healthy. Making this emotional connection and normalizing how they feel can reduce the chance that your child will “act out” and will put you at ease.