When Being Positive Actually Becomes Negative
with Penny Williams
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Penny Williams (00:03): We can put up a wall of positivity and to our kids that feels like we don't even want to understand. We just want them to be who we want them to be, and that we want them to be someone different.
Intro (00:19): Welcome to the Parenting ADHD podcast, where I share insights and strategies on raising kids with ADHD straight from the trenches. I'm your host, Penny Williams. I'm a parenting coach, author, ADHD-aholic and mindset Mama, honored to guide you on the journey of raising your atypical kid. Let's get started.
Penny Williams (00:48): Welcome back to the parenting ADHD podcast. Today. I want to talk to you a little bit about a sort of phenomenon that is new to me.
Penny Williams (00:58): That I discovered last week in of all things, a drama on television, but it was really profound and something that I hadn't thought about before. So I really wanted to take a few minutes to share it with all of you and hopefully it will help you, as well. I have certainly been a positive parenting-obsessed mom, right? I am always very, very into positive parenting and positive parenting is wonderful. I am not going to say that positive parenting is not great and really the way that we should be moving forward with our kids and parenting, we should absolutely be more positive than negative, more praising and rewarding and hopeful and helpful to our kids than kind of adversarial or authoritarian. Positive parenting is definitely a better way to go than a lot of other options. However, there is a point at which positivity can become a negative.
Penny Williams (02:11): So I was watching the NBC drama, New Amsterdam, and they have a main character who is a child psychiatrist on this program. And they often have storylines about children's mental health and different things that come up that the public really does need to know about. I'm really thankful that they do approach these topics for the general population. And in this particular episode last week, I believe it was, they had the parents in for visiting day for the children who were inpatient in the hospital, in the mental health department. And at the beginning, they have a meeting Dr. Frohm who's the psychiatrist, and he says, "This is going to be a great day. You get to see your kids. They're wonderful..." And he's really pumping up this visit, right? And he's really trying to help them to feel very positive and hopeful about what their current situation is, which they have a child who's in-patient in psychiatric area of the hospital.
Penny Williams (03:26): So this is a tough thing. This is a big challenge. This is very emotional for parents, and he's really trying to help them to stay positive about it. And what ends up happening is that there are a lot of struggles in these visits and one family in particular, the son is very oppositional and one mom comes in and she's really positive. And she's talking about how she baked him cookies and how great it is to see him and, just really, really positive. And the other mom very quickly gets into an argument with the son, gets her feelings hurt, and they're on their way out the door before the visit is over and Dr. Frohm stops them and wants to talk with them. And what comes of that conversation is the realization that being super positive, the one mom being super positive, actually felt really disconnected for that child.
Penny Williams (04:33): He is really struggling and all this positivity feels like mom doesn't get him. And it's overwhelming because it's not the realm that he's living in right now, that positivity that hopefulness, he's not there right now. He's in the hospital, he's oppositional, he's really struggling. And so he ends up at the end of the episode, bringing that group of parents back together to say, "Hey, I was really trying to do something great this morning by trying to keep it very positive. But I realized that that's not reality. That is not your reality right now. It's not the reality for your kids. And what it ends up doing is sending your kids the wrong message. And it also ends up telling you the parents that we don't really get what you're going through. We don't see it, and we don't want to see it. We're just going to pretend that it's all sunshine and roses."
Penny Williams (05:34): And what came out of that was this amazingly painful and difficult group meeting, where they're sharing these feelings that they have about their kids that are totally natural, but also really negative. You know, "I hate my kids sometimes," "sometimes I wish he hadn't been a part of our family." These are the things that were coming up because the psychiatrist gave them permission to be real. He saw what was really going on for them. And he wanted to honor that and he wanted to give them a forum where they could be real, where they could express how they really felt in a safe space. And so I really wanted in this podcast to talk to you about how being positive can sometimes be negative. And it's something that I don't know, my Pollyanna personality, I guess, and I don't really have a Pollyanna personality.
