Being the Parent You Want to Be with Guest Lisa Candera

This week we are joined by Lisa Candera, AKA The Autism Mom Coach. Lisa is a full-time single mother of a teenage boy with autism, a certified life coach, and a lawyer. Lisa teaches moms raising kids with Autism how to show up in their lives as the parent they want to be even when parenthood looks nothing like they imagined. We chat with Lisa about staying regulated when our kids are dysregulated, enforcing personal boundaries, loving detachment and lots more!

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Tina: Hey everyone, I'm Tina

Serena: And I'm Serena, and we are the Mental Health Mamas.


Tina: Welcome to No Need to Explain. We are so glad you're here.

Serena: First, as always, a quick disclaimer,

Tina: We come to you not as mental health professionals or experts in the field, but rather as parents with lived experience who are on a mission to normalize the conversation around mental health.

Serena: If you or someone you love is experiencing a mental health crisis, please seek professional support. You'll find a variety of resources in our show notes and on our website

Tina: Serena and I often say that our kids got what they needed. You know, the system is built around student outcomes, and there are lots of resources for our kids. What we found was the, you know, the resources for us as parents not there, not, you know, not only the ones that help support us, support our kids, but the resources that help us support our own well-being, which is why we do what we do, right?

Serena: Absolutely. Yeah, such a day. We have a guest who does just that. Lisa Candera is a full-time single mother of a teenage boy with autism, a certified life coach and a lawyer. She created the Autism Mom Coach to teach moms, raising kids with autism, how to show up in their lives as the parent they want to be, even when parenthood looks nothing like they imagined. She also has a podcast with the same name. Lisa, welcome to the podcast.

Lisa: Thank you so much for having me. I'm really excited to be here.

Tina: So you say on your website, and I quote, ?For 12 years following my son's diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder, I lived in a constant state of anxiety and self-doubt.? I think a lot of us can relate to that statement. So Lisa, tell us a bit of your story.

Lisa: Sure. So my son, who was 15 years old now, was diagnosed with autism at the age of two. I had actually sought out the diagnosis because to me, it was better to have the diagnosis and get the services as soon as possible and quite honestly. So in my mind, he could be one of the kids who, you know, has autism, but you don't really know it. I don't know that I openly was thinking that, but I know it was in the back of my head. If I did enough research, if I got enough resources, if I got the right resources that I could dig our way out of somehow. So I was always on the go to the next thing, the next thing, the next thing. And by the time my son reached the age of 13 years old, I was really at the point of like, how am I going to keep on doing this? Like, this is not getting easier.

Serena: Yeah. Yeah. You know, I could really relate to that idea of just finding the thing, right? Dr. Google, right? Like, we can find the thing that's going to fix everything and...

Tina: We talk about that a lot, right?

Serena: Yeah. So one of the things we like to highlight on the podcast is that you are never alone, right? We are never alone. And according to the CDC, about one in 44 children has been identified with autism spectrum disorder, according to estimates from CDC's autism and developmental disabilities monitoring network. That is a lot of families who are also dealing with this diagnosis, but you were not finding the help that you needed from your helpers. So you went to coaching. So tell us about that journey.

Lisa: Sure. So yeah, there are a lot of families who are in similar situations as I am. And I did seek and find support in various parent groups. But for me, while knowing that other people got it, it made me feel less lonely in the moment, but it wasn't helping me in my day-to-day challenges. And this isn't the best analogy. But you know, if you've ever had COVID, you know that there are thousands upon thousands of people who have had it, but does knowing that make you feel better when you're like, hawking up a lung? Right. And so that's kind of where I found them. Oh, it's great that other people get it. And now it's Tuesday night and we're in a homework battle. And so that's not the comfort that I needed it to be. I wanted more than comfort really. I wanted strategy. And so that's why I feel like for me, at least therapy didn't hit the mark because although I had tried it several times over the years, most of my therapist, I mean, I was like, let's say all none of my therapist knew about autism or autism parenting. And so I spent a lot of time explaining things to them and explaining why things like traditional discipline wouldn't work because, you know, it was like, well, why don't you do this? And why don't you do that? And it's like, okay, you know, and now I'm starting over and trying to explain, you know behavior plans and transitions and things like that. And I found that really frustrating and honestly in some ways, invalidating.

