Parenting Help: Burn-out Can Be Lightened by Listening

Yesterday I had a new friend over with her 3 daughters.  My 9-year-old daughter, Maeve, was feeling shy, and we had already had a bumpy weekend, including a cancelled trip that she very much wanted to go on.

After the girls made art for a while, we decided to go to the park and get a muffin on the way.  The cafe was closed for a film shoot, however, and we went straight to the park.  Maeve started asking over and over again whether she could just go ask the cafe owners to see if they could get something to eat anyway.  She said she was hungry, but her tight, insistent tone sounded like it was not really about that.  I told my friend that I had to take my daughter home to get her something to eat.

I was acutely embarrassed, and when we arrived home, I said all the things I know not to say.  I told her she embarrassed me, and I said, “Can’t you just give me a little bit of time to do something I want to do?”  She started crying, and I didn’t care.  I was exhausted, and the last thing I wanted to do was repair anything or try to be close to her.  She went upstairs, and I headed back to the park for a short while.

After my friend left, I emailed one of my listening partners and set up a time almost right away.  I cried hard on the phone with her, which was a great relief.  The thing that brought up the most crying was telling her that I didn’t want to have to fix anything, that I was tired of parenting, and that I wanted to quit.  I told her that I hated that you can never quit it, never leave entirely, and never feel carefree again.  I told her that I hated that I try so hard, and I still mess up so badly.  It felt like too much work.  The responsibility felt like too much.  I told her how I hated being responsible for people’s LIVES!  It was just so good to cry hard right when I needed to.  She simply listened and made sympathetic noises.  She hardly needed to do anything — she just heard me and didn’t judge.  I felt some weight lift and I was more available to my kids for the rest of the day.  I could probably have benefited from having even more time to cry, but I didn’t know how long Maeve would stay upstairs in her room.

When Maeve came down later, I asked her what would make her day better, and we planned sushi at home while watching TV.  It gave us some space to hang out together and be close.  Things were a little better.  Later we did some Special Time, and I rubbed her back while she read.

I particularly noticed the difference the next morning, in a “cleansed” feeling and a renewed energy for parenting and everything else.

Sandra Flear, Certified Parenting by Connection Instructor

Keiko Sato-Perry

Join Sandra in her upcoming Building Emotional Understanding online class starting April 23.  Register now!

Listen to this 3-minute audio clip, in which Sandra describes how you can help your listening partner release emotions.

You can read more of Sandra’s stories here and learn more about Parenting by Connection in the Listening to Children booklet set.

Breaking “Bad” News

firstgrade-bearWhen my 6-year-old son began the first grade in a new school district, school went from being easy to being a big challenge for him both socially and academically. Being the youngest in his class with a late November birthday, it seemed to his teacher and me that repeating the grade the following year might be a good direction for him. When we reached the second half of the school year and it came time to make the decision a reality, regardless of how prepared I thought I had been, the emotional side of it hit me like a train.

I had all the good reasons in the world, but it was just a minefield of triggers about not being a good enough mom, feeling so embarrassed, having failed him in some way, convinced that he would hate me later for destroying his first grade social life, thinking back to the fact that his father was treated like an outcast in grade school and not wanting him to meet the same fate, and feeling a well of guilt around having to break the news to him.

Clearly these feelings were all about me, and I could see all the red flags go up when I thought of telling my son about the retention when I was in such an upset state about it. So I lined up all the listening sessions I could get. I set up with my listening partner, my Skill Building Class, and regular group phone sessions to get listening time. I got a chance to cry, to feel guilty, and offload all the horrible ideas I had of how telling him was going to go. I must have had seven or so listening sessions in the course of a week and a half, until I started to feel less charged about the matter, and far more relaxed.

Then finally, on an afternoon when I was feeling particularly calm and connected with my son, I told him simply that his teacher and I thought it would be a good idea for him to do the first grade again next year. I anticipated a Staylistening session about it, and I finally felt ready for it.

He simply asked, “Why?” I gave him the reasons and my voice was calm and confident about the choice, to which he responded positively. I watched him put all the pieces together in his head and he responded simply, “OK, Mommy, can I have my teacher again for next year then?”

As simple as that. No freak-outs. No blaming tantrums about how I was ruining his life. And whenever re-doing the first grade is brought up, he is clear and confident about it. “I get to be 7 when everyone else in my class will be 7,” he likes to say. It turns out all the emotional upset about it was mine and mine alone, and with it out of the way I was able to give it the positive light it deserved.

Natalie Thiel, Certified Parenting by Connection Instructor

Join Natalie in her upcoming Building Emotional Understanding online class starting April 30.  Register now!

Listen to the podcast of her teleseminar How Do I Connect With My Baby?.

You can learn more about Parenting by Connection in the Listening to Children booklet set.

