Do you ever feel like connecting with your kids is an uphill battle? Today's episode features an enlightening conversation with Rita Morris, a parent coach and psychotherapist, who sheds light on how we can strengthen our relationships with our children by meeting them where they're at and teaching them decision-making skills from a young age.
Rita discusses how to navigate differing parenting styles. She also talks about how working with a parenting coach can provide unique support for families facing challenges in communication and conflict resolution, especially with teenagers.
In this episode, Rita also explains how making small changes in language and behavior can positively shift family dynamics. Rita shares examples of how simple adjustments can create a healthier, more connected relationship between parents and children.
If you're looking to enhance communication, set boundaries, and understand your children better, buckle up for a game-changing episode with Rita Morris!
Rita has a Master's Degree in Education, is a Certified Life Coach, a Parent Coach, and a Licensed Mental Health Counselor. As such, she has been walking people through the trenches and struggles of life for the past 20 years!
As a coach, Rita’s greatest aspiration is to help her clients connect with themselves and their values, allowing them to parent from a place of authenticity and to reclaim the joy of parenting.
On the personal side, Rita has a passion for parenting and is the mother of two beautiful daughters. She’s a Pilates lover, audiobook junkie, an avid crafter, and I an even more avid shopper.
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How to Strengthen Parent-Child Connections and Raise Well Adjusted Kids
divorce, rita, karen, parent, child, connection, kids, co-parenting, podcast
Karen Covy, Rita Morris
Karen Covy Host00:10
Hello and welcome to Off the Fence, a podcast where we deconstruct difficult decision making so we can discover what keeps us stuck and, more importantly, how we can get unstuck and start making even tough decisions with confidence. I'm your host, Karen Covey, a former divorce lawyer, mediator and arbitrator, turned coach, author and entrepreneur. And now, without further ado, let's get on with the show.
With me today is Rita Morris, and Rita is a parent coach and psychotherapist. She has a master's degree in education, is a certified life coach and is a licensed mental health counselor. As such, she has been walking through people, through the trenches and struggles of life for the past 20 years. As a coach, Rita's greatest aspiration is to help her clients connect with themselves and their values, allowing them to parent from a place of authenticity and to reclaim the joy of parenting. On the personal side, Rita has a passion for parenting and is the mother of two beautiful daughters herself. She's a Pilates lover, audiobook junkie, an avid crafter and an even more avid shopper, which may explain why Rita and I get along so well. But anyways, Rita, welcome to the show.
Rita Morris Guest01:32
Thank you, Karen. I'm really delighted to be here today.
Karen Covy Host01:35
I am thrilled to have you on the podcast because I think what you have to say can help so many people, and I want to dive right into parent coaching. Can you explain to our listeners what is that?
Rita Morris Guest01:51
That's a really good question. Parent coaching a lot of what I do is co-parent coaching Helping parents who are somewhere along the spectrum of divorce establish healthy and constructive co-parenting relationships. We work on communication skills, we work on conflict resolution. We work on understanding different parenting styles. That's the co-parenting piece. The parent coaching, when it's just parent coaching, is really supporting parents and understanding their kids and strengthening their connection to their kids. Because parents come oftentimes, when they come to me, they're at a loss. They feel like their kids are drowning, their kids are disrespectful, their kids are in trouble and they just don't know what to do. I will say nine times out of 10, it's really about strengthening the relationship that you have with your kid. They're intuitive for people. People feel like they've punished their kids, but it's really not about that.
Karen Covy Host02:53
That is so, so interesting. It sounds. First of all, just to be clear, it sounds like you work with all kinds of parents who are in the middle of a divorce and parents who are not correct.
Rita Morris Guest03:05
Karen Covy Host03:07
Awesome. So when you're working with parents, you said that it's always about strengthening the relationship they have with their kids, i know, especially with teenagers. how do you do that?
Rita Morris Guest03:22
This is not an easy task, but really it's about meeting them where they're at. So I can't even tell you, Karen, with my own kids like how many stupid YouTube videos I've watched with them.
Karen Covy Host03:36
I can't understand.
