“Why did you hit her?” I am forced to ask
“I was saying ‘STOP! STOP! STOP!’ and she did not stop. She wouldn’t listen to me!” he whines.
“He asked me for help, and I was explaining, and he stopped listening!” she retorts.
We’ve had a listening problem at our house for as long as I can remember.
Every Sunday night, we take a few minutes after dinner and talk through our standard questions:
What were good things that happened this week?
What were some challenges we had?
What was challenging for you?
How can we make some good choices this week that will help us overcome our challenges?
When we get to our second set of questions, someone always says “Listening.” As in, we didn’t, we don’t, we try and we fail hard at listening.
And THE HITTING. Good Lord, the hitting.
It is a new form of power struggle we’ve never dealt with before. We’d have a random hit here or there, but this level of hitting is unprecedented. How many times do you ground a kid? How many things do you take away? (For the record: our answer was to give all the groundings, and take all the things!)
I firmly believe, if something isn’t working, fix it. But this was something without a quick solution. We can mandate all we want as parents, but mandating cannot fix an emotionally-driven issue between siblings. Only empathy can.
In the impassioned but simple exchange above, they used their hands because they felt voiceless against each other.
And what we did this time was similar to all the other conversations we have after conflict. We sat them down, we talked in-depth about, “This is not how we live. We do not hit. We are not violent . . .” But we as parents had to do more than tell them to stop hitting for the thousandth time. Instead, we started looking for opportunities to walk them through deep listening, feeling heard and feeling seen. We asked, “How can we change the culture in our house? How can we change this conversation?”
We actively looked for ways to highlight the kind of listening that was right for our family and the ways that we were not being good listeners. In our kids, yes, but in ourselves, too.
Did you know it is not about actually listening? It’s about the response, and it’s about power.
Just this evening, the kids nearly came to blows in the back seat over Jinx. You know the game? Where if you say something at the same time you have all sorts of elaborate jackassery to get the other to stop talking until you grant them the right to talk again?
YOU TAKE THEIR VOICE AWAY.
I stopped them mid-game and asked, “Do either of you actually like this game?”
And they said, “No.”
I asked a handful of guiding questions—questions without real answers, just questions to get them talking, and they realized the effect of playing this game is that you make the voiceless jinx-ee feel embarrassment, shame and powerlessness for fun. While the jinx-er gets to sneer and revel in their power.
This was such a big, big conversation tonight. And they both got it. They realized that when we forcefully take someone’s voice away and then shame them for not talking, this is not “just a game.” This is a power struggle on a “childish” level that is not actually childish
They resolved the issue in about 15 minutes because they chose to walk in each other’s shoes and feel what it felt like to be voiceless. They both agreed to relinquish their power. And they listened to what the other said. They asked questions. Because they really wanted to know how the other felt.
At our house today, the jinx game stopped. And not because I said so, but because we talked about it, we discussed our feelings and they decided they did not want to be voiceless. But also, they did not like the feeling of being powerful for the sake of someone else’s disenfranchisement.
And a few weeks ago, the hitting stopped, because they were actively looking for ways to change the culture in their own world. And to actively listen to each other.
Attention creates a connection. They paid attention to the issue and actively sought small, meaningful ways to make a change in themselves.
“How can we change the culture in our house? How can we change this conversation?”
The answer is giving the voiceless back their voice and not sneering with power.
This is not political, this is humanity—led by the children.
Mary Arteche, Founder & Editor-
Mary Arteche and her family live a small life in a vibrant way in Sky Valley, California. For her day job, she homeschools her kiddos and is a nanny to her niece. For her side gig, she’s a website designing, marketing consulting, art directing ninja. She’s passionate about the outdoors and making life an adventure. She loves printmaking, hiking, photography and finding the best cup of coffee. She just completed the Yosemite Half Marathon. Really.
Shoot me an email, I’d love to talk to you! liveintobeauty (at) gmail (dot) com