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Yael Schonbrun is an assistant professor at Brown University, a clinical psychologist and an author about parenting, work and relationships. She draws on scientific research, clinical experience and real life experiences with her three kids. Her new book, Work, Parent, Thrive, shares practical strategies from clinical psychology and social science to better manage the conflict and enhance enrichment in work, parenting, and the balance of these roles. 

Yael is also the co-host of the podcast Psychologists Off the Clock. She has a B.A. from Washington University in St. Louis, a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of Colorado, Boulder, and completed her postgraduate training at Brown University.

In this week’s episode, Sonya and Yael discuss Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, how to develop a work-family enrichment mindset, how to create space for emotions and have realistic expectations, plus much more.

“So I think it is true that we can’t be all into two or more demanding roles at the same time. And yet, there are ways that the pressure between our roles can help both and can help us find balance and more sustainability over time. So it’s almost like instead of focusing on not feeling inadequate, because as you’re saying, and this is a very core stance in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, we don’t get to control how we feel like we have much less control over that, but we can choose how we respond to it. And we can choose what we focus on. And so that feeling is probably going to come up because it’s just a human emotion. Like we, especially for ambitious people, probably most of your listeners, care to do well in the roles that they inhabit. It’s hard to feel like you’re doing as well as you want to be doing. That’s just human. But what we can do instead is focus on doing the best that we can given our circumstances and being really clear on how we want to show up to our different roles and taking advantage of this science that suggests that pressure between our various roles can be quite helpful.”

– Yael Schonbrun

Listen Now

Key Takeaways

  • 6 core processes of ACT
  • Batting overwhelm using flexibility 
  • Role shifting 
  • Developing a work family enrichment mindset
  • Creating space for emotions
  • How to have realistic expectations
  • How to define what it means to be a good parent
  • Dual working parenthood and how to support your relationship
  • Communication strategies for couples


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Sonya Looney: I’m so excited to have you on the podcast.

Yael Schonbrun: Thank you so much for having me. I’m a huge fan of you and your podcast.

Sonya: I first found you through Psychologists Off the Clock, which is one of my favorite podcasts that I listen to. And I came to that podcast because I learned about ACT and I wanted to learn more. And true to form I went and bought all these different books on ACT because I just wanted to go deeper and deeper. And some of the books were written by some of your co-hosts so that’s how I found you.

Yael: That’s awesome. Wait, how did you first hear that Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, which is a therapy that I hope we talk about? Because it’s a cool therapy and a cool way of life.

Sonya: I’m not really sure exactly. I think that something I’m interested in is how to integrate psychology and mindfulness and contemplative practices. And that seemed to merge the two a little bit.

Yael: Yeah, for sure. There are so many things I love about Acceptance and Commitment Therapy or ACT. But one of the main things is that it adopts Eastern philosophy, but merges it with modern psychology, science and laboratory science, which I think is really powerful.

Sonya: Yeah, so for those who don’t know, can you start us with a framework of the six core processes of ACT?

Yael: Yeah, sure. So I’ll start by saying that, so Acceptance and Commitment Therapy or ACT, I’ll now just say ACT, but just in case people want to look it up, if you look up ACT, you’re gonna get a whole lot of stuff that isn’t necessarily related. It is a treatment that is that has been tested for lots of different conditions, and found to be quite helpful. And the main underlying thing that we’re trying to go for to build for people is something called psychological flexibility and it’s defined as knowing what matters to you, and being able to move your life in directions that you care about. In other words, being able to keep going or stop doing behaviors, when it makes sense to do so based on what’s going on around you, but also what you really care about. And it has the six core processes that are all interconnected, but we teach them separately because they’re each they each have practices that you can get better at and more skillful, and therefore build your psychological flexibility. So the six core processes are mindfulness – this is defined as getting in contact with the present moment – accepting – acceptance, allowing with equanimity, the thoughts, experiences, and emotions that you struggle with. Self is context, so that’s the awareness that we all have thoughts and stories, our mind is constantly telling us things nonstop. Diffusion, this is the skill of unhooking from those thoughts in stories, especially when they’re interfering with our ability to show up in ways that matter to us. Values, which is having clarity on how you want to show up moment to moment. And then finally, committed action. This is the real behavioral part, so moving your life in directions that matter to you through your action. So those are the six core processes. And again, they converge on psychological flexibility.

Sonya: Yeah, and if anybody else listening is nodding their head thinking, these are really applicable to so many different areas of life, and now, we’re going to talk about your book Work Parent Thrive, which is about parenting. And a lot of people that listen to this podcast are parents, and some of them are new parents, where you’ve had sort of an identity shift, or just adding in a role that maybe wasn’t there before. What made you want to write this book?