Rita Morris Guest03:39
How many video games I've watched them play. It's meeting them where they're at, if my youngest daughter is into ceramics, so tell me about your ceramics project and just hearing from them what makes them tick. But it's really mostly about meeting them where they're at.
Karen Covy Host03:59
When you say meeting them where they're at, what do you mean? Can you explain that a little?
Rita Morris Guest04:04
Yes, what I mean is figuring out what interests them. Figuring out like if you have their friends over and you hear the conversations that they're having. Ask them about those conversations, ask them about their friends, ask them about the things that are important to them in the moment.
Karen Covy Host04:24
Ah. So what do you do, though, as a parent, if you don't approve? right, You ask them and you're like you know, and everything inside of you just clenches. I mean, what? what would be the best reaction or the best way to react so that you don't like smash the connection you're trying to encourage?
Rita Morris Guest04:45
And so I always like to say that neutrality is a parent's best weapon, right? Because typically, when we have that response, that's a fear-based response, right? So our kids are telling us something that is like freaking us out, and so we're afraid. We're afraid they're making bad decisions, we're afraid they're going to get hurt, they're afraid they're going to flunk out of school, whatever it is that's coming up for us, right?
So the best thing you can do, take a deep breath, sit back and listen. You can, like literally be dying inside, but the best thing you can really do is just take a deep breath and listen, hear them out, and then not in a like a luxury kind of way, but just to remind them, like, so you know, let's talk about some of the choices that you're making. Do you, do you think you're being saved? Do you think you're making good decisions? So much of life is about decision making, right? So teaching our kids from a very young age decision making skills and giving them the opportunity to make bad decisions will then teach them to make good ones.
Karen Covy Host05:55
You know, you are now speaking my language. I mean, that is all. that's what this podcast is all about is strengthening our ability to make better decisions as we go through life, because, personally, I think this is a skill, and it's a skill that most of us can continue to build on and nurture throughout our whole life. I don't know that you ever master it 100% in every context of life, right? So you know, you just mentioned something really interesting, though, which is letting your kids make poor decisions. You know, as a parent, how do you do that?
Rita Morris Guest06:36
That's a good question, because it's incredibly counterintuitive to do that right. And it's also really important to say there are particular places where we can let them make the bad decisions right, where they're going to be, for the most part, safe, right, where the risk is relatively low. But if they make bad decisions and we let them learn from the consequences of those decisions, that's what's going to enable them to make better decisions the next time around.
Karen Covy Host07:05
Yeah, and you know, I hope people hear that because I mean I've raised teenagers myself, right. So it's not just about letting them make the bad decision, but it's about letting them feel the consequences.
Rita Morris Guest07:22
That's the really important part, Karen is letting them feel the consequences.
Karen Covy Host07:27
That's really hard because I know, as a parent, like I've had to practically put a muzzle on myself sometimes and to not. You know, once you know my kids made decisions that I didn't agree with. However, they turned out just go well, I guess you learned, and not rushing to save them. Yeah, which is it's like that's your natural inclination is to try to save them.
Rita Morris Guest07:57
And that's what I mean when I say it's counterintuitive. And the self-talk that goes along with that is I'm saving them by giving them the opportunity to learn to save themselves.
Karen Covy Host08:10
So it's about taking what you're saying, what your voice, the voice in your head, is saying to you as a parent, and it sounds like it's reframing that voice to have a different message.
Rita Morris Guest08:23
That's exactly right. It's asking yourself the question of what am I trying to teach my kid here, right?
Karen Covy Host08:31
Rita Morris Guest08:32
It's trying to teach them to be an independent adult in the long run, and so it's thinking of like am I depriving my kid of the opportunity to learn from this mistake?
Karen Covy Host08:47
That is amazing. That is just. that's a beautiful way to look at it, because as parents, we all, I think, feel tremendous guilt. You know, if you didn't keep them from making a mistake, you didn't save them from this or do that for them or make their life easier or better 100%. Yes, and it's so hard to not do that.
