027: How to Embrace an Unexpected Reality and Overcome Unmet Expectations
Many times, things in our life don’t go according to plan, whether it be in our businesses, with ourselves, or with our families. So how do we reconcile the life we expected with a reality that looks drastically different?
Debbie Reber, author, speaker, parenting activist, and founder of Tilt Parenting, specializes in helping parents with neurodivergent children adjust to the reality of having a child with unique needs, including reconciling expectations with their new reality. She joined BOSS Talk host La’Vista Jones to provide tips and best practices for moving forward in the face of unmet expectations, no matter what the situation.
Introducing Debbie Reber
La'Vista Jones 00:02
So welcome to another episode of BOSS Talk. I am your host, La'Vista Jones, and today I am joined by my guest, Debbie Reber. Debbie, welcome to the show.
Debbie Reber 00:12
Thank you. I love the name of your show. I already feel cooler.
La'Vista Jones 00:20
Thank you. Thank you so much.
So, before we get into the nitty gritty of what it is we're going to talk about today, I want to just kind of introduce our listeners to you. So, a little bit about Debbie. Debbie is a parenting activist, bestselling author, speaker, and the founder of Tilt Parenting, a website, podcast, and a resource for parents like her who are raising differently wired children. The Tilt Parenting Podcast has more than 4 million downloads. And Debbie's newest book that I have here is Differently Wired: A Parent's Guide to Raising an Atypical Child with Confidence and Hope is available for you to read and fully consume.
A little bit more about Debbie. In 2018 she spoke at TEDx Amsterdam, delivering a talk entitled “Why The Future Will Be Differently Wired.” Prior to launching Tilt, Debbie spent 15 years writing inspiring books for women and teens, including Doable Chill in Their Shoes, the real-deal series from the Chicken Soup for the Soul, Run for Your Life, and more than a dozen Blue's Clues books. So, that alone makes Debbie probably one of the Cubs’ most favorite guests that we have ever had on the show, because he loved Blue's Clues when he was little. I love it.
So, becoming a solopreneur Debbie worked in TV and video production, producing documentaries for UNICEF, working on Blue's Clues for Nickelodeon, and developing a series for Cartoon Network. She has a master's in media studies from the New School of Social Research and a bachelor's in communication from Penn State. In 2019, her husband and her 17-year-old relocated to Brooklyn, New York, after living in Amsterdam in the Netherlands for five years. So first of all, why in this moment, am I just realizing that you are a Nittany Lion?
La'Vista Jones 02:17
Are you a Nittany Lion?
La'Vista Jones 02:19
I am not. I am a Buckeye. So, when I meet other people that have any kind of other association with the Big Ten I'm like, ‘Oh my gosh.’ Right? Especially, like, being in Arizona and, like, that connection. And you know, like, I was just like, ‘Oh, wow, like, those whiteouts that happen in Beaver Stadium, those are intense. Like, we haven't gone to one in person, but it's just, like, whoa. Just seeing on TV is, like, wow,
Debbie Reber 02:47
That's a long, long time ago. Very few memories left from that time of my life.
La'Vista Jones 02:56
Yeah, well, you know, football, college football in particular, is very important in the Jones household. So, it's one of those things, when the fall schedule comes out, all that stuff is, like, the games are on the calendar. My husband is a huge University of Michigan football fan, which I don't really know how the two of us work in the fall, but we do. And it's just, like, girlfriends automatically know, like, on Saturday, I'm not coming to your anything, because there's football on here from, like, six o'clock in the morning until, like, six, seven o'clock at night.
Debbie Reber 03:26
So funny. I have to be honest. So, my parents went to Penn State. My uncle went to Penn State. My sister went to Penn State. I went to Penn State. But I am the one who does not watch football anymore. They all still do. But I somehow...I don't know if it was living abroad. I don't know what it was. But I hear about it for sure. I know when it's happening.
Boss as Being in Control
La'Vista Jones 03:48
Yes. So yeah, I might drop you, like, a note the next time they play each other this upcoming fall just like, ‘Hey, hey Lion.’ All right. So, um, one of the things that I ask every guest that comes on to the show – and I love that you say that you like the name of the show – is I ask them how they personally define being a boss, and I'd love to hear your take on that. What does being a boss mean to you, Debbie?