Yael: Well, I became a working parent, and I struggled a lot. So at the time that I became, I’m now an old working parent, my oldest is 12, but this pathway, I would say, started right when he was born. I thought that I totally would was going to have working parenthood in the bag, because I had a flexible job, I had achieved enough status at the job that I had a lot of support from my colleagues and was working in a super progressive environment. I had a lot of colleagues who were parents who I really admired how they were doing it. I had a supportive partner. So I felt like I had all the ingredients. But I was miserable, like really struggling. And so I did what all nerdy people do, which is I went to the bookstore, and bought every book that I could find kind of like you did with ACT and read as much as they could about working parenthood and how to do it better. And what I found didn’t kind of get to the heart of it for me. So I’m a clinical psychologist by training. Most of what’s out there talks a lot about either time management strategies, sort of like things that you can do in the course of your day, or the ways that our infrastructure is not set up to support working parents adequately. And both of those are true and helpful. Like it is true that we need better social policy for paid parental leave. I mean you’re in Canada I actually interviewed a woman who did her postdoc in the states and went back to Canada before she had a baby so that she could have paid leave. And that just makes so much sense. So like, there are structural policy, workplace and even marital issues in the world outside of our minds and bodies that make working parenthood really inhumane and sort of impossible to do. But what doesn’t get talked about, didn’t get talked about in the books that I found, was the psychological piece identity shift and sort of this kind of more human conflict that we have when we are inhabiting multiple roles that we care about that matter to us. And so what I did was I started diving into the academic literature. And there I found all sorts of really cool things. And I also started reading more Eastern philosophy. So in particular, I got very into Daoist literature, this sort of idea of yin and yang, and the idea of things that we think about as opposing forces actually often being complementary in nature. And so I started thinking more deeply and writing about it. And one day when my kids went down for a nap at the time, I just had two, and they were still in the napping phase, and I decided I had something to say, so I was going to write something, I wrote an op ed piece and decided I was going to submit it. So I Googled how to submit op ed piece; I’d never written popular press anything before. And at the top of the list was how to instructions for submitting to New York Times. So it’s like, why not? And like lightning strike. It hasn’t happened since then. I’ve definitely submitted since that since that time, but it got published, and it went viral. And so that was kind of the start of me deciding that I wanted to write about this. And the book was a multi-year process, but so much fun. And I really have loved being not just an academic, but somebody who translates science for the public in ways that are hopefully helpful.

Sonya: And meaningful too. I think that people that are parents, or have just become parents are experiencing feelings of overwhelm, and overstimulation. And that’s my own self talking to because I finished work. And then I go out into the other room with where the kids are, because I work from home and there’s just so much stimulation all the time. And you get this feeling of overwhelm and also that you’re falling short everywhere, because you just can’t quite get all the things done at work. And you feel like you’re just not quite there enough for your kids and like the house is falling apart. And this is just a really common thing that people feel. So how can people start working towards not necessarily, I guess that you’ll still feel that way, it’s not about not feeling those things, but it’s your relationship to those feelings.

Yael: Yeah. And seeing the ways that falling short is actually a benefit. So I loved your episode that you did with your husband on returning to racing after having your babies. And it was so powerful, because you talked a lot about the ideas that I talked about in the book, which is sometimes things are really hard and really painful and sometimes in the hardness and in the pain, we find really unexpected gifts. So for example, you took a lot of time off from racing. But my guess is it also allowed you to like recover in certain ways and to rebuild your enthusiasm for doing the races. And as you were talking about, like these chaotic trips that you took with the babies, having to pivot and be super flexible, and not having your game plan go according to plan and finding that actually, it takes some of the pressure off and you can go slow at first because you don’t expect to win. And then you can find that at the end of the race, you have all this energy left in your tank that you can expend at that point. And you can actually surprise yourself by just how well you can do not having much sleep under your belt, because you have this more easygoing attitude. So I think it is true that we can’t be all into two or more demanding roles at the same time. And yet, there are ways that the pressure between our roles can help both and can help us find balance and more sustainability over time. So it’s almost like instead of focusing on not feeling inadequate, because as you’re saying, and this is a very core stance in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, we don’t get to control how we feel like we have much less control over that, but we can choose how we respond to it. And we can choose what we focus on. And so that feeling is probably going to come up because it’s just a human emotion. Like we, especially for ambitious people, probably most of your listeners care to do well in the roles that they inhabit. It’s hard to feel like you’re doing as well as you want to be doing. That’s just human. But what we can do instead is focus on doing the best that we can given our circumstances and being really clear on how we want to show up to our different roles and taking advantage of this science that suggests that pressure between our various roles can be quite helpful.

Sonya: I loved in your book, how you talked about role shifting in this enrichment mindset. But a big part of that is realizing what your values are, and then how you’re telling yourself stories about your life, and how you’re labeling your mindset. Can you talk about that?

Yael: Yeah. So my greatest hope for this book is that it helps people transform from what I call a work family conflict mindset to a work family enrichment mindset. And this kind of harkens back to most people or most parents certainly are familiar with the idea of growth versus fixed mindset. So this is Carol Dweck was one of the pioneering researchers, researchers, and she started studying mindsets in students learning, right, so that if you think that you’re somebody who’s good at math, right, I was born good at math versus I wasn’t born good at math, that’s more of a fixed mindset. We think that capacities are inborn and not going to change. And that sits in contrast to a growth mindset and that’s the idea that where I start isn’t necessarily where I finish. That I can start out not feeling very strong in math and doesn’t mean that I’m all of a sudden gonna be super talented, but I can work to get to a different place than where I began. So work family conflict, a mindset of exclusively work, family conflict suggests that because we have two roles, there’s like a fixed amount of resources. And if I’m doing one, then I’m not doing the other. And whatever I do in one means that it’s taking away from the other role that I’m not in. And a work family enrichment mindset is a little bit different, because it’s more like the expandable pie, that when I’m doing something in one role, it can actually beneficially feed back into the other. And there’s three distinct pathways that I talk about this being possible. So the first is what I call the skill transfer effect. And that’s the idea that when you’re parenting, you’re building skills like patience and perspective taking and seeing and love and compassion. And guess what? Those kinds of skills feed super beneficially back into most people’s professional roles. Same thing goes for our professional roles, whether it’s an athletic endeavor, or serving customers, or figuring out a really complicated problem, we’re building skills in our jobs that can really enhance in often really unique ways our parenting role. And even just showing our kids the balancing of roles because we work and parent can be a benefit to parenting. And then the second pathway is the buffer effect. So that’s the idea that we encounter stress in any given role, that’s unavoidable, too. So if you have a tough day at work, the great thing about parenting is you can go home and get a hug from your kids or some down snuggle time. If your kids are going through a tough developmental phase, as they often do, you can go to work and have an opportunity to have a sense of competence. So we can balance stressful experiences in one of our roles with more positive experiences. And the other we could do it very deliberately sometimes. And then the final pathway that I talked about is the additive pathway. And you talked about meaning and purpose and this is something that is really core to Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, and something that psychologists study is one of the really important ways that people experience happiness. So there’s pleasure and gratification, that’s more fleeting. Meaning and purpose is a little bit more enduring. And it doesn’t always feel good in the moment, for example, raising kids doesn’t feel good in the moment, often, sometimes it does and that’s super lovely. But often we have to do hard stuff, we have to stay awake all night, we have to comfort them, we have to say no when they want us to say yes. But being able to make contact with I’m the kind of parent that I want to be and this is really important helps us to experience that sense of purpose and the more roles that we inhabit, the more purpose that we can generate. And it’s almost like you can spread your existential eggs around because at some point, the hope is that we launched kids into the world to be independent, and on their own, and they leave us and having other places where you can experience meaning and purpose is really helpful to kind of counterbalance moments or pockets of life where you don’t have one. So that’s the additive effect.

