If you ever get short-tempered, exhausted, tearful or find yourself at the end of your rope with parenting, here’s some good news. There is a parenting tool you can use to naturally relieve this tension and heaviness. A tool that offers a fast way back to responsive parenting. This tool has been proven to work again and again by parents in countries across the world, from Chile to Canada, from Ireland to India.
This tool is called Listening Partnerships. In a Listening Partnership, parents take turns speaking and listening to each other for a set period of time. It’s a powerful tool for unburdening as parents and humans,
In a Listening Partnership, you will likely form relationships unlike any other that you currently experience in your life.
They help anytime I feel stuck.
You may have noticed that certain feelings and experiences you can’t shake off get in the way of good, clear thinking. When our minds are clouded, we become reactive. We snap at our kids. Or we say yes to things we normally say no to. Parenting becomes a heavy burden. Fun flies out the window. It also gets hard to slow down, to pay attention and to listen to our children.
Listeners in Listening Time don’t interrupt each other with questions, ideas or suggestions. Instead, they listen and offer their warmth and trust that the speaker will express just what they need to. By talking, laughing, crying, yawning, and trembling with another warm listener, tension melts like a snowflake in the sun. Afterwards your challenges feel easier to handle.
Like I said, Listening Partnerships are probably unlike any other relationship you have known.
In fact, when I first started listening and being listened to by other parents, I felt a little like I do when I’m posing for a photo and don’t know what to do with my hands. A little like, “What are these big awkward, gangly extensions of myself? What do I do with them in order to appear normal and at ease?“
But after a while I got comfortable with the process. I saw real shifts. I also saw that I was able to listen well with my child after I had been listened to. I saw that Listening Time was effective and good for me.
And yet, I resisted.
I butted up against the idea of regularly making time for Listening Partnerships.
One of my first thoughts was, “Are you kidding me? In addition to the laundry list of things I have to do as a parent, I now need to add ‘Listening Partnerships’ to my to-do list?! Forget this!” (I still sometimes feel this way but, these days, I actually take those feelings to my Listening Partnership. I know that when I’m stuck, expressing myself helps to move the stuckness in a way that is most respectful of myself).
Parenting, and the busyness that comes with it, is an easy way to deflect Listening Partnerships. It’s easy to tell ourselves we have too much on. Or that Listening Time won’t work. It’s true that cultivating them takes time and also effort, but I have learned these three things from the hundreds of hours I’ve spent listening to parents and doing my own Listening Partnerships over the last four years:
- Regularly listening to children with warmth, regardless of what they say and do, is almost impossible if we ourselves aren’t regularly listened to.
- Raising children brings up legitimate feelings for parents that need to be felt, expressed and heard. This is best done away from our children, with a listener who believes in our goodness, our ability to solve our own problems, and who can give us their full presence and warmth while we’re doing so.
- As long as I’m a parent raising a child, I’m pretty sure there will always be a deficit of time to myself. There will always be more to do than I could possibly ever complete. There will always be thousands of reasons I could think of to not make time for Listening Time.
If you have already experienced the relief and the uplift that comes after a Listening Partnership, you’ll know this tool is too good to be ignored. But you may still struggle to schedule it regularly.
Or, if you are considering trying out Listening Partnerships but haven’t because you worry there just isn’t time, read on.
The ideas I’m about to share have helped me make time for this, even in weeks I thought it would be impossible to fit it in. I sincerely hope they will help you make time for this most valuable support tool.
Make maximum benefit from what little time you have
If you want to make time for Listening Partnerships, try finding pockets of time in your current schedule.
- Strategically schedule listening partnerships around times of repeated difficulty. Are mealtimes, bathtime, bedtime or school drop off or pick up a trigger for you? If so, can you arrive early at school pick-up and for 10 minutes sit in your car to do a Listening Partnership? Or can you take 10 minutes out of your morning in privacy to offload the feelings you have about daycare drop-off before you leave?
