We have days in our family when communication breaks down. Usually this involves an assumption combined with not listening or talking over the other person. Joshua and I sometimes think we know what the other one would say and act accordingly, and then it turns out we were wrong. I always think how simple it would be to avoid all mis-communication by just asking some version of “What do you think about this?”. Of course remembering that in the moment when I am consumed with my own thoughts to the exclusion of all else is the hard part.
When it comes to the kids, my biggest fault is, again, the assumption. Assuming I know what they are going to say or what they will want to do. When this happens I don’t listen – my thoughts are racing ahead. I must say in all honesty that when there is a breakdown of communication between me and the kids or Joshua and the kids, Joshua and I are usually the ones at fault. Parents tend to bulldoze through communication with their children, as if listening – really listening and not just nodding and saying “uh-huh” – is something they can’t be bothered to do.
We’re getting better, though. I find that when I really listen to my kids they transform into amazing, thoughtful people who are empathetic to the troubles of others and perceptive beyond my wildest imaginings. By now I’d say I’m a good listener 80% of the time. Not as good as I should be, but better than I used to be. Joshua is an amazing listener when he’s not working. He is especially good at communicating with Maya on days when she and I can’t seem to get in sync. They think alike, and he is able to listen and hear the meaning beneath her words and then respond accordingly – a gift I don’t always possess.
The best days are always those when everyone is present for everyone else. When ‘yes’ is said more than ‘no’, and when the need to talk is secondary to the ability to listen. Communication, like conversation, cannot happen if only one person is doing the talking. Adults tend to forget this, especially when speaking to children. If you spend an afternoon at a playground, a good game is to count the number of times children are interrupted by the adults. The numbers are staggering. The adults aren’t listening to anything but the sound of their own voices. No wonder the kids tune out.
Maybe it would be good to end each day with a promise: Tomorrow I will listen to my kids and never interrupt their words, thoughts or their play. (Unless there is some dire emergency – common sense!) I will remember that according to Merriam-Webster communication is “a process by which information is exchanged between individuals” and that no information can be exchanged if I am the only one talking.
I’ll probably never reach 100%, but it can’t hurt to try.