206: Low Demand Parenting, with Amanda Diekman
Low Demand Parenting
with Amanda Diekman
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Amanda Diekman 0:03
So much of what I get in terms of maybe a criticism of low demand approaches is like, Oh, you're letting your kids run the ship, you should have better boundaries. And I find that it's really the other way around. I start by honoring my child's boundaries, my child's timing my child's needs, I teach them where their boundaries are.
Penny Williams 0:30
Welcome to the beautifully complex podcast, where I share insights and strategies on parenting neurodivergent kids straight from the trenches. I'm your host, Penny Williams. I'm a parenting coach, author and mindset mama, honored to guide you on the journey of raising your a typical kid. Let's get started. Welcome back to the beautifully complex Podcast. I'm joined today by Amanda Diekman. And we're going to talk about low demand parenting. And I'm really looking forward to this conversation. I think we're all going to learn a lot from Amanda, and we'll see how this can help us in parenting, our neurodivergent kids. Amanda, it's great to have you here. Can you start by letting everyone know who you are and what you do?
Amanda Diekman 1:23
Absolutely. Hi, I'm so glad to be here. And then they entered Dieckmann, I live in Durham, North Carolina. And I'm a mom of three neurodivergent kids. I right under the name low demand, Amanda. And it is my mission to spread the word that we can drop demands and release expectations to align with our kids around radical acceptance.
Penny Williams 1:47
I love the term radical acceptance because I think that it is so monumentally important for parents of kids with differences. Yes, there are so many extra things to accept. And until we accept them, we're not going to make any progress. And we're not going to feel effective as a parent, in my opinion.
Amanda Diekman 2:08
I agree. And I found that the more I release my imagination of how this was all going to be both who I was going to be as a parent and who my children were going to be, the more I can let go of all the things I thought I knew, and instead show up for the real life that I'm living for the real parent I am. And for these complex and beautiful children that I have, the better I know how to listen to them and respond to them. And to myself. The radical acceptance goes both ways. I've need radical acceptance for myself, and the human I am and for them.
Penny Williams 2:51
Yeah, yeah, that is so true. Let's dive into low demand parenting. Great. What is low demand parenting?
Amanda Diekman 3:00
Low demand, parenting is an approach. It's a way of moving through the parenting life that has six essential steps. And that starts with having a lens for viewing the world with an eye for demands. So demands are essentially solutions to problems. There are ways that we are trying to solve things in front of us. And we are solving them by issuing a present tense request of somebody else a demand, put on your shoes, and demand sit on top of expectations. Like I expect you to be a child who responds to me when I speak to you, and who obeys what I ask, then expectations are on top of the need, I need to feel like a good parent, I need to be on time to church today. I need to go find my keys because I can't find them. And you need to put on your shoes. And the demands are really just the very tip of a layered experience that each person is having. And the real magic of low demand parenting is meeting your own needs without asking anything that's too hard of your children. And so we kind of start at the end, we figure out what is the real need? How do we respond to ourselves in the moment and notice patterns of needs over time so that we can be proactively meeting our own needs and releasing our children from those expectations that they are communicating to us are too hard for them.
Penny Williams 4:42
Yeah. And so often we have to adjust our expectations for neurodivergent kids, or we need to be doing that right. So it really coincides with that. That we have to focus on the kid that we have not on those general expectations are culture and age, I guess to the child's age.
Amanda Diekman 5:05
Yeah, the low demand approach. To your point, everything I've learned about this way of parenting that is more about releasing than holding, that's more about seeing then projecting, I've learned at all from my neurodivergent kids, as they show up fully themselves, especially one of my children, has a presentation of autism, where he is particularly inflexible. And the way I think of that is actually grounded in himself that he knows what he wants and needs. And he really cannot bend from that. And I'm so grateful for that strength, because he was my wake up call, when he said, I can't do this anymore. In all his behavioral expressions, essentially, when he went into burnout, I needed to shift my parenting radically.
