Guest Posts, Parenting and Empathic Fathers, Relationships

How Staylistening Builds Family Connections

connected family

Today I would like to introduce to you Kate Orson. She is a Hand-in-Hand Parenting Instructor (love, love Hand-in-Hand and their philosophy) and will be publishing her book Tears Heal: How To Listen To Children this year.
I very much love Kate’s writing and I feel inspired by her suggestions and ideas. Here she shares a great post about how Staylistening can support strong family connections. – More links at the end of this post. Enjoy!

One evening when my daughter was 9 months old, my husband came home, and went over to say hello to her where she’d been happily playing on the floor. She burst into tears, and when my husband picked her up she reached out her arms for me.

I was surprised that she’d cried so suddenly. She wasn’t a newborn anymore. It seemed as if she’d been in the world long enough to understand this was her dad, that she was in a completely safe situation. I was right next to her on the playmat too! We had just spent a lovely, connected day together. Why did she suddenly need me so desperately?

Before I learnt about Hand in Hand parenting I would have taken her back in my arms to stop the crying. I would have automatically assumed that was the kindest, most naturally thing to do.

But now my perspective about crying has changed. I discovered that there are two reasons babies and children cry. The first reason is when they have a need, perhaps they are hungry, too cold, or are in pain. The second reason, is to heal and recover from an upset that has already happened.

In our busy, modern, society, it is sadly inevitable that all babies and toddlers will experience some degree of stress or upset. It could be from a difficult birth, medical intervention, or just the daily stimulation from getting used to being in the world.

Crying is a healing process, and there are actually stress hormones contained in tears. The psychologist Aletha Solter calls this the ‘Broken Cookie Phenomenon’ that often babies and toddlers will use a safe, everyday situation as a trigger to heal from

a bigger upset from the past. In these moments all we need to do is to listen and allow this natural healing process to happen.

We can see this phenomenon at work in our own lives. For example the other day I washed my favourite woollen dress on a normal cycle, and ended up shrinking it! I started crying, and quickly realised that the dress was just the trigger for a deeper upset. It was about the build-up of stress before christmas, my exhaustion from parenting, and my work responsibilities. Now the holidays were coming, I sensed the space to let go and relax, and release some feelings.

In that moment when my daughter started crying I knew that everything was fine in the present. My daughter loves her dad, and they have a great bond. So I didn’t pick her up. Instead I moved close to her, and reassured her that she was safe with her dad, that I was there too. He held her as she cried, and we both gave her lots of warm, loving attention. This is what Hand in Hand parenting calls ‘Staylistening,’ which means simply staying in the moment and listening to feelings without distracting or trying to stop them.

After a few minutes my daughter stopped crying. She smiled, started ‘talking’ and pointing things out around the room. She was completely at ease being held by her dad. We had dinner, and my daughter tried two foods she had never tried before, potatoes and cheese! This is often the case, that when we listen to our children’s deeper upsets, they can gain confidence in many unexpected ways.

Babies, and toddlers often choose little everyday moments to ‘work’ on their separation anxiety. They may suddenly have a desperate need to be with one parent. When our baby or toddler has a good relationship with both parents, and there is trust and safety there, then often, these moments, are simply a ‘broken cookie,’ a trigger for deeper feelings. If we listen, then these feelings no longer need to get in the way of our child having a joyful, connected relationship with both parents.

Separation anxiety often appears around bedtime. When my daughter was around 15 months old, she would sometimes start crying in the evening. For example if we were all hanging out in our bedroom, and then I needed to use the bathroom. By this age, I sensed she understood almost everything I said to her. I was pretty sure she understood when I told her I was just going to the bathroom and would be back in five minutes.

I could of tried the quick-fix approach and just dashed off to the bathroom leaving her crying. Or I could of taken her with me to stop the tears. But I knew this wouldn’t help her with her underlying fear about me leaving.

For a few nights my husband and I decided to staylisten during these moments. I would gradually try to leave, and would hold my daughter in my arms, listening to her feelings, slowly waiting until she was happy to be left with her dad. Often after having a big cry about separation she would suddenly flip into laughter, crawling from one parent to the other, as I playfully tried to put her back with her dad.

