The Virtue Blog

The Reason for Two Ears (Thoughts for parents about being Attentive)

I am one of those lovely people who like to talk. This was confirmed by both parents and every teacher I ever had. Many of them said "Heather, let's give someone else a turn to talk." One of them said...

“There is a reason you have two ears and only one mouth.”

I remember thinking “But my mouth is bigger than both my ears.” I didn’t want to give her an obvious invitation to call me a bigmouth, so I let it go.  I hope to think I am somewhat reformed now. I seriously make an effort to listen more and talk less! It is all about being “Attentive” and we define it this way:

“I watch and listen carefully. I am not forgetful, distracted or distracting and I don’t ignore or interrupt.”

Mother Comforting Son This is what my teachers and parents were looking for in me when I was growing up. This is what we ask of our children because it is how they show honor. In the same way, we honor our children and earn their trust by being attentive to them. Without attentiveness we cannot steward this amazing gift that God has entrusted to us. To be attentive sometimes we have to get creative. We have to make opportunities to get to know our kids as they are changing and growing through adolescence. We have to become a student of our own children even when they aren’t talking. We must learn by watching as much as by listening. Here are some tips:
  • Prepare yourself first. Set boundaries on your phone and computer time. Relax. Breathe. Give the cares and pressures of your day to the Lord so that you can focus on what is going on around you. Take time to look your kids in the eye when they talk to you, and really listen. Don't be easily distracted when they ramble on and on with a story. This is VERY important to your kids especially when they are in those tweener years. You communicate that they are important by being attentive.
  • Take them on dates. They don't have to be expensive, just personal. If you have ever watched the movie "Courageous" you will see an excellent example of this. It is amazing what one-on-one time will do for a relationship!
  • Get to know your kids' friends. Invite them over to your house...especially at dinner time. Watch them! Ask them embarrassing questions like "What sports do you like? Who's your favorite team? Why do you like hanging around with my kid? What kind of fun things do you do together? Stuff like that.
  •  Father and Son Playing Video Games --- Image by © Royalty-Free/CorbisMy husband has done a great job with this genius way of getting our kids to talk to him. He plays video games, he jams on the guitar, shoots hoops, and they wash the car together.

There isn’t much talking, but there is a connection in case something needs to be said. I love that.

  •  I like to ask questions and encourage my kids to ask me questions (I have to keep the answer short and to the point or our conversation quickly turns into a monologue). If you do this and it doesn’t work, that’s ok, just do it again the next day and the next. After a while, they will realize that you aren't going away and they will start to open up. My personal favorite place is in the car. They are captives! My youngest son has hopped in the backseat and said
"Mom, do you have any questions for me?"
  • You might have a child who never stops talking one minute, and seems to have lost their first language and adopted a grunting dialect the next. This is normal apparently. A lady once told me that parents should take most grunts as a “Yes”

Mom:   Did you have a good day? Son:     Grunt Mom:   Well, I’m glad to hear it! Is there anything you want to add?

Just because they say less, doesn’t mean they have less to say.

  •  One good way to be more attentive is to limit "screen time". Even when our kids are teens, it is easy to let the TV (or some equivalent) babysit them. Screens contribute to lazy parenting!  We need to see our kids interacting with their siblings, talking to their friends, helping around the house, playing actual games, and riding in the car "unplugged". Relating with our kids in scenarios like these give us the opportunity as parents to parent. It might be quieter in the house when they are focused on a screen, but this is false peace. Real peace comes when we are attentive to the true condition of our children's hearts and we partner with God to see them transformed.

Raising our children to reflect the character of Christ is the goal. Without conflict and pressure, we will never have it.

  • Coach Consoling Dejected Football PlayerAnother great (though sometimes a little vulnerable) way to be attentive it to ask another adult "How is my son doing in your class? I mean, really. I want to know your thoughts". Children have a way of camouflaging themselves in an environment and adapting to the authority in any given situation, so you don't have the full perspective on your own child. In a different situation, with different pressures or relationships, your child may react differently.  You need the eyes and ears of other adults who relate to your child in a way you do not.  I have had opportunities to learn some pretty amazing things about my kids from their coaches, teachers, pastors, and the parents of my kids' friends. Sometimes it is wonderful news, sometimes hard, sometimes just simply eye-opening. No matter how it makes us feel, we must choose to welcome it.

We thank them for caring enough to share with us a side of our kids we can't see.

  • Being attentive means we can't let what society says get in our heads. They say our kids need their privacy, their personal space. Kids know that you have the authority to give them house rules, homework rules, and moral boundaries, but at an earlier and earlier age children are encouraged by society to start keeping secrets from their parents and insist it is their right to say "Get out! That's private! How dare you?" This is especially true with the most important things in their lives; their phone, their friends, and their choice of music and reading material. Don’t let anyone tell you that matters of your child’s heart are none of your business and you only need to know on a need-to-know basis. Trust me, you need to know!   Full BackpackAt our house, our kids know that we can go in their room and look around. We can open their backpacks or purse. We know their passwords and their friends' parents. Nothing is off limits. That is what being a parent is! If we are "not allowed" to be attentive, we cannot parent!

Yes. You need to know.

  •   It is rarely convenient; the moment when the flood gates open. I think the best times we ever have talking to our teens are at night when Elton and I are almost asleep and they stop by to say goodnight. They end up pouring out their hearts well past my bedtime and it is priceless. I stay awake for every precious word. Half way through I might get up and make popcorn for everybody and sit back against my pillow for scene two. My husband and I both learn so much! We grow as parents. I just sit there fiercely suppressing my yawns and praying that I will answer with wisdom.

While I listen to my child with one ear, I listen to God with the other. 

 There. The reason for two ears!

PS. No joking, my 15 year-old just asked me to watch him play soccer in the back yard, and when I complained that it would be too cold (the sun has gone down and it is still winter in Oregon!) he offered to build me a fire. He is standing behind me waiting for me to complete this post. I enjoyed writing about being attentive, now it's time to go do it!
  • Amy Martin says...

    Such a good reminder. If I want my kids to pay attention to what I say – I need to pay attention to them.

    On May 27, 2014

  • Andrea says...

    Hi there, I stumbled across your website and just wanted to let you know that you have really blessed my day! It’s just so inspiring and encouraging to see a family like yours choosing to invest time, energy and resource into developing the virtues of today’s generation and the many generations to come! May God bless you for the great work your are doing!

    On May 27, 2014

  • Melody says...

    Heather,
    I love your family. I am so blessed to get the opportunity to learn from you and Elton and to watch all of this lived out in your parenting and the character of your kids… and yourselves. Some of my own children have been subject to those questions and I love it. (Secretly, I think, so did they.)
    Thank you for listening with both ears. And for your faithfulness to share what you’ve heard with the rest of us. I know I, for one, am so encouraged by your ability to hear the heart of God and translate it into simple, straightforward words that anyone could understand and then apply. I look forward with delight to every insight you share.

    On May 27, 2014

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