I spend a significant amount of time listening to my girls. They tell stories, ask questions, or just release a stream of consciousness while I am present.
Sometimes I repeat back what they say, "that upset you, huh?"
Or I respond with encouragement, "absolutely, that makes sense!"
Or I ask simple questions so they know I am listening, "wow - then what happened?"
I do a lot of head nodding, and sometimes I just give the occasional ohhh, hmmm, or ahhh.
And while this seems like no big deal, a regular part of a regular day, I know this is actually a very big deal.
I listen and reflect back because I want my daughters to know they have a safe place to share; a loving space where they can discuss what is most meaningful and process the world in a secure way.
I do my best to just listen instead of offer unsolicited advice. This is not always the case, I may share a lesson or two, but I try to be thoughtful before I speak. Judgment and opinion have a way of abruptly ending a meaningful conversation.
My intention is to let go and allow - let them say what they need to say in whatever way they need to say it.
My children get so much redirection during the day (from me, from teachers, from coaches) sometimes they just need an opportunity to release without being evaluated.
Being a listener can be a tiring experience, and honestly, I don't always have enough energy or space in my own day to be present and engaged.
Especially when the questions rack my brain: Mom, why does the wind blow? or Mom, what's that thing that does that thing to the thing?
This is reason enough for me to carve out time for myself - to spend the early morning in quiet and to spend an hour in the afternoon doing my own thing. This is an essential practice if I really want to hear my kids.
But sometimes it's just one of those days - no self care, too tired, too much too do - and I have to let the girls know I am not up to the task of being a good listener; I am too overwhelmed with my own stuff.
I want them to know that what they say means something to me, because, well, it does mean something to me, and they deserve more than I have to offer in that particular moment.
So instead I may suggest a show together, a book together, or if I'm really lucky, a nap together.
We parents tend to feel guilty about what we are not doing or not giving our children. We expend energy feeling bad about things we can't afford or the trips we can't take or the class we couldn't get them into. But I think children's needs are simpler.
We can listen so they feel heard and valued.
We can listen so they can practice expressing themselves with confidence.
We can listen to stay connected.
We can put down the phone, stop cleaning the kitchen, and look them in the eye. We can sit across from them in a chair, listen intently and maybe grab their hand so they know we are really there.
Yes, we are busy, and there are many things during the day that necessitate time and energy. But as parents it is our job to be conscious of what is really important.
Many things seem important, and other people like to tell me what's important, but nothing is as important as the story my daughter is about to tell me.
She is sharing her life with me, and as I listen, I am sharing my love with her.
Cathy Adams is a certified parenting coach, yoga instructor and mother to three girls.
See more of Cathy's stories here.