A mom of middle-school kids offers advice about the kind of listening moms need to do for each other.
At my moms’ group the other day I tried baring my heart to my fellow moms, something that is rather difficult for me to do. “I’m really struggling with adjusting to parenting the middle ages,” I started out. “I expected sauciness and pushback, but that’s not what I’m getting yet. There’s just ... always someone around. From morning when the littles get up to night when the teens are awake.”
I started to go on to say more, but before I could say another word, I was interrupted by five well-intentioned friends who started flinging advice at me like David with his slingshot.
One mom told me to put a sign on my door saying I didn’t want to be bothered; another advised I take time to pray while I wait in the car during my daughter’s dance class; a third mom (whose oldest is six years old) told me that she is always going to enforce 90-minute quiet times in her house no matter how old her kids get. It ended with another mom triumphantly crowing that what I need is a comfy chair in my bedroom. I tried telling her that I have one already, but it was drowned out by her enthusiastic declaration of finality: “That’s it. That’ll solve the problem.”
By the time we were finished, I felt like I had been pelted with verbal stones. Being unable to even explain myself to the people who tread this road with me upset me greatly. I had wanted to tell them so much more: how I have to speak precisely all of the time because the kids are infatuated with logic, how I have to repeat stories five times because the kids trickle in the room at different times and everyone is nosy, how there is no time for my husband and me to be together, how the kids like to listen in and ask questions when I’m chatting with a friend, and how it’s a constant tightrope-walk of independence and monitoring. I had barely been able to start speaking before I felt shut down, however good their intentions were.
I felt unheard, unloved, and misunderstood. That night I went to bed early with a hot water bottle.
The next day I felt emotionally sore and sad. An analogy popped into my head (no doubt the compassion of the Holy Spirit) that tremendously helped me process this. Let’s say a mother with her first baby confides that she’s struggling with the transition. Would we say to her: give up cloth diapers to ease the housework, nap when baby naps, let your husband take care of the baby after you’ve nursed at night and then brush our hands in satisfaction that we’ve made life easy for her with our advice? No! You know why? We all know that parenting littles is hard. Even with disposable diapers, naps, and a willing husband, it.is.hard. There is not enough advice in the world to change that.
And that’s true of parenting the middle ages as well. I can have a comfy chair, a sign on my door, and set quiet times, and guess what? Still hard.
Some of the sweetest words in a friendship are “tell me more.” We moms are really good at problem-solving. But what’s needed at the outset is an invitation for your friend to share what’s on her heart. St. Josemaría Escrivá wrote, I’m told, that it is a matter of pride to offer your opinion without being asked for it. Start with that as your premise when your friend comes to you to share her heart. Limit your end of the conversation to listening, inviting her to tell you more, and asking gentle questions with humility. If you feel like you must suggest an idea, start by asking her if she has any.
When it comes to a mom sharing her struggles with parenting, let fellow moms cast not the first stone.
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