Story by Mark Reiman
I believe the highest compliment my child ever gives me is when they come to me with a problem or want to talk about something that is really important to them.
I know that they have many choices about who they share their thoughts and feelings with. When they were in elementary school their mother or I most often heard about the events and concerns that were nearest their heart. But as they got older and our parental ears were more and more often replaced by their friends and classmates, teachers and coaches, and I know that we were increasingly left out of the loop. It’s not easy, but it’s natural.
Since the opportunity doesn’t come as often as it once did, when it does I want to make it count. I may not get another chance for a while. Unfortunately, two very normal responses can make a mess of things in a hurry. Number One: I love them more than anything on earth and I don’t want to see them hurt. Number Two: Along with my age (46) and experience (translation: many screw-ups) I have accumulated wisdom (translation: opinions) that I know will help my child avoid some pain and suffering. That’s a pure motive, isn’t it?
It took me some time to figure out that while sometimes they are asking me to help them solve a problem, many times they just want me to listen. Which isn’t very easy for me when I have accumulated so much wisdom. The greater wisdom lies in taking the time to understand which of my resources is being asked for.
I’ve learned that the quickest way to shut them up is to verbally or nonverbally let them know how foolish, or worse yet – stupid, I think they were to get into the mess they’re telling me about. Do you know how much you hate it when your kid rolls his eyes at what you are saying? Or she lets out a sigh the neighbors can hear? Your own kids feel the same way when they are telling you something important. Even when a voice inside your head that sounds like an air raid warning is screaming YOU DID WHAT?, just nod your head and listen.
I was amazed to learn that even when their sentence began with, “I don’t know what to do…,” they were not asking me what I thought they should do. “I don’t know what to do,” does not equal, “Please tell me what to do.” If you’re not sure whether you’re being asked to listen or problem solve, listen for a while and then in so many words, just ask.
Example: “You know, I can just be a really good listener or I can try to help you solve this. Tell me what you need.”
That may sound a little weird but it really works. If you feel compelled to share your opinion and no one asked you for it, say, “Can I tell you what I think?” If they say “No”, try very hard to accept their wishes. I’ve lost some credibility when I’ve responded with, “Well, I’m going to tell you anyway because you need to hear it.”
When you do share your opinions, er, wisdom, asked for or not, do so with unmistakable Love. Love they can hear all the way to their so often frightened, confused, topsy-turvy heart. In your own life, think how many times that would have made all the difference in the world.
So, after all of my screw-ups (translation: experience) I hope you can gain something from this opinion (translation: wisdom) – keep your opinions and problem solving to yourself…at least for a while. Especially if no one is asking for them. The longer you are able to keep your own ideas out of the conversation, the more you will be able to focus on what is going on deep down inside this precious person you love.
You will also be making several powerful statements to the one you are listening to:
#1: I love you enough to really listen.
#2: I believe in you and know you are capable of solving problems on your own.
#3: I am here when you need me.
In fact, don’t hesitate to say those things out loud to your kids… and your spouse. Could someone you love and respect ever say anything more valuable to you?