Janet’s daughters share candid memories from their childhoods and consider how Janet’s respectful parenting style has influenced their lives as toddlers, teens, and young adults. Using questions submitted to Janet’s Facebook page as their guide, the sisters discuss intrinsic motivation, emotional health, independent play, sibling relationships, screen time and more.
Transcript of “My Daughters Weigh In on Respectful Parenting (with Charlotte and Madeline)”
Hi, this is Janet Lansbury. Welcome to Unruffled.
Today, I’m very excited because two of my most favorite people in the whole universe are my guests on this show, and these are my daughters.
For a couple of years now, I’ve been getting requests to hear from my children. What did they think about their upbringing? And I thought that was a good idea. And it seemed like there was a possibility for this to happen over the holidays. So I put out a question on my Facebook page, asking what people would like to know from my children if they were to do an episode together. I was floored by the enthusiasm and all of the wonderful questions that people had.
Then my daughters had the thought that it would be better to do this without me in the room. That seemed like a good idea to me. So that’s what they did. So they’re kind of doing a takeover on Unruffled for this week.
I just want to say a couple of things to preface this. One is that we are undoubtedly a privileged family in many ways. However, the majority of points that my daughters bring up and that I share about, I truly believe can apply to families in every situation if they value these ideas.
Another thing I want to mention is my daughters bring up RIE, which many of you may not know is an acronym for Resources for Infant Educarers. So that’s R-I-E, but it’s pronounced rye, like rye bread. This is a nonprofit organization founded by Magda Gerber. It’s also used as a name for her philosophy (or perspective) on early childhood that is the foundation of everything that I teach.
So with that, here are Charlotte and Madeline.
Charlotte: Hi, I’m Charlotte. I’m 28 years old.
Madeline: I’m Madeline, and I’m 24 years old.
Charlotte: We have a younger brother, but he couldn’t be here today.
Madeline: Our mom gave us some questions that people asked on Facebook. We’ll get to some of them and use that as sort of a guide to our conversation. But overall, we will just be discussing our experiences being raised by RIE parents, I guess.
Charlotte: Here we go.
When, if ever, did you become aware of differences between the way you were parented compared to your friends or peers? Did you have any thoughts on these differences at the time? What’s something you noticed your parents did differently than others that you’re thankful for or didn’t like?
Well, I think I definitely was aware in a school setting, as far as being able to choose activities that we wanted to do. We were never made to do anything. I think that’s pretty fundamental to the philosophy, but we were never made to take a piano lesson. Everything was totally, organically had to be our idea.
Madeline: And we did take piano lessons.
Charlotte: And sometimes our idea was to take piano lessons, and it would be for three weeks, and then we’d be over it, and then we didn’t have to take them anymore. I think actually, maybe there was a moment of try to persevere a little bit, but for the most part, we were allowed to do whatever hobbies we wanted to. And so I think Madeline was interested in mad science. So she got to take mad science.
Madeline: Yeah. I feel like we got to explore a lot of different interests, which helped us gain a ton of new experiences, even if none of those ended up carrying… I still now, if I’m doing the crossword, I know some of the music answers because I took music either in school and a little bit out of school, and I learned certain things that add to my knowledge of the world. But at the time I was like, I don’t want to do this anymore, and I just sort of threw that away. But I still gained stuff from it and at my own pace.
Charlotte: Yeah. I have friends now who say pretty confidently that looking back, they wish that their parents would have forced them to do the violin or some sport because now they would be really good at it. I strongly feel totally the opposite. It’s much more important to me than my parents raised me in a way that fostered the sense of: we trust you to choose your activities and pursue-
Madeline: On a day-to-day basis-
Charlotte: Your passion of the day.
Madeline: … as well. Yeah. I feel like I’m one of those people who says that sometimes, kind of jokingly, but like if I actually think back and evaluate, do I wish that I magically had some skill? Yeah. But that totally discounts all of the time that I would have had to spend doing something that I didn’t want to do instead of being able to explore stuff that I did want to do.
