The Gracious Art of Listening

Listening is at the heart of every human relationship, including the parent-child relationship. If we do not listen, we cannot form relationships…we cannot maintain relationships…we cannot grow more intimate in our relationships. Proverbs from the ancient “be quick to hear and slow to speak” to the less ancient (but no less insightful) “God gave you two ears and only one mouth so listen twice as much as you talk” express the wisdom of listening. Yet, when it comes to children, parents often want to jump in “full speech ahead” to give a solution. We have more life experience and more life knowledge, so we tend to listen less and talk more. By talking more and listening less, we send our children the subtle message that our need to be heard is more important than them and our words more important than their words. When we go “full speech ahead” in expounding our solution to their problem, we pass up the opportunity to listen to our children and learn how they think, what influences their thoughts, and what fears and hopes fill their minds…in other words, we miss the opportunity to know them more intimately. If we do not listen to our children, we never learn about the concerns and fears that hold them back, the dreams that propel them forward, the sensitivities that fuel their compassion, or the sympathies within their life that long for creative outreach. We really need to listen. But listening doesn’t come easy. Listening is an act of grace and honor. Listening is an art.
To listen well, we have to give up our desire to say something to make our children see us as wise and intelligent. We have to give up the desire to become their hero, the one who can “save the day” with just the right word. Rather than striving to become the wise, intelligent hero in our children’s lives, we have to take the humble position of listening, sitting at our children’s feet to hear and understand their point of view. In effect, we have to become their student and let them teach us about their thoughts and feelings. When we listen, we use short phrases to encourage them to explain more about a subject. We restate what they have already said to assure them we have heard them and want to understand them. We ask questions about their thoughts and ideas to clarify our understanding. When we have listened enough to see the situation from our children’s perspective, we can empathize with them. Then, after we have listened well and truly understand what our children have to say, we can speak to the issue and share in problem-solving.
When we listen intently to our children, we show them the grace to give up our own agenda…the grace to give up our need to look good and admired…the grace to give up our need to “fix it” for them. We honor our children with a listening ear that reveals a true interest in their thoughts and feelings; and, we honor them by joining them in their excitement, their sorrow, their fears, and their joys. Through this grace-filled, honorable act of listening, we grow closer to our child. We deepen the quiet influence we have in our children’s lives. And, we teach them the art of listening well, which, in turn, they will practice with us!

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