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#103 Parenting Outside the Lines with Guest, Meghan Leahy

Season #2

In this week's episode of The 3D Parent Podcast, we welcome Meghan Leahy, noted parenting columnist for The Washington Post and author of the book, Parenting Outside the Lines. Meghan's columns resonate with readers through their insightful, practical advice on parenting. This episode offers a glimpse into her motivations for pursuing a career as a parent coach and columnist, along with key moments that shaped her approach to parental guidance.

We will discuss the significant challenges that today’s parents encounter, particularly in fostering deeper connections with their children and managing expectations for acknowledgment and appreciation.

Join us for a thoughtful conversation with Meghan Leahy, as we explore effective strategies for navigating the complexities of parenthood.

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Connect with Meghan:

Website: Meghan Leahy Parent Coach

Facebook: Meghan Leahy Parent Coach

Book: Meghan Leahy - Parenting Outside the Lines

Podcast: Meghan’s Substack | Meghan Leahy | Substack



Today, we're stepping "outside the lines” with special guest, Meghan Leahy, a multifaceted individual juggling the roles of parent, writer, coach, and lover of reality TV. Meghan brings a wealth of experience to the table as a parent to three children, two dogs, and a devoted partner of 23 years. With a diverse background encompassing numerous degrees, certifications, and trainings, Meghan humbly acknowledges that the more she learns, the less she feels she knows. She wears many hats, including that of a parent coach, author of the insightful book "Parenting Outside the Lines," and a parenting columnist at The Washington Post. She's also deeply rooted in Zen Buddhism and is often found soaking up the sun on a beach.

Meghan Leahy’s  journey into the world of parenting coaching and writing is a tale of transformation, fueled by a deep understanding of the struggles many families face. As she candidly shares, she wasn't the model child; in fact, she was the kid who challenged every behavioral norm in the book. For her parents, navigating her adolescence was akin to a high-wire act without a safety net.

It's this firsthand experience of being the impossible kid to parent that fuels Meghan's passion for supporting parents today. She understands the frustration, the exhaustion, and the overwhelming love that accompanies raising a challenging child. And it's this empathy that forms the foundation of her coaching philosophy.

But Meghan's journey wasn't a straight path from rebellious teenager to parenting expert. She stumbled into teaching after college, only to realize that her penchant for honesty and authenticity didn't always align with the rigid structures of academia. Yet, it was during her time as a teacher that she discovered her gift for connecting with young people on a deeper level.

Her journey took a decisive turn when students began confiding in her about sensitive topics like relationships and sexuality. Meghan realized that she needed more than just a teaching degree to support these kids effectively. So, she pursued further education, earning a counseling degree from Johns Hopkins University.

Armed with a newfound understanding of family dynamics and human behavior, Meghan embarked on a journey of self-discovery. She attended parenting classes, volunteered in her community, and eventually became a certified parenting coach. And it's this openness to the organic flow of life that defines Meghan's approach to parenting and coaching. She doesn't believe in one-size-fits-all solutions or cookie-cutter advice. Instead, she encourages parents to trust their intuition, embrace the messiness of parenthood, and stay open to the unexpected twists and turns along the way.

In her column for the Washington Post and her book, "Parenting Outside the Lines," Meghan brings this same spirit of authenticity and openness to her writing. She tackles tough questions with compassion and offers insights that challenge conventional wisdom. Her responses are refreshingly unpredictable, reflecting her belief that there's no single right answer when it comes to parenting.

Meghan's Take on the Biggest Obstacles Modern Parents Encounter in Building Meaningful Connections with their Children:

In today's fast-paced world, parenting has become a high-stakes balancing act, with challenges that seem to multiply by the day. From juggling work demands to managing screen time battles, modern parents are facing obstacles that previous generations could hardly imagine. But what are the biggest obstacles that parents face today, and how do they impact our ability to forge meaningful connections with our children?

According to Meghan, one of the biggest obstacles facing parents today is the lack of support systems. In our society, we're bombarded with messages about what it means to be a good parent, yet we're provided with scant resources and support once the baby arrives. From inadequate childcare options to a lack of community networks, parents are often left feeling isolated and overwhelmed.

But perhaps the biggest hurdle of all, in Meghan's opinion, is the pressure to conform to a singular, idealized version of parenting, often perpetuated by folks writing, talking, and sharing on social media. In a country as diverse as ours, with myriad cultures, religions, and belief systems, there's no one-size-fits-all approach to raising children. Yet, we're bombarded with conflicting advice and judgments, leaving us feeling like we're constantly falling short.

Adding fuel to the fire are the systemic problems that plague our society, from unworkable work-life balances to racism to the ever-present pull of technology. As Meghan observes, we live in a world where our kids are simultaneously expected to excel academically while being bombarded with screens from dawn till dusk. It's a recipe for confusion and frustration, with parents caught in the crossfire. But amidst these challenges, Meghan urges parents to resist the pressure to conform to unrealistic standards and instead focus on what truly matters: nurturing meaningful connections with their children. 

In the ever-evolving landscape of parenting, one of the most profound lessons we can learn is the power of losing our balance. It may sound counterintuitive, but as Meghan Lahey eloquently puts it, feeling unsure is not a sign of weakness; it's a sign that you're actively engaged in the act of parenting.