Then when I told her I needed to use the bathroom she would happily let me go, as if she had forgotten that she’d ever been upset about it. Afterwards she would be in a really happy mood, playing and laughing and enjoying the company of both of us. She had got through all the separation fear, and come out of the other side.

Staylistening has helped my daughter to be happy to be put to bed by her dad or to spend time with him while I work during the evenings and weekends. I can leave guilt free, knowing there’s no feelings of upset hiding beneath the surface. Most times I need to leave her, she’ll give me a big hug, and a smile. We’ve given her the space to be heard.

katephotoKate Orson is a writer, and Hand in Hand parenting instructor. Originally from the UK she now lives in Basel, Switzerland with her husband the author Toni Davidson, and their 4 year old daughter. Her book Tears Heal: How To Listen To Children, is now available to pre-order here  https://www.waterstones.com/book/tears-heal/kate-orson/9780349410104

You can follow her on facebook here https://www.facebook.com/ParentingByConnectionWithKateOrson/

 


 

 

Parenting and Empathic Fathers

Whose Needs Matter More?

beach

My sons race around the house, jump up the sofa and down again, while shouting something to each other. I decide to go to the other room. Hey, it’s nice they are playing imaginative games and have fun together, right? I, however, feel incredibly tired, the night was broken by far too many “I need the loo’s” and “I can’t sleep’s”…for the hundredth of times I wonder “WHEN will this child do this basic thing of just SLEEP at night?” My tired thoughts are broken when my sons come racing into my “quiet space” continuing their game around me. This is the point where I lose my patient- and-“oh they play so nicely”-feeling. I at first ask them, really nicely, to play their game somewhere else. It takes a while to get through to them, finally I succeed. They go into the other room, but sure enough, a minute later I am made part of the game again, a game I don’t want to play!

So, here we have it again: my needs (peace and quiet…if only for 20 minutes!) and their need to get rid of that energy and well, just play (in summer time we could go outside, but it is dark and rainy and I know I can’t get them outside now…). I become increasingly angry at their ignorance of my needs and they are becoming more and more agitated because they cannot live out theirs. In no time their game will turn into fighting with each other and then when worse comes to worse we are all shouting angrily at each other. Everybody is suffering here.

So, what to do? How can we make sure everyone gets what they need?

From my perspective, I as the parent, already lowered the expectations of getting my needs fulfilled to the basics. But those I need to keep sane and be an “as good as possible” parent, which is what my kids need (they really don’t need perfect by the way! Which helps!)

In many situations where one need has to be fulfilled at the expense of the other’s (siblings and us adults needs included) I ask myself: who is suffering most here now? It’s not always easy to answer this question, but sometimes it helps to see the picture more clearly. For example, if someone’s basic need is waiting to be fulfilled then they usually get this fulfilled first. You can’t be cooperative with an empty stomach for example. So, let’s have a break, have something to eat and then we find a solution. Or one child has had a difficult time/an illness etc. and needs his needs for attention for example fulfilled now before I can give attention and time to the other.

I decide that I need to stop the situation spiralling into the worst case scenario and say “let’s go and look at all the winter lights outside” or “shall we have a snack first?” I relent, but I have hopes… that when we come back they are more content to spend some time playing, without needing me, so that I can sit and have that cup of tea (hot, actually, you know, really tastes better, that way!) and daydream a bit, just switch off and get my energy levels up again. 🙂

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Parenting and Empathic Fathers

My Dear Gentle Boys…

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My Dear Gentle Boys,

I can’t believe that you’re already four and seven years old. Where has that time gone? Didn’t you just crawl over the kitchen floor and made your first wobbly steps? It feels like yesterday when you said your first words, and I remember exactly the moment I saw you both dancing together in the garden.

Time flies. And that’s OK. Because now you’re not the Little Ones anymore. Soon another baby will be with us. All of us. And I know how exited you are. I feel the same. That bubbly, fizzy, I-need-to-jump-up-and-down feeling inside our tummies. Like a balloon just before it bursts.

You are unique and perfect to me. When I’m around you I can feel all your positive, creative energy and love. I listen to your stories and watch you dancing. I cuddle up with you or we rough house on the bed. I see all rainbow colours in your eyes when you laugh and I hold you tight when you cry.

