Raising Perfectly Imperfect Kids with Guest Lisa Sugarman

This week the Mental Health Mamas welcome guest Lisa Sugarman to the podcast. Lisa is a mom, a nationally syndicated humor columnist, a parenting author, a survivor of suicide loss, a proud ally and member of the LGBTQIA+ community and a podcast host. You won?t want to miss hearing Lisa talk about raising perfectly imperfect kids as well as an open conversation about being a survivor of suicide loss.

Notes and Mentions

The Trevor Project provides 24/7 crisis support services to LGBTQ young people. Text, chat or call any time to reach a trained counselor. Call 1-866-488-7386 or text 678-678

Visit Lisa?s website: https://lisasugarman.com/

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We love to hear from you! Email us: info@mentalhealthmamas.com


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 fields, 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, noneedtoexplainpodcast.com. So just a quick note about today's episode, we are going to be talking very openly about suicide. So please take extra good care of yourself while listening. So Tina, your kids are perfect, right?

Tina: I love them and not even a little bit. And what about you, Serena?

Serena: Yeah, no, definitely not. And I think there's a lot of pressure to have the Facebook family, as I like to call it.

Tina: Right. So especially this time of the year when everyone's vacationing, right? Everyone's smiling, cooperating, looking perfect, and having a great time, no matter what they're doing. And I can vouch for the fact that that is not true. We sat and watched the sunset the other week on a beach and while everyone was trying to get the perfect pictures of their family, there was chaos, crying, wiping of faces. Oh, it was really, it was not a relaxing sunset. So today we have a guest joining us who is all about raising perfectly imperfect kids.

Serena: Lisa Sugarman is a mom, a nationally syndicated humor columnist, a parenting author, a survivor of suicide loss, a proud ally and member of the LGBTQIA plus community and a podcast host. Lisa, welcome to the podcast.

Lisa: Hey, thank you so much for having me.

Tina: So let's jump right in to talk about this idea of raising imperfect kids. You've written a book called How to Raise Perfectly Imperfect Kids and be okay with it. What do you mean by perfectly imperfect kids?

Lisa: You know I mean kids who aren't gonna follow the path that we as parents maybe expect that they will. Like when you're handed your newborn baby in that delivery room and you immediately get flooded with all these exciting images of the future and the hockey player or the football star or the prom queen or the doctor that you're gonna raise and nurture and then all of a sudden your kid is so different and plays a different sport and chooses a different lifestyle and follows a path that is not the path that maybe you envisioned, we need to embrace that. And it's not easy because we all have this, I guess expectation of being the best parent and raising the most well-rounded healthy kid that we can and doesn't always go that way. In fact, it almost never, ever goes that way.

Tina: We hear you.

Serena: Yeah, totally, yeah. So it sounds like what you're saying is it's kind of, it's kind of on us, right? To try to figure that out.

Lisa: Yeah, it's totally an us thing because we're the ones who have the expectations starting out and it's hard to put those down because we carry them and we only ever want the best for our kids and I think we're kind of pre-programmed as humans living in the world that we all live in now, which is a very pretty hyper-competitive world. We're all programmed to assume that certain things equal success and certain things equal perfection and they don't. They don't. It's a complete free for all now and that's what people are hopefully slowly starting to recognize that anything goes and it's hard when you're a parent responsible for raising a human to accept that what we plan may not actually happen. Perfect.

Serena: Yeah, so as you said, just that pressure to be perfect and we kind of want to selectively put out the best parts of ourselves for the world to see. And so the other part of your book is the being okay with your kids being perfectly imperfect and clearly the people can go read the book. There's, you've written a whole book about this but can you give us some thoughts around how we be okay with it? How do we buck the status quo?

Lisa: Yeah, it's a tough thing to do and it takes a lot of commitment and kind of intentional behavior on our part. And I think probably one of the best tips that I could give and this is really just from my own experience, the best tip is meeting our kids exactly where they are. Right now, whether they're four, whether they're 14, whether they're 24, wherever they are in their life, meet them where they are in terms of what excites them or what motivates them or inspires them. Even if what they're interested in or inspired by doesn't excite us, let them pursue their own goals. I think for me, that would be number one on the tip list.

