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Interview: Jillian Lauren

Jillian Lauren with her family. Jillian is the author of the Today Moms Article: Why We Don’t Punish Our Son, Ever. Together, they are committed to parenting with “empathy and respect.”  (Photo: JillianLauren.com)

A few months back we discovered this article on Today Moms: Why we Don’t Punish our Son. Ever, written by Jillian Lauren (April 2011). Jillian is a popular writer, speaker and performer who lives an extremely busy-but-impressively-balanced life with her musician husband, Scott Shriner of the band, Weezer. Together, as a dedicated team, they are committed to raising their son “T” with compassion, patience and punishment-free communication.For obvious reasons, this article caught our attention – its summary reads:

No time-outs, no yelling, no spanking, no taking away toys. When contributor Jillian Lauren’s son acts up, she treats him with ’empathy and respect.’ How does it work?”

After reading this article, and noticing a year had gone by since she wrote the piece- we reached out to follow up- and we were thrilled to connect with Jillian. Read what she says about non-violence, the “hairy eyeball” and life without bargaining, controlling or punishing.

Vicki: So it’s been just over a year since you wrote the article and we are curious how are things going?

Jillian: This has been like nothing I have ever expected or anticipated. Being a parent is a greater love and more fulfilling experience than I have ever imagined and harder than anything else I have ever done in my life.

Vicki: You have a busy active life – what does your life look like?

Jillian: My husband and I are both in the arts and our schedule is very volatile. It changes and sometimes I am home more and my husband is home more – we split the parenting duties, I am currently in NY looking out the window at the Empire State Building and Scott is home –usually we try to travel together but not this time.

Vicki: Because your lifestyle is not a traditional 9 – 5, I suspect that agreeing on a parenting style is more important because there is not a routine or system in place?

Jillian: My husband and I have had an easy time with this – which is not true for everything in our lives. We have both been very active in coming up with a parenting style that works for both of us. One of the things that has been the most successful and cohesive force is that we are on the same page about parenting decisions and we make each and every decision together.

Vicki: Did you make a distinction between punishment and discipline?

Jillian: No, certainly not at that time. I will tell you that I have tried things when I am at the end of my rope. I’ll try almost anything under the right circumstances and I keep coming back to no punishment. We don’t do time-outs, we do time-ins – we hug it out. I remove him from situations. He bites and hits. It’s hard, embarrassing, and dangerous. It’s been the thing that has me tearing my hair out. I remove him, I contain him and hold him in my arms and hug it out. He tells me, when he is ready to go back in. He knows when he is “dis-regulated” and he has no impulse control and his emotions get the better of him. I use a timer with him to offer structure.

Bargaining works for a second and then he’s on to it – when I say, “Oh no TV,” It’s like it just comes out of my mouth. He’s super smart – it does not work. I’ve even tried stars for this and a star for that – when you get so many stars you get a toy. But he’s so on to the sticker chart. He’s like I got my misty mountain adventure, now I am going to poop in my diaper.

Vicki: One thing we talk about with parents is that if you are going to use a discipline strategy it has to have 4 elements:

  1. Has to teach self-discipline.
  2. Has to work no matter what age – otherwise it’s a control issue.
  3. It can’t ever jeopardize the child’s sense of dignity and worth.
  4. It can’t fracture the relationship between parent and child.

Taking these 4 criteria, the goal is to move away from punishment and move toward teaching self-discipline – or as you put it self- regulation and then there is the framework, so you make progress moving forward. It sounds to me like you are being creative about trying things and figuring out quickly what is working and what feels like this is just a show and my child has figured out I have a preferred outcome and he is not really at free choice.

Vicki: When you decided that you are not punishing, was it about a belief system or was it about what you were seeing out in the world?

Jillian: We went to parenting classes at the Echo Center in Los Angeles for Non-Violent Parenting and Education. I highly recommend it. It’s amazing and incredible. I was raised with a lot of violence. Before I was a parent, I read Alfie Kohn books and responded to it. Being raised with violence and rage and berating you into behaving correctly, I decided that I would never do that. Actually what I discovered was that I would do that by default, if I did not find some other tools. I went to these classes. It helped me a lot and it gave us a common language and a way to talk to my son about his feelings and our own feelings. That is really how we came around to it- it has offered us a baseline.

Vicki: That makes sense going out and finding the thing that resonates. It is much in line with what we are doing over here. One thing we always tell parents is that if you don’t find something to replace what you don’t want to do, you always fall back on what it is you know. Did you get “push back” from your decision or did you find that you were supported in your decision to “not punish” and, specifically, what kind of responses did you get when you were giving a hug rather than a time-out?

