A Father’s Advice: Are You Listening?
“If you can: start giving bad habits up and start being yourself. Now is the time to do it, because if you start, it will only take a bit of time to give you a lot of time. I’ve taken a lot of your advice, try to take some of mine. Everyone wants you to get better.”
My sister sent to me some pictures via text of a letter my father had written to my grandfather after some major health issues which led my grandfather unable to work. The words above were just a small portion of the four page letter.
The only time I recall seeing my grandfather and father interact was when my father was told to leave my grandparent’s house because, in a drunken stupor, he was yelling at me for wanting to watch a movie I chose instead of one he wanted me to watch. My grandfather, meek as he was, approached my dad and sternly told him to leave. I think I was 9 or 10 years old.
I can still hear my dad’s words, “You’re wrong Neil! You’re wrong! You’re wrong!”
“The advice I see my dad give my grandfather is not far from the advice I wish I could have given to my dad, and need to receive myself: start giving up bad habits.”
As I think through this moment in time passed, I hear myself talking to my eldest son in a similar way, telling him he is “wrong” for something he did, and I am embarrassed by the lack of grace I offer my son in these moments. The advice I see my dad give my grandfather is not far from the advice I wish I could have given to my dad, and need to receive myself: start giving up bad habits.
Breaking bad habits in parenting is difficult because we’ve had more years than we have been parents to learn these bad habits. This is no new revelation, — we are the people who raised us. We have been nurtured in such a way that we’ve learned particular responses and coping skills that we share with our own parents or guardians, even if we hate to admit it.
I can’t help but think about one bad parenting habit that I find myself practicing on a daily basis: not listening to my children when they speak
How many times do our children have a story to share, a revelation to divulge, a position to make known, a preference to beheld only to be told by parents, “Hold on, I’m busy right now.” It makes me wonder how our children hear those statements, and whether they avoid talking to us because they’ve learned that we will fail to listen to them well.
Personally, I fail to allow my children to speak when they are upset emotionally. I respond by aggressively talking over them as they attempt to share their frustrations, and it usually results in everybody shutting down. As an adult it is easy to live in the mindset that we know what’s best for our children (and everybody else for that matter) without taking a moment to actually consider the pain and position of said person (also known as empathy). For example, a fight breaks out between brother and sister, but instead of taking time to understand the situation, we just shout a name, “Henry! That’s enough!” And without even knowing what truly has happened, we make assumptions that alienate half of the party involved.
Maybe what was necessary in that moment of quarreling was for a parent to stop, enter into the situation, listen to their children speak from the heart, and then assist in restoring the relationship between brother and sister. Maybe what was necessary in that moment between brother and sister was a parent who was willing to set themselves aside in order to be with their children, listening and empathizing with their pain and emotions.
I look back at what my dad wrote and wonder how it was received by my grandfather. Was he willing to hear my father’s words? Was he humble enough to admit his failures and bad habits? Was he willing to make hard decisions in order to benefit the the family?
Guest Blog Author:
Neil Sierocki is a husband, dad-of-three, follower of Christ, and the Pastoral Resident at Our Redeemer Church in Midland, MI. Neil has spent the past ten years working with students (ages 11-19) as a mentor and pastor. He is currently working with the Bay-Arenac Great Start Collaborative to kickstart the fatherhood initiative, Great Start Dads.
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