And the next thing would just be to resist that urge, I think to compare our kids to other kids or to our own kids if we have multiple kids and we have two daughters and they're three years apart. And it's hard, you sometimes can't help yourself in your mind comparing one to the other but when we start doing that, it makes our kids feel inferior. It creates that inferiority complex and those can be really dangerous and damaging because they take those insecurities with them throughout their lives. So, you know, quick comparing, that's toxic stuff.

And I think if there was one other tip, it would be step back, just allow our kids this space and the opportunity to just fail, to just fall like flat on their face because mistakes happen to every single one of us doesn't matter if you're the kid or the parent. But when we label any kind of a mistake as a bad thing or less than acceptable, it creates this toxicity around being imperfect. And that ties directly to this feeling of perfectionism that all of a sudden, our kids are gonna be internalizing and that's negative, that's gonna have a negative impact on them throughout their lives because when we actually give our kids that space to try something and to fail, we allow them to build their own resilience. And that's the quality that drives all of us forward even when we screw something up or make a bad decision or fail. So I think those are my top three tips.

Tina: Yeah, those are awesome. And I hear a lot of validation there, which is good. I hear a lot of witnessing of who these people really are, right? And it's hard to shut the world out, right? I mean, Serena and I lived, she still lives in that community. I lived in that community for 16 years where there's so many external factors for these kids that don't necessarily come from us, right? I mean, there are community, I've always lived in college communities where the expectations are just so ridiculously high for these kids. And what we know to be true because we've worked with a lot of parents is, it isn't necessarily our messaging only that shapes them. So it's complicated, it's very complicated.

Lisa: Yeah, it is. And coming from a similar dynamic within my community, I mean, we live, well, we just recently moved. We lived just north of Boston in Salem, Massachusetts now but I born and raised and grew up and raised our kids in Marblehead, which is a very tiny little harbor town and a little peninsula. So it's practically like you're living on an island with people. And it's a really densely populated town and it's a very affluent town. We've got like four yacht clubs in a four square mile radius on a golf club and all these, all these bougie type places. And we live in a town where your child turns 16 and the BMW or the convertible with the big red bow is in the driveway that was not the case in our house but it was the case in so many houses. And the levels of competition, both academically and athletically, we're just off the chain. People were really intense about where the kids are going to school and how the kids were performing on teams and we would sit down with our kids regularly and say, look, do your thing, do your thing your way to your best ability and don't worry about anything else. You're not trying to keep up with anybody else and it's hard when you live in a community like that.

Tina: It is hard and I would say with the perspective of our child struggling so profoundly with mental health, it just gave us that immediate perspective. Like, whatever anybody expects of you, wellness is our number one. That's where we're going first. So be who you are and thankfully my people have found their way and that's awesome. So let's switch gears a little bit here and talk about another book you have in the works. You've shared with us that this book is kind of memoir and a large part of this is about your father dying when you were 10 years old. What was your understanding at that time about your father's death?

Lisa: So at the time, so I'm an only child and my parents had this absolutely beautiful marriage. They were met and married within six months. Absolutely fell head over heels for each other and they were just beautiful together. And my dad was just my person. I mean, there's no other way for me to say it. I was very much a tomboy growing up. My dad was a mountain climber. He was incredibly active. He raced cars on the weekends as a hobby. So I was always drawn to all of the things that he was doing. And so I was his little buddy. And when I was 10 years old, he suffered a massive heart attack or at least that was the narrative that I was told. I went on the camp bus. I went to a day camp at that time. I went on the camp bus in the morning. And then I came back and he was gone. And what I was told at that time was that he had had a massive heart attack. And my dad was a really big smoker. As active as he was, he was a big smoker. So it was like your 10-year-old mind reasons that to be true. Why would there ever be? My dad was just such a good, easy-going, fun-loving, kind, just lovable human being. So it wasn't like I struggled with a father who had mental illness that was obvious or who was in some way incapacitated. He was just a great guy. And then he was gone. And so that kind of shapes me in certainly an awful lot of ways. And that was the belief that I carried for 35 years until I had a very, very unexpected encounter with a family member who really didn't know.

