In today’s episode, we have a very special guest; my sister, Emma Holdsworth, who is a family counselor, a parenting and breastfeeding educator, and postpartum guide with 20 years of experience working with families. If you’re a Klub member, you might be familiar with Emma’s trainings and Facebook lives that she did with us at Natural Super Kids.
As a mum of two who is passionate about supporting pregnant mums and new parent to feel empowered to become the parents they truly want to be, Emma talks about how unpacking your own relationship patterns can make you a better parent. She delves deeper into this as she discusses:
- How your past relationship patterns and inner child plays a role in parenting.
- How all of our kids’ behaviour and emotions are a form of communication.
- Looking back at our own childhood to uncover our relationship patterns that are affecting our parenting and so much more!
- Connect with Emma on Instagram
- Check out the Roots of Motherhood website here
- Get on the waitlist for the Natural Super Kids KLUB
We have another very special guest on the podcast today who I’m dying to introduce you to!
She is near and dear to me. It is my sister, Emma Holdsworth. She’s a family counselor. Today, we are going to be talking about how unpacking your relationship patterns makes you a better parent. If you’ve been following Natural Super Kids for a little while or if you’re a Klub member, you might already know Emma. She’s done some trainings in the Klub for us and I’ve done some lives and things with her in the past. Her work really complements what we do here at Natural Super Kids. So I’m excited to have her on the podcast as our second ever guest.
Let me tell you a little bit about Emma. She’s my youngest sister. She is just 18 months younger than me and she’s also a mother of two. Emma’s a family counselor, a parenting and breastfeeding educator. And postpartum guide with 20 years experience working with families. She’s passionate about supporting pregnant and new parents to feel empowered to become the parents they truly want to be. Emma supports parents to explore the deeper aspects of themselves. Understand how their childhood experiences, past relationships, values and beliefs will influence their parenting experience. And I know personally, I just feel so blessed to have her to call on. To learn from when it comes to parenting. So, let’s meet Emma!
Jess: Welcome to the podcast, Emma. It’s great to have you here. Can you start by telling us a little bit about yourself and your business?
Emma: Sure. I’m Emma Holdsworth. I have a counseling practice in Southern Adelaide called Tree House Family Counseling. More recently, I’ve been really focused on what I’m calling The Roots of Motherhood Services. In the Roots of Motherhood Services, my focus is on supporting expectant parents. Parents to be but also parents, so mums and mums-to-be. To really have a look at how their past is impacting on their parenting. Uncovering the roots of their own story so that they can become the parent that they truly want to be.
Jess: Okay, awesome! So today, I know there’s so many things that we could talk about. But I’d really love to focus on how unpacking your own relationship patterns can make you a better parent. We were talking off air before about how you know, kids are maybe not behaving in the way that we would like. Or they’re having struggles, we immediately kind of seek help for our children. I know one of the big things in your approach is to work with the parents. So I think that really fits in with this unpacking our own relationship patterns and how that can make us a better parent. Can you maybe just talk to that for a little bit?
Emma: Yeah, so we all come into parenting with a whole range of crap. A whole range of stuff from our own past. Not just from our childhoods but from all the relationships that we’ve had throughout our lives. That might be intimate partner relationships, or could even be relationships with a boss or a colleague or friendships. When I talk about relationship patterns, what I’m talking about is those things that we notice that continue to show up in the way that we relate to other people. In the way that we are in relationship to others. Predominantly, those relationship patterns stem from or like begin to be formed in our very earliest relationships. Our relationships with our own parents.
Emma: So in my mind, when we look at things that are going on with our children, it can be really helpful to look at what’s showing up in that for us. If our child is really struggling with managing their anger, for example. They’re really outwardly expressing very loudly their anger and their frustration, and there might be something in that for us. For example, we might have grown up in a household where anger wasn’t an acceptable emotion where we weren’t allowed to be angry.
Emma: Or we might have grown up in the opposite where anger was how things were dealt with in our parents’ relationship with each other, for example. So that’s going to then make it really difficult for us to be able to hold space for our kids’ anger in that moment. When I talk about that idea of unpacking your own relationship patterns, and why that will make you a better parent and focusing on the parents… It’s not saying, you know, the parents are bad or wrong, and…
Jess: Or responsible…
Emma: Or responsible, exactly. For things that are showing up in their kids. But really, when we think about what children need to be able to manage, they need support from their parents. They need their parents to be able to feel well enough in themselves and have enough space in their support bucket (I guess we could call it). To be able to look at their child’s anger with curiosity, and a sense of compassion for their child and look at, ‘Okay, so what’s my child trying to tell me?’ You know, I believe that all behaviour and emotion is communication in kids. They don’t have the ability to articulate in words often how it is they’re feeling.
