Meditations of Parenting, Love and Raising Great Kids With Ryan Holiday

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Katie: Hello, and welcome to the Wellness Mama Podcast. I’m Katie from wellnessmama.com, and in this episode, Ryan Holiday is back to talk about meditations of parenting, love, and raising great kids. And you might be familiar with him. He’s one of the world’s bestselling living philosophers, and his books include The Obstacle is the Way, Ego is the Enemy, The Daily Stoic, Discipline is Destiny, and the new bestseller Stillness is the Key, which all appear in more than 40 languages and have sold millions of copies.

And he is also a close friend of mine, a good friend of mine and someone I have known for a while. I’ve really enjoyed his work and have many of his books on my shelf, and this is a new topic for him. But he brings a lot of the wisdom of Stoicism now into the parenting arena, speaking specifically to Dads, but also to all parents in his new book, The Daily Dad. And he has an email, a daily email by the same name. That’s just a very short email with a dose of encouragement or advice or knowledge for dads specifically.

And we talk about a lot of aspects of parenting how he shifted from just talking about Stoicism to bringing this into his parenting. We tackle the imbalance of domestic load that often exists between moms and dads, and what he views as some of the paths forward here. Why there aren’t a lot of good parenting books, especially for dads, how modern times expect much more of parents, and how this has shifted our parenting. We talk about topics like why it might be a good thing when kids misbehave or push boundaries, and how we can handle this in a positive way that leads to a good long term relationship.

How to shift from seeing our kids behavior as an indictment of who we are, but a reflection of the environment that we’ve created for them, how we don’t really control our kids. And even if we can, this isn’t always a good idea and what we can do instead. We talk a lot about the importance of modeling in parenting, especially when it comes to communicating values. And we go deep on the importance of values from an individual perspective and also in how we build them into our family culture.

And the things that we can get caught up thinking are important now with our kids, that won’t be important at all in 20 years, including their grades on a test, how to balance protecting our kids with helping them learn to be autonomous. Some key takeaways from his book how to make parenting decisions with long term goals in mind, and so much more. It’s always such a fun interview with Ryan, so let’s jump in. Ryan. Welcome back.

Ryan: Yeah, thanks for having me. It’s been a while.

Katie: Yeah, I’m excited to chat with you. We’re actually friends in real life, too, so it’s always fun to get to have a conversation with you. And I’m excited for this new focus for you because I think it lines up perfectly with my audience and also my current focus on speaking more to the parenting side as well. But you are largely known as a modern day Stoic. You’ve written about Stoicism in many forms for many, many years, and I still don’t understand how you were quite as prolific of a writer as you are. But I would love to hear what sparked this shift from just the Stoicism side into bringing that into parenting now, because I think this is really relevant in today’s world.

Ryan: It’s funny, I was actually not far from where you are. We were on the beach in Florida. We were just hanging out. And I had, for many years, done this email. I do this email every day called The Daily Stoic, which is one email a day based on ancient philosophical wisdom to help people be better at what they do. And I was running around playing with my kids, and I was struck. There was a line in one of Seneca’s essays where he’s talking about children on the beach making sandcastles, and I was watching my kids do the same thing. And it struck me that sort of parenting is parenting, and it always has been, even though the world was so different and their standards and expectations and their culture was so different, that he was still fundamentally doing the same thing I was doing, which is watching his kids play in the sand at the beach.

And it just struck me that maybe I could do a parenting email also, that I had gotten so much better as a person for writing The Daily Stoic email. It was holding me accountable. It was forcing me to think about what I think and what’s important to me. And I don’t know, it just struck me that I could do this parenting one. And I had this idea to do The Daily Dad, which I started shortly thereafter, which has now been going almost every day for five years. And that’s sort of been this sort of dual journey that I’ve been on. So I’m doing The Daily Stoic, and obviously The Daily Stoic is very well known, but The Daily Dad is actually the thing I like doing the most and have gotten the most out of. And so it was just this random sort of moment on the beach that opened up this whole avenue for me, which one thing that I took out of that, which is that I need to take more vacations. Because you never know what’s going to pop in your head work wise, when you’re doing the exact opposite of trying to think about work.

Katie: That’s such a good point. I find that often my creativity comes in the moments when I’m not trying to be creative or think about work at all. And I love that you’re bringing this focus into parenting. And you talk about parenting being largely psychological and I think some of the concepts you talk about in many of your other books about everything we do being a conscious choice is even more relevant, I think, in parenting than anything else. Granted, I’m biased as a mom, but I do believe that that is the most important work we can do in this lifetime. And so I’m curious, maybe walk us through what you mean by that of parenting being psychological.

Ryan: Yeah, I mean, obviously having children is something biological or in other cases it’s something legal. Right. It’s a role that one picks up. Most people can have children. Most people can adopt children. So the idea that you are a parent because you do this thing that everyone does strikes me as being a little insufficient, just as most people know how to write. But being a writer is something deeper than that. And there are many people even that I would argue that are professional, stringers together of words, but are not actually writers in the sense that it’s something central to their identity. It’s a way of life that they’ve chosen.

And so I think the first distinction that we have to make is this distinction between someone who has children and someone who is a parent. Right. And I think that psychological distinction, that decision to assume a role fully and completely is the sort of first and most important choice that we make as people who have children.

