I think perhaps the biggest lesson I’ve learned about parenting is more a humble recognition of lack: no one knows what they’re doing. We all do the best we can based on our circumstances, and even in our weaknesses, we are the parents our children need. No family is perfect.
Most of us enter parenthood feeling unprepared, ill-equipped, and incapable. And even that is probably an understatement. We tend to figure it out as we go along, learning what works — and what doesn’t — as we traverse the rocky way of diapers and sleepless nights, then through toddler tantrums, adolescence, puberty, and teenage hormones. We’re always learning, always adapting, always trying to be the best version of parents we can be. And it’s hard!
As I’ve entered life with toddlers, I’ve recognized the need for safe and effective patterns of discipline, of clear ways to lovingly teaching my children about right and wrong, consequences and choices. I began that phase completely devoid of tools, like I was feeling my way in the dark. Thankfully, that’s when I discovered Ignore It! by Catherine Pearlman.
Ignore It!: How Selectively Looking the Other Way Can Decrease Behavioral Problems and Increase Parenting Satisfaction was in every way a gamechanger in my parenting. For the frustrated, stressed-out parents, author Dr. Pearlman offers a revolutionary solution that brings joy back to parenting — selectively ignoring certain behaviors can actually inspire positive changes in kids. With all of the begging, whing, and negotiating, parenting can seem like a chore or never-ending power struggle. It doesn’t have to be.
Dr. Catherine Pearlman, PhD LCSW, syndicated columnist and one of America’s leading parenting experts, offers highly effective strategies with time-tested approaches that teach parents when to selectively look the other way to withdraw reinforcement for undesirable behaviors. Overflowing with wisdom, tips, scenarios, frequently asked questions, and a lot of encouragement, Ignore It! is the parenting program that promises to make parenting joyful again. And it truly has for me. The simple but powerful methods Dr. Pearlman teaches throughout Ignore It! have revolutionized my parenting and made me a happier mom. I finally feel like I have effective tools.
In addition to authoring Ignore It!, Dr. Pearlman owns her own practice, The Family Coach, and is a professor of social work at Brandman University. (And get THIS: SHE RECENTLY DONATED A KIDNEY TO A COMPLETE STRANGER.) Because Ignore It! so fundamentally changed my parenting paradigm, I knew I had to feature Dr. Pearlman on the Talking Shop series. Today, I pick her brain about her journey to social work, the process of writing a book, and what she’s learned about parenting from her own kids.
PLUS! She shares invaluable insights on mistakes parents make with discipline, how to embrace your individual parenting dynamic without “mom guilt” or shame, and what advice she’d give to first-time parents. Guys, this Talking Shop is unforgettable. I so deeply admire and respect Dr. Pearlman and I can’t wait to share more about her. Let’s jump in!
Everyone, meet Dr. Catherine Pearlman!
Tell us a little about yourself.
I’m a mother, a social worker, a professor, a writer, a living kidney donor and a New Yorker living in California. I am all of those things but not to the same degree. I started writing a decade ago as a way to get free advertising for The Family Coach, my private practice where I make home visits to help families with all sorts of issues. Over time I realized that I love writing (most of the time). I teach social work to adults at Brandman University. It’s rewarding to help people who have wanted degrees for many years but were unable to attend college for a variety of reasons. Seeing them meet their lifelong goals is a pleasure every time. This year I added kidney donor to my resume. I saw a flyer in Starbucks for a man who needed a kidney. I didn’t know him, but we had the same blood type. Turns out I was a match for him. Donating my kidney to help a stranger live a better life was one of the most amazing experiences in my life. Every day I look at my scar, and it reminds me to be a better person, the kind who helps strangers.
What drew you to your field of study?
I was planning on being a doctor. I knew I wanted to help people in need and honestly, I didn’t even know what social work was. Premed wasn’t a major in college, but I was on course to complete the requirements to go to medical school. In my junior year, my sociology professor changed my life by introducing me to a man who ran a camp in London for very underprivileged kids. I worked there for a few weeks in the summer. When the kids got off the bus it was clear they were troubled and very rough. I was doubting myself and wondering what I thought I could do for these kids. But I saw in just a few days these kids were not their behavior. They were delightful kids who were dealing with poverty, broken homes, abuse and more. By the time they went home, they were different kids—happier and more open. I went home different too. I applied to social work school and never looked back. It’s been the perfect career choice.
How did The Family Coach get its start? What does a typical day look like for you?
I worked in various youth social service organizations for 15 years. When I had my kids (now 13 and 16 years old) it became harder and harder to leave them for 8-10 hours a day. After a particularly demanding job as a camp director, I decided to quit, focus on my family and start my own business. I took the lessons I learned working with children and families and my love of home visiting and put that into The Family Coach. I can see what’s going on with a child, the behavior, the dynamics and so much more in one hour right before dinner in the home. It would take me weeks or months to find out the same information in an office setting.
I actually don’t have a typical day. I kind of like it that way. Some days I’m speaking with parents individually or in a group at a school or religious organization. Other days I’m writing parenting articles or reports for families. Every family gets a customized report related to what I’ve seen and my recommendations. These don’t take as long as they used to, but I try to be very specific for each family. Lots of the time I’m grading papers for my teaching job or setting up classes online for the students. I have a lot of flexibility which is exactly what I was trying to achieve by setting up my own business. I’m able to be a fulltime mom and a fulltime worker and still find time to paddleboard or take a hike with friends. It’s a pretty good life, and I’m grateful I’ve been able to make it all work.
What was the process of writing Ignore It! like?
