Yesterday, we attended my cousin's wedding at a historic mansion downtown. Our 4-year-old held her breath when the bride walked down the steps (she always waits for the exact moment). Our 18-month-old emptied out the contents of my bag throughout the ceremony - in and out, out and in.
We chatted with lots of people - grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, childhood acquaintances, and schoolteachers from bygone years. I always find it fascinating to watch the ways that people interact with children.
The majority of people ooh and ahh at outward appearances. They tend to talk ABOUT children: "Oh, look at her blue eyes!" and "Doesn't she have the sweetest smile?" and "Where did you get that adorable dress?"
These same people are often the ones who complain about the baby riding beside them in the airplane or the family dining adjacent them in the restaurant. They turn up their noses at the slightest peep or inconvenience. How dare a child run or smell flowers or squeal with delight when *I* am trying to enjoy this golf game/conversation/glass of wine?
But then...there are a few treasured individuals who SEE children as the smart, compassionate, critical thinking, and good-hearted people that they are. You can recognize them right away because they talk TO children. They often will kneel or sit on the floor, getting eye-to-eye. They seem unbothered by the fact that children like to explore and question and dance (even when there isn't any music). They have warm smiles and a spring in their step, a little bit of Peter Pan in their hearts.
There was one couple in particular that stuck out to me last night. The gentleman squatted down and shook hands with my little girl, with sparkling eyes. The woman knelt down and said, "It's nice to meet you." Genuinely interested.
I want to be like that.
After all - Who I am to presume that my grown-up conversations about the weather, politics, and parenting are more significant than what a child has to say? Such arrogant foolishness. In fact, the truth is that children are intensely interesting. They have much to contribute. They are often wise, rarely unfeeling.
Yet our culture dictates that adults are what matter. Our voices triumph. We shoosh away little voices with "not right now" or "I'm talking to so-and-so" or "sit still and wait." Ours is a grown-up world, full of cynicism and superficiality.
It gives me goosebumps to think about this: What would the world be like if we acknowledged, celebrated, and protected children? What would it be like if we truly listened to them? I'd like to find out (wouldn't you?).
Think back to your childhood. Can you think of an adult who you were always excited to see because they noticed, appreciated, and valued you?
My father is an Anthropologist so he's.... eccentric.
His friends were just as eccentric...
He had a professor friend named Vince Bruno that I adored. He always made the best spaghetti (homemade, he was Italian) and I thought he was the smartest man I ever met. I would eat my fill and curl up on his cool artsy couches in a loft in Dallas and listen to him until I fell asleep.
He painted a portrait of me when I was 14 and it is still in my possession.
My father and him had a falling out, I lost touch with him.
He moved to New York and lived on a houseboat painting and teaching.
I started looking for him again last year.
I found his obituary.
I miss him... he listened to me, heard me, talked to me like I was an adult.
I loved this post. I try my hardest to remember that children are individual human beings, not just lumped into "kids". I often remark to my husband and others that my son prefers the grandparents and grown ups who get down and play with him and interact rather than the ones that just sit by in a chair.
I love talking to children. They are the future, after all. It is our actions as adults that will either encourrage them to change the world or to have no self-esteem. We have a responsiblity as parents not only to love, but also to respect these important and contributing members of society. I, however completely agree that children do need to be taught manners. They don't need to run around a restaurant wildly because a parent is too busy...the parents should engage their children because they are important. A parent doesn't need to completely drop a conversation because a child wants to interrupt. We are teaching our children to lay their hand on us when we are talking...then we acknowledge them by touching their hand back. That way they know that we will get to them in just a minute and everyone is respected.
Stephanie, so true as always. I was thinking, just this week, how one of my favorite moments was walking around a parking lot with my 13-month chasing birds (staying safely away from moving cars!) I love the pace that children set. It's so hard not to hurry them all the time, but so worthwhile when you can manage it.
I wish people thought of children as a a blessing, instead of something cute to be "seen and not heard". I love this post!
I DO remember those who took the time to talk to ME and I loved them :)
I so want to be that kind of adult, thanks for the reminder.
I think you ARE "that kind of adult." :)
My mom is a perfect example of someone that talks to kids. She is so great at getting the most out of kids to express themselves and contribute to the activity or event.
I think children are some of the most interesting people you could ever hope to talk with... provided they have people in their lives that engage them in real conversations. My girls are some of the most insightful people I know!
This is all so true...and I agree with what your first commenter said when she stated that this quality is what she looks for in a pediatrician. This is what I love about my son's pedi -- he talks TO my son about everything he's doing.
Both of my grandfathers were people who I felt truly honored and appreciated who we were as children, but in entirely different ways. My paternal grandfather could be very whimsical and enjoyed interacting with us on a very child-like level. He was never "old" to me, he always seemed so eager to get down to our level and interact with us.
My maternal grandfather never talked down to us or treated us as "just children." I remember having very serious conversations with him, as an elementary school child, about a wide variety of subjects. He always showed me that he truly cared about what I had to say, honored my thoughts & opinions, and challenged me to think about subjects beyond the typical, stereotypical childhood interests. I miss both of my Grampys with all my heart, and strive to be like both of them in my interactions with my own children and the other children in my life.
