Look, we're going to assume Ryan Reynolds was joking when he tweeted back in 2016, "Being a father is the single greatest feeling on earth. Not including those wonderful years I spent without a child, of course."
But he also wasn't exactly wrong.
"Parenting is the hardest and most important job in the world—and it's also the only job we're not given resources or support for," acknowledged clinical psychologist Dr. Becky Kennedy, known more colloquially as Dr. Becky to the nearly 2 million stressed out parents who follow her Instagram page. "And so the reason those 'I crushed that' moments feel so far and few between is because it would be like asking a surgeon to go do heart surgery, without going through training or mentorship."
Which means that, yes, even the seemingly superhuman among us (see: Reynolds and wife Blake Lively) find themselves dealing with tantrums, meltdowns and power struggles as they attempt to raise well-adjusted humans.
At least that's what crossed Kennedy's mind when she noticed the Lively and Reynolds—mom and dad to James, 8, Inez, 6, Betty, 3, and their latest arrival—were among those double clicking on her Instagram content meant to help parents navigate challenges like separation anxiety, bedtime protests and when your kids absolutely lose their s--t.
"It would typically be my friend that would say, 'Oh, my goodness, I just noticed person X is following you,'" the parenting guru recounted in an exclusive interview with E! News about amassing a fan base that also includes Kristen Bell, Reese Witherspoon and Gwyneth Paltrow. "And my first reaction, honestly, was like, 'It sounds like they're in the same boat we are. They're also a parent. They also are looking for information that empowers them. They're also struggling.'"
In the three years since she began growing online community Good Inside, a collection of workshops and strategies plus access to that proverbial parenting village, Kennedy has enjoyed "giving people new ways to see problems," she said of her goals. "I love hearing people's stories about what's been transformative in their lives."
Kennedy's focus is on setting firm boundaries while acknowledging that your kid has every right to not be thrilled about them. And among her most popular offerings is the Deeply Feeling Kids course, aimed at children who are quick to react and struggle to calm down ("They need to learn regulation skills as much if not more than any other kids because of their intensity, but they truly do need a different approach").
But Kennedy gets a thrill every time a parent reaches out to tell her that, while they came for help navigating tantrums, "they're staying for all the ways they've grown as a sturdy leader,'" she recounted. "I just feel honored to be let into so many people's journeys."
And now she's eager to pilot them through new rough terrain with her just released TED Talk on what she calls the single most important parenting lesson: How to handle the moments when you're the one losing your s--t.
"My goal there is to send a message to parents that our yelling, our mistakes don't define us," she said. "It's actually all about what we do next. I talk about the impact of yelling on our kids versus actually the much larger impact of what we do next, after yelling."
And, yes, she's offering up those key actionable next steps with an accompanying script—her easy-to-follow advice the reason millennial parents are flocking to her in droves.
And, no, we did not end our conversation with Dr. Becky without asking her to arm us with more magical parenting wisdom, which she readily delivered.
Yes, This Really Is This Hard
Asked her top piece of advice, Kennedy responded, "I want parents to know that how we feel in general is a combination of our feelings and then how we talk to ourselves about our feelings. Feelings that feel totally awful are a combination of probably having a feeling that's hard, and also talking to ourselves in a cruel or self-blaming way. And as soon as we learn to talk to your feelings in a way that's a little more accepting and acknowledging, the feeling remains, but the awfulness tends to ease up."
Which is why her "go-to mantra for parenting is, 'This feels hard, because it is hard, not because I'm doing something wrong,'" she explained. "I ask all parents to really practice that, because it separates what's hard from how we kind of blame ourselves."
Her latest you're-doing-amazing-sweetie messaging: "There's no such thing as a perfect parent," she insisted. "Every parent struggles, every parent yells." And when it happens, the key is to not beat yourself up about it, but rather focus on owning up to your mistakes.
Your Kids Are Not Their Worst Behavior
With one of the core beliefs at Good Inside being the separation between behavior (i.e. hitting, biting, talking back) and identity, Kennedy likes to engage in a simple practice. "I look at my two hands separated from each other. I'll look at my left hand, and I'll say, 'This is my kids behavior. It's something my kid does,'" she noted. "And I look to my right hand and I say, 'This is who my kid is, that's their identity.'"
That separation of church and power, so to speak, drives home the idea that, no, you don't have a bad kid, a worry that can lead to harsh interventions that do more harm the good: "We start treating them like they're a bad kid, doing bad things, instead of a good kid having a hard time." Making the shift to realizing you have a good kid going through some tough moments, Kennedy added, "is the best way for parents to learn how to teach their kids the skills they need to finally improve their behavior."
Saying No Is Not a Bad Thing
Both things can be true is one of Kennedy's most oft-repeated phrases. As in, I have a good kid and they're hitting or, as she put it, "I'm allowed to say no. And my kid is allowed to be upset about it. Being upset doesn't mean I have to change my mind. But me saying no doesn't mean my kid has to put on a smile."
This most often gets put into practice when you're, say, at a toy store picking up something for a birthday party and your kids spies something they desperately need. Admittedly, said Kennedy, there are more than a few instances when she'll just buy the damn bouncy ball. But if she has the time and space to embrace the meltdown, she views it as a learning opportunity.
"I would actually say, 'I hear you. Two things are true: As a parent, my job is to make decisions that I think are good for you. And as a kid, your job is to allow yourself to have feelings about it. I'm allowed to make decisions, you're allowed to be upset, and we're gonna move on from there,'" she outlined of her go-to script. "What you're doing there is you're validating your right to hold a boundary, while you're also validating your kid's right to have a reaction. Usually, when we struggle, we're only able to do one of those because we say, 'I'm the parent, I get to make thje decision!' Or we say, 'Fine!', and then we change our decision to make our kids happy."
Parenting Is a Marathon, Not a Sprint
Making your kids happy can be a fairly easy task—but signing off on an endless series of ice cream, late bedtimes and every toy of their dreams does not a well-adjusted adult make.
"I don't think any of us are parenting for the short term," acknowledged Kennedy. "We're parenting to raise kids who can feel good about themselves and who also can cope with the world. And I don't know any adults who say, 'It's amazing, my parents did such a good job that I just never got upset.' But what I did see a ton of in my private practice—no one said this, but their behavior showed it—was, wow, I'm no more prepared as an 18-year-old or a 38-year-old to handle disappointment than I was at age 2. And the way to get your kid there is by always taking away their disappointment, because then they never learn to cope with it."
Explaining to your toddler that, no, they can't have cookies for breakfast, or whatever boundary you're trying to hold, continued Kennedy, "is actually setting them up to be able to deal with disappointment when they're a teen and when they're an adult."
Because as much as we want to see our kids smile, "none of us want to be responsible for keeping them happy all the time," she said. "All of us want to hear from them one day, 'Hey, this tough thing happened and here's how I worked through it.' And we can't expect that to happen if we don't prepare them."