You explore the world every day. Bravely you climb the highest trees and you will never stop asking questions until you are satisfied with the answer. Yes, you scream and stomp your feet when things go wrong. But you don’t give up. Every day I see you try again.

You surprise me . Your thoughts and the way you care. When I mess up, you forgive quickly. Yes, you fight with each other too, but you also create an inner peace and harmony in the blink of an eye. Your respect for others make this world a better place.

Here and now I want to pause for a moment and just tell you how much I love you.

Let’s keep walking together. You, Mama and I – and, of course, our little girl to come. I’ll be there for you, behind you, next to you. Keep your clear and critical mind. Don’t feel judged by people who tell you how and what boys should look like or how they should behave. You are strong. You are gentle. Keep playing with the toys you enjoy, care for your dolls as you would care for a baby. Wear the colours you like – let it be pink if you choose to. Whether your hair is long or short; whether you wear ‘girls’ sandals or not; whether you play football or skipping rope – I don’t care. What I care for is your happiness and health.

Let’s keep talking. I love sharing my thoughts and dreams with you. Your stories matter to me. Yes, sometimes I get lost in your tales. Then you roll your eyes and start patiently all over again. Until I understand.

Let’s keep dancing together. Turning up the music and dancing through the house. Getting the musical instruments out and having a spontaneous party. You dress up as fairies and I get three free wishes. You hold my hands and I swing you through the air. We are one.

No super hero on your shirt, no toy gun in your hand, no merchandise poisoning your mind. You don’t need them and never missed them either.

Real feelings, real love, real boys instead. You got me. You got Mama. You got our unconditional love. Forever.

In Love,

Your Father


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Pre-Birth Tensions

birthing poolIt’s so important: the time prior to a birth. Families and couples prepare themselves for the big moment. Ideally everything should be in place and ready for the moment when the baby decides it’s time to enter this world.

Ideally, indeed that’s a good word. We’re expecting our third child. Basically at any time now. Due date was yesterday. And, so far I had the feeling everything is fine, and with the experience of two lovely home births in the past I felt somehow prepared and relaxed.

A few weeks ago we started with first preparations. My boys and I inflated the birthing pool for the first time, our lovely midwife came around to talk things through, my wife and I have been listening to birth relaxation CDs, and we created a backup plan for the whereabouts of our kids when birth takes place. We even raided the kitchen cupboard and made some very delicious energy balls for the time of birth and after.

So, all good then?! Well, I must admit things have turned slightly against us and I get that panicky feeling of being stressed. Today my wife followed her nest-building-instinct: we started clearing and cleaning the house to make it more cosy. Since then everything went downhill:

The boys – running around full of tension, anger and temper. The birthing pool – decided to have a hole. The idea of peace and quiet – gone.

I could scream. Honestly, I was so looking forward to this special pre-birth time, when things quiet down and tensions fall off. The exact opposite is happening here. For about an hour I tried to repair the birthing pool with a combination of blu tac, a bike repair patch, sellor tape and swearing. At the same time my heavily pregnant wife chased after our youngest, who was on a mission to either destroy things or leaving messes in corners we just had tidied. Both results, repairing the pool and calming down the little one, were less than successful.

I could scream again. Well, no, I just decide to take a short break. Really, it doesn’t help now to get worked up about things I can’t change or control. Yes, the boys are tense, no wonder. For weeks and months they have been waiting quite patiently for this time. It must have been like an endless journey for them. So, all their anxieties, joy and excitement is bubbling up now. The pool, well, it’s not ideal but it will be alright. Stop worrying, Torsten!

I tell you what I do now. I’ll go down and make a cake. A nice almond-coconut cake. The boys can help me and things will be alright. After we had the cake we can carry on in building our nest. Not long to go until our little one will be here. Let’s take a deep breath and carry on. I see you on the other side… in a few days… or hours…

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Parenting and Empathic Fathers

The Third Child: Yes, I’m Ready to Go

31 Wochen (4)‘When is the baby coming? Today? Now? I want the baby to come now!’ – These words are being said by my nearly 4-year-old every day. Every day for the last three months. You see, there is a little pressure and some expectations on us – the parents – or, to be more precise, on my wife. Come on, bring the baby on!

