Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Can You Hear Me Now?

I'm sure that you have heard the old adage, "We have one mouth and two ears so that we can listen twice as much as we speak."  While I suppose it's true in principle, I don't often seen it played out that way!  Living in our house of 6 mouths and 12 ears (plus Gimli, I suppose ... so add one more set), it would seem to me that there is a lot more talking and not nearly enough listening!  Perhaps I would re-work this old saying to be something a bit more like this, "With two ears you should be able to hear just fine ... but first you have to quiet your mouth!"

Here is a familiar occurrence in our home:

Mom and Dad are talking in the kitchen after dinner.

Mom:  So, how was your d.....
Child from another room:  Dad! Can we watch TV?
Dad:  Come to where I am, please.
Mom:  As I was saying, how wa....
Same child from another room:  Dad!  Can we ...
Dad:  Come. To. Where. I. Am. Please.
Mom:  How ...
Same child walks into kitchen:  Dad, can ...
Dad:  Please don't interrupt your Mom.
Mom:  Ho ...
Different child from another room:  Mom!  I need help with my shirt.
Dad:  Come to the kitchen, please.
Mom:  Never mind ... we'll talk later.

Apparently everyone wants to be heard ... but no one is actually doing the hearing.  As a mom this is frazzling.  We are often out-numbered mouths to ears, for one thing.  For another, our kids are typically rather insistent in what they are saying to us and so we have to sort out the kids that need immediate attention (potty help or a mess to clean up) and those who really like to hear themselves talk (recounting a football play or chatting about a thought that just popped into their head).  In addition to this, each child often feels that their verbal contribution is of the utmost importance and so there can be a lot of budging and interrupting, too.  Then you have the wonderful tendency for each child to repeat themselves 3-4 times and you have a recipe for madness!

I'm sure that it is frustrating for the kids, too.  They are each important.  What they have to say is important.  Their need to be heard is important.  When our kids feel like we hear them, they also feel like we value them ... and what they have to say.  Unfortunately, that doesn't change that Mom still just has two ears and can only truly listen to one person at a time.  As a side note, this would appear to be hard evidence against evolution.  If we evolved ... we would have about a dozen ears!

In light of the need for our kids to be heard and our need for our ears to have a fighting chance, we work hard with our kids to take turns and not interrupt.  A few ideas that we use are the following:
  1. We encourage our kids to come to wherever the person they need is.  That way they know if the person they need is available or if they are already talking to someone.  That sounds simple, but I'm always amazed that my kids still call from other parts of the house and will still walk in and interrupt a conversation in full-swing!
  2. If they need me and I am on the phone, we ask them to quietly put their hand on my arm or leg.  That lets me know they need me and I try to respect that by being quick to find a moment in my conversation to excuse myself briefly and attend to them.
  3. We have a "just a minute" signal that lets the interrupter know that they need to wait a moment. This helps the interruptee know that they will be heard 100% before Mom moves on to the next kid.
  4. Give them air-time ... by modeling to them how to listen, they learn how to listen and take turns talking by watching us.
  5. Practice, practice, practice!  This doesn't happen overnight, but we're investing in polite and respectful kids.
Now ... what about Mom's need to be heard?  I would say that this is one of the hardest parts about being a mom; one of those parts of mothering that hurts the most.  I have found that unless I am intentional about taking the opportunity at appropriate times to talk ... it's more likely that this will be a part of me that is sacrificed.  Being Mom often means hearing everybody ... but not being heard.  There have been seasons of mothering in which I felt like I was a mute.  Lots and lots of feelings and thoughts and no opportunity to express myself.  I would look for a "good time" to talk and find that either my schedule was too full or my hearers weren't listening.  So ... I would put aside those thoughts and find that there were new ones that popped up and replaced the old ... but still weren't given any air-time.  Pretty soon, I'm sitting with lots of thoughts in my head that need to be heard and no real plan as to how to get them all out in any sort of order that doesn't sound like Bob Wiley from What about Bob?, "I need, I need, I need!"

And often it's not super important stuff ... it's just the bits of info we acquire throughout the day that we want to share.  Maybe it's something we read or heard on the radio or perhaps it's an experience at the store (either funny or frustrating) ... it's the normal day-to-day parts of life.  But then other times, it is the big stuff.  And then it's even more important to be able to share those thoughts ... and even more frustrating when we can't.

Seeing as this is an issue that I still deal with :) I don't know that I have any real solutions to offer you, but I do have an idea or two.
  1. Take the time regularly to talk to someone.  You might even need to be intentional and plan it into your day.  Turn off the TV and get some good face-time.
  2. Communicate your need to be heard.  Those around you don't know you are full of thoughts unless you tell them.
  3. If all else fails, write down your thoughts ... sometimes just getting them out of your head and onto paper is what you need to "clear the air".
  4. Of course, I would be remiss if I didn't plug prayer here.  :)  It is a great comfort to know that God is always ready to listen to me.  And if I am paying attention ... He talks back to me:  through the Bible, Jesus music (as Ashley calls it) and others around me who love Jesus and help remind me of His promises.
When we are needing to be heard, I think that it's easy for us to get caught up in ourselves (our own natural selfishness kicks in!) and forget that others need to speak what is in their minds and hearts, too.  (Kinda like our kids!)  I read a book recently that had a quote that both convicted me and challenged me to look at communication a little differently.  Alexander McCall Smith is the author of "The Unbearable Lightness of Scones" among many other books.  During an interaction of two characters, Smith writes this, 
"How often have I noticed or, indeed, listened to him?  We talk, but do I actually listen, or is our conversation mainly a question of my waiting for him to stop and for it to be my turn to say something?  For how many of us is that what conversation means - the setting up of our lines?"
So I guess this post goes full circle ... we need to talk, but we also need to listen ... and talk ... and listen.   Hey ... that's kind of how conversations are supposed to go! :)

Yes, we have two ears so that we will listen more ... but we can't ignore our own need to talk, too.  It's our job to find the balance ... and then teach it to our children! :)

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