Like most, I parent differently than my parents did.
I knew that seeing me do things differently than they did could stir up feelings for them, especially about their most challenging parenting times. (Hello, teenage years!)
Still, I wanted them to have a strong relationship with my daughter and I didn't want my way of parenting to get in the way of all of us remaining connected.
I knew I had some work ahead of me.
Because I was eager to apply the tools in early childhood settings where I worked, I trained as a Hand in Hand instructor before I had my own children. Because of that my parents had heard me talk about the different Hand in Hand tools for a while. (I think I was starting to sound like a broken record to them!)
When my daughter was born, we handled a host of small medical issues—none, thank goodness, that were too dangerous, but definitely enough to add a sizable layer of stress to the load that comes with new parenthood.
And then, due to her severe silent reflux, my daughter slept in a little foam baby recliner we placed in the middle of our bed and got very used to sleeping between me and my husband.
When her reflux improved at about 6 months, we planned on moving her to a crib to sleep flat. However, we knew that it would be a challenge.
Right at that six month mark, we had planned a cross country trip to visit my parents and we decided to work on the transition there. With my parents and brother there to help care for her too, we would be able to nap during the day if we'd been up Staylistening in the night.
To get everyone on board with this, I knew we’d have to give them advance notice.
I knew my plan to Staylisten during the crib transition made sense, but I was still a bundle of nerves
My parents are experienced therapists, and had all those years experience parenting my younger brother and I. Yet here I was, about to share information that they’d never had access to as parents or as professionals. Much was likely to fly in the face of what they knew and shared with others.
First I had to work on our backstory…
I have a history of wanting to do things differently to my parents that goes back to my own early years. Although we had made lots of progress in being able to be patient with each other, I was worried that our Staylistening conversation might tip the scales, and not in a good way.
- Even if I could get them on board initially, how would they react when we were in the thick of it?
- Would they think I was neglecting my child?
- Causing her unnecessary distress?
- Would they come upstairs during the long nights and try to intervene and get me to help my daughter stop crying and if they did, how would I react?
I had a lot of conflicting feelings about needing to have this conversation and I didn’t want those feelings to control how I presented things, so for a few weeks leading up to that initial conversation, I had sessions with multiple listening partners.
In these I worked a lot on my autonomy, conflicts I carried from my own childhood, and my worries about being able to make the choices to best support my daughter.
This listening helped clear my emotional blocks and prepared me to speak confidently to my parents and to listen as well.
Getting Prepped: How I Asked My Parents To Help With Hand in Hand Tools
A week or so before our trip, we had a video chat and I let them know our plans. I asked for their help in being available during the day, in case we were in need of naps. This meant extra cuddle time with the baby for them, so they were totally on board.
I also let them know what to expect from Staylistening and that it might take a while for my daughter to settle while she showed us her fears around the change and probably the hard things that had happened to her in her very early days and months.
My parents wondered how we would know what she was “working on”.
We explained that we couldn’t be sure but that we would check for hunger and wet diapers and other comfort things before we settled in to listen to the tears.
It was reassuring to them to know that we were not letting her physical needs go unmet. If they weren’t totally on board with Staylistening, they were, at least, relaxed about that.
I thanked them and reminded their help would be huge, knowing we had daytime support meant we could make the transition in a more relaxed way, and that would help us give our daughter our full, warm attention.
They had some questions, but surprisingly, not too many.
Once we arrived at their house, we began the process of listening to my daughter while she learned how to sleep in a crib.
It all went well and how you would expect, with lots of tears from my daughter.
My husband and I were very tired, but because we had daytime support, we made our way through, and my parents really felt like an important part of the process (and believe me, they were!).
By the end of our two week visit, we had made the transition.
Sharing More Hand in Hand Tools With My Parents
As my daughter grew, I began sharing a few Hand in Hand articles with my parents, and when she was two, I left a copy of the Listen book with them at the end of another visit. My dad likes to read books I recommend (it’s a bonding thing we have) so this was a good way to help bring them along without constantly explaining things to them. I think that can feel a little too on-the-nose for grandparents, especially because they raised me without any of the Hand in Hand tools!