And so when I think even back to my own journey, obviously I became a parent when I had children. It was something I took seriously. I wasn’t like an absentee father or anything. But I have seen even my own relationship with that role and my willingness to embrace it fully and to even fully understand what it means and what it entails that has evolved over the years. Right. And it’s just such an amazing, powerful and meaningful thing that part of what I’m talking about in The Daily Dad is that; is getting someone to say, hey, I’m going to treat this thing as seriously and make it as important to me as I do with this other stuff, like my job or my physical health or appearance or making money. We take these other things really, really seriously and we invest in getting better at them. And then for some reason with this thing, that is the most important thing that we’ll do, especially for men. We’re just sort of like, I’ll figure it out. It can’t be that hard.

Katie: Yeah, I agree. It’s that often used cliche about parenting doesn’t come with a handbook. But I had a similar realization if I was going to start a business that would be much less impactful in the world than the work I do with my kids. I would have a plan for how I was going to do that. I would have a business plan, I would have targets I was trying to reach, I would have thought through the process of that. Yet I feel like that transition into becoming a parent can be very overwhelming and busy. So a lot of parents maybe make that jump and then don’t really have the bandwidth in the beginning phases to think through that intentionally.

But to your point, I think when we approach parenting with that level of intentionality, it actually simplifies and it takes a lot of the stress out of the situation I found. And another part that goes hand in hand with that, at least for moms and I’m really curious your take on this from a dad’s perspective is, there’s been more and more talk about the sort of imbalance of emotional labor in families and how moms often get the brunt of the domestic load plus the emotional and physical responsibility of raising kids and now are often working as well. And I hear from many women who feel that imbalance and feel very overwhelmed and stressed and it seems like there aren’t great resources for dads either in overcoming that. So maybe touch on that as a societal dynamic in the first place and what you see as some of the paths forward to overcome that.

Ryan: Yeah, that’s definitely real and it’s definitely true. And I wouldn’t be so conceited as to say that that’s not even true in my relationship or in my house. It’s something everyone has to and I think is working on in their own way. One of the things I was thinking a lot about as I started this, I called it Daily Dad originally because I was trying to speak specifically to men because there aren’t a lot of good male parenting books, right?

First off, there’s not a lot. And then the ones that do exist seem to be very patronizing. They’re like, oh, we’ll make the cover camouflage that’ll appeal to men. Or they’re sort of so assuming that men are coming to this from a place of just total incompetence or disinterest like what they’re actually trying to teach them seems so sort of basic. So I don’t know. I started writing Daily Dad from the perspective of let’s speak specifically to men.

But as more and more in that more and more of that audience turned out to be women, I came to see it more as a parenting site and book that I am writing from the perspective of a dad. So the dad and The Daily Dad is me as opposed to the audience is necessarily male. But one of the things I have thought about as I’ve sort of studied parenting historically, philosophically, and then sort of thought about my own grandparents and parents and those of my peers, it is true that the expectation for men has been lower. It’s been lower for parents across the board. I mean, as late as 100 years ago, if your kids just didn’t die, you could pat yourself on the back as being a great parent, right. Provided they weren’t terribly unhappy or with profound psychological issues. A generation later, you consider yourself a success.

Now, we expect so much more of parents, right. Which is good. Right. But I think about not just did Dads have it easy in one sense, and that the emotional labor or the sort of role of parenting was so disproportionately on women. But for both men and women, I think what they missed out on, right? So take something that’s maybe a little less controversial. We’ll look at the British model of parenting. For someone like Queen Elizabeth II, who just recently died. It was the idea of, like, basically you don’t see your kids when they’re little. The nannies and governancees take care of everything. You see them briefly for, like, they’re presented to you in the morning and presented to you at evening. And until they’re six or seven, you basically don’t see them. And then when they’re like, elementary school or later, they’re sent off to boarding school. Like, you think about that model of parenting, and there’s some in some respects, I guess that would be easy.

But I think about how much fun I have with my kids, how meaningful and profound that relationship has been, how much I have learned spending all that time with them. And one of the things I think about when I look at that old model is how terribly, terribly sad it is. Like, how much people missed out on. So as unfair as sort of a patriarchal society has been in that it put all of this stuff on women. I think one way men should think about it is what they were depriving themselves of. By not shouldering an equal amount of the burden, they also deprived themselves of an equal amount of the rewards and the meaning and the connection. And there’s a virtuous or a vicious cycle there. The more you shoulder the burden, the more you get the rewards. The fewer rewards you get, the less willing or able you are to shoulder the burden. I like to think we’re breaking that cycle, and part of what I’m writing about is the idea of doing that. But it is both sad and unfair when you think about how things have been for a very long time.

Katie: I love that reframe, and I actually love that you’re speaking to Dads, because you’re right, it seems like a very underserved and underspoken to sector of the market. And there are a lot of parenting books aimed at women. And although I would argue that not all of those are great either at times. But I love that you’re challenging that dynamic that’s so used in society of like that men are helping women when they do anything around the home or anything involving the children and maybe shifting towards a more shared idea. Not just of the emotional labor, because that seems like just the surface level, but in the culture and the focus and creating a shared family vision that’s moving toward a shared goal so that both people do, like you said, get to have both that connection and the time and the work and the reward and all that goes along with that.

