"Listen up!" That gets your 10-year-old's attention, doesn't it? But what does it take to get you to listen? If you're like me, listening may not be your strong point.
Most of us men like to tell others what to do. There's nothing like one-way communication for ego-enhancement, and your kids are eager for information on how to handle this thing called life. Right?
It's an easy trap to fall into, and you may be missing out on the wisdom of your children. Try some techniques for not just listening to your children, but truly hearing what they have to say.
Tune out the noise
Being a single dad means there is just one pair of parental ears in your household. When you walk in after work, start by ignoring the noise and seeking the joy.
If you have a commute from work to home, use that time wisely. I find the drive home a welcome period to let go of the day's concerns, mentally lock the desk drawer and ease into my "second job."
By the time I turn into the driveway, fetch my briefcase and head toward the door, I am looking forward to seeing my daughter and son. Then I open the door and it hits—television, radio, CD player, telephone and the neighbor's dog all at once. The kids are bursting to tell me about their day. Everyone talks at once. There are permission slips to sign, broken cellos to tend and Girl Scout cookies to order.
Start by giving big bear hugs, which sets the stage for listening. The hugs let them know you're happy to see them, you've missed them and you now want to hear everything they have to say.
Next, without shouting orders, tune out the noise. Shut off the television and CD player, turn the radio low, ignore the dog and sit down. Then encourage the kids to talk. It will only take 5 to 10 minutes, and supper can wait that long. After a few minutes, tell them, "Let me change my clothes and then we'll talk some more.
They now know you have entered their world, hear what they have to say and are listening. But in the next four hours, you've got a laundry list of things to get done. How do you keep listening and moving forward simultaneously?
You do it by accomplishing more than one task at a time. Take cooking, eating and overseeing homework, for example.
Even though my kids have two functioning desks in their rooms, they always end up at the kitchen table doing homework. As they're working, I'm cooking, which for me is a no-brainer. I can fix tuna casserole and macaroni and cheese in my sleep.
Meanwhile, I'm listening to them as they work through their assignments. Simple replies—"I can relate to that" and "Did you talk to the teacher about this?"—is all you have to say. You've given them It's a clear, but simple message: I love you, I'll take care of you, and I want to know you as a person.
But what about those times of deep listening? I used to think it would take a 26-hour day to find the time to go deep. But I realized there were some great opportunities I was missing.
The captive audience
My son, John, plays hockey. Unless you live in hockey country like Minnesota or Canada, you know that means traveling hours in a car with one or more kids. If it is an overnighter, that means a motel room, too. What an opportunity to listen—away from home and free from distractions.
On a two-hour return trip once from Colorado Springs to Boulder, John opened up and talked about our divorce. He went on and on about his life, Mom, his aspirations in sports, and where he felt God fit into it all. I listened and talked as well. Both of us were able to discuss our blessings, fears and hopes.
How about unexpected blocks of time? One night my daughter, Lauren, needed to go to Girl Scouts. I grabbed the car keys and out the door we flew—but there was no car in the driveway. We laughed, remembering it had been in the garage for over a week.
So, we started walking. We spent 25 minutes going down the hill, across North Boulder Park and past the hospital to the church basement. She talked and talked, and I listened.
She is 14, and her agenda includes upcoming trip to France, parties that she's planning and pen-pal letters she receives. For once I was glad the car was broken.
Walking back, I realized how much we all want others to listen to us. To be understood and taken seriously validates us. I've come to learn that a listening dad is a loving dad.
Let them have the last word
Still trying hard to listen, but getting one-word replies? Maybe you need to catch them off guard and bedtime is a natural occasion to do that.
We all know that fatigue lowers a person's guard. It happens with kids, too, especially when you tuck them in. It's warm, quiet, and time for a few last words. Sit on the edge of the bed and listen to the words of their hearts. This is when they will tell you things they may not say in the rush of tomorrow.
You may be dead tired, too, but take a few minutes to hear them out. No need to solve the problems of the world. If you have to (but only if you mean it), tell them, "Let's talk more about this in the morning. A good night's sleep will help it along."
Send them off for the night knowing that Dad will understand and stand by them through whatever comes.
One of my favorite verses in the Bible says it well: "Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry" (James 1:19).
As a single dad, that is what I want to do: Listen to my children, affirm what they have to say, and give strong advice only as needed.
Listen up, Dad, your kids have a lot to say.
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Questions and Answers
After I spank my child, she usually wants to hug me and make up, but I continue to be cool to her for a few hours. Do you think that is right?
We'd like to be more unified in our approach, but how do we successfully move from two financial approaches to one?
How long do you think a child should be allowed to cry after being punished? Is there a limit?
I have never spanked my 3-year-old because I am afraid it will teach her to hit others and be a violent person. Do you think I am wrong?
It just seems barbaric to cause pain to a defenseless child. Is it healthy to spank him or her?
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