I believe I may have grown up in the last generation where the common expectation for kids were to be seen and not heard. If I happened to stumble into an adult conversation, I had better not look like I was listening to what was being said and I better not attempt to join the conversation. The consequence of that no-no would not have been good. Most times, when adults were having a conversation with each other, the children were asked to leave the room because, "this is grown folk's business," is what we were told. What if there was a world-ending catastrophe that was going on. As a kid, world-ending catastrophes happened often. So if I needed to interrupt grown folk's conversation, I would slowly walk over to them, wait for a pause, and say, "Excuse me," and then wait to be addressed.
As a child, like many other children in my generation, we were made to feel that our opinions and thoughts didn't matter. Through their actions, it was like adults were saying, "Shut up! You don't know what you are talking about." To some degree, they were right. Many times we didn't know what we were talking about. Adults were wiser and had more experience than us kids did. However, us kids had something to say. We deserved to be heard.
This past weekend I gave a keynote address at a breakfast for the Austin Chapter of the National Council of Negro Women. It was a wonderful event. Afterwards I was approached by an attendee who commented on my talk on fatherhood and wanted to share a story with me. Her and her husband were speaking to several teenagers after intervening on their behalf to keep them from being taking to a detention center a couple of days before. In speaking to the teens, the couple mentioned how important it was to respect the law and listen to adults. One of the teen boys spoke up and said, "Why should we listen to adults. They don't listen to us."
"They don't listen to us". That stuck with me. As the week progressed I began to reflect on that statement. I asked myself, "Do I listen to my 9 year-old daughter? I hear her, but do I really listen?" When children are babies, we are good at listening to them whether we want to or not. When a baby cries she is communicating with us. She is telling us if she is hungry, wet, sleepy, gassy, and so on. What is it that we do? We listen and try to appease the young child until we figure out what she wants. We listen. So when did we stop listening?
My wife and I try to parent our daughter in a way she feels open to tell us anything. We teach her she can respectfully asks us questions about something we asked her to do, in a way that does not come across as talking back. This sounds good on paper, but it's a work in progress. I once asked a group of teen fathers, "What type of father do you want to be?" As I inwardly dealt with that question, my answer was "A dad that my daughter can approach and talk to me about anything," but to be honest, my actions were not lining up with my goal. I believe the moment we stop listening to our children and think we know what's best for them is once they can really communicate. I believe it happens as they are a toddler. How soon we forget, that our children are an expert in being them. As parents, we know what we want for our children. We want them to make the choices that line up with the way we want them to go.
It's important we realize, they are the experts in being themselves. As parents, sometimes we are so occupied with trying to keep our children safe and happy, until we forget that every so often they need to make mistakes on their own so they can learn from them. Dr. Ruth Peters author of “Laying Down the Law: The 25 Laws of Parenting to Keep Your Kids on Track, Out of Trouble, and (Pretty Much) Under Control,” had the following to say about the subject.
When you rush to the rescue, though, your actions may be perceived by your child as, “I can’t figure this out, so Mom has to do it,” or “I shouldn’t have to experience indecision or confusion. Dad’s going to fix it.” Wrong messages, folks — although your intentions are noble, you are depriving your child of learning how to deal with negative emotions or remedying the situation himself. Also, rushing in with a quick fix can be interpreted as trying to talk kids out of their true feelings, “You’re overreacting — Jamie really didn’t mean it that way!” Whether Jamie meant to hurt your child’s feelings is not the issue — your kid’s feelings are hurt, and that is what needs to be dealt with.
It's time that we become intentional in listen to our children's cues; especially us fathers. Let's become interpreters of their actions again, like we were when they were younger. Let us began to listen to their cries and verbal rantings as we did when they were a baby. Parents, lets strive to listen first and talk second. Every now and then we should shut up, because sometimes we don't know what we are talking about. Let us get back to listening again.
D. David Bryant is a devoted husband, father, and entrepreneur. He is a noted fatherhood advocate and keynote speaker who has traveled the nation encouraging fathers and families. He is the author of the book, "And David Danced With All His Might" and creator of an original character named Bozo the H.O.Z.O. the Christian Clown. David is very charismatic and engaging. He has a way of breaking down topics that make sense to the audience he is speaking to whether it is a group of elementary students or a group of incarcerated fathers. To be added to our mailing list to receive more content from D. David Bryant click here. Find out more information about David at www.bryant-enterprises.com and www.bozothehozo.com.