In order to make a family life that safe for him, I needed to give him that radical assurance that he is okay, just as He is, and I will change everything to make our family safe. And I did. And he taught me he took me by the hand and taught me how to be a low demand parent, because it's what he needed and deserved. And without his willingness to interrupt the flow that I thought I was on, I wouldn't know so much about myself that I learned in this process, including the fact that I'm autistic too. I was so on the track of performance and meeting expectations, that I didn't even have the ability to notice how hard I was working in the world. And so the low demand journey has been led by my kids, and it's been a gift to me. And everyone looking in from the outside would probably say, Yeah, but your kid went through burnout. Isn't that like the greatest pain? Isn't that the worst thing that could happen? And I would say yes, and no, it was his opting out of the world as I had built it, and helping me build a new world.
Penny Williams 7:10
So beautifully said, I think it's so important to meet our kids where they are, but also to be open to what they are signaling us and what they need in those signals, so that they can guide us. You know, I think a lot of people cringe when we talk about letting our kids guide the parenting journey. But that's being true to who they are. And it's also a form of radical acceptance, right? We're saying, Okay, this is the kid I have, this is who they really are. And these are the specific needs that they have. And I have to parent that kid.
Amanda Diekman 7:52
Yes, absolutely. The first step of low demand, parenting is seeing demands, seeing through a demand lens. And the second is recognizing what are your real needs. And the third is listening to your children. And listening is a very active process, it takes so much attention and time to really listen to our kids and what they are telling us. Because we have to listen to all the ways they communicate whether it's words or not. So many adults expect that a conversation has to happen in a back and forth verbal way. And when we can let that go recognize, hey, that's just another demand we're bringing into the situation that's based on an expectation and based on a need, well, the core need is probably to feel connected to your child.
And we can feel connected. Even when my child is slamming the door, I can say, Oh, he's telling me, I'm done with this conversation. Now. He's telling me I need space. And I can honor that communication by giving him what he's asking for. And it turns out in my own journey, that reframing behavior as communication isn't just an intellectual exercise that actually changes how I feel on the inside about those behaviors. I really can feel grateful for behaviors that people would think like, there's no way that you could be glad that you're being ignored. No, I'm glad because that ignoring is telling me something, it's shows that my child still trusts me, and is still in open dialogue with me that they haven't shut down that they are still showing up to our relationship. And it's my job to ask what is this ignoring, telling me and how can we get to the core of this communication in a more helpful way? So that I can shift something in our dynamic to make room for the conversation to flow again.
Penny Williams 9:52
Yeah. And that connection piece, you know, to get real, genuine connection We have to be sort of in tune with each other, right? And so if my expectations are out of reach, or they're unrealistic for the kid that I have in that moment, then we're not in sync. And I feel like that really hampers that connection that's so valuable in our parenting that relationship with our kids.
Amanda Diekman 10:22
Yeah, I think that the core of everything is trusting connection. Within that flow of trusting connection, everything moves through that channel. And I've experienced that being cut off, because of the way that I was parenting before I shifted into the low demand approach of ramping up expectations. And a lot of that I got from the professionals in my world who told me, you know, you need to have more rigid boundaries, you need to tell them, hey, if you do this, I'm going to do this, and a lot of those were disconnected moves, you know, I'm going to take you to your room, I'm going to put you in timeout, that advice led me down a path of disconnection, to the point that I felt like I don't know who my kid is, I don't know how to find them. And I'm sure that it was both ways that my child didn't know how to find me. And we were so disconnected.
And for me, the first step towards healing for anyone who's feeling like you're in that place where that channel of trusting connection just feels cut off or gone, the first place I went to, was a humble return. And at night, I wasn't allowed to put this particular child to bed anymore, it was too difficult for him. And my husband did the going to bed, and I would crept in, and I lay down on the floor next to his bed silently laid there. And it was kind of my nightly return is I just tried to come back in silence, with a posture of submission and connection. And I actively tried to return that trust, seeing that I had broken it, and that it was my role as parent to repair. And we did repair, we repaired very slowly, day by day. And yet it added up to what is now a very robust connection. So I don't speak from a place of like, oh, this has always been easy for me. And you know, me and my kid, we're just two peas in a pod right now, sometimes it's hard. And sometimes it gets lost. But we can always return.
Penny Williams 12:33
I love that idea. Because then we have this impermanence to the struggle, then we can see, okay, this is right now, but it's not forever. And we can do things to make change. But we have to be aware of our kids timing. That's what strikes me pretty big in the story that you were just telling is that you gave in, but you accepted His timing, and what he needed and the progression that he needed for that repair.