I think I think what she was kind of unlocking when she asked me some questions. We bumped into each other. And the conversation went to my children who, at the time, were teenagers. And she asked me if my kids had the same mental illness that my dad had. And I had no idea what the hell she was talking about. And I ended up having a conversation with my mom who if my dad was ever my person back then. My mom is even more of my person now and has been since then. And so I had a conversation with her. And I was never thinking suicide. It never crossed my mind. It was just nowhere on my radar. But for some strange reason, I asked her if he was depressed and as soon as she said yes, the next thing that came out of my mouth before I even knew what I was asking it was, did Dad take his life? And she said yes. And so that was actually the truth. That was actually how he died. No one saw it coming. No one knew that he had taken his life. My mom made a very conscious game time decision in that moment to tell me that he had had a heart attack because it was just going to be hard enough for me to live without my dad and to process and grieve his loss in general, let alone. Oh, and by the way, he chose to take his life. So yeah, that it was a kick in the throat. And in the heart and the head and the gut and everything else. And that happened when I, so he passed away when I was 10 and it wasn't until I was a mom with two high school age children, 45 years old that I found out that he had actually taken his life.

Serena: Wow.

Lisa: So that is what this book is about.

Serena: Yeah, I cannot even begin to imagine what that would be like 30 years later to learn the truth of what happened and how much that must have sort of shifted your world view. Are you willing to talk about that a little bit?

Lisa: Oh, absolutely. Like the one thing at this stage of the game that I'm most eager to talk about is just mental health in general and suicide awareness in my story in particular as a way of starting conversations with other people. It's interesting that you asked, you know, it must have changed. How did it change, you know, your feelings? I always had, we had another experience with a very close family member dying of suicide a year before my dad. It was my cousin, he was 18 at the time and took his life. And I was aware of that. I knew that even at that time. And, you know, of course we're talking, you know, in the 70s, the late 70s, I mean, it was so taboo, it was so stigmatized. And yet we were having honest conversations in my family about it. So that was my first experience with it.

And I from that time had this really strong feeling. And it was just a personal belief that suicide was just a very selfish act. And it's a very common belief that people hold. And I carried that with me my entire life. And I had that with me even up until I found out that my own father had taken his life.

And it was after that, that I really, I think I just, I really just unlearned everything. And a lot of that had to do with the fact that my, our oldest, so our daughters are 22 and 25. And our oldest daughter at the time was struggling with some mental illness and some anxiety and some depression and had been seeing a therapist, which was so transformative for her. And, you know, so I was really just trying to gain a different understanding and perspective because I knew I was missing something.

And it was through all of the reading and learning and listening to other people's stories, which I found myself incredibly drawn to. I completely shifted my whole mindset about suicide and understood. And it's a very easy thing to understand once. You really just kind of think it through. Like it's an illness. It's an illness like a cancer or like a heart disease. It's an illness that needs to be treated that can be debilitating, that can take control of you, that can manipulate you. And it's in that, you know, it was in that learning and unlearning that I came to realize that it was just so valuable to be open and be honest about what we struggle with.

At whatever level we struggle because everybody's levels are very different. But, and once I kind of made that connection, I, there was like no going back for me. It's like all I wanted to do was then have conversations and share my own story and experiences and perspectives. You know, kind of with the hope that like doing what we're doing today, just talking about these things to encourage other people to a, talk about their own issues and be destigmatized this still, so heavily stigmatized issue of mental health and suicide.

