Psst! The stories shared here are from my or a client’s home to give you examples of how parenting by connection can look in action. Identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of our collective children.
So Here’s the Story …
My husband and I had been trying to get pregnant with our second baby for over a year. We were struggling with the process month after month while keeping up with raising our 6-year-old and our full-time jobs. Trying to figure out how to get pregnant was a trying experience for my body, mental health, and marriage. For months, I was working through my own anger, frustration, confusion, and sadness about why all of our efforts were not working. I started to resign myself to the fact that perhaps I was meant to have only one child. I felt an utter lack of control over my “big life plans.” It was a painstaking practice of releasing control every time I had another negative pregnancy test.
To my complete surprise and amazement, I naturally got pregnant a couple of months later. I was utterly shocked, as there were many factors leading me to believe we didn’t conceive this particular month. However, over the next few weeks, I was surprised to find myself feeling a range of emotions: excitement AND joy but also deep fear AND anxiety that put a cloud over the whole experience. Where were these feelings coming from? Wasn’t this what I wanted? What is wrong with me?! I was ashamed of my fearful, negative thoughts. With my family and friends swirling around me with notes and calls of congratulations and tears of joy, I felt ungrateful for my newfound abundance, and I couldn’t bring myself to tell everyone about the painful emotions that were overshadowing my happiness.
Connected Parenting in Action
I was hesitant to share my feelings because I thought it made me look like a bad mom. But forcing full-blown positivity felt like shit. Enter every parent’s secret release valve: Listening Partnership. A Listening Partnership is a simple arrangement where you find another parent to exchange listening time without judging, fixing each other’s problems, or giving advice. Your only job is to offer the person warmth, compassion, and confidence. Your listening says, “I know you are OK, whole, and intelligent.” It’s a whole new way of interacting with someone. It’s a time where you can say the inadmissible — embrace the stuff you feel bubbling within but maybe don’t want to “get into” in normal conversation.
WHY DOES LISTENING PARTNERSHIP WORK?
It’s a safe place to not only dump but explore the inner thoughts and feelings that you might feel are inappropriate, “too intense,” or “wrong.” I could have continued to bottle up these feelings, but I knew my fear and anxiety would manifest in more passive-aggressive ways, like being impatient with my son or starting a fight with my husband.
The mechanics are really simple. You both decide on how long you’d like to share and then set a timer … and just let ‘er rip. No censoring yourself.
So when it was my turn to be listened to, I told my listening partner I was pregnant and just burst into tears. I sobbed for 3 or 4 minutes without explanation. She just listened warmly, and I could feel her full support. It felt so good to cry about it, like taking an emotional shower. I said how scared I was that this was actually happening, and I questioned if I could handle it or if I had enough love in my heart to raise another child. I was nervous about not having enough support from my family since they lived far away. I was scared the pregnancy wouldn’t stick, so I shouldn’t get too excited. I talked about my fear of sibling rivalry and some of the issues I dealt with being a little sister in my own family. I had intense anxiety about my life, as I knew it, permanently changing and being responsible for managing it all. That was it.
All those parts of me were seen, heard, and embraced in that moment.
After only fifteen minutes of listening time, I felt like a giant weight had been lifted off my back. I felt lighter and calmer. The peace and joy that were buried underneath my fear of becoming a mom all over again filled my body. Listening partnership was the best gift. Trying to conceive, growing a baby, and expanding your family is a beautiful but often fear-inducing experience. This sacred listening partnership offered me the space to come as I am, say the “inadmissible thing,” and be heard without advice or judgment. I was able to enjoy the pregnancy in a way I wasn’t able to the first time around and better help my son prepare for the transition too.
The Science Behind the Story
1. Our less-than-stellar moments with our kids and partner are often the result of suppressing our pain, fears, worry, hurt, and anger … often stemming from our early childhood wounds.
2. Parents need an outlet to offload their stress and not just talk about their feelings — actually feel and express their feelings — especially about things we often don’t want to admit in normal conversation. To release an emotion, you don’t actually need many words. Sometimes you might just need to laugh OR cry OR scream. Complain, bitch, moan about your kids or your mom … have at it. They won’t hear it.
3. When we experience being listened to with total compassion and acceptance, we can then show up lighter for our children, stay present, and listen when THEY are experiencing big feelings. We cannot lead our children where we haven’t been … at least for long. The feelings we stuff inside are cumulative and add up — either leading to us exploding or slowly but steadily leaking impatience, irritation, criticism, and passive aggression onto those around us.
4. Emotions are energy in motion — they are not bad or wrong or something to be fixed. If we give them space and time to move through us, we are able to return to equilibrium, peace, and, dare I say, a steadier state of happiness and lightness of being.
5. Suppressing our emotions and trying to “just stay positive” or “grin and bear it” can lead to physical disease in the body, overuse of alcohol and drugs, and other stress-related illnesses.
6. There is a key difference between allowing yourself to feel an emotion and wallowing in it or allowing it to take you over completely. This is a key aspect of emotional intelligence and the work I support parents to do.
Ideas to Take Home
1. Our emotions start in our bodies and have messages for us. Take a few quiet moments to feel into your body – what are the conflicting emotions with you at the moment? Where do you feel them in your body?
2. It’s recommended to set up a listening partnership with someone outside of your closest circle and family so the relationship is “a clean slate” – you won’t have to worry about your history, any judgments, expectations, or seeing them later at the birthday party – which might prevent you from honestly exploring your emotions.
3. Breathwork and journaling are also very helpful in releasing emotion, but because we are naturally wired to be in social contact with others, and thrive off connection, having some stay with you, look at your face, see you, and hear your voice is one the fastest ways to find release. When someone beams their acceptance into us when we think we’re “sharing our worst parts,” we can actually feel the weight lifted from us afterward and can then think more creatively and clearly again.
4. Sometimes, when you’re in a tough spot with your kids, you can breathe a little easier knowing you have some listening time coming up. It’s like a reservation for self-care without spending a dime.