Taking on the inner work required to parent in partnership or collaboration with our children can be hard. It IS hard. There – I’ve said it.
Sure there’s a lot of joy and arguably it can be easier to find once you’ve dropped the agenda and expectations of many more conventional ‘styles’ of parenting. But in amongst the copious amounts of joy is no inconsiderable amount of chaos. There has to be – joy and chaos go together quite wonderfully.
To help process the chaos, to better notice and grab hold of the joy, it can be helpful to have some way of offloading. Or ‘venting’ as we sometimes like to call it. Letting off steam. Having our own little tantrum if you like.
Not unlike the way we might gently support our child when they are distressed or releasing powerful emotions, calling on others to hold space for us can be an incredible tool and move us toward parenting in peace.
And if we don’t have an outlet to express and unpack our own frustrations, they can quickly turn into overwhelm and sitting in that place for too long can put us right into fear mode where we’re likely to react rather than peacefully respond.
I want to introduce a great concept that I learnt about years ago when enrolled in a parenting course called Hand in Hand Parenting. It’s fairly widely known and it’s founder, Patty Whipfler, sets out 5 specific tools for connection based parenting. I won’t go into them here but I do want to bring your notice to just one – the most important one for ensuring that as a parent, our cup might remain full enough to continue being an engaged and connected parent.
The basis of a listening partnership is rather as it sounds. Find a partner and, in turn, listen to eachother speak whatever comes up.
This is quite distinct from chat over a cup of tea in your kitchen – although those are important too and should remain so.
A Listening Partnership holds just a small number of ‘rules’ designed to ensure both parties are heard.
- Choose the length of time you plan to talk (this is arbitrary but should be equal) – 20 minute is a good place to start. Use a timer.
- The listener must refrain from offering advice or interjecting with their own accounts (“oh that reminds me of the time I…”)
- The speaker should try not to filter their thoughts – it’s completely appropriate to use this as a sort of ‘stream of consciousness’, rather like the way one might approach journalling.
If you’ve not felt the benefits of anything like this before, you might like to try a short practice run first. It can feel somewhat awkward initially as it’s the opposite of conversational. Some things might come up for you such as: feelings of judgement about the speakers words; a desire to jump in with empathic acknowledgment or, as the speaker, concern about what your listener may be thinking about your words and whether they are making a judgement about you.
Don’t worry – it will feel much more natural with practice and the relief you feel after the session should make those initial feelings of discomfort, and even slight fear, worth it.
There is the question of whether you should engage in listening partnerships with someone you know well or whether it’s best with a person you hardly know at all. There’s no one answer but the following feedback was offered during one of our recent Worldschooling Passport coaching sessions:
Speaking out to someone you know can feel more comfortable to some, if it’s important to you that you share values and lifestyle – it could be true that a listening partnership with someone you’ve just met and with whom you have little in common, might not provide the right conditions for ‘full disclosure’.
On the other hand, if you need to let off steam about your partner or your sister, best not engage in a listening partnership with them. There is definitely such a thing as ‘too close for comfort’.
If you know someone too well, you might already have an established pattern of how’d you’d typically converse, interrupting eachother and offering up stories etc, and so this might also not create the best conditions for active listening and open sharing.
So basically, there is no right or wrong way to approach Listening Partnerships.
The core tenets are:
Sitting in non-judgement, refraining from problem solving, active listening without interjection.
I encourage you to give it a try. It might just be something you incorporate into your parenting life and it’s certainly a wonderful way we can stay present for our children.