How To Teach Kids to Be True to Themselves, with Courtney Wyckoff

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Courtney Wyckoff (Founder of MommaStrong) shares how being in recovery has taught her the importance of honesty and the value of transparency in both her life and her parenting. In this episode, Courtney explores how she’s prioritized the truth both personally and professionally and how she actively passes this value down to her kids each and every day.

Check out Courtney on Instagram and at MommaStrong.com

[00:14] Hi, I’m Courtney Wyckoff, and this is Good Kids: How to Not Raise an Asshole. OK, so I feel pretty OK about talking on this podcast today because Facebook reminded me that I’m a good parent. You know, those silly reminders or those flashbacks, it’s the only reason Facebook counts anymore. It pulled up this memory of when I think my oldest was six years old and I was managing her little sister who was a year old and you know, the car seat. And trying to put a car seat in the car in those metal things that go in and you can’t snap them in. And you’re like, how am I not an acrobat? Like, I can’t get this in. And it’s terrible. And I started yelling at the car seat and said all the bad words like “fucking car seat,” “asshole car seat.” I mean, I said all the words really loud, probably in front of the pediatrician’s office. And my seven-year-old daughter, she turned around and she looked at me and she said, “mom, you just said a bad word.” I said, “what?” And she said, “mom, you said this is impossible.” 

 

[01:38] I was like my work here is done! She did not hear the bad words. She heard me just say this f-ing car seat is impossible. And the bad word for her was “impossible.” So I feel like that gives me all the credibility to sit here today and talk about parenting at all.

 

[02:01] Anyway, I am the parent of three girls. The oldest is 13, the middle is eight and the youngest is eight months. So I am in a blended family currently, as well, so it’s kind of doing this all over again. And I think when I really consider what sort of goodness I want my girls to embody in their life, it’s really about being true to themselves, and then giving them the ability to accept other people who are being true to themselves. So not only honoring that in themselves, but respecting in other people and then really looking for that as some sort of parameter for their life. So when I think about that, being true to yourself, that gets really hard. That’s not an easy thing to do. And we get into the subject of lying, which is what I have been very focused on in my life, but also with them. And I think it’s an interesting topic because kids lie. A lot. they lie about, having not done things they should have done.

 

[03:18] They gaslight their siblings. I mean, mine do. They’re like, “no, that did not hurt.” And the other one like has a gaping hole in their head from some terrible wound like they’re just awful. They blame the dog for their farts. Like it’s just a constant lying all day long. And I think because it’s normal in childhood, the question then is how do we teach them to resolve that in a positive way, and be true to themselves and kind of be a friend of reality the rest of their life? 

 

[03:54] This was not easy for me because I’m a person in recovery from alcohol, and that really meant that I lived my life not being true to myself. That’s kind of the nature of the beast is that my substance abuse came from a retreat from my true self. So recovery is about coming back to who I really am and then expressing it and standing up for it. I will say that this does not come naturally to me, that somewhere along the line I really learned that, as a child, that transparency and honesty was not really a safe thing. Or maybe more importantly, what’s before transparency and honesty wasn’t really a safe thing. Who I really am. Like that part felt hard.

 

[04:40] My mom uses this great example to demonstrate that this has been with me my whole life. When she describes — I have three siblings, so she has four kids, and she describes what we would each do with a $20 bill if we lost it and she gave it to us. And my older brother, who’s 10 years older, he would say, “what $20? That never happened.” My older sister, she would have already started a GoFundMe or at age eight, she would have gotten a part-time job and she would have already earned it plus interest. My twin brother would have confessed and then just kind of melted into like self-pity. “I’m a terrible person. How do you love me?”

 

[05:22] I would have said. “Funny thing, mom. This unicorn came into my room and she needed cab fare for Canada because there is this peace rally.” I mean, it would have been like this extraordinary story. And so when I look back and think about that, was that because I have an imagination? Or was there this need to not be in reality for some reason? It’s when I really think about that, and I think about my girls, and I think about how I want to raise them with transparency, I think about what happened when I lied. Like when I really go back, how did my family or my environment react to the normal experience of lying as a child? And I remember this one moment where I must have been seven or eight and my dad was reading to my twin brother and I. He was reading this Ghandi, which is gonna be ironic in a second. And he said, “go brush your teeth before I finish reading.”

 

[06:23] And I have ADD. And so I meant to go brush my teeth, but something happened along the way and I didn’t. And ended up back in bed ready to read Gandhi. And he said, “did you brush your teeth?” And I remember thinking, like, I don’t want to go back and brush my teeth. What’s the point of it, it’s just one night, who cares? And so I said, “yes, I brushed my teeth.” 

 

[06:47] Well, my dad’s a lawyer and he smelled my mouth and he was like, “you didn’t brush your teeth.” And then I know from there he really lost his mind. So instead of it just being like, go brush your teeth. You didn’t do it. He got extremely mad at me. And it became a thing, like, I remember at the time — and I know he didn’t mean this to be harmful, it’s where he was coming from. He was trying to teach me that lying’s not OK. But the message that I got was like, you’re a terrible human being, like fundamentally, you are so terrible. And good people don’t lie. Not, hey, “it’s normal to lie. Go fix that.” It was like, “this doesn’t happen, and the fact that you just did it means that something’s really wrong with you.” I remember that. that sticks out in my brain as a very formative moment in truth for me.

 

[07:42] So I really think about that, I think then childhood happened and other, you know, bigger traumas probably happened throughout my life. And they really all led to this idea that we all have an underbelly. And mine was especially bad. And it would be better if I just not be transparent about it. How do I cover up my underbelly? Like what can I put there so nobody can see? For me what that really led to, was this duplicitous life. And it causes harm, and it causes harm to myself and it causes harm to other people. So when I talk to other friends in recovery, they actually say a lot of the same things, which is I was afraid to be myself. I couldn’t have the feelings I was feeling. When I was a kid, I got in trouble when I told the truth about what I was really doing.

