April 3, 2024

The Power of “The Nod”—a Mother’s Journey through Listening & Healing.

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What do you do when your child is hurting and you can’t make the pain go away?

That was my question recently when my oldest daughter called me with bad news.

She was rejected from yet another law school…that’s a rejection from every school so far.

My heart sank as I listened to her voice become shaky and her confidence crumble. As a mom, my job is to protect her, guard her, teach her, guide her—so many things I am supposed to do and so many tasks I can confidently check off my to-do list of raising children, proud of the work I put in. However, I could not protect her from this. I could not shield her from denial and rejection, or from questioning her worth. What kind of mom was I?

At that moment, when I wanted to get on the phone with those damn law school admissions people and give them a piece of my mind, I instead went against my visceral reaction and slowly quieted my heart and I began to listen. My daughter poured out her doubt, her worry, and her rejection, and I did the only thing I could do: I drank it in. I gulped it all in hoping that with every word she uttered, I could take that pain and carry it for her. She cried, she questioned, and she blamed. I listened. My way of listening was not through dialogue but instead through a deep understanding of who I wanted to be as a parent. This parenting approach is called, “The Nod.”

The Nod

After two decades of teaching in the classroom, raising my children, and now working as a parent consultant, I have learned a thing or two about listening. Much of what I learned went against my instinct to instruct, lecture, and guide.

Over the years, I found that my response to pain and suffering was to try to solve the problem at hand and with that, I would bulldoze over the feelings and emotions of those talking to me. They offered an experience and I was right there ready to tell them how to feel better and offer advice. They complained about something that happened and I was there to question and psychoanalyze. It never worked.

And then one day, I learned what it felt like to be with somebody who just listened and let me pour my heart out. It was at that moment that I understood what deep listening was. To actively listen and validate somebody’s pain is intense, but it is an honor. People often do not need us to solve the problem but rather to share the burden of the experience. This can be done with an approach called “The Nod” and an acknowledgment of their feelings with a sound or a word such as” “Oh,” “a sigh,” or “I see.”

That night, I went inward and I actively listened to my daughter as she shared her experience. And even though all I wanted to do was to tell my daughter how to feel better and how to pick herself up off the floor so she no longer hurt, I silenced my words and I listened. I offered an opportunity to shoulder the burden of the emotional disappointment and I did “The Nod” while sighing. She cried and she released, and at the end,  when we were ready to get off of the phone, my daughter said, “Thanks Mom, for letting me vent.”

Now, I cannot protect her from being rejected from her final admissions, but I can make sure she is not standing alone on this journey. I’ve come to realize that being a mother is not just guiding and readying our offspring for society, but rather motherhood is an opportunity to show our children the human connection in suffering.

Parenting is hard. Listening is hard. Nodding and offering validation through a word or a sound makes our children’s lives just a little bit easier.

So, I urge you to embrace this new way of listening today. Practice “The Nod” with the next person who crosses your path.

Just as our children grow, we too need to grow, and growing into a new way of being takes practice. Practice, patience, and practice.

Take this practice and see how you can lighten someone’s burden, and let’s make the world a little gentler, one listening ear at a time.


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