“Gym tonight?” That was the text from my friend Krista. And just as Batman jumps into action when the bat symbol lights up the sky, I knew she needed me. The gym is code for, “I need to talk, and I need someone to listen.” She could have needed to talk about her kids, her job, or just the pressures of being a mom. I just needed to be there with open ears and an open heart.
The fact that we would be able to do a little exercise in the process was just a bonus.
There are other codes, too, that I hear from friends and family, such as, “Can you talk?” or “Are you busy?” The meaning, though, is always the same. I need someone to listen to me—not talk, not fix it, simply listen.
At this point in our lives, most of my friends and I are living out the phrase “sand-wich generation.” We are facing the reality of caring for both aging parents and children. It’s not an easy place to be, so that makes listening a skill that is in high demand.
Currently, one of my friends is grieving the loss of her mother. Another one is struggling to find ways to help her child who is dealing with depression and anxiety. Still another is searching for answers about what the next step is as her parents begin to need more daily assistance. And yet another is facing her own health issues.
It makes my heart ache that I can’t fix any of these challenges. I wish I could. I don’t have the answers. Sure, I could offer suggestions, but those are not in short supply from others. So I just stop talking and listen.
On a personal level, as I struggle with my MS and its challenges, I often get frustrated by advice from well-meaning people about what I could/should do to help my situation. I don’t need someone to offer advice or solutions. Trust me, I know the disease inside and out and have done my homework. What I can’t find in the research, though, is someone to say, “I’m here if you need to just vent.”
I’m learning the power of keeping quiet as a mom too. When my kids were younger, I must confess that I often found myself half-listening to them amid the ongoing chants of “Mom, Mom, Mom.” At some point, it would become so continuous that it almost became white noise.
But the older my kids got, the quieter they became. I would pepper them with questions about their day at school, their friends, any subject I could think of, just to get them to talk.
When they did come to me with some-thing, I would immediately jump into fix-it Mom mode and throw out a barrage of suggestions and advice. By doing so, I’m pretty certain I missed what they were really saying and pushed them back into silence.I should have just listened.
I was reminded of this not too long ago when my son, Alex, came home from work and I told him there were leftovers from dinner in the fridge. He thanked me and then started talking—about work, his friends, our fam-ily—and at some point, the conversation turned to college.
My instinct was to immediately launch back into a spiel about how he needed to quit dragging his feet and get moving on things. After all, his father and I had been on him about where he wanted to apply, fast-approaching deadlines, and potential scholarships.
For some reason, I didn’t. There would be another time to deal with those things. But not tonight. No, tonight he was in charge. So I just listened. And by doing so, I truly heard him for the first time in too long.