Listening

by Emma on February 4, 2011

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On the way to Playschool the other morning, I glanced in the rearview mirror and saw tears sliding down my 21-month-old’s cheeks.

“Ruby, what’s wrong, honey?” I asked, concerned and surprised – she’d been talking excitedly all morning about visiting her friends at school, where she spends two mornings a week.

“Oww, mama,” she said, tapping her nose with her forefinger, her eyes welling up even more. She’d just gotten over a nasty cold that had kept her out of school for a full week.

We pulled into the drop-off at school, and my daughter’s favorite teacher was waiting to take her inside. Ruby started really crying as I unbuckled her. “Oh, she’ll be fine,” her teacher smiled at me. “We can handle it!”

“I’m sure you can,” I smiled back, “but let me have a minute with her.”

I held Ruby tight and looked in her eyes.

“Ruby, do you really not feel good?”

“No, mama.” (sniff, sniff)

“Do you want to go to school today?”

“No.” (sniff)

“Do you just need to come home with mama?”

“Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah.” (nod sniff nod sniff)

In a split second, I mentally ticked through all my work plans for the morning – and then brushed them away. When it comes right down to it, there’s just not a thing more important than doing what my daughter needs. So home we went, much to the consternation of Ruby’s teachers. I think they thought I was “giving in” to her, or “spoiling” her. But I like to think I just chose to listen to my child. My daughter, who, just like all of us, has her very own needs and emotions, her good days and bad days. I know her well enough to know when she is truly upset and uncomfortable, and when she needs a break. Whatever the reason, she very clearly did not want to be at school that day.

When I was growing up, my parents occasionally let me take what they called “mental health days” when I got too stressed out about school. That time away was invaluable to me, an over-achiever who worried too much from a very young age. I remember those days so clearly, how they’d help me calm down, re-focus, and feel more connected to whichever parent I spent that day with.

I want my daughter to be able to have those kinds of days. I want her to trust that I will listen to her and take her seriously. That when she has an emotional need, I’ll do everything I can to meet it. I think part of my job as a parent is knowing her well enough to see those cues, to know when “My nose hurts” actually means “I need some time with you.” So that morning, instead of working as I’d planned, I cuddled with my daughter. We read books, ate snacks, and danced to her “silly music.” And truly? That time together was more valuable than anything else I could have been doing.

Has there been a time when truly listening to your child changed your plans or your approach to a certain situation?

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Emma (4 Posts)

Emma is an attached mama to her wild, chatterbox three-year-old girl and sweet baby boy. Currently on a year maternity leave from her full-time work-from-home job, she can usually be found nursing, washing cloth diapers, mediating budding sibling conflict, cuddling with her kiddos, and catching the occasional cup of tea with a good friend.


{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Mary February 4, 2011 at 8:04 am

Bravo for not worrying too much about what the teachers thought. its crazy how often we feel pressure based on other peoples opinions on parenting! When we should be going on our own instincts! I enjoyed this article. Thanks :)

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Jackie February 4, 2011 at 9:24 am

(correction) I agree in spirit with your posting, however I couldn’t get past the fact you have a very tiny, petite 21 month old forward facing.

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Emma February 5, 2011 at 10:23 pm

Thanks for your comment and concern, Jackie. Duly noted!

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Corinne Grimes February 4, 2011 at 1:28 pm

This is such a wonderful reminder of how important our kids feelings are on any given moment or day. My daughter isn’t in school yet, but I have put the stop on quite a few plans at different times to just stay home, because it seemed like she needed to be on the home base and nurse all morning long. I’m always saddened when I see kids feelings disregarded, and it seems like such a clear line to a disconnected and unattached society. Kudos to you for listening to your daughter’s feelings. What a lucky little girl! And I’m sure what a blessing to take that time for you and your daughter that day. One to remember, I’m sure!

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Lauren Babbage February 4, 2011 at 1:57 pm

Lovely. This is the kind of parent I’m working on being, too. I often think, “will I regret this when she’s all grown up and out of the house?” and when the answer is “no” (and it usually is), we click.

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Teresa February 4, 2011 at 3:46 pm

This is a beautiful and inspiring story, thank you for sharing it.
I came home late the other day, due to an emergent situation at work, to my 20-month-old who, earlier that morning, I had told would have lots of play time with Mama before bed. Upon seeing me, he smiled and then ran away into his room where he’d been playing with Daddy. I followed him and watched him begin to exhibit an unusual level of energy and act in avoidant, ambivalent, and mildly aggressive ways, crawling away from me every time I came near, pushing objects onto me, pushing at my face. I asked him to choose a book to read and he chose “Mommy Loves Me” and ” “Counting Kisses,” and yet he turned away from me and then towards me over and over as we read through parts of the book during which we normally would cuddle and kiss. It finally clicked for me that he was angry that I didn’t come home as expected, and probably sad, too. The moment I put that into words for him, “Honey, are you mad at Mama because I didn’t come home? Are you frustrated that we didn’t get to play together?” his energy deflated and he laid his head on my shoulder and said “Mmhmm.” We talked some more, I sang him a song, and he was asleep peacefully within five minutes. It was beautiful and I felt so blessed to have experienced such connection with my son through the power of empathy.

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Emma February 4, 2011 at 8:49 pm

This is so sweet, Theresa. I love it. I am constantly amazed at how recognizing my daughter’s emotional state – and verbalizing it for her when she cannot – helps diffuse a situation and reconnect us.

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kreeeestamama February 5, 2011 at 12:30 am

I agree, bravo for ignoring the teacher’s reaction and going with your gut!

This is something I am working on getting better at – following my maternal instinct and not worrying about what other people think!

Thanks for the great article!

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Magic and Mayhem February 5, 2011 at 5:40 pm

Oh I’m so glad you took her back home! I’m also thankful that you were able to. So many parents have no options when it comes to taking time off even when their kids really need them (for emotional or physical reasons). It must be a heartbreaking position to be in, for parents who are in tune to their children’s deep needs for them but who have no options for missing work even during those times.

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Me February 5, 2011 at 7:36 pm

Great article! We all need to take time. And sorry to criticize, but I notice that in the photo the child has a coat on UNDER the car seat straps. Isn’t that dangerous and goes against car seat safety standard?. Coat outside of car, while in car seat without the coat and clothed by a blanket. Let’s post pictures that give good examples!

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Emma February 5, 2011 at 10:24 pm

Thanks for your comment and concern. Duly noted!

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MumMum Ariel February 8, 2011 at 3:56 pm

This is such a wonderful story!
kudos to you for being such a great, intuitive and caring mom! It warms my heart! My husband and I practice attachment and peaceful parenting with our little guy. This is truly wonderful! :-) So many people forget that their children no matter the age do have emotions and needs other than food, dry diapers or naps. They are people just like us. They love us unconditionally and deserve the same in return. :-)

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