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I continue to be in awe of what happens when you offer complete respect and warmth to another parent as you sit down to listen. It’s simple. You assume that they are smart. You hold fast to the thought that they are good. You hold the power of your own listening in high regard, too. Two smart people, helping one another. Taking turns with helping. Taking turns with being helped.
You soon see that each parent tries as hard as a person can try. And we goof up. We run out of patience. We don’t yet know how to be kind to our children under certain kinds of pressure. But parents don’t give up. They reach for a listener any time they feel safe enough.
What happens when you get a small group of parents together to offer listening time to one another? Amazing things. Heartwarming things. Uplifting things. Heartbreaking things. Each parent talks about what gets hard; talks about where their hearts are touched. We cry. We laugh. We storm. Every week, a new challenge has arisen for every single one of us.
In one parent group I ran at a big biotech company, we had two dads and three moms. One mom was a secretary. Another was the stay-at-home wife of a scientist, who drove in to be part of our group. One mom worked in Human Resources. One of the dads was a researcher. Another was a refrigeration and air conditioning mechanic. We were working class folks and the scientific elite from three ethnic groups, all brought together by parenting. We took an hour once a week—just an hour, at lunchtime—to listen to and support one another to do Parenting by Connection.
In eighteen months, here’s some of what happened for these five people in our group:
• One mom’s five-year-old daughter began having severe anxiety at the start of Kindergarten. She had never shown this kind of anxiety before. The mom began using Playlistening and Special Time with her. Within three months, her daughter was finally able to tell her that a babysitter had attempted to molest her that past summer. The daughter had warded him off. This Kindergartner could finally fully release the feelings of fear she’d harbored from this incident. Her anxiety at school lifted, and her confidence soared.
• One couple’s son had a seizure, a grand mal that lasted over an hour. In the Emergency Room, the doctors and nurses wanted these parents to leave their still-seizing son. They refused to leave him, and took turns retreating to the rest room for a good, hard cry about how awful this experience was for them, so they could be supportive of their little one, be calm with the medical personnel, and stand their ground politely about their right to stay with their son. He was apart from them for only five minutes, returned to health, and never had another seizure.
• One single mother realized that all her life, she had been ashamed of how she looked—she’d had a cleft palate as an infant, bore a scar from that, and had been self-conscious for as long as she could remember. She always hid her face. It affected her parenting, and every other relationship she had. She took many months to work through much grief and fear about what people might think about how she looked. Her confidence improved, as did her pleasure in parenting. At the company Christmas party, she decided to sew her own gown, wear it proudly, and to wear her hair swept up off her face for the first time in her life. She looked gorgeous. It was a real coming-out for her. Her whole bearing and her outlook changed in eighteen months, with listening time; she was much more pleased with her son as well.
• The father who was a researcher got his first promotion in his three years with the company. His supervisor cited his growing leadership role on his team as the reason for the promotion.
• The other father, the mechanic, had noticed that the company’s glitzy day care center, with all the latest furnishings and conveniences, had a very high staff turnover rate. His two-year-old lost caregiver after caregiver. It was hard on his child, and hard on their family. He used the group as his support system while he took the initiative to change things. Over nine months, he did the following:
- Talked to the Director, who did not listen to his concerns, and who had no answer for the high turnover rate. She refused to acknowledge that there was a problem.
- Talked with several of the caregivers, with whom he had become good friends. They attributed the turnover rate to not being listened to or respected by their Director, and to several policies that worked against their interests.
- Talked with the company management, which did not want to take any action.
- Talked to many other parents of children in the center, almost all of whom thought it was a good place for their children, and could see nothing wrong.
- Worked again and again on his feelings of discouragement about ever finding a way to change the turnover rate.
- Compiled statistics about the turnover rate and the importance of consistent caregiver relationships for young children. Brought these matters to company management, which then decided to hold a parent meeting about the center.
- Talked to parents about the turnover rate, and about his statistics. Spoke up at the meeting, highlighting the policies that were not supportive of the childcare workers there.
- Was rudely dismissed by the people running the meeting. Parents voted to do nothing about the center.
- Worked again and again on feelings of discouragement, and on the public insult he’d gone through.
- Dug a little further, and found that there were some ways that the corporation’s money was being diverted from intended pay and benefits for child care workers.
- Brought this to management’s attention.
- Kept bringing his findings to other parents, and gathered a growing number of parents around him who were now attuned to how the high turnover rate affected their children, and who were convinced by his data.
- Spoke up at a second, highly charged parent/corporate management meeting about the center
- Cheered as the company made the decision to change the management of the child care center.
- His son and over a hundred other children then enjoyed the benefits of new and improved management at their center, and a drastically lower staff turnover rate. This would have never come about without this Dad’s persistence, intelligence, and determination, and without the support he got weekly in our Parent Support Group. He didn’t have to give up. He didn’t have to accept defeat.
On the one hand, this was an extraordinary saga of many kinds of personal and family progress, all coming from one small parent support group. On the other hand, I’ve seen sagas like this for almost 40 years, in parent groups that are founded on respect, on the power of listening, the power of shedding feelings with people who care, and on the simple foundation of Parenting by Connection.
Hand in Hand changes lives. We help families thrive. We make joy in parenting possible. We build parents’ leadership of their families, and beyond. What we do is to set the conditions, provide the initial leadership, and teach simple tools. Parents’ intelligence and love and determination does the rest, and parent leaders multiply, changing their families and the world around them.
Hand in Hand builds support for the vital work of parenting. Join us. Support our work. Help us to change more lives. Register now for the special presentation Changing Lives by Changing Parenting.