Amanda Diekman 13:06
I think respecting my child is the core of what healing looked like for us. He deserved my respect. He was expressing to me, I'm not trusting you right now. And I respected that as true. I didn't say, Well, I'm the grown up, and I make the rules around here. And you're supposed to No, no, no, you are telling me something so important. And I respect what you have to say. And I'm going to hear it all the way into my heart, and then make a change. And I find that that respect around our kids boundaries. So much of what I get in terms of maybe a criticism of low demand approaches is like, Oh, you're letting your kids run the ship, you should have better boundaries.
And I find that it's really the other way around. I start by honoring my child's boundaries, my child's timing my child's needs, I teach them where their boundaries are with what is hard versus what is too hard. If something is too hard for them, we let things go. We release that expectation. We drop it and teaching them that that's okay, that we can let things go and things are too hard for us. And we can choose to stay within our zone of tolerance without always pushing over the edge that that eventually and it has absolutely for us that that adds up into them learning how to respect my boundaries. And when I say this is too hard for me right now. I need us to let this go. It's really by gifting them with respect that it comes back to me and it's by gifting them with honoring their boundaries that it comes back to me it's not with insisting on it. That's not how I teach it. I teach it by teach ask them their own boundaries and their own needs and their own voices.
Penny Williams 15:05
Yeah, what strikes me is that so often we set boundaries as a parent, and we hold hard and fast to those boundaries. But we don't think about our kids boundaries. We don't think about what they need, right. And so there has to be, as you're saying, A marrying of the two, there has to be a way to hold tight to safety and, you know, certain core boundaries that you may have for your family, but also to do it in a way that honors that your child has needs and boundaries as well. Yeah, absolutely.
Amanda Diekman 15:45
A family culture that grows up around that. And mutuality, is one of saying, I see you. And you can see me and have permission giving that flows both ways that I can let you off the hook for this. And you can let me off the hook too. We can make mistakes and repair. We have a family culture in our family of family rules, but they're all permission giving roles. So ours are things like we can eat anything, anytime, anywhere. And that works for us that we have a low demand approach to food, which meets my kids sensory needs to of my kids can't hear other people chewing while they're eating. Yeah, so for them, the mealtime had become such a place of stress and anxiety, that any goal I had of making it a family connection point was completely impossible because of their sensory needs. And so when we shifted to letting them rediscover food as a safe thing, and eating as a place of connecting to their own bodies, instead of just the horrible dysregulation, disconnection that they were experiencing, it was a low demand approach that enabled a radical connection to themselves.
And it opened up space for us to find other ways to connect as a family, I didn't have to completely drop my hope that we would have a ritual of family time every day, it just meant that we needed to find other ways to get that need met. So we have family time around books, we have family time around wrestling, we have family time, when I partner comes home from work is a gathering point for our family. And we notice all of those times as being significant and important. Just because they don't happen around the table doesn't make them in any way less connecting for us as a family. In fact, they're more so because it's not up from a point of stress or overwhelm. And that's how the low demand approach works its way into a family culture is that it creates this room for me to recognize what are my core values and what are my real needs. And to release the demands that I was placing on them, like you will come to the table at six o'clock for a meal, and instead recognize what their real needs were, and what makes them feel safe, and alternate ways that we can all get our needs met at the same time.
Penny Williams 18:17
I'm so glad that you brought up family mealtime and the replacement of losing that, right so many families think, well, you know, we have to have some time where we have family togetherness. And the dinner table is where we do it because that's where my parents did it. And their parents did it right. And we go along these traditions and we get so stuck in the idea that we have to have family dinner, without thinking about the fact that there's alternatives as you were just describing, there's so many other ways to have family togetherness, it can be different for your family, it doesn't have to be what everybody else is doing. Which I can tell you not everybody else is doing it right. Like, right, we have these trumped up ideals of what that's like. And a lot of families are not succeeding at family dinner, and it's okay. The point is the family connection, just as you were saying, the point is that you get to come together in a way that works for everyone. Because we have so many kids who don't do well with family dinner and being at the dinner table together and for a myriad of reasons. But this comes up so often in conversations with parents, and we have to be able to bend writing to really say, Okay, I see you I hear you. Let's find another way to do it.
