How often do you listen to your children? How often do you want your children to listen to you? I'm not just talking about the words they say. What do see that they're not saying? We tell our children we’re there for them, but we shut them out when they ask or say things that make us uncomfortable. We marvel at their level of maturity with one hand, then attempt to shield them from the realities of the world with the other. We literally and figuratively cover their eyes and ears to keep out the world. When the world gives them a reality check then its the world's fault because they don't understand. We prefer they do not ask the question instead of telling them we don't have all the answers.
Growing up, my mom ruled under the regime of, ‘do as I say, not as I do,’ and ‘because I said so.’ That was the parent go-to. When I became a parent, I struggled under that same regime by trying to use it on my daughter. My daughter being the mostly obedient child she is would respond with ‘okay.’ On the rare occasion that she would test the waters of my parenting skills, I would retaliate and rule with fear, until I thought of my childhood of unanswered questions.
I remember feeling unheard as a child. I remember feeling confused as a child. I remember not knowing who to ask, what to ask, or how to ask when it came to some of my more burning questions. Grown-ups would say, ‘you can ask me anything,’ but when you did, and they felt uncomfortable about it they would tell you to stay in a child's place. Another response would be to accuse you of wrongdoing because how else would you know to ask such a question? If you pressed the issue, then the answer would be met with anger which is even more confusing. For me, all this ambivalence or anger would leave me more confused but still in search of answers. To me, it was no different than a fisherman who catches and release. You're hooked and reeled in with the promise of 'you can ask me anything." Once they removed the hook, you're left floundering on the deck with your mouth hanging open until they throw you back into the unknown.
This behavior left me with little confidence in adults. I thought most to be hypocrites when they would tell me one thing but do another. How often were you told not to lie as a child but then have to say 'oh they're not home right now' why you stared them in the face? How many times were you told stealing is wrong, but some of your school supplies came from your parent's job? When questioned about it, parents either try to justify or negate the situation. For me, these type of contradictions instilled the very behavior they were trying to prevent. I became a liar, a thief, and a cheat.
Have you ever said, 'what about you to your parent?' Yeah, I only tried it once out loud. I got in trouble for doing what I was taught instead of what I was told. As parents we say we're trying to teach our kids the difference between right and wrong but what do they see? Are you even listening to yourself when you speak or are you on parent autopilot?
Some of my most profound parenting moments have come from listening to what falls out of my mouth. Just recently my daughter got in trouble for lying to me. While on restriction I instructed her to lie to shield her from being nagged about something. When I realized what I had done, I apologized to her and admitted my wrongdoing. After she thought about it for a while, she apologized to me and said she was wrong as well because she could have just told the truth.
I believe if we want our children to truly listen to us we have to be a bit more transparent when we're wrong. Trust that your child won't think any less of you if you right a wrong. You know your kids aren't perfect, except to you. Do you?
Growing up some lessons I learned the hard way. I couldn’t tell my mom the truth about how I gained my new found knowledge, so I told lie after lie after lie. I stole to buy things my mother said I couldn’t have but wouldn’t tell me why. I cheated because I thought there was no other way for me to get the things that I wanted. I sometimes wonder what person I would be today if I had just a few more answers.
My wonder of 'what if' is what guides me in my conversations with my daughter. I want to supply her with answers that take away the confusion but fill her with hope and excitement. I have found a way to be okay with having uncomfortable conversations. I let her know what I don’t know, and then we can find answers together. I risk being wrong.
When we started the sex talk at nine, it was almost liberating and cathartic for me. I knew that if I could get through this conversation, I could survive anything. It opened the door to real discussions of life and understanding for my daughter. It is a continuous conversation that feeds other talks that I hope allow her to see a world she can face without fear or lies.
I truly believe my daughter knows she can come to me with anything. I do my best not to give her the impression that the world belongs to the evildoers of the world. I tell her that as she grows our opinions may not mesh and that’s okay. She knows that our disagreements do not separate our love.
Being her mom has taught me that if I want to be heard then first, I have to listen not only to her but myself. How else will I know what to say when the time comes?