My son’s father and I have been separated for 3 years and we have both started seeing new partners in the past six months. Understandably, this has been really challenging for my 11-year-old son to negotiate. He has been struggling with issues about whether he is still loved and lovable, with associated painful feelings and tricky behaviour around the respective new partners. I’ve been sharing Hand in Hand parenting ideas with my new partner and thanks to him and the awesome power of setting limits and playlistening, we are making some great headway towards helping my son with this situation.
Recently, the three of us decided to go for a bike ride to the beach, or rather my partner and I decided it would be good to get out in nature together and have some fun. My son was very upset at the time and resisting any ideas or suggestions for fun and adventure, which he usually loves. It was pretty clear that he wasn’t his usual reasonable and adventurous self and that he really needed some support with coming into connection with us. I decided to help him by setting a limit with him.
Lightly and warmly I got close and let him know that I really wanted him with us and that we were all going for a ride to the beach. He put up resistance saying he didn’t want to come but I just kept my warmth and light tone coming, along with the limit that it was time to go, with a “let’s go have some fun together” attitude. He did come outside and get onto his bike but he didn’t get to release any hurt feelings at the time, so he was still quite upset while riding along with us. I kept close to him as we were riding and offered my warmth and care for as long as I could.
As we got closer to the beach, which is only a ten-minute ride, I started feeling stretched by the situation and started to lose my warmth. Thankfully, my new partner came to my son’s aide as an ally making warm contact with him. By the time we got to the beach both my son and I were feeling frustrated and ready for some play action. Let the playlistening begin! Spontaneously, my son started a wrestle on the beach, which my partner and I happily joined.
I’ve done years of wrestling with my boy, so it’s a well worn connection groove for releasing tension and rebuilding connection between us. This day we were both in fine form. I think he started it by putting a handful of sand down my pants, so once I’d emptied it out, the chase was on. At this point my new partner sided with him and they were both chasing and wrestling me to get me covered in sand. I’d chase them at different times, sometimes catching my son, often allowing him to escape, but always putting up a good contest for him to wrestle against. There was lots of vigorous running and wrestling and deep connecting broad smiles and laughter, with a fair few determined, playful stares.
Without any words or planning, this very alive and wild play spontaneously shifted and my son and I teamed up and started chasing my new partner, who is very tall and very hard to catch. We worked together to catch him, chasing him from different directions and eventually, with great satisfaction, we caught him. Then it was time to get him onto the ground. Together we worked with great gusto, and lots of gentle care, to destabilize his legs until he eventually allowed himself to topple to the ground.
Both my son and I had a great sense of satisfaction as a result and I got a personal taste of the amazing ability of this type of play to build confidence. I’m sure I grew an inch taller that day as a result.
After a wash off in the ocean, to clear out all that sand, we all rode home together in the evening twilight. For the first time since coming together, there was a very sweet and peaceful sense of unity and connection between us, and a deep sense of hope and satisfaction.
Once home we all worked together to make a delicious shared meal. As my son was going to bed he told me, for the first time in months, how much he really liked my new partner. It was a wonderful reminder of the awesome power of play.
Megan Edwards is an Australian Hand in Hand Instructor.
About our Building Emotional Understanding course Megan says, “The class provides parents with the opportunity to get the level of support required for the emotional work of parenting which all parents deserve. The approach of Parenting by Connection really changes lives in the most wonderful and deeply rewarding ways.”