A new perspective in grief

Typically, the beginning of a new year has always prompted in me a fresh resolve to begin or recommit to a resolution that fell by the wayside long ago; usually a casualty of the inevitable hurly burly of life and the big beautiful mess that it so often is. The turning over of a brand new calendar page will evoke in me an optimism for the year that lies ahead. I am an optimist at heart and therefore am hopeful that a new year will be a little better. Summer has naturally been a time to take stock and plan for the year ahead.  However, this year I’ve approached things very differently. The events of the past 18 months have left on me a big heart wound. Last year was filled with so much sadness and grief, one does not simply turn the page and move on as if all that was in the past has no lasting impact on the present. While the end of a year naturally brings to a conclusion some things, feelings and emotions are a little more elusive to box up. Rather than resolving to do and be someth

Are you a good listener? The art of holding your tongue.

I’ve been treating myself of late to watching previous seasons of The Crown (a Netflix drama) in anticipation for the new series about to air. In one episode, the Queen was bemoaning to her mother, the fact that she felt ill-equipped to converse with the many educated people she was required to meet. She acknowledged a desire to be able to talk more intelligently about matters of science and philosophy, instead of being confined to talking about dogs and horses. Her mother’s response was to say, “You know when to keep your mouth shut; that’s more important than anything.” The conversation is then interrupted by the announcement that the Prime Minister wants to speak with her, to which her mother rudely quips, “You can smile politely while he drones on.”

When it comes to talking with my own children, I confess that I find keeping my mouth shut extremely hard to do. It’s not a skill I naturally possess. For me, it requires much effort to refrain from speaking; taking more mental energy and self control. To ask me to confine my remarks to just asking questions or saying things like, “I can see this is hard for you” without being able to offer advice or an alternative point of view, feels unnatural…like I haven’t finished my sentence. My natural inclination is to speak. To offer wisdom, to tell a story of my own experience, to try and fix the problem, to say something…anything. I can empathise with the Queen’s frustration in being expected to keep her mouth shut, or appear to hold no opinion.

There are many times when my teens just want to vent; to say everything that is going on inside of them, out loud. They don’t want an opinion, they don’t want me to solve anything - they just want me to listen. Neither do they want me to smile politely while they drone on; they can spot a fake a mile away. They want me to be a genuine listener.

Of late, I’ve been getting things horribly wrong. All too often, I have misjudged intentions and moods, and jumped in to saying something, only to find I’ve fallen into another ditch - the one I had climbed out of, hours earlier. Someone has burst into my kitchen with issues and angst, ready to give me a long spiel about how ‘life sucks’, and how it’s the other person’s fault, or teachers really have no clue how to teach; usual teenage complaints. However, the moment I’ve gone to offer advice, or a counter point of view - rolling eyes, facial expressions that clearly convey annoyance, a quip about never understanding, then a swift exit. I’m left with that awful feeling that I’ve messed up again. I ask myself, “What did I say that was so wrong?”

In a recent seminar I attended, “Surviving the Rollercoaster of Adolescence” the speaker Chris Hudson offered up 5 parenting traps to avoid, and then 5 things to do. This list is a good prompt for any parent feeling like they’re always falling into common relational traps.

1. Don’t take the bait.

2. Don’t escalate

3. Don’t be blackmailed

4. Don’t take it personally

5. Don’t give up

6. Consistently apply

7. Ask, “Are you okay?”

8. Ask them questions

9. Get curious

10. Keep your opinions

To be a good listener is definitely a skill one needs in ones toolkit to parent teens well. I’ve learned from painful experience that it is wise not to “poke the bear” and to exercise self control for the sake of maintaining a good relationship. While I am entitled to hold an opinion, there is strength of character in being able to wait for an invitation to share it. Fortunately, unlike the Queen, my job description does not require me to resolutely hold firm to being an impartial, stoic figure head - rather a loving, emotionally invested adult who chooses to keep quiet at times and just listen.


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