Listening Partnerships are a wonderfully supportive way to gain clarity in your parenting. When things at home feel strained, five or 10 minutes with a trusted listening partner can be just what we need to return to our families more open, more creative, and with more energy.
Before you begin a Listening Partnership, you might like to review the booklet Listening Partnerships for Parents, and then establish a trial period of between four to eight sessions. The following framework will go a long way to ensure good, warm connections grow.
Establishing Trust in Your Listening Partnership
Take the first few sessions to develop trust and hone your own listening skills. Whether you meet in person, online, or over the phone, keep the following in mind when you connect:
- Listen with warmth and respect, and offer your complete attention
- Trust that your attention will make a difference
- Trust in your partner’s intelligence
- Don’t advise or judge
- Keep what is said confidential
While you get used to listening and being listened to, it can be helpful to spend your exchanges reviewing your life up to this moment. Tell what brought you to the partnership, and the hopes, the disappointments, and grievances that have shaded your life so far.
Delve back to your own childhood memories and talk about them. Try, if you can, to recall what you felt during these earliest moments, and evaluate what went well, and not so well, for you.
Setting Up a Sound Framework
Beginning each session by mentioning something going well in your life, gives a moment of lightness and a break from the tension you are carrying. End each session by asking your partner, as her time comes to an end, a simple “refresher question,” that brings them back from their concerns and feelings to more neutral topics. Try questions like these:
- What are the names of five types of flower?
- What is your favorite food?
- How many square things can you see right now?
Use these first meetings to build the level of connection and understanding between you. After three or four sessions, that safety and trust should feel established.
Noticing When Your Listening Partnership Is Going Well
By now, you both should feel comfortable in laughing and encouraging laughter if and when it comes up. Some silence while you notice your feelings is welcomed, as well as crying when you focus on vivid details of your grief.
You should feel increasingly free, as trust develops between you both, to release deep feelings, to make whatever noises or movements that you discover feels helpful in releasing tension, as well as feeling safe to work on anger, tension, or frustration you might be holding onto.
When listening partnerships feel supportive and beneficial you should feel able to:
- Talk freely
- Keep silent as you explore feelings
- Laugh, and be encouraged to laugh
- Show anger and dark feelings
During each exchange, remind your partner they are good, caring, and striving to do their best. Encouraging them to take pride in what they do is supportive.
Moving On From a Listening Partnership
Most times, you can expect the first session or two to feel a little awkward as you work to build your connection, but by your third or fourth session, those feelings should be giving way to warmth and comfort.
But like other relationships, sometimes that “click” doesn’t happen.
Maybe you knew each other previously, and backstory prevents the listening partnership from truly flourishing, or maybe your life stories are too similar, and trigger strong reactions in you so that you cannot hold back advice or even judgment. There are many reasons why a Listening Partnership might not feel right.
And that’s OK.
As you come to the end of your trial period, consider if you want to move on. Be honest with yourself and your partner about how you see things progressing. You might try for a further few dates or you might decide then to move on.
Even the brief work you have done together will have been useful, but you will both feel the most benefit when you feel really free to share whatever is on your mind. That might mean looking elsewhere for a Listening Partnership, and you should not feel discouraged. That safety and support is your reward for the intense and good work that you do as a parent.
Keep up-to-date with all of our post, talks, and classes: Get the Hand in Hand Newsletter
Get help with your personal parenting challenges from a Hand in Hand instructor in our online and in-person Starter Classes. Your chance to meet a small group of like-minded parents, apply Hand in Hand’s five tools to your family and get started with listening time. Find out more about Hand in Hand Parenting Starter Classes