One thing that really blossomed as my daughter got older was my parents’ playfulness.
I talked about the benefits of making her laugh (without tickling) and they relished this role. My daughter howled with laughter as they balanced things on their heads, performed pratfalls, and made lots of silly, funny, mistakes.
One Other Thing That Played a Big Part in Bringing My Parents On-Board
I also made a real effort to listen to them.
I stayed up late with my mom to talk with her about what was happening in her life and had long chats with my dad as we went through boxes of old things in the basement. It was lovely to listen to them (and something I didn’t do a great job of when I was a younger adult), so that brought out a lot of openness in them and closeness between us.
During one visit, when my husband and I were planning to leave our daughter with my parents so we could have two days away, I floated the idea to my dad about proposing the limit (“mommy is going away”) to my daughter a few days before the actual day we were leaving.
My hope was that she could release some of those feelings with me there, so she could more fully enjoy her time with her very doting grandparents.
My dad and I did some Playlistening and Special Time with my daughter, and then I let her know I’d be leaving the next day and she would be with Nannie and Grandpa.
She cried and cried, and we both listened to her.
I realized it couldn’t be easy for my dad, so I gave him continual reassurance that her reaction was OK and that he was doing a good thing by listening to her.
I told my daughter, “Nannie and Grandpa can’t wait to have so much fun with you,” which brought more tears.
We stayed with it for a good hour, and then we decided to switch to Playlistening, and my daughter began laughing.
We did this routine one more time before my husband and I left for our little getaway.
We also left time for my daughter to have another big cry as my husband and I headed out the door. That was a little harder for my parents, because it really seemed to them like if we just left, she would be OK!
They were worried that she would be inconsolable the whole time, but once we left, she had a good cry with them, followed by a rough evening, and then woke up sunny and relaxed. She enjoyed her whole two days with her grandparents, to their big relief.
When we returned from our little getaway, my daughter welcomed us back with hugs and kisses and a hearty meltdown shortly after that but with no tightness or rigidity.
Over the course of many more visits, we had lots of opportunities to add even more to the safety we had built, and my daughter’s relationship with my parents continues to grow and evolve.
Their ability to play, and play endlessly, has been such an amazing gift for my daughter and she soaks up their attention so well.
Introducing Lots of Laughter and The Potty Talk Game
As my daughter has gotten older one thing my parents have gravitated to is Playlistening.
They love nothing more than getting good, rolling laughter going, especially with a game they call, “The Potty Talk Game.”
This is a game they invented where they pretend to be having a serious conversation and my dad lets a potty word slip out. My mom and daughter scold him together, he promises to try harder, and it just gets worse and worse. Sometimes they switch roles where my daughter is baiting my dad to get him to say the words, and together they annoy my mom.
They laugh together so much, and my daughter asks for this game over and over.
Here's how one other instructor plays with Potty Talk
Using Hand in Hand To Bridge Connection During This Year’s Separation
One of the hardest things about this pandemic has been the separation.
We live across the country from my parents and my daughter has had to rely on video calls to stay connected. Lately, when I set up the call, my daughter powerfully pushes me out of the room so they can chat by themselves, and after a few minutes, peals of laughter come drifting out of the doorway.
Why all the laughing? Because they’ve figured out how to play the Potty Talk Game over video.
They exaggerate it now and sometimes my daughter even encourages my mom to put her hand over my dad’s mouth to keep him from saying the potty words. They take turns and switch roles, and find new ways to play each time.
I don’t know when we will get to see them next, but my daughter feels just as connected to her grandparents as she always has, in large part because they are willing to get embarrassingly silly.
In a lot of ways, my dad’s propensity for humor and my mom’s attention to play have created the perfect opportunity for this kind of play to rule the day.
And now they understand how beneficial this kind of play is for my daughter, they are even happier to indulge.