Sonya: That sounds like a current underneath all this is being deliberate. So being able to realize, hey, when I go to work, I can feel more competent. I don’t have kids around me, so I have more autonomy, because I can go do things. I can go to the bathroom on my own. And just really paying attention to what you’re telling yourself when you’re in all of these roles and what you’re focusing on.

Yael: Yeah, and that’s the core process of mindfulness. Like the more mindful you are, the more you can end…values I would say because if you can sort of make contact with what it is that you how it is that you’d like to show up and what would help you to be most effective in getting that out of a given role. You can be more effective. So for example, my book just came out and so I’ve been very stressed out and feeling those ambitious cravings and just really having a hard time settling. And my kids had their Thanksgiving holiday and also the Veterans Day holiday and I was very deliberate, okay, my kids are home, it’s time for me to turn off work brain keep the computer shut. And it was so helpful to force a pause. Now, it also would have been true that I had a lot more that I could do, right, I am ambitious, I do want to get this book out there. I could have said, we’ll have to get a babysitter, and I’m going to keep working. But I know that for me, and for most people, that that pressure between roles helps me stay healthy for both. And so taking advantage of it, as you’re saying in really mindful, deliberate ways, is a strategy that we can use that benefits our well-being but also is helpful for a rules over time.

Sonya: Something that I find really helpful is asking myself what is important in this moment and what is important for the big picture and then seeing if those two things match and if my actions match.

Yael: Oh, I love that. Can you give an example?

Sonya: Sure. So I mean, really simple thing is like you have your phone in the room and you feel that ambitious craving, that’s such a great way to describe it. And you want to do it, you want to say if I could just do one more thing. But then you ask, I asked myself, okay, I could just do one more thing, or I could spend this time being really present with my son who’s actually staring at me, how’s that going to feel for him? If I take out my phone and start doing something to say this is more important than you? And if I achieve another thing, when I look back at my life, am I going to say, oh, I wish that I would have achieved more things? Or do I wish I would have spent more time with my kid, being very present when, especially when he’s really little. And certainly there’s a balance there like, you can’t just achieve nothing if you really want to be doing those things, and some people don’t want to spend every single second with their kids. I’ve been trying to understand where I fit on that spectrum.

Yael: Yeah, yeah, I love so much about that example that you gave, including the way that you’re doing some of the perspective taking. So this is actually a practice that we use an ACT of thinking forward to…some people do this as a eulogy exercise, like at your funeral. How would you like people to talk about you? I like doing it 30 years in the future, imagine your future self-looking back on your current self and thinking about what you would be proud of how you would be proud of having showed up in that moment. And that’s exactly what you’re doing with that kind of zoomed out perspective. And it sort of helps you gain clarity, because often the emotions, those cravings, drive our actions, but then sometimes not aligned with our values with how we most want to show up as parents or workers. The other thing that you’re pointing out, which I think is so important, is life is a long game, right? And we don’t, most of us don’t, have a single ambition. And that’s great, right? Because interesting, full lives are happier lives on average, right? And so if you think all I want in life is to raise a healthy child, I’m going to forsake everything else, in terms of how I might contribute to the world. That’s not a bad thing. But for many people, it doesn’t feel like it’s scratching certain itches, and that there’s going to be a sense of having given up something or worse, like a accruing sense of resentment for having lived a life that is so narrow. And so I do think it’s important to have that present moment focus of how do I want most want to show up in this particular role, but also an awareness that lives are multifaceted and most of us want just one thing, we want lots of interesting ways of being and contributing and connecting to the world. And so figuring out that balance is complicated, but it’s so helpful to sort of be able to do that self-reflection.

Sonya: Yeah, and I think that a lot of times, we think, if only I had, you talked about this in your book, if only I had more supportive only, I had more whatever, then I will feel good. And really, that’s just a reaching thing. Like, we’re always gonna be thinking, if only I had this, then I’ll be good. And instead of thinking, well, what do I need? Or how can I appreciate what I have instead of pining for something that is trying to fix or put a bandaid on something else?