Debbie Reber 04:18
Wow, um, I don't know if I've given it a lot of thought, because I know culturally, like, boss lady, like, it's really become a term and in recent years, maybe the last decade. But for me, like, I think of it as just kind of running my own show. Like, you know, I've been self-employed now since 2003, so 19 years. And I've certainly worked in different corporate worlds prior to that. But really being able to be in control of all aspects of my work and owning that and being really good at it.
So, I think it's like, you know, when you're a writer, it's like, you have to have a good idea, you have to be a good writer, and you have to be able to execute. And I think the same for being a boss. You have to have good ideas, you have to have the discipline, and you have to just do the work. So that's how I would define it.
La'Vista Jones 05:17
I love that. I love all of that. Thank you for sharing.
And so, you may not know, though, “BOSS” in the name of the show actually is an acronym that stands for Battling Overwhelm with Systems and Self-Care. So, during each show, I get the pleasure of having candid conversations with my guests, like you, that are bosses that have faced and battled moments of overwhelm in their businesses and lives, specifically leveraging systems and practicing self-care. So, with that, Debbie, are you ready to share how you’re walking out your boss talk on the show?
Why Human Connection Is So Important When Things Don’t Go According to Plan
Yay. So, I want to start with a brief story. So, the last time I saw you in person, I had shared that my family, we had just received an ADHD diagnosis for our young son. But what I don't think that I shared was that the six to nine months leading up to that diagnosis...one, I studied psychology in college, so I know just enough to be a little dangerous, right. So, like, I kind of knew that this was coming. I think I would have been more surprised if they had said that he didn't have ADHD. But that six to nine months prior to actually receiving the diagnosis was actually kind of hell for, like, me and my family, just kind of dealing with some of, you know, the unique situations that, like, our son was trying to navigate, not really knowing what to do to support him, trying to figure out how to just do life, you know, this way, you know, as a family, and just all the difficulties that came with kind of keeping that secret, if you will, from like those that are close to us.
But I do remember that, as we got closer to him actually going to, like, get his assessment and then going through, like, those appointments and stuff like that, I felt like I had kind of hit a point where it's like, you know what, enough is enough. I need to share what's happening with us. Because I need people to support. Like, I need some help. I need some love. Like, I need something. And that's not going to happen if nobody knows what I'm dealing with. And so, when I shared that with our – we call them our cub-munity because we refer to our son as our cub – and when I shared that I really felt like this weight had been lifted from me.
And so, I want to, you know, go into, like, my first question for you is, in that story, I kind of, you know, share about the isolation, you know, that I was kind of keeping myself in and not sharing. Why do you think it's so important that when we're dealing with kind of unmet expectations and maybe some of the chaos that kind of goes on with that, why is it important to connect with other people?
Debbie Reber 08:07
I think what you just described is not unusual when you're raising a differently wired or neurodivergent child, and we can often default to feeling like we are failing in some way. We can just start to live out very unhealthy thoughts in our minds, you know, concern, stigma. What does this mean for my child's future? What are other people gonna think? What are other people going to think of me as a parent? Is this a real thing at all? You know, like, we can really just kind of get stuck in our own internal dialogue that really doesn't serve us and doesn't serve our family.
And so, when we can, you know...and I'm so glad you made that decision to give voice to your experience, which is your real experience, and there's nothing wrong with it. There's nothing wrong with having ADHD. There's nothing wrong. It is a neuro type. It's an experience. And so, when we can give voice to that, then, you know, we often find, oh, there's a lot of us out here. And as soon as we can hear someone else, you know, “Oh, I experienced this,” or you know, get validation from a friend or someone else, suddenly, that sense of isolation starts to go away. And it's only through that that we can start to then lean into this experience and be better able to show up for the child that we have. But until we do, we're kind of letting fear, I think, fear of all the unknowns or the stigma, the judgments, the looks, all that stuff, we're letting that kind of steer the ship, and I don't think we can parent from a place of strength when we're in that mindset.
La'Vista Jones 09:56
Yeah, that's so good. I know for me personally, right, like, the thing that you're talking about, like, you know, the fear of, you know, him being labeled the stigma of, like, all of that, was just like, oh, like, you know, if I tell somebody what's going on, then are they gonna look at him differently? Are they gonna look at us differently? Are they gonna treat us differently?