But something that we’ve talked about recently is that when you’re a kid, you don’t really know how other kids are parented. You can go to a kid’s house, and they have different foods. They have different toys and stuff like that. But you don’t see the differences in the parenting until you’re older, and you can talk to them later about like, “Oh, what were your parents like when you were younger?”
Charlotte: Yeah. Whatever is in your household, you consider normal for a long time. I don’t know that much about how the brain develops, but there’s got to be a critical period for when you start comparing yourself to others.
Madeline: It seems like middle school. I remember in middle school, all of a sudden everything was like… I was self-conscious in a bunch of different ways that I wasn’t before then, including what was at my house and what other kids had and stuff. But before that point, which is arguably the more important part in terms of the philosophy that our parents use, before that point, it’s not something that you notice every day. You don’t see other kids with their parents enough to understand what’s going on in their household, and you don’t care.
Charlotte: Yeah. If you go over for a play date, you think of it more as like, oh, Catherine’s brand is to have a bunch of Cheez-Its there, or they always have this particular game. But you don’t feel that you’re less than because you don’t have that in your own house.
Madeline: Yeah. So I don’t think you have to worry about your kids comparing themselves to other people in preschool. No child is that aware of those things or self-conscious about those things.
Charlotte: Yeah. All right. Next question.
Madeline: Next question.
Did we ever feel that we had been left out of something when we witnessed other parents play with their children in a non-RIE way, since we had not received that style of engagement/attention? This is this parent’s fear when not taking over and leading their child’s play.
This is a no brainer for me. No, not at all. Again, like what we were just saying, I think when you’re a young kid, you don’t really notice those things. And there was never a point when I was younger where I was like: ooh, I wish my mom would come and tell me what to play right now. Is it nice to be available for your child if they need another person to play with on their terms, with their rules?
Charlotte: Yeah, let them be able to find you.
Charlotte: Yeah. Anyway, it’s not to instruct anyone on how to be a parent, but to answer the question. Honestly, if I can think back to being a child and seeing the parents that really… I can remember specifically being in one of those clay pottery places, Color Me Mine or something, where you’re given a raw pot that you can paint however you want, and then it gets fired, and you have this lovely pot to take home or to give as a gift, and you can use whatever colors you want and paint however you wish. And I remember being there with my mom who was letting me do whatever I pleased on this pot, and looking at the table next to us, and there was a parent — it was like a very stark contrast. This mother was literally holding the daughter’s hand to help her paint a beautiful butterfly. And then finally the daughter just like gave up on trying to do anything on her own, having her own autonomy. So she kind of just lost interest. And then all of a sudden it was literally just the mom creating this piece of pottery.
And from what I can remember, my reaction was kind of like… this is dark. This mom is really intense. If anything, seeing a parent who was really obsessed with being a part of their kid’s play when I was able to kind of do my own thing, I looked at that as a bit much. I never felt, oh, I need more attention.
All right, next question.
Did they go through a rebellious period where they shut you out?
Madeline: I definitely did, in high school, especially. And I think some of it was just some mental health stuff that I was going through at the unfortunate cross section of time in which a kid is even more naturally predisposed to start shutting their parent out. So it was sort of a combination of factors. But yeah, I definitely did. But I think the comfort that I had during that time was I knew that my mom wasn’t going to be offended by that in the longterm. She was never going to hold that against me. She maybe mentions it now, and we look back and laugh together.
I knew that when I was ready to come back and have conversations with my mom and be present and kind, then she would be there and ready to have those moments with me too. She was never going to hold against me the fact that I wanted to just sit in my room and ignore them all day or just be kind of mean or whatever. I knew that I was always going to be welcomed back in, which I think is really important because it’s totally natural. So many people that I know had that same phase with their parents, and not every parent is willing to take themselves, their personal feelings out of it and say… I know this isn’t about me. It’s about what my kid is going through right now. So let me just be there for them from afar where they want me.
Charlotte: Yeah. Not trying to force it out of them.
Madeline: Because that just leads to further pushing people away.
Charlotte: Yeah. It’s like a rebellion, it feels like it’s like a long-term version of a tantrum.
