It’s a simple skill — listening. Though we can develop nuanced abilities to savor certain qualities in various particular soundscapes, it doesn’t take much to, say, hone in on the words the person in front of you is speaking. Remembering to use that skill in the middle of the umpteenth interruption of the day, while juggling the multitudinous items on the to-do list, when the voice is little and the concerns seem slight — well, that’s a whole different ball of wax, ain’t it?
We can be really amazing listeners when our friends need us, or when our siblings or spouses need us, or when colleagues, bosses, or clients need us to hear what they are saying, and take special heed; but for some reason, it can be a much more difficult ability to muster when our little ones need us to hear them. Of course it’s understandable — we’re busy, as always, we’re trying to do everything we need to do, be everywhere we need to be, and take care of everything we need to take care of, most often with kids in tow, and it feels like it takes a long time to pause and listen again to another, perhaps less than immediately important musing from the three year old…
It’s completely normal to start to tune some things out a little, from time to time, and depending on our focus levels.
Nevertheless, it also makes good sense to check in with ourselves to be certain that we haven’t become auto-deaf to the ones who most need us to listen to them. And it’s worthwhile as well just to remember to practice the fine art of lending our ears and our attentions to our kids. There’s a whole host of benefits associated with our becoming stellar listeners to our children; but here’s several of my favorite:
• We get to know what’s going on for them. We get to hear their experience, their thoughts, and their feelings. This can be both incredibly helpful, and also hugely entertaining.
• We give them the opportunity to be heard. This is generally valuable for their developing self-estimation and self-assurance, but can also be of special assistance in particular situations, like…
• When our children are upset — hearing them out, making space for their feelings, even and especially when we have no intention of changing the things about which they are upset, but steadily listening to their upset-ness about whatever all it is, very often is enough to allow their intense emotions to subside and for their minds to return to a state of relative calm and co-operation.
• We get to bond with them more fully. We get to share intimate moments wherein they offer their purest selves for us to revel in together, or their deepest hurts for us to witness and bear as a team, or their most intense longings for us to hope and wish on together with interlocked pinkies.
• We respond to their reaching out by being available. We build trust by consistently “being there” to listen when they need us — whether it’s to hear that song they’ve been singing for two days one more time; or to hear what their pretend friends are doing now; or to hear what they think of important life issues; or to hear how they bonked their knees; or how mad they are that you took the toy they were fighting over — when we are there to hear them out, that means something to them, and fulfills something in them, and becomes a ready comfort to them.
• We model listening. Let that one sink in for a moment. How often do we model to our children this thing that we so vehemently want them to do? Probably more would be better for our own preference of being listened to…
• We get information that can inform our parenting. We can gauge what they are gathering from what we’ve been doing, sharing with them, and modeling already; and we can adjust course based on what we learn of what they think, and want, and feel, when appropriate, as well.
• As they age, because we’ve consistently been there/theirs to listen when they needed us, then when they really need us, they’ll trust us enough to come to us — even and again especially when they know we don’t want to hear what they want us to listen to them say… !
Of the above, I think the one that serves us parents most often, though not “the most”, is listening when our kids are upset. That’s one that a lot of us tend to make less time for (which means we then spend more time on), and could frequently help us avert more intense disaster when things go awry. If we can just pause, just slow down, just enough to wait, and hear them out — even when we aren’t going to do anything differently afterward — we’d all suffer so much less. If instead of trying to rush our children passed all those more jangley emotions with which we’d rather not deal, trying to rush them to a rational solution (read: our solution) to the current issue(s), trying to rush them back to a state of co-operation; we stopped for just two full minutes to listen to the story of how the whole world is currently crashing down around their ears, and let those feelings be heard, and share with them some empathy for what we hear — well, parenting would be known as quite a different business, let me tell you.
Just so you don’t feel like I’m holding out on you — I think we are “the most” served by what listening to our children does for our bond with them. When we connect in the way that listening requires, we give them the kind of love they won’t get anywhere else; we fill them up and meet their needs in a way that nothing else can. And that connection is what everything in parenting is all about.
So, may I invite you to join me this week in making listening a special focus of our parenting practice. I’ll be thinking more about it, and making a concentrated effort to give more of my moments to listening to my sweet girls — if you do it too, we’ll be doing it together! If we dedicate ourselves to it just a little bit, I bet we’ll all be surprised by the results.
Be well, ya hear!?