Tag Archives: parenting

Listen Up

photoEvery 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.”
“Why?”
“Because you’ll get splinters in your feet if you’re barefoot.”
“Why?”
“Because the wood is old and weathered.”
“Why?”
“Because it’s been there a long time.”
“Why?”
“Because a long time ago someone built this house and made this porch on it.”
“Why?”
“Because they wanted a porch.”
“Why?”
“Because porches are nice.”
“Why?”
“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.

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Once Upon a Time, There Were Four Little Monkeys Who Went Shopping with a A Great Big Ogre…

The other day I went shopping with all four of my children.

If you have any children, or have ever been around any children, or have ever seen any children from afar, you already know that this is probably not a happy ending story. You are not expecting me to follow that statement with, “We had such a lovely time.” If you had been around when I embarked on such a journey, you might have joined my husband in saying, “That doesn’t sound like a good idea.”

Of course it wasn’t a good idea.

Now, don’t misunderstand. I go out with all of my kids alone all the time. We go to the park, friends’ houses, the movie theater, the children’s museum, even four hour long road trips for the weekend. But there is just something…special...about shopping with them. Somehow, walking through the doors of Target, or the grocery store, or any place you buy things, transforms them into unmanageable miscreants and me into…The Ogre Mom.

Maybe it’s that I have an objective other than “have fun.” Maybe it’s that I’m trying to pay more attention to the coupons and the shopping list than the kids. Maybe it’s just a conspiracy. But it’s usually something that we all come back from looking like we’ve crossed a desert, fought a small war, and endured a siege. We come back as survivors, not victors.

I know all of this, but that still didn’t stop me.  I had a few errands to run, some things to buy that actually required a couple of the kids to be with me (shoes, pants) and with my husband working on the weekend anyway, I decided we were going.

Actually, it wasn’t that bad. Nobody wet their pants. Nobody laid on the floor and screamed like a banshee because they had to ride in a regular shopping cart instead of the race car cart. Nobody made loud, rude observations about fellow shoppers. Nobody choked on and then threw up cheese samples onto the floor. These have all happened on other trips, but not this time.

But it wasn’t lovely.

Here’s a condensed review of what did happen:

Kid 1 hates shopping and reminded me of that fact every two and a half minutes. Kid 2 constantly pestered me to ride in the back of the cart even though she weighs half a ton and kids 3 and 4 were already in it. Kid 4 didn’t want to ride in the cart and kept trying to climb out. Kid 3 kept poking kid 4 to elicit laughs but got high-pitched “stop it!”s instead. Kid 2 joined in until the two were laughing like hyenas and the one was screeching like some rare tropical bird. Kids 2, 3 and 4 all started making primate noises when I told them to stop acting like monkeys escaped from the zoo.

Then, Kid 2, who needed shoes, couldn’t decide what she liked. Kid 3, who didn’t need shoes, kept finding the “most prettiest, sparkliest, perfectest, beautifulest” pairs for herself and pouting when I told her no. Kid 4, on being let out of the cart, promptly took off her shoes to try on a pair that would fit a 6 month old, and decided to put her own pair of shoes behind the shelf where they fell down between the racks and were only found by me getting on my hands and knees and looking under all the shelves. Kid 1 protested and argued about trying on pants because he doesn’t think it matters if you have outgrown your jeans and they don’t come down past your ankles.

By that point, I agreed.

That was just the first stop. There were three more to go with pretty much the same results. In the end, we mostly got what we needed, I only heard two “You sure have your hands full” comments, and I made it back with the four kids I left home with and all in their original clothing.

Sadly, though, I was annoyed and frustrated with them almost the whole time.

For some reason, I want them to behave like miniature adults in those situations and when they don’t, I start to feel like I’m not doing a good job parenting. I feel like people observing us must think they are not trained to properly behave.

But wait, that last part is true.

They are still in training. I’m not done yet. When I am done, they’ll be adults, buying their own clothing, pushing their own carts instead of swinging precariously off the end of mine. So it’s way too early in the game to declare myself a parenting failure. Because most of the annoying or embarrassing things they do, aren’t even bad things. They are just kid things. They don’t have the same control over volume,  movement or emotions as we adults. They certainly don’t have the reasoning ability we have. (“Hey, it seems like a good idea to throw the old shoes behind the shelf because I’m planning on going home in these tiny new ones that I can’t even fit half my foot into.”)

And the behaviors that are “bad”? Aren’t they really just an outward display of the contents of the heart? Selfishness. Anger. Impatience. Lack of consideration. The pouting (or screaming, or complaining) isn’t really the problem (though Lord knows I want it to stop!); but the selfishness is.

And that’s when I see that I have exactly the same issues as my kids. The only difference is in how I display them.

As adults (most of us anyway), we’ve learned which behaviors are socially acceptable and which are not.

Tantrums in the floor? Not ok.

Giving my husband the silent treatment because I’m angry with him? Well, he earned it.

Throwing toys and screaming at an annoying person? Wrong.

Speaking sharply to my kids because they are driving me absolutely crazy? If necessary.

So even though I’ve learned to adjust my behavior, I’ve not completely gotten rid of the “bad” stuff. I’ve just figured out that if I don’t display my selfishness using childish antics, it’s a lot easier to rationalize. Since I don’t stomp my feet and shout, “I want you to do it my way!”, I can convince myself and others that it’s ok to be rude to my husband (as long as it is done in an adult-like, dignified manner and for a good reason.)

But in the end, rudeness is rudeness. And maybe trying to cover it up and make it look like something else, something justifiable, is even worse than shouting it out at the top of my lungs for everyone to hear.

So I guess I’m still in training, too. I’m still relying on my Heavenly Father, through the Holy Spirit, to guide me to better things.  And while I want my actions, and those of my kids, to be seen as kind, loving and respectful, I want it to be because we have kindness, love and respect in our hearts. Because we’re daily being conformed to the image of Christ.  I don’t think the need for that is something I’ll ever outgrow.

And just as I need His grace for my own shortcomings, I want to pass that gift on to my children as well. To daily remind them that they are incredible people. People who may need a little more training before I want to take them out again for an all day shopping expedition. But incredible, cherished people nonetheless.

And hey, who wouldn’t put up with some obnoxious noises and boisterous running in exchange for the spontaneous hugs, unearned smiles, and unconditional forgiveness that kids so readily give. Because, thankfully, they haven’t learned to keep those expressions of emotion under control yet either.

So the next time I’m brave enough to darken the doors of Target with my miscreants, maybe, just maybe, I can avoid awakening the ogre within. Or at least keep her more in check.

And if you happen to see me out with a bunch of rowdy monkeys that vaguely resemble children, don’t tell me I’ve got my hands full. I know. Ogres are hard to manage. Just smile and say something nice like,

“How lovely.”


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