Shut Up and Listen

Shut Up and Listen

Published Feb 27, 2020

I have a new approach to parenting. It’s called shut up and listen.

Last week on the drive to school, my seventh-grader was expressing her frustration with a particular class and what she viewed as an injustice in the way the students were being treated. I heard her concerns—my heart ached for her concerns—but then of course, I did what a “good” mom does in this situation.

I pounced on the teachable moment.

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“You know, sweetheart, instead of dwelling on the frustration, let’s look at how we can turn this into a positive.” Then I embarked on a three-minute soliloquy of parental brilliance in which I encouraged my daughter to redeem this injustice as an opportunity for personal growth. I was so insightful! So eloquent! The Holy Spirit was just a-movin’ in me and I was so dang proud of the wisdom flowing free and mighty from my mouth. Such an awesome mom triumph, I’m telling you! Go me!!

But then I turned and glanced at my daughter’s face. Or should I say her profile, since she was not looking directly at me or even paying any attention to me at that point, I realized, but rather staring straight ahead through the windshield with her lips screwed tight in an annoyed frown.

“Am I talking too much?”

“Yes.”

All my eloquence crumbled into a heap on the floormats. Understanding washed over me.

“You just wanted to vent, didn’t you?”

“Yep.”

“I’m so sorry. I was trying to encourage you.”

“I know.”

“I wanted to help. But you didn’t need me to fix it, did you? You just wanted me to listen.”

“Yep.”

Dang.

Mom fail number six thousand five hundred fifty-two. But who’s counting.

Are you ever so eager to parent that you forget to listen? So ready to teach and advise and pick the kids back up by their bootstraps that you neglect to actually hear them in the first place? Clearly this is an area in which I could use some work. You, too?

Here’s the thing. Men and women joke about how wives want to vent and husbands want to fix. {One of my favorite hilarious videos is on this very topic. Totally worth watching.} And this causes a boatload of miscommunication and hurt feelings that could be prevented if only we could understand one another’s hearts beneath the words. A wise Christian counselor once told me, “Sometimes all a person needs is validation. ‘Hey, that problem really stinks. I get it. I’m here for you.’”

Driving home from school that day, processing my stellar parenting botch, I put myself in my daughter’s shoes. It occurred to me how frustrated I become when all I want to do is talk yet my husband skips the listening part and jumps straight to solutions. Sometimes we don’t need advice! We just need someone to listen. To receive our words so we can process them verbally in a safe environment where there is no condemnation. When my husband misses that mark, oh man, it bugs me.

And I’d just done the same thing to my child.

So my new approach is this: Listen first. I mean really listen—not just to the words but to the heart behind them. Then assess. What would help the most in this moment? Solutions, or simply a safe place to share all those jumbled emotions that often kids—and grown-ups, too, let’s be real—can’t make sense of until they’re spilled out in the open?

Shut up and listen. A wise approach to all relationships, I think. And of course it’s not my original idea at all. Somebody much smarter came up with it first.

“To answer before listening—that is folly and shame.” (Proverbs 18:13)

May we all have ears to hear, hearts to understand, and mouths that know when to open—and when to keep it shut.

Many blessings,
Becky

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