“Hey! Me talking to you,” shouts my never-stop-moving four year old.
Who knew he could pat my leg so hard. The pain fine tuning his voice in my ears. “Oh, yes honey, I’m listening.” For a few seconds, I’m his. Focused on the fascinating description of his favorite Power Ranger. Then, it happens. I stare straight at the love of my life, move my head up and down in total agreement, and vocalize affirming sounds such as uh huh, yet not grasp one single word. My body completely present. My mind and attention a hundred miles away.
But hey, we all need some down time…right? Down time is good. Relaxation is great.
Psuedo-listening…bad! It can really damage your relationships.
Think about this. Who are the most important people in your life? Your spouse. Your children. Your parents. Charlie the Chihuahua or Captain Kitty—manning the couch over there. Aren’t they responsible for supporting you on a daily basis, encouraging you when the world outside gets a little too rough, and ultimately loving you unconditionally. Then, why can we give our full attention to the boss at work, the best friend planning a night out, or our ever-present cell phones connecting us to endless amounts of quasi-important information? At times, it can be so easy to half-way listen or completely ignore those we love most.
But why? Why do we do this? We certainly don’t mean to.
Many times it’s because life has us spinning. There are so many pulls on our attention. Work commitments, children activities, church responsibilities, social engagements, and a list of honey-do’s growing by leaps and bounds every day. Add in the desire to multi-task. Get more things done so we can do more. We cook supper while answering work emails. Shop online for school clothes while doing laundry. Watch Netflix in bed when we should be sleeping. Play Words With Friends as we eat dinner out. Scroll through Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook while waiting in the dentist office. Update our LinkedIn account so the world knows we’re available to move up the ladder. Moving, thinking, doing. Compound our constant motion with the unending growth of technology and it’s a wonder that all Americans aren’t diagnosed with electronic-induced Attention Deficit Disorder.
We are spinning ourselves into a comatose state of being—where listening becomes a mindless, haphazard activity. The message our loved ones receive is that they aren’t valuable enough to listen to and we know that is not true. But our actions, when we allow our time to be controlled by the unimportant, promote disengagement. The loss of down time means we take valuable family time and we check out, zone out, miss out. We miss out on talking as we eat dinner. We miss out on the verbal clues of what’s important to our spouse and children. We miss out on the purposeful action of giving one’s time to the other. In the U.S., we say time is money. Well, time is also love.
It’s with your time that you say “I care about you. You are valuable to me.” It’s with our time that we build the strong, healthy family we desire.
Life slips by too quickly. My four year old fire ball is now a tall, good-looking, still verbal fifteen year old. His use of words still at times overwhelms me after a long day of work. Determining to engage and listen to our family and friends does not come easy. Easy is mindless drifting. Showing love takes discipline. The discipline of turning off the cell phone at dinner, unplugging from social media, or letting work go for a little while. Let’s consider what is truly important and manage our time wisely. Spend your time where you will reap enormous benefits. Put active listening at the top of your to-do list and send the message “You are Valuable!”