And one thing I think about is one of my first principles of parenting is that my children are infinite, autonomous beings. They are not mine. I do not own them. They are their own people. I think anybody who’s had a two year old knows we can’t actually make our kids do anything. But I think this actually dovetails perfectly with many of the ideas of Stoicism. And I think when we approach parenting in treating our children as these completely autonomous, infinite, separate beings of us, with the same level of respect we would give to any human, it does shift our interactions with them. And it makes me curious, what are some of those first principles for you when it comes to parenting that emerged as you started working through this?

Ryan: Yeah, I have an entry in the book. I was reading an article by Jessica Grose, who writes parenting stuff in the New York Times, and she was talking about how you’re with your kids and they throw a temper tantrum or they misbehave or they talk back to you, they say something offensive or rude or embarrassing to you in public. There is this instinct, I think, especially if you had parents who never would have tolerated something like that. You feel ashamed, you feel embarrassed. There’s this part of you that wants to smack that down. Not physically, but you want to say that we don’t do that. Right. And she raises this idea of a kid who never misbehaves, who never acts out, who never pushes boundaries. Why would a kid never do those things? She’s saying a kid would never do those things if the kid is afraid of what would happen if they did that. Right.

And so when your kids misbehave, she’s saying, obviously there are rules and boundaries and things that one has to learn to be a person in the world. But her point was, what if, as a parent, you didn’t see that as an indictment of who you were, but you saw that as a statement of how safe your kids feel around you. Right. Instead of seeing their behavior as a reflection of you, you see it as a reflection of the environment you’ve created for them. Right. And that was really helpful to me, because what I took from that is this idea that you don’t really control your kids. You can’t force them to be anyway, or if you can, it’s usually through means that aren’t going to age well or are going to have side effects.

Like, I’ll give you an example. We were at this birthday party the other day, and this kid was sort of very excited and nervous and overwhelmed and how kids are at birthday parties. And he was messing around, and the mom got very upset. And it was his birthday. The mom got very upset and sent him away. She’s like, get your cake and go sit over here and think about what you’ve done. Which I thought was an overreaction and not appropriate. But I watched the kids sort of dutifully get up, take the cake, and walk to the other table. And I remember thinking if I told my kid on his birthday to get up and leave the group, he would laugh in my face, right? And I thought, Why would this kid do this? And then it struck me. The terribly sad thing about it is this kid did it because they were afraid, right? Like, this kid listened to this mom who was over, who was stressed and overreacting and probably being a bit excessive. But it struck me that this kid was afraid of his mom. That’s why he was listening to his mom, because he’s a kid. He doesn’t know that what he was doing was wrong. He didn’t understand any of the context. This kid is reacting almost entirely out of fear, right?

And so I think one of the things I try to talk about in the book is, like, just because you have an orderly or a clean house or you have kids that never talk back to you, who never question what you’re doing or never behave. These things might look good to outside people, and they may reassure you that you’re doing a good job as a parent, but actually, you’re not. And actually, the side effects of what they are creating are far worse and far less important than the semblance of order or obedience or whatever actually is. Does that make sense to you at all? I’d be curious what you think.

Katie: Yeah, absolutely. I really love the way that you’re approaching that and I think springboards into the topic of values because I think for a lot of people, those represent externally and what other people would see as what they hope are the values that they’re getting across to their kids. And to your point, I fully agree. Those, while they may work in the short term, are not going to be good for the long term of that relationship with your child that will extend far beyond them being a child in your home and hopefully into a lifelong relationship that moves far beyond that.

But when we springboard into that conversation of values, it seems like parents do at least have a loose idea of some of the things that they want to impart to their children and values that they hope that they reach adulthood with in how they exist in the world. So I guess the next question would be. What is the antidote to that? If the short term fear based approach is not the right answer, how do we communicate those values? Is it modeling? Is there more to it than that? Is it a hybrid?

Ryan: Well, modeling is obviously the only way that you can really effectively communicate values or any lasting way. But I think before we even think about how we communicate values, we as parents have to get serious with ourselves as to what those values are. I was talking to my grandmother, who’s in her mid 90s, and she was telling me that one of the things that she always took pride in when she was a mother was that people would come over and go, it doesn’t look like you have children. That’s what she would say. So having a very clean, orderly, flawless house was very important to her. And a lot of her identity, she said, was sort of caught up in the appearance of that. And she’s saying now that she’s older and her kids are older, she’s like, what was I thinking? I don’t care about this at all. Right?

And so I think it is important as parents, not only that we get really clear about what actually is important to us, but we question some of the things that feel important to us that we actually just unconsciously picked up either from society or from our own parents or from our own inadequacies or issues. So really asking, hey, many years from now, am I going to care about this at all? Right? So school is important, right? Or we think it is. But many years from now, think about your own relationship with your parents. How often do your grades in school come up? Right? It’s not important at all. What was happening is that they were worried about whether you could make it out into the world, whether you were going to be okay, whether you had the skills, the values, the priorities, the work ethic. To survive in the world, to raise your own family, to take care of yourself, to be self sufficient and all these things. And school became a proxy for that. And it’s not a totally uncorrelated proxy, but we do have to understand that it’s not actually a proxy, right?

