Mindy is what most people call the woman I call, "Mom." I'm having a hard time coming up with words for an introduction - my heart is impossibly tender for her. I guess I will say this: my mother is a woman who walks her talk. And what you see is what you get. I've spent quite a bit of time under her nurturing wing - and I can say without hyperbole and understanding perfectly well the use of a superlative, that she is the best listener I know. So what she says below isn't an idealistic rattle -- it is the true fiber of her soul. And one of many ways in which I hope to become just like her.
A few days ago, I was standing at the sink rinsing off dishes when my seventeen year old daughter, Kate, said from the bar-stool she was sitting on, “I was thinking about you the other day, mom....Remember when I was 9 and would explain every boring detail of a Suite Life of Zak and Cody episode and you would sit and listen to every word I was saying?” I smiled while my mind raced to find that far-away memory. I never did find it. But the implication of her comment lingered.
I don't remembering listening to those Suite Life plot-summaries, but she remembers that I did.
Kate still talks to me about the most important things in her life, but it's not TV shows anymore. It's real boys. Body image. Wanting to be good at something. Trying to understand herself and her place in the world.
Years ago I discovered the marvelous math of having two ears and one mouth and I try to listen twice as much as I talk.
I treat moments of disclosure from friends, my children, my husband, as fragile gifts. I don't revisit them in times of conflict, or with the intention to belittle or embarrass, or as tools of manipulation in power struggles. Once that happens trust is lost, sometimes forever, and my opportunity to be custodian of someone’s vulnerabilities will be gone.
I’ve learned not to over react. I’m okay to let others feel their own feelings, even if they involve me and they’re not favorable.
And sometimes I ask hard questions. Like the other day while I was driving our 13 year old to middle school. I asked, “If you had a magic wand what would you change about me?” Her comment was very honest and quite insightful. As I listened I thought, yeah, I see your point. I’ll try to act differently in the future.
To you young mothers, here are a few ideas you might try to foster more candid communication with your children now and in the future:
* Crawl in bed with your kids every so often and ask them about their day, what's on their mind, etc.
* Invite a child to go for a walk or another quiet outing - let them do the talking.
* Tune in to the voice of your small child. Respond to them before they have to turn up their volume or resort to physical tactics to get your attention (you'll be surprised how much screaming/yelling/whining is averted when you just listen to their supplications.)
* Listen when they're not aware of you. Listen to their creative play, their imaginary scenarios, the things they say to others. This will be both revelatory and endearing.
* Show them that you care now (even when it's something as silly as a sitcom plot they're relaying) and that their feelings are important to you. If they establish this trust and security from a very young age, they'll be more likely to confide in you when the subject matter gets more complicated.
Finally, remember that emotional intimacy is beautiful and important on all levels…adult-toddler, parent-adolescent, adult-teenager, or adult to adult. And that it requires great effort. It’s more of a sunset than a parade and if we’re busy making our own noise, we’ll miss the quiet wonder of listening and feeling connected to each other.
Thanks for you, Mom.