Mommy Daughter Lunch Dates/ A Training Ground For Listening
My two year old is going on 16. She is already trying to steal my makeup and handbags. She insists on having her hair done a certain way. I have little control over the clothing she wants to wear (all pink tutus. Every. Single. Day.) and when I tell her to get in the car, she walks straight to the drivers side door and asks to drive. Last week she handed me a plastic tea cup, directed me to sit on the couch and told me to drink my “coffee”. She Proceeded to sit on the couch across from me with her plastic ice cream cone, looked right at me and said “Whacha wanna talk about?” in the tiniest little voice. I almost died. We sat for an entire hour across from one another and talked. We talked about her day, we talked about Elmo’s favorite color lollipop, we talked about the day she went to Sesame Place and how she missed Grandma and Grandpa. We talked about how the rat from lady and the trap makes her feel scared and how she likes to visit the ducks at the pond.
She only turned two last month but already I see her deep desire for face to face connection and relationship. I decided that I want to start taking her on special little coffee dates where we can go out, she can get a little snack and we can just sit and talk. I want her to grow up knowing that the fears and joys her heart carries are safe with me. I also want to learn, as her mother, how to listen to her well.
Over the years people have told me I am a good listener and as a counselor it’s something I do often, but the truth is I don’t feel like a great listener most of the time. At least it’s not easy for me. I find that it takes far less energy to simply give advice than to ask good clarifying questions and listen patiently. This is even more difficult for me to do with family. I often find that I listen far better to a friend than to my husband for example. While he should get the absolute best of me, for some reason it feels far more difficult to be patient with the people closest to me. I know this will be the same with my daughter. I imagine that with Ayla, when I see her making decisions I would not make or going in a direction I would not go in, that it would be easy to give advice. I know myself and my first response, left on autopilot, will be to direct her on what to think, what to do and how to feel. If I have learned anything about relationships it is that nothing shuts down communication faster than throwing advice at people. And yet I find myself still fighting the urge to do it.
It’s true that as her mother it will be my job to direct and guide her. The question is not, do I guide my daughter? The question is HOW will I guide my daughter? There will be times that I have no choice, due to decisions she is making, to step in strongly and set boundaries. I know those moments will come. My desire though, is that those moments will be few and far between. My hope is to learn to listen in a way that makes her feel she can process decisions with me (before making the bad ones!) and trusts that I will take the time to understand, empathize and ask questions before sharing advice. I want to learn to question her in a way that I can help her to see on her own, the right path to take without me ever needing to give the advice at all. But again, I know myself. I will have to fight every controlling tendency in my body to not throw advice at my daughter. I don’t think I will wake up one day when she is a teenager and just hope that when life is hard for her I will listen well. If I am not learning to intentionally grow in the art of listening and asking questions now, when the topics get serious and life gets hard and bigger things are at stake than Elmo’s favorite color lollipop, I wont listen well then either.
These little coffee dates are more than just a fun outing and some time spent together. This is a training ground where I grow in the art of drawing out my daughter’s heart and she learns to trust if it is safe for her to share. If you are wondering if listening patiently to your toddler tell the same story for the 50th time or drawing out questions about their favorite characters food items is important, it is. You are saying to them, I want to know you. I love what’s in your heart and everything that is in there is safe with me. I care about these things because they are important to you and you are so valuable to me. For me to delight in knowing Elmo “wants to eat a strawberry lollipop” and then “feed the ducky’s cheerios” is to delight in my daughters world and the things that matter to her. In the business of my day there are few things that matter more deeply than communicating to her that she is loved and that I desire to know her. It’s worth every second to take a break from the chores and the errands and learn to ask questions and deeply listen.