Gifts for Dad ➔

I’m stinking it up as a parent AGAIN. All my kid wanted me to do was listen and I blew it. And I’d been waiting for days for him to talk to me about this one particular issue, and once he did, I went full-on parent on him. I unleashed shoulds and coulds and what-I-would-dos and added witty and poignant anecdotes for good measure. And as soon as I did, he stopped talking.

Sheesh. I knew better too, I really did.

Are you an über-parent like me? Something deep inside me wells up whenever I’m interacting with one of my kids and before I know it I’m behaving as if I’m in the middle of a heat at the Olympic trials trying to win a berth to compete for parenting gold in the Games. And nothing shuts my kids down quicker. 

This kind of parenting, that I still insist on doing because I can be a very slow learner, is for me though, not them. I do it so I can feel good about myself in that I can confidently say I did my best, tried my hardest, and passed every bit of hard-won knowledge I could on to them for their benefit. I want to be able to lay my head down at night knowing that I left nothing unsaid, missed no teachable moments, and shined oh-so brightly as a mentor. What our kids want/need most often, is for me to listen.

I’ve understood this of them for a long time and still, I’m resistant to meeting this need of theirs. Because doing so feels like it will leave my needs unmet. And wowza, that is hard to abide by. I can vividly recall a time six years ago—SIX!—when I lamented to my co-worker and friend that my daughter flat out would not listen to any advice or encouragement I offered her. She was shutting me down as a parent. I was exasperated and at a loss on how to proceed with my progeny. 

My wise and been-there-done-that friend relayed her own learning in this area and told me reflective listening is what worked best, wonders even, when interacting with her own daughter. She explained it goes like this:

Kid: “Such and such happened and then so and so said this and then whatever went down and now I feel this way.”

Your turn to respond now, parent, with simply and only a reflection back of what you just heard and you’re going to do so by matching the tone and sentiment your child used. Essentially, be their mirror.

Parent: “Oh, my gosh. That’s awful/great/crazy (whichever your child was indicating) that such and such happened and that so and so said what they did and then whatever went down and now you’re feeling hurt/let down/left out/angry/confused/happy/hopeful/excited,” (whichever your child suggested).

That’s reflective listening and my friend was REALLY good at it. She’d been doing it with positive results for years. I tried it out with our own kids and by God, it works! This is what our kids want. What they need. What they yearn for even if they can’t find a way to express this to us or they’re not sure they can without being disrespectful or hurting our feelings. 

When our kids tell us what’s going on in their lives and how it affects them, they are not necessarily looking for advice or direction at every turn. Sometimes they are hashing out life aloud so they can hear how it sounds, feel the feels from it all, and work out the solutions to their dilemmas all on their own.

And this is ultimately what we want, isn’t it? Self-reliant kids, who know themselves and can navigate from point A to point B with their own smarts and know-how? And when they can do that, in part because we’re a terrific sounding board for them to bounce their sound waves off, isn’t that evidence of some ultra-terrific parenting? Parenting that felt really good to them as opposed to oppressive and self-serving? The kind of parenting they’ll actually seek out again and again?

Six years later, I’m still trying to master this concept and make it my go-to, especially now that our kids are teenagers. Because I know it works and I know it’s what they want/need because of how they react when I do it. They make eye contact and their words flow like never-ending wells, their shoulders relax and they breathe a little easier. If I falter and fail to resist the urge to über-parent and start spewing what I think is solid wisdom and on-point, relevant personal experience, their shoulders slump, their heads dip, the light dims behind their eyes, their words dry up and drought sets in.

I’ve made some progress; I catch myself when I lapse—and then I apologize. I tell them, “Gosh darn it, I just did it again, didn’t I?” “You just wanted me to listen and I blew it. I went on and on and I shut you down even though I thought I was helping you. I’m sorry. Please give me another chance and talk to me again soon. I’ll work very hard to just listen next time. I will.” And I do. And I eventually mess up again and this cycle runs on repeat.

In addition, to bridge the gap and reach a compromise on how far apart our kids can be from us in our attempts at über-parenting, I asked them for this courtesy. I asked of them if there ever is a time they do need more than listening and find they do need our advice or to know where we stand on an issue or our help with something they’re dealing with, that they’ll let us know. And to that, they both said, “There won’t ever be a time like that, but sure, OK.” And in response to that my mama heart hurts a little and I have to get over myself. Sums up the whole of what parenting is, doesn’t it?

Jodie Utter

Jodie Utter is a freelance writer & creator of the blog, Utter Imperfection. She calls the Pacific Northwest home and shares it with her husband and two children. As an awkward dancer who’s tired of making dinner and can’t stay awake past nine, she flings her life wide open and tells her stories to connect pain to pain and struggle to struggle in hopes others will feel less alone inside their own stories and more at home in their hearts, minds, and relationships. You can connect with her on her blog, Utter Imperfection and on FacebookInstagram, or Twitter.

Oh, How I’ll Miss Little You

In: Kids, Motherhood
Child standing in leaves, looking up, color photo

Oh, my sweet little child, I wish you could stay this little forever. I wish these days would never end. They are busy, loud, and chaotic—but, oh, how I love them! They make my life feel whole. Complete. I don’t know what I will do when these days are gone. I will miss your sweet little face looking up at me. The innocence in your eyes. Your sweet little grin. I will miss how your face lights up when you see me. How your little arms manage to give me the biggest hugs. How I can make everything better with...

