Launching Rockets: A Conversation With Kristen Bell About The Parenting Journey
Last year, I listened to Launching Rockets, an audiobook by Kristen Bell and Rob Bell, co-authors of The Zimzum of Love, a New York Times Bestseller. In that audiobook, Rob first shares his “17 observations of being a parent,” and then Kristen joins him to discuss these observations in more detail.
The whole thing is amazing. Inspired by many of Kristen’s ideas, I reached out to her and asked if she would answer a few of my questions about them. She kindly agreed, and I’m sure you’ll appreciate reading what she has to say below.
Also, after reading this interview, I highly recommend you check out Launching Rockets. Kristen and Rob have a lot of wisdom to share, most of which you won’t hear anywhere else.
In Launching Rockets, when you’re discussing how different kids have different needs, you mention how in some ways it seems like individual kids “are given to you because they have something to teach you.”
Can you talk a little about how this has been true in your life? In the midst of everything, how can we stay—or become—open to learning from our kids?
I believe that everybody is our teacher, so it only makes sense that our kids who we spend more time with than anyone else would also be significant teachers in our lives. It’s a good sign that someone is our teacher when we find ourselves challenged, frustrated, angry, or exasperated. This is an indication that something needs to change. Sometimes we can change the situation—for example, by setting a boundary or expectation for behavior.
Other times, we get an invitation to examine why this situation or child is pushing our buttons. I’ve learned that if my buttons are getting pushed, that means this is something to pay attention to. Our kids may be challenging our assumptions. They may be pushing us to see something from another perspective.
We live in a sea of cultural expectations and assumptions. Sometimes our kids give us an opportunity to question those assumptions and expectations and to live more from our truest self. Our kids may also be activating our fears.
Whenever we experience intense emotion around our kids it’s helpful to step back from the situation and try and figure out what this is about for us. If we can approach our intense reaction with interest and curiosity, then we have the opportunity to learn something. Sometimes our intense reaction sets off feelings of shame, guilt, anger, or even despair. Our thoughts can spiral into, “What’s wrong with me?” “Why can’t I do this?” “I’m a bad parent.” or “What is wrong with my kid?”
If we can create some space to learn from our kids, we can stop the cycle of guilt and shame and learn something that we never would have otherwise. For me the best way to step back and explore has been through writing it out.
I write out my questions and then pause to see if any wisdom, insight or answers come. The first level is about the situation. Is there something that can change here? What is this about? Can I figure out why they are acting this way? The second level is a discovery process about myself. What is the fear? Where does this fear come from? Is this fear based on a real threat or is it about something that may or may not happen in the future? Is there something I’m holding on to that I can let go of? Can I find acceptance here? What are the gifts in this? What am I learning?
Engaging in the writing process can lessen the anxiety or fear. It can change our perspective on how we see our kids, the situation or ourselves. It can also give us clarity on the next step. This is also a great time to get your partner involved in the conversation. It’s amazing what happens when you expose your fears to the light either by writing them out or having an honest and safe conversation with your parenting partner.
I love how you stress that whenever parenting feels difficult, it's important to admit it to yourself and to others. You say there’s a power in this admission—that the simple act of acknowledging the difficulties helps us move through them in a healthy way. Why is this? What are the spiritual implications here?
Being a parent can bring immense joy to our lives. It can also bring great challenges and difficulties. Because we love our kids so much, the emotions surrounding parenting are some of the most intense we feel.
If our desire is to experience more of the joy of parenting the only way to start is by being honest about where we are. Admitting that parenting is difficult when that is how you feel is the only way to get to the other side. Pretending doesn’t work. Whatever you push down will just come out later in unexpected (and usually very unwanted) ways. So the only option is to start where you are.
Sometime we have unrealistic expectations for ourselves or our lives. We look around and it appears that everyone else has it together. We see the smiling faces on social media and think that we are the only ones not getting it right. There is great freedom in the truth that sometimes it’s difficult and that’s okay. If we can admit it, we free ourselves from the shackles of perfection. When we can be honest about where we are with acceptance, we can also connect with others in a way that is real, hopeful and transformative.
We actually find joy by embracing and going through the difficulties. We start to see that it all belongs. The challenges bring gifts and teach us things that we would have missed. Admitting difficulty can be the first step in making it easier. Sometimes we need to identify a problem before the solution can come. Pretending that everything is okay will not allow for moving through a difficulty to something new.
When you can admit something is difficult it can start the process of moving through it to something new. Sometimes it’s the step that opens up the possibility for a solution.
You make the point that as parents we must make sure we can discern the difference between “false fear and true fear.” Can you briefly talk about what you mean by these two terms and then share how we might become more discerning?
