Meet Dr. Becky, the psychologist and mom being called the 'millennial parenting whisperer'

Clinical psychologist and Good Inside podcaster Dr. Becky shares her parenting insight. (Photo: Dr. Becky; designed by Quinn Lemmers)
Clinical psychologist and Good Inside podcaster Dr. Becky shares her parenting insight. (Photo: Dr. Becky; designed by Quinn Lemmers)

Welcome to So Mini Ways, Yahoo Life's parenting series on the joys and challenges of childrearing.

Officially, she's Dr. Becky Kennedy, a New York City-based licensed clinical psychologist with a PhD from Columbia. To the nearly 700,000 Instagram followers hanging on to her every word about tantrums, potty training and boundaries, she's better known as, simply, Dr. Becky. In a crowded field of parenting influencers, the mom of three has carved out her own space as a trusted source for indispensable advice and support thanks to her Good Inside podcast and weekly newsletter; Kennedy also offers deep-dive workshops on a number of parenting topics and will soon be sharing her trademark "deep thoughts, practical strategies" in her own book.

Despite the well-earned buzz, Kennedy insists that she's pretty much just like any other mom when it comes to her own kids, two sons aged 4 and 9 and a 6-year-old daughter. Here, she opens up to Yahoo Life about needing to brush up on her own advice from time to time and shares tips for handling back-to-school angst and social media stress.

Time just dubbed you the "millennial parenting whisperer." But as a mom, you must have your own moments of frustration.

Of course. It's only ever other people who call me a parenting expert; I know I've never referred to [myself] as that because it doesn't even feel right. I feel like experts know things and I actually truly love to not know things because it makes me curious and makes me learn. So I definitely don't consider myself an expert in it. The Dr. Becky that people kind of know or name, that's not the parent to my kids. My kids have Becky as a parent.

I said the other day on Instagram that I had to watch a portion of the Sibling Dynamics workshop that I've given because my kids were really fighting and I was just so stuck. And one of my friends was like, "What about this idea?" I was like, "That's a great idea!" She's like, "Well, it's in your workshop." And I was like, "I've got to watch that workshop, man. I forgot everything [laughs]." With my own kids, I have all my own emotions and my own activation, so it gets in my own way of thinking through it, whereas that never happens with someone else because it's not my own house.

So, Becky as a mom? I can get short. I get frustrated when my kids don't take no for an answer. I love that my kids have strong voices; I'm personally a recovered people pleaser [so] as a kid, I definitely made things easy and put on a smile. As a result, it's a new thing for me to kind of still be with the kid who is doing something logically I'm so proud of, but in the short term, it makes me want to say "come on," you know? My kids wake up in the middle of the night. My kids argue with each other. I delight in [my youngest kid]; he's a total non-people pleaser. But as a result, he really marches to the beat of his own drum. People often say to me, which I find funny, "Oh my goodness, Becky it's like you have a video inside my home. You always know what's [happening with kids]" and I go, "No, that's just because your home is like my home — that's just because that happened in my house yesterday [laughs]." So truly, I feel very aligned with all the amazing parents in this community. We're all in this together, and I'm totally in the trenches in these difficult years as well.

What are the biggest questions that parents have right now?

I think the macro ones are like: How is this pandemic going to impact my child? How will my child learn to socialize? How will my child learn to explore freely and feel safe in the world? What will the development of my child look like as related to the pandemic? Those are some big questions. And I think some more micro questions are probably the ones that are more day-to-day: Why is my kid having tantrums so often? Why is my kid still hitting? Why are my kids fighting all the time? Why doesn't my kid listen to anything I say? Why won't my kids sleep at night?

Your platform really took off amid the pandemic. Obviously, we're all spending more time with our kids. Do you think that helped spur this big interest in parenting advice and the psychology/mental health aspect of it?

What's always interesting is the feedback I get over and over and over from people in our community. They say to me, "I have changed way more than my parenting has changed. My parenting has changed, but I, as a human being, have changed. I notice I'm showing up with firmer boundaries in the workplace. I feel like I just have more of a sense of self. And of course, then that permeates to my parenting and that impacts my kid, but it also permeates to my partnership and my relationship with my family. And I just feel more clarity, conviction and confidence."

So, a couple of things: I think certainly the pandemic made us more in touch with the importance of mental health. A lot of the noise of our life was quieted down, and I think our own internal worlds, there was not as much noise, so we heard them more. We're with our kids all the time. There wasn't a ton to do so we were on our phones. But I also would say — and I've been thinking about this more and more, truthfully — that I feel like there's a lot of female empowerment going on right now. It's certainly long overdue and certainly not done. There's so much more work to do, but I really do believe that the community around Good Inside, which is 95 percent women — and I would love it to be more men — it's full of women who are saying, "I want better boundaries for me. I want to get a better sense of myself. I want to get a better sense of my emotions. Maybe my emotions aren't weak after all; maybe they're the source of my strength."

