Get Out of the "ShouldStorm" with guest Alison Escalante

With the hustle culture comes anxiety and the ever dreaded "ShouldStorm". This week Alison Escalante joins the podcast to talk about parenting, the ShouldStorm, her antidote and so much more. Listen in!

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Serena: Hey everyone, I'm Serena

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

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

Tina: First, as always, a quick disclaimer,

Serena: We come to 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.

Tina: 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: For many years, Serena and I shared a supervisor that that person

often kindly and gently reminded us to not should ourselves, right, Serena?

Serena: Yes, and what you don't know, Tina, is that my current supervisor also says the same thing, and it's a big fan, so I'm sure she's listening right now.

Tina: Yes, so the whole no-shoulding, right? And the truth is, we live in a very high expectation hustle and bustle culture that really does have us not only shoulding ourselves, but having that same feeling about our kids.

Serena: And just want to be clear that we're saying, S-H-O-U-L-D, right? But we move on. Okay, so today we are joined by Alison Escalante, who is a pediatrician, and she uses the term shouldstorm in her TED Talk of the same name, author of the book, Sigh, See, Start: How to Be the Parent Your Child Needs in a World That Won't Stop Pushing. She's a speaker, a writer, and a woman on a mission to use the epidemic of anxiety that has convinced us we are always failing as parents. Alison, welcome to the podcast.

Alison: Thanks so much for having me on.

Tina: Alison, this is quite a resume, and I'm sure there's so much more to your story, so let's start there. Tell us a bit of your backstory as it relates to the work that you're currently doing. And give us, we love that you have some professional history, and we also love the little family glimpses, the looks into your family life. Yeah, so tell us from your professional and your parenting experience, tell us a little bit of

your backstory.

Alison: Well, I think the easiest place to start is when I first went into practice as a pediatrician. So I had had the honor to train at Duke and University of Chicago, so I was seeing the most intense cutting-edge medicine, and I had been in the pediatric ICU for a couple months,

not long before I graduated. So kids really fighting for their lives, where everything, the stakes was life or death. And then I started in my first practice, which was a general pediatrics practice. And I didn't know what to do at first, because first I'm trying to prove myself to the parents that, yes, I'm a good doctor, you can trust me. But a lot of the questions the parents were asking me, I was not prepared for, such as the level of worry in a normally developing child, that if the parent didn't do exactly enough to boost or enhance that child's development, something would go wrong. Or parents worrying about the exact order of eruption of the teeth, which was a challenge, because they never taught us that in med school. But a lot of parents used that as a criteria to decide if I knew what I was doing or not. And that was like a dentist area, you know, or parents coming in, I kid you not. At that time, because the economy was good, parents were often coming in with two or three hours of minor cold symptoms to get their kid fixed up

because they were worried about it. And that was before the pandemic made that like a normal worry, right? And so it was just anxiety about very small things across the board in almost all of the parents I saw. So as a young pediatrician, I went to my older colleagues and I asked them about it. And um, generally I would just get a head shake like, oh, these parents, they just get more anxious every year. You know, it's just getting worse and worse. Just do your best to suit them and get through it. You know, um, but that didn't sit well with me, the sort of dismissive headshaking. But I wasn't sure what to do about it. Not too long after that, I had my first baby and whoa. I was amazed because I thought, you know, I had all this pediatric training. I had training

in child development. I was prepared, right? But the anxiety and the feeling of inadequacy that I felt as a new mother, the feeling that I was falling apart and everyone else had it together. The feeling that I was failing every day. Now, it didn't help that I had an unusually

difficult time on maternity leave with my first baby because he had a severe and rare colitis where he was actually like bleeding from the food he was eating. Um, and he was screaming, you know, in pain around the clock. So it really was a very difficult way to be a new mother. But at the same time, I also understood it medically. And you know, it just, and it did that anxiety didn't end when his symptoms resolved. So that sent me on a journey looking for the book I needed,

right? Surely the advice is out there both for me and my patients. And as I was reading these books, I noticed again and again that I would become increasingly anxious and increasingly feel like the inadequacy I felt would get worse and worse as I read these books because they generally sent the same message. You must follow these 47 important steps and follow our program to the letter, or you are going to mess your child up for life. Um, and so after, I mean, I spent hours at the

library. Um, how did I do that with a baby? I know I had my baby with me. But it's a little cloudy remembering. Um, so I, at some point, I clicked back to my undergraduate training. So before I became

a doctor, um, I studied, uh, intellectual and cultural history at Princeton. And what that is, is it's the history of ideas. It looks at how people have ideas and then they transmit them through culture and then it changes everything. Um, but culture also is this collection of beliefs that we never question. Um, because it's like a, it's, think of it as an operating system for a group of people. Um, and so I started to recognize that this culture, what that I was seeing, because when

all the parents are anxious, it's not the parents, right? It's, it's something going on that's broader. And, and this culture was full of this message. You should do this. You should do that. You should never do that other thing. You're very likely going to mess up your kid for life.