Tina: Yes, so sometimes people say to us, like you want to normalize, what does that look like? And we often ask our guests that, right? And I don't know, Serena, we can speak to the fact that it's so normal for us because we've talked about it for so long. It's about everybody. It's not about going out and starting a campaign, although you could do that, right? It's totally about talking about it at the dinner table, making it normal that, you know, whatever that is for your family. So it does sounds like your perspective has, I would ask you how different it was from childhood till now, but you've clearly talked very openly about that. I mean, I'm about the same age as you are. And I think we know, I, you know, my dad died when I was in my 30s and I remember hospice saying, like, let us get you some support. Let us get you some therapy. And that wasn't a thing for our family. It was not a thing. Like everybody's just gonna suck it up and be okay. And I think, hmm, I didn't have to do that. I needed some support. So, so yeah.

Lisa: Yeah, it's funny that you talk about support because you and Serena and I were talking before we started recording kind of, you know, just to check in, like, hey, how are you? And no, how are you? And I told you both that I was very excited and inspired by the fact that this week, yesterday, in fact, I just, I just started a relationship with a therapist after 35 years since the last time I sat with someone and, you know, had a therapy session.

And, you know, that I'm just so grateful that I did that for myself. It's, I just feel like it's such a gift to give myself. And I've got, you know, I've got stuff that, that in these last granted I'm, you know, now I'm in my mid 50s almost.

So it's, it's been a good solid chunk of time since I've learned the truth about my dad's death. And yet I didn't do anything in terms of talking to anyone about it beyond, you know, my husband, Dave or my mom or my, my kids. And, you know, we all go through that, that grief process in such a different way at such a different pace. And, and it took me 10 years. I guess it's almost been 10 years to really decide like, okay, now you're at a point where, you know, you've reconciled with so much of it, but there's still a lot of stuff I want to unpack. And there's still a lot of stuff I want to understand.

I want to know how it impacts the way I am now in my life as an adult and as a mom and as a partner and just as a human. So I'm really excited to kind of take this journey. And, you know, unpack a lot of stuff that I haven't unpacked yet.

Serena: Yeah, that's awesome. So, so we like to ask our guests about their self care. And so it sounds like, you know, seeing a therapist is a really big piece of that for you. So, but I wonder what other things you do to take good care of yourself.

Lisa: You know, I'm a big believer in self care. I don't, I probably don't practice it as much as I know I should because, you know, we're always running around trying to make sure everybody else is taking care of themselves. And we're always like dead last. But, you know, I actually, I do, I have a pretty good self care routine. I'm a very schedule oriented person.

So I tend to, you know, do the same things, the same way most days just because it's my flow and they're my daily habits. So I do a lot of, I mean, I'm a writer. So that's what I do all the time, but there are lots of different ways that you can do that. And, you know, writing a newspaper column or a magazine article is very different than sitting and writing in a journal. So I journal a lot. I journal every day. That's just a part of my practice.

I meditate every day. I practice yoga every day. I try to move my body in some way. My husband and I run quite a bit. So we, we prioritize that.

I just, I love any kind of fitness. So I, I make sure that I do that for myself every day. I make sure that I sit down and shut off screens and read every day, you know, whether it be 10 pages a day, give or take 20 minutes, half an hour, every day. So those are the things that I do for me. And it's so funny. Like if there, if I skip something, I'm so, I'm so aware of that.

It's like, it's like taking off your shoes and walking on a, you know, dirt road and feeling the pebbles beneath your feet. It's like, I feel that really acutely if I don't do one of those things every day. But yeah, that that's, those are my, my basics for me.

Tina: Awesome. Love to hear about the tools in your box. It's part of why we ask because we like to gather other people's tools and adopt them into our tool boxes. So yeah, so we, we also know that you are in the process of becoming a crisis counselor for the Trevor project. Can you share, yeah, about this amazing, the project and the resources with our, with our listeners?

