I’d like to be a little more serene about holding my tongue than I am.
Take the other day. My seven-year-old had a difficult interaction with another kid at choir practice. She felt angry and annoyed.
She sat in the back seat; up front, I signaled a lane change to get to the freeway onramp.
As she complained, I thought about how to help her. With my guidance, surely she’d come up with kind and firm responses.
But I stopped myself—a habit I began with my ten-year-old a few years before. I ask permission before I offer solutions.
Do you want to just tell me how you feel, or do you want advice?” I said, not adding, Because I have opinions.
“Just listen,” she said, her voice full of kind firmness.
I glanced at the rearview mirror. “You sure, honey?” I said. “Because I could talk to Miss—“
“Just listen,” she said, even more firmly, and perhaps less kindly. “I’m fine.”
I opened my mouth and shut it. Her end of the conversation was over, but I felt like I’d never gotten the chance to start mine. It flustered me.
Didn’t she want my help?
With a sigh, I accepted she did not. I zoomed our car onto the cloverleaf curve of the onramp and accelerated into traffic.
Breathe, I told myself. Just breathe.
It was important to respect her wishes, even though it went against my pride and just a smidge of my mother-hen instinct.
Why I Ask Permission Before I Give Advice
You ever hear that common marital argument—often split on gender lines—when one person shares about a struggle they faced during their day, only to have their partner jump in with a fix?
The standard marital-therapy response is listen, don’t fix. Very often, the person sharing doesn’t want advice, but a listening ear.
My husband is actually pretty savvy on this front, but I’ve experienced that dynamic in other relationships. It really irks me. I want to be heard, but end up feeling like the other person is simply waiting to give their opinion.
I know it’s done out of a desire to help. But rather than building me up, it makes me less likely to share. I prefer to have people ask before they advise me.
But with the tables turned, I struggle to listen well.
Jesus was an expert at this type of humble listening. He waits for his disciples to follow him before he presumes to speak deeply into their lives. The woman at the well asks his opinion several times before he tells the truth about her problems. Even with his critics’ questions, Jesus is as likely to respond with a story as a direct rebuke.
With deep skill, Jesus draws those around him into deeper trust. He listens to their experiences and questions with great empathy and respect. I long to do the same with my kids.
But like I said, it doesn’t always come naturally…
I’m over at iBeleive today, sharing my lessons learned about kids and advice. Join me there!