And I decided to start calling that the shouldstorm, because it made parenting feel like a shouldstorm. And yes, the double entendre is intentional.

Serena: Yeah. So let's drive a little deeper into this shouldstorm. Um, and sort of like the anxiety that, that goes with it. I think, I think

many of us have felt it, but, um, yeah, tell us more.

Alison: Well, I mean, culture is a powerful thing. So first of all, this shift to this particular version of our culture really started in the late 1980s early 1990s. And I won't go into depth because, um, the first chapter of the book really covers, um, a lot of the key historical moments that led to where we are today in parenting. But a culture is both outside us. And it did determines the way people behave. So this culture is why, you know, you can be, um, on maternity leave out for your first walk with your baby. And a neighbor comes up and criticizes you because there's a rash on the baby's face or something. This culture drives, uh, some of the nastiness on the internet people, um, having the idea that

they can, um, you know, criticize you or shame you, um, publicly, it drives the advice, um, you get from every quarter, family, friends, random people. It's in our books. It's in our parenting blogs. And only recently have we started to make fun of it. And that really started with, um, scary mommy and with the movie bad moms. Um, but even though we make fun of it, it is still the way that we live, right? We're still trying to aspire to be this parent that gives our child every opportunity and make sure we enhance their total development and also keeps them happy all the time and emotionally healthy and spiritually healthy and great grades and great sports achievement and you name it. Um, but at the same time, culture influences us on the inside. So the shouldstorm is also something we internalize. It becomes part of our internal monologue, um, as parents and especially as mothers, uh, you know, I should do this. I'm, oh, I blew it again. Oh, this is just more evidence that I'm not adequate as a mother. I should go look for better

should. So I can do a better job. Um, and the worst part about this shouldstorm is that there are so many people giving advice that the shoulds are all disagreeing with each other all the time anyway. So there's not even like a set way to do it. Um, so whatever you do, you can't win.

Tina: Yeah. So it's really deep in our psychology and this isn't just about parenting, right? It's about so many different things. And so I guess I'm inviting people who aren't parents who we know listen to our podcast to think about your three-pronged approach, which we're going to invite you to talk about in just a second, but invite people who aren't parents to think about their lives, other triggers in their lives, other messages that, um, they have gathered in their lives, other should storms. They experience in their lives. I feel like I really need to emphasize that now Serena because, um, when the transcript comes across. I'm sure I'm going to have a lot of corrections to be made. Anyway, um, to invite them to think about this three-pronged approach, um, even if you're not a parent to do this in other parts of your life, perhaps in your workplace, perhaps with friends, perhaps, um, with lots of other things. So as you talk about in your book and in your TED Talk, tell us about what I would consider your anecdote, right? For the should storm three-pronged approach. What is it? Tell us about it.

Alison: Well, I just have to click into one thing you said there because after I first gave the TED Talk five years ago, um, I focused on parenting, but after that I started getting invited to speak, uh, at professional organizations, an architecture firm, doctors organizations, because people said, well, wait a minute, there's a professional shouldstorm too. And I said, well, absolutely, um, because this is part of our always on hustle culture. Um, so the, the approach is simple. Do you remember back in kindergarten when your teacher told you what to do if your clothes catch on fire?

Serena: Mm-hmm. Yes. Stop, drop and roll.

Alison: Right. So what do you do if your feelings are on fire from the should storm or you're unsure? You sigh, see, and start. So sigh, you take a deep breath into your body and you let it go long and slow.

Uh, sigh is the only built in breathing technique that's part of our natural biology, and it helps calm down our nervous system. So when you take a long slow out breath, you send a message to your nervous system that you're safe, that it's okay to think things through,

and then it's okay to connect with other people. And that's really critical as a parent. Then you see, see your child, see the situation, see what's going on. See is your moment of mindfulness. A lot of people think you have to do an hour of mindfulness meditation or yoga

to be practicing mindfulness, but the science is showing us that even very brief moments of mindfulness are very powerful. So see is about noticing without immediately trying to act or make a decision. Um, and I, you do use the word see because it's easier to remember with the

