How listening, not judging, and allowing emotions can bring out the best in your son
How did a women’s studies major with a passion for social justice launch a movement to parent boys peacefully? Tosha Schore, coauthor of the book Listen: Five Simple Tools to Meet Your Everyday Parenting Challenges, lives in Israel with her husband and three sons, and recently discussed her evolution with ESME’s Jaimie Seaton.
Q: What’s your background?
A: You mean how did I go from being a feminist to an advocate for boys? I’ve always been passionate about bringing change to the world—that’s how I grew up. I was a women’s studies major in undergrad and then got my masters in linguistics, but I realized in graduate school that I didn’t want to be up on a hill, I wanted to work with people.
Q: How did you get into parenting coaching?
A: The pages in life turned, and I had three boys; and, at a certain point, I really bottomed out. I wasn’t the parent I wanted to be. I was nursing all night and working all day; I was dead tired and responding to my boys in ways I didn’t feel proud of. That’s when I sought out Patty Wipfler, who founded a philosophy called Hand in Hand Parenting. I joined one of her support groups, and it rocked my world. It was a place to feel safe, to let it rip; we could cry, we could say how hard parenting was, and we weren’t being judged. We learned these five tools Patty developed to understand how to parent peacefully, and I was able to create a huge shift in my relationships with my boys. My family life improved in so many ways as a result, that I wanted to let others in on the secret, so I became a trainer with Hand in Hand.
Q: And how did this transition into working specifically with boys?
A: I was reading the paper one day, and it was one terrorist attack, followed by rape, followed by murder, and it was all perpetrated by men, and I had this aha moment where I thought, I need to turn this parenting work that I do into something really specific. I need to show parents that if we shift the way we parent our boys, we can create a more peaceful world.
As parents, we’re exhausted, we’re overworked, we’re underappreciated; we’re all these things, and it felt really hard to be parenting these boys and still make this change in the world that was so important for me to make as a person. Then I realized this is the change; this is huge. If we can send boys out in the world who have access to their full array of emotions, not just anger, the world will look really different.
Q: What did you do to put that realization into action?
A: I started focusing on parents of boys. One thing is that boys have a really hard time in the school system; it’s not set up for the kind of energy that a lot of them have. They end up in a cycle of shaming and embarrassment where they are called out a lot. It just makes the behaviors worse. Schools are built on this behaviorist model of punishing. You interrupt, you don’t get recess; or you call someone a name and your parent is called.
There are all these messages of “You’re bad, you’re bad, you’re bad, you’re bad.” I really wanted to make it my business to get out there and tell parents, “Your boy is not bad; your boy is good.” There are behaviors that get glommed on to his goodness that are not working, and we need to figure out how to help him through them because they are not serving him well. We don’t want him interrupting class or hitting or biting or whatever he is doing. If we get confused and start thinking he’s bad and punishing him for it, we make that reality come true. If we can change our story and have that story be “Your boy is always good, and these are unworkable behaviors, and let’s fix those by connecting with him deeply,” then anything is possible. We are setting limits, lovingly. It’s not permissive. But then we are listening. There is an amazing healing power to allowing emotions to run their course in the safe presence of an adult who isn’t angry, disappointed, or trying to “teach you a lesson.”
Q: Are there key issues you are hearing about from Solo Moms?
A: The first is isolation, but parents may not even identify it as such. Isolation is the hardest thing about parenting and one of the things that really gets in the way of being able to parent in ways that we feel good about. Because when we feel isolated, we tell ourselves these stories: My kid is the only one who does X; it’s only me; there’s something wrong with me. We look at people from the outside and don’t know their stories and tell ourselves their lives are perfect, and that isolation kills us. One of the most important things is to have community. It’s really important for single moms to create some kind of community. It could be based on anything at all, but it’s really important to have real conversations with people and a place you can fall apart without being judged or worried about.
In terms of boys, the most common issue is around aggression. When boys get angry or something doesn’t go their way, their feelings can be really big. A lot of women have stories of power differentials in their lives—not necessarily violence—and the fear gets kicked up. Even when our boys are little, if they have big, loud voices or movements, oftentimes it can scare us because they trigger past memories. And when we feel scared, our boys get more scared because they are looking to us to ground them. It’s important that we don’t lose sight of the sweet boy who is always in there—that goes back to the listening part.
Q: Can you talk about the importance of the example Solo Moms set for their boys?
A: This goes for all parents. What we say is one thing, but what we model is what sticks 90% more. It’s incredibly powerful for young boys to see their moms make life work, and there is not just one way to make that happen. It’s very important for every mom to follow her heart and her route, which may look different from the neighbors’. I think there is something really powerful in your kids seeing you find your way. It’s not about being perfect; it’s about being flexible. Life is going to throw curveballs at all of us, but when that curveball hits, what do you do with it?
The five Hand in Hand Parenting tools are listed below:
1. Special Time. One-on-one time with a child that is named, timed, and where the child leads. Works to build and maintain a strong connection between parent and child.
2. Staylistening. Staying close and listening to a child’s upset, rather than distracting or redirecting or negotiating. The release of emotion as a result is the key to helping children actually shift their behaviors.
3. Setting Limits. Setting limits firmly, but lovingly, with our body, understanding that our child is stuck and needs an adult to help him or her out. We learn that the feelings that arise in our children as a result of our limits are what allow them to gain flexibility in their thinking if we can move in close and stay to listen to them.
4. Playlistening. Harnessing the power of play to release tensions and build closeness.
5. Listening Partnerships. A partnership between parents in which they take turns listening lovingly to each other without judgment or giving advice. Obviously this is challenging when coparenting or parenting solo. But try to be kind to yourself, and aim for parenting in ways in which you feel good.
Do you have boys? What are some of the greatest challenges of raising boys as Solo Moms?
Jaimie Seaton, ESME’s Resource Guide for Pregnancy, has been a freelance journalist for more than 20 years. She is the divorced mother of two awesome teenagers and often writes about parenting, dating, and relationships. Her work has appeared in numerous publications worldwide, including the Guardian, the Establishment, Glamour, and the Washington Post. Follow her on Twitter at @JaimieSeaton.
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