Like when I dropped out of college. I dropped out of college when I was 19. Obviously, it hasn’t negatively affected me in life. It actually was one of the things that unlocked me being able to be successful in life. But my parents had such a clear sense of, if our kids don’t go to college, they’ll end up under a bridge somewhere, or if our kids don’t go to college, it says something about whether we succeeded or failed as parents, according to our peers and friends and based on how they reacted, it was clear to me at the time that it was almost more important to them that I go to college.

Like, if I could have said, look, I’ll hate you forever, but I’ll stay in college, they might have taken that trade. Right. They reacted in such a way that was clear they were willing to trade the quality of our relationship, and our relationship remains strained to this day because of how they reacted over something that, in retrospect, feels not that important. And so I think really taking the time to ask yourself, hey, what is important and what do I think as time passes and things recede into the past, what’s going to remain important to me? And a lot of the things that we fixate on or that we argue with our kids about or that we nag them about, don’t age very well.

Katie: Yeah, that’s such a good point. And I will say much unlike your grandmother, my house is by no means flawless all the time. It absolutely looks like kids live there because they do. And I realize I can repaint walls when they grow up and get the footprints off of the walls from the handstands, but I would much rather them be doing handstands in the hall than feeling like they can’t live in their own house. And I think that is also shifting in today’s world.

But like you, I also dropped out of college. And like you, my very well meaning, loving parents had a hard time with that for many, many years. Because, to your point, while it wasn’t an accurate proxy to them, that was a proxy for making sure I was going to be okay in the world. And it does seem like a lot of parents are willing to ask better questions in this arena now, and we’re seeing so much more intentionality in parenting now. But I would love to hear from you. What are some of the maybe better metrics or better values and ways to approach that now?

Ryan: Yeah, I was thinking about it. When I think back to my own childhood, what are the things that my parents talked to me the most about? It wasn’t like being honest. It wasn’t working hard. It wasn’t finding what lights you up, what gives you purpose in the world. It was like how clean my room was. The tone I was speaking with were the shoes lined up by the front door? Yes or no? Right. Like, things that who care, like the 1996 Volvo that we had. Where is that car now? The one that we had all these arguments about whether I should drink this milkshake in the backseat or not. That car is a crushed up cube of metal somewhere. Right. It’s not like they’re still driving. They don’t even live in the house that they were so concerned about us drawing on the walls on. Right. And realizing that that’s where you’re going to be should give you some perspective.

But I think about, like, when my son comes home from school, my oldest, I don’t go hey, how’d you do at school? What did you learn? Were you number one in this or that? The question my wife and I ask is, what was the kindness that you did today? The one question I make sure to ask him every day was, what nice thing did he do for someone else during the day? And I hope that many years in the future when he thinks back to how his parents thought about kindergarten, which in retrospect doesn’t matter at all, that the one thing that came up a lot was how he treated other people. Right.

When he goes to Jiu-jitsu, I don’t ask him whether he won or whether he pinned anyone. I asked him, what did he work on, like, what was he trying to learn and did he feel like he did his best? Right. And so I think one of the ways you asked how we communicate values, once we know what those values are, I think one of the ways that we communicate those values or we measure those values is in terms of the questions we ask, what are we monitoring, what are we giving feedback on? You can say, hey, school is not important, education is. Right. Which most people would say is true. But then if you are measuring your kids based on their GPA or their SATs, you’re actually saying that that’s not true, that what’s important is school and education is secondary.

Katie: Yeah, that’s such a good point. I think we kind of go backwards in that idea of thinking school is important, but really it’s education. And I would argue it’s actually love of learning, which is actually curiosity. And so how do we nurture that at the root as a first principle, instead of what might be one expression of that that fits in our societal mold? And I think this touches on another concept you talk about, which is writing down you’ve talked about this with stoicism your own values and having that as a focus. I even actually have some of those tattooed on me now, just as constant reminders.

But it seems like this is also really valuable in a family context, especially even getting the kids involved in, and at an early age thinking through what are their values and how they can, on their own, nurture them and how we can support them as parents. But I would love to hear you talk about this. How do we identify those values and then how do we nurture them?

Ryan: Yeah, there’s a passage in Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations where he lists what he calls the Epithets for the self, and he just lists a handful of words that are sort of like his watchwords or his mantras, his values in singular words. And he lists about six or seven of them. And I could show it to you, but it’s attached to my monitor. I have a little note card here, a 4 x 6 note card that has seven epithets on it that are mine. So I say honest, calm, fair, father. Just to say that parenting, that role, that identity we’re talking about is one of those values for me brave, generous and then the last one is still the idea of being which is sort of a reiteration of calm. So the fact that I’m having to put it there twice gives you a sense of how I struggle with it.

But the idea of not just having some vague sense of what your values are but articulating and defining them and putting words to them is a really big part of it. So then as one is looking at an individual situation your kid comes back with an F on a math test, right? So maybe accountability or effort is a big value for you and your family. Well, obviously getting an F on a math test having not even turned in your homework or something, that would be falling short of those values. But if one of your other values is being in command of your emotions or dealing with things calmly then you as a parent also have a chance to show your values in how you respond to that situation. Right? And so I think for the Stoics it’s the idea that all of these different values, they intersect with each other, they’re in tension with each other, filling your potential and not caring about external things outside of your control, do those have attention with each other? And so understanding that the values that we have are not as simple as do this in all situations, do this in all situations, do that in all situations. But that finding how they balance each other out the average of them is a really important part of it.