alliteration size, see start, but it's not meant to be about vision for parents who might be visually impaired. It's about noticing and observing before we immediately go into that fixer mode that's so normal for us as parents. After we see and see and only after we see and see, we start. So maybe we start thinking about what to do differently here. Maybe we start thinking about what's worked in the past and whether that applies. Maybe we start with nothing. That's one of my favorites because I'm a naturally reactive person. And I have found that when I'm not quite sure of how to proceed, if I start with nothing, it gives my kids space. And it's been incredible what's happened with that. Sometimes they solve the problems for themselves. If they're arguing

with each other, sometimes they make it up. Sometimes they will even come back and apologize to me, which feels like a miracle, right? And sometimes just that time of doing nothing, then the situation

progresses and then I'm clear what steps to take. Sometimes you start something and it works. Great. You've gathered some information. Now you're going to file that away as something that works on this child in this situation on this day when everybody's in this particular mood.

And I bring that up because a lot of parents get the impression that if you get the right parenting technique, it's going to work every time. And that is simply not the case. We have to adapt to the situation. Sometimes you try something and it doesn't work. Maybe it backfires. And then you're going to go into the shouldstorm. You're going to say, oh, I should have done it differently. You see, I'm not a good mom. I can't even do this simple three-step method, but we know what to do if we get caught in the shouldstorm. We sigh, see, and start again.

So you begin this continuous learning loop where you're connecting with yourself, you're connecting with your child, and you are taking your mistakes and treating them as learning moments. And it's amazing how often I hear from parents that they are changing the tone in their home and moving from anxiety to confidence. Sometimes in a shorter time is days to two weeks.

Serena: So you talked about this three-pronged approach, but what we would love for you to do is kind of walk us through. Maybe it's a personal one that you've dealt with or just some sort of example of a shouldstorm, and then how you would use the method to get through it.

Alison: Well, there are so many examples I can use, but I'll probably tell you the famous story from my dead ex-stock. When my first son

was a toddler, this was the one who'd had the medical issue. So like so many kids with that kind of food allergy, he became a very picky eater. But as picky eating it got him so bad, it was becoming a medical issue, and he just wasn't growing as rapidly as he should be. And it became very stressful because, you know, the natural behavior of a parent with a picky eater is to try to do everything you can to get the kid to eat, and that doesn't work. Right. So I would sit, I'd give him his food and put him in his height chair, and then I would sit with my back to him reading a book because if I even looked at him, I would sit right there because of course choking hazards, you want to be present. But if I even looked over my shoulder at him, I remember times he would

take the food that was on the way to his mouth, look me in the eye, and put the food down on the tray. So that's the level of desperation, I'm dealing with it. So and sometimes he would just not eat it all. So one night, he had thrown all his food off his tray onto the floor and didn't

touch any of it. And I was just distressed. So I had walked into the kitchen to kind of give a little space. And my husband let him down out of the height chair. And all of a sudden, my husband goes, Hey, don't look now. So of course I looked. And there is my son crawling around the floor, gobbling up the food. Now, initially I have that should like, Oh, dirty, you should pick him off off the floor, right? But I in that moment, I, I did sigh because I was just so relieved to see him eating something. And I just paused and noticed him eating. And then I made a decision and I started by letting him continue. And because as a pediatrician, I actually know that eating off the floor is not nearly as big a deal as a lot of people think, you know, and we didn't have dogs or cats at the time leaving, you know, there wasn't a lot of dirt on the floor. So, you know,

it's a little messy. But so after that, secretly, my husband and I started deliberately allowing him to eat off the floor if he knocked his food on the floor. And we would stand there and we would laugh because how would people judge us if they knew the pediatrician, these, the baby,

floor, you know, and yeah, I mean, he has life skills, you know, he's a teenager now, you know, does any eat with a fork? He doesn't eat off the floor.

Tina: I love that story. I love that story. And, you know, it's so interesting because I think part of our should storms have to do with the fact that, I mean, social media is clearly contributes to all this, right? We see everyone's perfect life and no one, no one, no one, no one I know at least takes a picture and puts it on social media of their child eating food off the floor. No one, no one does that. Everyone's always

polite at restaurants and doing all the things. So, anyway, I can imagine that, you know, Serena teaches parenting classes regularly and I can imagine that this method that you're teaching people really changes family dynamics. So, tell us a little bit of the feedback that you've been getting about that.

Alison: You know, as a scientifically trained doctor, I felt uncomfortable

putting this idea out into the world because I hadn't done a randomized controlled medical trial on it, right? But I do.

Tina: When you're a mom, you know, when you're a mom, oh, no, right? You know, you know what works. I get it. I get it. I married to a researcher. I get it.

