I was raised by parents who believed that children should be seen, but not heard — not unless they were performing to make their parents look good. Never do I remember either of my parents listening to me with their ears, hearts, or eyes. Now listening with their eyes may sound peculiar, but to a child it is everything! A child wants and needs to be noticed!
Years later, when my father died at 46 years of age, I had two nightmares that haunted me nightly. In one, I was in a crowded airport, people packed in like sardines, and I could see the back of Daddy’s head in the masses ahead. He was conversing, laughing, and interacting with every one around him. I kept screaming, “Daddy, it’s me! Look, Daddy, it’s me, April!” But he never heard me nor did he look around to see which daughter was calling out to him.
My mother took a different approach. Even when I was grown with three children, and paid her way to California for Christmas to be with us, she never knew how to listen. As I would talk to her about anything — important things, silly things, just simple conversation — she was always preoccupied. It was as if she was thinking about what she was going to interrupt me with, or what she thought was important to one of us in the room. And she never looked any of us in the eye. We just were not there unless she needed something, and then she would interrupt with, “Oh, before I forget….”
When people talk about the first time they felt the love of God, I listen. It hardly ever is what it was like for me! I felt He accepted me and noticed me! He stopped what He was doing, and He looked at me with unconditional acceptance! THAT was love to me!
Even now, as I watch programs on parenting, I see that parents are instructed to kneel down, get eye level with their children, and only then talk to them, or listen to them with their eyes! Someone who never had that knows just how important that is to a child. But it is also important to adults!
A friend of mine who is a clinical therapist discussed what listening is not.
– Simply being still while someone else is speaking to you.
– Thinking about what you will say next as soon as the other person finishes what they are saying.
-Interrupting, correcting or disrespecting what the other person is saying.
-“Looking like” you are listening.
As I think back, I was so damaged I would have settled for any of those things! I would have, at least, thought I was important enough to have my parents be still, respond, or look like they were listening!
It’s not as if I never had anyone in my life who listened to me with their eyes. Grandma always looked me right in the eyes, and it always made me feel very uncomfortable. I would move around, crack a joke, anything to deflect the discomfort I was feeling. I didn’t feel worthy of attention that was so intimate!
Years later, when I was in 8th grade, I had a teacher, Margaret Oliphant, who always looked at me, eyeball-to-eyeball, and always with so much love and pleasure on her face. At first, I was uncomfortable, but eventually I came to love Margaret so much I would have done anything to please her. She told me what a great “story teller” I was instead of telling me what a liar I was. She put her hand on my shoulder, just like Grandma did, and leaned down to listen with her eyes. She was my English teacher, again in the 10th grade, and by then I was beginning to believe I was smart, delightful, talented, and funny. It was the absolute turning point in my life.
When Grandma died, it was traumatic for me. Who would love me like Grandma did? Who would pray for God to send protective angels over me? But then came Margaret who, like Grandma, held me in her gaze and her heart. There was never any question that either of these women loved me, accepted me, and cherished me. I just had to get used to the idea. It was only because these women listened to me with their eyes that I was able to accept their love and the knowledge that I was worth loving.
Are you listening with your eyes?
(c) 2009 April Lorier