I had a 6-month deadline for Ignore It! My husband thought I was crazy. But I knew more time would just be more time. It wouldn’t be helpful. When I first started writing I rented a house overlooking the ocean (my happy place) for a long weekend all by myself. It was such a luxury so for four days and nights I did nothing but write. I stocked the house with food from Trader Joe’s. I didn’t even have to leave the house. I wrote the first four chapters there and that gave me a helpful jump start. It was exactly what I needed to get my head in it.
The process of writing this book was both easy and hard. In a way, it was easy because it was writing down what I’ve been saying clients for more than 10 years as The Family Coach. It was hard because writing every single day is a chore. By the end of each writing day, my brain felt empty. But then I had to wake up and do it all again. Underlying all of the exhaustion though was excitement. I had wanted to write a book for decades. That goal was becoming a reality, and I was fairly euphoric most of the time.
What is the biggest lesson about parenting you learned from your parents?
My parents were very good about not showing favorites between me and my sister. We were very different kids, and we knew they loved us both. They didn’t compare us either. I never felt they loved her more or were prouder of her. Now that I’m a parent I realize how hard that is to accomplish. It means not picking sides in an argument and letting kids work it out for themselves. They held us both responsible for our relationship, and I think that also made my sister and I close as kids and now as adults.
What is the biggest lesson about parenting you learned from your kids?
I’ve learned so much from my kids. Here are the highlights: I am not always right. I don’t always have the better idea. There are often multiple ways to do something. My kids have taught me to keep my mouth closed in order to allow their thoughts and creativity to blossom. As they have grown older, I’ve learned to control less and let go more. It isn’t always easy. I’m more of a control freak than I’d like to admit. But I know their clothes, hair, room décor and personal flair are not reflections of me. They have also taught me that our relationship is more important than me being right or forcefully telling them what to do. They are going to make decisions and choices I don’t like. Life goes on anyway.
What is the biggest mistake parents make with discipline?
After visiting hundreds of homes I can say with confidence the biggest discipline mistake I see is either too much discipline or not enough. Parents tend to land on one pole or another. Those who are exhausted, overworked, parenting alone, chronically ill or in pain or who grew up with too much or not enough discipline often have a hard time saying no. They give in a lot because it’s just easier. There are fewer arguments and that can be appealing. But in the long run, too little discipline can encourage kids to take advantage or to whine, complain and negotiate when they don’t get what they want. The alternative mistake is too much discipline. Parents who try to have “teachable” moments all the time. These parents micromanage every move and the child is constantly reprimanded. Over time the child starts to tune the parent out or worse, feels incompetent and loses their self-esteem.
What is the first piece of advice you would give to those entering the world of parenting?
There are many ways to raise children. No one way is right for everyone. It’s ok to breastfeed or not. It’s okay to continue to work or to stay at home. It’s okay to buy organic or to never read a label. It’s okay to have some screen time or to stop at McDonald’s or to skip a PTA meeting. It’s okay to have a pajama day or to get a babysitter just so you can watch Netflix alone in your car for a few hours. It’s okay to skip afterschool activities or to do several. It’s okay to share your bed with the kids, and it’s just fine to have them sleep in their own rooms. Don’t feel shame for your choices. Make decisions that are best for your family, and don’t worry about what your neighbors are doing.
My other piece of advice is to give yourself a break. Parenting is rewarding but also the toughest gig there is. It’s physically and emotionally demanding for 18 or more straight years. There’s no break. So there will be times when it doesn’t go as well as planned. There will be times when you feel like you’ve been a horrible parent or the kids got the worst of you that day. When the day ends remember that you are human, and you’ve done your best. Wake up the next day and try to do a little better. Get support or training if that would be helpful. But remember that no one is the perfect parent all the time. I’ve been working with parents for 25 years. Believe me, no one, not even the most perfect looking mom on Instagram, is perfect. Give yourself a break.
What is one of your proudest parenting moments?
We aren’t a super talented or competitive sports family. But when my daughter was approaching high school I encouraged her to try water polo based on a recommendation from a friend. At first, my daughter could barely swim. It was a struggle to complete two laps. But she worked at it and worked at it and worked. Over the years she got stronger and more confident. Watching her play is the absolute best. We don’t care if she wins or scores a goal. We just like to see her develop skills and jump over hurdles. This isn’t about sports. It’s about life lessons. Life will have lots of barriers but if she wants something, we want her to know she can do it with hard work and determination. This year our daughter won the coach’s award. We were insanely proud because it wasn’t just handed to her. She worked for the award. Hearing her name called, seeing her stand up to receive the award, it was one of the highest of high moments of parenting. It wasn’t the award that mattered. It was how proud my daughter was of herself and all she had worked to accomplish.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
Hands down the most rewarding part of the job is hearing from parents after they’ve met with me or read my book to say that things have improved. I’m on a mission to help parents enjoy parenting more. When they do, I feel incredibly rewarded. It never gets old to hear from parents that their kids are fighting less or finally sleeping through the night or eating meals without fussing. Sometimes parents tell me they have enjoyed their kids for the first time in years. I know that the changes happened because of my work, and I am fulfilled enormously.
The Fun Qs:
What makes you laugh?
What is your favorite meal?
I love Korean BBQ. As a kid, it was our chosen meal for special occasions.
Who are your favorite TV parents?
Steven and Elyse Keaton from “Family Ties.”
What is your favorite way to recharge?
Being by the ocean recharges me immediately. I feel better about life even if I’m just driving by, and I can’t even get out of the car. Just seeing the vast ocean, seeing the sunset and smelling the air makes me relax.
Song currently stuck in your head?
“My House” by Flo Rida. Just typing it gets it stuck in my head.
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