Alison: Yeah. And I just, obviously, I couldn't wait to do something like that. So, I put it out there in the TEDx and I was astonished. I was hoping it would help a few people. But the feedback I got was

astonishing. You know, people using words like, this has transformed my home. I feel completely different as a parent. My child's behavior is changing. And the biggest thing that it did for people is instead of requiring lengthy training in how to be curious in how to approach your child or, for example, with a lot of versions of the current parenting trend, which is gentle parenting, you know, parents using like a lot of words. And, you know, to try to explain things to their child, people were just practicing curiosity. And as soon as they did that, they were getting so much more information. And their child was naturally responding because now they were getting what they wanted from their parents. And because what our kids want from us is genuine presence to know that they're really being seen and heard. You know, what people want most in human relationships is to feel felt, to feel seen, right? And so it's less about getting it right as a parent. It's more about knowing our child. But the other thing is, Sigh See Start is naturally meant to be an authoritative approach. So the parent is the boss. The parent gets to set the tone. If parents feel uncomfortable with that, it adapts to other methods of parenting. So that's okay.

But the child then gets that security that they've got now this calm or parent that feels more confident that can then set those expectations in a non upset, like the parent's not freaking out. The kid's not freaking out. When everybody does freak out, there's a reset button now.

So it's just, it's just a very productive method.

Serena: And like, you know, I just have to say, I love the idea that you're not saying that there's one way to do this sort of, you know, there's like, you talked about the books, right? That's say you have to do it all this way. But I love that you're introducing this kind of different kind of tool. And we all know how important it is to take good care of ourselves so that we can stand a place where we can remember to use our tools. So what do you do to take a care of you?

Alison: Yeah, you know, when I started working on all of this, I was what a lot of people would call a super mom, right? So I was a full-time pediatrician. I was giving speaking engagements. I'm raising my kids. I'm writing articles for Forbes and places like that. And, you know, just busy, busy, busy. And then two and a half years ago, I got COVID and I had a very severe life threatening case. And I ended up with long COVID, which is a disabling disease that affects everybody's system. So I'm now disabled and I often can't get out of bed. This podcast, I can usually do like one thing a day. So like, this is my big thing today. And then I will be wiped out the rest of the day. And what that means is I had totally change both the way I approach my own body and the way I approach motherhood because I can't really contribute around the house. You know, other people now have to do all the cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping, etc., laundry. And so I have had to learn and more importantly, my family had to take me in hand and tell me that I needed to rest because if I push now, my disease gets worse. So it's been a really interesting learning about caretaking that I can still be the mother, even if I'm not doing all those things I associate with motherhood for my kids anymore because I'm still able to be emotionally present with them. And if I don't rest enough, my brain stops working and then I can't be present with my kids. So just learning to pace myself and respect what my body is telling me so that I can be the mom I want to be.

Tina: And what's your favorite just specifically like resting thing to do? Do you actually sleep or do you do things like you must not be able to read when you rest or do you meditate?

Alison: Yeah, I would love to give some meaningful, mindful approach, but the truth is, you know, this is the brain, what the long COVID fatigue does to your brain and body is so different from any normal tiredness you may have experienced in your life. So honestly, I just

watch shows on Netflix.

Tina: Yeah, does being a nature help at all. Do you can you be outside

or is that overwhelming?

Alison: Well, that's a great question. First of all, I'm in Illinois, so I get

about maybe four or five months a year that I can be outside. I do now have a lot of sensory sensitivities, so I can't be out in direct sunlight, but I'm blessed because during the pandemic, we built a screened in porch. So like the last two days, I sat out on the screened in porch

a lot of the day. And that is wonderful getting to hear the bird song and look at the trees is really lovely.

Tina: Yeah. So I can imagine after this conversation, people might want to connect with you. How might they best do that?

Alison: The easiest way is through my website, That connects to the blog, all my socials, the mailing list. So just .

Serena: All right, Allison, thank you so much for joining us today and sharing this tool with us and for for sharing your energy with us,

knowing how limited it is. I really appreciate you taking the time to talk with us today.

Alison: Well, we're all we're all parents and we're all in it together, right?

Tina: Yeah. Yeah. So thanks. Thanks so much. We do appreciate you. And so podcast friends, we are as always grateful for all of you listening and supporting us. You can help us out by visiting Apple Podcasts. Leave us a review while you're there. We have a bunch, but we'd love some more. Please subscribe and share the podcast with others. You will find more content on our website, You will also find us on all the socials and we would love to hear from you.

Serena: And this is your gentle reminder to take good care of yourself while you're also taking care of your people.

Tina: Thanks so much for listening.

Serena: Bye.