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Last November, parenting guru Rebecca Kennedy, Ph.D., posted a so-simple-it’s-mindblowing mantra on her Instagram feed. “This feels hard because it is hard, not because I’m doing something wrong,” the graphic read. A long accompanying caption began, “Parenting is hard. Period.”
“Maybe these are the words you need to hear right now… Or maybe you don’t right now, but when the time comes you can come back to this,” Kennedy’s caption continued. “I am right there with you. Yes, this ‘parenting’ thing is hard, but it gets a little bit easier knowing that you are not alone.”
Dr. Becky, as she’s known to her 1.6 million Instagram followers, has built a business out of making parents feel less alone. As a practicing clinical psychologist, Kennedy began posting on the platform in February of 2020, and a critical mass of COVID-quarantined parents going out of their minds found her parenting advice — doled out in easily accessible video snippets that gave parents simple scripts for dealing with the everyday frustrations of little-kid behavior — to be sanity-saving.
Since then, the New York City-based Kennedy, a mom of three herself, has expanded her Good Inside empire to include a fee-based community membership platform, a newsletter, a podcast, a bestselling book, and even partnered on potty training products with Frida Baby.
Ahead of her platform’s launch, SheKnows talked to the parenting guru about her growing role as the “Millennial parenting whisperer,” the “sweet spot” age for her advice, and how parents can give themselves more grace. This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.
A post shared by Dr. Becky Kennedy | Parenting (@drbeckyatgoodinside)
SheKnows: Why did a membership platform make sense as the evolution of what you’ve been doing on Instagram?
Dr. Becky: So, Good Inside membership is an expert-guided, community-powered platform that gives parents everything they need on their parenting journey, exactly when they need it. And there really is a ‘why’ that drove this: as parents, we know what kind of parent we want to be and we know the feeling when we’re being that parent, [but] we all get lost and we find it really, really hard to get back to that pathway. And we believe this platform gives people that — how do I get back? How do I stay on that pathway longer? And how can I get support from peers and from trusted experts along this really challenging journey?
We know that every parent has the intention to be connected to their kid and to try to stay as calm as possible. We all have the intention to show up in a way that feels good in our family system. And I believe that beyond an individual’s intention, there are two components that are necessary to grow and change: the first is access to information so you can learn new things. The second is, I really believe we can’t learn new things when we feel alone because in our body, learning something new and trying new things and changing sits right next to learning something new and feeling bad about yourself and feeling ashamed and shutting down. The thing that allows us to change is when we are in the presence of new information, really feeling supported by a safe, trusted community, and having meaningful conversations.
SK: Is there an age range that’s the sweet spot for your parenting advice, or is it ageless in some ways?
Dr. Becky: I would say yes — and yes! And I really mean that. I think what really differentiates the Good Inside method from other things out there is it’s driven by core principles of what humans at every age need from each other. And it helps parents remove the barriers we have to giving those things to ourselves and giving those things to our kids. And so the principles that drive this method are relevant when you’re pregnant, have a baby to a toddler, to an elementary schooler or to teenagers and adult kids, to your marriage. It really, really is.
Having said that, I would think most of the examples we give are probably geared to ages 1 through 8 or 9. Early baby and toddlerhood through elementary school. Having said that, we already have people in the community who are they call themselves pre-parents, and we also have members who have tweens and teens saying, now that I’ve been more well-versed in this approach, it doesn’t take me that much to tweak it for an older grade.
SK: Do you anticipate a time when you might focus a little bit more on older kids and teens?
Dr. Becky: A hundred percent. In my private practice, I’ve worked with so many tweens and teens. So without a doubt, that’s an area we want to expand into, and we hope that Good Inside doesn’t become, like, a course or a workshop or a strategy — we think of it as a partner for parents in this really long, really tricky journey. And yes, we definitely hope to both start at the beginning and grow with people and families.
SK: If there’s one message that you want to share with parents, what would it be?
Dr. Becky: Oh, that’s a hard one! I do not like limitations to one. I’m going to give you two. The first thing I would say, and I think this applies to adults, to kids, to all areas of change, is: We have to feel good inside before we kind of quote “act good” outside. I know that’s not grammatically correct, right? But when our kids are having a hard time, it’s because they’re struggling; when adults are reactive and feeling burnt out and not feeling proud of their behavior and parenting or anything… Change doesn’t start with berating ourselves. It actually starts with being curious and compassionate with ourselves. That doesn’t give [us] permission to act any way we want. That actually gives us a foundation to be brave enough to learn new things about ourselves and make changes.