We’re expecting our third child this May. If everything goes by plan, birth should take place at home again, as with the other two. I feel ready for it. More or less.

Looking back I realise how little time we took to get prepared for this birth and the arrival of our baby. I remember the long evenings prior to our first birth. We sat on the sofa and chatted about everything baby related: how life will change, how to fold cloth nappies and we even practised the baby sling with a dolly inside (well, that was actually for me who needed a bit of help there… yes, I did manage dolly in the sling after twenty or so minutes). Everything we did or said was with the focus on baby or birth.

Things shifted slightly three years later when our second child came along. Yes, we were more exhausted and the evenings often ended with us going to bed the same time as our toddler, just to catch up. Still, we had great moments where my wife and I could sit down, reflect, relax, think, talk, laugh, cry and enjoy ourselves. With that kind of confidence the second birth went very smoothly and peacefully.

But life geared up again. Both our boys are wonderful and curious explorers. Most of the time anyway. Our days start normally around 6.30-ish in the morning and the eldest should be in bed around 8.30pm – but, hey ho, life is not like that and quite often the evening routine gets delayed. After we re-established a certain order and tidiness throughout the house we fall into bed as well. And in between I just finished writing my first book.
So, all fine by me. But, and here comes my point, we just noticed how little time there is for us. Not only time as a couple but also time to get prepared again.

Well, we already went through two home births, babymoon, sleepless nights, toddler tantrums & co., why should we need more preparation? Good question. For me it’s about celebrating that very special, beautiful and unique moment when a child enters the world. It doesn’t matter how often I’ve seen or experienced it before. This new life deserves the same attention and care I’ve given to my other two.

And, it’s about my wife. She, who went through the last 34 weeks, struggling with sickness, fatigue, heartburn and the general exhaustion pregnancy brings. She, who gets up every morning to be with our very active boys, seems to have quite endless energy and patience to deal with all the difficulties and joys parenting can bring.

So, taking that time to get ready again is also an important way to say ‘Thank you’ to her. To show respect and empathy. Yes, there is less time available now, but I believe in these small but important moments of kindness. For me to get up a little earlier in the morning to prepare her some breakfast and tea in bed; to let her nap in the afternoon while the boys and I are somewhere outdoors, or to give her a nice and relaxing belly massage (even when I’m terribly tired) before we go to sleep – I know it’s no big deal but it does help her.

Belly MassageWe also try to involve our children in the whole pre-birth celebrations. They love to use the natural belly massage oil (the more the better) and when the younger one can’t wait for his turn to massage, he then has a go at my belly (bliss). Or the other day they both helped me by inflating the birthing pool. Of course the hosepipe had to be tested and this way they found out that they can use it as a mega cool telephone…

Yes, time is tight. But it’s really up to us to make the best of it. Tonight we have planned something very special. It all happened quite spontaneously with the support of friends: My wife and I go out!! The eldest will stay with friends and the youngest with our adopted Granny. So, from around 5pm till tomorrow morning we’ll have time to ourselves!

The only plan we made is to go out for dinner – and then… let’s see. No plans, no pressure, no hurry. Just us. What a treat! Yes, we will talk about birth and the baby – of course! But we will also just enjoy ourselves – the couple, the lovers, the two of us. Recharging our emotional batteries for the weeks to come. I can’t wait. For both.

31 Wochen (1)


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Why We Need Equal Support For Active Fathers

When I became a full time dad to my young sons, I felt very lucky. I was looking forward to doing this job, despite knowing how tired and exhausted my wife had often been when she was the main carer. I thrust myself into great outings, craft activities, even baking with my cake enthusiastic boys. I would say spending the last one and half years as a full time dad has been extremely rewarding and the changes I and others can see in me are only of a positive nature. However, there were times where I did ask myself whether I just had to live with the fact that my “colleagues” were now, almost exclusively women. Don’t get me wrong, I have made many wonderful female friends, but I also did miss male company here and there, especially being able to share my experiences with someone who was in the same boat.

file0001508134616Gideon Burrows, author of Men can do it too argues: “Today, to be a good dad should mean doing a fairer share of the baby work. Not just the high-profile nappy changes and the bedtime story reading, but an equal share of the slog and the career sacrifice mothers put up with.” The changes in UK paternity leave in 2011 were not met by a huge upheaval and change. Less than 1% of fathers take advantage of additional paternity leave of up to a total of 26 weeks. Reasons for this are complex. Some argue, they simply can’t afford to, others suggest they don’t want to opt out of the role of the man as the main breadwinner or because they are afraid their career might suffer, having lasting effects on their family’s financial situation. I know it is possible for many to reorganise their life to fit a family friendly career, although I do recognise this does require some support. New legislation provides that from April 2015 men and women can share parental leave in the first 12 months of their baby’s life, wanting to make it easier for new dads to take the time off.

