The hearts of children are full—full of dreams, hopes, fears, questions, and excitement. They have so many thoughts and ideas that run through their minds and they long to have someone to share them with. Sure, these thoughts might be about wondering if they truly are the best Lego-builder in the world or what they will eat at Wendy's or McDonald's in the States since they don't serve rice, but still, they are real and true questions and our kids want someone to share them with.
We need to be the one listening.
We need to be attentive to our children. We need to give them our full attention. It is so easy to just let them talk while we intently focus on our screen, book, or dirty dish. It is so easy to throw in an occasional "Mmm Hmm" and hope they don't notice that we have no clue what they have said. It's easy to do this, but it isn't right.
I could list many reason why we as parents need to be good and active listeners, but here are my top four :
1. We can't expect them to listen to us if we don't listen to them. When I speak, I want my children to put down what they are doing and look at my eyes. That's how I know that I have their full attention. And so I need to do the same for them. When they are speaking to me, I need to stop what I am working on, look at their beautiful eyes, and make sure they know that I am fully engaged in what they are saying. Kids do what is modeled for them. We can't fool ourselves into thinking that if we aren't attentive to their words that they will be attentive to ours. When our kids seem to be not hearing a word we say, maybe we need to ask ourselves how many of their words we have heard.
2. Actively listening and engaging with our children affirms them and builds love, trust, and a deeper relationship. I once had a friend who I really enjoyed being with. We had a lot in common and we got along pretty well, but there was one problem. About half the time I spoke to her she would be looking around the room, obviously not the slightest bit interested or engaged with what I was saying. Our relationship stagnated and as much potential as there otherwise might have been, it just didn't work out. I felt insecure and embarrassed that I couldn't hold her attention. After a while, I just stopped talking. She never even noticed. It can be the same with our kids. After a long time (minutes or moths) of speaking without capturing the listener's attention, kids will just stop talking. And we might not even notice. On the other hand, if we give our hearts and eyes to our children then they will see that we care, that we are engaged, and that we want to know them. They will know that we value who they are.
3. If we don't listen, they will go to someone who will. Every person longs to share their heart. It doesn't matter if they are naturally quiet or chatty, everyone wants to be able to reveal themselves in a safe place and to be known, understood, and accepted. When we turn away from our children when they speak to us—no matter how trivial the matter—we send a message that we don't think they as human beings are of value. And since people want to feel valued and affirmed, they will those things from other people. They will head to their peers, to chat rooms, to other adults—really, to anyone who will listen. When my children have a concern, fear, misunderstanding, or just a plain 'ol bad day, I want them to want to come to me. My job as a parent is to teach my kids to walk through those moments in light of the Word of God. How I can I teach them if they won't come?
4. Preparing for the future. I'm not a parent of teenagers yet, but I am firmly convinced that if I don't actively listen to what they have to say when they are six (no matter how silly it seems to me), then I have no reason to ever believe that they will want to share their hearts when they are sixteen. Parents gripe all the time that their teenagers won't talk to them. I have to wonder, how many of those teenagers aren't talking to their parents because when they were little and they tried to talk, their parents couldn't be bothered to listen? Listen now when they are little—listen with an open heart and open mind—and I am willing to bet that they will still be talking to you when they are teens.
I am not trying to say that this listening comes easily. I have been guilty of having to say, "I'm sorry, can you repeat that?" to a child because my email seemed to be more interesting. This attentive listening, like so much of motherhood, often involves sacrifice. It means that I have to remember what is eternally important (my children's heart and souls) and to remember what is not eternally important (whatever I happen to be doing at the time). I may have to sometimes ask them, "Can you give me five minutes to finish __________ so that I can make sure to give you my full attention?" But I do strive to fully give them my ears and heart. I don't always succeed, but I am actively and intentionally striving.
And so, this morning as I took my morning walk and Caleb came with me, chatting the entire way, I silently prayed that his little boy soul with be filled with the knowledge that his mama loves him and cares about what is on his mind — even if it is all about our dog Lucy and how amazing it is that she can do so many things when she is only one year old. And someday, I hope that he will walk next to me as a teenage boy, sharing about his hopes and dreams and the questions of his heart. I have a feeling those might be more important than Legos.