“Am I a good mom?” I asked my husband, teetering on the verge of tears. I knew what his answer would be, but hearing him say it out loud made me feel better.
“Yes. You are a great mom,” he responded, emphatically, taking a seat next to me at the kitchen counter. “Why? What happened?”
What happened? What always happens!
“I ask our daughter to do something — to put on shoes, to clean up her mess, to eat something other than Goldfish crackers — and she ignores me. I repeat myself again and again, becoming more and more frustrated, until I lose control and start yelling…” I can hear my voice cracking, feel the warm tears beading down my face. “I JUST DON’T KNOW HOW TO BE HER MOTHER!”
There it was — the feeling that had been welling up within me for months, and if I’m being honest, years. Despite having read every parenting book I could find, none of the tips and tricks seemed to significantly improve my relationship with my 5-year-old.
I knew something had to change because I didn’t like who I was becoming: a mom who threatened a lot, a mom who spent the entire day looking forward to her kids’ bedtimes. Lately, pushed to the edge, I had even questioned whether I was cut out to be a parent.
My husband offered what support he could, but given the long hours he worked, most of the day-to-day parenting responsibilities were left up to me.
That night, I sat at my computer, long after my family had gone to sleep, trying to find a solution. I thought, Perhaps I wasn’t giving my daughter enough positive reinforcement. Or was I giving her too much? Maybe my expectations were too high given that she is only 5 years old? Or was I just making excuses for her? Every parenting article I came across seemed to give conflicting advice and only left me feeling more confused.
When suddenly, it dawned on me: I was ill-equipped to navigate the challenges in my relationship with my daughter. Just because I had read a smattering of parenting books and articles did not make me an expert on my kid.
The fact of the matter was I needed help.
And I knew I wasn’t going to get that help from a book or a podcast or a well-intentioned friend. What I needed was meaningful, personalized feedback from a professional. And so I did what I knew was best for me and my daughter. I entered the words, “Local Parent-Child Counselors” into the search field on Google. And bingo!
Not only were there tons of listings for family counselors in my small town, but also testimonials from parents who, like me, felt they needed more constructive tools in their parental tool belts. Parents who, with a little guidance, claim to have strengthened their relationships with their children.
I scheduled my first appointment for the following week.
I won’t sit here and claim I found the magic bullet. Even after a half-dozen appointments, my daughter and I are still learning how to effectively communicate. And believe me, this is a skill we both needed to learn. But we are finally beginning to really hear each other and that in and of itself is significant.
Here is an example of a technique we recently learned. A few weeks ago, our counselor suggested we try Whole Body Listening (WBL). The technique created by speech-language pathologist Susanne Marie Poulette is a tool to help students listen with not just their ears, but with their eyes (by looking), with their hands (by keeping them still), with their feet (by keeping them planted on the floor), and with their mouths (by keeping them quiet).
Parents often assume listening is intuitive and automatic in their children when, in fact, listening is, for many, a skill that must be taught. In Whole-Body Listening: Developing Active Auditory Skills, Poulette writes, “These ‘whole-body’ activities are designed to teach students what they must do in order to listen. Listening is associated with active behaviors in contrast to passively ‘hearing’ auditory information.” In this way, students learn to process the information which has been given; they learn “to be connected, tuned-in, to the spoken message.”
In the past, I had been expecting my daughter to listen to me even when her attention was focused elsewhere. Not once did I think to ask her to “look at me” when I spoke. Not once did I say, “Please pause your activity so you can hear me.” Not once. And yet I became agitated when I had to repeat myself.
Now I know, my daughter wasn’t really hearing me.
Sometimes people ask me why I take my 5-year-old to counseling. “Isn’t she a little young?” they ask. And the answer is a resounding “No.” No one is ever too young to learn communication skills. No one is ever too young to learn how to effectively listen. These are skills that will serve my daughter — and truthfully, our entire family — long into the future.
And so on the off-chance that you, too, feel like parenting books and articles just aren’t cutting it, I urge you to turn to a counselor, because it has made a huge difference for my family. It is working.
Parenting is so hard. But maybe, just maybe, with a little professional guidance, it can be easier.
This article originally appeared on Scary Mommy.