I know there are other reasons fathers don’t take up the main care role. When talking to fathers as a coach or in my support workshops, I am confronted with fathers dismayed at how they feel treated by society as an at-home dad. We are doing ourselves a disservice – men, as well as women. The more men seen as full time carers, the more normal this would be and then fewer women would have to fight against the glass ceiling.

Our society is still very much expecting women to stay at home and regard men out and about with their children on a weekday as a novelty or worse as “cute”. Some just look at them with a mixture of pity and suspicion when dealing with the daily toddler struggles in a public domain or entering a playgroup. Yes, who would want this to happen to them? The more confident of men don’t blink an eyelid, while others just feel completely out of their comfort zone.

My wife struggled with suddenly being a mum; she went through a bout of postnatal depression and anxiety. However, there was support for her. She went to those lifesaving baby groups, where mums can sit and chat and by doing that offer the kind of counselling that is hard to come by – someone exactly in the same situation, struggling with the same issues, available regularly and at no cost. There is other support through the NHS, the La Leche League, the NCT etc. And this is brilliant, it’s a support cushion for a very demanding and extraordinary time in each woman’s life.

Equal parenting is the buzz word. No one would argue that the bond between father and child isn’t greatly enhanced by the father spending more time with his son or daughter. And by being more active around the house those household chores that seemed to have doubled since the birth, are more manageable when equally shared. But wait. What about the man’s new role? Is that just magically happening without any support necessary? It’s not exactly the same for men to go to these baby groups and feel the kind of support that women get. And yes, men suffer from postnatal depression too. However, professionals in this field are mostly women which is discomforting for some men.

Where is the emotional support in that big life changing time of a man? Suddenly it is not all so surprising that less men have the guts to commit themselves to caring for their children full time or at least equally share childcare. Where do men get the tools to become a brilliant father? Many men I talk to simply know they definitely don’t want to be like their own father. But how are they going to parent? Without a male role model to guide them, this isn’t such a comfortable place to be.

If we, as a whole society, want fathers to take an active role in raising their children, then we need to support them on their journey. Right now.

This article has been originally published by me in JUNO magazine, No 38, Winter issue 2014

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Creative Stuff, Parenting and Empathic Fathers

The Relaxed Parent Or How To Survive Cold Winter Days

ice ornamentDo you know those days when it’s never gets really light? The sun can’t make it through the thick soup of clouds and mist and you wonder all day whether it’s still early morning or already early evening. This and a disgusting combination of icy rain, hail or sleet. You crave for some energy- and Vitamin-D-giving sunlight and it doesn’t matter how many oranges, lemons or pineapples you eat, you feel just low. Well, that’s how life treated me last week.

I normally enjoy winter and the cold season. It’s great because I love watching the leaves turning yellow, red, orange and brown. It’s nice to get the woollen winter coat and my flat cap out again, and there is nothing more magical than seeing icy, glittery cob webs and frosty sparkle flowers on a winter’s morning. And, snow! Of course, snow. Well, the last time we had snow was in … nope, can’t remember. (Oh yes, we had half an inch for exactly three hours; then it melted… that was three weeks ago!)

So, the nice winter days are awesome. Bring them on, now. I wouldn’t mind. Then I could just grab the kids and we could spend all afternoon outside making snowmen or having snowball fights. But the other side of the cold season, the dark and miserable one, can go away. Because I’ve noticed how this darkness effects my children as well (yes, I have no idea how parents and children in Finland or Sweden survive their long winters).

Sometimes it can turn a bit funny, especially when my 3-year-old informs me at breakfast “Oh, it’s time for bed. Dark outside!”. But at other times they just pick up on the weather and become grumpy and miserable. So do I.