Rita Morris Guest09:15
Mm-hmm. It's really hard and we live in a culture right now that is very much not about letting our kids do those things by any stretch of the imagination. You know we jump in.
Karen Covy Host09:28
Yeah, yeah, we do. And it's hard not to. Let me ask you too about another part of that thought process, if you will, which is it's not even just about us doing something that we don't feel like good parents because we're not saving our children, but then I think is there also an element in there about what will the neighbors think if I let my kid do this.
Rita Morris Guest09:55
Oh, 100%, 100%. And because nobody really does these days, it's that much harder to be that parent who does.
Karen Covy Host10:05
So what do you tell your clients when they're like you know and I don't even know if they can verbalize it, if they can admit yeah, I'm afraid of what you know, that the rest of the teachers and or the teachers or the rest of the parents and the neighborhood are gonna think how can you? what tools do you give them to help them deal with them?
Rita Morris Guest10:26
So oftentimes, Karen, what I ask them to do is to go back a little bit to when they were kids, because if you think about when we were growing up, things were so different, right?
Karen Covy Host10:35
Rita Morris Guest10:36
Come summertime. I would get up in the morning, I'd get dressed, I'd be able to play in my neighborhood nine o'clock in the morning. My mom had no idea where I was, what I was doing. I fought with the neighbor kids, we resolved our conflicts, we climbed trees. We did all these things right, and if you think about all of the skills that we learned being out there on our own, that's so important. And now our kids don't even have those opportunities. So I asked them to think about. Tell me about a time when you had a conflict with one of your kid friends and how did you work that out? You might have didn't butt in and sit you down and have a conversation with the two of you, but any stretch of the imagination, right Yeah. So it's, I think, going back a little bit to how did you learn these things?
Karen Covy Host11:27
That you know. That's so interesting because I'm from the same background, so to speak. I mean, my mother would open the door. It's like go play, yes, see, we're gone all day long. Uh-huh, you know, go play and don't get into trouble, like, don't do anything that I have to hear about.
Rita Morris Guest11:46
Right. yes, I have no idea what she did all day, but it wasn't paying attention to us. I would say the same, Karen. I have no idea what my mom did all day.
Karen Covy Host11:56
But here's the beauty I didn't care. When I was a kid I had my own world, my own friends. We'd run around the neighborhood. We would, you know, raid other people's gardens in the summer to have lunch. You know I mean not a good idea. I do not recommend that, but you know that was the way we lived. And we fell down, we got bruised, we got scraped up, we did whatever and somehow or other, most of us survived.
Rita Morris Guest12:24
Right, yes, we did, we did.
Karen Covy Host12:27
So, so interesting And I think that's important to understand that good decisions, the ability to make good decisions, comes from having made enough bad decisions to know how this one's gonna turn out.
Rita Morris Guest12:42
Absolutely and learning from the consequences of those bad decisions.
Karen Covy Host12:46
100%, I'd like to switch gears a little bit now, though, and go back into the co-parent aspect of coaching, right? So let's say you've got two parents and you're coaching the parents in the context of divorce or post-divorce, whichever and the bad decisions that you're worried about, you know, affecting your kids are not the ones your kids are making, but the ones your co-parent is making. How do you help people deal with that?
Rita Morris Guest13:17
So I would say there are two big pieces to that And one is, you know, consistently reminding people like this is about your kids. I often will say to parents you are no longer spouses, you are now in the business of raising your kids, right? So this is your work life here. You are in the business of raising your kids. So it's a consistent reminder of that And it's about asking them to really think about what's important here. Is it important? you know all of this the well, what I like to call the emotional muck that was their marriage, right? I really strongly encourage people you gotta work through that, you gotta find a therapist or you gotta find a coach or you gotta find some way to work through that emotional muck so that it doesn't get vomited all over your kids. So those are really the two pieces. It's the processing through and the remembering what's important.
Karen Covy Host14:18
That is so that you've just said gold. Right, you've given people gold here, because a lot of people they want to do what's best for their kids, they really want to put their kids first, but it's easy to forget, it's easy to get caught, as you put it, in the emotional muck. And it sounds like this could be advice, good parenting advice, whether people are getting a divorce or not, you know, because sometimes parents have different views of parenting. So what would you say to the two parents who just fundamentally have different parenting styles?
