Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Stop and Listen

I've heard from many parents who say that their children have taught them so much about themselves...their capacity for love, gentleness, multi-tasking, patience...and just how little sleep they can get and still function.

Seriously, I believe that our children or any children who come into our lives can teach us about ourselves — just as our adult relationships help us understand our purpose and talents and weaknesses. The key is to be mindful of what each relationship and experience is trying to teach us.

It is often during conflict or doubt that we learn the most. When we struggle with a child, we must dip into our resources for problem-solving without getting mired in the emotions of the moment. Whether you are arguing with a 3-year-old or a 15-year-old, the view from the outside looks pretty ridiculous. Who is the adult in this picture?

We all want our feelings validated. We need others to acknowledge our joy or pain or confusion, or else we sense a void. Losing that connection to our children can be one of life's most frustrating experiences. We love them so much that it hurts, but we struggle to communicate these feelings when it comes to discipline and guidance. Some of us are too permissive. Some of us are too strict. Some of us are too distracted by our own "stuff."

Simple answers? Sorry. But I will say that the main thing our children want from us is time. We need to slow down long enough and often enough to catch the subtle and not so subtle cues for, "Hey, Mom. Hey, Dad. I need to talk to you about something really important. I want to spend time with you."

When a small child wants to crawl into your lap...When a teen hangs out in the garage around you, watching and not saying much...When a gradeschooler throws his bookbag and storms to his room...When your child wants to talk your ear off about every detail of her day...please stop and listen. Validate their feelings. Keep your stuff and your needs out of it. Wait for them to open up by practicing patience and the kind of love that feels so good that it hurts.

Remember: patience is practiced through empathy, mindfulness, and self-leadership. Put yourself in your child's shoes, stay in the moment, and view parenting as your greatest act of service to the world.

Keep watching for the cues to open communication and spend time throughout your children's lives. They will continue to need you. And you will learn even more about yourself.