Charlotte: And you’ve got to let it happen.
Charlotte: And play itself out.
Charlotte: My only rebellion was that I wanted to dye my hair dark once, and my mom let me do it all by myself. And then it turned out striped.
Madeline: And she regretted it.
Charlotte: I regretted it. My mom didn’t.
Madeline: She learned her lesson.
Charlotte: There’s my stripey haired daughter.
Madeline: Next question.
Do we notice differences or similarities between us and peers in terms of handling hard situations or being able to navigate issues or feelings?
Charlotte: I just feel that, maybe in comparison to my peers, let me say since high school, I have always had a really positive relationship to my emotions at every end of the spectrum. And I guess respected them in the same way that my mother respected them as a the kid, meaning if I am really in sadness, if something, if someone’s broken my heart, or I’m disappointed, and I have a regret or something, instead of trying to stifle it and push it away, I really do like to feel it. Because I do have a sense that if I don’t feel this thing, it’s just going to stay there bubbling under the surface, and I’m not going to be able to get through it.
So I’ve had friends who described trying to stifle their feelings, or repress them, or make an urge to make them go away, which I just really have never felt. It’s not great to feel sad or mad, but I really tried to feel them so that I can get through them. And I know that on the other hand is probably incredible happiness that can come through as long as I give time to the negative feelings.
Madeline: I totally agree with that. I definitely have been taught that it’s okay to be sad one day, because most likely, nine times out of 10, I’ll wake up the next day with some distance and feel a lot better. And I just had to have a sad day, and that’s just what had to happen. And I feel like our parents gave us a lot of space to have that when we were younger.
Charlotte: How do you feel that when you hear from friends about their upbringings? Do you feel grateful for the RIE approach?
Madeline: I definitely do. I think anytime I talk to my friends about their parents and how they grew up, I can’t think of a single time where I have thought: man, I wish my parents were more like yours. Almost always, I’m like, I’m glad my parents weren’t like yours. I’m so lucky to have the parents that I did and to have been raised the way that I was. It’s hard to go all the way back to the core RIE stuff of infant and toddler and know really how that was different from my friends, but definitely the slightly older years that I do remember, there definitely feels like there’s a difference. And I always do feel like I come out on top in the parenting comparisons.
Charlotte: Yeah. There were definitely times where I was frustrated maybe in the moment with, I don’t know, not being allowed to see a movie or something, but in the long run now, in hindsight, I realize everything actually was pretty perfect. And above all, something that I am grateful for is the relationship that this approach has fostered between my mom and I. And I feel like looking back everything that she did, every decision she made, her parenting style just totally above everything has made us have a really copacetic, mutually respectful bond that’s really special.
Madeline: Yeah. I agree with that. I definitely have a stronger relationship with my parents than a lot of people who I know and a lot of my peers in the long run. Even though I did have that moment of shutting them out and everything like that, it is now something where I feel like I can come to my parents with anything, and they will always be there for me. And if they need anything from me, I’ll reciprocate. Like there is definitely that mutual respect that is shockingly rare. And I don’t realize how rare it is until I talk to people my age.
Charlotte: Yeah. I think that the trust element was really powerful. And I guess I always felt, and this has got to be since I was an infant, that my parents trusted me to make my own decisions. And of course-
Madeline: They don’t let you drive off a cliff.
Charlotte: Yeah, that can go totally overboard as being totally permissive. In no way, permissive. But just kind of through every phase of life, respectful and trusting that our instincts were at least a little bit right or just part of the process of our evolution as a human being. That’s something that’s really carried through and now has just fostered this great dynamic that I’m so, so, so grateful for, and I feel really stands out amongst my peers.
Madeline: Great. Next question.
How do you think your relationships with your parents and siblings have evolved over time?
Charlotte: Well, we touched on the relationship with our parents, and as far as how it’s evolved. It starts out being… a parent really has to parent because they have to make sure you don’t-
Madeline: The safety net is a little tighter when you’re younger.
Charlotte: Yeah. They have to make sure you survive. But then over time, we were then able to make our own decisions.
