Stop Parenting and Start Listening

“It’s like she’s deaf or she has no ears or it’s like I don’t have a voice.” This was the complaint of my eight-year-old in regards to her little sister. Said between tear-filled sobs while we sat on her bed, she hugged her Comfy Dog, a sure sign that she was genuinely upset.

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I found the actual problem to be rather inane—a typical fight between siblings. Big Sis had been playing with her Baby Alive when she decided she wanted to help me cook dinner (so long as she didn’t have to touch any meat). She told her sister not to play with her doll, which her sister promptly began doing as soon as Big Sis had her back turned. When Big Sis caught sight of her strolling the baby around the living room, she asked her again to not play with it. Big Sis came back in the kitchen to cut potatoes and Lil’ Sis took the doll and gave her a bath. Big Sis was horrified when she found out that her baby—who was supposed to be napping—was soaking wet in the bathroom sink.

On any other day, I probably wouldn’t have taken the time to sit and listen to the lengthy re-telling of why my daughter was upset. I most likely would have told her she was being ridiculous, reminded her that her sister is only four, emphasized how they need to share their toys, and nipped the whole thing in the bud. On this occasion though, I sat down and patiently listened to the whole story. I tried to hide my smile as she struggled to pronounce “frustrated.” But honestly, I was proud of her for articulating her feelings.

My oldest daughter is my sensitive one. Sometimes she cries for no reason, and when you ask her for the cause, she will tell you that her body just feels like it needs to cry. When this happens, I worry her teenage years will be stained with black nail polish and hair dye.

Not too long ago when she was upset, I talked with her about voicing how she felt. On that day, she kept telling me she didn’t know why she was crying after I had spoken to her about helping around the house. I asked her, was she upset with me, or was she more upset with herself? She agreed that she was probably upset with herself—a hard thing for anyone to admit. I told her that in life, we need to communicate how we are feeling or we risk never being understood. And here we were, only a few weeks later, and she was doing just that: putting words to her feelings.

“It’s like I don’t have a voice.”

My heart ached. How many times in my hurry to offer a solution to her problems, to end the tears with a quick fix, had I made her feel voiceless?

In my own life, I know how important it is to feel heard and understood. In my marriage, I urge my husband to just let me talk—to listen without feeling like he needs to solve the problem. In my friendships, I struggle to tell the people I care about how things make me feel, instead letting those emotions fester and infect the rest of me. Yet in the day-to-day hustle, I know there are often times that I feign to listen to my kids. While they yammer at me from the back seat, I am thinking about what to make for dinner. I may throw out the occasional “yeah” or “wow”—but I am mentally elsewhere. When their story becomes too long winded, I grow impatient and urge them to wrap-it-up. Often when there is a catastrophe, I search for the quickest solution—time does not allow for me to hear each of their diatribes. I am judge, jury, and verdict. My rule is quick and swift.

Even though I knew that there was overcooked broccoli in the kitchen, on this occasion, something told me that I needed to hear her out. When the little one came in the room with her histrionics, I stayed my course despite the urge to cater to the baby. Big Sis told Lil’ Sis how she felt. Lil’ Sis was able to apologize and was prompted to say what she was sorry for. Both sisters told each other that they loved one another. While the problem wasn’t solved, there was a resolution.

Catherine M. Wallace, author of Motherhood in the Balance says that, “if you don’t listen eagerly to the little stuff when they are little, they won’t tell you the big stuff when they are big, because to them, all of it has always been big stuff.”

And so I resolve to be an active listener to my children. I know that there are times when I will feel compelled to be a “fixer” or times when I judge their problem as trivial, but I am going to remind myself that it’s not about the outcome and it’s not about what I think: it’s about making them feel that I have ears and that they have a voice—one that’s just as important as everyone else’s, including my own.

 

Everything My Children Know, They Learned from YouTube

When I was a kid, I used to wake up to Saturday morning cartoons. Long before there were DVRs that allowed you to fast-forward through the advertisements, I would see commercials for a new toy or game and yell out “I want that!” hoping that my mother would hear and buy it for me for Christmas or my birthday, the main two occasions in life where one was bestowed with such items.

Back when she was a toddler, Saturday morning cartoons were the routine for my eldest daughter too. We’d wake up to Dora or The Wonder Pets and occasionally, Blue’s Clues. But then we got an Ipad, and ever since, it has become the main source of entertainment—and the main source of conflict—in our home.

Shopping in Wal-Mart the other day, my daughter begs me, “Can I go look at the toys, please?” I agreed as I was only a few aisles away. When I finished grabbing what I needed, I found her. She eagerly showed me the Animal Jams in her hands.

What are they?

“Animal Jams!” And she proceeded to tell me about them in such detail that I knew it wasn’t something she stumbled across haphazardly.

Where did she learn about them?

YouTube.

