I often catch myself having to remind myself that my children are not 25 year old adults. They don’t possess the life experiences nor the mental or emotional capacity to handle certain truths about life. Though many times they emulate the actions of someone far beyond their years, in my heart I know that they’re still under ten making the parental approach a difficult tight rope to walk at times. I’m sure, more often than not, they get mixed signals from both their mother and me. “You’re old enough to know better,” “you’re too young to understand,” “as the oldest, you should set an example,” “you’re not the mom.” Kind of hard to blame them for not always knowing how they’re supposed to act.
It’s enough to drive a parent crazy. And yet are they really all that much different than we are? I understand there are developmental stages. A seven-year-old’s world revolves around them. Again, are they all that much different than some adults? At least at seven, there’s hope that their parents will demonstrate that they’re only a small planet in their universe.
My sister once told me about a day she got into an argument with her then 5 year old son. And damn if he didn’t convince her through his own reasoning that he was right. All too often we look down on our kids thinking “you’re six what can you know?” And yet I’m continually floored at just how much they comprehend. It doesn’t always mean that they understand how to approach the situation, but I think they have the ability to grasp more than we sometimes give them credit for.
Walking that fine line between teaching them respect and encouraging them to be independent isn’t always an easy task. Lately I’ve been catching myself jumping to conclusions and not letting my oldest daughter explain herself, convinced I already know what she’s going to say. My ex-wife used to tell me I did it all the time. Now I see it. That doesn’t make it any easier to stop, but I think sometimes (and I’ve mentioned this in previous posts) they just want to be heard. They want to feel like their opinion and their insights matter. They want an opportunity to test their theories to see if they’re ‘getting it.’ Sometimes it’s as easy as just holding our tongue
and giving them those few precious seconds to explain what they’re thinking and then do our best to validate their thoughts.
So much easier said than done and I’m by no means preaching. I’m the worst when it comes to listening, especially when I’m in a hurry. The word condescending was used once to me in describing how a dad can come across to his daughters. I don’t think it’s intentional. But the very act of cutting off a child in mid-sentence and telling them they’re wrong before they’ve had a chance to explain their reasoning can be
considered nothing less than demeaning and belittling. I know I hate it when people do it to me and I’m 45. Yet it’s such an easy trap to fall into.
I’ve noticed on some occasions, at the end of the day when her younger sister and brother are in bed, my oldest will start to talk to me. Not like a little kid, but like a young adult. And on one of those occasions, I stopped myself and just listened. I watched her and took it all in. Took note of the intensity of her expressions as she explained a situation at school and how she approached it. It was all I could do not to jump in and offer advice, but somehow I managed to hold it in and I realized that her insights were remarkable. The discussion we had was more adult like than I’ve had with some so called adults. And all I had to do was listen.
Lately I haven’t been doing a very good job of that. I’ve gotten too wrapped up in my own world of chaos, angst and problem solving, leaving little if any room for the thoughts of others especially my kids. Such an easy trap to fall into. We get so lost in our own heads we don’t even notice the world passing by. A world that could easily help us answer some of our own questions if we could stop long enough to just … listen.
So tomorrow I’m going to try to do a better job of doing just that. To the 7 year old and the 47 year old. If I can be a little less childish, maybe it’ll give those around me a chance to be a little more grown up. Hell, perhaps my children will notice and make an attempt to listen to me a little better as well. I think it’s at least worth a shot.