Amanda Diekman 19:44
Yeah, absolutely. I see you I hear you. Let's find another way is an incredible expression of the core of taking a low demand approach when we're in touch with not just the demand, but the expectation and then Eat when we can identify those layers to something that seems as ordinary and expected as eating a meal at the table. It's not just a meal at the table, because there are all these tiny demands that go into sitting at the table, they're sitting a certain way in certain seats. There's what we hear what we see what we smell, there's also listening to adults talk to each other in a way that maybe isn't engaging for the children. There's so much that goes into it. And rather than either throw out the entire meal, which we have actually rebuilt rhythms of eating together, that still recognize that my kids can't hear other people do, we've still found ways to create meal time, but we had to really get clear about what's the demand for different people around the table.
And I was able to recognize, oh, I was actually really stressed at mealtimes too, because it was a demand on me to deliver food simultaneously to a number of different eaters who have very different preferences. And that was too hard for me. But I'm happy to feed people what they need, as long as I can do it in ways that work for me. So it's just back to that question of mutuality and listening. And when our needs are met, we can move into that creative space that you were just describing where we say, I see you, I hear you, I can help meet your needs. And I can get mine met to when we're in stress. And when our own systems are overloaded. We can't be creative and flexible. It's too hard. Yeah. So we have to drop demands of ourselves at those stressful times of day, as well as our kids.
Penny Williams 21:44
Yeah, it can be so stressful family dinner time for everyone. Because the parents can be so stressed about making it a reality about having it go well, right. We sit down and we have this idyllic Norman Rockwell dinner, right where we're all around this bountiful table and everybody's sharing how their day was and not real life. And my son also quit family dinner around, I would say age 13, 14, something like that. And it was really hard for me because I was really stuck on that idea that we had a time that we did things together, right. But for him, it was feeling like he was being grilled. Just that conversation of how was your day, which a lot of people would say is polite, was stressful to him. Yeah. And so I said, Okay, I get it. No, I'm not going to force you to eat together at the table. We'll find other times to do that. And we just let go of that expectation.
And then slowly, but surely, we've come back to it a little bit. So when it's somebody's birthday, or we're celebrating something we'll eat together, but we don't eat at the dining room table, we sit more casually and eat together, there's less pressure, I think in a different setting. And we're working on doing like one night a week of family and dinner, adding one night back into the regular rotation. And that's because that's what he needs. And it also satisfies what I felt like I needed, right. And I found that another way, it's just as you've been illustrating, and I think it's so important here is we're not talking about giving one person what they need versus the other. It's that mutuality that you keep bringing up. It has to work for everyone. And we can be creative to find things that can work for everyone.
Amanda Diekman 23:46
We can I love your story. Your child communicated to you this is too hard for me. Yep. And you said, Okay. And I really think for somebody who's just starting out with this approach, starting with listening to the places that your child is clearly saying this is too hard for me and saying, Okay, it's your starting point. It's the first step. And when that okay, hurts when there's a stain on the inside, as you release, that is your cue to return to yourself. What is it about this demand? That's important to me? Yeah. What is it about family dinner that I'm having a hard time letting go of what's too hard for me about saying okay to my child, and how can I get that need met another way without pushing my child beyond their boundary that they are clearly communicating to me in this moment? How can I honor my child's boundaries and get my needs met?
Penny Williams 24:44
Yeah. And I just want to be real about our child communicating their boundaries. You know, for us in that example, it was no I'm not coming. You can't make me write yelling, slamming doors. It wasn't. Hey, Mom, I can't do this anymore. And this is why, right? We're tasked with interpreting that communication and seeing that there is communication within that, right that he's having a hard time. And that's why he's putting up a wall and saying, I'm not gonna, what he's saying is I can't I can't do this right now or for a while, or, you know, it doesn't have to be forever, either. But that communication can come in ways that we don't appreciate, right? Yes, yeah, to us. But we have to recognize that that behavior is the way that they're telling us what they need.