Yael: Yeah, yeah. And I think that we live in this culture where it’s so consumer driven, like we’re kind of pummeled with these messages of if you buy this thing, or if you get to this place, then you’re gonna only feel good. And it’s such a false bill of goods, like that is not the human condition. We will never only feel good. If you’re alive, you’re gonna have moments where you feel kind of crummy. Certainly, if you’re a parent, you’re gonna have those moments. Certainly, if you work, you’re gonna have those moments. But regardless, like if you’re alive, there’s going to be moments where you feel better in moments where you feel worse, and trying to fix it, it’s sort of like an unwinnable battle and you’re going to constantly feel frustrated, you’ll have these moments of like, oh, I got it, and then nope, I failed again. And that I think, really causes us to feel like we’re broken. But we’re not broken. We’re just human. And so I think that’s what’s so nice about treatments like ACT, because they really appreciate that all of us are going to feel the full gamut of human emotions on a given day, mostly. And that that’s not the problem. The problem or the solution is to like only feel good, it is much more useful to really focus on how do we want to show up, even though as we show up, anxiety is going to be along for the ride, sometimes disappointments gonna be along for the ride, sometimes embarrassment is gonna be along for the ride, sometimes feelings of inadequacy are gonna be along for the ride, that that’s okay. And that’s actually something to embrace, because there’s often ways that we can learn from those internal experiences.

Sonya: A lot of times, we’ll hear that it’s important to create space for emotions, instead of pretending they’re not there, or toxic positivity, pretending everything is great all the time. As a psychologist, how do you help people create space for those emotions that maybe they really just don’t want to feel?

Yael: Hmm, that’s such a good question. I’ve never heard it framed in quite that way. But it’s sort of acceptance practices and sitting with discomfort. It’s like getting more comfortable with being uncomfortable. One of my co-hosts, Jill Stoddard has this great exercise that I love having people do, which is like, if you’re wearing a ring or a watch, to put it on the opposite hand, and just tolerate that and be okay with the fact that you’re going to be uncomfortable, and then you could also do meditation practices, where you actually breathe into this space where you’re feeling an uncomfortable emotion and expand that space. So I am a fairly anxious person, I feel it in my chest. So taking a few moments and just breathing into that spot and expanding, so I’m not even trying to constrict it or get rid of it, I’m actually allowing for it and opening up into it. The more cognitive perspective that I take is, I think a lot about the function of emotions and seeing them as information. So you’re an athlete, and you know that your body is gives you information all the time, have you pushed too hard, or have you not pushed hard enough. And unless you pay attention to the pain, you can’t know if it’s telling you like, okay, I’m in the zone and pushing this is good, or I’ve had an injury, and I need to stop and take care of this, or I’m doing okay, but I really am going to need to rest and recover. Emotions are the same. They give us information. And sometimes the information is really good. And sometimes it’s not very good. But unless we pay attention, we can’t discern the difference. So if I’m really anxious, again, I tend to be anxious anyway, it’s often a smoke alarm. But sometimes it’s really important for me to pay attention to that anxiety. And unless I sort of ask is this anxiety telling me anything helpful? Is this in sort of pointing me to a change in which value I want to direct how I respond to the situation? Or is it more of like a smoke alarm? I can’t, unless they ask that question and get curious, I can’t allow the anxiety to be helpful. So it’s making space, allowing for it, but also recognizing that emotion often has a functional utility, that’s quite helpful. But also being willing to say, you know what, like, it’s more of a smoke alarm that is like a dead battery. It’s not something I need to get out of the house d in order to address.

Sonya: I also think that just saying to yourself, it’s okay to feel this way. Because I think we try and say it’s not okay for me to feel anxiety. It’s not okay for me to be sad or depressed or down. I need to make it go away. But I think, back to that acceptance piece of, hey, this is okay and it’s not going to last forever. But how do you hold that space for that emotion, but also use these mindset shifts as being deliberate on where you focus? Because I think that is where that sort of toxic positivity piece comes in is, yeah, I feel this way, oh, well. So how do you have space for both of those at the same time?

Yael: Yeah, well, and I love that like really short phrase that you can say to yourself, like, it is okay for me to feel this. I’m not broken, it’s okay. So it’s noticing it. And then I think asking that question of, is this emotion pointing me to something that is helpful and that I need to learn from or use to direct my response? And if the answer is no, then it is more like, okay, I feel this way, that’s all right. And then deciding, do I want to maybe switch my attention to something else that’s more important. So for me, like when I have the smoke alarm anxiety going off, and it’s not helpful, the answer is okay, this anxiety is just going to be along for the ride, but I’m not going to sort of let it dictate my day, I’m gonna go and do a podcast interview or do some writing and recognize that I’m going to be distracted and it’s going to be a practice of continuing and repeatedly bringing my attention back to whatever it is I’m doing. But the growth mindset piece is like is this anxiety directed me to something that can be helpful that I can learn from and grow from, or that’s directed me to do something that’s really helpful or important to me. And Steve Hays, one of the founders of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy has been quoted as saying, emotional pain is, I’m gonna butcher this, but it’s like pain is the points to what we care about something to that effect, and butchering it a little bit. But emotional pain is often an indication that there’s something that really matters to us that’s at stake. And so being able to say, okay, what is it that’s important here? So for example, anger often points to injustice. And we can either decide to take action against an injustice, or to figure out how to tolerate it more skillfully. Or we can decide anger, that’s like in the growth side, but we can also decide that it’s not serving us very well. So to hold both of those at the same time, it’s okay to feel that way. Sometimes it’s going to be actionable. And sometimes it’s not going to be terribly informative. And so making that more conscious deliberate choice about which path you go down based on what information you’re able to gather from that emotional discomfort is helpful.

Sonya: Something that I think about a lot is frustration and expectations and how those two are aligned. Because a lot of times we feel really frustrated by something or by a situation because our expectation was not met. And when it comes to being a working parent, you might have expectations of yourself of what you’re capable of doing in a day or how something is supposed to be and then when it’s not that way you feel frustrated. So what is a good way to have realistic expectations as a working parent?