Katie: Yeah, I think that’s so important. And I think also one thing I took from Stoicism years ago and applied to parenting touches on that aspect of what’s actually within our control and our ability to pause and choose our own response. I think that alone is such a valuable parenting tip because as we talked about, we can’t control our children and often, yes, their emotional responses can elicit an emotional response in us that might trigger our own child, inner child at that age.

But what I’ve learned is as parents having those things top of mind and being aware of them in our own responses and choosing the calmness or choosing our response carefully sets so much of the tone and that interaction even in small ways. I know parents can get frustrated when a kid looks at them in the eyes and says no. But how often do we as parents look our kids in the eyes and tell them no? And so I think of that like the respect being a two way relationship. Not just they are required to respect us because they are our children, but no, it has to go both ways. But I think that element of pausing. And choosing our own response carefully as a parent is perhaps the most valuable relationship in our lives. Where that’s so important but often overlooked, maybe.

Ryan: Yes. One of the things I think about that the Stoics bring up is that to a certain degree, we are just emotional, flawed people, and we’re going to get provoked and triggered, lose our temper, we’re going to make mistakes, we’re going to value the wrong things. We’re going to have that emotional reaction. Perhaps some part of that needs to be accepted.

But what we can do and what I think this generation does better than the last generation, which did better than the generation before, is taking ownership and responsibility of that. Like, I could probably count on my hand the number of times that my parents ever admitted they were wrong or apologized, right? Or explained why they acted a certain way, like, hey, I’m sorry I yelled at you at the airport. You have to be able to hurry up. We were going to miss our flight, but mom or dad was stressed because we didn’t want to miss our flight because we’re looking forward to the vacation, blah, blah, blah. Right. The context with which an individual is acting is really important, especially if we are trying to teach awareness and self-command and accountability in our own children. And so when I find that I have acted in a way that’s contrary to the values or the standards I set for myself, I don’t go, hey, I’m a parent. I’m in control. That’s just how it goes, put up with it. I try to take ownership of that. I try to talk to my kids about it, and I try to give them a sense that I am also a person in the world who is doing the best that I can. And I think that’s a more powerful lesson or a more important part of our relationship than some maintaining of distance or a hierarchy in the family by never admitting error or vulnerability. Do you know what I mean?

Katie: Absolutely. And by modeling that, it also gives them permission to be able to admit when they’re wrong, to apologize, to rebuild a relationship if there was something that caused strife in it. I think that in the long-term is so much more important than them having an illusion, which they won’t, that they have a perfect parent or that the parent is always right.

And I would guess this extends to so many values and so many areas of parenting. But I know one you talk about explicitly is wanting to get across to your kids being less judgmental of others. And I would guess modeling is also a huge key here. But are there other ways that you nurture that in your family besides just modeling?

Ryan: Yeah, we were just visiting someone the other day, and we get in the car afterwards, the kids are strapped in, they’re on their iPad. So maybe they’re not paying attention. And my wife and I had to catch ourselves and go, you know what? Let’s talk about our feelings of what we saw in this house later or never, instead of the sort of gossiping that happens afterwards or the judgmentalness that can happen. That’s really just teaching her kids that there’s a difference between who you are in private and who you are in public is a really important one. And so that’s actually something I’m working on.

There’s this great line in Marcus’ release Meditations, where he talks about he says, you always own the option of having no opinion, right? And that’s something we try to talk to our kids about, the idea that just because we don’t do something, just because something doesn’t do it for us doesn’t really mean or say anything about the people who do like that thing, who do enjoy that thing. I heard my wife say, and I’m sure she got it from somewhere, but she said, let’s not yuck someone else’s yum. Which I thought was a great expression because my oldest doesn’t understand why my youngest still likes things that he doesn’t remember that he used to like or that he used to do. And there’s this sense, and we do it as adults all the time. We hear that somebody likes a comedian and instead of going, oh, good for them, we say, that comedian is not funny, or we say, that band sucks, or we say, that movie was terrible when in reality all it was was just something that didn’t do it for us. Right? And I think if we’re trying to raise tolerant children, if we’re trying to create a universe that is more accepting and welcoming to people, one of the ways we can do that is just by not having opinions about things that don’t really have anything to do with us.

Katie: Agreed. And I have that quote of having the right to not have an opinion up in my house as well. I think that’s a great reminder for today’s society where we’re constantly given opportunities to have an opinion on social media all day long.

I’d love to hear some of your other values that you have for your specific children or in general in your family. Like, for instance, in my family, one that I have is I encourage my kids to question everything, and I make space for them to do that. And my oldest, when he was like two and a half, looked at me in the eyes when I said that to him and said, Even you? And I said even and especially me. Because if he couldn’t question me as his his first authority figure, how could he do it to anyone else? But I would love to hear what are some of the other values that you guys focus on as a family? And maybe what are some of the tangible ways that you integrate them? Like the tip you mentioned about asking your kids what kindness they did for someone else that day, things like that.

