by Autumn Ward
“Mom, I just need you to listen.”
These were the words of my 16-year-old daughter this past week.
I had been sitting on the edge of her bed for a good 45 minutes listening to her talk for what seemed like 3 hours. I had a list as long as my arm of things I needed to do before I went to bed. I was exhausted from a long day at work, taking her younger sister to softball practice, cooking dinner, laundry, homework, blah, bah, blah.
And now it was 11:00 PM.
I had only gone into her room to say a quick goodnight.
As I fidgeted around trying to stay focused with one leg stretched towards her door, I heard myself say,
“Baby, you keep saying the same thing over and over. When will you be done?”
I knew those were not the right words as soon as I said them. But there they were. Out of my mind and into her heart. Her eyes filled with tears and that’s when she let me know all she needed was for me to just listen.
In that moment she didn’t need me to drive her anywhere, buy her anything or even say anything. She just needed me to listen.
Listening is one of the hardest things we will ever do as parents.
Listening is also one of the most important things we will ever do as parents.
Why is listening so hard?
Well, for me it’s hard because I like to talk.
I want to tell you . . .
what I think.
what you should do.
And then be done and move on to the next thing on the list.
I do not need repetition. I got it the first time. And yet my child still has the need to tell me the same story over and over and over again. Not because I didn’t hear or understand her the first time, but because she is still processing and needs someone to listen. That someone is me.
And for your child, that someone is you.
One thing I’ve learned— or am learning as my daughter reminded me this past week— is that listening is important. And if you’re like me, it’s a skill that takes practice. But that’s good news. Practice helps! The skill of listening can be learned, and we can get better at it. And even better news for parents whose kids are younger, just starting to tell you their stories, feelings and ideas, you have lots of time to work on your listening skills.
Listen to them tell you about the bug they found, the movie they watched, the toys they play with, and by all means listen to them sing their favorite song . . . again.
Listen to them tell you about what the kid next to them had for lunch, how their favorite video game works, and why one stuffed animal can’t sit by the other on their bed.
All of this listening in the preschool and elementary years is getting you ready for the bigger stuff headed your way. And the best part, you are building a relationship with your kids that says, “I care about what you have to say. You can tell me anything.”
Isn’t that the kind of relationship we want with our kids? One where they believe we care about what they have to say and they can tell us anything?
If we want our kids to feel like they can tell us anything, then we need to be willing to listen to anything.
If it’s important to them, we need to choose to make it important to us.
We will have to fight the urge to interrupt their stories with a quick life lesson.
And we will have to keep a tight reign on our emotions. (Ahh…emotions!)
Oh, and just a heads up . . . Kids, especially teens, want to talk when they want to talk, and it will rarely be at a convenient time. Which is why I found myself clinging to the edge of my daughter’s bed nearing midnight.
But trust me on this one, if you choose to close your mouth and open your ears, you will end up knowing more than you ever wanted to know about what’s going on in your kid’s life, and more importantly everything you need to know.
And you may just find yourself, leaving a bedroom exchanging a to-do list for a prayer list, because you now know the heart of your kid in a way you would have never known if all you had done was just say goodnight.
About the Author:
Autumn Ward writes for the First Look preschool curriculum and is the Creative Director for Parent Cue Initiatives on GoWeekly at Orange. She is the author of The Christmas Story and The Easter Story rhyming board books, written just for toddlers and preschoolers. She and her husband Chad have been serving in family ministry since 1996. They live in Cumming, GA with their two teenage daughters, Sarah and Anna. Their son, Chad, is a student at the University of Georgia.