Why don’t I listen more? This question was ringing in my ears all the way home from Exeter last week, having spent four hours doing nothing but listen to new parents. As part of ourNCTservices NCT is hosting a series of ways to hear what today’s parents have to say, so that we can best understand what they want and need, as we consider the future of our services. I saw ten parents in two focus groups – the group in the morning were parents like those we traditionally work with and the group in the afternoon was made up of those parents we don’t currently reach.
It’s no surprise that the word listen contains the same letters as the word silent. If you know me, you will recognise that it’s rare for me not to have an opinion, for me not to comment, for me not to try and have the last word. So, to sit and truly listen to parents – to not intervene, lead, probe or ask, but to have the gift of time to absorb and reflect on their discussion – was both refreshing and revealing. I learnt so much more than talking.
Much of what I heard that day resonated with what we are learning elsewhere in the project – through listening to practitioners and volunteers, observing classes and courses as well as looking at the feedback from parents who use our services. I heard the depth of the value new mothers gave to new friendships that many had gained from our work, but also the concern and worry when those networks and friendships don’t emerge – feelings of isolation and isolation. I heard how trawling through Google is a near universal habit for new parents, even when they can’t find what they are looking for. I heard about the utter confusion and overwhelming anxiety that can result from well meaning advice from friends and family that wouldn’t pass our test for evidence-based information.
When asked to reflect on what they wished they knew before the baby was born I was surprised not to hear about practical baby care, but about mental health. The mothers in Exeter reflected on how unprepared they were for this experience, either when their own mental health was put under pressure, or the health of their partner or friends. I heard the pain of difficulties accessing basic support and the guilt felt by many parents when they felt they weren’t able to do the best for their baby. I heard how the women felt about changes in their partner and in their relationship. The prominence of sleep issues surprised me as did the low priority these parents gave to self care in the early days.
Hearing and truly listening to the highs and lows of parents – both those we currently serve and those we want to reach out to – was a privilege. There truly is so much to learn. I need to listen more often.