And so when my son entered his teen years and things were getting a lot more challenging and I knew that I wanted a better way of doing things, I considered therapy for a hot second and dismissed it just because I really wasn't at a place where I wanted to chit chat about it. I wanted like, how do I do this better? And very honestly, I stumbled upon life coaching by a complete accident. I was, I'm a lawyer by training and I, like, I work as a lawyer. And so I was listening to a podcast by a lawyer about lawyer stress. And she also was a certified life coach. And the tools that she was teaching really resonated with me. And so I really went from there, like, where did she get certified and learning more and hiring my own coach that was certified through the same school that she had been certified through, which was, is the Life Coach School. And I loved it so much for myself and in my own home that I decided to get certified. And now that's what I do. And I decided to focus on mom's raising kids with autism because, you know, from my experience, I know full well that, you know, to the extent that there are parent resources, they're usually focused on how the parent can help their child. And of course, that is a big aspect of this, but there's also the parent?s challenges for themselves. And that's, and that's what I focus on.

Tina: So yeah, we're just to be clear, we're talking about kind of all levels of support and care. We talk about lots of different levels of support and care. And while you were trying to take care of yourself. It sounds like you were getting some support, but what you needed was strategy. So I'm just curious if you could take us kind of into your coaching world. And what does that look like on a day to day basis? What what can parents expect inside your sessions? Take us in.

Lisa: Sure. That's a great question. So my clients come to me for very similar reasons. They are feeling overwhelmed about the diagnosis. They are afraid they're not doing enough or the right things, or maybe they've just totally lost themselves in the journey. So the first session is always devoted to understanding their challenges and creating their goals. And as part of the program, there are also several foundational skills that I teach, and that those are all really interwoven throughout the coaching sessions. So just to give you an example of this week, I coached on taking your child's behaviors personally. You know, a lot of our kids direct their behaviors towards us, let's say, right? And at us. And so one of the really foundational, you know, sort of premises of like my work is that their behavior is not personal. And when we take it personal, we make it personal, we make it about them, we make it about us, we make it about our parenting. And all this does is really elevate our stress levels. And it does nothing towards helping us to co-regulate with them. So when we're taking it personally, we are really at a disadvantage because it's, it's not helping us regulate ourselves. And we end up modeling to our child the exact behaviors that we are trying to curb. So if you've ever found yourself yelling at your child to stop yelling, you know what I mean, boundaries was a one for this week too.

So boundaries with loved ones is a big issue that might almost say boundaries with loved ones is an issue that my clients come up against in different ways. So it's the parent who or the grandparent who's like, I don't think there's anything wrong with them. It seems fine to me. Or there's like the sister-in-law who sends you every article she's ever, you know, found about autism, right? Or asked you about clinical trials. And are you doing this? Are you doing that? Or tells you about the neighbors, kids, brother, who does fine at birthday parties? I don't know. All of that. And so really, you know, working through some of the discomfort about those interactions. But then also deciding what your boundaries are going to be with your relatives and your loved ones about this diagnosis. And what you're willing to let into your orbit and what you're not. And those can be tricky conversations. But they are necessary because, you know, I always tell my clients assume best intent when it comes to your family and friends. And, you know, if we take it from, they're not doing it out of any other reason than love, concern, or confusion. But you still have the right to, you know, have really frank conversations about them about what you are, you know, again, willing to entertain and what you don't want to entertain. Birthday parties and IEP meetings are always a topic of conversation. And so with birthday parties or anything where my clients are taking their children into spaces with other children and other parents, there's always the concern that their child has done or will do something that will call attention to them, that they will be judged, the child will be judged, the parent will be judged. And so I do a lot of coaching before these events to really prepare my clients mentally for the things that they can do, the things that they can control. So, you know, that's like an ever, that's like an evergreen topic for sure.

