When I was at school I had a group of ‘friends’ who were actually more like bullies. They would do things like pull my hairband out relentlessly, and hide it, make me do chores such as collect their lunch boxes and put them away, (I could never say no). They would insult my appearance, my family, call me names. I can remember when I saved up my pocket money to buy a nice pen with fine tipped nib and one of the girls was trying it out, and pushed it so hard into the paper that it broke.
My only defence was to be silent, I’d always been quiet at school anyway. For a few years I hardly said anything except yes or no. The girls tried to make me talk by telling me to ‘start a conversation.’ They’d tell me things like ”how do you think you’ll get anywhere in life if you don’t speak?” We played the daily, ‘start a conversation’ game every lunchtime for a long time. There were other girls in my class who could see I was having a hard time and who offered to be my friend. But for some reason I felt like I wanted to stay friends with these girls, or that I couldn’t escape, I’m not sure.
I found a few coping mechanisms, one of which was to put Mexican worry dolls under my pillow each night. I would choose a doll for each of the girls, and say, ‘I’m worried ……. will be nasty to me tomorrow’ for every girl. It didn’t work. The dolls became kind of tainted to me, too full of worries. The song, ‘don’t worry, be happy’ was in the charts, and I felt like I was supposed to simply do what the song told me. I lived in a state of constant worry and anxiety, that I felt completely powerless to escape. I discovered a ‘trick’ in my mind, that if there was a thought that I didn’t like, then I could just push it away, and I didn’t have to think about it. I sucked my thumb until I was 12, and had to go to sleep with the silky blanket I’d had in my cot as a baby touching my feet.
These coping mechanisms worked in the sense that they got me through, they kept my feelings hidden in a world where I felt like I couldn’t tell anyone, or change anything about my situation. I moved to secondary school, I made new, nicer friends. But in the long run I grew up still afraid of those girls, I carried their voices with me, as if they were under my skin.
When I discovered Parenting by Connection, I started a listening partnership and began telling my stories about these girls. I’d get triggered by something in my life, a woman who I felt ‘afraid’ of or a situation where I felt like I couldn’t stand up for myself. I would trace the present situation back to the past, and talk about the girls. I would always start crying when I talked about the worry dolls. There was something so sad to me about my 10 year old self putting dolls under my pillow every night, hoping that would offer me some kind of magic escape. Finally being able to cry, things started to change, I got my confidence back, I realised that there was nothing wrong with me. I could finally just be myself.
Those were tears I’d carried with me for over 20 years. And there were many other tears too. Tears about a million things big and small. We all carry tears like this. Maybe we have or maybe we haven’t experienced something that a psychologist would label as ‘traumatic.’ But we have all experienced difficult situations that we would have cried about if we’d felt safe and supported enough. Our parents didn’t always know how to listen to us. They might not have understood that when we hit our sister, or whined and moaned, that we actually needed love and attention rather than being told, ”just stop it!” or being hit or sent to our room. Our parents carried their own histories of unshed tears too.
All these unshed tears can make life feel pretty heavy. So when our children drop food on the floor, or ask the same question for a millionth time, we don’t always feel like answering with compassion. Why should we when we weren’t given empathy and our understanding when our behaviour went off track? That’s why listening to tears is not just about listening to your children, but having someone to listen to you too. Through Hand in Hand I discovered what a different being listened to makes to my parenting. When I feel exhausted, or am losing patience, or just don’t want to play anymore, I can release all these feelings, and just get back to the love I feel for my daughter. It’s so good to talk to someone understands that I don’t need advice, but simply someone to help me get to those long buried feelings.
Our children probably won’t come home saying that they’re ”having a few issues at school.” Their difficulties are more likely to leap out as aggression, or crying because their biscuit got broken. They may not be able to use words, when they’ve experienced a situation that seems emotionally overwhelming, and training them to do so simply takes them further from the emotions, that they need our compassionate listening to help them release.
This is a little bit of the story of why I became a parenting instructor. Because I want my daughter to be able to shed her feelings about upsets when they happen or at least not too long after. So that she can tell me her thoughts, and we can figure things out together, so she can become brave and courageous to say what she wants and know what she wants instead of hiding away, until finally twenty years later, it finally feels safe enough to come out.
For more info about listening partnerships visit, Hand in Hand Parenting
And have a look here, for free upcoming Parenting by Connection Teleseminars on topics including ‘How do I stop my child from hurting other people?’ and ‘No More Bullying.’