Why don’t parents listen to their children?
There's nodding to give the appearance of listening and there's actually seeking to understand. Though many of us rely more on the former than the latter, how can we love someone and be uninterested in understanding them? Maybe you’re a parent who's more interested in the oft-asked opposite–why don’t children listen to their parents? Well, we reap what we sow. If parents listen, it's more likely their children will follow suit.
If you think it's your privilege to do all the talking, you're not taking the long view. Poor listening leads to poor relationships, which could explain why some kids go off the rails with seemingly no warning, why adults don’t call their parents, and why grandparents don’t see their grandkids.
Despite the appalling lack of curiosity about this question, I think it’s worth exploring. Here are my theories about why some parents cover their ears:
1) EGO – I’m not a parent, but I imagine it's a huge ego boost for someone to treat you as if you are the source of all wisdom–even if only for a few years. And since you know so much, there's no harm in letting your kids benefit from all your wisdom–right? But being in constant teaching mode can obscure the fact that the best teachers also love to learn. Teachers talk and students listen. Good parents do both.
2) MISCONCEPTION – Parents may believe that children don’t have anything of value to say because they are blank slates. Or maybe parental vanity suggests that children are mere reflections of their parents (and everyone knows shadows don’t talk). If these myths are true, how is it that children display their unique personalities, strengths, preferences, and weaknesses from a young age?
3) TRADITION – Perhaps you subscribe to the ancient adage that children should be seen and not heard. Perhaps you were a victim of this tradition and couldn't wait to take center stage as a parent. But why perpetuate a terrible tradition that devalues people? Give your kids a break and stop making them your captive audience.
4) INCONVENIENCE – Parenting is hard work. After housing, feeding, clothing, cleaning, teaching, and disciplining your child, you’re tired! You don't have time to listen to their ideas, hopes, feelings, fears, and dreams. But listening doesn't have to be a standalone activity. You can listen while you're eating dinner or doing the dishes together. I truly believe it's these moments that preserve the parent-child relationship long after the hard work of child-rearing is done.
5) FEAR – Fear that a child may say something you don't want to hear may make you reluctant to give them an opening. But isn't this the same fear that breeds intolerance and hate? Are these really the traits you want to instill in your children? If you want your kids to learn to tolerate different opinions, you can start by modeling this behavior for them.
With all parents have to do, adding listening to the list may seem ridiculous–even frivolous. However, listening is not an ostentatious gift–it’s a simple one. Without it, parenting becomes merely a series of repeated transactions that become obsolete when your child grows up.
I'll leave you with the words of noted author (and father of nine!) Stephen R. Covey. In his timeless book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, he offers this insight on how empathetic listening is essential to relationship building: “Children desperately want to open up, even more to their parents than to their peers. And they will, if they feel their parents will love them unconditionally and will be faithful to them afterwards and not judge or ridicule them.”