Stopping to Listen

Welcome to the February Carnival of Natural Parenting: Parenting Essentials

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have shared the parenting essentials that they could not live without. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

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I can’t imagine parenting without listening.

I’ll start with a confession:  I’ve never been a very good listener.  It’s something I struggle with.  I’m very much a waiting-for-my-turn-to-talk kind of person.

When my daughter, Gabi, was first born, we struggled a lot.  Nursing did not come easily to us.  I didn’t listen to her signals.  I don’t think I knew how.  Instead I listened to well-meaning nurses and pamphlets.  I fell into a lot of booby traps.  Eventually, we managed to get through the worst of it, and nursing became easier.  Time had solved many of our problems.

It was right around that time that I found out about Attachment Parenting.  It seemed to fit with my instincts so I went with it.  Intellectually, I understood the hallmarks of it.  You know, that checklist that you see sometimes: breastfeeding, babywearing, cosleeping, etc.  I got the laundry-list down, but I still hadn’t internalized the mindset.  I still hadn’t learned to really listen.  Attachment parenting was something I did.  It wasn’t something Gabi and I did together.  She was an easy baby.  We managed to coast along for a while.

All that was about to change.

When she turned 8 months old, Gabi hit an intense wakeful period.  Suddenly, instead of cruising and just going with the easy flow, I felt like I had a problem.  I went out and bought all the books on sleep that I could find that would (supposedly) mesh with our attachment parenting ideals.  I won’t list them here.  They didn’t help.

Instead of helping, those books placed me at odds with my daughter.  I found myself mentally gearing up for battle each night.  I was determined to make this work.  And every night, despite all the “gentle” techniques that the books recommended, it just didn’t work.  I wanted very much for her to be like the fantasy babies in the books, and every night that it didn’t quite work out, I felt bad about myself.

One night I gave up.  I just gave in.  I quit.  I couldn’t hack it.  I couldn’t do the stupid pull-off without her crying.  I couldn’t set her down in her crib while she was still slightly awake without her getting upset.  I couldn’t gently settle her by rubbing her tummy.  I couldn’t do it.

I felt so bad.  I felt like a failure.

It was a few nights later that I noticed a difference:  Since I had “given up”, I didn’t feel upset and stressed anymore.  Nights had become easier.  That’s when I started looking back and trying to understand what had happened.

Our mainstream society teaches up that babies should fit into neat models.  We see it all the time in the questions people ask us: “Is she sleeping through the night yet?”  “How much does she eat?”  And the one that really curls my toes: “Is she a good baby?”

Intellectually, I knew the traditional notions of how babies should be are false.  Deep inside, I had still been struggling with it.  I realized that I had been looking for control over the situation.  I was trying to find a way to fit our daughter into our lives.  I hadn’t been listening to what she had been telling me from the beginning.

Instead of control and sleep, what I ended up with were endless battles, stress, and the feeling that I must be doing something really wrong. Ultimately, it wasn’t until I just gave up, that things started changing.

I thought that in giving up I had lost.   What had actually happened was that I let go of the need to shape her into our lives.  More importantly, I stopped thinking about my relationship with my daughter as a battle to be won or lost.  Most importantly, I started listening.

When I stopped focusing on getting her to sleep, I found myself focusing instead on her needs, listening to what she was trying to tell me in her tiny way.  The mental conversation used to go a little something like this: “Oh, no, she woke up again!  I have to get up to get ready for work at 5!  I’m going to be so tired!  I just want her to sleep!  PLEASE STOP CRYING!”  Now it was going a little more like this: “Wow, she’s really hungry.  Let’s get you fed little one.”

In really listening to her needs instead of my own frustration, I found a deep sense of peace.  Gabi, I am sure, sensed that peace, too.  Nights became easier.  Our relationship became one based on love and respect instead of conflict.

Looking back, I’m not sure how I made it through those first few months without listening to her.  How did we manage to figure out nursing when I was listening to someone telling me to dump the transitional milk I pumped because it wasn’t “real milk” yet?  How did we survive that?  I wonder what kind of a difference listening would have made in the beginning when we were struggling so much to nurse.  Would I have been able to notice her hunger cues better?  Would I have been able to help her latch more easily?  I wonder what kind of a difference it will make with this new baby.

Now that she’s a very verbal three, I can’t imagine being able to parent without stopping first to listen to her.  She’s still a pretty laid back kid, but even the most relaxed children have their moments.  Stopping, taking a deep breath, listening to what she is trying to say, instead of that voice in my head telling me that she shouldn’t be acting a certain way, seems to head off a lot of conflict before it even starts.  What kind of frustration would we be feeling with each other if I wasn’t listening to her?

With being pregnant now, listening to Gabi is more important than ever.  I want her to be able to welcome our new baby warmly, so I’m doing my best to listen to her and validate her feelings.  Even ones that might be negative.  Especially with the illness I am facing, how will I nurture her through it if I’m not listening to her?  I think, with out relationship of trust and respect that we will get through it.  It will be hard, but we can do it if I take the time to listen.

