One day I was in the forest with my youngest daughter and a friend. During our nature walk my daughter who was about four and a half abruptly interrupted the conversation I was having with my friend. She said, “Stop talking! You need to listen”. I was taken by surprise and kind of annoyed that she would interrupt the way she did but then when my friend and I stopped at that moment I realized she wanted us to listen to the beauty around us. She literally stopped us in our tracks! My friend and I looked at one another and paused. When my friend and I began to listen we could hear the wind blowing in the trees, and the birds chirping. It was really beautiful. I thanked Charley for telling us to listen and then I proceeded to tell her to say, excuse me the next time she has something to tell us, instead of yelling.
The lesson I learned from my youngest daughter in the forest that day was to ‘listen’ and you know what? This really got me thinking about listening and parenting…particularly parenting teens.
The most important thing a teenager needs from their parent is someone to listen.
Listening is exactly what teenage girls and even boys need! They need someone to confide in, support them and really listen.
The mom-daughter relationship can be so complex especially when our daughters transition from child to adolescent.
The reality is you have to be a mom first and friend second.
This isn’t always easy! Especially when you have to be the ‘bad guy’.
Later on in life, I hope my daughters will look back and appreciate the boundaries I had to set (especially in the teen years).
Sometimes it’s too easy to give a quick life lesson or lecture. It’s almost like a reflex for me.
The thing is, I don’t want my daughters to stop telling me things if I constantly react.
When I react, I notice my teenage daughter shuts down. She immediately doesn’t want to talk to me about whatever it is she was telling me anymore and that’s when I become aware that I am reacting over listening. And when I’m reacting instead of listening I’m missing out on the beauty of the moment (kind of like when I was in the forest that day.) Above all, I miss out on the opportunity for connection with my daughter.
Listening really is the key to a healthy mother-daughter relationship. It tells my daughter that I value what she has to say. It shows her that I see her. It builds trust, and respect for one another.
I’m definitely not perfect in this department, but I’m working on it.
Here are a few ways I try to listen over lecture to nurture healthy communication with my teenage daughter.
- Stay present
I put my phone down, look her in the eyes and listen to what she has to say. If we are driving I nod my head so she can see that I’m trying to focus on what she has to say. This is how I try to show her physically that I’m being present. Secondly, I have to be conscious if my mind begins to wander elsewhere. If it does, I need to bring it back to the present moment so I can fully listen.
2. Try not to interrupt
This isn’t easy! In fact, I think I’ve interrupted her so many times now with a lecture or life lesson or some type of advice that now I’m fully aware when I begin to do it. I can feel the words building up before she’s even finished speaking, but when I begin to feel this that’s exactly how I know I’m not really listening to her anymore. I’m preparing what I have to say, instead! And that’s a sure-fire way to end up interrupting. It’s also how I know I’m not actually being present. Needless to say, if we do the first thing “staying present” while our teenager talks to us, we can, therefore, refrain from interrupting them while they talk.
3. Use proximity and make eye contact
Sometimes a simple touch on the shoulder, or looking directly in her eyes is all my daughter needs to know that I’m listening.
4. Keep distractions at bay
I can recall many times when my daughter has tried to talk to me but then something in the house distracts me and takes me away from what she was trying to tell me. The phone rings, something on the stove is about to burn, her youngest sisters are suddenly fighting, or we have to rush out the door!
5. Last but not least, spend time together one-on-one
This is probably the best way to avoid the inevitable distractions that arise in our home. When we spend time together one on one, I learn so much about the woman she’s becoming and it’s easier to do all the above when we are alone.
In essence, if I have learned anything about parenting a teenager it’s this:
They simply want someone they can talk to without feeling judged, lectured, or unheard and if I want this type of connection with my daughters then I have to continue practicing the art of listening over lecturing.