The Importance of Listening to Our Children

 

By Ron Hindbaugh M.A.

 

As our children mature it is not uncommon to feel helpless when we watch the little ones we use to cradle in our arms wrestle with the frustrations of growing up. We want to help them make this transition to an adult easier but sometimes communicating with our child seems like an impossible task.

In such situations we feel worried, frustrated, disappointed, angry, fearful, and loving all at the same time. These emotions spur us to action that seems to take us nowhere as we stand, feeling like a spectator, as our child forges ahead on a path leading to destruction.

Our frustration stems from the fact that we stand there with wisdom gained from living ready to share with love but blocked by an unwilling recipient, the child we would do anything for. Let’s drop in on a typical parent/child confrontation one parent reported to me and discover what this parent learned from this experience.

We were having the oft repeated confrontation that takes place between parent and child. My son just sat there, staring sullenly at the floor wrestling with his frustrations. He wanted to communicate as sincerely as I, but neither of us was having much success.”

“I’ll never make it,” he moaned. “You expect too much, and I’m just not good enough.”

“That’s not true.” I said. My voice rose as I thought back on my adolescent insecurities. “Why when I was your age……”

“Dad, you don’t understand,” he interrupted. “I don’t think you’ll ever understand!”

Of course I understood! My heart ached with important things I wanted to tell him – lessons I yearned to teach him. He wasn’t being fair. After all, I wasn’t that old. And it wasn’t that long ago that I had been in his place.

How many times had I sincerely told him about my own frustrations as a teenager? How many times had I sat him down and given him good, sound advice from my own experience?

If he would just hear me out, he would realize I knew what I was talking about. But I couldn’t get through to him because I couldn’t get him to listen to me.

As he stood abruptly and prepared to leave, I called him back.

“Son, why don’t you ever listen?” I asked.

For the first time during our heated exchange, he looked directly at me. His look startled me, but not nearly as much as his reply.

“Dad, all I ever do is listen to you. My question is, why don’t you ever listen to me?”

At first his question surprised and upset me. Even if I had expected him to do all the listening was that so wrong? After all, I was his father.

As I sat there I suddenly realized that what my son had said was true. I had been talking and preaching to him when I should have been listening. I had attempted to help him by shouting criticism from my lofty perch. My concern for him was proper, but my outward demonstration of that concern was improper. I thought a lot about this the next few days.

I realized that I could not hope to understand my son if I continued to look at him strictly from my point of view. And I couldn’t comprehend his perspective without truly listening to him with my ears and my heart.

I saw clearly that listening is a key. By listening we show respect and love. After considerable thought I tried again.

“Do you have time to talk?” I asked my son. “I’d like another chance.”

“Do we have to, Dad? I know you mean well but I’d rather not.”

“I’d like to change roles this time.” I said how about if you talk and I listen? I understand you skepticism, but I’ll offer advice only if you ask for it.”

His smile was a welcome contrast to the look he ad given me a few days earlier. For a change, I really listened. I had to bite my lip a few times, but I learned more about my son during a half hour of listening than I had learned during several years of lecturing.

The conversation was the first of many heart-to-heart talks. It is easier to share now. We don’t always agree. But by listening, we have come to understand one another and to avoid some on the pitfalls that marked our earlier conversations.

Things may not always result in story book endings, like the above story, but listening does help us to understand our children better and as a result make wiser and more informed decisions relative to our role in their lives. Learning to listen with our hearts and our ears may not be easy, but it is always essential – especially with teenagers who we can no longer pick up, place on our lap, and protect from all of the hurts and frustrations of growing up.