Ryan: Well, one of the things that I like to do when my kids ask questions or they say something, like they assert some fact and I say, no, actually, it’s this fact, instead of me saying, well, I know more than you, I am correct, I go, let’s figure it out. Right? Let’s see what’s true. Right? And the idea of digging into stuff together or when they say something, go prove it. Like, show me. And actually exploring that thing, I think is both a really fun one, an opportunity for connection, and then also teaching them a really good habit.

My youngest was talking to me about this the other day. He was telling me some kid at school was telling him something that he didn’t think was true. And he was telling me that he didn’t think it was true. And I said, but did you talk to them about it? I said, did you ask them to prove to you that fact? Right? And he’s like, no, I didn’t. And I think the idea that the answers that we’re looking for are out there and that we have the same device that they like to watch YouTube videos on is also a wonderful place to get to the bottom of stuff, to figure stuff out.

There’s movies about this, there’s documentaries about this, there’s articles about this, there’s pictures of this. And so really diving deep into the things that we’re interested about or that we’re arguing about or that we disagree about, I think is a really, really important one. And to teach your kids and to give them the tools to go figure stuff out is probably the most important skill you can have as a person in the world. There’s a lot of people with advanced degrees, there’s lots of people with huge brains, but I would argue that most people on this planet are not good at figuring stuff out and that that is the most important skill a person can have.

Katie: Yeah, that touches on another first principle for me, actually, as a parent, which is that I set a rule for myself early on that I won’t do anything for them once they’re capable of doing it themselves because that would be an insult to their ability to do it. And not to say that I won’t braid my daughter’s hair even though she can do it herself, because that’s a chance for connection. But once they can do their own laundry, I’m not going to do it for them because I’m not going to insult their ability to take care of their own clothes by doing it for them. And I feel like that’s led to that core value of autonomy in our family and everybody contributing. Not them helping me to touch on our earlier conversation, but them actually being contributing important members of the family culture. And I feel like things like that. Just having them top of mind is so helpful in the day-to-day busyness that you can get caught up in the overwhelm.

Ryan: Well, that’s a big dad one, I think, which is for a long time. And again, I think everyone’s guilty of it, but men have had the ability to just sort of plead incompetence, right? Like if I show myself as being incapable or ineffectual at this thing, my wife or spouse will take care of it for me, my mother or father will take care of it for me or it’ll just not get done. Right. And that’s such a terrible thing to model for your kids, right. And we do unconsciously model it for our kids. As you said, we just take care of stuff they can easily do for themselves.

But I think what’s even worse is you as the adult modeling not just learned helplessness, but also this sort of fixedness right, this sense of like, well, I’m not good at that. And so that is a fact of life and it is an unchangeable, inalterable fact of life. You want your kids to see themselves as people who can grow and change and add new skills to their skill set and figure things out that are hard. And so for you to model for them, oh, I’m just not good at that, or I just don’t like that. Or I’m a person who can’t do X, Y or Z. I think that’s a terrible, terrible bit of messaging to give to a person at the most impressionable part of their life.

Katie: I agree completely. I think these shifts can be so profound for families. And I also know that it’s very much a two way street. I would say becoming a mom has been the most transformational thing that’s ever happened to me in my life. And that my kids are my 6 greatest teachers in this life. And I know that’s the case for you as well. So I would love to hear the lessons that you’ve learned from your kids in reverse in the situation.

Ryan: Yeah. One of my least favorite quotes in the whole world is this quote that basically says if you’re not liberal when you’re young, you don’t have a heart. And if you’re not conservative when you’re older, you don’t have a brain. Right. It’s this idea that sure, it’s all well and good to be to have all these ideals when you’re young, but then when you get older you have to get serious and you realize the world is dark and blah, blah, blah, blah. Basically, what I take that quote to mean is that your heart hardens as you go.

I think one of the things that having kids has done for me is it really opened me up in a bunch of ways. But I also try to think of them and their innocence and their goodness and their sweetness and their affinity for other people. And I try to see it as something I am supposed to guard and protect and also nurture inside myself. I think one of the best parenting books ever written is Cormac McCarthy’s book The Road, and the whole theme in that book is this idea of carrying the fire, right, carrying goodness forward in a very dark and broken world. And I think it’s important that we don’t allow our cynicism or our skepticism or our experiences in life deprive our children of this sort of wonderful period that is childhood.

But also, conversely, they should bring back up in us some of those wonderful things about childhood: playing and messing around and seeing the best in people and not thinking that things are fixed or permanent, that there’s an unlimited amount of possibilities, that it’s not too late. All of these things I feel like my kids have really brought back in me and that I try to keep and protect for both their sake and my sake. There’s a great quote. I’m forgetting who the poem is from, but have you read that poem Good Bones?

Katie: I don’t think so.

Ryan: Basically, the poem is like when you go look at a piece of real estate and she’s saying, like, this house is a real piece of shit and it’s falling apart. But a good real estate agent tries to convince you that the house has good bones and that if you put a lot of work and effort and care into it, you could really turn it into something. And she’s saying that’s the attitude that parents have to have for their children in the world, that the world has good bones and you’re trying to sell them on their ability to affect change and bring about improvements in that world.

And that it’s really easy when there’s climate change and political unrest and it doesn’t feel like systems are working and there’s a pandemic and all these things are happening. It can be really easy to just sort of throw up your hands and be like, all is lost. But that doesn’t help your kids, right? And to remember that they’re still in that other phase of life and that that’s probably the best and most hopeful and constructive worldview and that we can help each other in that regard. That’s something I think about a lot.

