listening

by Jessica on May 19, 2010

in Health and Nutrition,Parenting

Two things:

1.  My post about meeting Attachment Parenting International‘s founders Barbara Nicholson and Lysa Parker is live on API Speaks.  If you didn’t get a chance to read it and see photos the first time around, click here for more.

2.  I’ve been reading Stacy’s blog, Mama Om, for quite some time now.  Every time I stop by and read what she and her boys are up to, I am inspired.  She shares her parenting wisdom, challenging moments, and practical tips for peaceful communication.  When I read Stacy’s post called “Taking It In,” I was reminded of Imago therapy in which “[d]ialogue consists of Mirroring (repeating) each statement, Summarization, Validation (“That makes sense because …”) and Empathy (“I imagine that makes you feel …”). This enables each partner [or dialogue participant] to extend themselves to understand the experience of the other as different from their own. If you can work with an Imago therapist, he or she will help to deepen that dialog.”

Lately, I’ve been feeling a disconnect with Annabelle.  I’m not sure whether it is because of the changes she is experiencing physically (and hormonally), because she is still working her baby brother into her reality, she is discovering friendships and rejection, and she is transitioning out of the school year and into summertime.  It could be any, all, or some other unknown cause for “what is” between the two of us . . . it is part of the reason I schedule time to take her on “mommy dates” or I spend a half hour to an hour cuddling and nursing her at night.  In part, I think I need for there to be a good, an awesome, a loving connection between my daughter and me . . . it is hard for me, her mama and once upon a time her everyday playmate, to think that there could be a riff.

When I read Stacy’s post though, I thought about how I communicate with her . . . I thought about how our day to day lives have changed, how we are always moving and how she is not seeing her mama as much as she used to . . . I also thought about the way she talks to me and the way I talk to her.

So I decided to give Imago a try.  I decided that when Annabelle is telling me something at the top of her lungs that I would slowly and quietly repeat back to her what she was saying to me.  This happened this morning.  I was talking to my friend Rebecca over our car’s bluetooth connection.  Rebecca and I were making plans to bring our kids to an indoor playground since it was raining outside.  I said, “Oh no!  I forgot socks!  Do you think you could bring a pair of socks for me and for Annabelle?”  I knew Levi wouldn’t need socks since he isn’t old enough yet to play in the “sock zone.”

Meanwhile, in the backseat, Annabelle was telling me, with all her might, “NO!  NO!  I DON’T WANT SOCKS!”

I politely got off the phone with Rebecca.  Then I turned to look at Annabelle and I made eye contact with her.  I said, “You don’t want socks.”

“No,” she a little more quietly.  ”It’s not cold out and I don’t want socks.”

“Okay.  It’s not cold so you don’t want socks.”

“No,” she said a little more emphatically.

So I tried to explain a bit about the sock rule.  I said, “Did you know that the playground has a rule?  The playground has a rule that everyone needs to wear socks.”  This is true.  In the past, I’ve had to purchase socks from this indoor play area so that Annabelle and I could enter the playground.

In the last year, between age 3 and on her way to 4, Annabelle has become so articulate.  She looked at me, raised her eyebrows and said, “But Mama, why do we have to wear socks?  Why is it a rule?”

“It’s a rule because the playground wants people to protect their feet from germs.  They want to protect your feet and other kids feet and other mommies and daddies feet from spreading germs.  Does that make sense?”

She nodded.   A little while later when we met up with our friends, Annabelle put on her socks.

******

Now, I have to tell you that the Imago approach helped me slow down and “hear” my daughter.  It helped me hear what was behind her “No!”  About an hour later though, she melted down and we decided that we ought to head home.  In the car, without prompting, she said to me, “I’m feeling kinda grumpy this morning Mama.”  We then talked about how she had woke up earlier than she usually does and how she hadn’t eaten enough . . . anyone would feel irritable if they hadn’t slept or eaten enough, right?  At home, I gave her a bowl of cold whole wheat pasta, a favorite lunch of hers, and a few minutes later she was giggling and playing with her brother.

So I walk away from these situations with more to reflect on; I am going to keep working the Imago approach into our communication patterns and I am going to pay more attention to my little girl’s physical needs.  I’m already feeling more connected to her . . . and it was just one change on one day.

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{ 8 comments }

Liz May 22, 2010 at 11:47 pm

Like someone else said, this reminds me of Naomi Aldort – I just finished her book. It is really cool to find examples of this working in real life. I’ve mostly only heard of this in regards to the parent/child dynamic, but when I started thinking about it I realized that there are other applications… for instance there are times when I am talking to my husband where I just want him to hear what I am saying… I don’t want an explanation, or for him to fix something, etc. I just want to be heard and understood. I haven’t heard of Imago before; have to look into that.

Stacy (Mama-Om) May 20, 2010 at 6:53 pm

How wonderful that Annabelle was able to articulate “feeling grumpy” and that you were able to be open and receptive, and supportive, throughout that morning! Sometimes those moments of deep connection can feel like utter magic.

I am glad that you mentioned the book Nonviolent Communication, as that is where I have learned a lot about communication. Not so much from the book, though, as from a real, live (very dynamic) teacher. I’ve been taking classes over the last year and have been able to embody the knowledge much more deeply and effectively than through just reading.

I love your explanation in the comments about paying attention to your facial expression, tone of voice, and posture. So much of communication goes beyond the words. Sometimes that is why it is hard for me to share these interactions in writing… it always sounds much more “stiff” than when it was actually happening.

Thank you for linking to me… I have enjoyed being a reader of yours for more than a year now! Hard to believe. :)

Best,
Stacy

WackyMummy May 20, 2010 at 11:52 am

I don’t enjoy the process of explaining to my son because it seems he just doesn’t hear and understand me (so I must be doing it wrong), but it works enough times that I keep trying. =)

Jessica May 20, 2010 at 1:39 pm

I think it is totally worth it. I pay attention to my facial expression (keeping my face relaxed), my tone of voice (a calm and not condescending voice), and my posture . . . basically, I am giving her the respect that I wish to receive from her (or anyone for that matter) when having a conversation. I think it takes a great deal of energy to communicate this way but it gets easier with practice. It’s kind of like sprinkling your words with love before they leave your mouth, :-)

Amber May 20, 2010 at 12:36 am

The Imago approach sounds similar to Naomi Aldort’s SALVE approach, which I’ve found very useful. Taking the time to understand where your kid is coming from can be really helpful.

Jessica May 20, 2010 at 1:37 pm

I agree; I wish that I stopped to consider her point of view more often . . . I get so caught up with my own mind chatter. I know you are starting to practice yoga, so I’ll share this: I feel more connected to Annabelle because my yoga practice is helping me calm down and be more at peace so that I am able to stop and think empathically about others’ feelings. Also, I will have to read up on the SALVE approach; this is the first time I’d heard of it.

Laura May 19, 2010 at 10:37 pm

Awesome. Just awesome. I am slowly beginning to work on my communication with Liam. I don’t want to talk AT him, I want to talk WITH him. And I must say that I am beyond impressed with the way you kept things under control and allowed her to ask questions about the sock rule. I hope that I will be able to start (and continue) this kind of communication in my own home.

Jessica May 20, 2010 at 1:35 pm

Laura, another book that I love is Nonviolent Communication; it takes some practice to slow down and talk to your child, especially in the middle of a tense moment but I think it is worth it. Annabelle always picks up on how I am feeling emotionally or how I am responding . . . then she follows cue with her responding behavior and communication. Our children are so sensitive, you know?

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