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Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

  • Not Without Him — The love Starr at Taking Time shares with her husband is the foundation of her parenting.
  • I Cannot Imagine Parenting Without B(.)(.)bs — From an uneducated dreamer to a breastfeeding mother of a toddler, nursing has forever changed Kristy at Strings to Things’s relationship with her daughter and her outlook on life.
  • Raising a Child in the Internet Village — When Jenn at Monkey Butt Junction has a question or concern about parenting, she turns to the Internet. What did parents do before Google?
  • Partner in Crime and ParentingBethy at Bounce Me to the Moon can’t imagine parenting without her husband’s sense of humor – he brings her laughter and love every day.)
  • I Make MilkPatti at Jazzy Mama can’t imagine trying to mother her babies without her breasts, but she could do it if she had to.
  • New Perspectives Bring New BeginningsMJ at Wander Wonder Discover, who is a former authoritarian mamma, has gained perspective via parenting.
  • Time Out!Mrs. Green at Little Green Blog explores how time apart can increase your capacity to give unconditionally.
  • Unimaginable Without HimKristina at heyred designs is celebrating her amazing partner, without whom none of her parenting experience would be possible.
  • My Parenting NecessityClaire at The Adventures of Lactating Girl needs “me time” in order to be the Mama she wants to be.
  • Babywearing As a Way of LifeDarcel at The Mahogany Way talks about the benefits of babywearing in everyday life.
  • Parenting Partnership — Sometimes Abbie at Farmer’s Daughter doesn’t appreciate her husband enough, but she definitely couldn’t imagine parenting without his help.
  • Parenting EssentialsMomma Jorje loves her parenting products, but she needs you even more.
  • My Parenting Must-Have: SupportJoella at Fine and Fair wrote a letter to her daughter about the role that support from friends and family plays in her mothering.
  • It’s More Than Just Hair — Think doing hair is full of fluff? Too girly? Useless? Karli from Curly Hairdo Ideas used to think so too.
  • The Minimalist Parent — The parents at Living Peacefully with Children embrace a minimalist perspective when it comes to baby gear. A good sling is all they need.
  • Without My BreastsCharise at I Thought I Knew Mama can’t imagine parenting without her breasts; here’s why.
  • Loves Books, Loves PeopleSeonaid at the Practical Dilettante discovers that the library is a perfect fit for her family’s needs.
  • An Ode to the Maya WrapRevMama’s next child might be named Maya, because of her fondness for the sling.
  • Avoiding the Padded RoomPecky at Benny and Bex is here to testify that it takes a village to raise a child.
  • My parenting essentials, from Tivo to battery-operated monstrositiesLauren at Hobo Mama presents a list of parenting essentials you didn’t even know you needed (and probably don’t…).
  • Attachment Parenting Through Separation: It Makes It a Little BetterJessica at This Is Worthwhile talks about how she couldn’t survive her separation without attachment parenting and the bond it’s afforded her with her 3 year old son.
  • Parenting EssentialsDeb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now shares the principles she used to parent her children from infants to adults.
  • My Parenting Essentials — The things that are truly essential to Kim at In Desperate Need of Entertainment aren’t things at all.
  • I’m No One Without My Sling — How baby carrying is essential to the parenting of Jessica Claire at Crunchy-Chewy Mama.
  • I Cannot Imagine Parenting Without…Isil at Smiling Like Sunshine talks about what she needs to raise her children.
  • February Carnival of Natural Parenting — Through her experiences over the last five and a half years, Casey at Love What Is has discovered her most important tool for parenting is using her instincts.
  • CNP: I Cannot Imagine Parenting Without __________.The Artsymama discloses the one thing that gave her back control of herself as a parent.
  • Laugh Until I Cry — Laughing with her sons keeps Acacia at Fingerpaint & Superheroes connected and grounded.
  • I Cannot Imagine Parenting WithoutLuschka at Diary of a First Child realizes what the one thing she can’t imagine parenting without is, and it turns out it’s not a thing after all.
  • It Takes Two — Here are a few of the reasons why Jenn at Adventures Down Under cannot imagine parenting without her fabulous husband.
  • Stopping to Listen — Though it wasn’t easy at first, Knocked Up – Knocked Over cannot imagine parenting her daughter without listening first to what she is telling her.
  • The Essence of Parenting — There are many wonderful resources that make life easier for Michelle at the Parent Vortex to parent, but the essence is the relationship between parent and child.
  • What I Cannot Live WithoutSybil at Musings of a Milk Maker considers her computer to be a parenting lifeline.
  • True Blessings: White Noise and GrandparentsKat at Loving {Almost} Every Moment can’t live without her white noise machine and the support of her parents.
  • The Necessities! — What “stuff” does a natural parent like Lily, aka Witch Mom really need? Not much, it turns out.
  • Mama Showed MeMama Mo at Attached at the Nip writes about how parenting wisdom is passed on by example.
  • Ode to the Loo — For Joni Rae at Tales of a Kitchen Witch, the bathroom is her safe place, where she can take a minute to calm down if she is feeling touched out.
  • Go, Mama. Go!Andrea!!! at Ella-Bean & Co. has been able to integrate her many roles through her get-up-and-go parenting essential, exercise!
  • My Other HalfBecky at Old New Legacy realizes what a relief it is to have her husband parent alongside her.
  • Grace, Love, and CoffeeMrsH at Fleeting Moments realizes that lifelines can take the form of the profound, or the mundane. Both are ok.
  • Supportive Spouse, Check! — There are so many parenting tools and gadgets that are superfluous, but the one essential, for Danielle at born.in.japan, has been her supportive spouse.
  • Why I’m a BabywearerMeredith at Becoming Mamas reflects on the ways babywearing has enhanced her mama baby relationship…and made life easier to boot.
  • It’s Marvelous Out Here, Kiddo!Rachael at The Variegated Life can’t imagine parenting in the big city without the marvels of Prospect Park to share with her Critter.
  • Yes, Thank YouAmy at Anktangle offers tips on how to ask for and accept help, an essential for successful parenting.
  • Parenting Essentials Checklist: Mom’s Inner Rebel and Her Kids’ VoicesOlivia at Write About Birth reflects on raising global citizens and saying no to societal norms.
  • Eco-Mama Online! — An Eco-Mama living in the mountains of a nature island, Terri at Child of the Nature Isle finds it essential to connect to nature and to connect online.
  • Sorry, We Just Sold the Last OneNev at The Adventures of Lime confesses she missed out the day they handed out patience.
  • LaughTashmica at The Mother Flippin’ Blog reveals her super power, her talisman agains mean mommy.
  • My Priceless Parenting Resource — What do books, a magazine community, my mother and the local playgroup have in common? Lucy at Dreaming Aloud tells us…
  • The Gift of Shared TimeTree at Mom Grooves strives to experience the world from her daughter’s perspective.
  • Follow the GigglesDionna at Code Name: Mama can’t live without the sound of her child’s giggles – come watch her video and you’ll agree!
  • Can I Mommy Without Boob?Emily at Crunchy(ish) Mama shares her fears about weaning and losing part of that the mother/child bond.
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37 thoughts on “Stopping to Listen”