Emma: When we think that the behaviour is communication, and children, in general, are just always trying to communicate their needs to us. If we’re in a better place because we’ve began to unpack what those relationship patterns. And what our earliest relationship with our own parents has created in us. Core beliefs, the things we’ve come to believe about ourselves in childhood are the stories that we’ve made up about ourselves. If we can start to unpack some of that stuff, then we’re going to be in a much better position to be able to support our kids who are going through either the same thing we went through.
Emma: Or the opposite of what we went through because we’re understanding the deeper aspects of that for ourselves. Most of what we create then within ourselves, a lot more space to be able to look at those things for our children with curiosity and compassion.
Jess: Yes, so powerful. And I think even just that reminder, that behaviour, all of our kids’ behaviour is communication. If we can just step back and remember that more often. I mean, I’ve heard you talk about that before but I think we need that constant reminder. But whatever our children are sort of exhibiting in their behaviours, they are just trying to communicate something with us. The other thing that came up when you were just speaking is, we’ve all got those friends that their children might act in a certain way.
Jess: And we kind of see it and think, ‘Oh, gosh, I just couldn’t cope with that.’ Or even the opposite like that maybe our friend reacts in a certain way that we think is odd. That was a bit of an overreaction in our view to that particular behaviour. And that comes back to the fact that whatever the kid’s behaviour is, if it’s problematic for us or it’s triggering something in us, I guess, is what I’m sort of trying to say. Just being aware of that is super important.
Jess: We’ve talked before about, you know, certain ages. When our kids are at a particular age, exhibiting a certain behaviour or we’re getting frustrated with something. It can be helpful to look back at what our childhood was like, or what was happening for us at that age. Can you talk a bit about that?
Emma: Yeah. I think, I find when I work with parents and that’s one of the first questions that I ask them when they come to me. They might say, ‘I’m really struggling with my 5-year-old. Like, it’s been really easy up to this point. But just this last few months, I’ve found that I’m really struggling to manage their big behaviours. Or whatever it is that’s going on for them.’ And when I asked parents to tell me a little bit about what life was like for them at age, it’s often then that they can have some of those aha moments about. Why is this so infuriating for me, this particular behaviour.
Emma: Because when they say ‘Oh, it’s been really easy up until now’, it’s not like another parent might not have seen those earlier behaviours as really easy. It’s just that they haven’t triggered something in us, which is so often not all the time. But so often, I find that there’s a really close connection there with something that happened to you. Or something that you weren’t able to express. More often it’s that I wasn’t able to express and be supported with this particular thing that is going on for my child right now, when I was their age. And it’s that the most difficult things to support our children with are things that we weren’t supported with.
Emma: If I wasn’t heard as a child, it’s really difficult for me to really hear and really listen to my child’s big feelings if I didn’t have that experience, because where would I learn to do that? And it’s at that point that you know, your inner child. Well, now seeing the children, I think there’s so many in there. So many different parts and aspects. But it’s at that point that your inner child is screaming out, it’s not fair. There’s a part of you that feels like there’s an injustice here because you’re expected to give over to your child when your inner child never experienced that.
Jess: Yeah. And that can kind of present as a bit of like, as really an intolerance to that behaviour. Yeah, and what I was getting at before, you know. All of us have different levels of tolerance for different behaviours, don’t we? So we’ve got to kind of look at those as ‘Hmmm..’ in a curious kind of way. Why am I triggered by that when perhaps the next parent would not even think twice about that particular behaviour. So looking back at our childhood experience is a really good way to start to be aware of these kinds of things. The way we we’re responding to our kids.
Emma: Yeah, yeah. I think on that, it’s important to say that there’s no such thing as a perfect parent. That goes for us, as parents trying to work it out how to do it. But it also goes for our parents. So you don’t necessarily have had to have experienced significant trauma in your childhood. I mean, if you have, then you’re probably going to be more likely to be activated by smaller things. Because your fight or flight mechanisms are kind of on high alert all the time.
Emma: It could just be, you know, whatever was going on within your family. Or within your family of origin as a child. It might just be that your parents were having a particular experience in their relationship at a particular time. And it meant they didn’t have the kind of space to be able to really listen to you or for you to be able to bring your feelings. You know, they’re just children of their parents whose…
Jess: Yeah, children of their parents doing the best they can at that particular time. So it’s not, and this is really what you started off with. It’s not about blaming our parents or feeling guilty as parents ourselves. It is just sort of tuning in and being aware of these things.
