The Womanly Art of Listening (this isn’t what you think it is!)

Any marriage coach, kallah teacher or shalom bayis book worth its salt will tell you that sometimes, a woman just needs to be heard. Sometimes we just want to kvetch or offload and aren’t looking for any problem to be fixed or resolved. 

And they’ll also say that we women innately know that sometimes a friend just wants to be heard out.

But this isn’t about marriage or communicating with your husband or why your husband is trying to “fix” your problems when you just want him to listen to you.

Because here, we’re talking about motherhood.

SO.

So, ladies, if we’re all so good at listening, and we understand that sometimes we just need to listen and support… why do we all do so much fixing in motherhood?

Now, I’m not saying we’re not here to fix problems — from kissing boo-boos and figuring out your baby’s awake time limit to choosing the right school and shidduchim, we are often doing “fixing”.

But sometimes you do have to apply the womanly art of listening in motherhood as well. Ready to hear me out?

What does crying mean?

So let me ask you, m’dear. What does crying mean? I mean for YOU.

In general, crying means

  • you’re expressing something
  • something’s wrong

So if you had a hard day, you might cry. If someone passed away, you might cry.

But those aren’t things to fix — they’re an expression of something being wrong that just needs to be heard. (Though of course, if you’re postpartum and they don’t have the type of yogurt you want and you’re crying — that means something needs to be fixed!)

Our babies are a bit different.

Babies tend to have a lot more of “fix-it” crying scenarios.

Hungry? Fix it.

Tired? Fix it.

Cold or hot? Fix it.

And on top of that, are all the things we “make” crying mean.

What do you make crying mean?

Crying, like everything else in the world, is, objectively, neutral.

And crying, like everything else in the world, has a whole host of associations and meanings that we assign that can make it mean a mountain of things.

Usually, these meanings are so embedded in our psyche and thoughts that we don’t even realize they’re there — all we know is that we want that crying to STOP.

So if you can take a minute now to imagine you hear your baby crying. Notice what comes up for you — what physical sensations do you feel in your body? What thoughts come into your mind?

I’ve had different clients share different things with me:

Racheli said that when she heard Chumi, her toddler, crying she made that mean that Chumi thought she (Racheli) didn’t love her.

Elky made it mean that she was a bad mother.

Chava told me that the thought, “you’ll never do a good job at this!” came up when she heard her baby crying.

Take a minute to notice: what do you make your baby’s crying mean?

Give the space of expression

Because of the fact that we so often do need to fix something, coupled with our associations of what crying means, for most of us, the first thing we jump to is to quiet our babies when they cry.

But sometimes, that’s just not helpful.

Sir S, for example, tends to be more of a talker. And when I say talker (at his ripe old age of 4 months), I mean: crier.

When he was born, he cried for a full hour. 60 minutes. Hardly stopping. (And this, mind you, was skin-to-skin, and covered for warmth and to block out stimulation.) Didn’t want to nurse, didn’t want to be told to shush. 

After his bris, it was a repeat. 

This time, though, I was a lot more prepared. I sat with him in a dark, quiet room, and murmured supportive words, just being.

I knew that trying to calm him or force him to nurse wouldn’t help, and would only make me frustrated, so I set him up with an ideal situation as I could, and then I stepped back (figuratively, of course), and let him tell me about how hard it was. And I listened.

Rounds three and four happened when we released his tongue tie (yes, that happened twice. More on that later.)

While not all babies are like this, most babies and young children will raise hue and cry when learning (or being made to learn) a new skill.

Dropping props, for example. I do guide my clients in supporting their children through the process, but oftentimes their baby or toddler won’t calm down from the support. 

The more they (the parents) are fixated on calming their baby or toddler down, the harder and more frustrating it is. Once they shift focus and recognize that simply listening and being present for their child is a huge gift, it makes the process a lot easier.

Sometimes parents will see this with a major transition such as starting playgroup, going to a new babysitter or having a new sibling.

But, transitions and new skills aside, this is something that we’ll come up with again and again in parenting – your child is frustrated, your child wants that treat that you’re not giving them, there’s a natural consequence they don’t like.

Allowing them to feel that pain and expressing our compassion as they’re going through that tough time and just being there and hearing them out – that is the gift of the womanly art of listening.

So tell me: where can you start to just listen for your children?

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