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Listening with heart

March 18, 2014

Listening with heart helps father’s ears and mouth

As published in the Daily Hampshire Gazette

Sometimes my ears get tired. It happens before my first sip of morning tea, when my 7 and 4 year-olds, Zoe and Adam, are exuberant about the new day, feuding over first-rights to the breakfast cereal, or both. It happens late afternoon, too, in the pre-dinner hour when sibling squabbles often escalate, “That’s mine, Give that back, He hit me, She’s screaming at me.” It happens at the end of busy weeks and on vacations, when meltdowns are more likely. It happens when the questions and daily reports of two curious and engaged kids, a blessing — I know, flow faster than my ears can process.

Hearing all of these sounds, I know my ears work fine. Although sometimes I wish they did not. The trouble is, when my ears are tired, I don’t listen well. Since kids like to be heard, noticed, recognized, appreciated, validated, loved — just like adults — when I am not listening well they do the only thing they know how to do. They get louder. Then my ears get more tired. At this point, my mouth does not work well either, and I start saying regrettable things, which further demonstrates to Zoe and Adam that I am really not listening well.

This vicious cycle is inevitable when I listen only with my ears. Fatherhood has taught me that to listen well I need to use my heart.

This does not come easy. As a first-born and male, I was socialized to speak more than listen, expressing myself at the expense of not hearing others. In this way, Zoe and Adam help me rescript lifelong tendencies as they relentlessly remind me that what they need most is to be heard — really heard — a message that I easily understand, when I listen with my heart.

Listening with my heart is good for my mouth, too. When my ears are tired from listening to Adam and Zoe fight after school, my heart reminds my mouth to say: “Adam, it sounds like you missed sister today when she was at school and now you want to play with her. Is that right?”

“Zoe it sounds like you need some quiet space after a busy day at school and don’t want to play with Adam right now. Is that right?”

Usually this leads to Zoe choosing quiet time in her room or outside with our backyard chickens, while Adam helps me prepare dinner or play with trucks on the floor next to me as I crank out a couple more work emails. Once Zoe even said to Adam, “I missed you too,” and gave him a hug before escaping to her room, which really demonstrated to me how to be a good listener.

When I am overwhelmed by the volume of their excitement my heart tells my mouth to say: “I see the two of you are very excited. I need to make a phone call for work and my ears will have a hard time hearing the other person if you are using your loud voices. Would you be willing to be excited in the basement, in your room with the door closed, or outside for 15 minutes while I make this call?” This actually works more times than not, especially if I offer them each a warm hug before they relocate.

Despite the remarkable results of listening with my heart, remembering — as a father and husband — to engage in this practice is very challenging, which means I mostly listen with my ears.

Over time I have noticed that adequate sleep, healthy eating habits and regular exercise are essential conditions for remembering to listen with my heart. And while my wife, Lori, and I hold these healthy practices as core values in our family, they are not sufficient.

So at night, Zoe and Adam fast asleep, Lori washing off the day and preparing for bed, my ears rest in the profound quiet that envelops our home, the events of the day reverberating throughout my body.

And in this quiet I meditate. Walking and sitting, sitting and walking, my mind quiets, my ears rest, and my heart awakens, helping me become a better listener.

One Comment leave one →
  1. March 20, 2014 5:53 pm

    Great thoughts John. I’m sure most parents have also experienced the blessed silence of standing in the darkness and watching your beautiful children sleep. It’s in those moments that I don’t have to make myself say my bedtime prayers.

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