Yael: That’s a great question. I am just reminded, so Barry Schwartz, who is a terrific psychologist and he wrote a wonderful book called The Paradox of Choice once told me that the secret to happiness is low expectations, which I thought was hilarious. But there’s some truth to that, because as you’re saying, the difference between where we are and where we wish we were, it can be a source of huge frustration. And that makes so much sense. One thing that this is another psychologist, Rick Hansen talks about is holding outcomes lightly. So I think one thing that really bothers me is when people say if you’re a parent, you should just expect less, you can’t do at all. I’m not a fan of that, because I think it’s great to want all the things and to be okay, that it can be a challenge to get all the things that you want, but that you can still strive, you can still have big goals, dream big. That’s a beautiful thing to dream big. But to hold the outcomes lightly, while you focus your attention more on the process. And this is one of the things about the kind of therapy that I do, which is it’s what’s called a process oriented therapy. So it’s very easy to get hooked on the outcomes of you want to win a championship. I might want to write a second book and to have that be the thing that kind of takes up most of our mind space. But it is much more useful to sort of have the recognition that that’s the destination that we want to get to. But to bring ourselves back to the process, like how do we want to show up today, given that that’s eventually where we want to go. What makes the most sense, given all the things that are going on. And that brings us back to this conversation about values. So values are set in contrast to goals. Goals are the destination that we want to get to and values are moment to moment how we take the journey. And so being clear on, if that is the goal, what makes sense for me to do today, recognizing that life is a pretty long journey, and has all sorts of unexpected twists and turns, some anticipated twists and turns, but a lot of things that I can’t even anticipate. And so given that that’s true, and that I sort of want to head in that direction of this particular goal, how do I want to get there? And recognizing that frustration, too, is an indicator of what we want, sort of like the neon sign pointing to like, okay, you haven’t met this goal. I think jealousy is another one of those right? Often we feel jealous of other people who have things that we want. And I think it’s easy to say well just don’t feel jealous, but like actually use that as information. The jealousy is pointing to something that you really, really want for yourself. So then the question becomes, how do you start to date, from day to day, engage in a process where you’re making that thing that you aspire to, that feels important to you, a more likely outcome but also enjoy the journey a little bit more. So again, it’s like holding the outcomes a little bit more lightly and bringing yourself back to value align daily process. Does that make sense?

Sonya: Yeah, something that I think about a lot is like you said, it’s, you don’t like when people say you should just accept like less out of yourself, when you become a parent. And this is something that I’ve thought about a lot, because I actually do expect less out of myself now, because I don’t have the same, I’m choosing not to spend the same amount of time working towards those goals that I was working towards before. But I’m not saying it in a negative way, it’s more, I’m not expecting less, I’m expecting myself to do it at a slower speed. So the rate at which I’m achieving things might not be as fast as it was before I had kids, because now I’ve introduced something else that’s important to me. And that thing that’s been introduced is relationships. And I think that a lot of times when we are striving, we are working super hard trying to get an outcome, relationships tend to fall to the wayside. We spend less time with our friends, we spend less time with our family. But when you’re a parent, you can’t just like peace out on that, you have to actually make time for your kids. So it does impact the rate at which you achieve things, but you get something in return for that.

Yael: Yeah, and I think that that’s like a shifting of the goalposts but it’s not you saying okay, then I’m not going to do this thing that’s important to me. And by the way, parenthood does that, but so does aging, like at some point, when you’re in your 70s, you’re not going to be able to perform the way that you perform right now. And so for somebody to say, well, you should just hold those expectations, totally static is also unrealistic. I think there’s kind of exactly what you’re saying, there’s a balance of saying this is important to me, but in this phase of life, it’s going to look a little bit different in terms of the outcome that I’m trying to achieve, and also the daily process through which I’m trying to achieve it. And I think having that recognition of the balance of things that matters to you in a given phase of life and being flexible about it, right, again, psychological flexibility is what Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is all about is like being able to sort of pivot based on what’s going on around you, what’s happening inside of your body, what’s happening in your world, but also what matters most to you. And what matters most to you as a parent of I think you have a two year old and an a baby, is that right? It’s gonna be different than when your kids are like 20 and 18 in terms of your professional pursuits, but also in terms of how you approach parenting and what you prioritize there. So being able to be flexible about it without saying, well, I guess I can’t have this thing that feels important is what I think is most helpful is sort of like establishing goals that make sense, identifying values, that makes sense, given where you’re at in life, both in terms of your kids and your professional life and what matters to you.

Sonya: I think something else that’s important for people to ask themselves is, what does it mean to them to be a good parent? Because I think a lot of times when people feel like they’re falling short, as a parent, they’re comparing themselves to some ideal that they haven’t even defined. So how can people use their values to define what it means to be a good parent?

Yael: To me, defining a good parent is, in part, what matters to you. And in part like what the science suggests, because again, I think that we’re just pummeled with messages about what parenting should look like both from media and also from like neighbors and the PTO and books aplenty in social media. It feels like there is, in our culture, this expectation that good parents are always attentive and always enriching and always worried about their kids’ safety. And what we know from research is that actually doesn’t lead to kids that feel self-competent kids that feel like they can figure out how to get out of a situation that they’re stuck in. So problem solving kids who are resourceful, resilient. So this kind of hovering style of parenting is what has been identified in so many pockets of the world around us is like good parenting. And so we can feel guilty and inadequate, like we are inadequate as parents when we don’t do that. But again, so recognizing the science says that’s not quite right and I tend to be more of a free range parent. I’m really into Lenore Skenazy’s model. And I get really uncomfortable when other parents are much more involved in ways that I’m not. I feel like, oh, they must be judging me. What’s helpful, though, is again, coming back to my own values that I think it’s helpful to give my kids more independence, more opportunity to figure their stuff out in ways that are safe, right, that I have identified like this is safe enough. And to recognize that that fear of judgment is so human, it’s going to come up and that in and of itself is not a problem. The problem is when I get so absorbed in it that it ends up directing how I parent, so recognizing those thoughts are going to come up unhooking from them, reconnecting to my values, and to the science that suggests that less intensive parenting is good for our kids is really, really helpful.