Emma: Yeah, yeah, because I think often, parents will say to me, ‘Oh, it’s too late. I’ve already done the damage and I think that’s as far as possible from the truth.’ I think there’s always space for self-development and looking at things more deeply. Also, we’re all just doing the very best we can with what we have. The knowledge that we have and generally our kids will be right.
Jess: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, parenting, it’s the biggest personal development journey we can go on in.
Emma: For sure.
Jess: If we let it be, you know, yeah, and really work on this stuff which is important. So I also wanted to have a bit of a chat about something that I read on one of your recent Instagram posts. You can go and follow me on Instagram at, what’s your Instagram handle?
Jess: I’ll pop the link underneath because I know you’re sharing some really great stuff. A lot of this stuff, if we’re aware of it, we still need those constant reminders. So that’s what I love about seeing your posts and having you as a sister. To give me these constant reminders, but not everyone has the benefit of being your sister.
Jess: On this particular Instagram post, you were talking about the fact that both of your daughters are moving into a new phase and that was it. You sort of likened it to holding up a mirror. I’ll just read out what the kind part of the post.
“Holding up a mirror for me so that I can see what parts of myself I need to work with. What needs bringing to the surface healing or transforming in order for me to be the mum they need me to be as they move into their piece of development.”
Jess: Can you tell us, I mean, we’ve talked a little bit about this already but this holding up a mirror. I really relate to this with my daughter, particularly at the moment. Can you tell us a little bit about it? Unpack that for us and tell us a bit more about what that means.
Emma: Yeah. So the thing about holding up a mirror is really if we think about… What is it that my child is reflecting for me right now? Which goes back to what we were just talking about before. About how the thing about unpacking our own stuff is really where the work is. Rather than trying to change the behaviour of our children. That holding up a mirror is when my children go into a how it always happens. Where you just think you kind of know what you’re doing. You’ve got a handle on it…
Jess: Yes. I’ve got this parenting gig sorted up. No, I don’t.
Emma: Exactly! And I think a big part of that I see as them showing me this big behaviour that you’re seeing in me right now is a reflection of something in you, or in me. That’s what they’re saying. The reflection in you that needs looking at, that needs addressing. So that when they move into their next piece of development, as I called it, the next age or the next phase. Whatever it is that they’re going to be needing from me. I’m then able to have that space, like we were talking about before. To be able to best support them through that.
Emma: But I guess one of the best examples I can give is my littlest, who is 16 and a half months. She just started having some big emotions about you know, little things.
Jess: Okay, tantrums.
Emma: Yeah, let’s call them tantrums. There’s a part of me sometimes in those moments where she’s… I’ll just give you an example because that makes it easier. The other day, she wanted to sit up at the computer table and destroy the keyboard, basically. She started off well, she just wanted to do a little bit of typing. But it turned into her wanting to sort of slam things around and you know. Maybe push it over the monitor and whatever else she wanted to do. I’ve got her down from the chair, and no, no, she wanted to get back on the chair. So this was probably the biggest tantrum that she’s had. She was crying, shouting at me and ran off into the bedroom. Then she’d come back, try and get back on the chair.
Emma: And so, I kind of stayed with her. When they’re that little it can be a little bit easier to manage. As they get older, it gets a bit more like, oh, it gets a bit less cute. More heavy. But I was noticing what was coming up in me was this sense of wanting to shut her down. So logically, my feeling was I really would like her to be able to fully express her emotions. I want to be able to hold space for that. I really want her to be able to feel heard and to say her piece. And you know, she can’t really speak that many words.
Emma: She was certainly letting me know that she had something to say. And my logical approach is I really want to let her know that I’m hearing her and validate what she’s feeling. That she feels understood and be there for her. But there was a part of me that was kind of raging inside thinking, oh just, you know, the thoughts that were going through my head. At that moment where, you know, I just wish she would… She’s being a bit too loud and it’s like a bit too much now like, can’t you just sort it out?
Jess: Quiet them down and…
Emma: Yeah, yeah, really unreasonable expectations to have a 16-month-old. I was able to compartmentalise those things in that moment. But the sense for me of her holding a mirror there was really around what was life like for me as a toddler. Was I able to express myself in a really big way? I know from living in my family that I was quite a big, loud, cheeky, noisy kid. That maybe that was a surprise for my parents because my sister…
Emma: Who’s older than me, but not too much, wasn’t like that. Was a quiet and well-behaved little person.
