When I called my husband, Mike, at work to discuss our evening plans, I identified the sound of computer keys tapping in the background on his end of the call.
Recognizing that he was working rather than listening, I began talking nonsense. I said something about how the shoe in the road that fell off a tree was yellow and red, and was in the way of the horse carriage, and oh, I like licorice. When I was done with my gibberish, I paused briefly and asked, “Is that okay, honey?” And sure enough my husband responded, “Okay, baby, sounds great!”
Now before it sounds like I’m throwing my husband under the bus, I should note that Mike is a brilliant listener. It comes naturally to him. Listening is Mike’s forte (when he’s not at work, at least!). I, on the other hand,..... not so much. I really have to work on being quick to listen and slow to speak (James 1:19). To use my ears more than my mouth. And this is especially true in my parenting.
When it comes to our kids, be they tots or teenagers, there are few things we can do that are more meaningful than our mere willingness to listen.
Listening well requires that we learn how to talk with our children, rather than at them. If we talk at them, they will come to learn that we do not respect their feelings or their thoughts, and we are mostly concerned with being heard, venting our frustration, and seeing them obey.
However, if we talk with them, and we are thoughtful about understanding what’s in their heart, we send a message that what they feel and what they have to say is worthy of being heard.
We affirm their worth when we try to see the world through their eyes.
Take a moment to read the following poem entitled “Listen” by an anonymous writer, and imagine your child as the one saying these words to you.
“When I ask you to listen to me and you start giving advice, you have not done what I asked. When I ask you to listen to me and you begin to tell me why I shouldn’t feel that way, you are trampling on my feelings.
When I ask you to listen to me and you feel you have to do something to solve my problem, you have failed me, strange as that may seem. Listen! All I asked was that you listen. Not to talk or do — just hear me.
When you do something for me that I can and need to do for myself, you contribute to my fear and weakness. But when you accept as a single fact that I do feel what I feel, no matter how irrational, then I can quit trying to convince you and get to the business of understanding what’s behind this feeling.
So, please listen and just hear me. And if you want to talk, wait a minute for your turn; and I’ll listen to you.”
My favorite line in the poem is "just hear me." Just like us, our kids are rarely asking for us to solve their problems or fix their feelings. They just need to be heard. To pour out what's trapped inside. To be affirmed that what they feel, as crazy as it may seem, matters.
What I love most about the simple gift of listening that we can give to our kids is this: Listening is one of the simple but essential ways we can model God’s heart to our children. He is not a God who says, “I am God and you are not, so I’ll do the talking and you’ll do the listening.” Nobody listens better than our Abba, Father. In fact, He LOVES to listen. Anytime, anywhere, and for any reason.
This is God’s Word on the subject, as we read in Jeremiah 29:12-14 (MSG)
“When you call on me, when you come and pray to me, I’ll listen. When you come looking for me, you’ll find me. Yes, when you get serious about finding me and want it more than anything else, I’ll make sure you won’t be disappointed……”
In this new season of parenting, with a newborn in my arms, and three older boys running circles around me, it's been challenging and honestly, sometimes heartbreaking, to acknowledge that there is a lot that I wish I could still do but I simply can't in this brief season of my parenting. But the one simple and essential thing I can still do to ensure my boys feel seen and affirmed and loved is "just listen."