Katie: Yeah, I fully agree on that.

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And I would guess another question you get often, because I also get it often having had six kids and a business growing at the same time is with the idea that you want to be a very involved parent and a very present parent. And you’ve also written twelve books in ten years. How do you balance it all? How do you make time for it all question? I’m sure comes up for you as well.

Ryan: Yeah, I don’t work that much. I think people think that I work a ton, but I have kind of tried to design and build my life around seeing my kids a lot. I took them to school this morning. I’m the one that’s going to be picking at least one of them up today. We’ll spend time in the pool together. We went for a walk this morning. I try to build and design my day so I get some really good stuff with them right at the beginning, and I try to carve time at the end to make sure I get some time with them. And then I try to go, that middle time. That’s my time to do what I do. And then I have to be disciplined about that, that I can’t afford to procrastinate or to be inefficient or to say yes to things that I shouldn’t say yes to.

Right here on this side of my desk, I have a picture of my two kids. One on the top, one on the bottom, and then in the middle, there’s just a sign that says, “no”. It just says “no”. And the idea is to choose these two people. I have to say no to a lot of stuff in the middle. So obviously I do my work at a high level and I do work, but I think by being disciplined about those things, there is more than enough time in the day. But then to go to what you were talking about earlier about the sort of mental load and just the sort of parenting load, there’s a quote from Ursula Le Guin, the Sci-Fi novelist, and she was saying that it’s impossible for one person to do two jobs, right. To be a professional at your profession and to be a parent. Those are both two full time jobs. She says it’s impossible for one person to do two jobs, but she says two people can do three jobs. And so building an environment with you and your spouse or your co-parent or whomever that allows you to sort of both carry the load and both thrive, I think is ultimately the best way to do it.

Katie: Yeah, I love that point. And one thing that helped me was realizing, I think society builds in for moms, especially this mom guilt that we’re supposed to entertain our kids all day long, which I would argue is actually not good for them anyway. But what she said is when you look at the studies and what psychologists are finding, it’s actually your kids only need 10 to 20 minutes and ideally more, but 10 to 20 minutes of your uninterrupted focus time per day without the phone in the way, without a to do list in the way. And that became much more manageable. And I still spend much more time than that with my kids. But just having that in my mind of I want to make time for each of them individually to do what they want to do for just a few minutes a day helps build that connection.

And then they also I think it’s important for them to see and have us model that. Also, I’m going to do work sometimes because that’s what supports our family, but it’s not going to take away from my relationship with you. But it’s an important thing as well. And I would guess we might actually have slightly differing approaches on this particular point, which makes me excited to talk to you about it, but I think you take an approach that’s a little bit more of what people would call erring on the side of overprotecting your kids. And I might err on the other side a little bit, but I think there’s actually common values underneath those. But I would love to hear your take on protecting our kids in today’s world and balancing that desire to protect them with also the desire to help them learn to be autonomous and self-sufficient and have good risk awareness and tolerance in the world.

Ryan: Yeah, I would probably define myself as a bit overprotective. So much of the world is outside of your control, but then I feel like there are things that are in our control that I’m always surprised when I see people not take advantage of. So I’ll give you an example. I wrote this book about courage, not being afraid, being willing to take risks, being willing to put yourself out there. These are all really important traits, right? You can’t live a life ruled by fear. But why would you not wear a motorcycle helmet, right? Or why would you ride a motorcycle at all? I think these are important questions to ask.

And so when we think about these things, obviously it’s also important to us that our kids are autonomous, that our kids are self-reliant and self-sufficient and resilient in all of these things. And then we also say if there’s anywhere that it’s good to be safe, then sorry, it’s probably with our kids, we probably do disagree on some stuff, but I think it’s always interesting you’ll be following someone on Instagram and you’re like, that’s definitely not how you strap a kid into their car seat. It’ll take you two minutes to watch a video on how to do this, right? If you’re going to put them in a car seat, you should do it right. You know what I mean?

And so I think sometimes we get in this debate with these sort of big existential questions about should we be doing this or should we do it in that? And then we neglect some obvious stuff that would make the world safer or better. We live in this wonderful house out in the country, and we have this beautiful view of this lake behind our house. The pool fence ruins the view. In my eyes, I hate the pool fence so much, but it’s there, and it’s not there because it’s the law that it’s there. It’s why would I take the extra risk for any reason when that would potentially jeopardize the most important thing in the world to me.

Katie: Yeah, I think that’s a good balance. And maybe the analogy being it might be a great idea for them to wear a helmet when they’re riding a bike, but I’m not going to keep them from riding their bike.

Ryan: Of course.

Katie: Or jumping on the trampoline in theory could be dangerous. They can just, only one at a time, jump on the trampoline and still get to jump on the trampoline. It’s like finding that balance point.

Ryan: Yeah. Or they go, hey, an above ground trampoline has a risk factor of X, but if you set the trampoline in the ground, you reduce the vast majority of all injuries. Right. I think one of the things that has been helpful to me over the last couple of years, too, if you’re an anxious person who worries about risk, when you look at these numbers and you go, okay, x amount of children are hurt by this every year or this every year. It’s remembering that those statistics include the most negligent parents in the world. Right? It includes the abusers and the checked-out and the irresponsible and all of that. Right.

