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.

Pillow Fighting Saves the Day

Photo (C) Joshua Tan 2007

A friend, her grandson, my daughter and I went on a ski weekend together.  My daughter is almost 9, and her grandson is 12.  He has a very hard life–this weekend was, among other things, an attempt to give him a fun time and some connection with us away from the difficulties of home.

He took some ski lessons on the first day, and learned  quickly.  He was fearless on skis.  It was a bit of a problem, actually. On the lifts, he kept wanting to lean over and spit down onto the snow. From 30 feet in the air, I didn’t think it was safe for him to lean out like that, so I kept asking him to sit back. He kept wanting to go down hills that had jumps on them, too, although he was still new at skiing.

So we all had a full first day and a really rousing card game that night, in which the kids won and we adults lost miserably in the midst of lots and lots of laughter.  It was really fun.

The next morning, he was saying that he was going to go down the runs with jumps. My friend, his grandma, said, “No, you’re going to go down slopes that you can handle, so you don’t hurt yourself.”  That was too much for him.  He hung his head, went over to the bed, and curled up silently in fetal position.

My friend and I thought for a moment, “What shall we do?”  My daughter went over to him and asked him something like, “How come you went back to bed?  Are you sick or something?” but he wouldn’t say a word.  He had dug deep into bad feelings.

Then, I said, “Let’s go pull him out!”  My friend said, “Really??”  and I said, “Sure!” and went over and grabbed one of his ankles and began to drag him across the bed. He began to kick and struggle, but I kept it on the fun side, just kept dragging him and begging him to come with us.  He got me back onto the bed, and I started throwing pillows at him, and he began to laugh and get into the pillow fight.  At one point, his grandma tried to hang onto him–that was too much, and he began to get upset.

I thought, “No, we aren’t going to be able to handle a big upset right now!” so I got her to let him go, and we kept on pillow fighting and wrestling for a long time–10 or 15 minutes. It was really fun, lots of laughter and good tussling.  When I was getting tired, finally, I yelled, “OK, who wants to go SKIING?!” and he and my daughter jumped up, put their fists in the air in a victory V, and said, “We do!” and they hopped into their jackets and boots, did everything they needed to do quickly and cooperatively, and we went off to have another great day.

– a Parenting by Connection parent