I push open the door and peer inside my son's bedroom. He is still reading.
"Do you want back tickles?" I ask.
His smile stretches from ear to ear. "Yes, please," he replies.
I sit next to him as he clicks off his light. My fingers massage up and down his back. I look at the curls on the back of his head and sigh. He has grown so much, and with each heart beat I feel my love for him pulsate through my chest.
"How was your day?" I inquire.
"It was alright," he replies back.
We lay there in silence for a time.
"Anything difficult happen today?"
"Not so much," he answers back. Silence. I shift my weight onto my other arm. I am trying to focus on the moment and enjoy our time together. At times like these, my mind often wanders from thinking about my to-do list to pondering random events from the day.
"Focus Damara, focus!" I direct my brain. "Stay in the present."
"Hmmm, I wonder what is happening in his life. I would really like to be a part of it. I hope he invites me in. What can I do?" I silently pray. A quiet thought flashes to my mind: "Tell him you love spending time with him and then just listen."
"I can do that." I lay there grateful that God so willingly and lovingly helps me as a parent.
"I love spending time with you," I whisper.
"Thanks, Mom." Again, silence. The quiet is starting to unnerve me and my brain is wandering to the things I need to finish before I can go to bed.
"Actually there is this boy in PE that other kids pick on," he starts.
"Oh goodie, a problem I can help him with," I think, and smile inwardly.
The quiet voice prods, "Just listen."
"But I can show him how smart I am," I argue back.
"You want to strengthen your relationship; just listen," it says again.
He shares his story and I patiently listen, biting my tongue. His body relaxes and he continues. There are moments during his tale when I want to offer my help and words of wisdom, but I manage to stop myself. When he finishes his story of sadness and struggle, again I want to offer my help, but force myself to stop.
"Thanks for listening, Mom," he says as he gives me a hug. The current of connection feels magical. He just needed my listening ear — that is all.
As I get up to leave his room I feel like I am walking on air. I gave a quick prayer of gratitude for the heavenly direction and for the fact that I didn't spoil it.
As I walk down the hall to my room, my heart surges with love. This thought pours into my mind: "That is the greatest gift you can give him — loving attentive listening."
I commit inwardly to work on that.
It is difficult listening to our children's sadness and struggles. We take their pain and make it ours, then quickly want to fix it to make it all go away. As parents, we also love sharing our stories and giving our children advice. However, many times they need our loving, attentive and listening ears more than they need our advice. This is the supreme gift we can give children of any age, but especially our teenagers. And the big bonus is, it doesn't cost us a cent.
I am not saying that we shouldn't help our children. But there are times when they just need to share with us what is going on. If there is a safety issue then the problem needs to be discussed immediately. Otherwise, if the situation is safe, let them think through it for a day or two, then follow up about how it is going. Maybe the problem worked its way out; or maybe they are willing to accept some help at that point.
Often we buy our children expensive gifts as a token of our love; however, the gift of loving attentive listening sends the message, "You are most important to me right now. You have my undivided attention." It shows your children through your actions that you love them and connects you while strengthening your cherished, sweet relationship.
Children are more willing to open up if you are not staring them in the face. Our facial expressions may cause them to quickly clam up for fear of judgement. My son had his back to me as he shared his story. Being side by side in a car also works well.
Tell your child, "I enjoy spending time with you. I love hearing what you have to say."
Ask, "Did anything hard happen today?"
If they start sharing something, don't interrupt them. Just listen and nod.
When they are finished, give them a hug and say, "Thank you for sharing with me. I know you can handle this."
These comments infuse them with confidence and love.
Keep in mind our brains like to trick us. It will say listening to our kids is going to take "too long" or "you don't have time for that." That simply is not true. I spent a total of10 minutes with my son. Ten precious minutes or even less is all it takes. Give your children the No. 1 gift you can — yourself.
I invite you to give it a try and see what happens.
Editor's note: This article was originally published on parentingbrilliantly.com. It has been republished here with permission._