Parenting | The Art of Listening
Say it’s bedtime on a Thursday night, and the stories have been read, the prayers said, the songs sung. Not-quite-sleepy kids sense their mom might not be in a rush to get up from the floor where she’s kicked off her clogs and is resting her head on a stuffed dog. Her eyes are closed, and it seems her mind is clear – for now – of times tables and chores undone and better flossing techniques.
It might be the 10 year old, it might come from her 2nd grade brother: quietly, shyly, an extra detail of the day is offered up. Perhaps by way of explanation as to why they’d like to avoid indoor recess tomorrow, maybe blurted out in a rush because it’s so embarrassing: the story enters the room, as long and fuzzy-edged as the hall light’s shadows.
The parent lies quietly on the floor, not wanting to shift position for fear of breaking the narrative spell. A quiet question here and there to clarify details is ok, maybe even an exclamation of surprise at a plot twist, but mostly her job is to keep her ears open.
The trick is to keep the ears open even as their stories are breaking your heart wide open. As a parent you will hear of injustices – real and imagined; you will hear about snubs that maybe even your kid didn’t recognize; you will hear about challenges in school that are not yours to fix. You might hear about your kid being brave beyond your wildest dreams, standing up to a class bully, or you might hear about a personal triumph that felt too silly to mention in the bright light of the dinner table discussion.
There’s a bit of alchemy there, in those half-dark minutes when the lights go off. That space between the day and the night allows for small things to show their Big Meaning, and allows for kids who don’t normally chat to open their growing hearts and take us into those secret chambers.
This is the parenting of big kids, I think: finding the half-dark minutes of the day where your child will invite you into their world, and their mind. Somehow they intuit that the daylight hours are for clearing their own path, and that the night is spent allowing dreams to guide them through darkness. But in between, in the last space between the day and the night, that is the time we are still allowed in – invited, even.
They know when your ears are open.