And so remembering, hey, if I am controlling what I control, like, look, bad things can happen to anyone. Freak accidents happen to the best parents in the entire world. And I don’t mean to victim blame here in any way, but just as being struck by lightning is extraordinarily rare, let’s go to pools. A parent who has a pool fence teaches their children how to swim, keeps an eye on them whenever they are outside of the house and near the pool. That’s a parent who the odds of that worst case scenario happening are astonishingly rare. So once you have done those things that are in your control, you can live your life as a normal person. The problem is a lot of people don’t like to worry and they don’t like to be anxious. So they say, well, I’m just not going to think about it. And they should think about it because they have left a lot of things that are up to them unaddressed.

Katie: You yeah, that’s a great point. And I know that there’s more in the book and in all of your books than we can ever cover in one episode. So hopefully we’ll get to do more rounds in the future. I would love to all your books in the show notes as well so people can find them. I got a chance to preview The Daily Dad and it was awesome. So kudos on another great book. But any key takeaways that you want to make sure you leave the listeners with today related to the new book specifically.

Ryan: Yeah, I talk a lot towards the end of the book about sort of how you’re going to judge yourself as a success as a parent in the future. And obviously, again, you want your kids to be able to take care of themselves to reach their potential to do all of these things. You’re going to be proud if they go on to invent something that changes the world or they make some beautiful piece of art, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. But at the end of the day, you’re going to want to have a relationship with your kids in the future. You’re going to all want to be crowded around the dinner table at Thanksgiving or Christmas. You’re going to want them to pop-in and visit you. You’re going to want them to bring their children, your grandchildren, if they choose to have them around you. That’s what success is going to be.

And so it’s really, really important as you make your decisions today, that you bear that in mind and to think about how in that distant future, how small so many of the things that we end up talking about ultimately are. What do you care what your kids sexuality is or what color their hair is or what they major in college or where they choose to live? You’re not going to care about any of these things. What you’re going to care about is do you still have a connection? Do they still know that you love and care for them? Do they want to spend time with you? Do they understand that you want to spend time with them?

And I think just making those decisions are really important. And I’m not even just talking about how you interact with them. You say that you’re working hard and you’re doing it for your family, but really what your family wants is you. And if you continually put things in front of your family, at some point they’re going to move on, right? And I think to me, the main lesson of the book is that parenting isn’t this thing that you do for 18 years to raise them into being a legal adult. It’s ideally going to be the longest lasting relationship of your life, and you need to judge and make your decisions accordingly and set your values accordingly like we’re talking about.

Katie: I love that. I think that’s a perfect place to begin to wrap up for today. And a couple of last questions I love to ask. I know I’ve asked you before, but I also know you’re a prolific reader. If there is a book or number of books that have profoundly impacted you, and if so, what they are and why.

Ryan: Yeah, I mean, obviously anything from the Stoics has been sort of profoundly helpful to me. But if I had to give two parenting books that I really like, number one is a book called Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents, which was very helpful to me as a person, sort of reconciling and dealing with my own childhood and then also just a model of what I don’t want to be for my kids. And then there’s another great book called The Self-Driven Child that I really like, which I think goes to what you were saying is your sort of main metric for your kids, that your kids are autonomous, self-responsible adults. Like, if your kids are only good at school because you forced them to be at school, to be good at school, or you have instilled fear in them about being good at school, that’s not a self driven child. You want a kid who’s good at school because they like school and they’ve decided that it’s important and they have their own values that are motivating and compelling them. So if we can think about raising self-driven children and that can inform our philosophy, I think we’ll do better.

Katie: I will include links to both of those as well. And lastly, any parting advice for the listeners today that could be related to parenting or entirely unrelated life advice?

Ryan: Yeah, there’s this quote from Seneca that I think about all the time, both as a person and as a parent. He says it’s wrong to think of death as something in the future, something that we’re moving towards. He says, no, death is all around you. He says, the time that passes belongs to death. Right. So obviously, every parent shudders to think about outliving their children or that day when, God forbid, you leave your children. But I think a different way that the Stoics suggest we think about it is that every minute that passes is death, right? And that each of us, if you have a ten year old that’s a nine year old and an eight year old and a seven year old and a six year old that is no longer with you, that is gone forever. And so were you there, right? You’re going to miss that eight year old someday. You’re going to miss however old your kids are right now, like today, they’re never going to be that again. And so you’re going to miss it someday. But right now, in the present, are you acting as if you are going to miss it? Are you actually being there for it and experiencing it and living it? That’s really the real question.

Katie: I love it. Well, Ryan, it’s always such a pleasure to get to talk to you. Thank you so much for the time today and for everything you got to share today.

Ryan: Yeah, thanks for having me.

Katie: And thanks, as always, to all of you for listening and sharing your most valuable resources, your time, your energy and your attention with us today. We’re both so grateful that you did, and I hope that you will join me again on the next episode of The Wellness Mama podcast.

If you’re enjoying these interviews, would you please take two minutes to leave a rating or review on iTunes for me? Doing this helps more people to find the podcast, which means even more moms and families could benefit from the information. I really appreciate your time, and thanks as always for listening.

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