In Patti Digh's book Creative is a Verb, she describes a time when her husband asked a doctor who had worked with children for 50 years what was his biggest lesson learned about kids. The doctor replied quickly: "Never, never interrupt a child when a child is speaking to you."*
Lightbulb. (Since turning 40, I've been having "Aha!" moments often.) From the time my first son was born, my husband and I were in sync in raising children without even talking about values, goals or what we each believed was right or wrong.
This harmony hit a road bump once my older son hit high school. All of a sudden, my husband and I had lost our rhythm. Instead of dancing in unison, we were stepping on each other's feet and getting in each other's way. We had different opinions of when to get involved and when not to, what to say and when, what was a reasonable gift or purchase for them and what was unreasonable, when to push and when to pull back.
As a man and a woman, as a father and a mother, with very different ways of showing emotion and love, of problem solving and communicating, it was certainly likely this disconnect would occur.
One of the first ways it presented was a day when I happened to be home from work early and when my son arrived home, my husband said, "How was your day? Fine?"
My son didn't say anything for a minute, grabbed a drink from the fridge, responded like a robot, "Fine," and headed upstairs.
At dinner, I began to ask questions that required more than a yes or no answer. As my son's day's events began to spill out, my husband raised his hands in frustration and said, "Why didn't you tell me that? You said nothing happened today."
Oh my. I saw so clearly. We cannot answer for a young man when we pose a question. If we ask a question, we better be willing to give him a few moments to respond and we'd better be open to the answer, even if it shocks us and is not at all what we might imagine it would be.
We can never hope to have the tough conversations with our children if we've never opened the space to talk about the trivial. They'll never tell us what really matters to them if we cut them down on the small stuff.
My older son is a deep thinker and in conversation, oftentimes, he has long pauses when you ask him a question, as he digs down to choose just what he wants to say and what words he wishes to use. He is by nature a thoughtful and deliberate speaker. I have seen relatives at gatherings shut him down by not being willing to give him that pause, that space. Before they await his answer to their question, they keep talking; they move on. I can tell from his expression that he's thinking if you don't really want to know, then why are you wasting my time asking?
My younger son is an introvert, an artist. Sometimes, it takes a little more effort to draw him out in conversation, but when we do, he floors me with his way of thinking, his thoughtfulness and his worldview. Still waters run deep. He has so much to offer... when I pause and make room for him to speak in his own way, on his own terms.
As a manager at work, I've learned time and time again that it's amazing what you'll learn from people if you just ask a simple question and then give them the safety and room to respond. I witnessed it so many times in the workplace that I knew it by the time my sons arrived.
Never, never interrupt a child when a child is speaking to you.
If we open that space, if we show them what they say matters, what we foster will be the development of a person who can communicate authentically with others, perhaps the most difficult but important thing any person can do in a civilized, caring, thoughtful society.
*Source: Digh, Patti. Creative is a Verb. Guilford, Connecticut: skirt! The Globe Pequot Press, 2011. Print. P. 81 www.lifeisaverb.net or www.pattidigh.com