We were at the park. It was a summer day. Sunny but not too hot. I remember watching my son- maybe about two years old at the time- climbing up to the top of the slide, and then waiting as two slightly older kids there blocked the bottom. The two boys' mom had the patience of a Saint, it seemed. Either that, or she put on an excellent show.
"Eric, please move now, it's someone else's turn."
"Johnny, please don't throw stones. Remember what we talked about."
"Boys, play gently. Johnny, don't push your brother."
"Show me good listening, please."
"Where are your listening ears? Show me good listening."
"Eric, that is not gentle play. We spoke about this. Is that good listening?"
Honestly, how was this woman SO PATIENT?! Her kids were like a whirlwind of terror, shoving each other, whipping stones in every direction, seemingly always one step away from tumbling right off of the climbing equipment. I'm all about letting kids be kids, but in my earliest days of parenting my first child, these two gave me serious heart palpitations.
Show me good listening. This phrase struck me like a lightening bolt in my head! It was as if it summed up her entire parenting approach. She asked for respect, asked for obedience, but did so with such poise and control. I imagined myself in her place, and inside my anxiety swirled and I could hear my imaginary self yelling, completely out of control. Show me good listening Mom seemed so much more in control, so much cooler and pulled together.
"Show me good listening" quickly became an adopted phrase of mine. It began to bounce off of the walls of our home then with one child, and still does now as my partner and I raise our three kids.
We're about five years out from that summer day at the park. My son is seven now. I couldn't ask for a more empathetic, thoughtful child. He's gentle and kind, if not a little bit easily distracted. His daydreamer, distracted nature, while very endearing, can also be somewhat frustrating when we're under the gun and things need to get done.
"Please, I've asked you again and again, SHOW ME GOOD LISTENING!" I can hear myself nag, plead, and howl. The phrase that once appeared to be a golden nugget of parenting brilliance has now turned into one of my most hated. I loathe the sound of myself as I repeatedly morph into Un-Fun Mum. It doesn't matter how much I demand that he show me good listening, his nature is his nature and that is that. I've become the drill sergeant that I never wanted to be. My approach is anything but poised, cool, and collected.
While on the surface my demands for "good listening" come from an abhorrence of "imperfect" behaviour- the kind that goes against what I am asking him to do, underneath it is really so much more than that.
Maybe I've gotten in backwards? Perhaps the demand for showing me good listening could be flipped on its head, and I could be listening to him instead? What's got him distracted? What's going on in his heart that is making it hard for him to focus in on the task at hand? Maybe I could be prompting him to show good listening to his own inner voice, his own Spirit?
This dialogue takes time, but something tells me that the outcome will be more rewarding and more on par with my true parenting philosophy.
One thing's for sure: this Un-fun Mum is reserving her Un-fun uniform for the truly deserving of un-fun tasks from here on out. And "show me good listening" is officially retired from my lips.
Wishing you much good inner listening.