You know, and that weight that I was saying that, like, you know, I felt like was lifted, you know, it also came with, you know, a ton of support. Like, what do you need? You know, we're here for you. Tell us, you know, how we can support you, how we can support the family, how we can support the cub. Um, you know, having those conversations with his teacher, they were, like, super supportive. And it's just like, I feel like once I started having, like, those conversations, it was almost like, what was I so afraid of, right? Like, because so far, everybody has been very supportive and open to, like, okay, how do we navigate this together? What resources do we need?
And even with our conversation, right, when you were here a few months ago, like, it was like, ‘Okay, this is what we're dealing with.’ And you're like, “Okay, here's this book you should read. Here's, you know, some podcasts that you can listen to. Here's, like, a website that you could go and check out.” And it's just like, oh, okay, like, when I'm not in this by myself, I don't have to be afraid of what this truth really is, right? Like, you know, a friend of mine that is a psychologist, she was telling me, she's like, “You know, you got the diagnosis now.” She's like, “Whether you want it or not, like, now you've got to figure out what this new normal is like and put the resources in place and make sure that accommodations are there if he needs them or whatever the case may be.” Like, yeah, yeah. Okay. Like we can walk forward.
Breaking Down Taboos to Give Others a Voice
Debbie Reber 11:43
But I would say...so, two things that came up for me. One is that I'm so grateful you got that response, and especially from school and things, and that's not always the case. Like, I'm sure there are people who are listening to this who did not get that positive reception from everyone. But even more the reason to share what's going on so that, you know, you do find the people. So that if you have unsupportive people, you have other people to turn to who can kind of hold your hand as you go through this process.
La'Vista Jones 12:15
Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. And it's interesting that you say that. I think a few weeks after, you know, talking to his teacher and his principal, I was getting a pedicure and just happened to hear the conversation that was happening next to me. And it was a mom and her friend, and she was just kind of talking about her frustration of dealing with the teacher. And, you know, they've tried to talk to the teacher and, like, “Hey, this is like what our son needs.” And the teacher is like, “Nope, they just need to deal with it. They need to adjust that.” And I was like, ‘Excuse me. Let me kind of, like, interject in this conversation.’ I'm like, ‘You know, even though I'm kind of new to figuring out and navigating this myself, like, that's not okay. And there are things that you can do, right, to advocate for your child and for yourself, right. Like, the way that this situation is unfolding is not okay.’
And I think it comes back to, like, you saying, like, you know, sharing your voice and telling that truth. That I think that the more, you know, conversations like this, just about things in general that, like, don't necessarily go according to plan or, like, these unmet expectations, or just stuff that's just hard that we're dealing with. Like, the more we talk about them, I think the more other people are like, “Oh yeah, like, that's the situation I'm dealing with. And I didn't know that this was a solution. I didn't know that this was a resource.” Or, “I didn't know how to talk about this.”
You know, like, in my book, like, I talk about my miscarriages. And you know, my husband, he's a pretty private person, especially in comparison to me. And so, he's always like, you know, “Why do you share so much about, like, these experiences and what has happened?” And I'm like, ‘Because for so many that I'm connected to personally, like, I'm the voice for not only my experience, but for theirs because they don't feel like they can say anything.’
Debbie Reber 14:02
Yeah, yeah. So interesting you say that. I was listening to a podcast – I don't remember what podcast – but the person had shared that they were pregnant pretty early on and had also experienced miscarriages in the past. And the conversation was there is such a...you know, you shouldn't tell people until a certain time. And this person was like, “But why? If I'm gonna go through a miscarriage, I want everybody to know, because I need all of that support.” And I think, you know, it's really complicated, I think, with the breaking down these, these taboo subjects and, you know, surrounding mental health. Like, I feel like there, in the past five years, there's just more and more awareness and openness and willingness to talk openly about mental health challenges and neurodivergence. But it takes brave people to share their experiences in order to give other people permission to feel safe enough to do the same.
Bridging the Gap Between Expectation and Reality
La'Vista Jones 15:00
Yeah, exactly, exactly. And I know that was my experience. You know, the first miscarriage that we had, it totally, you know, blindsided me, came out of, like, nowhere. And so, then when we got pregnant again, you know, my husband's like, “Oh, you know, we shouldn't say anything. Like, nobody should know.” And I'm like, ‘Oh, but they have to.” Right? Because it's, like, I've already gone through, like, having a wonderful pregnancy with my son, you know, now having lost this, you know, other pregnancy. And it's just, like, just knowing the mental anguish, right, that I went through, and it's just, like, I not only want people to celebrate and share in the joy that I'm feeling right now; I also need them to know I'm kind of scared out of my effing mind about what could happen. And unfortunately, it did happen again. And it's just, like, I needed everybody around me. And I felt like not sharing that, not being honest, not being open, not actually, you know, sharing my truth wouldn't have been, like, authentic to me, and it would have been like I was hiding from what that reality was.
