Yesterday I wrote about discovering the importance of looking into my children’s eyes. Many of you shared that the post brought you a new awareness you hadn’t considered. I love it when that happens.
As I thought about this topic a bit more, I found myself imagining how my children must feel when I am “too busy” to stop and look at them when they speak to me.
I suddenly realized that considering another person’s perspective is a Hands Free tactic I often use. Thinking about how someone else might feel in certain situations helps me to grasp what really matters time and time again.
So last night I decided to recall a time in my life when I was repeatedly denied eye contact by the person to whom I was speaking.
It didn’t take long to recall someone who fit this description perfectly. I closed my eyes and placed myself back in front of his looming desk.
There I was, a young woman who was just starting out in the teaching profession. I lacked the confidence that I later gained with each passing year of experience.
Because I was teaching special education classes and earning my Master’s Degree in that field concurrently, I was required to meet with an academic advisor on a regular basis.
Talking to this person was highly uncomfortable for me. In his presence, I felt small. I felt unintelligent. I felt awkward. I felt embarrassed.
At the time I did not know why I felt such negative emotions when speaking to this man, but today the reason is as clear as the pain is still real…
This man would typically look past me when we talked.
This man would seldom look up from what he was doing when I spoke.
This man would often take calls in the middle of our conversation.
This man appeared too busy to be bothered by anything I had to say.
How did his lack of eye contact make me feel? Unimportant and worthless.
How many of my thoughts and ideas did I share with this man? As few as possible.
Did I turn to him with a classroom problem? No
Did I share my classroom achievements with him? No
When I had something worthwhile to say, I stopped saying it to him. Instead, I turned to someone who listened…truly listened, with her eyes, her heart, and her soul.
I'm sure you see where this is going.
Through my Hands Free journey I have learned The Truth Hurts, but The Truth Heals. Furthermore, I can’t REALLY change my behavior unless I am truly honest with myself.
Thinking about standing in front of this man and trying to talk to his darting eyes and disinterested gaze still causes a sharp pang of sadness. Yet, I also have a newfound awareness.
It’s now Honest Truth Time.
How does my child feel when she is trying to talk to me and I respond with a quick “uh huh,” a passing nod, or a “we’ll talk about it later”…or worse, when I don’t acknowledge her at all because I am “too busy” to look up?
And if I really want to give myself a wake up call, I put it this way: How would I feel if my daughter remembered her childhood like this?
My parent would typically look past me when we talked.
My parent would seldom look up from what she was doing when I spoke.
My parent appeared too busy to be bothered by anything I had to say.
My parent would often take calls in the middle of our conversation.
How did her lack of eye contact make me feel? Unimportant and worthless.
How many of my thoughts and ideas did I share with her? As few as possible.
Would I turn to her with a problem? No
Would I share my achievements with her? No
When I had something worthwhile to say, I stopped saying it to her. Instead, I turned to someone who listened…truly listened, with her eyes, her heart, and her soul.
To think that my child would ever look back on her childhood and describe it in that manner devastates me. It makes me feel physically ill. Yet, I know better than to tell myself that it can’t happen because that is pure denial.
Why? Because in the age of electronic and communication overload, the people physically standing in front of us (our children, our loved ones, our friends) often drop from existence the minute the phone rings.
The live person instantly takes second priority at the sound of an incoming text or email.
The phone has become a socially acceptable reason to stop people mid-sentence and say, “Just a minute,” implying that whoever is on the phone is more important than they are.
Furthermore, how many times does “just a minute” never come because we get distracted and forget to come back to it?
And that person who is instantly demoted to second place when the phone rings? Well, she notices. He notices. Whether they are five-years-old, twenty-five-years old or eighty-five-years old, people tend to notice when they are dropped from the conversation like a meaningless, unimportant and irrelevant bother.
It may sound harsh, but when I see myself as an impressionable, young twenty-three year-old teacher, I see my child who is simply asking for one thing: to be listened to and respected for a brief moment in time.
Yes, I knew my advisor was a busy man. Yes, I knew his job was important. Yes, I knew many people were relying on him. But when I spoke, there was no reason why for that brief minute he could not stop, look me in the eye, and listen.
We all have busy lives. We all are trying to make ends meet. We are all doing important things, but stopping for just a few moments when our child, our spouse, or our loved one speaks…is that really asking too much? Will the world come to an end if we turn off the phone while we eat dinner as a family? Will there be endless negative consequences if we turn off our computer for the two-hour period leading up to our child’s bedtime? Will we really miss something that important if we turn off the phone for thirty minutes to watch our child play at the park? Are we really THAT busy?
Shortly before my Breakdown Breakthrough moment, I turned all notifications off on my phone when my children were present. On most occasions, I reserve the time to use my Blackberry and computer when they are either in bed or in school. This has made a tremendous impact on my connection to them and in my communications with them. I am not saying it has been easy. The temptation to be “connected” to the Internet and social media is strong. It takes real self-discipline to say “no” to electronic distraction.
But is it worth it? Let’s try looking at it this way:
Someday my daughter’s recollection (I pray) will read like this:
My parent looked at me when we talked.
My parent looked up from what she was doing when I spoke.
My parent refrained from taking calls when we were having a conversation.
My parent was never too busy to listen to what I had to say.
How did her attentive eye contact make me feel? Important and worthy.
How many of my thoughts and ideas did I share with her? As many as possible.
Would I turn to her with a problem? Absolutely
Would I share my achievements with her? Always
When I had something worthwhile to say, I always wanted to say it to her because she was someone who listened…truly listened, with her eyes, her heart, and her soul.
Whether your child is four-months-old, four-years-old or twenty-four-years old, it is not too late to start listening, really listening. All it takes is this: when your child speaks to you or asks you a question. Stop. Look and see the color of their eyes. Absorb their words. Listen. Really listen…the way you like someone to listen to you.
Simply by looking at your child when he or she speaks produces the feelings of love, importance, and value.
Turn off your phone when you are in your child’s presence and give the gift of your eyes…it is undoubtly one of the greatest gifts you can give your child.
Is it really asking too much?
Think back on a time in your life when your words were not heard. When you wanted to see eyes but got the top of someone’s head. Think about a moment when you were speaking to someone and you were dismissed by their phone. How did that make you feel? Now think about your child or your significant other. When your loved ones speak to you how do you respond? Put yourself in their shoes. Do you love them enough to listen…really listen? Now press the “share” button below. Give someone a gift today.