I heard what you said but I wasn’t listening

On the very first day of school for one of my younger sisters, she had an interesting, unforgettable day. She got up earlier than every one else. She sat patiently as my mom fought the tangled mess on her head with a comb and I’m assuming that at some point she had breakfast before mom scooted her and my siblings out of the door. I imagine, as she dutifully walked alongside my siblings, that they filled her in on the politics of the school playground before they approached the front door to the school, remembering to remind her that she was to meet mom after school for the walk home. Kindergarten is a harrowing experience for most kids, especially if you don’t get all of the right information.

Since my siblings were still in school for another two hours, my sister was instructed to walk the 100-yards from the front door of the school to the corner of the school yard where my mom would be waiting to walk the remaining 200-yards to our front door.

Later that evening my sister would tell our mother through tears that rather than follow the instructions she had been given, she instead had followed some of her new friends onto the school bus. Mom stood at the corner waiting for her until the school yard was clear. Frantic, mom ran to the school searching for my sister. Two things worked in my sisters and ultimately our family’s favor that day. 1) We were only one of two Polynesian families living in the area at the time so it wasn’t hard to figure out who the little brown girl on the bus belonged to; 2) The bus driver was a close family friend who realized her blunder and delivered her safely to our front door.

I thought about that last night because we had a conversation about how kids often hear what we are saying but sometimes they are not actively listening to what we are saying. In my sisters case (she is really a good girl – I promise), she knew what she was asked to do but she followed the other kids onto the bus because she just assumed it was what she was supposed to do.

I encounter the same thing with the young men I coach in youth sports, assist in church and even in my own home with our sons. No matter how many times I instruct them on certain principles, give them specific directions to follow or ask them to do something after teaching them proper procedures, somewhere between Point-A and Point-B something happens and they momentarily lose their focus. Sometimes they can figure it out on their own with a few reminders. Other times, they will ask questions repeatedly and you answer each of their questions, realizing that everything you’re covering is exactly what you previously instructed them on just moments ago. Sadly, there are times when they don’t bother to ask you and they venture out on their own.

“To listen well, is as powerful a means of influence as to talk well, and is as essential to all true conversation”
Chinese Proverb

And that is the thing that scares me most as a parent. As parents we do our best to teach our kids the values, morals and ethics that we believe are best to avoid the errors we made as children and youths. Unfortunately, no amount of teaching, prodding and begging gives us the right to take away a child’s or a youth’s freedom of choice. You hope and pray that when they are lost and need direction that they will approach you and ask questions, get a reminder of what needs to be done. If they feel uncomfortable about approaching you as a parent, at least speak to or consult a trusted friend or adviser, a spiritual leader or someone who is knowledgeable; not a peer who is making the same mistakes if not worse mistakes to compound the problem.

Here is the irony in this whole morass: even as an adult this same phenomenon occurs.

I catch myself all the time wondering what I was supposed to accomplish before the end of the day and realize that I’ve just missed my mark because we live in a world that demands that we do a million things at one time within a limited timeframe. Some call it multi-tasking. I call it the fastest route to a meltdown.

My mom was so happy when my little sister was returned to us that day a little shaken but otherwise intact. She was just happy to have her home even though my sister had failed to follow directions. That’s how I hope I will react when one of my sons fails to follow our counsel or instructions.  In the end I understand (having made MANY mistakes in my own life) that even though the result of a mistake may seem catastrophic, you still have your son or daughter and you will still love them no matter how difficult or painful their actions might be.

We all hear without listening occassionally and when we come to the conclusion that this is a human trait and the actions of another individual, especially our children is most often committed without malice nor is it done deliberately, then we will be much better at coping with the consequences that they face.

One thought on “I heard what you said but I wasn’t listening

  1. As a parent I’ve done my share of hearing and not listening too. Kids notice that. I actually think that’s probably where my kids picked it up. Lol.

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