“I'm not going to do as my parents did. I'm not going to yell, I'm not going to be irritated by my child.”
It's what many of us tell ourselves when we find out we are having a baby. Among the joy and excitement that a new baby brings, those resolutions to do better can ring loud and clear. We are determined to do our very best.
They are also the promises that Ana Stinea made to herself when she was expecting her first child.
Then three years ago she found herself struggling.
She had two kids. She yelled at them, and hated that she did it. Her youngest got so upset that she hit her head. Things felt out of control. Ana tried to be strong, but many days felt she did not have what she needed emotionally to listen to the cries and outbursts.
She wanted her children safe, but at the same time craved space of her own. “I felt like everything I was doing was in vain. I felt that I was not the mother they deserved. I felt that I couldn't do it anymore.”
It all seemed a long way from the promise she'd made to never become irritated.
Feeling like a failure, she turned to the Internet, in a frantic search for help. It was there that she found Hand in Hand Parenting, a connection-based approach whose five tools foster closer bonds between parents and their kids. She applied for a scholarship to take an online class with UK instructor Shaheen Yusufali-Merali.
There were extreme highs and lows, but “I enjoyed every second of the class. Even when I cried my heart out,” says Ana.
Over six weeks Shaheen introduced the five tools that are the cornerstone of the approach, and encouraged all the parents in the small-group calls to talk about their parenting challenges. Ana says it felt strange at first, but she soon realized how much it helped heal her wounds.
“It was so hard for me to hear Shaheen telling me that it wasn't my fault. My heart ached so much,” she says. “I never realized that I needed to be listened to the way she listened to me, without being judged whatsoever.”
After offloading her stress and emotions, she found compassion in her parenting and space to be able to listen to her children. After that she rediscovered how it felt to hug, to caress, and to stay close to her kids. She learned how to play and let things go. “I learned that days could be sweet,” she says.
Each week she used a new tool with her family. Her first session of Staylistening, where an adult moves in close to a child and listens to their cries of upset, was emotionally charged. “It was so intense and raw and liberating,” she says.
Hand in Hand Parenting is a 28-year old non-profit organisation that has helped parents worldwide create stronger attachments with their children. The five tools teach parents to set limits early but calmly, follow a child's lead in play, work through difficult behavior, and talk with another adult about the issues they find toughest in regular listening sessions.
The Starter Course that Ana enrolled on is an in-depth introduction to the tools. Hand in Hand Parenting's book, Listen: Five Simple Tools to Meet Your Everyday Parenting Challenges is also available.
“Taking the Starter Class was like a breath of fresh air. It was a helping hand for ordinary moms like myself who need to know that it's ok not to be perfect. I'm just a mom with good days and bad days. The tools taught me to see my children, not the problem.”
And within six weeks everyone was seeing changes. “When one of our closest friends who hadn't seen my kid in a while realized that she was “somehow changed, calm, and comfortable,” – those were her words – I knew that Hand in Hand Parenting was ‘real,'” she says.
She still has days where she yells, but not nearly so often.
Today, Ana doesn't feel like she is walking in her parent's footsteps. She's confidently parenting with calm and connection.
The Hand in Hand Starter Class gave Ana the tools she needed to navigate the darkest days of parenting, with an experienced instructor that could give her the space to talk and feel heard, which was life-changing. Ana applied for a scholarship from Hand in Hand, and you can too. Find out how.
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