‘The wise old owl sat in an oak,
the more he heard the less he spoke,
the less he spoke, the more he heard,
why aren’t we all like that wise old bird?’
This weeks session was about Communication. Just as well, as I left the house having a little tiff with my daughter who wouldn’t put her socks on!
When we arrived at the creche, all the other children were already there and there seemed to be a lot of babies crying and being comforted by the creche workers. My two were trying to get back out of the door to play on the bubble cars outside, so I took a few minutes to explain that they would need to wait until the babies were ok before they could go outside. Then I headed off to the training room.
As the quote above implies, communication isn’t all about talking. This session was invaluable to me, not only because I talk a lot, but also because I feel quite aware that I will not always be talking to someone who has had experiences like me – and I worry that sometimes they might not feel good about the person they think I am. I’m not sure that makes sense. I mean, sometimes I get comments from others like – ‘wow, you must be angelic/supermum/an earth mother’. No, I’m not trying to boost my ego here! Obviously there’s nothing superhuman or angelic about me, but there are a lot of mums who don’t immediately identify with someone who has a lot of children. I’m fearful of putting people off, as I think I may have in the past.
So this session was a lesson in Active Listening for me – and it was a pleasant surprise to learn that Peer Counsellors are not to offer advice. The aim is to listen carefully, to begin a trusting relationship, to ask questions which encourage an opening of dialogue and to offer information. We were reminded that often when someone asks for support, they do not always discuss the most important difficulty first. This struck a chord with me, as I think I do this when I visit the GP. I’ll save up a little list of things to talk about and the one which is really worrying me (like ‘have I got a brain tumour/heart condition/mental illness’!) comes last. Partly because I feel a little silly about it, partly because I feel scared of what I might hear – and in some cases, scared that I might cry. (In fact, really serious difficulties have left me feeling unable to ask for help at all). As the trainer today put it, the client is testing the counsellor – is the counsellor trustworthy? Is the counsellor really going to be supportive of what I want? So the dialogue and the trusting relationship are much more important than trying to impart any wisdom.
We were also told that often the dialogue brings about a number of options for the mother and she is then able to try some techniques and find a solution for herself. This is an essential process as the mother then feels empowered. I then recognised that through my own experience of feeding my babies, I have developed a style of parenting unique to me and my children. This has given me a huge amount of confidence – actually not only in bringing up my children, as it has spilled over into other areas of my life and I am a much more confident person in general than I was pre-children. This is an experience that I would love all women to share. For all mothers it is important to know that the relationship they have with their child is utterly unique – and it is within their power to mould it into the style they feel suits them best. There is no right or wrong way.
This flows neatly into the next point we were reminded of – to be non-judgemental. Although that sounds obvious, there is another side to it – since most breastfeeding counsellors are attracted to the role because they have had a positive experience of breastfeeding, how easy is it to be non-judgemental when faced with (for example) a woman whose mother has told her that bottle-fed babies sleep better? Or a woman whose partner won’t even entertain the idea of his baby being breastfed?
Our instructor explained that we have to leave our personal opinions out of our counselling. It’s not easy to do this. Being judgemental – or comparing myself to others – seems almost second nature, but I have realised that it is just another way of boosting my ego. Obviously I wouldn’t be contemplating counselling if I couldn’t be a bit tactful, but this requires observing my mental attitude and not slipping into a way of thinking which could ultimately destroy my chances of being supportive.
At the end of the session we were given lots of hand-outs with tips about Active Listening, which will be so useful. It was an insightful session for me, giving me a good idea of what the role of Peer Counsellor involves.
We were also sent away with a CRB form to complete, which is a necessity for the course.
Things didn’t go so well for my children this week, with them being brought into the training room more than once – and ending the session with both of them on my knee! I’m not sure why they didn’t feel settled in the creche, after the babies calmed down, but the creche manager assured me that they would form an ‘action plan’ to find ways of keeping them interested. At 2yrs & 5yrs, my two are amoung the eldest three children in the creche and the women there are now planning some more activities for them. It is really good to know that they are prepared to do that, so that I can continue.