Getting the Support You Need to Resolve Sleep Issues

One of the mothers in my ongoing support group has a 2-year-old daughter who had a really hard time falling asleep. This is her story:

Ever since our sweet little daughter was an infant we had to help her fall asleep, which meant sitting by her bedside for two hours (every night!), patting her head and back, giving her water, and feeling like we were there against our will. And in spite of this bedtime routine, she usually woke frequently and demanded our presence during the night as well.

Ever since she was a baby our daughter has been going through many different medical procedures that have made her life and ours pretty challenging. And I kept feeling that, as her mother, I could not cause her additional pain and frustration. Watching her cry for a long time in bed was hard for me to handle, and this was keeping me from doing what I needed to do, and knew I should do. 

For a few months I worked on my own feelings about this issue in my listening time in our support group. And then I felt like we were ready to move forward and bring some change. It took both my husband and me to be there with our daughter and our older son. We started by telling them over dinner: “Tonight, we are going to try something different at bedtime, something that will help you sleep better in your bed without mommy and daddy staying in the room the whole time.” Then, after taking a shower, both kids got to do some Special Time (5 minutes for each child with each parent). Then there were some more stories and a few songs, followed by a hug and a kiss. And then we suggested that we were going to go to the other room and fold the laundry.

The first few nights this suggestion was not really accepted (as can be expected…) and there was a lot of moving around and going in and out of the room. Some nights there was crying and resistance to our leaving the room. At that stage, I generally tried to stay as close as possible to allow the crying to flow and to reassure my daughter, saying, “Mommy loves you,” and “Mommy will always keep you safe, even when she’s in the other room.” Bit by bit, over many nights, I moved farther away from her as I listened to her feelings pour out until the crying subsided and I could leave the room. I always had to keep the “right distance” for the feelings to come out, because if I came too close then the crying would stop but she still couldn’t fall asleep without me.

During this process I had a lot of feelings of my own, including uneasiness and fear about what this process was going to look like and for how long it would last. How much more crying would we have to face? I was getting a lot of help and support from my husband as well as my Listening Partners.

After a week or so there was no crying (!) at bedtime, but there were still some difficulties in falling asleep. What I tried to do then was to stand at the doorway and tell her some reassuring words and leave again. After a few days you could tell by the look in her eyes that her bed felt like a safe place to her, and she wouldn’t want to get out of it.

Today, a month after we started this process, my daughter falls asleep quietly and happily, and the quality of her sleep has improved significantly. She wakes up very relaxed and does not cry as she used to before.

This whole process helped me, and my partner, enjoy our evening once again. On top of that, we feel empowered in our ability to make changes in our family and move things forward. It reminded us that our role as parents is to lead our family and not get “trapped” by our kids’ behavior.

As for me, I feel that helping my daughter through this hurdle has allowed me to finally see her clearly with joy and vitality, without any filter of anger, guilt, or the need to go easy on her to compensate for the medical procedures she has had to go through. All I can see now is how proud I am of her and how much I love and admire her.

I would like to thank you from the bottom of my heart (as well as the three other hearts in my family) for this precious support that we are getting from you and from the support group you’re leading. This has made this whole process so doable, sensitive, and real. And thank you to all the moms in the group who are also a big part of this great gift!

Yes! I would like more free resources on helping my children sleep. Click here.

Ravid Aisenman AbramsohnRavid Aisenman Abramsohn, Certified Parenting by Connection Instructor in Israel

Why Isn’t Parenting Easy?

Brand New BabyHaving kids seems like a very natural thing to do. For a solid chunk of the members of societies everywhere, you grow up, you have kids. They grow up, they have kids. And so on. I imagine the planet would be a very lonely place if human beings didn’t have some sort of innate desire to share our lives with the next generation.

Oh! But the sleep deprivation! The spitting up! The crying! The worries into the wee hours of the night! The fevers. The whining. The impossible questions they come up with. And the endless questioning of ourselves, “What am I going to do with this child?” “Am I ruining this kid forever?”

Why do we do this to ourselves? Why? Why does it have to be so challenging? When our Labradoodle has a litter of puppies she does not pace the halls late into the night wondering whether she is paying too much attention to the curly one and not licking the straight-furred ones quite enough. She’s not brooding over whether a little one’s unwillingness to share the red truck during play dates indicates you’ve spoiled your child rotten and he’ll never make a real friend.

At Hand in Hand we understand that getting your entire family a good night’s sleep takes a lot more than divining the perfect number of stories to read. We know that building cooperation at home isn’t about just choosing whether to deploy Time Out with your toddler or not. We get how draining it can feel when your picky eater would rather go hungry than even try putting a green vegetable-like substance anywhere near her mouth. And we can relate to the guilt that can wash over you as you pry from your legs your desperately screaming three-year-old and try to leave the childcare center in time to make it to that meeting at work.

