On a recent road trip, my son accidentally tossed my computer out of the car, damaging the hard drive. He did not intend to hurt it. He wanted to go find another skate park. I said, “No, it’s too late, and traffic is too bad. “ So, he got angry and shoved the computer toward me. I was tired from the drive and frustrated with his anger and insistence, so I jumped out of the car to cool off – just at the moment that he was sending the computer my way.
Although it was an accident, because it happened in the middle of our tough time, I was livid. I walked away, reaching for my cell phone before I could take my anger out on him. “I have to get some listening time”, I yelled back.
Emergency listening time has become my practice and my lifeline. My 10 yr old son and I can both be hot tempered, and I am a single parent. There is not another adult around to help me re-group, but there is always a listening partner, or at least their voice mail, just a phone call away.
I couldn’t reach anyone directly, so I ranted and sobbed into my listening partner’s voice mail as I walked around the block. That release allowed me to return to the car and calmly get us to where we were staying.
The next 2 days were busy with work for me, while my son explored skate parks and new friends. Our busyness allowed me to tamp down my anguish at having lost my hard drive. Losing my computer, even temporarily, means losing access to work product, contacts and my ability to create more work for myself.
When we returned home to our regular routine, I found myself short tempered and easily agitated. After about a day of my crankiness, my beautiful son said, “Quit yelling at me and quit being so mad.” It was true! I wanted to bite his head off over the smallest thing. I had no desire to connect, play, or listen. I was still mad as heck about the computer.
I realized that he also had feelings around his part in the computer accident. We were both off-track. I had been able to tamp down the feelings for a bit, but they were under there, making me feel tight, cranky, and unable to help my son with his own upset. Like that rock in your shoe that you finally can’t ignore.
I knew what I really needed to do – get some listening time!!! I apologized to my son, acknowledging that I was still upset about the computer, and promising to get some listening time. After he fell asleep, I called my local partner, but she only had 5 minutes for me. I took it!
The next day I called a long distance partner. She only had 5 minutes. I took that, too!!
I had 2 of the biggest 5-minute tantrums you can imagine! I screamed and cried and raged! I stomped my feet and shook and screamed and cried some more! Boy, that felt good!
It is amazing how much I can release in a few minutes when I’m committed to getting those icky feelings up and out. It’s just too difficult to parent well when I’m in that mad-sad-scared place.
In the 1950’s there was an ad for a hair product that proclaimed, ‘a little dab’ll do ya’. Emergency listening time for even just 5 minutes is definitely that powerful and necessary little dab that’ll do me, and my parenting. Thanks to my listening partners who are there to give me a little dab of time and warm attention, I was able to offload my tension, and come back to that playful, loving, patient, and connected place where I love to be with my son.
Kathy Gordon is a Certified Parenting by Connection instructor in Los Angeles.
You can get the support Kathy talks about using our newest self-guided tutorial, Building a Listening Partnership: Easing the Stress of Parenting.