Keep ‘Em Talkin’ – A Look at Family Communication
Thad Jahns, M.S.
Cutting wood was never my favorite thing to do. After all, there were better things for a pre-teen boy to do on a Saturday afternoontelevision shows to watch, friends to hang out with, midday naps to take. What a waste of a perfectly good weekend! Not to mention the fact that hauling wood was hard work! The reality was I didnt have much choice in the matter. My dad said I had to, so thats how it was. Invariably, Id complain about how life was unfair and how child labor laws were put into place to guard against this very type of injustice. Yet, minutes later I would find myself tooling down some obscure country road dressed in my old boots, tattered flannel shirt, and long underwear, preparing to brave the elements to restock the wood pile for the upcoming Wisconsin winter.
I think it’s safe now to confess that I really didn’t hate those cold afternoons in the woods as much as I let on. Sure, there were other “pressing” issues that needed my attention back home, but even in the midst of the prepubescent storm that was brewing around me, I was able to appreciate the opportunity to spend some one-on-one time with my dad. Once the hum of the chainsaw stopped, we often had the opportunity to catch up on what was going on in each other’s lives. I don’t remember the exact words that were exchanged, what specific pearls of wisdom were imparted from father to son, what questions were asked by a young boy beginning his journey toward manhood. What I do remember is that those times were ours and that they kept the two of us talking, even through the teen years.
Isnt that what all parents long forto keep their children talking? Isnt that the kind of open relationship you hope to have with your kids? I know I want my boys talking to me as they pass through the tempestuous teen years. I want them to be assured that they have an ally living right down the hall from them. I want them to know that while I dont have all the answers, I certainly can listen with a ready ear and a loving heart.
Open Em Up
Have you noticed that the really good discussions dont always fit neatly into your dayplanner? The best talks just seem to happen, sometimes when we least expect them. That doesnt mean that you, as a parent, cant create an environment that helps to foster openness. Where is your childs favorite place to talk? As you look at past interactions, where does your child seem most comfortable opening up? Each child may be different. For one it may be while chowing down a burger at McDonalds. For another, while riding in the car. For yet another, while making cookies in the kitchen. Study your child and find that special place that lends itself well to an open dialogue.
As you look at your regular schedule, do you even have a chunk of time where a meaningful discussion could take place? Or have you bought into the lie that quality time can make up for quantity time? As children get older there will be more and more things bidding for their time and yours. Dont let your relationships with your children suffer at the expense of busyness. Remember that the entries on your calendar are indications of the things you most value. Schedule some quality time with each child on a regular basis. That simple investment is guaranteed to pay high dividends in the years to come!
Listen To ‘Em
Good listeners are hard to find. Most of us, when given a choice, are much more interested in gracing the world with details of our own thoughts and feelings than we are in listeningtruly listeningto what others might have to say. If you see yourself primarily as a dispensary of knowledge, the expert imparting wisdom on the next generation, then you are missing some prime opportunities to grow your relationship with your child. Im not saying that there arent times when youll need to hand out little morsels of guidance, encouragement, and admonitionthats all part of being a parent, too. But those important words of instruction will fall on deaf ears if you havent taken the time to demonstrate your childs value by listening.
According to an old Turkish proverb, If speaking is silver, then listening is gold. Most of our relationships would be so much richer if we could just learn to close our yappers long enough to consider what others have to say. In our selfish shortsightedness, we often settle for silver when we could have gold. And over the course of a lifetime, those poor decisions can lead to relational bankruptcy.
Treat ‘Em with Respect
Dont you just hate it when you sense that someone is talking down to you, as if youre not capable of comprehending the deep nature of the conversation? Few things are more demeaning. As children grow toward adulthood, they also will long to be treated more like adultsto make adult decisions, take part in adult conversations, accept some adult responsibilities. Nothing will clam them up more quickly than treating them like little kids. Does your child feel that she has permission to respectfully share her opinions and feelings? Or do your own insecurities as a parent stifle the open and honest dialogue you both long for? Treat your child like the adult you hope for him to become, rather than the little kid you still see him as. You might just be amazed at what your child has to offer. Who knows? You might even learn something!
The old chainsaw now has a home in my garage. And to this day the smell of freshly cut maple and two-stroke engine exhaust invokes those images of days long past. Fortunately, I still have a chance every now and then to cut wood with my dad. Even though we are both men of few words, those times still serve as a chance for the two of us to reconnect and share the latest news. The irony is that now hes the one complaining about how hes getting too old to be tossing logs around. You know, maybe hes right. Perhaps it is time for some new blood. Come to think of it, I can think of a few young boys who might just fit the job description.
Thad Jahns, M.S., has served as a career counselor and marriage and family therapist. Thad and his wife, Ann, are parents of three energetic boys.