We can’t always make it easy for you to be a parent. But we can make it better. We can be there with you and help you surround yourself with a community that understands. We can create a place where parents can connect with warmth and support. We can listen when it’s hard. And be there with you when you have no idea what to even try next.

Parenting may not be easy, but supporting parents is what we love to do. It’s how we can make a difference for you, for parents everywhere, and for the children who will raise the next generation.

~ Julianne Idleman

Not Liking Her Father’s New Partner

I told my daughter that another parent from her school would be taking her into school that day because we carpool. She was upset and cranky about it for 45 minutes, and wanted me to take her instead. I held the limit and told her that the other parent would take her in that day and I would take her in tomorrow. A few minutes before the other parent arrived, she started crying, and told me how upset she is about having a “stepmother.”

She cried and said she never wanted her dad and I to separate, she never wanted a stepmom, that she’s never liked her, and she wants to live just with her dad and brother again at her dad’s house. I’d never heard these feelings before, and didn’t even know she had them. I share my feelings about this with a listening partner, which helps me to support my children’s dad when he has feelings about our daughter not liking his partner. All of this opened up a conversation between my daughter and her dad about why we separated, and how she feels about his new partner. She seems more settled about it now.

Sandra Flear, Certified Parenting by Connection Instructor

Keiko Sato-Perry

Join Sandra in her upcoming Building Emotional Understanding online class starting April 23.  Register now!

Listen to this 3-minute audio clip, in which Sandra describes how you can help your listening partner release emotions.

You can read more of Sandra’s stories here and learn more about Parenting by Connection in the Listening to Children booklet set.

School Success Through Listening Time

At the end of a school year, my husband came home ecstatic. “My sons are geniuses!  Did you see their report cards?”  Our sons just finished third grade and Kindergarten, and we had just received their report cards by e-mail.

Our sons did well in all areas. My third-grader scored in the 99th percentile nationally in reading, having scored in average range last year. Our Kindergartener leapt from knowing almost no Kindergarten facts to showing advanced skills.  This was not because I pushed them on academics–I didn’t push at all.  I think it was because my primary focus was on increasing the time I spend listening to them and encouraging play. That’s why my children advanced by leaps and bounds. It showed up on their report cards.
I did work hard listening to them.  When my Kindergartener was afraid to take the pre-Kindergarten test, and when he didn’t want to go to school the first two weeks of school, I listened to him cry for hours, reassuring him all the while that he would be safe as he did those things.  My listening led to him being able to go to school confidently, and also to his loving to learn so much that I couldn’t stop him from reciting and writing the alphabet and practicing his numbers at home.
When my third-grader came home from a day of school with nasty behaviors and harsh remarks, and wouldn’t do his homework, I listened to him cry and rage for hours.  Many nights, he didn’t do homework, and I worked with his teacher and even his principal on this issue, as I agreed with him that he had too much. He also had difficult social experiences at school, and I listened to his feelings about those.  I listened to relieve his mind, and took action when I thought it made sense, advocating for him and changing my expectations of him, according to what I learned through listening.
I listened to both my children when they fought.  They fought not because they didn’t like each other, or because that is just what siblings would do, but because things were hard in their lives.  Nowadays, they amaze me with their increasing ability to roughhouse with each other like lion cubs,  laughing and creatively coming up with new play when their upsets are cleared through listening.
My husband and I offered them each a short Special Time daily, and whenever I found opportunities for more one-on-one time. We did Special Time before getting out of bed and before their homework or music practice.  We even did Special Time sleepovers for one parent to take one child on a special outing overnight.  My children and I spent time pillowfighing and roughhousing in the evening, and we spent time chasing after each other or playing hide-and-seek when going through a morning or bedtime routine.
I listened to their crying every day from three minutes to an hour at a time.  Even with frequent short Special Time and Staylistening sessions, by the end of the school week, my sons would become very tight, sizzling with upsets.  So over weekends, my husband and I did longer Special Time sessions, and we ended up Staylistening with them when their big feelings would finally surface. Then they would go off to school again on Monday. This is what I did in my family to try to turn their troubles at school around.  And when the emotional obstacles were removed, my children went ahead and learned a lot on their own. My Hand in Hand mentor’s comment was, “Your husband should say, ‘My wife is a genius!'”
I kept listening to my children because I saw their positive transformation and because we felt closer even though it wasn’t easy to do.  I kept listening because I gradually remembered and worked on my childhood and came to think I would have liked it if I had been listened to back then.  I was able to keep listening because I had other parents listening to me.  So thank you to all my listening partners in my community of parents, for your support.
Parenting by Connection Instructor in California

No More Sleeping in Mummy’s Bed

Courtesy of Pecan Sandies

My son has co-slept with me since he was born.  When he was about 18 months old, I bought him his own bed with the plan to move him into it so I could have my bed to myself.  I tried getting him to stay there, but I could never make it work.  We had gotten into a routine where he would wake up sometime in the night and come into my bed, and we would sleep together until the morning.  That was working for both of us most of the time.  It would become an issue though when I was sick or if one of us was experiencing some insomnia.  Any attempt to get him to sleep in his own bed at these times just ended in disaster!