Jess: The perfect baby, apparently. I still think mum has her confused. ‘Cause she says, you used to sleep until 9am every morning and then you would sit quietly in your cot waiting for me to come in. So that gives people I guess a bit of a insight into you know, I was first. This picture not all you know, what do you call it, perfect, in exclamation marks, baby. And then yeah, you were louder and cheekier.
Emma: Yeah. And when another baby comes along not even two years later, you’ve just been parents for the first time. I guess you would expect them to be the same. And so you know, I wasn’t the same. I think that siblings do that on purpose. Choose a role that’s different, so that they can stand out. For me, I was like, okay. To be able to manage this toddler tantrum phase and really hold space for my daughter in the way that I want to. In the way that I know is right.
Emma: The way that my instinct is screaming at me that says, this is what she really needs, right now. I need to work with that part of my inner child, that piece within me. So that I can choose the position that I want to take with her, rather than letting it get infected. I guess, by the toddler who lives inside of me who says, no, I’m gonna have a tantrum as well. Or I’m gonna shut this down for you, because I really want her to be able to grow into her skin. Be able to express herself.
Jess: Yeah, however she wants to do that. Just to be clear, though we’re not saying that you working on your inner child will you know. Then she can kind of just slam on that keyboard. Do whatever, like express her big emotions in whatever way she wants. Obviously, there’s still the boundaries, but it’s about the way you respond to her in those moments. Have I got that right?
Emma: You have got that right. When I was talking about that list of things that I wanted to do for her, that idea of making sure that she was heard, and validating her feelings and being understood. The other part of that is holding limits and having boundaries. So none of that was about letting her do the thing. It was about her reaction to not being able to do that thing and me holding solid on that. I wasn’t letting her back up there. You know, in the end, I had to move the chair away, because at 16 months, you know, like…
Jess: It wasn’t safe.
Emma: The option is distraction. Not possible for her to do that. Before we got to that point, she had emptied out some of those big feelings that she had about not being able to do exactly the thing that she wanted. It’s never about just letting them do whatever they want and that can sometimes be a sort of misunderstood piece. I guess about gentle parenting or instinctive parenting or even attachment parenting. That idea that kids, you just have to sort of let them do what they want and be free spirited and get away with everything.
Emma: Part of what they really need is limits and boundaries to sort of push against so that they can then have feelings. Something to have feelings about. If I slid her back on the computer table, she wouldn’t have for me to hold space for. So that way it would have been the fun in that.
Jess: Yes, that’s a really good point. The boundaries actually allow them, give them that opportunity to express their big feelings which is really important. But yeah, like looking at ourselves, how we’re responding and how that links back to. You know, what that looked like for us as kids is what the important work that we need to be doing.
Emma: Yeah, yeah. That’s what the mirror is when I say holding up a mirror, that’s what I mean. Okay, what is this reflecting for me? What’s the work that I need to be doing? The parts of myself that I could improve or look at with my own therapist? What do I need support with? Needs healing? Which piece of me, which inner child, which not necessarily even in a child? Because you know, some of those parts of us are developed in our adult relationships as well.
Emma: But which part of me do I need to give love and attention and affection to? So that I can then safely hold that space for my for my kids, when they’re bringing to me the thing that that inner child would struggle to reach? That piece of development or get what they needed in that moment of my childhood.
Jess: Yes, yes, that makes sense. So the things that we are triggered by those red lights that, well, hang on a minute, what do I need to look at here? In terms of maybe just an action point, or something that people can do with this information. After listening to this, people are going away and noticing, oh, I’m really triggered when my child gets angry. Or when my child won’t take part in something new or something like that. What can we actually do to sort of start this process? Obviously, working with our own therapist is a really good thing to do. But I guess just some action, or a bit of an exercise that people can take action on. Based on what we’ve been talking about.
Emma: Yeah. I think that when you come away from an interaction with your child, and you very clearly feel as though you haven’t parented from your values. You haven’t parented in the way that you set out, that you intended to. Then, but those words again, which I think I’ve said a few times already. If you look at that interaction with curiosity and self-compassion. Because what we tend to do, particularly as mums is go, “Oh, I fucked that up, and like, I’m no good, I’m not good enough, I don’t deserve my children.” Then we just go into this spiral of shame. Which we want to avoid, because that actually doesn’t help anything.
Emma: So not in the interaction but once we come away, and we’ve gone, that did not go as planned. Then if we can be curious and have compassion for ourselves and say, “Okay, so what were the thoughts that were going through my head in that moment? What were the things that were coming out of my mouth that didn’t feel right? Or that didn’t feel like me, or that didn’t feel like it was my instinct?” And you know, can help to write those things down and then have a bit of time to think about them.