Penny Williams (06:37): I shouldn't say that I'm a very realistic person, but I also worked very hard to be optimistic and hopeful in a life where there's a lot of challenges that make it really difficult to do that. So thinking about the fact that maybe all of that positivity optimism, hopefulness, the majority of the time is actually a negative to myself or to others around me sometimes because we don't want to ignore or push away our true feelings, right? We don't want to ignore the fact that this is hard. We don't want to push away the fact that we're really sad. Sometimes we're really angry about the parenthood that we have, right? And I wanted to really be sure that I give you permission to have your real feelings, whatever you feel is real for you and whatever you feel is okay to feel. Now, I don't want you to constantly feel shame or guilt or those kinds of things, but feeling them for a while is completely natural, completely natural.
Penny Williams (07:58): All feelings are healthy feelings, truly. It's what we do with them that sometimes can be unhealthy. And a lot of times that's ignoring them. That's being in denial about how we feel, really just pushing it away and not dealing with it. We have to deal with that and we have to then be able to sort of step forward from it, right? So we have to deal with, it's really hard to be this kid's parent. We have to deal with some times we don't like our kids, right. There are times where we don't like other people. And it's not to say that we don't love them. It's not to say that we don't care for them. It's not even to say that we want them out of our lives because we don't, we love our kids, but sometimes it's hard. Sometimes their behavior is not likable and it's okay to feel that way, to recognize it, to sit with it, to process it, and then move forward.
Penny Williams (09:08): Think about a friendship. You may have a really close friend in your adulthood. I guarantee you there's been a time where you didn't really like them very much. They said something that was off putting or that you didn't agree with. Something happened where you were like, wow, I really don't like him or her right now — most of the time that doesn't end your relationship. It doesn't end your friendship. You recognize that not everybody can get along every moment of every day. And we have to really be real about that with kids too. Yes, they are children. Yes, we're supposed to love them unconditionally. And we do, we do love them unconditionally, even if we don't like them very much in the moment — that's absolutely possible. So you have to really sort of find this balance of being true to yourself, working through those emotions that are true for you.
Penny Williams (10:06): And also being able to step back into a positive place, to be able to kind of recover, heal, and recover from that instance. And there's so many times that these feelings come up for us and then we feel guilty. We feel ashamed of having feelings about potentially not liking our kid today or wishing that our family dynamic was easier. Even if you're just wishing away ADHD or autism. That's a tough thing to sort of grapple with because it's part of who your kid is. Right? And so it feels like you're wishing away part of what makes your kid, your kid, and you can do that and still love and adore your child and still be the parent that they need. And I want to remind you too, self care is part of taking care of our kids, our self care as part of taking care of our kids.
Penny Williams (11:08): So if I'm having really tough feelings and I'm just stuffing them down, I'm not dealing with them, what's going to happen. I'm going to just break down one day or I might get really snippy and angry and lash out one day. So I need to take care of those feelings. I need to work on them, acknowledge them, forgive myself for them so that I can do the best I can for my kids from day to day. And it's just so very, very monumentally important. And you can say, "I don't like my kid right now, but I do love my kid." And it's okay for me to have negative feelings about others, even those in my family, even those I adopted or gave birth to, and be able to move on from that. It's when you don't give yourself grace and when you don't work through those feelings and emotions, that they bring more and more negativity and heaviness to every interaction you have with every person, including your child.
Penny Williams (12:16): And the last thing we want to do is resent our kids or to start to really change our dynamic with them because we have all these negative emotions that we've just tried to stuff down and not deal with. That's all. It's going to turn out to do more harm than good. And our relationship with our kids guides their behavior. It guides their success. It guides how they act when things are hard. It's really, really, really important. It is the guiding principle, that relationship between parent and child, and being able to accept that you have some negative feelings about your child sometimes and working through them and giving yourself grace is one of the ways that you preserve that relationship, because you're not going to then take it out on your child. Inadvertently. I'm not saying that you would purposefully take out something hurtful on your child, toget back at them.
Penny Williams (13:15): But inadvertently we can certainly treat other people the tone that we sort of feel. And when we're stuffing all those feelings down, that feeling is just growing, that negative emotion. It's just getting bigger and bigger, and it's going to explode. It's going to cause you to shut down. Something is going to happen from that because we're not dealing with it. So, back to this concept of where being positive can actually be negative. Let's talk about how that impacts our kids and our interactions with our kids. If my son's really struggling in school and I'm just Positive Penny, I'm just nailing it home, driving it home that it's going to be okay, he's going to get it done. He's going to do alright in school. Or, whatever it is, that message coming from the best of intention on my part, right?
