From Imposing to Listening

Children are not born today for nothing. The time in which we live is a special one. A time when children can request and receive. A time when more and more parents’ honest desire is to be able to respond to their children’s deep requests. It’s a good time to be born.

It may be a bit odd to claim that it’s “a good time to be born”. And yet, something new is happening in the most recent moments of human development. Since the middle of the last century, particular phenomena we didn’t even dream possible became norms for vast numbers of people in more and more countries. If we look at our grandmothers’ mothers’ lives, or even our grandmothers’ lives, we can see that you and I experience a few refreshing innovations which we are already taking for granted.

Sexual and economic child abuse has become illegal.

Women have the freedom to express themselves, to choose for themselves and to fight any exploitation arising from the fact that they are women.

Men and women enjoy complete freedom from society and their families to choose their partners.

Fulfilling one’s personal potential has become the norm.

The freedom to choose one’s religious belief, personal viewpoint and profession is the norm.

These changes are not insignificant.

All these changes and many others which I haven’t mentioned have created the opportunity for mothers and fathers to give their children what they really ask for. The attitude towards children started to change when it became clear to most parents that someone coming into this world is not meant to fill a specific spot in the family or in society, but is simply a wonder in his own right. His financial situation or his parents’ education is not relevant. We are part of a tremendous change. It’s not a more-money kind of change, more technology or less dirt in the street. This is a real revolution. We are, as parents, partners in a silent revolution, an enormous change between the past and present.

A transition from imposing to listening.

The old way—parents gave children what they thought they should give.

The new way—parents give themselves and their children what they really ask for.

Listen to coffee shop conversations, take a look at the playgrounds, notice the beach in the summertime, the shopping malls in the winter, the hillsides and picnic areas in the spring. You can find more and more parents choosing to join this new way of listening. More and more parents are trying to respect their children’s requests. They listen to their children, yes these little ones, noisy and needy, they listen to them, in order to figure out what to give. They listen to themselves to understand who they are and what their real needs are. They are willing to see that it’s not us or them. That it’s together. Us and them. Both.

One world for children and adults.

The old way, the way of imposing, still exists, still constitutes ‘the right way’ in many families. It exists even when hidden very well under thin layers of openness and attentiveness. Ask yourselves, ask other parents if they listen to their children, ask them if this food or that school or your support for his schooling comes from listening to our children. The typical answer is

“Of course! Nothing is more important to me, I’m totally with him, whatever he wants I will give him, whatever makes him feel good!”

And then, slowly, within this conversation, the “black” list reveals itself.

The list of things that need to exist (in the hidden imposing attitude) so that “he will be happy”:

  1. He needs to sleep in his own bed, he is big enough already.
  2. He needs to stop sucking his thumb, so he won’t be laughed at.
  3. He needs to go to preschool because at his age it’s not good to be at home anymore, he needs to learn to say goodbye, and to be with other children.
  4. He needs to learn how to respect his elders.
  5. He needs to listen to his father.
  6. He needs to learn how to read.
  7. He needs to eat properly, so he won’t make a mess.
  8. He needs to have friends in the neighborhood, the way I had.
  9. He needs to appreciate the things we buy him.
  10. He needs to study well so his grades will be high so that he will be accepted to a good high school and will have a good diploma so he will have a good profession so that he will be able to provide for himself, so he won’t have to be dependent on anyone, so that…
  11. He needs to hang out with the right friends.
  12. He needs to join the army.
  13. He needs to leave home, he is old enough.
  14. He needs to stay home, it is better for him.

On this list, which goes on for eternity, are things that are good for the child. The way some parents see it. But how can we decide what is good? What mentally sound person wants someone else to establish what is good for him? Can we even begin to understand what is good for our own unique once-in-a-lifetime child without listening to him, a deep attentive listening, a listening that is free of codes, fears and norms? Can I really know what is good, while I’m not listening to what my child is asking of me now? I don’t believe this is an option. For me to know what is good for me, I need to listen very, very carefully to myself. I don’t believe there is another way of knowing what is good for my girls then listening at any given moment to what they are saying to me in all the languages they use. Through this way of listening, new questions enter the conversation. Through this kind of hearing there are fewer and fewer things that are “the way things are and that’s that”.

If in the past a mother would decide if she is breastfeeding or not according to the ideology floating around her, today mothers choose to listen and hear if it is good for the baby, and when it is good for him to stop.

If in the past parents fed their children with what is “considered” good, today more and more parents are sensitive to their child’s tastes and food preferences.

If in the past we would have said: “This kindergarten is good for him. It is close to home/everyone we know goes there/it’s on the way to work,” then today parents ask themselves if this kindergarten is good for him and if kindergarten at all is good for him, and how happy he really is to go there.

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If in the past a father would have said, “Do well in school so you will be accepted to college, I am working very hard in order to provide this,” then today he will ask “Do you want to learn? Or go traveling? Or do you want to open your own business?”

The way of imposing did not originate from a lack of love. It was the accepted perception and most parents held on to it. Just like people all over the world who believed that a woman’s place was at home, just like white Americans believed that black men were born to be slaves, just like parents in an Israeli kibbutz believed that it was good for their children to sleep separated from them. The way of imposing fit a world were the main goal and maybe the only goal of childhood was to reach adulthood as fast and with as little damage as possible. In the listening approach, the goal of childhood is childhood itself, and the parents’ goal is to let it happen. Let childhood happen.

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