And I think you can touch more on our sibling dynamic. We’re all four years apart.
Madeline: And so we all had phases of being really close with one of our siblings. Maybe you didn’t with Ben, the youngest, as much.
Charlotte: No, I had it with you where you were my little doll.
Madeline: So I had a phase first of being very close with Charlotte and playing together a lot. And then she got older, and then Ben got older, and so I could then play with him. And he was my-
Charlotte: It’s like be the boss of them.
Madeline: Not baby doll. But when you’re an older sibling, you get to be a little bit the boss of the other.
Charlotte: Madeline and I basically exclusively played school where I was the teacher.
Madeline: Yeah. And I tried to do that with Ben and be the teacher, but it didn’t work as well. So we just sort of played with toys and went outside, and I don’t know, whatever. So I had moments where I was closer with Charlotte, and then moments where I was closer with Ben, and then moments after that where I just wanted to be close to nobody. And I think that there were conflicts during those times, but our parents never involved themselves to the extent of saying, “well, now you have to say, sorry.”
I think with my younger brother, I had a lot of conflicts with him where it would sometimes involve tackling each other, and someone would be in tears, mostly just for the drama of it, not because we were hurt. Of course, if we were hurt, that would be something different. But we had really some intense moments, and I never felt like I was forced to be sorry about it. I think I felt sorry about it when I realized, oh my gosh, what just happened with my sweet little brother? And because I was given sort of that moment to realize what had happened and feel bad about it naturally, rather than just being told, “well, now you have to say, sorry,” and it feeling super surface level, I was able to realize the impact that I was having on this other person who was smaller than me.
Charlotte: Rather than being forced to save face just to soothe your mom. It can be terrifying as a parent to see your beautiful offspring mid tackle, but just trying to smooth it over and to force both parties to apologize or just to make nice is kind of…
Madeline: Yeah. I feel like at the end of the day, the core of it is that I got to choose whether I liked my little brother or not. And at the end of the day, because he was my little brother, and he was sweet and fun, and we had so much fun together, I chose to like him. And now I adore him, and I think he’s the coolest person ever. But there were many moments where it might’ve seemed like I didn’t, and my mom could have tried to sort of selfishly say, “say sorry to him, say sorry to him.” And that wouldn’t have been genuine, and that would have fostered some sort of resentment. Whereas, because I was able to have the moment of naturally coming to that conclusion of feeling bad about something mean that I did to him, I was able to actually forge a genuine relationship with him that is now great because it got to be organic.
Charlotte: Yeah. Next question.
Do we feel intrinsic motivation instead of doing things to seek approval?
Charlotte: This was something that, in school, friends would talk about, “oh, my parents are mad at me for getting a bad grade.” Or, “I have to do this because my parents.” or, “They’re helping me with my homework.”
This was just totally foreign to me. And finally, as I was in high school, I was just fully aware of the situation being very different in my household than it was with my classmates, because my parents didn’t know if I had homework or not. They didn’t ask me. They kind of let school be my own territory. And whether or not I wanted to do an assignment was completely up to me. They realized that there are enough forces in effect at school, in that landscape, that you’ll be punished for a bad grade, and you’ll be rewarded for a good one within that context.
Madeline: To be fair, we went to a school that was very academically… that was placed in high importance. And it’s not in all schools, but in the school that we went to, it was. And so there were already forces at play that would make you want to do well. But in terms of our personal experience, I totally agree. And I think that our younger brother would also agree. We’ve all been very self-motivated, and we all want to do well. But I agree that I don’t really know why, besides just, we know that we can, I think. I knew that I was never going to be punished or rewarded either. I mean, I had friends who were paid for good grades.
Charlotte: Yeah, my parents didn’t even get that excited if I did that well.
Madeline: No, they sort of matched our level of excitement. So if we said, “Shoot, I got this grade, and I’m not that happy with it.” Then they would be like, “Oh, that’s too bad. But it’s not a big deal.”