Penny Williams (14:15): The best of intention to help him through, to help him not be negatively impacted, but what's happening is he's hearing from that that I don't see how hard it is for him. I don't see his struggle. I don't see what he's going through. And that's the last thing we want for our kids. The very last thing, and I can tell you in all honesty, I've been doing that to him all this time. I have been so empathetic and so positive, trying to keep positive that I am certain that he has gotten the message many times from me that I don't get it. And I don't want to get it. We can put up a wall of positivity and to our kids that feels like we don't even want to understand. We just want them to be who we want them to be, and that we want them to be someone different.
Penny Williams (15:13): Those are the messages that we're sending. We're not meaning to, we don't mean to give our kids those messages, but that's what they're hearing in between what we're saying. That's what they hear. That's what they feel. And now they're feeling really negative, really upset, maybe angry even, they're feeling not heard, not seen. And we have done that all in the name of trying to not have them feel that way, vicious circle, all right, this really becomes something that we can fall right into and get stuck in and not recognize it. 18 years, 18 years, I have done the same sort of things to my son not realizing it until of all things, a drama on TV, right? And then I was like, "Oh my gosh, too much positive can actually be negative." So when my child is struggling, when your child is struggling, a positive attitude is good, but we still have to address the struggle.
Penny Williams (16:21): We still have to recognize it. We have to see it. We have to hear it. We have to empathize about it. We have to make sure that our children know that we get what they're going through. As much as we possibly can. We're trying 110% to get what they're going through. And to honor that we have to be careful to do that. So too much positivity as really just putting up a wall. And on their side of that wall, it says, "my parent doesn't see me." They don't hear what I'm saying. They're not listening to me. They don't get it. They don't care. They hear that we don't care. And that is absolutely the opposite, the complete opposite, of the message that we want to give our kids. We don't see it until much later, or we don't see it at all. I mean, look, I'm a walking example.
Penny Williams (17:24): I didn't see the kind of message that I was sending to my own kid by being positive. Sounds crazy. Sounds completely and utterly crazy, but it's absolutely the truth for our kids. And there's another thing that sort of ties into this, which I am also guilty of and didn't realize it until my son finished school, but by constantly wanting to help him, which was my way of trying to make it easier for him when it was so challenging of trying to help him overcome some executive functioning struggles, right? All of these things. I was just trying to be helpful. But when I insisted on helping with school, what he was hearing me say was that I didn't trust that he could do it. I didn't feel like he could do it. And of course I totally felt like he could do it with some structure and help, or I felt like he could even do it with the right assignment.
Penny Williams (18:21): There were certainly projects and assignments that really sparked for him that he was super interested in. He just ran with them and he got them done. And there were a lot of other things, of course, that weren't good fit for him and that he really struggled to do, but what he was receiving for my help, my wanting to be positive and helpful was that I didn't think that he was capable. And that's a really hard pill to swallow. I have to say, looking back on that, I haven't had a lot of distance from it yet to really work on it. And so I still have some guilt and some woulda, coulda, shoulda about that. And wishing that I had seen it earlier is actually getting me choked up. But, I have all the faith in the world in my kid, and I want him to have a happy, positive life, but we have to realize that by not seeing and hearing the challenge and the negative that they go through, we're telling them that we don't believe that it's happening.
Penny Williams (19:34): And that is absolutely, again, the opposite of what we are trying to tell our kids. So please hear me clearly on this. I am not saying to drop all your positivity, we absolutely need optimism and hope and gratitude and resilience, but we also need to bear witness to the struggle that our kids have. And I want you to just be really mindful: Am I being too positive? Am I overwhelming my kid with positivity when he's already overwhelmed with the struggle? Can I be more real and actually be more helpful? Those are really, really important things that I want you to think about, to sit down and consider, maybe have a quiet five minutes and think these things through and try to be more mindful of them as you go forward. Be mindful that being positive can actually be a negatives sometimes.
Penny Williams (20:36): I will see everyone next time. Thanks for joining me on the Parenting ADHD podcast. If you enjoyed this episode, please share, and don't forget to check out my online courses, parent coaching and mama [email protected]
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