With Kathy Gordon
Dear Hand in Hand,
“I've heard a lot about the parent listening tool, Listening Partnerships, but what makes them so different to the good, easy chats I have with my friends about parenting? I have one friend that I met when we were both pregnant, and our children have grown up together. We share and compare the milestones, and even though her approach sometimes differs from mine, I can't ever see us falling out about it. How would a listening partner compare or help me more?
It's so great that you've got good friendships around you. Someone close that you can bounce ideas around with and share the ideas you have about your growing kids.
You asked about the difference between a gathering with friends and parent listening time. (For anyone unfamiliar with Listening Partnerships for Parents, read this post). The big difference is the quality of the listening that goes on in listening time. The parent-to-parent listening that we do during listening time is different than everyday listening for a few reasons.
In everyday life, we learned to listen to people one of two ways. The first is: we’ll listen for things we might have in common. “Oh, I have two boys, too,” or “Yes, I’m having trouble with nap-time as well.” “I know someone who went to that school…”
The second way we listen is: to help. It’s possible that the majority of the time we listen, it is in order to offer a suggestion or a solution. A powerful way to feel connected and to make a difference is by offering help.
As you listen, a part of the brain scans constantly, and this can be around parenting issues or anything else. Your brain thinks, “Oh! I know a great chiropractor, or, “I have the number of a good divorce attorney, plumber or mechanic.” “This is how we fixed our bedtime, potty training, picky eating issues.”
These are both wonderful ways of listening to our family, friends and acquaintances.
The kind of listening that we do in a parent to parent listening partnership is different and unique. As our partner shares, we simply LISTEN without interrupting, offering advice, fixing, or reflecting back. We offer our warm presence and our silent belief that this person is good and they will figure it out. We aren't sharing our ideas, and we aren't offering solutions. In fact, we say very little. We might murmur ‘uh-huh’ so that they know we are there, but we trust that our presence is enough.
Because our minds are so used to listening for points of commonality and ‘helping,’ parents can find it very difficult to listen in this new way. That's why, in my classes, I give parents a mantra to say while they listen to their partner: “You are good. Everyone you are talking about is good. You will figure it out.”
Coming back to this mantra “You are good. You will figure it out,” really helps us to anchor our partner in our warmth and belief in them, rather than getting caught up in our thoughts and opinions. This builds safety and space for the partner to explore their thoughts, often quite deeply, and to offload their worries.
You know a listening partnership is working well when the person sharing is able to laugh heartily, cry easily, or even tremble or perspire as feelings and old hurts bubble to the surface.
We all know that parenting gets rough and messy at times. We do and say things we wish we hadn't, we find ourselves triggered in the most random of situations. In listening time you are free to explore those issues at length. You can rant at your children, partner or parents without apology, because your Listening Partner has promised to hold the thought that everyone you are taking about was doing their best – especially you!
In a parent listening partnership, you can really say anything. There is no illusion of perfection, you don't need to be polite, because you can be quite sure that you won't be judged in any way, and that whatever your say will go no further. Probably our most important guideline is that whatever is said during Listening Time is never referred to again – not even when it’s your partner’s turn to share.
This makes a Listening Partnership quite a unique – and vital – place for any parent. Over and over again, we have found that when a parent gets the opportunity to offload feelings, fears and even old hurts from our own childhood, then the parent can think well about their family.
Strong friendships can provide good support, but listening time actually allows us to do the deep emotional work and healing that parenting well requires.
Anchored in our Listening Partner’s silent belief that we are good and we will figure it out, we often do!
We find new access to our own creative thinking, problem solving, patience and even playfulness.
We find our best selves!
Parenting is a real work out – but what if you could see it as a daily practice for honing your resilience and deep understanding? Find out about this strategy in What if Parenting is an Emotional Practice?