My son is nearly 4 now, and after another night of sickness, with him feeling too scared to be in his bed by himself, I thought it was time we dealt with the issue properly.  I decided to tackle it as an emotional project.  It wasn’t that I minded my son in my bed. The issue for me was that he was scared to sleep by himself and I didn’t want him to feel that way.

I started by taking it to my listening time.  I would talk to my listening partner about all of my fears.  I was scared he was going to feel all alone, and that I was abandoning him by leaving him in his bedroom all by himself.  I was worried I wouldn’t be able to listen to his cries in the night.  I was worried that it wouldn’t work and I’d have another attempt at this and fail.  I enjoyed having him in my bed most of the time – I’d miss him being there.  I’d be all alone in bed.  I stomped and raved and cried about my fears.  I gave myself time and preparation.  I would talk through the process I was going to use, I would talk about all the things that could go wrong and what I could do if that happened.  I kept talking about it until I knew that my son was going to be completely safe and happy in his bed.  That I wasn’t abandoning him and he wasn’t all alone.  I was still with him, only a call out away if anything came up for him.

The first night I was going to start working on the issue with him, I made sure he was really tired.  We started off with a big session of wrestling before bed.  We played our favourite wrestling game.  This involves covering his bed in pillows, making sure there are enough around the walls to avoid head banging, and then I stand at the end of the bed and he runs up to me and pushes against my hands with his hands and then he flies back onto the pillows.  Then we both turn around and we use our bottoms to bop him onto the bed and then I fall on top of him.  This gets him laughing a lot and we do it over and over again.

Then as I was lying with him as he was going to sleep I told him that he wasn’t going to be sleeping in my bed anymore.  I let him know that I was going to help him stay in his bed, so when he woke in the night I would help him go back to sleep in his bed.  He started to cry.  He wanted to sleep with me, he didn’t want to be by himself.  I listened to him and told him how much I loved him and how safe he was here.

Later in the night he woke up and came into my room.  I was sleeping lightly and quickly got up and met him at my doorway.  “I’m sorry honey, you’re going to sleep in your bed tonight, no more sleeping in mummy’s bed. I’m going to help you back to your bed.”  I stood there with him as he cried and cried.  He told me he wanted to sleep with me. He didn’t want to be in his bed by himself.  He would reach out towards my bed, seeing it, but not being able to touch it or get into it. That would make him cry some more.  I held the limit with him and listened.  As his cry subsided, I held his hand and walked him back into his room and into his bed.  He had a little bit more crying to do, but didn’t easily go back to sleep.   As I went to leave the room, he would start crying again.  I would keep my position and talk to him, telling him I was just here and I was listening.  When his cry subsided, I would walk back to him and give him a big kiss and cuddle and tell him I was going to go to bed again.  As I left the room he would begin to whine a little and I stayed where I was and told him I was just here and he was safe in his bed.  The last time I left, I had gotten back into my bed when he called out again. I stayed in my bed (as it’s just across the hallway) and I called back out to him and told him that I loved him.  He then slept until the morning.

The next night we did the same thing – big fun wrestling before bed, and when he woke in the night and came in, I met him at the end of my bed and held him as he cried for a short time about wanting to come into my bed.  I walked him back to bed and I left the room as he was going back to sleep.  He called out to me when I was in bed and I called back.

This happened for two more nights, and each time the cry was shorter, or not at all, and he stopped calling out to me when I left the room.  Then he slept all the way through in his own bed.  I couldn’t believe it!  It was nowhere near as challenging or as painful and I had anticipated it to be.  All of the listening time I had used had cleared out any of my fears getting in the way and he just had his to work through.

I made sure we had regular Special Time each day during that week so that he could feel my loving presence and get to be the one setting the rules.  We also did lots of other playing and adventures that he chose and enjoyed.

Since we have worked through this issue, my son has been able to spend a night in my bed and then the next night in his and not have any issue with it.  He is generally happy to be sleeping in his own bed all night (although sometimes he tells me he wants to sleep with me) and he doesn’t get up in the night to come into me.  He wakes in the night and is able to go back to sleep by himself now, something he has never been able to do before.  Then, four weeks on, he decided that he no longer wanted to wear nappies (diapers) to bed. He has successfully transferred to undies without any bed wetting.  This is something I would have been more reluctant to do if he were still sleeping in my bed.

-Join Certified Instructor Meagan Probert in her upcoming Building Emotional Understanding course, beginning June 6. Learn more >