Take, for instance, Meghan’s analogy of a tree pose in yoga—a moment of precarious balance where the only certainty is that you will inevitably fall. But what if falling out of the pose was not seen as a failure, but rather an opportunity for growth? This is the essence of parenting outside the lines: embracing uncertainty, navigating challenges with grace, and finding wisdom in moments of vulnerability.

In her book, Meghan explores the idea that parenting is not about having all the answers or achieving perfect outcomes. Rather, it's about cultivating a mindset of curiosity, resilience, and compassion. It's about recognizing that parenting is messy, unpredictable, and profoundly human. And in those moments when we feel most uncertain, we have an opportunity to tap into our intuition and wisdom, rather than seeking external validation or quick fixes.

This perspective challenges the prevailing notion that every misstep or moment of uncertainty is a failure. Instead, Meghan encourages parents to approach parenting with a sense of openness and humility, recognizing that there is no one "right" way to raise a child. It's about embracing the journey, with all its twists and turns, and trusting in our ability to navigate the challenges as they arise.

Part of this journey involves redefining our definitions of “emergencies” in parenting. In a world where every missed homework assignment or skipped practice feels like a crisis, Meghan reminds us to prioritize what truly matters. Drawing on Ross Green's model of problem-solving, she encourages parents to discern between genuine emergencies and everyday challenges that can be addressed with patience, compassion, and collaboration.

And perhaps most importantly, Meghan emphasizes the importance of resilience and self-compassion in the parenting journey. She acknowledges that we will inevitably make mistakes, but it's how we respond to those mistakes that matters most.

How do we let go of a desire for gratitude and validation from our children?

In our conversation, we touched upon the subtle yet significant desire we parents can have for appreciation and gratitude from our children. As parents, we pour our hearts and souls into nurturing our children, from preparing meals to chauffeuring them around town. Yet, when our efforts seem unnoticed or unappreciated, it can stir up feelings of resentment and frustration. But as Meghan so aptly puts it, perhaps we're seeking something that isn't ours to claim. Our children, especially in today's fast-paced world, may not express gratitude in the ways we expect. They're engrossed in their own worlds, navigating the complexities of growing up. And while it's natural to desire validation, pinning our happiness as parents on our children's gratitude sets us up for disappointment. 

So, how do we let go of this need? Meghan suggests a radical idea: embracing resentments. Yes, you heard that right. Resentments can be powerful indicators that something's not right in our parent-child dynamic. They're like alarm bells ringing, telling us to pay attention and make some changes. So, if you find yourself stewing in resentment because your kids don't seem to appreciate all that you do for them, don't ignore it. Meghan encourages us to write it down, get it out, and let yourself feel it. Then, once you've released some of that pent-up frustration, it's time to dig a little deeper.

Ask yourself: why does this bother me so much? Is it because of something from my own childhood? Is it because I'm not taking care of myself enough? Is it because I'm expecting too much from my kids?

And then, once you've identified the root cause, it's time to take action. Maybe it means setting clearer boundaries with your kids and teaching them the value of pitching in more around the house or getting a job . Maybe it means prioritizing self-care so that you're not constantly running on empty. Maybe it means reevaluating your own expectations and letting go of the need for validation.

Do No Harm: what does Meghan mean by this and why is it a powerful choice?

In parenting, there's one guiding principle that stands out: do no harm. It's a mantra borrowed from the medical field, a reminder that sometimes, inaction speaks louder than action. I use this phrase in my parenting and in my work with clients as a parent coach. Meghan uses this mantra as well in her work so I wanted to ask about her perspective. 

So, I asked Meghan what "do no harm" means to her in the realm of parenting. Meghan delved into the idea that doing no harm isn't about doing nothing at all—it's about making active choices that prioritize emotional safety for both parent and child. Meghan also brought up this cool analogy with the vagus nerve and our nervous system. Basically, when we're in a state of non-reaction, it's because we feel safe. We're like, "Hey, I've got this," instead of shutting down or freaking out. It's about feeling secure enough to stay present, even when things get tough. Meghan emphasized that choosing emotional safety, even if it means slowing down and being patient with ourselves and our children, is a big deal.

She talked about how parenting nowadays often feels like speaking a second language. We're trying to learn this whole new way of doing things, one that's more introspective and compassionate. And let's be real, that's not how most of us were raised. It's like we're navigating uncharted territory, trying to find our way without a map.

Meghan's message really hits home when she talks about the invisible victories of parenting. You know, those moments when you manage to keep your cool instead of losing it, or when you choose understanding over judgment. It's not flashy or glamorous, but it's so important. She hopes that everyone has someone in their corner, cheering them on for these quiet wins, because they're just as meaningful as the big achievements. 


As we wrap up this enlightening episode overview, I want to take a moment to express my gratitude. Meghan Leahy has graced us with her wisdom and insights on podcast, and I couldn't be more thankful for her time and perspective. Now, if you're as captivated by Meghan's insights as I am and you want to continue learning from her, I encourage you to connect with her on social media and buy her book. You can follow her on her socials by clicking the links above in these show notes. Take care, and we'll catch you on the next episode of The 3D Parent Podcast!