  1. I really relate! I look back on pictures of when my son was a new newborn and think “wow he was hungry, why was I not feeding him”. I can tell the signs now even through pictures. Once we start learning to listen to our child and not others life gets better fast! I really loved your post

  2. “I let go of the need to shape her into our lives.” Oh how true!! I think that’s the kink that exists in many of the parenting philosophies I strongly disagree with – our children aren’t born to us to fit into our lives as some convenient little decoration. They should *change* our lives – we should change first and find a new pattern, a new whole. Thank you for sharing with us!

    1. Dionna – You nailed it. I’d like to say what you said times about a thousand. It’s amazing what expectations I had going into parenthood and how those panned out once reality struck in all its wonderfulness.

  3. Fabulous! If only we could broadcast this message to a larger audience. I remember as a La Leche League leader trying to teach mothers how to recognize their babies’ cues. You are so wise to have figured it out on your own.

    1. Patti – I remember people talking and talking and talking about cues. I looked and looked and looked and tried to “troubleshoot the baby” and looked and I never saw them. It wasn’t until I just stopped working at it that it all fell into place.

  4. What a heartfelt post, and so true. I’m feeling the same way going into parenting this second baby — that I don’t need the books and advice so much anymore but just to really watch my child and listen to his/her cues. Thanks for writing so well about this wisdom!

  5. I can SO relate to the sleep issue you faced. When I stopped trying to control it, it all seemed so much better. I really liked an Eckhart Tolle quote that says something to the effect of “accept every moment as if you had chosen it.” All those stupid books made my head spin and I AGONIZED for months about how to fix it. UGH. Still having many wakings per night but I’ve changed my perspective so that it’s easier to deal with. Not easy though.

  6. Love this post. The idea of ‘letting go’ and ending up with what we wanted all along is true for all aspects of life I’m finding. The less control I crave, the more things work out. There is such a lesson in that and it’s one I still need to practise and hear. So thank you for teaching me again …

  7. Lovely post. Well written. So very true. Except I dont’ think I could ever look back at pictures and notice if my little one was hungry or not?? But I think I was reading his cues. I guess I don’t know. But he seems all right and he certainly had a few rolls going on. He looks yellow in pictures- he had breastmilk jaundice. Leave it to my family to have the rarist things!

    But on a serious note, you are right about letting go. I feel lucky in that it seems to come as instinct to me. And you’ll soon find out, the challenge of parenting two and their different cues and personalities and how what works for one doesn’t always for the other, and what you have already learned will serve you well.

  8. This is an issue that is so very close to my heart. Since my pregnancy I have learned to LISTEN to my baby. People are always so quick to tell me what a rod I’m making for my own back, but I find the culture of fitting our babies into OUR schedule and trying to force them to live OUR way and so on terribly sad. I think we miss out on a lot of the joy of our children’s early years, and even later as we watch them grow, by just not listening. Fantastic post – sorry I didn’t respond on carnival day.

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