Rita Morris Guest15:00
So that's I do in my co-parent coaching. I have a sort of eight-step process that I work people through and one of the steps is understanding different parenting styles and understanding the pros and cons of each parenting style, so that we can come to see that, you know, kids can benefit from different parenting styles. There are pros and cons to all of them. So it's really coming to for people to really understand okay, this is not the way that your parenting is not about me, it's about this is your parenting style.
Karen Covy Host15:33
Interesting. And how do you deal with that, though? Because I've seen so many times that one parent it's not. They don't. It's not just that their other parent has a different style. They see the choices that the other parent is making as bad for their children, harmful to their children. How do you and if you look at it, you kind of take yourself out of the situation and look at it objectively. It's not necessarily dangerous, it's just maybe the parents have different values. They definitely have different parenting styles.
How do you as a parent whether you're in a divorce, getting a divorce, already divorced or still married how do you resolve those kinds of differences in values, in parenting styles, in a way that doesn't like have you have your heart in your throat when your kids are with your, their other parent?
Rita Morris Guest16:28
So I always ask parents to let's look at the big picture here. You know, are we talking about now you're, different, you have different bedtimes in different homes, you know, are we talking about 30 minutes? Are we talking about three hours? Like, let's talk about what are the fundamentals that kids need, you know. So, are your kids safe? Are they okay? maybe with your ex they're eating a little more junk food than you would like, but in the scheme of life, like, is that going to kill them? No, right, are they getting more fruits and vegetables when they're with you? Yes, so does it all balance out Absolutely? And I think it's like let's look at the big picture and let's assess what's safe and what's not, what's safe and what's different, because those are really different things.
Karen Covy Host17:12
Right, I’m safe and different are two entirely different things 100% And I like the way you've sort of framed that for people, because I think in our society today people are instantly going to jump into the. That's not safe And I'm not good for my child, right? And you know how do you work with parents so that they can start to accept that different doesn't necessarily mean unsafe or dangerous?
Rita Morris Guest17:44
I think, when they come to understand, okay, this is different than the way that I do it, but it's not unsafe. Like, okay, eating a little more junk food, it's not ideal, but you know it's fine, like nobody's going to die from eating, you know, 10 more potato chips than I would get. You know, once they really come to really understand and that's what I will say to people ask yourself the question do you feel like this is unsafe or do you feel like this is different? And then, to go a little deeper, unsafe on what level? Because, you know, go back to the junk food thing again. Right, it's not a good thing for any of us to eat too much junk food, but in the scheme of life, you know, let's put this on a scale.
Karen Covy Host18:27
Yeah, all I can say is, if I was going to die from having eaten junk food as a kid,I would not have made it to where I am today.
Rita Morris Guest18:35
Neither would I, neither would I.
Karen Covy Host18:38
You know, but that's I think it's. I like your focus on keeping the big picture in mind and looking at that, looking at this in terms of levels of you know, is this just? is it dangerous? Is it? how dangerous is it? Is it unsafe? Is it different? Is it? what is it? And then, how do you, what tools do you give parents to help them have the discussion about this? Because I think that's where a lot of parents get sort of off track, because the discussion becomes an argument, becomes a. Nothing's resolved becomes a. You know, you spiral into a pattern that isn't helpful for anyone.
Rita Morris Guest19:22
So I asked people to think about a couple of things. One is the price of peace. Like is it? it's almost like when you're raising your kids, like is this a battle you want to take on Right? Is this worth it to you? And if it is okay, then I think the goal is to help the other person understand why this is particularly important to you. So again, I’ll go back to the junk food thing. If in your family you have a history of obesity or cancer, so then you go to your other, your co parent, and you say So here's why this is really important to me, because a co parent's understanding of it could be Oh, you're just trying to control me. You just, you think I'm a bad parent, you're just trying to control me. So it's the understanding of the why behind the behavior.
