Monday, November 16, 2009

The Power of Listening

On Saturday morning, I sat still in my room and listened to the rhythms of our home. What I heard was disconcerting.

For the past two weeks, we've had a houseful of sickies. All of us have been run down or feverish at one time or another. Sadly, the worry and wakeful nights have combined with our physical symptoms to fill our house with crabbiness.

Over the weekend, though, symptoms of the flu seemed to dwindle. The kids weren't feverish or sore anymore, and except for the stray cough here or there, you could hardly tell we'd been sick.

Strangely, though, the crabbing continued.

So, on Saturday morning, I found I miraculously had a few moments to myself. I spent them in silence, listening.

I was horrified. After about 15 minutes, I knew I wasn't the only one who needed to hear this.

So, I brought my younger son to the top of the stairs. He thought he was getting in trouble for purposefully annoying his sister until she cried. (He was, but not in the way he thought...)

I made him sit next to me and listen.

He did. Then he said, "Oh. ... I did that, didn't I?" We exchanged a few words about kindness and changing the sounds in our home, just as my older son barked out an order to someone. I sent my younger son downstairs.

"Tell your brother to come up and see me." In a few minutes, I was joined by my oldest. He rolled his eyes and sighed with annoyance as he plopped down next to me.

He listened. But already the sounds of the house were changing.

There is something wonderful about parenting quietly enough that kids can come to their own conclusions about things. My oldest son said, "No one else is talking in an angry voice." It was true. I asked him whether he was willing to be a friend and treat other people with kindness. He said he would, hugged me, and returned downstairs.

Next was my daughter. After a week of pampering because she was ill, my dear child emerged with a touch of Veruca Salt. "I want it!" had been had been uttered by her a bit too often for my taste. And when her brothers did something she didn't like, she let it be known -- loudly.

I invited her to sit with me and listen. She wanted to do it in my lap. So, I let her and she snuggled in, twisting my hair in her fingers.

We could hear her brothers playing downstairs. They were being kind. She noticed.

As I held my daughter, I explained that she wouldn't get everything she wanted all the time. Life isn't like that. And in our home, the answer to any question that starts with "I want..." is automatically No. I asked quietly how she was feeling. She shared and I listened.

My husband called us to breakfast. So, we descended from our listening place.

Later in the day, I made sure that my crew had plenty of time to run out their energy outside. They had been cooped up for so long, they were grateful to spend the day in the sunshine. They played together with our neighbor for most of the afternoon. The squabbles were still there, but they were fewer and less severe.

I like to think that's because my children were listening to their own voices as they used them. When I took time to listen later in the day, I heard more laughter than discord, and that made me happy.

- Midwest Mom


  1. Beautiful experience to share with us and to teach to your children! I wish we adults used more this power:-).

  2. Could you come here and help me teach my kids that? Priceless, I just haven't figured out how to get them to realize how they sound. I wish I could, I truly believe it would make a difference.

  3. You are such a good mom! But what I'd really love to know is ... how do you get your husband to make breakfast?

  4. LOL, Lesley...

    My husband is a fantastic cook. And he's great at breakfast, too.

    (I'm a lucky girl...)

    - Julia

  5. I have to agree with angelshair, I wish we adults used this tactic more often.

    Wonderful post, life lesson and example. Thank you.

  6. How delightful to have had that moment and then shared it with the kids. One of my favorite utterances was "Use another voice, please." and sometimes it even worked!

  7. Thank you for sharing your precious moment with us.

  8. Listening is so under-valued these days. I'm so glad to see a parent adding the value back! It's amazing what you can accomplish when you learn to listen...

  9. Thank you for this blog post. This was very insightful and a good tool for parenting! I will make note of this process and put it in my journal. you have truly helped a new mom and future wife.


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