I have a confession to make. When all my kids still lived at home, I often had an agenda when I spoke with them. Meaning, there was something I felt they needed to get done and I wanted to remind them, or I knew there was a simpler way to complete a task and I wanted to tell them. Hear me – this is absolutely necessary when your children are young; frequent reminders are a major part of a young child’s learning. But as they grow into their teenage years, do this as sparingly as possible. Because all of those things I just ‘had’ to tell them? They all had to do with “I” – not so much them. Without being aware of it, I let this become the main reason I approached conversation with my kids for a while.
I began to notice that the close relationships with my kids that I treasured, started to feel distant. This made me sad and a little afraid. As I prayed about it, I realized I’d unconsciously drifted into thinking about what needed to get done, rather than thinking about what they needed most from me as a parent. As life gets busier, it also gets complicated. It is all too easy to slide into a focus on the schedule or the plan, instead of keeping the focus on the people.
Obviously, I don’t have a magic cure for the curious behavior of the teenage years, but I have learned the value of a surprisingly simple skill: LISTENING. I began to notice that whenever they mentioned something to me, something seemingly off-handed and even arbitrary, if I LISTENED, and made the slightest encouraging response, wonder of wonders, they would often sit down and share what was on their minds! Something as simple as, “Really? Why do you think that is?”, or “Hmmm…I’d like to hear more about that…” and then just LISTENING. But – and here is the key, listening requires remaining QUIET for the most part. It is hard on my pride to admit how hard this was for me. To listen without interrupting. Without interjecting personal opinion. Without being shocked, or preoccupied, or seemingly uninterested.
So, my free advice today: Just watch their face and listen to their voice. This is your child. They are communicating with you. This is what makes life so precious and meaningful as a parent – these shared moments that will be gone far too quickly. Cherish the days when they are living under your roof. These are the times that you can still teach them. That you can still lead by example because they are there to see it. These are the days that you can simply LISTEN.
One of our deepest human longings is to feel heard. This takes time and intention. We sometimes get careless with those we are closest to, in the areas that matter the most. Do you ‘listen’ while you stare at your phone? Or while completing a task? Communication can’t take place without one party actively listening at least half of the time. Be quick to listen, but also be quiet. Simply listening to your child share what’s on their heart and mind communicates your respect and honors them. Sometimes that is all they need to develop the confidence for the moment, or to figure out a solution for themselves. Listening well is a key part of equipping your child for adulthood, but it also increases the likelihood they will continue coming to you as a sounding board in the future.
Learning to listen well now is a great way to invest in your future relationship with your adult children!