Karen Covy Host20:12
That is so, so important and so true, because most of the time I mean we're acting and reacting from our own patterns, our own pasts, our own training and upbringing and all the things right, and it makes sense to us because we lived our life.
Rita Morris Guest20:31
Karen Covy Host20:32
What we forget is that to another person they didn't live our life.
Rita Morris Guest20:37
They don't get it Right. They don't get it and unless we sticks help them get it, they won't.
Karen Covy Host20:44
Right And but so often we get locked in the argument or the thing that, whatever it is that the is the immediate problem, and it's not until you get underneath that problem that you start to be able to solve it actually Absolutely, and that's so important for parents to hear, I you know. There's one thing, though, I wanted to talk to you about. I have a question about parent coaching versus family therapy. I know, I know they're very different things, but can you explain how that's different? Like, if a parent is in a situation where the family dynamic just isn't working. Their kids are maybe teenagers and not responding well, acting out, blah, blah, blah. How do they know if they need family therapy or if they need parent coaching?
Rita Morris Guest21:35
So I would say there is a. There is, of course, the fundamental difference between coaching and therapy, right? So as a coach, I see part of my role is to ask the questions, to help people to come to understand the why. So if, when we get to the why, there's an underlying psychological issue that's causing you more psychological issues, then I'm going to say that's probably a piece that you need to work out with a therapist. So if you know the junk food thing again, if you know that you have family history of obesity and you know cancer and those things, and so you're worried about the junk food, given that, and that anxiety level becomes so intolerable to you, now you need to go see a mental health professional to help you work through that anxiety that that's so interesting.
Karen Covy Host22:28
So it's, and it that's individual therapy. At what point, like, how do people assess if their family relationship is just so toxic that it's that family relationship that needs maybe family therapy? you know, like something bigger, right Versus individual?
Rita Morris Guest22:49
So it's a really good question, Karen, and I think we often go to family therapy when what we really need is a lot of family coaching, because what we have found is that if we make some just really oftentimes very small shifts in language or behavior, the entire family dynamic can switch.
Karen Covy Host23:13
Tell me about that. What kinds of changes especially the small ones, you know, things that are very doable for people what kind of changes in their language or their behavior not anyone else's but them can shift the family dynamic?
Rita Morris Guest23:28
So I had this one family that I was working with. They had a high school son and he was super smart kid, struggled with ADHD and anxiety And you know, as kids with ADHD often do, was a big procrastinator in terms of, like, getting his homework done and stuff His dad, would you know, come home from work, go into his room, is your homework done? Is your homework done? You need to get your ass off the computer and get your homework done. Do it now, do it now.
And of course, the kid at that point is like no, I like no, because now you've made me mad. You've basically attacked me. You've pretty much accused me of not doing my homework. You don't know anything about what's happening for me. So if you say, go in, do a check in, tell me how you are, tell me about your homework, is your homework done? What's your plan for getting your homework done? Now you have a kid who's more than willing to say yeah, I’m gonna get off my computer after this game and get my homework done. That's my plan. Right? It's a whole different scenario as opposed to you need to do it and you need to do it now, to which no teenager is gonna respond well.
Karen Covy Host24:41
Yeah, that's true, no teacher that I've ever met. But that's so interesting because so many times people come to me and they say they don't understand. They want the other person to change, they want the other parent to change, the kid to change. there's something they're just like. this has nothing to do with me, it's them.
Rita Morris Guest25:07
And that I would say, Karen, is one of the hardest parts of the work that I do is getting people to understand, like you don't actually have a bad kid. We have a kid who's stuck in a situation where we just need to shift some dynamics. And actually that was one of the things that really got me, because I am also licensed as a mental health counselor and I did a lot of therapy and I worked with a lot of teenagers and I would so often find myself so frustrated. Here's your parent coming and dropping your kid off at my office for an hour a week, thinking my kid is the problem, when actually it's a dynamic problem. And I would think if you would just sit in my office with your kid for this hour, things could be so different. And that was what really got me started on the parent coaching.
