Listening to Kids 8/19/19

By Richard Bleil

When I was in middle school, I was depressed, and felt like my parents were treating me unfairly. For a long time, I would hear them say one of their routine phrases, "if you think you can find a better home out there, you're free to run away."

I certainly thought about it.

But, I also lacked the courage to do so. To work up my nerves, I started a journal of injustices. It had things like times when I would get in trouble because my sister would complain to mom about me, but when I tried to explain my side she would use another routine sentence, "I don't want to hear it." Even at that age I knew that being punished without being allowed to state your case was unjust. The concept was than when I reached ten problems, I would run away, but I had to up that number several times. I'm sure that, if I read it today, it would be filled with petty issues, but the point that I want to discuss today is the simple fact that I cannot read it.

See, after my sister "caught" me writing in it after something had happened, she "told on me." When my mother found out about it, she sent the enforcer, a.k.a. my sister, to get it and give it to her. I was sure I was in trouble for it, but, no, I wasn't. In fact, it disappeared, and I never heard another word about it.

Not one word.

I understand now that parents often have to do things that kids don't understand. Just the other day, I saw parents with a toddler who was taking off into the parking lot. Naturally, the parents snapped him up, curbing his fun. I didn't stick around long enough to see it, but I'm sure they explained to him why he needs to be more careful, which, in his mind, probably sounded like scolding. Kids need to learn, there's no two ways about that, but they also need to be heard.

Did my mother read the journal? Did she agree or disagree? Could she explain any of the entries? I will never know. All I did know was that, again, I was not heard.

Kids reach out to us in a myriad of ways. The journal was my desire to be heard. When I avoided playing with other kids, it was a cry for help. When I isolated myself during holidays, it was a need expressing itself. By the time I reached the point of sitting in my own room, knife to my wrist, it was too late, and I was too far away for anybody to hear the cries.

You can dismiss this blog if you like. I admit that I'm not a parent. I don't know what it's like to just need five minutes of peace and quiet (my dad's favorite complaint), but I do know what it's like to reach out to be heard, only to be dismissed.

Even today, one of my major "triggers" is being ignored. My ideas are not all gems, I get that. And if I have an idea and it is rejected, that is okay, if I'm heard. But when I have something to share and am not even heard, then it must be a conscious effort to maintain my cool. I have no doubt that this is learned from my mother, who forced me to ramp up my anger and act in very immature ways before she finally, in exasperation, would blurt out in anger, "WHAT?"

What? Just listen. Usually by then I forgot what it was I wanted to say, and I had forgotten what I wanted to say because her lack of attention became more pressing.

Sometimes parents have to be "the bad guy". I get that. Kids who are never disciplined are the kids that most need it. And you can't talk to toddlers like they are adults. I get that, too. You can't even talk to some adults like they are adults. But a parent can always listen. A parent can always explain. The child may not be able to comprehend, and a child might not agree, which is when a parent needs to be a parent, rather than a friend. But children need to be heard. They have feelings, angst, depression, frustration, desires, needs, and among them is the need to be heard.

Listen to your children. They have something to say.