Charlotte: Because I think parents who would say, my kid is not doing well in this class, therefore I need to get them tutored in it. And they need tutoring because they need to get to this level. I think a lot of that comes from they feel like they’re failing if their child isn’t doing well. Maybe it’s just not the right time. Yeah. And I think forcing it, forcing it, forcing it is just another thing that probably breeds resentment between child and parent.
Madeline: Yeah. I think school is the most clear example of intrinsic motivation.
Charlotte: Yeah. And it’s something that can’t be taught.
Charlotte: That’s what I read about in a psych book once. “Can’t be taught.”
Madeline: All right. Next.
Someone said, they know it’s beneficial to limit screen time, but they’d love to hear the long-term benefits and our perspective on that.
I think the first thing that I’ll say is that screen time now is so different than screen time when we were kids — 20 years ago, I guess now, we were kids — because now screens are actively trying to take your child’s attention, whereas when we were kids, it was basically TV and movies. And then as we grew older, I think in a middle school-
Charlotte: Computers got in the mix.
Madeline: People started to get smartphones, and that’s something where the device is actively trying to get you to use it more. So it’s a lot more difficult to keep your kids away from it now. But that being said, it goes back to what we said earlier, which is that what is normal in your household is what kids see as normal. Our normal was we got to watch movies on the weekends, and we didn’t get to watch TV unless we were home sick. And so-
Charlotte: I still feel sick when I watch TV. If I watch TV during the day, there’s something psychosomatic — I become sick. So that’s conditioning.
Madeline: And I can’t just have TV on in the background because-
Charlotte: I must engage with it. Because it was not put in front of us as a distraction or as something that would keep our attention while our parents could… I’m assuming while we were watching a movie, they did get to have some much needed “them time.” But that was never posed as a means to an end. It was just a nice little treat that we got to have. But TV, because it was something that we got to watch so rarely, to this day I have to actively engage with. I can’t just tune it out. Instead of being desensitized by watching so much TV, I’d say I’m super sensitive to it, I guess.
Madeline: Which I don’t think is a bad thing, for the record. I think, at the time, did I wish that I could watch more? Maybe, because it felt like such a treat. It was like sugar in a way, in terms of, you want more because it’s exciting, and it tastes good. But it’s nice to keep that tasting good, and not for it to turn into this bland thing that doesn’t mean anything.
Charlotte: Of course, it’s harder and harder these days because we now have phones –
Madeline: Yeah. That’s what I’m saying. It’s like phones now, it’s totally a different game.
Charlotte: Which you can constantly engage with and is more personal and is a whole other realm. It’s a screen, but it’s something that you’re engaging with actively.
But as far as how little we watched TV as kids, I can say a longterm benefit is if I have a moment of pause, and I have nothing to do, the last thing I think of is turn on the television. It’s ultimately, maybe I end up doing something a little more productive or more introspective.
Madeline: Yeah. And in the moment too, if when we were bored as kids, we’d be running around the house going, “I’m bored, I’m bored, I’m bored.” And our mom would be like… “hope you figure that out, here’s some ideas if you want them, but none of them are going to be TV.” So we weren’t able to just pacify with TV. We had to figure out other ways of spending time, which I don’t know how that can possibly be a bad thing.
Charlotte: Yeah. Friends who had households that were really overstimulating… We would have friends who had the new… because there were also video games, which we didn’t have. We never had.
Madeline: Until we were older.
Charlotte: Yeah. I never had one though because I was the first one.
Madeline: Because you weren’t that interested anyways.
Charlotte: I asked for a Game Boy every Christmas for four years. It just never came from Santa. It never came. It was Santa skipped over that line every time.
Madeline: Well, I got a Game Boy when I was older because it was much more prevalent then, and I could make a three point argument why I ought to have one.
Charlotte: I would just sneak it on the list and never got it.
But friends who came and had these awesome involved video games at their house, when they would come to mine, they would be, I think the word was thrown around, “I’m bored.” They were bored because they were used to being so overstimulated. But once they got in the vibe of the Lansbury household, and I showed them our playhouse, and I started involving them in a really, really, really upbeat game of house, they wanted to come to my house all the time.
Madeline: Yeah. No, that’s true actually.
