I spend a lot of time thinking about how I can be a better parent to my daughter. Constantly self-reflection isn't easy, though, what with keeping a house in order and working and the constant temptation of technology and social media within arms reach at all times. But I've realized that being a better parent usually boils down to the tiny details, and there's one tiny thing you can do that'll instantly make you a better parent. It seems too good to be true, sure, or hyperbolic at best, but it's true. Sometimes the smallest action can make the largest difference.
I've not always had a good track record when it comes to listening to my partner. In fact, I would admit that when I was a new mom, listening to him was actually pretty low on my list of priorities. My brain was consumed by all things motherhood-related, so I didn't feel like I had more room to focus on whatever he was telling me or asking me. In a sleep-deprived stupor, I remember thinking, "I don't care what you're saying, do whatever you want if you will just stop talking."
In a sleep-deprived stupor, I remember thinking, "I don't care what you're saying, do whatever you want if you will just stop talking."
When I felt like I was spending all my mental energy taking care of our daughter all day long, silence was much preferred over discussing or chatting. It took me longer than it should have to realize that I was shutting my partner out simply because my head was too tired to put together a response. But, of course, that's not a great way to have and sustain a marriage. Even if our "don't talk to me, I don't have time to you" phase was short-lived, it wasn't conducive to facilitating a healthy partnership, especially when it came to parenthood.
I was letting the stress and pressure of being a new mom scramble my brain and build a mountain of anxiety that was taking over. What I needed was to take a deep breath, remind myself that whatever perceived "problem" I was trying to figure out with my daughter at that moment was not life threatening, and listen to my partner. In order to have a stable marriage — a marriage that could withstand raising kids for the next 20 years — both of us needed to feel heard. I needed to slow down long enough to listen to my partner and value what he was saying to me.
This, of course, was great practice for slowing down and listening to my child, which I think makes me a better parent. Life gets busy, phones get tempting, and dishes always seem to be in need of washing. But my baby girl is only going to be little once, and I want her memory of her mom to be that I was able to fully listen to her when she needed me. I don't want her memory of me to be distracted, with whatever busy-ness was scrambling my brain that day.
I needed to slow down long enough to listen to my partner and value what he was saying to me.
I'm not aiming to be a perfect mom, but I want to be the kind of mom who listens to her kids — and I mean really listens — to what her children are telling, her even when they aren't saying certain words out loud. There have been times already in my daughter's young life when I realize I've been answering the wrong question for scolding her for something she wasn't even doing wrong, simply because my head was in the wrong place. I know I won't be able to eliminate that sort of thing completely, but I want to strive to do it less often.
I have many memories of my parents when I was growing up, and most of them involve them busily working on something or even listening to the radio while they made dinner. I don't have memories of them being too distracted to listen to my questions or concerns or worries, though. I don't have memories of them with their faces in screens or even watching television. If my dad was reading a book, he would always answer the minute I asked him some pressing question. And when I really needed either or both of them to listen, I got their full, undivided attention.
That's the kind of memories I want my daughter, and now her brother, to have. That's the kind of parent I want my kids to recall when they think back on their lives. That's the kind of mother I know I can be, if I just stop and take the time to really listen to those who matter most.