He Doesn’t Listen

Could Gwen sense the fiery heat of her frustration, Melissa wondered? Did she guess her little sister’s lack of confidence as a mother? How was Melissa going to make it through Gwen’s three day visit in their home?

With all the effort she could muster Melissa continued gathering dirty laundry and filling her basket. She was determined to keep her cool, not to yell at Jason during Gwen’s visit.

“I want a drink of water,” Three-year-old Jason demanded as Melissa carried the load into the laundry room.

“Get… your drink yourself, my… hands… are full,” she grunted through clenched teeth.

Melissa and Gwen eventually settled down for coffee and a long awaited chat. Suddenly from the kitchen came the sound of breaking glass. Melissa screamed, “You did it again, Jason,” as she darted toward him. “Why don’t you listen to me. I’ve told you a hundred times not to get up on the counter.”

Reaching for the broom she thought of how to get him out of her way for a while. “Want lunch now? Here sit down, I’ll make you a sandwich, what do you want?”

“I want peanut butter and jelly.”

“We don’t have any peanut butter. What else would you like?”

“Tuna, make a tuna and pickle sammich, Mommy.”

“We have tuna, but you’ll have to take it with only mayonnaise. The pickles were in the jar that broke, Jason.” Melissa knew her voice was edged with anger. She was also painfully aware that Gwen was hearing the entire episode.

Jason pouted as his mother slapped together a tuna and mayo sandwich and stuck it in front of him. Then, with deliberation, she discarded the pickles and swept together the pieces of broken glass. Jason picked at the bread and ate most of the tuna. As she wiped the mayo from his face, Melissa asked, “Want to take a nap now?” Jason was put down for a nap despite his protests.

After what seemed like ages to Melissa, she returned to her sister who appeared to be reading a magazine.

Melissa landed in her chair with a thump. “Sometimes I’m afraid of what I’m going to do to that child!”

Long moments passed with the only sound, that of Jason’s muffled protests. Melissa could think of nothing else to say. Suddenly she wished Gwen had not come to visit.

At last she heard Gwen take a deep breath and hesitantly ask, “Was that a cry for help or simply an expression of frustration?”

Melissa wasn’t sure, probably both. She had always admired the way Gwen handled her own children. “A cry for help, I guess.”

Another long silence followed. Finally Gwen turned fully toward Melissa and looked directly into her eyes. “I’m reluctant to get into such a topic with another parent, Melissa. I want to help you—and Jason—but I must know if you really want input from me. Let’s drop the subject for now. If you really want to talk with me about this, you bring it up again.”

The whimpering from Jason’s room had quieted and the sisters enjoyed catching up on each other’s lives.

That evening Melissa’s husband had just left for the handball court. Melissa settled into her favorite chair with an air of permanence. “This is a good time to have that talk. What am I going to do about Jason?”

“First you must believe in yourself as a parent,” Gwen began. “That’s the most important thing. Once you realize you do know what’s best for Jason—at least you know better than he does—then, perhaps the thing you most need to do is listen to yourself.”

“Listen to myself? I talk all day to that kid. He’s the one that needs to listen,” Melissa protested.

“Lissa, he won’t really listen to you until you are consistent and authoritative.” Gwen didn’t realize she’d used the name of affection from their childhood, but Melissa noticed it.

“Remember this morning when Jason broke the pickle jar? You said you’d told him a hundred times not to get on the counter. Yet you set him there while you put his shoes on his feet. And it was you who told him to get his own drink. You contradicted yourself. That’s confusing to a child. Especially when he gets punished after following orders.”

“You’re right, Sis,” her own words echoing in her mind. “Many times I don’t know if I’ve said the right thing so when he pushes me, I back down.”

“Another time you need to listen to yourself is when you give Jason options he can’t act upon. You asked him what he wanted for lunch. When he told you, you said the peanut butter wasn’t available. Then he told you something else and again he couldn’t have it. Do you think it might have been better to think through his real options and give him a choice between lunch meat and tuna with mayo? Then he would still be learning to make decisions, but wouldn’t be buffeted by unknown quantities each time.”

“Oh, Gwen, I feel so silly. I didn’t realize what I’ve been doing to him. No wonder we seem to be at odds much of the time. Is there any other time I need to listen to myself?”

“All the time,” Gwen chuckled. “Seriously, if we’ll only pay attention to the way we word things to our children, we can avoid many unnecessary conflicts. For example: After Jason had his lunch you asked him if he wanted a nap. He started to tell you he didn’t, but you gathered him in your arms and took him to his bed. If he really didn’t have an option, why present it as one?”

“I didn’t realize I do that,” Melissa said thoughtfully. “I thought the way I suggested what I wanted to Jason was a gentler way than just to give him an order. I see I’ve got a lot of listening ahead.”

Quietly Gwen spoke again, this time consciously choosing the loving nickname. “Lissa, Jason needs to see another mother than the one you’ve been showing him. The mother that loves him. The one that sees the potential that little guys has. Maybe you’ve been hiding that mother behind the one that gets on his case all the time. Think of Samuel’s mother in the Old Testament. Don’t you suppose she had fun with Samuel during those short years they shared together? She must have developed quite a relationship with him to have developed such strong godly character in him.”

“I know it’s true, Sis. I can’t remember the last time Jason and I just did something fun together. We haven’t laughed in a long time. Thanks for reminding me I hope you’ll show me other ways I’m messing up while you’re here.”

© Beverly Caruso

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