“So then, the kids were so out of sorts since they had stayed up late, that I just totally lost it and . . .”
“Oh my gosh, I know! Mine were the same way Saturday night! Everybody was crying and . . .”
And no one was able to finish their story. Sound familiar?
As a person who likes to talk, a lot, I’m guilty of this conversation style. I get stuck in my own head, and I fail to listen. When a friend is telling a story, I immediately have the thought, “Yes! Me too! Same here!” and I think those thoughts need to be conveyed, right this second.
But actually, they don’t.
As moms, we are always planning, organizing, and checking off our lists—during every task, we are always thinking of the next thing. Thankfully, we are expert multitaskers, yet we are constantly distracted in our own minds. Probably from the overwhelming nature of motherhood, or lack of sleep, or just because we have so much to do.
And we have so much to say.
When I meet someone new, I’m so focused on my own words or handshake that I don’t even remember that person’s name most of the time. It immediately leaves me. Their name just brushes through my consciousness like a bird in the background.
In the same way, I can have an entire conversation with a friend but not really grasp what they are trying to say. We moms think we are being helpful by immediately offering our agreement or experience, especially when it comes to parenting.
But there are just so many ways to parent, and even if my friend and I are closely aligned in our parenting styles, it’s unlikely that the way I put my kids to bed is the same as hers. Or what we eat or how much screen time I allow. So my advice, is probably not what she’s really wanting from our conversation. And if it is, she’ll ask.
She’s likely just looking to be seen, for a minute, in her struggles. She longs for camaraderie and someone to listen. No matter how well-intentioned my advice to her is, she may feel judged or somehow less-than instead of being heard.
It is extremely hard to just let another person talk.
I imagine our grandmothers’ generation was better at this as they sat tethered to a phone cord on the wall and had to wait on the other party to stop talking to get a word in. Or as they sat around a bridge table with a few hours to spare.
Today, we are so busy with work and life that our moments with friends seem fleeting. We get in all we can in those few minutes—in the break room at the office or in the stands at T-ball, distracted by our devices and schedules.
I think this is how we’ve forgotten the art of listening.
As a writer and someone who likes to tell a good story, it’s refreshing when someone is actively listening. It’s rare actually, and I find myself also failing to listen time and time again. So I figured I would challenge myself to do a few things differently:
I’m going to put down this phone. If you ask me a question, my goal is to look right up at your beautiful face.
I’m going to let you finish your sentence. I’m the queen of interrupting, on accident, and I’m going to let you speak until the very end.
I’m going to genuinely hear you.
This means I’ll ask questions that validate your feelings. “What do you think?” or “What happened next?”
I’m going to circle back if we get interrupted. Kids and other people like to chime in, and when your story gets cut short and no one even notices, it can make you feel slighted. “So back to your story, tell me the rest.”
I am going to leave judgment and my opinion out of it. Our lives are noisy enough. You are telling me a story, and my goal is to make this space safe.
I’m going to be your friend. And when I’m really hearing you, I’ll know what you need from me—validation, understanding, encouragement—whatever it is, I hope I can give that to you, and that we can navigate this motherhood journey together, listening and learning from each other.