We all have challenging moments in our parenting, and how we react to these can almost always be traced back to some stored hurt feelings from earlier in our lives. We had a very difficult birth with our first child, followed by him then being in special care for a month, and this was something that hung like a shadow, both over my parenting, and over my son's early years. This is a story from a little while back and, whilst I still even now have more to do on this, Listening Partnerships have been invaluable to me in working through this very difficult time, and have given me so much hope that I don't need to carry this with me through all of my parenting life.
A while back, I had the opportunity to set a limit with our oldest child (then aged 7 years) early in the day, when I needed to stop him repeatedly bugging his sister. He had been going through a really angry period, lashing out at all of us both with words and physically. On this particular day, he was clearly showing us that he was struggling with something. It was a huge Staylistening session, with him being very violent towards me. At first I felt frustrated and felt I was going through the motions with words of reassurance (like letting him know I was there and I wouldn't leave him and that he was safe), rather than really feeling where he was coming from. But I managed to see past my own anger (and his) to the frightened little boy underneath, and then I started to really see the fear he was trying to push down. I managed to stay really calm and warm, and eventually he cried (which he rarely did at that time) and wanted lots of cuddles and was very affectionate towards me. I felt very close to him and quite tearful myself, as just being there for him when he needed me reminded me so much of his first month of life - when he was stuck in hospital and I couldn't be there for him very much of the time.
I had my parent support group later that evening, and decided to brave it and talk about my son's first few weeks (I have known for a while that I needed to go there, but I don't really like to!) - I cried for only the second time ever in a Listening Partnership, talking about how he's 'our baby - not theirs'. I know that there's so much I'm holding onto, guilt and regret, around his birth, and wishing I could go back and do it again, and knowing how differently I would do things if I could. Our oldest child, of all my children, rubs me up the wrong way the most I would say*, and I do wonder if it's at least partly because he reminds me of what I perceive as my 'failings' around the time of his birth. I'm not sure I would have got to the point I did in my LP if it hadn't been for the big Staylistening session I'd done with him earlier: I felt I was really able to feel his fear which might be underlying some of that anger, and that helped me to feel more sad for him than angry with him, for the behaviours he is sometimes showing us right now.
After the support group, I felt like I was able to see much more clearly the hurt my son was expressing through his angry outbursts, and not get so triggered myself by them. I felt much more like we were in it together, and it was a lot easier to see past the anger, to empathise, and to remember that this was a hurt little boy I was dealing with.
*I no longer feel that our oldest child triggers me more more than our other children - and I put this down to getting the opportunity to release the stored hurts from the time of his birth, through Listening Partnerships.
Other resources you may find useful:
- A while after the incident I wrote about above, our son was diagnosed with an autism spectrum condition - you can read more about that here and here
- For more information on Staylistening (listening to your child through their big emotions) have a read up on The science behind the Hand in Hand Parenting tool of Staylistening
- And this one is great if you're not sure what to actually say when you're listening to your child's big emotions!! 20 Things to Say to Your Child Instead of "Don't Cry"
- For more on Listening Partnerships - what they are, and how to do them - try 10 tips for being a good listener
- And now you just need How to find a listening partner!!