So, you know, as wives, as moms, as business owners, you know, we've talked that, you know, reality doesn't always meet what our expectations are. So, I have a two part with this. Like, how do we adjust to our new normal, where it's like, okay, this is what I thought this was going to be, right. And not necessarily, like, parenting, as, you know, in general, but this is just what I expected this to be. But this is what it is. How do we go about adjusting to our new normal, kind of accepting that and making that adjustment?
And then I guess the second part is, how do we let go of those shoulds, right? You know, like, even, like, our own internal kind of conversation that we're having with ourselves: ‘Well, this is how this should have been, and this is how I should have done this, or this is how this should have, you know, been the outcome.’ How do we start to let go of some of that as well?
Debbie Reber 17:02
Yeah, great question. And unfortunately, I always say, ‘Well, just do this.’ And it's like flipping a switch. And that is not the case. And, as I'm sure that you know, I think the most important part of it is to start to recognize where we are arguing with reality. And there's a quote from Byron, Katie, that I included in the book where she says, “When you argue with reality, you lose, but only 100% of the time.” And I love that quote so much, because that's how we often are, especially when we are clinging on to this picture we had of what our kid's life would look like, or our lives as parents, or our family, and how, you know, family events would flow. And, you know, and we're reminded, I think, regularly through mainstream media and shows and movies about whether it’s quote unquote to use the “should” word, what it should look like. And so, we can often be, you know, just, ‘Well, no, that's what I want. And I'm not going to accept what's actually happening here.’
And so, our first job is to recognize that tension and to identify it and really hone in on the ways in which we are arguing with reality. And it is when we're using words like “should” or “have to” or “needs” – like, you know, my kid needs to be able to tie their shoes by now. My child needs to be able to or has to be able to get out the door on time. Like, they’re X number of years old. They have to do this. And so, any time we notice that we're even using this kind of absolute language, that is an indicator that we might be arguing with reality. Because the reality is our child isn't tying their shoes yet, or it is taking us 40 minutes to get out the door, or you know, whatever the case may be. And so our job is to first notice where that tension is. And then we just have to do the fun work, and we get lots of opportunities, to practice over and over and over again but to reframe that. Okay, right.
And there's lots of different ways to do that. But it might just be, like, we're working on this. My child is working on tying their shoes. That isn't where they are right now. Or, you know, we can kind of change the thoughts, consciously change the thoughts that are kind of making us feel like we're stuck and that things aren't working.
You know, I recommend people write down the beliefs that they are holding on to that are causing a lot of pain and anguish for them. Because I think most of the pain in this experience comes from the thoughts that we have about what it all means. And until we really uncover those thoughts and give them a voice, we can't do the work then of dismantling them and of coming up with evidence to disprove them. And so, you know, I talk about just writing like your greatest hits list of, like, unhelpful thinking or greatest fears about your child and their potential and then start to look for evidence, start to dispute those thoughts, reframe them, come up with a different way to look at it. And we get, like I said, we get to do work on that every single day. There'll be plenty of opportunities.
La'Vista Jones 20:23
Yes, I have to tell you, like, even if nobody else listens to the show – which I know is not going to happen – like, that alone, has just kind of bathed, like, my mother's heart in just peace, right? Just like, yeah, like, that is something that I can do. Like, I can do that. Because like you said, like, this is something that's, like, it's an every day. Like, I live it every day. He lives it every day. And it's just like, okay, yeah, we can do this. This is not looking the way that I thought it should, right, the way that society tells us that it's supposed to look. But it's like, this is still my reality. This is it.
Debbie Reber 21:06
And there are so many...I mean, this could be a whole other conversation. But there's so many...first of all, there's so much freedom in throwing out the rulebook or in kind of getting off the path we thought we were going to be on. Because a lot of parents, families are on autopilot, right? They're just doing their thing. And which is, you know, not like...autopilot is less work, because you don't have to think as much, right? You can just, like, my child's going to this camp or into this school, you know, and they'll go to this middle school. And it just, it doesn't have to be as necessarily challenging at every turn. You have to consider every decision. Like, it has so much weight.
But once we realize, oh, this can look so much