Sonya: That makes me think about your chapter on subtracting, and how to incorporate that.

Yael: Yeah, I’m all about doing less. And I think for working parents, this is a really important message. So many self-help books are like, do more, do more, do more. And what I love is the science that suggests it’s actually really helpful to delete some of our parenting to delete some of our work responsibilities. It will help you on balance to parent better and work better if you do, and it will make you more sane.

Sonya: I know I’ve already touched on this, but I want to touch on it, again, is sort of this victim mindset of not having enough support. So in your book, you’re talking about how your parents, you didn’t have any family in town. Where we live, it’s the exact same thing. And sometimes you’re just like, God, if only I had my family here, but then that doesn’t even necessarily mean that you’re still going to feel the support that you need to feel. And I know this is a repeat of the question, but I’m going to ask it again is how to continue to work on getting out of the victim mindset.

Yael: Yeah, well, and you’re pointing to a story that is a past story and sometimes comes up for me in the present, I think that that’s the thing is there’s no delete button in the brain. So like, our mind is going to say these things. So when I’m having a hard day, and I will say actually, this comes up for me the most when I talk to friends of mine who have grandparents that are ready in a pinch, certainly this happened a lot during the pandemic, when all the supports fell away, and I don’t have family nearby. And I just thought, if only I had, right. If only I had what other people have life wouldn’t be so hard. And there might be some truth to it. But here’s the thing is that when we think about our thoughts, and we think, well, it’s true, that is one way to evaluate how helpful a thought is we want our thoughts to mostly be true. But the question that is more useful to ask is how workable is it? Does it help me to manage the life that I have, right. I was dealt this hand of cards, and I need to play it. So thinking that I don’t want this be the set of cards is probably not helpful, because these are the cards that I have to play. So it’s more helpful to pivot to a different line of thinking. And actually I recently interviewed on my podcast an Auschwitz survivor, her name is Edith Eger, and she has this great line where she says victims ask why me? Survivors ask what now? And so that’s kind of the mindset shift that I encourage people to take is your mind will go there, like when our experiences are really painful when we don’t have the support that I mean, honestly, that we deserve, I deserve to have parents nearby. You do too. It is harder without parents nearby. Because we are programmed, we are wired to raise kids collectively, we’re not wired to do it alone. That’s part of how humans have in the long human history that we have, that’s how we’ve raised young. But if you don’t have family nearby, it’s much more helpful to say, what now. So given that I don’t have family nearby and given that I’m really starving for support, what can I do that would be helpful. So it’s that pivot from why me to what now that I think is really helpful. And that shifting from the stories that we tell or the labels that we adopt of, this is unfair, or this isn’t possible, to what should I do with this given that there are certain things that I want that I don’t have easily available? So for me, it was building a community, it was renegotiating how my husband and I divided some of the childcare responsibilities. And during certain pockets of life, and I’m looking at you pandemic, like it was actually just reducing the expectations of what I was going to get done both in terms of parenting and in terms of my work. And so I think it really is helpful to sort of recognize I’m having that those victim mentality kind of thoughts and so much self-compassion to myself, because it is really really hard. I know that you’ve had Kristin Neff on before, and I love her work because like sometimes things are hard and the best we can do is just offer ourselves a lot of self-kindness, which is really different than getting into a victim mentality and saying, this is hard, anybody in my position would struggle. There are lots of working parents or parents who are you know, who have similar kinds of situations that are also struggling. This is hard and giving yourself some compassion for that. And then from that position, it’s much easier to say okay, so what do I want to do here? I don’t have some of the things that I want, but I can probably access some elements that can act as if or some parts of what I do want that would be helpful here. Does that make sense?

Sonya: Yeah, for sure. That’s very succinct and taking you out of rumination and into action and accepting where you’re at and also being kind to yourself in the process.

Yael: Yeah. What was that like for you being so far away from family with two really tiny kids during the pandemic? That must have been tough.


Well, my son was born the day before lock down. So they locked down the hospital when we were there. So we didn’t see anybody for a really long time. I actually didn’t really mind. It sounds crazy. But yeah, I didn’t really mind my husband and I were like, sweet, we’ll just hang out with our newborn and it was a great time to have a baby because we weren’t focused on the pandemic as much we were more focused on our little baby that we’re trying to figure out. But in your book, you talk about when you’re having your second kid and trying to figure out well, who’s gonna take care of my baby, or my young kid whenever I have this baby. And we were definitely faced with that. And in the end, my parents ended up booking, they were able to take like three weeks off to come and wait for the baby to come. And I was kind of stressed about that because I thought, well, what if the baby doesn’t come until the very end? Or I can’t control when this baby comes out. But fortunately, she came a couple days after they got here so it worked out. Yeah, but I was having those same thoughts. Like, what if I have to bring my kid into the hospital? Or, but I don’t want them around me when I’m going through labor because it’s gonna be really scary for him.

Yael: Yeah, yeah, totally. Right. That’s exactly the position that I was at. And my parents did not come out. And it was really, really hard. And the idea of bringing my two-year-old to the hospital while I gave birth sounded terrible, but that was like our last-ditch plan that was like, plan Z.

Sonya: Or not having your partner there. I had a doula just in case my partner couldn’t be there. But I was really glad that he was there.