Lisa: Yeah, of course. So the Trevor project for, for those who may not have heard about it yet, although it, it is pretty mainstream these days. It seems like it's every, I turn around everywhere and someone's affiliated with the Trevor project. It's a crisis support network that has been around for well over 20 years. And it's really primarily focused on LGBTQ youth who are in crisis ages 13 to 24. And that crisis could be, they could be suicidal, they could be homeless, they could be coming out, they could be, you know, having trouble being bullied in school there, you know, any number of issues, but it's really focused on the LGBTQ community and providing a safe space for that community. And there, there are really kind of three pillars of service that the Trevor project will provide. And the first one is a texting line. So you can be on your phone texting with a counselor, a trained crisis counselor. And you can also pick up the phone and call their hotline, which is, you know, a very, you know, a more typical way, you know, get on the phone and you can have a chat with a counselor. Or you can go to an online protected space that they've created called the Trevor Space that is really a safe chat space for LGBTQ youth who may be in crisis who may want to just reach out and connect with other youth who are experiencing the same kinds of issues. And so for a lot of reasons, I've wanted to get involved as a crisis counselor for a very long time since I learned about my dad and his suicide. And the Trevor project was such a cool intersection or me of, I guess, bits and pieces of who I am and passions that I have in my life. So I came out about a year ago, a little over a year ago, last year during Pride as pansexual. And I mean, I've been married to my husband for almost 30 years. Our two daughters, I'm, you know, super happily married but realized thanks to my oldest who came out as bisexual when she was in college, that, you know, I had a different kind of capacity to love and I wanted to honor that both to model for her and support her and the LGBTQ community. So I have, there's that piece of Trevor project that was very appealing to me. And then obviously, you know, being a survivor of suicide loss that was something that was super, super important to me. So I've spent the better part of the winter and the spring this year training with them to become a crisis counselor and I am now one. And just in the beginning stages of getting on the phones to take calls to hopefully help some people.

Serena: That is great. Thank you for sharing that with us. And we were, we will make sure that we share all of the contact info for the Trevor project in our notes so that if people would like to learn more about it or perhaps use the phone number, they can, they can find that. So, and what about for audience members who want to connect with you and maybe find your books and where, where can they find you?

Lisa: Yeah, you can, you can find me at lisasugarman.com is kind of the best and easiest place just to go and shoot me an email or a message. Can also go have an Amazon page that has all the books that I've written. You just search my name, least a sugarman and I should pop up. You can go to my publisher Familias.com and my books are there and obviously they're at all the fun little indie bookstores everywhere who we love to support. So you can find me in Barnes and Noble stores and indie bookstores and our, our podcast Life Unfiltered is on iTunes and I Heart Radio and yeah, and I'm on all the, you know, all the socials. I do it for the Gram, just like everybody does. So I'm Lisa underscore sugarman, Instagram and the Lisa Sugarman on Facebook. So reach out to me. I mean, just anywhere.

Tina: I'm just recently learned that it's not in any more that it's the Gram. So yeah, I don't know. Always things. You're so cool, Lisa, you're so cool.

Lisa: Hey, you know what, it's, I appreciate that because if my kids heard you say you're so cool, they would throw up in their mouth. Yeah, so I hear you. I hear you.

Tina: So we so appreciate you joining us today and being so transparent and, you know, part of the cool thing about doing a podcast is you get to meet cool people like you who are just doing amazing things in the world and are willing to come and share your whole self with us and we appreciate the support you're giving to others as well.

Lisa: Well, I appreciate you both right back. I think that what you two are doing is so important and so powerful and just grateful to be a little bitty part of it.

Serena: Oh, thanks, Lisa. 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 and subscribe. So you have all of our episodes in one place. And if you found this particular episode helpful to you, share it with somebody else. You will also find more content on our website, no need to explain podcast.com. You can connect with us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. You can also call and leave us a voice message and you'll find that number in our show notes. Share a bit of your story. Tell us what you think of the podcast or just call to say hi.

Tina: Yeah, and this is your gentle reminder to take good care of yourself while you're also taking care of your people.

Serena: Thanks for listening.

Tina: Bye.