That bad mood expresses itself in tantrums (yep, that’s me included), boredom, arguments or the kids decide to burn their energy by strangling each other (gosh, did I say that?). Or they demand permanent entertainment, e.g. reading books (no, not only a couple of books, a dozen at least). Many parents might think ‘well, just turn the telly on. That’s what it’s for. Right?’ Nope. Wrong. Firstly we don’t have one (yes, you’ve heard right: we do not own a television. And yes, we are fine). And secondly I don’t wanna kill my kids’ creativity and my own sanity by turning them into fast-food-entertainment-junkies, who then believe they must buy every single commercialised product they would see on TV. Forget it.

So, in order to stay calm and relaxed about such grim winter days, I came up with a list of things you and your children can enjoy. Personally I printed my list and I keep it visible as my personal back-up plan when I feel the need for pulling a little joker from my sleeve.

Here we are:

-Time for rough-and-tumble. Especially over the winter months we burn far less energy and calories than in summer. So, turn your lounge into a roughhousing go-wild-area. Take cushions, pillows, mattresses, duvets, blankets and soft fluffy stuff to cover the floor and remove all sharp, hard or dangerous objects. Then invite your kids for a good and fair session of roughhousing. Make rules beforehand (e.g. “We don’t hurt each other” or “Stop means STOP!” and don’t overpower your kids. Let them ‘win’ or at least let them be in charge. This way their physical energy gets burned, while their glass of emotional needs will be filled up. Need more inspiration? I can warmly recommend Larry Cohen’s book ‘The Art of Roughhousing’. My boys love to roughhouse (and me, too. I always feel ten years younger after)

-Invent a new evening meal: Who cares for cookery books? Especially when your kids aren’t able to read yet. So, create something new in your kitchen by raiding the cupboard and fridge. See what your kids come up with and invent a brand new recipe. Let your children help. They can chop veggies or beat some eggs. As you don’t stick to any measurements, it really doesn’t matter whether it’s too sticky, runny or hard. Again, maybe agree on some rules (“Yes, only one teaspoon of salt.”) The result could be more than inspiring. It actually could be quite yummy. If it’s not edible (never happened here… ok, well, maybe once or twice), your kids might get hooked in trying it again. Wow, lessons for life.

– Make up a story. No, not from a book, it all starts with your own imagination. Make yourself comfortable on the sofa and snuggle up together with your children. You start telling a story by introducing a couple of characters and a scene of action. (Keep it simple. It could start like this: One beautiful morning a farmer called Joe opened the door to his barn. In the barn lived a cow, a horse, and some pigs…) Then at a crucial point (well, it doesn’t matter so much if there’s a crucial point, but hey ho let’s assume we need one: Joe opened the barn door and then he suddenly saw… Pause) ask one of your children to take over and to carry on with the story line. Depending on age and abilities, the story could be ‘passed on’ from one to another. This can go on for hours… or days. (Until Joe very sleepily and tired went to bed)

– Have a good sort-through: Gosh, how much stuff do we need actually? The answer is always the same: less than we think. But cleaning or decluttering aren’t fun. Well, you would think so. The thing is, you can make them fun. Yep, it doesn’t help much when you shout with a grumpy face “For goodness sake, clean your bedroom now or I’ll scream my head off.” Have you ever tried to turn the ugly cleaning into a little party? Get the vacuum cleaner out, turn the music up and invite your kids to a dance. The dishcloth becomes a magic towel and everyone home joins in the who-can-pick-up-the-most-books-and-toys-and-puts-them-away-in-three-minutes-race. Everyone is a winner. Make a pile of toys and things you and no-one else in your home need. Take the stuff to the charity shop or give it away.
After the cleaning party you settle on the sofa with a nice mug of tea or coffee. Awesome.

-Last one: No snow but frosty cold nights? Make an ice ornament. What you need is a plastic plate or an old Frisbee disk. Collect some natural objects (leaves, sticks, feathers) and let your kids arrange them on that plate or disk. Add some water and leave overnight. Next morning you’ll be surprised! Promised!

So, I hope I got you inspired. Give it a try and tell me what works for you. Share it here or on the facebook site. Need more input? Have a read here. And here.

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