Emma: Then we can consider where might that have come from for me? You know, when I was talking about that moment with my toddler before, and I was saying, I knew that I wanted to do it this way. But I could hear these other voice saying these other things. That’s years of me having worked on this stuff. So I can have those two bits at the same time and I can make a choice to say, I’m going with this one…
Jess: Yeah, yes. But I’m sure you’re better at it than a lot of us are.
Emma: Sometimes I don’t have space to be able to do that. But for many people, it’s not until after the interaction that they go, “Oh, that wasn’t good.”
Jess: Mmm. Once the kids are asleep, and yeah, they’re so innocent.
Emma: With their beautiful, little sleepy faces.
Emma: So having a curious outlook, unpacking that particular interaction. What happened there, what was I thinking in that moment? What did I wish I could say? Or wish I could do? What actually happened? Or do I wish happened? And where in my history has that been true for me? Where have I not been heard? Have I not been saying, where have I not been okay with expressing this particular emotion? Holding space for this particular emotion or is being expressed around me? Often when we can think back through our story, then we can start to go, “Okay, so yeah, that really links quite well with that.”
Emma: So what is that? Then it’s that mirror again. We’re actually seeing something in the mirror rather than just going, “Well, there was a mirror there.”
Jess: Yeah, and this is so powerful. It’s really taking a moment and it doesn’t have to be immediately. But really thinking about those times, because we all have those times where we feel guilty. About the way we responded or reacted or handled a particular situation. But often life’s busy, we move on. And I’m sure lots of people listening, notice these same patterns in their parenting that don’t feel good. If we can sort of take some time to think and then to journal, then it’s just that awareness, isn’t it? That will lead over time to us responding differently.
Emma: Yeah, over time it will lead to being able to have those two pieces at the same time. Like I was talking about where you go, now I’m going to choose this. I’m going to choose to respond from this place because I know that this part of me. This inner child, this inner adolescent or this inner previous relationship participant, who is acting up.
Emma: And later on, I’ll give that part of me some love or meditate on that. Or whatever it is that you want to do to connect to that part of yourself, bring it to your own therapy. But being able to in the moment make a choice to say, this is parenting from my values happens by that continual self-reflection and curiosity. Compassion for ourselves and looking at each of those different interactions and seeing what you can find in there.
Jess: Yes, I feel like this has been a bit of a therapy session for me. My daughter has been struggling with quite a bit of anxiety. Not wanting to go to school and everything this year. She’s 11, so the hormones are all over the place. Just last week, I drove her to school and she hadn’t quite recovered from a little cold that she had. In my opinion, she was well enough to go to school. It was a bit of a struggle to get ready and get in the car. We drove to school, and she refused to get out of the car. This has happened a couple of times this year. When she was littler, and this would happen, I could pick her up and take her into school. Now she’s 11, that’s not possible. So she didn’t go to school.
Jess: I responded in the car on the way back with words that I do feel guilty about. There’s shame, I was frustrated and I was angry. I had a very, very similar disposition and personality when I was a child. So this is something that I definitely will go and journal and think about. In terms of what is that mirror trying to tell me? So thank you, I just wanted to bring up. Obviously, Emma shared the example of her toddler. I just wanted to bring another example of a tween, and this is a very, you know, we’re in this at the moment. So I can definitely share more on this as we go. But yeah, just that little bit of an insight and a different example, I thought would be helpful as well.
Jess: Thank you so much. I just wanted to say, if you are a Natural Super Kids Klub member, we have a video chat with Emma about inner child as well. If this has really interest, sparked some interest. Or this is a topic you’re interested in learning more about and you’re Klub member, that video is in the membership for you. We also recorded a really powerful meditation, which is, I guess, action step or thing that you can do to really tune into your inner child. I know when I did it, and maybe I’ll go back and do it. Because of you know, on this kind of timely topic that I’m talking about with my daughter now.
Jess: So that is an exercise in the membership as well. If you’re not a Klub member but you are interested in learning more, I’ll pop the waitlist link in the comments too. You can hop on the waitlist, and we’ll be informed when we next open. Thank you so much for joining me today. I’m sure the listeners got lots out of what we talked about. Can you just tell people where they can find out more about you?
Emma: Yes. So on Instagram, as I mentioned before @treehouse_emma. You can also find me at rootsofmotherhood.com.au.
Jess: Okay, beautiful. I’ll put those links in the show notes to make it really easy for people to find you. I’m sure Emma would love it if you reach out on Instagram. Send her a little message telling her that you’d listened to the podcast and what you thought about it.
Emma: I would love that.
Jess: Awesome. Thank you so much and I will be back next week! See you later!