This blog post has been contributed by Parenting Matters (http://parentingmatters.in/), a Chennai-based organisation which partners with parents to build skills for deeper connection in families. It provides platforms for parents to learn together with input from trained facilitators. It conducts programs, workshops and also aims at spreading awareness on parenting through articles for magazines, talks with experts and its blog.
I had always thought that I was a good listener and a very open and friendly mother with whom my children could talk about anything they wanted to. In our parenting program, we had a session on how to practice active listening, which is the foundation of good communication. I felt very good about myself as I believed I was following it. But it was only after the following incident that I realised how wrong I was.
We were going through a trying period at home as we had had a loss in the family. Being a joint family, we all had to make a lot of adjustments. Emotions were running high. My son was in his 10th standard, so he was under a lot of stress and used to get headaches often.
One day he had an argument with some family members and he was very upset and anxious. I wanted to correct him and tell him that he should not be speaking to others in the family like that. But I suddenly remembered my session and thought I should instead listen to him and understand what he was going through, before saying anything. So I asked him, “What happened? Why are you so troubled?”
When you listen with empathy the flood gates open….
That question opened the flood gates. He started pouring out his frustrations with various members of the family. He expressed his feelings about the loss of the person whom he had adored, his struggles with his studies, his loss of faith in God, and so it went on and on. My initial reaction was to pull him up and tell him “You cannot talk about elders like that,” or to give him an explanation and justify their behaviour. But I stopped myself from interrupting. I just listened with empathy, trying to understand his feelings and worries. I gave my total attention to his need to express his feelings, rather than to my need to be a good parent by giving advice and teaching values. I had to quell my anxiety when he said that he would not pray anymore, and resist the urge to reassure him that all will be well.