And also, then, you know, I coach about things that have nothing to do with autism, because the interesting thing is, is after a few sessions when we really have gotten through some of, you know, the pain points about the diagnosis and the things that are coming up, we just talk about what the client wants to talk about in any given session. And so, I actually have regularly coached on career issues, new jobs, right? Like, you know, opportunities and things like that. And I find it really interesting, because it's like, once we're able to, once we're able to clean up our thinking and manage our minds and regulate our emotions about all of the things about being a special needs parent that are pressing on us, it really clears out time and ability for us to focus on the other parts of our lives and, you know, that have gotten lost in the journey.

Serena: Yeah. So, you know, one of the reasons we really connected with you is this idea that you're focused on the parent, which isn't always, I would say, often isn't the the focus. And so, I'm curious about something. When Tina and I would support families, you know, one to one, often, you know, we would ask the parent how they were. And there was a lot of focus on the child. And then they'd get through all that and we'd say, but how are you? And often, parents would be like, oh, you know, I've had this experience, right? Oh, me? Do you find it? Do you have any challenges with that? Like, do parents struggle to kind of maintain that focus on themselves?

Lisa: Yeah. So it's, so one of the, the most common things I hear from clients is, I'll be okay once my child is okay. And so really, I mean, part, I mean, like the foundation of the work that we do is, I would say, loving detachment of separating you, the person, the mother, from your child and their results, which is really difficult. And it's not a complete separation, but it's just the ability to look at them as their own separate beings on their separate journeys, because as parents and especially as mothers, we are so entangled in that. We so much see, we see our children as reflections on us, our worthiness, whether we're doing the good job enough. And so trying to slowly detach that and, you know, one of the things that I tell my parents is like, you feel like this. And for a reason, it's no mistake. And it's not because it's the truth of the universe. And women are socialized very early on, you know, in all ways that, and especially mothers is that you, if you are a good mother, your child is a reflection of that. And so we are always looking to like, how is our child doing? What do other people perceive about how our child is doing? Because that's a reflection on us. And so trying to like, break that apart bit by bit, not, you know, in a way of like, you know, you're on your own kid, like, you know, it's not that at all. But it's like, it's actually not helpful to us or the child to be so completely enmeshed in their results. Like, we are here to love them unconditionally, to support them as much as we can. And they are going to have their own journey. And that is a really hard thing for us to, you know, kind of get our arms around. But when I do, and I ask my clients, what do you want for your child? They will say, you know, sometimes they say, I wish they were normal. And I say, of course you do, because normal to you means safety. It means they, right, they'll be okay. They will be loved. I say, what if that could be true even with autism? And you know, and then I ask that they say, well, I just want them to be okay. Like, all right, well, what does okay mean? Well, I want them to have, you know, I don't want them to experience pain. I want them to have, you know, you know, lives where like they flourish and things like that. I said, oh, well, that's not the human experience. The human experience is that we will all have challenges. We will all have pain. It is part of our journey by design. Do you want a child who never has a challenge, right? And so just really getting into that and like having their brain sort of work on that. And they're like, no. And then it's so interesting. Because then the parents who have children who are neurotypical will say, you know what, my son or my daughter who has autism or whatever special needs they have, they are so much more resilient and resourceful in some ways than my other child because of their challenges. And so we so often see challenges as a bad thing, but that's not necessarily true.

Serena: Yeah. Yeah. So one of the things you do is help people learn how to stay regulated?parents, even when your child is not. And you know, you're getting into that a little bit there and it's an important self-care piece. So say more about that.

Lisa: Sure. So this is what I call being the solid object. And that is really the foundation of all of my personal work and my coaching of my own clients. And so the solid object is what I could describe as like the steady and the storm. The person who is able to stay grounded yet flexible while someone else is escalated. And so the whole idea here is that when our children, when they go into a sympathetic nervous system activation of fight flight and they are escalating, our job is to remain calm or neutral hovering around neutral so that instead of rising to meet their energy that we stay regulated. And the reason is that because we don't want to be the highest energy in the room, we want to be the most regulated and rational. And so if we rise to meet our children, then we are in a sympathetic nervous state activation with them, which means adrenaline and stress is pumping through our bodies. Our rational thinking is out the window and nobody is like, you know, nobody's in charge here, right? It's just emotions. And so that is the work that I do with myself and with my clients and what I have learned from my personal experience is that it's not something you do in the moment. Like your child is starting to escalate and you're like, okay, I gotta stay calm, I gotta stay calm. Like this work starts before that even happens so that you can do the internal work of resourcing your own nervous system and preparing yourself so that when the thing does happen, you're not only prepared, but you have a plan for how you are going to regulate yourself so that you can be a co-regulating presence for them rather than a co-escalating factor.