- Ask your partner or a friend or neighbor to watch the kids for 10-20 minutes. We had a retired couple as neighbors for a long time who we built a good relationship with. I knew if I needed 20 minutes to myself I would call them and my son would go over and play for a short stint. Is there anyone you can call on for a short stretch of time?
- Use your child’s screen time to make time for Listening Partnerships. If you are about to burst or having a hard time regulating yourself use your child’s screen time to get some support. There are plenty of short, educational videos that they can watch if you’re worried about content. We love Mystery Doug.
- If you have a partner, have them do the bedtime routine while you do Listening Time. I would sometimes take 30 minutes after dinner and shut myself in my bedroom while my partner played with our son. I was still available for the bedtime routine, but that little breather made a big difference.
- Find a Listening Partner to leave voice messages with when you’re about to burst. I have an agreement with several partners that we can offload voice messages—and we use it. We always reply with a text or a voice text letting the other person know they were heard and offering warmth (“I hear you, Shauna! You are not alone! Thank you so much for telling me!!”). Those little return messages took the edge off the isolation I felt.
- Find another parent who lives close by and exchange childcare for 30 minutes a week. Use this time for your Listening Partnerships. (I’ll come clean that I was never successful at this but, boy does it sound like a great idea!)
- Keep to a regular date with at least one Listening Partner. Ever sit in the car waiting for soccer practice to end? Done grocery shopping and have 10 minutes? Call your listening partner! I plan my grocery shopping day and schedule Listening Time for when I know I’ll be finished. I’ve gotten so regular and efficient at shopping and I always have time left over for a planned Listening Partnership.
Once you make time for Listening Partnerships, the struggle can become sustaining them.
Here I’ve found a few more tricks to make time for Listening Time. Using them in a way that is most useful to you makes it more likely you’ll continue to prioritize and make time for your Listening Partnerships.
- Build a roster of Listeners: It helps to have more than one Listening Partner. Schedules change, availability changes, so having a larger pool of people makes it easier to find a replacement if that happens. You can find people who know how Listening Partnerships work on the Hand in Hand Network, in the Parent Club Community, or by taking a class with other parents. Also, keep an eye on the newsletter and events page because sometimes instructors offer classes specifically on Listening Partnerships. I have around 10 people I have done regular listening time with.
- Schedule Listening Partnerships in advance: To make sure you make time and keep making time, hold yourself accountable and add your Listening Times to your planner.
- Find partners who fit different needs: Ask which partners are ok with you reaching out, unplanned, in a moment of need. Also, identify which partners are ok with you leaving texts or voicemails where you can blow off steam, and who will listen and respond so that you know you were heard. Over time you might also come to notice that you talk about certain things with different partners.
- When times feel harder than normal, increase your Listening Time. During the pandemic I made it my priority to do 20 minutes of listening time every day of the week. I genuinely could not homeschool, plus everything else and act sane without regular time to listen to and be heard by other parents. Often the more strain you feel the harder it can be to reach out. Try to breakthrough and reach out anyway. You’ll feel lighter and relieved afterward.
The number one way to make time for Listening Partnerships
One day, it just hit me.
Listening Partnerships help me handle daily demands in my life.
Listening Partnerships are the truest form of self care I know and I can’t imagine my life without them. But it took time and effort to find people who were trained in this way of listening. Making it a regular part of my life didn’t happen until I decided I had to get real with myself and commit.
There is always a lot on in my life, but I realized it was up to me to push against the endless list and prioritize this time for me.
What I’m trying to say is this: if you want to make time for Listening Time, the key is to make Listening Partnerships a priority. Sometimes this will mean the dishes will be dirty in the sink, or you will have to tell someone no. And that’s ok. And if either of those things instills in you a sense of mad panic, you might want to begin your next Listening Time by exploring your reaction!
If you are wondering how to make time for Listening Partnerships, I hope these ideas work. I’m curious. Which will you try first?
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