Charlotte: Because it’s actually more fun, and you can sustain it for longer. You don’t get bored.
Madeline: That’s true. I would go to my friend’s house who would have TV on all day, and I would get bored there. And there was nothing that I could do because my friend just wanted to keep watching TV. Whereas when they came to my house, we wouldn’t be allowed to do that. And so we’d have to play with dolls all day. And we could spend hours, and I would never get bored. So it’s just sort of a different-
Charlotte: It’s not a mind-numbing experience.
Madeline: Yeah, exactly.
Charlotte: Anyway, that was a long answer. One more.
Was your mom always unruffled?
Madeline: For the most part, I think. There’s never been a point where I feel like my mom lashed out at us for any reason, even if we were lashing out at her, which I think is what that comes down to really.
Charlotte: Or when we’re in a state of stress, becoming stressful also.
Madeline: Right. I’m sure that there was moments where she didn’t feel unruffled, but she never took it out on us, which I think is the important thing and the hard thing to do in that moment. But yeah, when we were having a tough moment, she would at least appear to me to be way calmer than I was when I was flailing around or whatever.
Madeline: And I think that that’s good. I do feel like even now, if I am having a really, really hard time, I do feel like my mom is that source of stability, and my dad as well. They’re both people who I can go to because, growing up, they were always the person who I could go to who would be calm and able to help me with an issue.
Charlotte: Yeah. And I think I’ve been able to model that in my relationships as an adult. They’ve always let us feel the feeling, throw the tantrum, not get all worked up if we were in this high state of arousal. And I, now, in my close relationships, I’m able to model, I suppose, an unruffled approach when it comes to trying to manage other people’s feelings.
Our parents, when we were in a higher arousal state, they would, I think, not become very flustered or would just let us sort of feel those feelings and get through this blackout state where we’re so worked up that we can’t behave like ourselves or say anything that we actually mean. And as adults, everyone has their own version of little tantrums. And I’m always hyper aware of the fact that when a person’s in that state, I can’t trust anything they say, and that it’s something that they have to go through in order to come out on the other side. And so I try to practice my mom’s unruffled approach in my adult life. It usually works.
Madeline: I think that’s all of the questions that we have ready to answer. So…
Charlotte: Thanks for joining us. This has been fun. Thanks for letting us be guests-
Madeline: Unruffled takeover.
Charlotte: … on our lovely mother’s podcast.
Madeline: Hopefully you liked us. Otherwise, you’ll never listen to another one again, but…
Charlotte: No hate mail.
Madeline: We probably missed stuff, but…
Charlotte: Yeah, you can always throw us a follow on Instagram. Just kidding. I think that’s it. Hope you all are having a wonderful start to the new year.
Madeline: Thanks for listening. Be safe, everybody.
Janet Lansbury: Thank you so much, Charlotte and Madeline. It means a lot to me that you were willing to do this.
I also want to say that I was pretty surprised by my daughters’ conviction and effusiveness in some of the points that they made. What surprised me the most, actually, was this last question. Am I unruffled? Was their mother unruffled? And honestly, I would have thought my daughters would have said something more to the effect of, “well, my mom’s human, like anyone else. And most of the time, she was calm, but she had her moments, like all parents do.”
But they didn’t. So what this tells me is a couple of comforting things.
One, that our children’s memories tend to be forgiving. And two, we don’t need to be calm all of the time. We don’t need to be perfect. If we can embrace a respectful unruffled approach the majority of the time, that’s all that matters. Parents don’t need to be on their game at every moment, especially if we repair, we come clean with our children and admit our mistakes.
We really can do this.
Please check out some of the other podcasts on my website, janetlansbury.com. They’re all indexed by subject and category. So you should be able to find whatever topic you might be interested in. And both of my books are available in paperback at Amazon: No Bad Kids, Toddler Discipline Without Shame and Elevating Child Care, A Guide To Respectful Parenting. You can also get them in e-book at Amazon, Apple, Google Play, or Barnes & Noble and in audio at audible.com. You can get a free audio copy of either book at Audible by following the link in the liner notes of this podcast.
Thanks so much for listening.