Tina: So I love that. I think the co-regulation is regulating your nervous system is complicated and simple, right? So it's learning about it and making sure that you know and how to access, how to build that toolbox, right? So I'm curious, we know from supporting people that we need to have some mechanism because we help people hold a lot of hard things, right? How is it that you as a single mom and a life coach taking care of your people and other people, how do you take care of yourself?

Lisa: Yeah, so in all kinds of ways and so one of the things that I tell my clients is that self-care is easy and that's because it's not, I mean, I think a lot of us when we hear of self-care, we think of like extended vacations and things like that and it doesn't have to, it?s usually not that and so self-care is easy and we all have time for it and one of the things is it's like when we're not spending all of our time catastrophizing, we have a lot more time to focus on the things that we can do to help ourselves and so one of the first things that I teach my clients and that I do for my own self-care is mind management, okay? So the actual decision to not go down the catastrophizing rabbit hole and to elevate your stress levels and to have yourself basically wanting to like crawl under the covers and not get out, that is a form of self-care as simple and not simple as it seems. So that is one form of self-care that I do daily, daily walks is something that I always do. I have my own self-coaching practice where I coach myself, I get coached as well by I have a coach, I connect with friends, I do deep breathing and when I feel myself getting elevated around my son or stressed out, I try to walk away as much as possible. Before I always was like staying in the room, let's get this over with like let's confront this and that is just not the answer and so I have taken a lot of steps not to like walk out in a huff but to know ahead of time like okay it's time to like oh I have to go to the store and grab something or I'm just going to go into the bathroom and be in the bathroom for a few minutes or whatever it is but actually like separating the space because I have found and I think other parents I know my clients find this is that we become like the repository for all of our kids stuff and so when they are dysregulated or whatever like they're I might say they're coming at us but they they want us to solve it and I think that I know and I used to spend so much of my time trying to solve things for my son and trying to soothe him and now it's like I do the opposite is I try to solve for me and soothe me because ultimately I can't self-soothe for him and it's really not a service for me to continue to do that and so part of our our work has actually been you know so cutting the cord in some kind of ways of right of like I'll come in after you've regulated yourself right instead of being the person to do it and so in that way a form of self-care would be the boundaries that I'm putting up between myself and him about what's mine and what's yours.

Serena: So a while ago I wish I knew where this was but I I read an article about you know sort of parenting teens and they use the analogy of the hot potato and they're always trying to throw the hot potato at you right which is their emotions their problems they're you know and I I love that image and I always think about like I don't I don't want your hot potato.

Tina: Too hot for me not doing that.

Lisa: That is so yeah that is so spot on too it's so interesting yeah

Serena: Yeah so I can imagine that our listeners might want to connect with you so where do they find you?

Lisa: Sure I am my website is my podcast is The Autism Mom Coach and I am on social media Instagram and Facebook both at The Autism Mom Coach and so you can connect with me in all of those ways and then finally my email is

Tina: Lisa is there anything we haven't asked you today that you want to put out there to the world?

Lisa: I don't think so actually I would add though if you do go to my website I have a free course called Keeping Your Cool During an Autism Meltdown and so if you go into the website you can grab that by just signing up and I also have a weekly newsletter I call the Sunday Reset so if you are interested in getting on my mailing list you can also do that right on my website.

Tina: Awesome Lisa thanks so much for joining us today we really enjoyed this conversation.

Lisa: Thank you so did I I appreciate being on.

Serena: Thanks Lisa and so podcast friends we are as always grateful for you spending your time with us today and listening if you get a chance go to Apple podcasts leave us a review while you're there subscribe and please share our podcast with others you will find more content on our website or on the socials you can also leave us a voice message you'll find that number in our notes uh we love hearing your thoughts or just give us a call to say hi.

Tina: And this is your gentle reminder to take good care of yourself while you are also taking care of your people.

Serena: Thanks for listening.

Tina: Bye