Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Help Unwanted

Our youngest was in tears during homework help earlier this week.

She rebuffed her dad's offers to help, got snappy and eventually stomped away from the table. Finally she burst out, "I didn't even ASK for help!"

And she's right.

No one asked. No one listened.

It's hard to listen sometimes. Life gets busy. Things like making lunches, cooking dinner, doing laundry, getting wet snowsuits in the dryer every night during winter take precedence over sitting down with our children eye-to-eye and listening with no distractions. I suspect most people find it difficult to find time to listen to their kids with other priorities eating in their lives.

And truly, sometimes it is HARD to listen to our children. Lindsey would chatter your ear off incessantly. Her favorite phrases that she uses to end a sentence are "and anyways" and "and then." This means her sentences never end. One time I decided to sit quietly, ignore the dinner that needed to be made, the wet, snowy mess on the floor and the lunch boxes on the countertop, and just listen. She told me about her day only stopping long enough to breathe for 10 whole minutes.

You can think about this two ways. Wow, 10 minutes, that's a lot to say about your day. I don't know if I could tell anybody about my day and take up 10 whole minutes. Or there's this: It only took 10 minutes out of my evening, and my daughter feels heard and supported.

Unfortunately, this happens at the same time that the other child is also waiting to tell about her day, or waiting for a snack or for whatever. Just because the youngest one can't go on about her day for 10 straight minutes (thank God two of them aren't like that!) doesn't mean she doesn't deserve attention also.

We have our share of communication problems. We've had arguments and disagreements with our kids about playdates, sleepovers, privileges lost and privileges gained for certain behavior. When I look back at many of these disagreements, nearly every one of them come down to one single cause: someone didn't listen.

Even if we as parents already knew that we were going to say "no," we didn't allow our children to have their voices heard. It's important that they have the chance to make their case all the way to the end of what they wanted to say, even if we already know that we will still decline whatever request they are asking for. More than anything, they get angry that they didn't get to have their say.

In cases when a child asks for something, we hear her out and then tell her no, she's usually okay with the answer. She was heard. But when we don't even hear her out before the "no" comes out of our mouths, we have problems.

I am reminded of the Braverman family on NBC's show "Parenthood," where everybody is talking over everybody else and no one is actually being heard. Every once in a while the teenage daughter will call this fact out loudly over everyone who is talking. No one pays any attention and she stomps out of the room.

Someone at work was commenting about how that drives them crazy on the show, while I was thinking in my head how much it was like real life. You mean not every family talks over each other at the same time?

Since I've been thinking on it, I now have a new little saying that I'm sticking on my mental wall, along with my two New Year's goals.


And now this:

Don't mistake your unwillingness to listen with failure on my part to communicate.

I've been on both ends of that equation. When I find myself entering into arguments or disagreements, I will take a step back and think about what's happening -- which side of that equation am I on? If I'm not listening, then I will be still and listen. If I'm not being listened to, then I will ask the other person to listen. I might make that person mad, but at least I will have said my piece, even if it wasn't heard.

Now, to practice what I preach.

1 comment:

  1. We feel this so often. It's great when the communication works for both sides and such a bummer when it doesn't. I was trying to plan out time for each kid tonight before they got home and realized perhaps planning for communication on my part set up a fail. I scraped plans and "reacted", which worked tonight but I was jumping hoops the whole time.

    Thx. Nice post.