Karen Covy Host25:56
Wow, that's really, that's really interesting. So now it seems like now you've shifted your work so that you're really kind of dealing with the root cause of the problem. Yes, yes, which no one, no parent, wants to admit that it's them. And I get that I'm a parent.
Rita Morris Guest26:16
Mm-hmm. But sometimes it's you, sometimes it is us, absolutely yes, and it's okay. We all make mistakes as parents. Yeah, you know.
Karen Covy Host26:30
Yeah, that's another thing that I think it's really important for parents to hear, because I think most of us are terrified that we're going to do something that will forever screw our kid up Like there's 100%. So how do you give yourself permission to fail when failing means you're feeling your kid? I mean, that's just deep.
Rita Morris Guest26:56
Well. So it sort of really becomes a question of you know, what do you do with the failure? You know I had this. I'll give you a really powerful example here, Karen, from my own life.
I had this situation with my son. I don't even remember what the deal was, but we got into some disagreement and he ended up getting really angry with me and really was like we don't even know how you can call yourself a parent coach. You're a terrible parent. You know the whole teenage thing, right? Oh my gosh. And so that really was a big blow to me. And then so I, you know, was like okay, we need to, we need a little space here. So I walked away and about an hour later he came to me and he said that was really mean. I said it only because I wanted to hurt you.
And this is the funny part. And even though it is true that you've made a lot of mistakes in raising me, i know that every one of those mistakes was made with love. And I was like, yes, when you get to be a parent, you, you know, we'll see you do that and not make any mistakes. But just the recognition of like I know that you made these mistakes because you're human and I know that you love me. And they all came from a place of love was huge.
Karen Covy Host28:15
That is huge. That is I mean, and I love he's still not letting you off the hook.
Rita Morris Guest28:21
He's not letting me off the hook.
Karen Covy Host28:24
But you know, I know you love me, so we're, we're good. We're good, yeah, and I think fundamentally, at the end of the day, for all of the people I know who are parents, whether you know, irrespective of divorce, you know, just in life, anyone who's a parent isn't that what it's all about? Just if you're, if your kid can feel like I know he, my parents, love me, you know, that's the most powerful thing Yeah, really is.
Rita Morris Guest28:57
And also I would say, never underestimate the power of an apology. It's okay for you to go to your kid and say you know what I messed up? I shouldn't have said or done X, Y and Z, and I'm really sorry.
Karen Covy Host29:12
Rita Morris Guest29:13
And hear your kid out. Let them tell you yeah, you know what? I'm really mad.
Karen Covy Host29:17
Yeah And that and that's hard to hear because it's it feels maybe it is a personal attack on you. You didn't do. You did this to me or that to me and part of it may be totally unjustified. It's just your child sees things from their perspective, not yours.
Rita Morris Guest29:37
Karen Covy Host29:38
Yes, but to give them the opportunity in the space where you just I think it's important and you tell me if I'm wrong that you're not defending, you're not getting into an argument with them, you're just listening.
Rita Morris Guest29:52
Hearing and validating. It's so powerful Yeah.
Karen Covy Host29:56
Yes, that that's beautiful and it's. I think that's. There's no better place to wrap this up and end it then with that to have your kids feel loved, to feel validated, even though you are going to make mistakes as a parent, or they'll think you made mistakes, right? Yes, absolutely. May not be objectively true, but you know it's. It's a beautiful gift.
Rita Morris Guest30:22
It really is.
Karen Covy Host30:25
So, Rita, thank you for the gift of having been here. This has been such a great conversation. People tell our listeners where they can find you.
Rita Morris Guest30:34
So first I want to say, Karen, thank you so much for having me. This was really, this was a wonderful conversation. I would love for people to visit my website. It's www.apparentspath.com. You can also find me on social media at the same A Parents Path, both on Facebook and on Instagram.
Karen Covy Host30:53
That's awesome, Rita. Thank you again for being here. I have thoroughly enjoyed this conversation Me too, and for those of you out there listening, if you enjoyed this podcast, if you liked the video, give it a thumbs up, like subscribe, and I look forward to talking to you again on the next episode.