Several years ago I remember a distinct day of listening and trying to walk beside two of my kids in a way that they needed. What I discovered as I interacted with my 20-somethings that they both needed me in different ways. What worked for one didn’t work for the other.
I caught myself opening my mouth when I should have been silent. “Just listen,” I kept telling myself. “Don’t offer advice; don’t ask too many questions.”
My son had gone into his silent mode, yet again. Right in the middle of his story, he just stopped talking. He was annoyed with me. It was his way of getting my attention.
The silence remained…
It became deafening as we sped down the highway.
“I know,” I ventured. “I asked a question and you were getting there. You don’t like me to interrupt your stories with questions. I’m sorry. Please forgive me. I’m trying real hard to break the habit. It’s just that I’m used to talking with females. That’s how we communicate. It’s how we know that the other person is engaged. I know that it annoys you, but know that I am trying. Please finish your story. I’d love to hear the rest.”
It took my son a while, but he did start his story again.
“Whew, I salvaged it,” I rejoiced to herself. I continued to listen. Even when I was tempted to chime in, I bit my lip and said nothing. I knew this was the way I could communicate respect to my adult son.
Later that afternoon my 27 year old daughter dropped by to do a few loads of laundry since her apartment’s washer was on the fritz. I knew that times like these would become counseling sessions.
Being single was hard for my daughter. She struggled to make the money stretch far enough even though she had a good job. There always seemed to be something that was going wrong in her life and she needed someone to work through it with her. Since I knew my tendency was to try to fix my kids’ problems, I recognized that I needed to shift gears in order to allow my kids to be fully independent. I wanted to be there for them, but not be enabling.
As my daughter continued with her most recent frustration, I knew from experience that she was someone who needed to verbalize every detail and feel heard.
“Mom, I just don’t know what to do. There just doesn’t seem to be anyway out. The noise level is ridiculous in that apartment complex. It is so hard to come home from work at 10:00 with the TV blaring next door. I got woken up twice the other night with those two love birds having a screaming match out in the hallway. I’ve just about had it.”
As I watched my daughter get more agitated about her circumstances, I started asking pertinent questions as I engaged in her story.
“Wow, how did you handle it?”
“Did anyone call the cops?”
“You must have found it really difficult to go to work the next day.”
And the conversation continued for what what seemed like eternity as I listened to every minute detail. Finally she said, “Mom, what am I going to do?”
This was my moment of truth. Would I give her my honest opinion on what she should do? And that is when I threw the ball back in her court to solve her own problem.
And I started asking questions again. “What do you think your options are?”
“How do you think you should handle it?”
As my daughter continued to think through her options, thankfully I was able to say, “Sounds like you’ve solved your own problem.”
“Mom, thanks for listening and helping me figure it out. I got my laundry done and have an action plan for solving the problem at the apartment. You’re the greatest.”
Communicating with our 20-somethings can be so different. Figuring out how they like to be communicated with and adapting our style to theirs allows them to feel the respect and love they need. Listening can mean two totally different things depending on their bent. My son wanted to tell his story–his whole story–without interruption. My daughter needed lots of dialogue with questions that made her think.
If we want to build relationship, we need to adapt to their needs in order to communicate in the way our 20-something can feel connected.
Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.
“Let go…and let God,”