My four year-old paraded around the house the other day giving hashtags to everything, including her own name. “Hashtag Abree”…”Hashtag Fruit Gushers”…

Abree, do you even know what a hashtag is?

“Yeah, it’s like on Family Fun Pack when they say ‘hashtag down below.’”

Hmmmm…Family Fun Pack, a vlog my children watch on YouTube. “Down below” must be a reference to “comment down below” which is at the end of every YouTube video, and for good measure, she added in the hashtag, which she clearly picked up also watching YouTube.

Whether air bags or spirit animals, 90% of the time, my children have first learned about it on YouTube.

The first words they utter in the morning are, “Can we go on the Ipad?” Those words are echoed the minute they get home at the end of the day as well.

They bicker over who holds the Ipad, who picks which videos to watch; if timed right, it will lead to a full-on melt-down. And yet…sometimes, when they are both snuggled in my bed watching the Ipad together, their little heads sharing a pillow, their faces illuminated, giggling simultaneously, I witness a sweet moment between siblings.

The number one rule in my house is that there is no fighting or crying over the Ipad. The number one loss of privilege in my house is the loss of the Ipad. The number one motivator in my house is equally the Ipad. You want to go on the Ipad? You better do your reading. You did your reading? Good. You better practice your karate. 

We have banned certain YouTube channels based on how annoying the people’s voices are, and quite frankly, there are a lot(Cookie Swirl C…hee hee hee.)

Still, the Ipad, especially YouTube, is my children’s own little form of crack.

Once upon a time, kids used to play with toys, whereas now they watch adults do it on YouTube. That’s right, adults.

Recently, my children have become obsessed with family vloggers, and I am dumbfounded. Why do you want to watch this family go to the grocery store? To the movies? To the DMV Are my children going to grow up to be creepy little voyeurs? My husband teases them when they are running to the bathroom. “Wait! Let me get my phone and record it so we can put it on YouTube.”

They beg us to set up challenges for them like the ones they watch on YouTube: The Sour Candy Challenge, The Eat-it or Wear-it Challenge, The Kylie Jenner Lip Challenge. OK, so maybe not that last one.

How about the Go-Without-the-Ipad-for-a-Month Challenge? Or the Clean-Your-Room Challenge? Ooh, I know…The Read-a-Book-without-being-Coerced-or-Bribed Challenge.

Sometimes they record their own videos, which I’m ok with because they are actually doing something.

Sometimes my daughter will try to craft something that she saw on YouTube, like when she “customized” her My Little Pony and I ended up with fluorescent pink paint all over the inside of my freezer. (Think: Pinterest fails for children.) But again, at least she was doing something.

And sometimes the Ipad does help to teach us things. Like the other day when I was drinking a Gatorade and my daughter asked what exactly electrolytes are. “Grab the Ipad, let’s Google it.” Or when my husband and our youngest were watching a National Geographic video of a cheetah running in slow motion.

And I guess they learn things from YouTube too, although I don’t know that I love what they learn, such as the entire month where they wouldn’t stop singing “It’s Raining Tacos.”

Maybe our parents were equally frustrated with Saturday morning cartoons and the advertisements that accompanied them. Maybe the soundtrack for Super Mario Brothers made them want to pour Krazy Glue in their ears like the father’s voice on Smelly Belly TV does to my husband. Maybe this is just the parenting problem of this generation and we have to suck it up and deal with it. But if given the opportunity, my kids would watch the Ipad till their eyeballs bleed, and I just can’t let that happen.

As the parent, I decide when they get to watch, how long they get to watch, and if I overhear one thing that I deem to be inappropriate, they immediately have to shut it off. But that’s hoping I hear it. How many times are they watching in another room where I don’t hear it?

Having this technology at their fingertips is scary. When my daughter used the microphone feature to Google “cute kitties” I quickly snatched the Ipad for fear what results that might yield. After all, my friend’s son searched “boys coloring pages” and somehow ended up looking at pictures of Baywatch Babes. Even letting my daughter have her own board on my Pinterest account worries me. What other images pop up when she’s searching for fuse bead patterns?   

Just as it was easy for our parents to let the TV do the babysitting, the Ipad becomes a convenience at times too. If my kids are immersed in YouTube, I can get dinner on the table lickety-split. Make them shut it off, and suddenly I have four extra hands who want to “help cook” or I have a small human clinging to my leg while a slightly larger human needs my help getting fourteen things down from her closet.

However, if the Ipad really is their crack, then I have to just say no.

Recently my cousin’s wife posted this picture on Facebook with the caption, “Ahhhh! Vacation. Same sh*t – different place.” 13912342_10210304509317910_8448687192448344204_n-2

All of the comments were cries of frustration from parents like me.

At the very least, it’s nice to know I’m not alone.

Maybe we need a support group that meets regularly in church basements. We could share stories of our children’s relapses and commiserate over steaming cups of coffee.

I’ll be the first to admit it: My name is Sara and my children are YouTube junkies.