 

[08:28] You know, there were some sort of restraint against reality and against this underbelly. That to me, for my girls, has become the big focus. I want them to be able to feel the impulse to hide themselves and then do the opposite. Find the courage to move into a place where they can tell the truth, because once they do that, things are much more simple. Even if it’s hard at first, they’re not having to spend their life covering all that up.

 

[11:27] So I know that this is possible, actually, because of the company that I own called Momma Strong. And it’s a fitness company, and the reason it’s successful is that, yeah, it’s got some good information and it’s an incredible method of helping women. But the reason why it’s so successful is that I’m 100 percent myself. I get to roll in every single day, underbelly exposed. I’m not shiny, happy fitness person. That’s just not who I am. I’m showing up for very, very, very, very different reasons. So if I’m doing a workout and I’ve had a hard day, I will cry. Just because exercise does that to me. It gets me in my body. It makes me feel things. I mean, ugh, but that’s what it does. And I don’t edit it out and I don’t — whatever it is, there’s no thinking about it. It’s just there, just expressing whatever’s coming out. The baby now is constantly in the videos. And there are many days where a 15-minute workout, if I were to stop and tend to her, would take seven hours. And so I’ve just stopped trying to make it work. And I just pick her up and I do what I can do. And that’s all. I’ll put her on the boob in the middle of the workout. I mean, that’s it. And that is why people come back. 

 

[12:45] So when it comes to the girls and parenting them towards this, Momma Strong has been like my parent in not lying and being honest from the get-go, from the very beginning. And so I’ve been practicing this thing with them, which is when I detect — and I’ll use my 8 year old as an example, she loves to kind of tell the unicorn story. So when I detect that there’s a lie happening, I look at her and I say, “does that feel really true to you? Does that feel really true?” And I wait for her, and I see that kind of bargaining happening in her brain where she’s like, it doesn’t feel true, but I want it to be true, so I’m gonna stick with it, or it’s not worth it, you know, the brushing your teeth. What does it matter? What’s the point? Nobody will know. And I just sit there and sure enough, without fail, the thing that happens is a smile starts to creep over her face, which is this beautiful moment of innocence in a lie that I think we forget about. We immediately as parents are like, “my kid’s lying. What does that mean? They’re gonna be terrible people.” And instead, you see this innocence of, like, “oh, crap.” The reason that can happen, the reason she can smile is she knows that I’m not going to be mad at her. And she knows that when she finally comes through it, that I’m not going to be mad. I might redirect her towards the truth, and have her do what she’s supposed to do, but I’m not going to give her a hard time. And in fact, I’ll probably laugh. I’ll be like, gosh, that was a funny reaction. But don’t hide from me. Please don’t hide. That is more painful for me than it is the truth. And so she’s starting to get it. 

 

[14:18] And I know because of that smile. But every once in a while, she’s, you know, really stuck to whatever this dishonesty is. And so if I see that happen and alert — this is about to be super cheesy, but it works. If I can tell she’s really sticking to some dishonesty, I pull her into something I call the truth bubble. And we get underneath a blanket and I start modeling it. And I’m like, “OK, I’m going to tell you my truth. I’m like, I farted on the elevator at the pediatrician’s office, and I didn’t do anybody. Or I told my friend that I had a flat tire when she wanted me to go to dinner with her, rather than just telling her I didn’t want to go to dinner.” And I just start spitting out these things, and then I’m like, “gosh, I wish I hadn’t done that.” 

 

[15:06] And that same smile comes up for me, but also for her. And sometimes she’ll tell the truth. Sometimes she’ll come clean. But even if she doesn’t, she gets this sense of like, OK, this is what it looks like to actually come clean and to be on the other side of it. And then I walk away. I don’t follow up. I don’t like give advice. I promise her I won’t give her advice. I promise I won’t ask more questions. We just kind of, you know, walk away after the truth bubble. 

 

[15:42] In recovery, they say “to thine own self be true.” And I really hope for them in life that they’re able to navigate that and find their way there. I think as the girls get older, the goal of this truth bubble is to create a sensitivity to dishonesty. And that means that they feel it in their body, they feel when they cross the line. Because I can say from having not done that in my life, I desensitized myself so much by lying and then getting away with it. And this became a huge deal. It did crash my life, almost crashed the business. And, you know, I crossed the line so many times that I — why I used alcohol and numb out, obviously to not feel it. But the sensitivity to the truth was no longer there. And it was there when I was a kid. But that sensitivity was gone. And I do think if I’m able to keep talking to the girls about this and keep reminding them like, hey, how does it feel in your body, then it will develop a sensitivity. And I do hope that as they as the girls get older, and especially when they’re teenagers and being deceptive is part of the deal, getting out of your body is part of the deal. Experimenting is part of the deal. Trying on other realities. Joining other realities is real. I hope that they come back to that feeling of, like, this doesn’t feel right. It makes me feel anxious. It makes me feel nauseous. It makes me feel unsettled in my head. It affects my sleep. Being able to red-flag and identify that moving away from their underbelly and their truth is, I hope. But you know what? I’d be lying right now if I said that I know that it will work. It’s hard to be a kid these days. But so the transparent reality of that is I have no idea. 

 

[17:55] You can find me at MommaStrong.com. And thank you so much for listening. 

 

[18:08] Good Kids is a production of Lemonada Media. It’s produced and edited by Andrew Stephen. Our executive producer is Stephanie Wittels Wachs and our music is by Dan Milad. Ad sales and distribution are by Westwood One. You can find out more about Lemonada online @LemonadaMedia. If you liked what you heard share, rate, review, say great things about us.

 

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