ZEN PARENTING: Caring for Ourselves and Our Children in an Unpredictable World

Therapist, Yoga, Mother of three, and co-host of the top-ranked podcast: Zen Parenting, Cathy Cassani Adams supports parents in navigating through the inevitable confusion, power struggles, and often unforeseen meltdowns that come with the job.

Cathy’s new book, Zen Parenting: Caring for Ourselves and Our Children in an Unpredictable World’ was inspired by the issues that came up for her family and her listeners during the pandemic.

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Q & A with Cathy Cassani Adams

Why did you start the podcast? 

I self-published a book called The Self-Aware Parent back in 2009, and while doing an interview about the book, the host of the show suggested I launch a podcast – but she also insisted that I find a good co-host to make the discussions more interesting and meaningful. My husband and I have always talked incessantly about everything, from personal growth to politics, to pop culture, and while we don’t agree on everything, we have a respectful and reflective discourse filled with learning and humour. I knew we could create a great show, so we launched 11 years ago and have yet to run out of things to discuss.

“If we accept and practice feeling our emotions, we give our kids permission to do the same.”

Zen Parenting: Caring for Ourselves and Our Children in an Unpredictable World’ – Cathy Cassani Adams

In what ways have you explored limiting gender roles/expectations? 

As an advocate and therapist for women and girls my whole professional career, and being married to a man who coaches men and runs a national men’s group, we live and breathe this conversation. As we raise our three daughters, we constantly confront our own gendered experiences, forcing us to speak up or take the time to listen. 

For example, about six months after my daughter was born, I realized that when I left the house, I either took my daughter with me or did what felt like “asking permission” for my husband to watch her. I would see my husband come and go as he pleased; his lifestyle and decision-making hadn’t changed much at all, but I had limited freedom and was tasked with asking for help. We now refer to this experience as the “Target story” because it was our first big argument about the differences between our expectations as parents. I remember saying over and over again, “Why do I have to ask to go to Target, and you go to Target whenever you want?” 

The Target story became the metaphor for work, life, body changes, pressure, decision making, and expectations—I could have just as easily said, “Why has my life changed completely in every possible way, but you are still doing all the same things?” This cracked open a conversation that continues to this day: What are the messages and programming that created this inequality when it comes to parenting? How did we so easily fall into these gender-specific patterns when prior to having children we felt like equals? 

Sympathy says, “I’m sorry that happened to you-but that’s not me.” Empathy says, “I may not know your exact situation, but I’ve felt like you before and I’m here to listen.”

Zen Parenting: Caring for Ourselves and Our Children in an Unpredictable World’ – Cathy Cassani Adams

During difficult times like the pandemic, it’s hard to keep going and keep our hearts open. How do we deal with pain, but also stay open to love?

When people experience pain, they tend to choose one of two paths: protect the heart at all costs by shutting out risky emotional experiences or keep the heart open and accept that love is a risk. While protecting the heart seems simplest or most logical, it actually creates more pain going forward, keeping us disconnected from ourselves and others, hurting our relationships and our ability to offer and receive love. 

The depth of joy and happiness we are able to experience is in direct proportion to the amount of open-heartedness we can endure. The best feelings in life come from our willingness to take risks; breakups, death, loss, and betrayal are all possible outcomes of great love. They all began with an openhearted willingness, with an awareness that our greatest joys can lead to our greatest suffering. 

Love requires us to risk our hearts, and the more love we offer, the more vulnerable we’ll feel. Yet the inability to risk being vulnerable is the beginning of the end for our relationships. Being vulnerable is about being direct and honest about how we feel, by sharing who we are and what we need. While some still associate vulnerability with weakness, vulnerability is actually the ultimate demonstration of strength and bravery, a willingness to offer our true selves rather than a muted or fake version of who we think we’re supposed to be. 

“Our intentions might be good, but if the words we choose create a negative impact, then our good intentions aren’t enough.” 

Zen Parenting: Caring for Ourselves and Our Children in an Unpredictable World’ – Cathy Cassani Adams

It can be so difficult to communicate with our kids. How do we stay connected and keep the lines of communication open?

If our children aren’t engaging or they tell us that our words hurt them, it’s an invitation to be creative about how we communicate. What we have done in the past or what we are doing right now isn’t working, so we may need to find new ways to talk.

When my oldest was little, she told me that she didn’t like telling me difficult things because I appeared disappointed when I listened and sounded disappointed when I talked. I wanted to argue the fact that I was not disappointed, but she was sharing her experience, so I decided to listen and get creative. 

We decided that when she wanted to tell me something difficult, she would write to me in a notebook and leave it on my bed. I would write back, and then, if necessary, we would continue to discuss it face-to-face. She felt more comfortable discussing it once the difficult things had been written and read, because then my face didn’t give away so many feelings. 

We have continued to use this method throughout her life, and she has shared some of her most difficult moments with me in writing. I found that this was helpful for both of us because I was able to thoughtfully consider a response, keeping our communication healthy and respectful. My daughter has also used writing to share her gratitude and love, writing me lovely cards on the important holidays. 

With all my daughters, I have found that text messages, Post-it notes on their doors, or even Snapchat posts have been effective ways to communicate our love and challenges. With my college students, I have found that some prefer face-to-face discussions, and some prefer long emails. Instead of insisting on one way to communicate, I insist on finding the most helpful and supportive way to communicate. This has created trusting relationships with people I care about, where what we say and how we say it can both be considered. 

“Sometimes the only thing that makes sense is deviating from the structured plan and doing what’s right in the moment, especially if it’s about offering more compassion, giving more hugs, listening more intently, or taking a breath before doing the next thing.”

Zen Parenting: Caring for Ourselves and Our Children in an Unpredictable World’ – Cathy Cassani Adams

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