The Importance of Listening to Kids
If I can humbly add one small idea to these thoughts…it has been my personal experience (both as a child and a mother) that children are like little radios picking up our frequency. They know the real truth about what we are feeling versus what we are presenting and it is incredibly isolating to find a major discrepancy between the two. When in my grown-up sphere I am confronted with disappointment or my own intolerance and a bad mood to boot, I often name what is going on (in other words, I say, “Mommy is having a hard day, and I am feeling upset”) so that the very mundane human “bad” feelings do not turn into some grim phantom in the room with me. Sometimes I don’t have the maturity in the moment, and when it fails me, I apologize at bedtime when my children and I are having a talk. I have felt my daughter’s whole body sigh in relief when I have simply and very specifically voiced regretting my own behavior. Here’s to doing the best we can.
As a mother of two young children with lives as busy as my own, I am constantly trying to do more than I can. Sometimes with all of the multitasking, school runs, thank you notes and household responsibilities, not to mention my professional life, I feel like I am doing too many things, none of them as well as I could. My main priority, far and above anything else in my life, is my children, their happiness, stability, individualism and well-being. In your opinion, what are the most effective ways to be with one’s children? What is most important in terms of their emotional and mental development? Are there specific things we can do to help them grow up to reach their full potential?
I don’t know if I’m pulling rank here: I’m speaking now as a grandmother, not an active-duty mom. But my four grandkids have given me a second chance to learn the lessons that I missed the first time around. Or maybe it’s simply that the passage of time lets one see the forest, not just the trees. The single most important thing is to take time to LISTEN to your children—as fellow human beings, not just as your charges or pet projects. There’s a wise little human soul in there, ageless in heart even while young in time. Follow her lead. Listen to what she says and DOESN’T say. Don’t just manage her, but allow the things she’s interested in to open and energize your own heart. That’s the secret of eternal youth.
“The single most important thing is to take time to LISTEN to your children—as fellow human beings, not just as your charges or pet projects.”
Second, don’t be afraid to be real with your children. I’m not speaking so much here about being honest with your feelings (that’s generally good, but don’t forget that as a parent you have a primary responsibility to hold a safe space for your kids, and your self-expression should never overwhelm or frighten them); rather, I’m talking about being transparent about what you truly love. For 18 years my own mother managed, scolded, imposed manners, dragged us kids off to Sunday school, arranged lessons in necessary social graces, chaperoned parties and supervised homework. And yet, for all that gray blur of duty, the one day I truly remember from my childhood was the day she simply gathered up her beloved oil paints and marched us off to a local arboretum. As my brother and I explored the gardens, I watched her a short distance away, poised before her easel, golden sunlight streaming down her face, completely entranced in what she was doing. How I loved her in that moment! And the unspoken lesson on following your bliss has remained with me for nearly six decades.
– Cynthia Bourgeault
Cynthia Bourgeault is an Episcopal priest, writer and retreat leader. She is founding director of the Aspen Wisdom School in Colorado and principal visiting teacher for the Contemplative Society in Victoria, BC, Canada.