A few weeks ago I had some devastating news; my sister was diagnosed with Leukemia. I rushed off to the UK to visit her, and came back to my slightly angry and disconnected daughter. Over the next two weeks, I did my best to try to reconnect in between the morning separation of Kindergarten. I was feeling sad about my sister a lot of the time and I wasn’t exactly at my most playful and energised despite lots of listening time.
I was due to go to a Hand in Hand Parenting retreat for instructors in Hungary. This is where instructors from all over Europe, the middle East and Africa come together to do listening time together and talk about the work we are doing with parents in our region. I wasn’t looking forward to being separated from my daughter again, but I knew deep down that it was important for my own wellbeing to go there.
At the retreat I got to cry, a lot, and be completely supported with love and attention. In between our group listening time sessions I got to talk and laugh with some of the people I feel closest to the world, as well as many wonderful instructors and trainees that I was just meeting for the first time.
When I arrived back home after the retreat I noticed that reconnecting with my daughter felt completely effortless. I was immediately much more playful with her. Doing special time together felt like pure joy. The thoughts I often have like, ‘’When is this going to end?’’ and ‘I wish I had some time to myself!’’ were much more muted.
My daughter sensed that I was more more emotionally available, and in the evening she started ‘acting up’ in a happy playful way. When I cleaned her teeth, she grabbed her plastic cup, and ran away spitting into it, instead of into the sink. It was much easier for me to respond completely playfully to this ‘misbehaviour,’ to help her get back on track, rather than becoming serious.
I’ve been on a few Hand in Hand Parenting retreats, and I always come back feeling amazing. It often feels to me that this heightened ability to connect is how we should all naturally feel as parents.
Except we don’t. Parenting is challenging and exhausting. We may have fleeting moments of joy with our children that all too often get buried beneath the stress of our to-do list. When we have present day difficulties, we feel our past hurts even stronger.
When we practise Hand in Hand Parenting we are trying to give our children what we didn’t receive as children. We want to give them unconditional attention, and listen to their feelings. It’s not easy giving what we never received ourselves.
But having real in-person listening time allows us to catch up on the listening we didn’t receive when we were young. I really like yoga and meditation, and lots of other nurturing activities, but I also think that listening time is so essential, because it gives us exactly what we are trying to give our children; a safe space to laugh and cry, and the deep sense of connection they need to thrive.
I know that the good feeling of the retreat is going to wear off, but I’m determined to hold onto it for as long as I can. I also I know I need extra support to be able to keep giving to my daughter while being there for my sister too.
In times of personal crisis, it’s great to have as much listening time as we can. We don’t have to get lost in our grief, we can use the warm attention of a listener to help guide us safely through our feelings. We can rise above our grief, and exhaustion, so it doesn’t colour our relationship with our children.
Life can bring many events that threaten the deep sense of connection between us and our children. The first step to reconnecting with them is to reconnect with ourselves. We need to take time away from our children to grieve for our own hurts, so that we can grow as parents.
If we don’t have the kind of support that we need to be the parents we want to be, then we can find it, although this may seem challenging at first. When we needed support as children we instinctively tried to signal to our parents through off-track behaviour, or tears and tantrums. But we were rarely met with the warm attention we needed. We may have been ‘shhhed,’ told to stop, shouted at, or distracted from our pain. Nobody understood that our behaviour was really like a secret code for how we were feeling.
This happened so many times that most of us gave up reaching out. It can make it hard to do so as adults.
The sense of wellbeing I’ve got from this retreat makes me think what would be possible, if all of us really made it our intention to reach out to each other, to rebuild a tribe of parents, with togetherness and support. It could start as simply as sharing some Hand in Hand articles or books with a friend, or asking someone you know if they’d like to try listening time. If we all work together, we can help each other to be the parents we want to be.
If you can get yourself to an in-person class, do it! Part of the reason we struggle to be there to give our children the connection and attention they need is because we aren’t getting this for ourselves. We can connect with each other on facebook or skype but there is nothing better than real-life human connections for helping us to be there and present for our children.
If you want to reach out for support right now, you can join the Hand in Hand Parents support group on yahoo, or facebook, where you can find listening partners, and ask parenting questions, so you never ever have to feel like you are doing this alone. And you could even train to be a Hand in Hand Parenting instructor, so you can have this wonderful support for yourself and go onto support others.