There are endless fears we could have about our kids. 99% of those fears are “What if” fears. I would call these the false fears. They are fears based on what could potentially happen in the future. Sometimes we think about all these fears because we’d like to eliminate all these possible scenarios by planning, preparation and orchestrating.
The problem is that this way of living robs us of living in the moment, of staying in the stream of joy. It makes us stressed, anxious, tense and not the kind of parents we want to be. There is a vulnerability to being a parent. It feels very vulnerable to love someone this much and not be able to control what happens to them. Sometimes it helps the “What if” fears to recognize the feelings of vulnerability. It’s all part of love.
1 John 4:18 says “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” When we live in the flow of divine love, our fears dissipate. Another way I look at it, when you experience life from your heart , instead of predominantly from your mind the false fears dissipate. The mind wants to keep us safe and works extra hard to remind us of all the things we can fear. The problem is that if we give weight to all of these fears then fear becomes the master. When we can live from our heart, and connected to perfect love, we can live more often in that flow of love and peace.
One of my favorite parts of Launching Rockets is when you say parenting feels the best when there’s a lightness to it. You say it might be worth us considering giving our kids 75% instead of 100% of ourselves. Can you talk a little bit about how that 25% makes all the difference for us and for our kids?
We have two adult kids and a 9 year old so I’ve seen how much has changed in 10 years. Everything with parenting keeps getting amped up. The expectations for being a good parent have changed so much in ten years.
For example, birthday parties, they used to be a simple gathering of kids with games and cake. Birthday parties now are big events. I’m amazed at how much time, planning and money parents put into their kids parties. We just celebrated Valentine’s Day and a lot of the kids give each other gift bags instead of the simple little Valentine’s cards that they gave 10 years ago. (I even remember making my own as a kid out of construction paper and doilies.)
At my daughter’s preschool we could only bring home-baked birthday treats, preferably with no common allergens and low sugar. I mention all these examples to show that as parents we keep raising the expectation bar. It’s so much harder now to meet the expectations than it was 10 years ago. If you think back to when you were a kid, it’s even more apparent.
We don’t have to live that way. We can choose where our bar of success is. Wouldn’t it feel great if we lowered it by 25%? Don’t you feel the relief? You can lower the bar and be happy. It’s up to us to decide what we can do, give, make and bake. If the expectations feel too high and are leaving you feeling drained, resentful and guilty, then set a new bar. You get to define what a good parent is.
My belief is that a good parent is a parent who feels good. Life for everyone is going to be better if you feel good, if you aren’t stressed about the things you are struggling to get done. Can you give yourself those feel-good endorphins for doing 75%? I remember when my boys were very young, a mom told me that at my stage of life she felt successful if she got her own teeth brushed. I thought of that often and it made me feel so much better.
Let’s all decide to lower the bar and make the load lighter!
Are there any meditative or spiritual practices that you feel like have made you a better parent? If so, would you mind sharing a few examples and how interested folks might get started with them?
I believe that spiritual practices are what allow us to be a parent who is connected to the stream of joy. It’s how we re-connect to the flow of love that is always present for us. For me the key to any practice is that it’s something that you enjoy. This is important because a practice is only sustainable if it’s something that we want to do. Otherwise the practice becomes heavy, just one more thing on our list of things I must get done (and feel bad if I don’t…)
Sometimes it takes trying a number of things to find what you enjoy. Sometimes the enjoyment comes from how it makes us feel. Sometimes our spiral practices change based on what fits with our life.
One essential aspect of a spiritual practice is some sort of stillness. Elijah finds (from 1 Kings 19:11-12) that God is not in the earthquake or the wind, but in the still small voice (or whisper in some translations). Stillness allows us to tune into the whisper of God. The spiritual practice that keeps me sustained and renewed is meditation. I listen to guided meditations or chirping birds on a meditation app. The essential part for me is about slowing my thoughts.
As I practice focusing my attention, my thoughts slow down and I become the witness of them, letting them go as they appear. The more I practice this, it becomes easier to find this place of calm throughout my day. I have found that a regular practice of stillness has been essential for reducing my anxiety and helping me live from my true self.
I recently talked about a project I’ve been working on called, “What Do I Do With My Anxiety?”on The Robcast, episodes 226 and 227. This is a good place to find more on spiritual practices and what happens in our bodies when we practice, as well as what we can do with our anxiety.
Kristen Bell is a New York Time Bestselling author of The Zimzum of Love with Rob Bell. She is an occupational therapist, an anxiety researcher, and a creator on Launching Rockets audiobook at robbell.com. She and her husband Rob, have three kids, two who are now adults. She lives in her favorite city, loves to travel and gets excited about ideas that are both mystical and practical.