Every kid has ideas of how they will or will not parent when they grow up based on their own parent’s methods. I remember determining that I would let my kids eat ice cream for every meal, wear their same favorite outfit every day even if it got too small, and never make them clean their rooms. Of course, my children are now key witnesses against me that I did indeed break that pact with my childhood self after joining the enemy ranks of adulthood.
But what the 7 year old, or 15 year old, or even 21 year old me didn’t know about are all the qualities and aspects of parenting that are never noticed until one takes on the role themselves. And when I look back on my own childhood and young adulthood I see that one of the things my mom did so well and which seems so easy is actually something that I find quite challenging at times.
She listened to her kids.
Listening. Yes, we all know, the key to good communication, healthy relationships and world peace. How hard can it be to listen to the cute adorableness that comes from the mouths of your own flesh and blood?
Well, have you ever had a 2 1/2 hour drive with a 9 year old who talked the entire time about intricate details of the latest Lego Club magazine? Have you ever been subjected to hearing the play by play commentary of all the minute events leading up to how a 5 year old scraped 2 mm of skin on the tip of her pinky toe that can only be seen with a magnifying glass? Have you ever had a “Why?” conversation like this with a 3 year old?:
“If you’re going to play on the porch you need to put your shoes on.”
“Because you’ll get splinters in your feet if you’re barefoot.”
“Because the wood is old and weathered.”
“Because it’s been there a long time.”
“Because a long time ago someone built this house and made this porch on it.”
“Because they wanted a porch.”
“Because porches are nice.”
“Because God made it that way. Now put your shoes on and go play.”
If you’ve experienced anything similar you will understand how close to the edge of sanity this type of listening, day in and day out, can take you. You will understand how the desire to just have a few moments of your own thoughts can be so strong and yet feel so unattainable. And even if my feelings here contain a bit of hyperbole, you will know that listening can often be not just a learned skill, but also a sacrifice.
I remember my mom, who had taken care of seven consecutive babies during the night and had done a stint working 3rd shift as a nurse, listening to me, as a 12 year old, complaining about not sleeping well because I had woken up once during the night and took a few minutes to get back to sleep. I sheepishly recall her seeming interested to hear all of my naive and uninformed, yet so confident, opinions on the state of the world. I can’t forget the numerous nights I would come home after work as an older teenager and keep her awake while telling her all the mundane and unimportant details of how my evening had gone, while she was probably desperate for sleep.
At the time, I didn’t know the sacrificial love that was probably involved in most of her listening. I just knew that my mom cared about my life, about what I thought, about what was going on with me. I knew she loved me partly because I knew she wanted to listen to me. And all those memories of her giving of herself to me, help to now motivate me to lend an ear to my ceaseless little talkers as well. And I’m learning that this often means stopping what I’m doing, making eye contact, and answering with more than just, “Mmm hmm”.
My experience of being listened to makes me recognize the value of such a gift. And whether you also had a similar gift given to you as a child or if you had the opposite experience, let either history compel you to love those in your life by giving them the dignity and value of being someone who is listened to.
My mom still listens to my petty complaints, naive opinions, and late night ramblings, so apparently there is no end to a mother’s sacrifice.
So Mom, thanks for listening and Happy Mother’s Day!
And Kids, just give me 5 uninterrupted minutes to finish writing this blog post and I promise I will listen to what you have been trying to tell me.