Jillian: We know a lot of people who practice Non-Violent Communication and it’s definitely in the wheel house of parenting – but there is also the playground and the doctor’s office and definitely the hairy eyeball. Worse than the hairy eyeball from other people is my own hairy eyeball – saying to myself that everyone thinks your kids is a monster and feeling ashamed – but really I have to just talk back to my internal hairy eyeball and say, “You have no idea about my kid and I know what he needs, you don’t know what he has been through and It’s my job to parent him and treat him appropriately.” The hairy eyeball drives us into punishing children to make them feel bad and behave differently. I have a responsibility to raise a person. This is the core that makes it possible for me to go back to the fundamental decision we made.

I am not perfect and there are these times that my mother emerges and I do find myself yelling and it just does not work. Even if it worked for the minute, it doesn’t accomplish anything. When I find myself giving into the internal hairy eyeball it is because of sheer exhaustion and embarrassment. Really those times are when I am not making the best decisions. I recognize that when I am sane again and I realize that was lame and that did not work, I have to go back, regroup – repair and apologize.

Vicki: It sounds like you decided to invest in the relationship that you are building with this child and less on trying to manage him based on the way the world has said that he should behave. And as a parent who has made the same decision, I get this. Can you tell me what life would be like if you had decided you would use punishment?

Jillian: Part of being focused on the relationship is allowing myself to do this poorly and be able to communicate with him about this. The other day, I got angry and went back and apologized and his four year old reply was “It’s ok to feel angry, you just should not direct it at me.” And I thought wow look what I got back. I can’t even imagine what life would be like with constant bargaining, controlling, and punishing. I would feel like a person that it is not very fun to be. By being understanding of his emotions he is understanding of my emotions and I get the benefit of that back.

Vicki: That’s amazing. He’s four years old. Even at four years, you hear back his new blueprint of how you are in relationship with other people. To hear a four year old articulate that – this is the benefit of investing in the relationship. Before we end – what would you say to parents that would help them to adopt a different approach instead of punishing?

Jillian: When I wrote the article, I got a bunch of slack – folks would say to me, “Talk to me about that when your kid is robbing my store.” You know, fear based stuff, but it was just as common for me to receive supportive emails from people. Specifically, a friend of mine who has four amazing, kind, wonderful kids – her eight year old boys play with a four year old kid in a gentle way. She would say it made sense. For example, when kids hit a kid over the head with a toy, the toy goes away – you don’t have to add a random consequence or lecture. There are people who do this instinctively. If you are not one of them, go find something that will give you the tools to retrain yourself. This is a thoughtful process and many of the decisions are based on what you see happening with your child specifically and not based on what the general public has to say you should be doing. Just try it. Your kids won’t end up in jail because you try this for a month.

Photo via jillianlauren.com

About JillianAuthor and performer Jillian Lauren grew up in suburban New Jersey and fled across thewater to New York City. She attended New York University for three minutes before dropping out to work in downtown theater, where she performed with Richard Foreman’s Ontological Hysteric Theater, among others.She is the author of the novel, PRETTY, and of the New York Times bestselling memoir, SOME GIRLS: My Life in a Harem, both published by Plume/Penguin. SOME GIRLS has since been translated into fourteen different languages.

Jillian has an MFA in Creative Writing from Antioch University. Her writing has appeared in The Paris Review, The New York Times, Vanity Fair, Los Angeles Magazine, Flaunt Magazine, Opium Magazine, Society, Pale House: A Collective and in the anthologies My First Time: A Collection of First Punk Show Stories and Tarnished: True Tales of Innocence Lost.

She regularly blogs at TODAY Moms and Jillianlauren.com. Jillian is married to musician Scott Shriner. They live in Los Angeles with their son. For more on Jillian and to read her writings visit Jillianlauren.com/blog

Follow Jillian and Scott on Twitter: @jillylauren & @sgs711

One Comment

  • Thanks so much for sharing this, Vicki & Lauren!

    I had one of those cranky mommy days today — husband traveling, youngest up at 4:30, crafts & toys everywhere, me talking at kids, kids pushing back; all I was seeing was the things I had done “wrong” in mothering. Then at bedtime when the one up since forever was acting up & spilled his drink all over the bed he was about to sleep in, I melted down. Like, nothing left, ugly melted down. And the eldest says to me in a comforting voice, “It’s OK, Mommy, we all just have not been following our agreements today.” And, sheep howdy (lol), reading this tonight really helped drive home the glory in that reflection.

    Yes, I have a long way to go in relearning & retraining (we are about to start over with DNSN… again… so I can try to quit being the maid… again) — BUT, I am so grateful for this interview for reminding me (as Vicki does) that I have been doing enough well, and enough PonT, that my kid can respond like that on the days I am at the end of my rope. One of the biggest lessons I know Vicki is trying to teach is to focus on the positives in our kids & ourselves — be gentle with us, while staying the course toward something different. I’ve realized that not doing that (as in, focusing on what is going wrong, beating ourselves up) is learned behavior, too, and *really* tough to de-program. But we can keep working on it.

    So, message received today, Vicki, and thanks for your openness and candor, Lauren, in sharing your journey. xo

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