The second thing is: I would tell parents it’s never too late. ‘Is it too late?’ is kind of the question under every question. What we know, not only from my theory but also from a lot of brain science, is it’s never too late. Yes, the brain wires early, but also the brain is remarkably plastic and able to change. And so I think that’s really important, and it’s something I hold on to a lot, too. [Because] I, of course, yell at my kids or say something I, you know, I wish I didn’t say.
SK: That’s a nice segway into this: Parenting comes with so much sensory overload. What coping mechanisms or tips do you have for pulling yourself together so you can calmly parent?
Dr. Becky: So one of the things we do a lot, is like, OK, so I yell at my kids, right? Me too. I’ll use myself as an example. I got to the end of my rope, I yell. ‘What can I do so I don’t yell next time?’ If I’m being reflective, I’m like, ‘All right, I was yelling and my kids were arguing with each other. What do I do to stay calm in that moment?’ I think it’s not the most effective question. Often when we’re struggling, it’s not that we’re not answering our questions correctly, we’re asking ourselves the wrong questions. The question we need to ask ourselves way more often is, ‘OK, the pathway ended with me yelling at my kids. Where did that pathway begin?’ It didn’t begin when my kids were arguing — that was the thing that overflowed my frustration bucket.
What’s the first thing? Where did the pathway begin that ended up leading to me being overwhelmed? And I know [one] question I ask myself is, ‘Where could I have asserted my needs or made space for myself earlier?’ … And then, when our kids scream, we have nothing. But the answer isn’t, ‘How do I not scream at that moment’ the answer is, ‘How do I start the process earlier of recognizing what I need and practicing giving that to myself?’ And especially as women, we lose that larger story. So that’s one question — how can I start the beginning of the path differently?
The other thing is, I think we just all need to get a lot better at repair. Yeah, we want to figure out how to not get to the point of yelling as often. But when we still get there, I feel like we can become real experts at repair. And I always tell parents, you can’t repair with your kids until you repair with yourself. And that sounds something like putting your feet on the ground, hand on your heart, and saying, ‘I’m a good parent who was having a hard time. I’m going to figure out the larger story later. I did not mess up my kids forever. I know I’m a good person.’ And I think at that point you can go to your kids and say some version of, ‘Look, I’m really sorry I yelled, It’s never your fault when I do that. I’m working on managing my big feelings too, so they don’t come out as often as a yell. And I love you and I’m here for you.’
Right? Nothing’s as easy as that made it sound.
SK: It’s not easy, but sounds good. Is there a quote-unquote “parenting mistake” that you think we shouldn’t worry about so much? An area where we can give ourselves more grace?
Dr. Becky: I don’t know if I’d say the word mistake, but I think there’s this fundamental worry that drives a lot of our parenting decisions that when we recognize it, we can really unwind from. We see a behavior in our kids today, and then we fast-forward our kids’ lives like 5 to 20 years from now and predict that they will have that exact same struggle. And then we end up responding to their behavior today based on that story and that fear as opposed to what’s right in front of us.
So my kid won’t join the birthday party. I think, ‘Oh, my kid in college is never going to speak up in lecture class.’ Or, ‘My kid is never going to have friends.’ And that fills us with anxiety, and we use that to respond to our kids instead of thinking, ‘What’s going on with my kid right now? What’s really under this? And what, if any, skills does my kid need to build?’ For me, whenever I think about things where I was not proud of my reaction, I feel like that fast-forward thought error was part of the equation.
SK: I read an interview where you said happiness isn’t the goal of parenting. If happiness isn’t the goal, what is? Is it resilience?
Dr. Becky: The problem with happiness as a goal is, to me, happiness is the outcome that happens as often as it can happen when kids feel at home with themselves, learn to manage through different situations, and figure out who they are and what actually lights them up inside. When [they] feel competent and able to take risks and not be defined by success or failure. Then happiness reaches those kids as often as that could reach anybody.
But I often imagine that we have this jar of feelings and all the feelings in the world are living there, and when happiness is a goal, inherently, the message to a kid is to try to fight off any other feelings that come up in that jar. And the irony is that all feelings are looking to feel seen and accepted and sometimes a little bit lovingly contained. And every time you fight them off, they literally have to take up more space.
So I actually feel like the more you make happiness a goal, you create a ton of anxiety about all the other feelings that come up, which just leads to those feelings taking up more and more space in that jar, which ironically makes happiness less able to find itself because there’s just not space.
Whenever I tell people happiness isn’t the goal for my kids, they’re like, ‘So you want your kids to be unhappy?’ No. I want my kid to feel at home with themselves in the widest range of feelings they have, which means they’ll feel competent and they’ll be more able to access things like joy and happiness.
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