January 27

Telling Your Child the Truth

January 27, 2012

Parenting

A father wrote to me:

"I have not known how to connect with my teenage daughter, Jennifer, so I finally decided to do what you suggested long ago. I sat with her and actually listened to her. I began by asking how she liked school, and she shrugged her shoulders. In the past, I would not have known what to do with that, but now I know that almost everything people do or say is some kind of communication. As she shrugged her shoulders, she also grimaced, so I knew she was telling me that there was something about school she didn't like.

"I asked her to talk about what she didn't like about school, and tears welled up in her eyes almost immediately. I couldn't believe the immediate effect I was having on her just by listening—really listening. It's about time. She talked about how she tries to please people all the time, and how it's frustrating and exhausting. Sometimes it works, but most of the time it doesn't, so it's a lot of work for very little reward and a lot of worrying. She said her teachers like her and hold her up as an example of good behavior. Her friends tell her that she's a very nice person too, but the price is just too high.

"I explained that I was the one who taught her to do that. All her life she has seen me trying to please people—especially her mother—and I also taught Jennifer to please me. I've been a terrible example to her, and it's only natural that she has followed it. Her view of the world—and how I taught her to survive in it—has caused her a lot of pain.

"She actually let me hold her while she cried. I've never felt that close to her.

"Once she got going, she just kept talking. She said that most of the time at home she doesn't say anything because she's afraid of saying the wrong thing. She doesn't know how to voice her own opinion, because she has so little practice doing it. She certainly hasn't seen me take risks and just be myself.

"I told her that her pain was my fault. I had not loved her unconditionally, I had not known how to listen to her, and I had not taught her how to be herself. She became more relaxed and peaceful than I have ever seen her. Maybe it's not too late. Maybe I can help her with those things. I hope so."

The world would be a different place if more parents truly listened to their children—as this man did—and also told the truth about themselves. Children would feel loved and confident, and with those qualities they become infinitely better equipped to be happy and productive.

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