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10 to Twins

By Jessica T

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About this blog: I'm a late thirties mother of a ten-year-old and infant twins. My family moved to Menlo Park 6 years ago from Virginia - where I grew up, went to college, got married, had my first born, and got an MBA (in that order). I'm a manag...  (More)

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Active listening

Uploaded: Sep 2, 2014
My eleven-year-old daughter and I have been clashing. Since returning to work, the one hour in the evening that I have to spend with my kids is now divided by three. She's a preteen, and her instincts are telling her to push me away. And yet I know she still needs me. She's too young to turn to her friends for the comfort and camaraderie she gets from her parents.

This summer she returned from a week away disappointed that my husband and I had gotten a babysitter and were headed for a night out. A year ago, we wouldn't have needed a date night so desperately. We might have chosen to stay in on the night she returned. A year ago, we might have taken her with us rather than getting a sitter. She was accustomed to evenings with adults. But now that she is no longer an only child, she has been lumped in with the rest of our children.

After a day of work, I'll be the first to admit that I'm too tired to deal with her drama. I react to what she's saying and try to find ways to refute her. I try to explain why things are as they are so I can find a little peace.

But the Friday night after her return, I was a little less exhausted, no doubt because of her absence the previous week. I sat next to her on the couch as she cried. For the first time in months, I heard her. She was sad. We hadn't met her expectations. And she didn't understand why so much in our family had changed. And I finally understood that she wasn't angry or intentionally making us feel guilty - she was just struggling, and she needed us to show her we really cared. This was the breakthrough I had been praying for. And it wasn't on her end - it was on mine. At last, I had really listened.

I was having lunch with a friend recently, and he explained to me why his boss often works nights. "He doesn't give meetings his full attention," he told me, "so he has to send emails at night to ask for clarification." This was another "aha" moment as I reflected on how my former very senior boss never brought his computer to meetings. He gave meetings his full attention so he could comment thoughtfully and help the team make decisions.

I've often wondered what active listening really means and how one learns to do it. It turns out it's quite simple - you slow down and you concentrate on what the other person is saying and not on how you'll respond. And you put down your devices so you can give someone your full attention. This is difficult to do in our day and age. We have limited time and plenty of distracting, electronic gadgets. The truth is, your nagging problems (whether it's parenting or business challenges) won't get solved without your full attention and a little introspection.

That summer weekend, I was able to give my daughter just what she needed - understanding.
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 +  Like this comment
Posted by palo alto resident, a resident of another community,
on Sep 3, 2014 at 7:56 pm

Jessica - so great that you were able to listen to your daughter! I'm sure she feels much better. A small suggestion (that worked with our family), plan a "date night" with your daughter. It doesn't have to be a whole night, maybe every Thursday you go out for ice cream. Get your nails done once a month. Maybe its just you or both you and your husband. She had you to herself for a long time, I'm sure she would love a consistent, even if small, time together without interruptions or siblings. Read a book together (it could even be something she has to read for school, you can read at the same time and discuss it). Find a TV show you both/all like and have must-see-TV once a week (DVR's are a wonderful thing!) Take a hike on Saturday mornings. Make that time something you truly enjoy, you have limited free time and it should be fun for you too!

 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Mother of 4 , a resident of Palo Verde School,
on Sep 4, 2014 at 7:55 am

I was about to make the same point. Your older daughter has been a singleton for a long time. She needs different parenting from your twins. A mother/daughter activity at least once a week is necessary for her own self identity in the family. If you consider her as just one of three kids she will resent it. She has her own place in the family and must feel that she hasn't been usurped in the family pecking order. She also needs father/daughter time.

Don't look on giving your family just an hour of your time each day. It may be a short time but it must be the highlight of your day. Try having some family time in the morning. Sitting together eating breakfast, even for 10 minutes, will be a great way to start the day for all of you even if very little is actually said. The fact that you do it will be of value to you all.

 +  Like this comment
Posted by Jessica T, a Almanac Online blogger,
on Sep 4, 2014 at 8:53 pm

Jessica T is a registered user.

Thanks for these great suggestions. I'll do my best to give a few of them a try.

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