Use These 7 Steps To Get Your Parents On-Board With Hand in Hand Parenting
It took some effort (and wonderful listening partners), but I am so glad I figured out a way to bring my parents along on my Hand in Hand Parenting journey.
Whether we see them for a visit or connect over video chat, I know that now I have two more allies as I try my best to raise my daughter in the most respectful, connected way I know how.
Are you interested in how to bring the Hand in Hand tools to your family?
Here are 7 ideas to get started:
Spend Time Just Listening. Pay some good attention to the adults who raised you and warm up those relationships. Even if you feel close with your family, set aside some time to spend time with one or both of your parents. Ask them about their lives, listen to them with warmth and interest, and share how pleased you are to be spending some time with them. It’s likely that they aren’t used to having your warm attention without a toddler hanging around your neck, so this will mean more to them than you know. (This is essentially stealth listening time.) Why does it help? Anytime we do things differently, those around us can feel judged instead of curious. This isn’t your fault or theirs, but rather a condition of parenting in our society. Parents don’t have enough help or support or good information, but we get PLENTY of judgment. The best antidote to this is appreciation, help, and time to build close relationships. With your Hand in Hand Parenting perspective, you are well positioned to offer just this! Once you have built up some trust, you’ll have more willing listeners if and when you choose to share other information. And there’s no downside to strengthening the relationships with the other parents and adults in your orbit. If there’s a place to start, this is it.
Find low-conflict moments to share information. In a calmer moment, when you are feeling relaxed and close to a family member, share a story about how the use of a certain tool helped you and our child through something hard, and then thank them for listening to you.
Offer unannounced special time to members of your family. Maybe it’s children like nieces and nephews, or maybe it’s the grown-ups who need it. Your playfulness and enthusiasm for their interests will pave the way for them to have some fun and feel cared about and close to you .
Have a few extra copies of the book “Listen” on hand. When you have made some headway with a family member, casually offer them a copy of the book.
Get kids around you laughing. Playlisten when you can, and you’ll become a treasured playmate for the little ones. Adults close by will either wonder how you did it, or will be relieved you did! When visiting with extended family, before my daughter was born, my husband and I Playlistened with the little kids a lot. We were staying at a remote lodge, and had been warned by the local folks to watch for bears by scanning our surroundings for bear poop. The idea of bears nearby frightened the little ones. We got them laughing by pointing to lots of different things, like their feet, benches, bowls of food, and yelling “That’s poop!” and running away to safety. This got the kids relaxed enough to go on a hike, and earned my husband the title of “Funny Guy”, which the kids shouted at our car after we said goodbye as we drove away.
Get Buy-In First. If adults in your family are more on the sensitive side, get buy-in before using Staylistening (and maybe Playlistening) in their presence. Sometimes the reason people balk at these tools is that it looks like the adult is not actually in charge, but if you feel relaxed and can approach them lightly, you'll show them differently. Try saying something like this:
“Hey mom, I noticed that Nate is edgy today. He was like that when he woke up, and it doesn’t seem to be getting any better. I think he’s fixing to have a big meltdown. I’m betting that the next thing I say no to, he’s going to lose it. When that happens, I’d like to stick by him and just listen to him as he works it through, and then I think he’ll be his happy self again. But before that happens, I wanted to check in with you, because it could get pretty loud! Are there any places we should avoid being when that happens? Do you want to be nearby, or would you rather us be further away? This is something that we do at home sometimes, and it’s always so helpful, but it sure looks wild!”
This helps disarm your family members, helps them to feel respected (which is doubly important if you are in their home), gives them an opportunity to ask questions, and lets them know you have it under control. This is also a good time to have some handy phrases ready, like “We’re just having some technical difficulties!” or “We’ll be through with this shortly, I’ve got this!” or “Good thing I inherited those lightning reflexes from you, mom” so that anyone around can be sure that there’s no emergency and that you are confidently handling it.
Set up listening partnerships for yourself. Slipping away to spend even 10 minutes on the phone with a listening partner can help you see the goodness in your family members, and feel confident (and strategic!) about sharing what you know.