And so I think the combination of more time with our kids, the importance and our awareness of our mental health, the pandemic and being on the phone — but also just kind of this energy, I feel, of "Hey, women, let's realize our power and our strength" — contributes to the content resonating so deeply with people.

You mentioned that your audience is largely female. Do you think it would make a big difference if dads took a bigger role in keeping up with parenting advice and practices, and taking on more of the information-absorbing and scrolling that moms do?

Absolutely. I would say just whatever the gender is, if there's two people raising a kid, that both people just feel like they have ownership and responsibility in the raising of this child. I think any of us would say, if I have a job, would I learn for the job and would I work hard for that job, or would I just show up every day? We would be like, yeah, part of my job in the workplace is to hard and learn things and grow and reflect and change. So I think if there's two people raising a child, it works best when both people say, "I'm going to take some ownership in this." I think reading Instagram is just part of that, of course. [But it's good to see it as] "this is part of my job, too."

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What do you make of the social media aspect of modern parenting? There's a lot of community and easy access to information, but also mom-shaming and unsolicited opinions.

I think that more than ever, we just all have to be mindful of where our attention is. It's really hard to have agency over our attention these days because there's so many things that are trying to take it from us. And then what ends up happening is that something like social media captures our attention and it impacts how we feel about ourselves and yet, because it's so addictive, we stop paying attention to how it feels and it just kind of builds and builds and builds. So I think the problem isn't social media, per se, but about how mindless it makes us. I think it's really important for all of us to say: Who do I follow? What pages give me value? Which pages make me feel empowered? What pages make me feel like there's other people who are commenting here in a way that feels good to me and maybe challenge me, but also don't feel too punishing? And what pages do I feel are kind of toxic — maybe not in general, but for me, because of the way they impact me? That's really important.

In your experience, do you feel like there is a harder age or period in a child's life?

I definitely don't think there's one for everyone. Some people find the baby stage so hard. Some people love the baby stage. For me personally, I find the months around 18 months ... were really hard, that, like, 14 to 22 months stage. Other friends of mine, who had kids who were early walkers and talkers and so maybe they weren't as inherently frustrated, found that stage so enjoyable. I actually think it's important for parents to know that there's no one stage that should feel easy or hard and it's all dependent on who your kid is — their temperament, their developmental path — and your own temperament, too. All stages can feel enjoyable, and all stages can feel really, really hard [laughs].

As kids are heading back to school, there's a lot of concern about social anxiety after spending so much time away from their peers. Do you have any advice for parents?

An overall idea we need to think about is: We have to talk to our kids more about everything that's happening. If we don't explain to them what's happening, no one's explaining it and they're not reading it and they're not consuming it in other forms. So going from pandemic life to daycare or back to school is a huge thing, right? Kids are really attuned to what's safe for [them] and what's not safe, and they depend on us to figure that out with them. We've kind of told them for a year, "It's not safe to do anything away from me." And now a lot of us are like, "Go for it! Have fun!" They're understandably having a hard time. So [try] really naming that. "We were home together for so long — days and days and days and days and so many days! — and now you're going back to daycare. That's different; that's going to be a change." That does so much to help a kid transition because they feel prepared. They don't feel alone in their emotional experience. Even making sure you have a good goodbye routine, that you do the same thing every time [at drop-off] — that is a way you can add some predictability to these difficult moments; that's huge, too. [Try] practicing that. So I would tell parents, we really have to talk to our kids about these changes, say in advance that it's OK to have a lot of feelings and come up with some routines that will help your kid have a sense of mastery.

Finally, what is the best thing you've done for yourself as a mother?

I make time to see my girlfriends. Whether we're meeting for a brisk walk to get some exercise or meeting for a dinner, that's really, really important. It's like a self-care practice. I have therapy every week. It's a really important "me time" that I don't ever miss, and I feel like it's just instrumental to having my own space. We all have our triggers and we all have our stuff. With parenting, at the end of the day, we realize it's really a journey of self-growth — our kids have very little to do with that. We just learn so much about ourselves [laughs] if we're willing to. And I have found that through my parenting journey, I've been able to do so much interesting work and am learning so much about myself in therapy, so that's really important as well.

Video courtesy of NBCUniversal/Today