Why Listening Is The Secret To Success
I was a firm believer in family mealtimes. "Mealtimes help families stay together," was my motto." But when we moved house, and removed the drawers from our kitchen table- hidden at the back were mounds of green beans and broccoli. My daughters had been secretly depositing the dreaded green vegetables for years. My wife and I had never noticed. Looking back I can remember the expression on Freya's face when I remarked: "Good! You've eaten your Broccoli"- it was a mixture of amusement, fear and secrecy. My daughters were in on this secret together, and never gave each other away. Family mealtimes were not as they seemed.
Before the busy school run my family had breakfast together. But for us the morning rush was more a stampede, than a 'special time'. Getting ready for work, packing lunches, finding shoes and socks. Everything done with mounting panic- "We're gonna be late." I hate being late. But children have a different sense of time. And different priorities. Often, children are happy to be late- they want to be late!
It's no surprise then that morning breakfast was not the leisurely, bonding time I hoped for. Each morning Freya( my youngest daughter) told us her dream, from the night before. These dreams were marathon long sequences of seemingly unrelated events. And they went on and on.......and on.....They were dreams without end! As I listened- a battle went on inside my head. I wanted to be a good parent. One who listened and encouraged her daughter. But I also wanted Freya to stop talking. I wanted to drink my coffee in peace.
It's when we are at our most busy, stressed and harassed that we truly need to listen. On days like these my youngest daughter would knock things from the table. A cup, a plate, a drink- flew into the air and gleefully spilled its contents over the table and floor. Everybody cried out,"Freya!!".
That was Freya's why of saying: "Stop! Why are we rushing? Why is everyone so stressed out and serious? Everybody, listen."
Children need to feel 'connection' with their parents. As they grow, connection helps them feel safe. The world is loud, fast moving, and complicated- it's bewildering for children. They don't understand why they have to abandon their Lego game and rush into a suffocating car, and be raced to school. But when they feel connected they will do the things the adult world demands- usually without too much fuss.
Parents must grow that connection. It takes effort. It doesn't just happen naturally. One way to strengthen the connection is to listen. Listening means fully accepting and receiving without judgement. Adults need this in their lives too- in counselling it's called, 'unconditional positive regard.' We listen without commenting, interrupting or criticising. It takes some practice. Once a week, for an hour on Tuesday evening I practice this kind of listening with my partner. We've done it for 3 years. Being fully listened to is the greatest stress reliever in the world.
When my daughter was 12 and I was busy at work- and often working in the evenings, I felt our connection weaken. So every Thursday lunch break I met my daughter and we played cards, something she loved to do. I made an effort to listen. I reminded myself, "Patrick, listen to your daughter. Ask her about her friends, what she likes, and dislikes. Don't try and teach her, or parent her. Just listen." She had hot chocolate. This was our special time. It took 20 minutes. But we built a connection through listening.
Through the difficult teenage years we kept our bond and connection. Our relationship is based on listening. We listen to each other. Relationships can weather many a storm- moving house, separation, deaths, disappointments. So long as we listen. Listening strengthens the bond and connection between parent and child.