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"Progress not perfection": Author Sarah MacLaughlin seeks to find the sweet spot in parenting

Her book speaks to incorporating firmness as well as kindness in parenting

WINDHAM, Maine — When she talks about parenting, Sarah MacLaughlin likes to say – “progress not perfection”. She also says that sometimes we have to re-parent ourselves – in order to better parent our own kids.

Sarah MacLaughlin is a social worker and parent educator - and has written her second book called Raising Humans with Heart

I want to first ask you  how you describe somebody as child or an adult who has heart. What does that mean to you?

"For me personally it means that I’m not stuck in my head. I think we can all fall in to the trap of over-intellectualizing life, our relationships, parenting – we tend to overthink things. And our brains, while they are very excellent assets, we don’t want to follow them all the time. We want to make sure we’re also connected to the other parts of ourselves that have knowing – like our heart or our bodies," says MacLaughlin.

She writes about parents bouncing between a punitive approach to parenting and a permissive approach. Finding the middle ground - - authoritative, firm and kind - is the goal. 

"This is so tricky because most of us didn’t receive this as a model. Really what creates the most amount of safety for kids to grow and flourish is to know that the adults who take care of them have their back and have the lead. It takes practice to try to figure out how to be firm and kind and it might look different for everybody ... but if you’re not kind it can damage your relationship and if you’re not firm your kids don’t feel safe. So that’s why you kind of need both of those pieces. Our kids are watching us. And how we respond to our own imperfections and our foibles as humans, cuz we’re all human and we’re all doing the best we can."

How does our self-care – in your opinion – impact our parenting? 

00 06 28 22  If we’re not considering our own humanity then we’re not really having a real relationship with these growing humans right? Who we want to have long term relationships with and that’s the other piece to kind of helps us behave the way we want to behave in the moment and do the work that we need to do to improve our own social and emotional skills so we can parent the way we want to – is because it’s a long term effort! I want my kid to come home and visit me in 20 years and have a continued relationship.

What sort of things do you think parents should be focusing on if they hope to raise a humans with heart?

"My answer to that is to know a little bit about the brain. Because our brains are sort of filtering our experiences, including our emotional experiences and we do have a connection through the vagus nerve between our guts, our heart, our central part of our body and our brains – there’s connection there. Being attuned to that connection and being aware of it. And understanding why kids behave the way that they do."

MacLaughlin points out that children’s brains are simply undeveloped, not yet able to reason, or figure out the consequence of their actions. That doesn’t happen until they are in their mid-20’s. 

"It takes a really long time to grow a healthy, integrated brain and parents can play a really big role in that."

Do you think your book is more important than ever? 

"As the world gets smaller in some ways, because we’re more connected with each other all around the world,  we need to be aware of that connection. How we interact with each other and that  life is about relationships. The ability to have good relationships as you grow older stems from the primary relationships you have as a child. So, knowing that you’re laying that foundation, creating those templates for growing children to go out in to the world and have good relationships with their peers, co-workers, future partners, their own children some day, that is really foundational to communities that are thriving."

"One of my chapters is called “Emotional Competence is not a Soft Skill” . So these skills that you’re talking about where we’re supposed to be able to meet someone emotionally, read the room, interact with people in an emotionally available, intelligent, competent, agile way are skills that start from the very beginning and get carried through to adulthood."

This line in the book jumped out at me. “Generations of people have been raised with shame, pain, and fear as part of their experience. There is no reason for this.” One takeaway that I got from your book is that we almost have to re-parent ourselves before we can be better parents. Can you talk about that a little bit? 

"It’s true that a lot of those tactics were considered quick ways and they might even still be quick ways but they come with a cost and they wire a brain in a certain fashion – if fear is being used to modify behavior, than the brain is wired towards fear instead of towards love and connections."

"I talk about the manual that we all kind of arrive at parenting with. Which is how we were parented, right? Because we’re logging all of that when we’re growing up and then examining it. Re-parenting, re-wiring your brain, re-editing your own personal manual so that you can be responsive."

"Being able to be responsive to the child that you have – their temperament may be different, their personality may be different  and so being able to kind of unpack all of that? Is a job. That I think is a worthwhile job for parents to do."

Sarah MacLaughlin's new book, Raising Humans With Heart: Not a How-To Manualwas just released and is available at local bookstores through IndieBound and online at Barnes & Noble and Amazon. It will officially launch at an in-person event hosted by Leah Deragon, cofounder of Birth Roots and sponsored by Print: A Bookstore and CoworkHERS coworking space. The event will be held at CoworkHERS at 411 Congress Street on Friday, July 30th at 7:00 PM. Those who are unvaccinated can watch the event streaming online.