“Tell me again what you said on that day, mom.”
My daughter asked me to tell her what I told her a year ago as she smiled with anticipation in her eyes. That day was, for her, the worst day of her life. Her heart was broken and she was devastated with what had transpired. During that time, she was making some big decisions, letting go of a big piece of her life to make room for something more meaningful and how it all ended was hard and hurtful.
As she cried and cried on that awful day, I consoled her with encouraging words and lots of love. I listened to her share her heartache, her pain, her anger, and her fears. And I told her that there would come a time where she would be living a life filled with joy and fulfillment, recognition, and reward. It’s just going to take some time to get there, and some hard work and heartache too. But she will find her way into a purposeful and meaningful life full of wonderful things and good people. I told her that she has extraordinary gifts she will share with the world and in time, everything will unfold as it should.
I thought she had heard my comforting assurance back on that difficult day. I spent hours with her and surely repeated myself many times while we stayed stuck in that awful place of pain together. But apparently, she was so buried in her hurt, her own swirling thoughts and feelings, that she didn’t hear a word I said.
These days my daughter is doing what she loves to do and doing it well. She is passionate about serving those in need and spends every day working with our church to bring food to people living in low-income areas. She has developed relationships with the countless kids and families she adores. She loves the staff she serves with and admires their wisdom and well-worn experience. She’s found her purpose and her people, her passion and her life-long plan. It’s been burning in her for years, and with some hard choices and hard work, it’s finally transpiring into what looks to be a fulfilling future for my girl.
As she came through the door one night after serving, she smiled and told me how one of the leaders praised her for all she does in front of all the staff. She felt honored to be recognized and as always, she told me what a great day she had doing what she loved to do. She can’t wait to get more involved with our local ministry this fall and get back to El Salvador to serve the families in need there.
I hugged her and told her how proud I was of her heart and her hard work. I reminded her of what I had said a year ago and how it was all coming true. She had found her purpose, her passion, her people, and she was surely reaping the reward. She looked at me with confusion and told me she didn’t remember me saying those things and asked me to tell her what I said, so I did.
She beamed with joy at my prediction and couldn’t believe she didn’t hear those fateful words I had spoken while she wept. It’s as if she was given a gift she never opened, and now hearing it for the first time, it became a gift of assurance that she was exactly where she needed to be.
I couldn’t believe she didn’t hear my words either and it really got me thinking about how often our teens don’t listen to us, how many times they need things repeated in order for them to actually hear what we say.
With two teens in the house, I have to say things over and over again for my kids to actually respond. It’s frustrating to have to repeat myself ad nauseam, every single day. Over and over again, I’ll remind them of the different things they need to do. I’ll tell them to pick up after themselves or do their dishes or turn off the tv when they’re done watching it, and my gosh, it’s a miracle if I don’t have to say things two more times for them to listen. I get so tired of saying the same things over and over again, just to be heard.
I also tell them how amazing I think they are, how proud I am of what they’re doing, and who they are growing up to be. I encourage them when they have bad days and remind them of how loved they are, how special they are, how important they are in our home. I point out little things they do that impresses me or how beautiful or handsome I think they look. I catch them when they are kind and polite and responsible and I praise them for being such great kids. And I do it often, but maybe not enough for them to really hear me, much like they don’t hear all the other things I say every day too. Maybe they aren’t really listening to the good stuff either.
Since my daughter somehow missed all the encouraging words I told her on the day she needed them the most, I realize that maybe I need to repeat all the positive things I say to my kids just as much as my constant reminders and instructions and warnings I doll out every day.
Our teens are often buried in their own world, right in front of our eyes. Sometimes they just choose not to listen to us, other times they might be zoning out on their phones or watching tv. But there’s also a lot going on inside their minds and they are sorting through many complicated issues, challenging feelings, and hard decisions. They are trying to figure out just who they are and where they fit into this expanding world they are living in now. They aren’t tuning into our voices because their own voices are drowning us out, so we need to make sure they hear us.
I’ll often say with exasperation, “Are you listening to me? Do you even hear what I’m saying?” And that usually pulls them out of their distracting world to eventually tune into mine. And yes, they need to hear us tell them to get things done and do things right, but they also need our praise and acknowledgment of all the amazing strengths we see in them and all the good choices they make every day.
Now more than ever, they need our encouraging words and support. And on those really hard days, we need to make sure they hear our comforting assurance that they will survive and find their way, it’s just going to take some time to get there.
From now on, when I acknowledge all my kids’ efforts and choices and I’m proud of what they do, I’ll say those words over and over again until I know they are really listening and taking it all in.
I’ll also add my usual, “Are you listening to me? Do you even hear what I’m saying?”
Just to make sure they really get the good stuff too.