I tell my sons to use their words, to say what they mean and to assert themselves. It’s been a gradual process and over the years I’ve been surprised that my sons can speak their words.
The problem is, a lot of the time I don’t hear them.
I consider myself an authoritative vs. authoritarian type of parent. I don’t expect my children to think it’s “my way or the highway,” but instead, to understand my reasons; to question and advocate for their point of view. The authoritarian parent doles out punishment and brooks no argument. The authoritative parent will discipline and listen to the issues at hand; serving a consequence that addresses the problem.
It’s only natural when kids are younger that we are more authoritarian in our ways; the kids too young to understand. But my sons now speak their minds; sometimes a bit too much. So it caught me off guard when I was issuing commands and verbal barbs that I barely heard what the quiet, middle son had to say.
You never hear me, Mom.
I had stalked off hot and angry; doling punishment to all three. But the middle son had only been present for the infraction commited by the other two. The next day the eldest claimed he was always blamed for everything. And the youngest gave up trying; his voice lost among the deep timbre of the teens. Of all my sons, he has learned to articulate his words the best; but whose voice gets drowned out.
I need to find my big ears. Their words fall on deaf ones.
When the school year began, in late August, the physical adjustment to the hectic schedule had gone better than expected. But the communication in our home became non-existent; five bodies in five different areas passing one another. We ate together but quickly dispersed to other tasks: homework, practices, meetings, the Internet. And when we did finally come together; information was exchanged about our schedules for the week. The connections to one another were lost.
I observed my social interactions outside of my household. It is rare that I see my girlfriends on a regular basis; my schedule busy. And so when we sit over coffee, or discuss books at book club, the words tumble out; one person drowning out the other. I sat at a committee meeting and the participants felt their words were more important; talking louder and louder and over one another. Nobody was listening to anything anyone said.
As the sole female in my household; holding a long conversation is rare. The males want things said quickly and succinctly. When I started a sentence with my hubs, today with, “Do you know what I was thinking about?” his eyes glossed over. I immediately quieted; until he turned his face towards me with a slightly irritated expression. He had been driving. I wondered if he really wanted to know. Most times I talk and the hubs listens.
It’s been a learning curve; to learn to hear what others have to say. To open my ears. To sit still and actively listen.
I have been a passive listener with my sons. I can filter out what I want to hear and hear what I need to hear. But I really need to hear it all; to acknowledge what they are telling me and to let them know that I am listening; that what they say matters. It’s easy to get lost in self-absorption and thinking that what I do is more important. I have to learn to validate who they are. It’s something I can do with complete strangers but something I don’t practice with my own sons.
This past month I’ve been reminding myself to stop my train of thought and to hear the words that I’ve advocated for my sons to say. To not nod absently and say uh huh in all the right places. To be present. Instead of reminding them of all the things they are not doing, I need to acknowledge the good things that they are doing. All things begin at home.
Thanks for always doing what you’re supposed to be doing, I said to the middle son when I walked through the garage door. He had been doing his homework quietly at his desk. I didn’t yell for him to turn down the music from the computer speakers.
I like that you’re taking time washing your face at night, I told the eldest as he read the directions to his face wash and ointment. I chose to ignore the clothes strewn across his bedroom floor; the ones I step over every day.
I’m happy you like that book, I told the youngest; trying hard to ignore the fact that he was procrastinating on completing his homework. I reminded myself that I needed to foster his love for reading.
At book club I sat quietly, listening to what the others had to say. During a meeting I made sure to make eye-contact with the person speaking; versus rifling through my own paperwork preparing for what I needed to say. Over lunch I listened intently to what my girlfriends had to share; instead of catching them up on what was new with me.
These were simple adjustments, things easy to say although my mind wants me to be doing other things. The extrovert in me wants to share my own words. But sometimes it’s not in the more of doing things, it’s in the way we do them. Saying more things does not create quality relationships. But listening and empathizing; saying less allows open, two-way conversation. I can continue to see these girlfriends on multiple occasions but if the authentic words aren’t being said, or drowned out, what’s the point?
When I stopped nagging, the kids were more willing to converse back. It opened the doors of communication as they shared tiny snippets about their day. Instead of bustling about my home complaining about the loud noise, the eternal mess, or the lack of completed homework, I made the conscious effort to stand or sit beside them. I nestled next to one, ruffled the hair of the other and grinned like a fool at the one who is the quietest. My body language conveyed that I was listening and when there was a pause I looked at the person talking to me.
I hear you. That’s all anyone really wants; to be heard. To know that their words aren’t in vain. That their existence makes a difference.
My youngest shared a long conversation with me; one I wouldn’t normally have heard had I not sat beside him. He was buzzing through a trumpet mouthpiece and, though I knew I had to start dinner before leaving for another meeting, he shared the words that the music teacher had told the class on the first day of elementary school band. The youngest had chosen the same instrument as his eldest brother and the teacher remarked how his brother had started with him. The eldest and middle son had come out to listen to what the youngest had to share. You should tell him how we’re doing, said the older sons. All of us had been surprised the teacher had shared that with his beginning band class. I sent the email over to him the next morning before I could “chicken out.”
These days, I still struggle in letting my house go. I try not to talk over my husband or my kids. And I put this time in my life all in perspective. In a few short years my house will be empty; my sons will grow away and probably rarely call to talk. Maybe they’ll text or private message me although I’ll always hope they’ll return, face-to-face, to check-in. Instead I learn to actively listen, to hear who my sons are and who they are becoming. Hearing their words validates not only themselves; but myself as well. I am grateful that they still share them with me. I’m enjoying the fall and turning over a new leaf. I hear you.