Amanda Diekman 25:39
Yeah. And that's true for me. And every time I said, you know, my son clearly communicated this to me, my son that I'm talking about in that story is eight. And he has a very colorful vocabulary that helps them to express just how strongly he feels about things. And it's not what most people would think is acceptable for an eight year old. And yet, for me, the words that he uses are so much less important than the fact that he's communicating with me, and that he's showing up to our relationship, telling me things that I want to know. And so I share with him, I don't love those words. But I hear you telling me and I hear what you're saying. And I believe that keeping the flow of communication open, even when the words are the behaviors staying is the most important thing.
Penny Williams 26:32
Yeah. And it builds that trust, right? When we're open to hearing them, like truly hearing them. We're also building trust. I want to make sure before we close that, we talk a little bit about giving up versus low demand parenting, because I can imagine that a lot of parents and years ago, before I got to the place that I'm in now, I would have assumed that you were saying that I just need to give in to my kid, I just need to let them do what they want to rules be damned doesn't matter if they do their schoolwork, like just giving up on everything. And that's not what low demand parenting is. No, no, it's not what you're saying. Can you go a little deeper on that?
Amanda Diekman 27:17
Yeah, absolutely. So giving up is the ultimate act of severing trust, I don't trust that we can go anywhere with this, I am going to disconnect either mentally or physically from this relationship. And I am going to release this bond between us and I am no longer going to be an active listening and connection to you. It's saying I don't care anymore. And low demand is the opposite of that. It is saying I care so much that I'm going to listen to all the things that you're telling me and to myself and my own discomfort and my own pain and my own struggle, I'm going to allow it all to be okay, I'm going to stay with it all until we find a way forward. And it's really a very hopeful posture. It requires some kind of belief that together, we can figure this out. Together, we can create a family dynamic that works for all of us. It's very engaged, though, from the outside, people may look at it and think, you know, you're just letting them do whatever they want. It's not that I am listening deeply to when they say I want this. And we're differentiating between wants and needs, we are getting deep into what the needs really are beneath the wants.
We are communicating with each other over each one of these items. So I'll give an example that we're in right now we're coming up into holiday season. And there are lots of wants and needs that are coming up as like wish lists come around. And this is a real place of struggle for one of my kids that he has a lot that he wants. So what we're working toward, you know, if you think of it as giving up, like if I just give up, I'll just give him everything he wants, because I can't handle the screaming or I can't handle the challenging behavior. So I'll just give him everything. Where we are moving is instead in this deep listening back and forth process. We're identifying all the demands around holiday gift giving that are challenging for my child, what is all the things that have been hard for him in years past? And in communication with him this year? You know, what is the worst part?
And getting this full list of demands and using that demand lens for looking at the situation? And then really actively identifying why do we create a wish list? What is this even for? What do I care about in the gift giving process? How do I want to nurture my child into growing up into the kind of human that I want him to be? And what is it about for the other people. And so it's a very introspective active process. And where we landed in the end is that we're going to create a yes list instead of a wish list where everything he puts on the list he will get. But there's a budget and we are clear, this is the amount of money that we have to spend on you this year, and you can put what you want on the list, and then you will get it. And so it takes out this anxiety ridden, what am I going to get for Christmas this year kind of process.
So it may end up with something that people would say, Oh, you're just giving him everything he wants. It's not that at all. It's a process of digging deep into our relationship of really building trust in the way that we move through a really challenging time. And so in the end, when we look back on it, we all look at it and say, Wow, we solved that problem with a solution that works for all of us. And didn't we do an awesome job, and didn't we trust each other? And can't we'd use that again, for other challenging times. Whereas I think if we'd given up, what we would look back on it and say is like, my kid got everything he wanted again, instead of like, wow, I created a scenario where my kid could get everything he wanted. And it worked. For me. It's a very different posture towards the parenting role. And the outcomes of it are entirely different in terms of connection with your child.
Penny Williams 31:25
Yeah. And I think he learned other skills through that too. You know, problem solving, you know, if he said, Oh, my goodness, I really have to have this thing, and I don't have enough money left, then he has to say, Okay, how do I make it happen, right? And prioritizing, like, there's so many skills that go into that. And what I want to point out is that you've held your boundary, you know, we're not telling parents that you have to give up on every thing, and that it's all just willy nilly, and your kids are running the show, oh, you had a budget, you gave him the budget, that was the boundary that you needed. And it worked out by you respecting what he needed, he could respect what you needed, and vice versa. Right? that respect is so key in that way that we're seeing each other in these situations.