Keep Reading

There’s Just Something about a 4-Year-Old

In: Child, Kids, Motherhood
4 year old girl smiling outside

There’s just something about a 4-year-old. The way their bubbly laughs and sweet little faces still have some traces of babyhood while they’re transforming into more and more of their own unique person right before your eyes.  The way they ask questions about everything under the sun, listen wide-eyed to your clumsy answers, and believe every single word you say. It’s so innocent (and scary) the way they believe absolutely anything you tell them—just because you’re “mommy.”  The way their still-a-little-chubby hand finds yours. And the way they still come running to you for a hug and kiss when they’re hurt. Or...

Keep Reading

Find the People Who Will Root for You

In: Friendship, Kids, Motherhood
Empty sports field, color photo

My son participated in tryouts out for a new travel soccer team at the end of a recreational fall soccer season one chilly evening in November. He has been playing recreational soccer since he was three years old when we started with the local club. He has been asking about joining a travel team since kindergarten. In recent seasons, I watched him struggle in the recreational league. I watched him wanting a little bit more in the sport as he developed his passion—he was ready to grow.  We knew he loved soccer, and it was something he had always wanted...

Keep Reading

You Don’t Raise Your Babies to Be Little Forever, but I Thought I’d Have More Time

In: Kids, Motherhood, Teen, Tween
Little boy peeking over wooden fence, color photo

I can see the yellow blur of the school bus passing in front of my window. Soon my little boy will excitedly burst through the front door with his picture of a giraffe from art class. His big brown eyes will meet mine as I get a toothless “I missed you, Mom” grin. He will tell me everything he had on his tray for lunch, recount the whole soccer game at recess, and share all about that hilarious thing his friend said on the bus. He will then sit on my lap as he takes each school paper out of...

Keep Reading

No Man in a Girl’s Life Holds More Influence than Her Dad

In: Kids, Marriage, Motherhood
Father and daughter on amusement ride, color photo

As I sat outside Walmart watching my husband of nearly 16 years walk in with my 9-year-old daughter to buy me a box of tampons, I realized how blessed I am.  This is real life. Not only does he not care about running into the store and picking up these items, he asks our girls if they want to join him, and they use this time to talk. They talk about real-life—about growing up, changing bodies, what tampons are even for, how they can wait years and years before they need to start dating, how he will be waiting outside...

Keep Reading

My Little Girl Has Big, Brave Dreams

In: Kids, Motherhood
School paper with little girl's handwriting, color photo

My 6-year-old daughter wants to be a soldier.   When we heard from the ultrasound tech that we were having another girl, that was not exactly the career path that popped into our heads.   There’s something absolutely terrifying knowing your child wants to do something big like this. I’m sure I’d be petrified if I had a son with the same ambition, but there’s something extra scary about it being your little girl. There’s something weighty about raising a daughter who wants to be a soldier. But honestly, it’s not a surprise at all. RELATED: God Has Filled Your...

Keep Reading

As My Children Grow, I Miss It All—Even the Sick Days

In: Kids, Motherhood
Toddler on mom's shoulder

I whisk my daughter through the doors of urgent care and cradle her head as I stand behind three other mamas clinging to their babies. We’re each rocking in different ways but moving nonetheless. The silent, comforting rhythm of motherhood. I see sad, sick eyes from the babies with their heads nestled into the necks of their mama. I’m tired from the sleepless night, and I shift from foot to foot. There is hushing and humming and back-patting. A pacifier drops to the floor. All of a sudden my daughter feels heavy. A vague sinking feeling comes over me, like...

Keep Reading

Life with Autism Is Full of Ticking Time Bombs

In: Kids, Motherhood
Mother, father, teen daughter, color photo

Many of us who live with autism are familiar with the comings and goings of the ticking time bomb—one that disappears for periods of time, so much so that we might forget about it. Then, suddenly, this bomb drops at our doorstep in the form of a returning or new obstacle, so intense that it causes us to pause our lives, alter our plans, maybe even change our current paths. For our family, the new challenge has been sudden, piercing, sporadic screams. Not constant, not even often, thankfully, but jolting nonetheless. So here we were, in the midst of our...

Keep Reading

Youth Sports Build Strong Kids

In: Kids
Young girl with gymnastics medal, color photo

My kids are heavily involved in sports. My son plays for an elite basketball team and my daughter competes on an Xcel gymnastics team. It takes up a lot of our time and a lot of our money. Even though prioritizing youth sports seems to be an American norm, we still sometimes receive criticism and judgment as to why we would spend so much of our time and resources on it. (“Don’t you know the chances of your child going pro is less than 1%?”) As I sat at my daughter’s gymnastics meet, listening to the parents cheer so excitedly...

Keep Reading

Don’t Let Anyone Rush You, Mama

In: Kids, Motherhood
Mother with two kids at home relaxing

From the moment our children are born, other people make it challenging to stay in the present moment—they start asking questions that look forward instead of at the now we are in. Can you believe how big she’s getting, where did your newborn go? Oh my goodness, he’ll be walking any day now! Are you thinking about preschool? What will you do when they’re both in school? What will you do when your baby goes to college? While these questions may come with good intentions, they’re not helpful at all. We moms need to be allowed to be fully in...

Keep Reading

 5 Secrets to Connect with Your Kids


Proven techniques to build REAL connections