That song is clearly not about communication with our daughters.
When my daughter Mavis was thirteen she had to stop doing ballet when her injured ankle wouldn’t heal. After devoting a lot of time and passion to dance for the previous eight years, she deeply grieved the loss. And she missed the demanding five-days-a-week workouts and teamwork with ballet friends. One night, in tears, she told us how much she wanted to find a physical challenge that she’d enjoy as much. But she felt too old to start a team sport and just didn’t see any options.
Ever the problem solvers, my husband Joe and I listened for a little while and tried to comfort her but she wasn’t having any of it. So Joe started leafing through the yellow pages, saying, “There’s got to be other sports or something you can do.” With barely contained fury in her voice, Mavis stopped crying, looked him straight in the eye and said, “Dad, I don’t need you to solve my problem. I just need you to listen.” Ever since, all anyone in our family has to do to remind the other person to listen better is say, “Phone book.”
I was reminded of this story when New Moon Girls designer Tracy told me about a recent conversation with her 8-year-old about a neighbor’s Invisible Fence®, installed to keep their roaming dog home. When she tried answering the questions with explanations about the collar and a shock, etc., Claire said in agony, “That’s not what I’m asking!” It took Tracy some time to realize her daughter assumed there literally was an invisible fence. All Claire wanted to know is why no one ever runs into the fence!
Misunderstandings like these make for great stories. I’d love to hear yours, too – post them in the comments to share. There are some more really funny and sweet misunderstandings and botched up song lyrics on this Mothering.com forum.
Whether biting our lip to hide a chuckle, or taking deep breaths while she cries on our shoulder, most of all, our girls need us to listen seriously. Even if it seems funny, we can’t laugh. (Not just yet.) When her frustration is rising we need to listen even more closely, set aside what we ìknowî and try to hear from her point of view. A few simple phrases can calm her, reassure her we are really listening, and elicit more description to help us understand. “What a great question!” and “Tell me some more about that,” and “Do you mean —-?” are good places to start.
One of the hardest things for me is to remember that it’s okay to NOT have an answer for her every question. In fact, a quick solution or long drawn-out answer is sometimes worse than simply sharing the wonder (or mystery or frustration or sadness) of life with her.
As girls get older, the stakes are higher. If your daughter expresses hate about her body or puts pressure on herself to be perfect it’s even harder to listen. But you have to. Our temptation to rush to her rescue, saying, “Sweetheart, you’re amazing. Don’t say that about yourself!” is often simply an attempt to make ourselves feel better and puts an end to the conversation without supporting her.
If you give her the space and time to talk and really listen to her, you’ll both discover the assumptions, emotions and history beneath her original comment or question. Though you probably won’t be able to fix anything for her, it’s more important to show her that you will be with her and trust her while she examines her own thoughts and feelings over and over again. The gift of feeling heard by you is a gift that will last a lifetime—for both of you.