How to Hear Our Children
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’ve found that one of the most effective ways to be with our children is to try to make sure that they always feel heard. The forums for this change as they grow older, but it was important to us that from a very young age our children knew that their opinions mattered and that they had a voice. When they were toddlers, we incorporated them into the routines and decision-making of the household. This was not just a matter of getting them to pitch in. The daily goings-on in the house provided a setting in which the children could exercise their judgment and their preferences. On trips to the store, we gave our two-year-old simple choices about what to buy. It was up to her whether we would have striped or polka-dotted beach towels for the summer. The same was true of getting dressed in the morning. No color coordination is worth forfeiting the empowering feeling of putting together an outfit. For toddlers, this is the equivalent of your parents hanging on your every word. Our dinner table reflects similar priorities. We work hard to ensure that the opinions of our 10-year-old son and his thoughts on the Presidential Inauguration are given as much air time as those of his politics-obsessed father. While it’s sometimes a struggle to stay as focused on the details of our seventh grader’s 11-0 field hockey game when her high school senior brother is waiting to recount his nail-biter basketball story, that validation goes a long way.
“We don’t outgrow the longing to be heard.”
I’ve noticed that the lines begin to blur on the topic of being heard when the kids get into high school. I’m not sure that they want or need to be heard nearly as much as I want to hear them. And they know that information is power. It never occurred to me when I was doing call-and-response clapping with our two-year-old son in Kindermusik that 15 years later, I would stand in the kitchen anticipating the slam of the front door after practice, hoping his grunt of “hey” might turn into a conversation. Or that I would be aware that the odds of getting the first eye contact in three days go up dramatically if he happens to be “starving” and pauses at the refrigerator on his way down to the basement. But I’m trusting that beyond thinking that I’m a needy mom, they know that we value and learn from what they have to contribute. We don’t outgrow the longing to be heard. I recently returned to work after 18 years at home with our children. At the end of the interview process, I met with the man for whom I would be working. His questions and attention to my narrative made me feel like I had truly been heard and understood. I knew immediately that hour had made the whole journey worth it—regardless of the outcome. I did end up getting the job but I also got a reminder of the importance of actively listening to children—of any age.
– Heidi Butz
Heidi Butz lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan with her husband and their four children.