Yael: Yeah, yeah, totally. I definitely wanted my partner there. But yeah, I mean, so you know, I think one of the things to think about too, in the sort of moving from victim to survivor mode is these kinds of challenges and not having the things that would make an experience easier, or let’s face it, just tolerable, not having those things easily accessible is a part of what can make somebody really, really strong, really, really resilient, really, really creative, really, really compassionate. So it is hard, and there are gifts to be had in those challenges. And we can learn and grow in surprising ways that we might never have thought. And again, sort of brought back to your episode that you did with your husband, where you got like locked out of AirBnbs and had to figure things out, and you didn’t have the food that you need, and you had to figure it out. And now you’re going to be planful in a different way. And now you know how to pivot on a dime. And there’s all these, like, we can see our challenges as injustices, and often they are, and at the same time, we can see them as opportunities to grow, and to develop capacities that we didn’t even know were possible. And that’s, I think, a powerful idea.

Sonya: Something else that I think is powerful is whenever you have less time, you get more clarity on what’s important, because you can’t just spend extra time surfing the web or doing whatever. And you have to actually be even more deliberate with your time. So you know what has to be a priority.

Yael: Yeah, totally. Well, in my chapter on subtraction, I talk about the science of subtracting, and basically what the science suggests is, we’re really bad as humans at subtracting we’re really good at adding. So when we encounter a problem where it was like, oh, what can I do more of to solve this problem. And there are times, lots of times, in parenting and, and work and in the spaces in between where actually, the best solution is to do less to like, you know, take things off our plate, but we’re just extremely bad at doing that. It’s not our wiring. And in fact, when we’re more overwhelmed, we’re even more likely to overlook subtraction as a solution strategy. But what I think is really helpful, exactly as you’re saying about lives that are really packed to the brim is that there’s no choice. We cannot do it all in a given day, at any rate. And so we have to think about like, okay, which of these things matters less that I can take off my to do list so that I can be more present for the things that really do matter? And making that a practice because it doesn’t happen so naturally, for most of us, I think is a really powerful thing to be doing. To be asking, okay, you know, this is a really full day, and I have all these things that feel like absolute must dos, then there’s some things that I don’t really find that important, but I feel like I should. If you’re having that thought, and most people do, that’s a really good moment to say, maybe I should, but could I delete it? What would be the consequence? What would be the benefit? And really, just considering it. And it can be very freeing to say, you know what? I should, but I don’t want to, taking it off the list.

Sonya: We’re all kind of like toddlers that need our choices limited..

Yael: It’s true. Well, in the Paradox of Choice, Barry Schwartz talks about this that, often the more choices that we have, the less likely we are to be satisfied with the outcome. This is very interesting research. So actually, it is true that when our choices are more limited, we’re much more likely to be satisfied with how things are. So any way that you can reduce the number of options that you have before you the better.

Sonya: So I want to spend the last part of this podcast talking about dual working parenthood, because I think it’s really challenging. And there’s a lot of things that play into that, like how you communicate with your partner, if you communicate at all with your partner. But what are some good practices to having healthy dual working parenthood and shifting from these roles?

Yael: Yeah, yeah, that’s such a great question. And it’s such a relevant question, because more and more couples these days are dual working parents. And I think one of the challenges that happens is, that our time is so limited, and because our partner can likely feed himself and likely won’t fire us, if we don’t meet some deadline, it’s very easy for partnerships to fall to the bottom of the priority list. And so I have a specialty in couples therapy and so I see a lot of couples, and one of the very basic things that I talk about is really being deliberate about carving out time for your relationship. And I mean that in a very realistic way, it can be a couple of minutes here and there, but do them with deliberate intention together. Because what often happens for couples, certainly the couples that enter into my therapy room is that everything got so busy and taxing and we think, okay, I’ll get to marriage once the toddler is potty trained, or once my teenager can drive themselves. And we kick the can down on the road so far, that by the time we have the time to spend and the resources to spend on our partnership, we’re so distant that it just feels like we weren’t meant for each other and I give up, this is too hard. So that’s where we want to avoid that. And we want to avoid it in in strategic ways because there are realities. Like if you are a working parent, and your partner’s a working parent, and you have young kids, time is limited and you’re exhausted. So what I recommend for people is to make two pockets of time per week with the expectation that you’ll hit two weeks out of the four. So set a goal, set it flexibly and set it small, so like make it 15 to 20 minutes. So one pocket of time is dedicated to enjoying each other. And it could be we’re so tired that the way that we’re going to enjoy each other is watch reruns of The Office for 20 minutes on a Thursday, with a cup of tea like that is fine if you’re on the couch together and feeling connected, but a pocket of time where you’re having a shared positive, enjoyable connection. And then the second one is a pocket of time where you talk about the hard things, right? It could be logistics, but it’s also intended for how are we doing, like a marital checkup. And the reason that it’s important to do this on a weekly basis is that what often happens for couples is that things feel so fragile that we feel like we can’t bring it up or things feel fine and we don’t want to get fragile, so we don’t bring it up. And then the things don’t get talked about and they kind of fester. And so it’s really important to have a time of the week, again, like two weeks out of the four where the expectation is you just bring up whatever’s going on. But you have a start time and you have an end time because one of the things that can get really tricky for couples Is that the conversation just takes over. So I recommend having a half hour dedicated to it and then and then an agreement that once the clock stops at half an hour you go and do something more enjoyable or you take time for yourself as if it’s gotten uncomfortable. But again, having a place a time and a place that is a habit that isn’t based on how you feel but an expectation a commitment that you make to one another. The other thing that you can do is you can fit in connection time like on your commute to work or while you’re with your kids and do it in really flexible ways. And then I don’t know if you want me to get into it, but there are some really common communication fumbles that people engage in that some basic communication training can be helpful. And there are things that we already know but especially with our partners, it’s helpful to sort of refresh what we understand about healthy communication. So those are some of the strategies

Sonya: I’d love to hear a couple of those communication strategies.