Amanda Diekman 32:17
Yes. And it radiates outward. Because then family members who say, Wait, you know, aren't we supposed to give these gifts as a surprise, it has to be a surprise, I get to press into that and say, Well, this year, our priority is meeting our kids needs and meeting him where he's at. And getting gifts that are surprised are too much for him. But he receives loves by you instead contributing towards this budget. And what do you really need from this process? I can ask them, What do you want? Do you want to see his face light up? When he opens the gift? Do you want him to know that it's from you? How do you want to be a part of this process. And so it gives each one of us room to state our needs. And to be more honest and introspective about what we're showing up with and kind of move out of that autopilot of this is how it's supposed to be?
Penny Williams 33:05
Yeah, it's that radical acceptance, again, really is key to this parenting, I'll tell you, as you well know. And I just I've learned so much about that mutual respect about how, you know, we show each other how to show up for each other, between adult and child. And if we really lean into that great things happen. Everybody gets what they need. We're not stressed out or not feeling crazy. To go along with the holiday example. When you're when my son was really young, probably first diagnosed, maybe age six or seven. We had put the presents under the tree the night before. And my husband was like, I need to sleep on the sofa by the tree, because he's gonna get up and he's gonna ruin everything. And I was like, no, just give him the benefit of the doubt. It'll all be fine. Well, he did exactly what dad thought he would.
Then everybody was angry, right? Everybody was just angry. And I was literally on the floor in the pantry crying, because Christmas was ruined. And somehow I was able to come to the conclusion that we were allowing it to ruin everything. We weren't telling ourselves a story that it was terrible. And it had ruined the holiday and how bad he was and write all these things. And we had a conversation and we said we're not going to let it ruin it. And we accepted what happened and we moved on. It was such a huge, huge lesson for me that some things just don't matter as much as we think they do like a kid opening his presents at four o'clock in the morning and building it out of Legos. Right like, Is that the end of the world? You know, it's that acceptance that letting go of some things that helped us to be able to pivot in just that one example. But that goes with everything right every time. There's some sort of expectation that went along with our own parental need, or adult need, then often if our kids can't meet that, we let it derail everything, instead of just saying, Okay, how can we shift course, instead, such powerful stuff that you're teaching us? Thank you, I want to just give you a chance to add anything else that you might be thinking really briefly before we close.
Amanda Diekman 35:42
Last thing I'm thinking in response to the story you shared is the importance of being proactive, with our dropped demands, the power of looking ahead and saying, instead of laying on the couch, or crying in the pantry, we're going to let it be okay. For for a presence to be opened, that so much of where parents get stuck is dropping demands in the moment and letting things go, what's there already hard and hurtful, but the power of saying I can be okay, if the gifts are pre opened, I can be okay. If my child is eating a popsicle, 20 minutes before dinner, I can say we allow popsicles at that time, that is okay. We can make choices to proactively drop demands while aligning with our d values. And it opens up a whole different channel of parenting for us where we get to look into the future and let things be okay.
Penny Williams 36:43
Yeah. And it's work that we're doing on ourselves. You know, you can't just flip a switch now that you've heard, I mean, to talk about this and be like, Oh, okay, I'm gonna let go of all of it. It's done. You know, it's it's not that easy. We're not saying it's not easy. It takes a lot of work and mindfulness awareness, intention, but it can be done. And the rewards will far outweigh the difficulty in getting there, I think. Yes, absolutely. Thank you so much for being here and sharing some of your insights and your own personal story. I know that it's helping our listeners, I've had my own AHA as as we've talked, and it's just so powerful. I want to make sure that everyone listening knows how to connect with Amanda by going to the show notes at parentingADHDandautism.com/206 for episode 206. We'll have links there to your website and ways to connect and learn more from her. And I certainly encourage you to do that, to take it a step further. And with that, I just want to thank you one more time. It was a pleasure. And we'll end here I'll see everyone next time. Thanks for joining me on the beautifully complex podcast. If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe and share. And don't forget to check out my online courses and parent coaching at parentingADHDandautism.com and at thebehaviorrevolution.com
Transcribed by https://otter.ai
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