Yael: Sure. So first of all, I always teach couples, there’s two different kinds of communication styles, ways of communicating that most couples engage in. So one is problem solving. So our son isn’t sleeping well, we need to figure out a sleep training approach. So that let’s figure it out together. So it’d be like we have a problem, we need to solve it, let’s solve it together. The second is a discussion. And the purpose of a discussion is to share with your partner what you think feel or how you’re seeing a situation and feel, at the end of it heard and understood, better understood than you were at the beginning. And if you’re in the listening role to understand your partner’s experience better. So the reason that we distinguish between those two kinds of communications is that often partners are on different pages. So if I come home, and I’ve had a rotten day at work, and I want to just vent to my husband, but he’s more of a problem solver, and he drops into problem solving mode, I’m going to feel invalidated and he’s going to feel frustrated, because he was just trying to help. So we’re in a fight, even though both of us wanted to connect. And the reason is because we had different communication objectives. So being able to be clear about what kind of a conversation you want to have, and communicate that to your partner, hey, I just want to vent, no problem solving, or, hey, I want to problem solve, are you ready to tackle this problem with me is actually a very basic thing that we can do that is, people talk about this as being like the tip that helps them get out of the most fights, oh, we’re on different communication pages. The other thing that often happens in our modern culture is people want to problem solve way too quickly. Like we don’t fully understand what the problem is. And we drop into problem solving. And then like, we’re, we’re problem solving for different parts of the problem, or I don’t understand what your needs are, and you don’t understand what my needs are. And so the solutions that you’re coming up with, totally don’t get at the thing that I think is the issue. So slow down problem solving, spend more time in discussion first, before you do problem solving, like really understand what it is that your partner thinks about it, how they feel about it what they want, and have them understand that about you. The next set of tips are more to do with listener, speaker. So in any communication, everyone knows this, there needs to be one speaker and one listener, because if both people are speaking and nobody’s listening, that feels crummy for everybody. And so being pretty clear, I have something I want to tell you, can you be in listener mode, is actually it sounds so formal and silly, but it’s really, really helpful, because then you’re both clear on what the roles are. And then doing some turn taking, right, if one person is speaking, as I’m doing, and I’m talking on forever, eventually, the listener is gonna tune out, right? We’d all think about somebody lecturing at us, and our attention only goes so far. And then we’re just we’re maxed out, we’re done. So keep it to a few minutes, and then say, okay, can you reflect back what I’m saying, so I feel heard. And then I’ll step into listener mode, and being really deliberate about being clear who is speaker, who is listener and switching off so that each person has a chance to be heard. And then there’s the reflective listening piece. And that’s the way that you show your partner, okay, I’m tracking you. And if I have it wrong, you can tell that because I’m saying, okay, this is what I heard. And you can say to your partner, nope, you had it wrong. Let me try again. Or you have it right, I feel so good, because you actually understand what I’m saying. So those are some of the basic tips that I teach. So do those make sense?

Sonya: Yeah, the reflective listening piece is a really important one that I think that we aren’t really taught. And I learned that in my health coaching practice of how to do active listening, and how to reflect back what people are saying, and it’s so powerful.

Yael: It’s so powerful, because people feel heard and understood. And it just, there’s something so healing about that. I mean, I think that’s a lot. I practice a very specific kind of therapy. And then at the end of the day, I think it’s just all about reflective listening, like that is where the healing comes. Because you go in and somebody’s hearing you in this way that is so abundantly clear, they get it, and you’re just ah, it feels so good to be understood. There’s something so healing about that. And so connecting, like when your partner really gets it there, you know, you just feel such a strong connection to them.

Sonya: Yeah, and I think that this type of communication really helps when trying to define expectations of each other. And I don’t know if equality actually exists in parenting, but how people are managing responsibilities because there are going to be days where someone feels like they’re doing way more than the other person and vice versa. And being able to talk about that I think is super important.

Yael: Yes, I think that that is a very important thing that couples need to be talking more about. It’s actually helpful to talk about it before you have kids too. So, if anyone is listening who is thinking about that, create an open dialogue and it guaranteed it will feel unfair for both people at some point. And what’s interesting is, I think there’s this very explicit conversation that’s happening in our public conversation about how mothers are doing too much and way more than their fair share, because they’re also working, and yet they’re still doing more of the child care and domestic household responsibilities. But what often happens is that the husbands in traditional heterosexual couples often feel like their contributions are really minimized, or that when they try to help, they get criticized for how they help. And so having that kind of an open dialogue and these kinds of skills and reflective listening in hand to be able to keep that communication going so that you can say on this isn’t quite working, I think we need to shift it. Here’s what I’m thinking and feeling. What about you? How’s it for you? It’s so much more helpful than demanding or or quietly seething with resentment.

Sonya: Well, thank you so much for coming on the show. We could talk all day or I could talk to you all day about these things. So interesting. Where can people find you and your work? And your book too?

Yael: My book is called Work Parent Thrive: 12 Science Facts, Strategies to Ditch Guilt, Manage Overwhelm, and Grow Connection When Everything Feels Like Too Much. You can buy that wherever books are sold. You can find me and my podcast at Or just look up Psychologists Off the Clock wherever you get podcasts. And you can go to my writing website at

Sonya: Well, thank you so much for coming on the show and I learned a lot.

Yael: Thank you so much for having me. It was so much fun chatting with you.

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