How wonderful that you had such warm + engaging grandfathers. You are truly blessed.
You're so right. I can say that because I used to be one of those who didn't want the screaming baby sitting next to me on the plane. I'll admit it. I had children later and I really wasn't terribly interested in chidlren, to be honest. I think I didn't really know how to relate to them. Now that I have my own children I actually offer to sit next to the screaming baby. If people complain to me about my children being noisy/whiny on airplanes or in long lines, I always say, "imagine if it's difficult for you, how difficult do you think it is for my child who doesn't have your years of experience to get them through this?" That tends to change people's attitudes! However, I feel really strongly that I want to raise children who are respectful and polite and I do feel it's appropriate to say "Please don't interrupt me," if I'm talking to someone else. Patience and manners are an important part of being a successful contributor to society. Thanks for bringing up this interesting topic!
I am the same way - I often offer to sit next to screaming babies or families with young children. I try to give an encouraging word or a smile whenever I can because...we've all been there. ;)
I also agree with you that manners are very important...for both adults and children.
I love a good conversation with an honest 4 yr. old and I love it when I meet people like that couple that genuinely want to listen to your children.
I feel like you took the thoughts right out of my head and worded this so much more beautifully than I ever could have. I am so very glad you wrote this post! I have so much more I feel like I could say, but I am out of time right now, and honestly you said it all!! Thank you for writing this!
I guess I have been fortunate to have several people in my life who honored who I was as a young girl. My grandmother and my Aunt come to mind. As a result I had and have very close relationships with them. I am blessed.
I try to honor my children's voices. Often the wisdom of children goes unnoticed.
When I was younger I felt so valued when certain family members would talk to me. Really talk to me, like ask my opinion on things kind of talks. It made me feel like they could over look the fact that I was so much younger and wanted to get to know my soul. I think sometimes people get caught up in the "shes too young to talk about subjects like that" kind of thing. Sure, but there are lots of appropriate topics for kids, and it makes them feel so good to be heard. I think many people ask kids things like "how is school" and "what grade are you in now". Informational kind of questions to create conversation but asking a child's opinion makes them feel like they matter.
This is another one of your posts that I want to remember. I ask myself if I am one of those people as I read this and I think the former pre-school teacher in me says I am. Sometimes I almost have to tell myself to stand up, talk to the parents... they're speaking to you!
Thank you so much for adding your thoughts to this conversation, Brittany. Your tip is a very practical one (which I appreciate). I'm going to try to remember to ask for opinions next time I converse with a child, rather than just boring "application-type" questions (name, grade, etc.). :)
I have always loved kids and I absolutely agree that their opinions and thoughts have value. My favorite part of parenting is experiencing the world through our son. However, I am also a person who will go up to a child's parents and comment on their outward beauty, etc. It doesn't mean that I don't value their thoughts, I am just giving a compliment!
Good point, Sarah! Compliments are definitely a good thing - whether they are said ABOUT or TO a person. I know it makes my day when I hear or (over)hear someone say something nice about me!
So true - children are so purely wise. The little ones who have not yet learned "appropriate" times to share their views are the most honest people on the planet. I love to hear the things they are thinking. Sometimes they are less than tactful, but I sincerely value their honest openness. Great post, Stephanie. I love the ones that make me stop, think, and make a conscious effort to act. While I think I generally do listen to and talk directly to children, I don't often think about it. It is so good to stop and make that effort to include them as very important members of our culture and society!
In many ways, I wrote this post to myself. I need to be reminded to incorporate this truth every day: Kids matter. Their words and thoughts matter. To society. To me.
i listen to my children and to other children. i do have to admit, though at times, that i am guilty of shushing them to have conversations with other adults. the thing that i hate, though is quieting them for the sake of others. why shouldn't i have have a conversation with my daughter because she may laugh to loud or get too excited and it will bother you while you're grocery shopping, eating dinner, getting your hair fixed? i've had plenty of meals and trips ruined by adults who didn't keep quiet, so i don't feel i should keep my kids quiet. unlike many adults, they get loud as a result of true emotion, instead of the delight of hearing their own voice. for the most part, i don't worry about it. it is my job to make sure that my children are happy and content, not the adults around me.
My Aunt Gail, who passed away when I was 21. I will NEVER forget how every time I saw her she would be so genuinely happy to see me and give me the biggest grin and a big hug. I think about her with a smile on my face several times each week, even though she has been gone for 9 years.
I love this post too because it is so true. People are so quick to silence children, tell this that this isn't the time or place for such frivolity. But who should think they have the right to silence the joy and innocence of a child who finds joy in the things the adults take for granted. Once in a library with my daughter who was at the time three years old a woman approached me and told me I was a bad mother and had a very unruly child, because my daughter was excited to be there and was talking overly loud. I couldn't believe someone could say that about a child who was simply expressing her joy at being in a new place. People should absolutely listen and engage with children. They would be surprised just what amazing things they could learn.
This is the first thing I look for in a pediatritian. Does he talk to the kids or is he talking to me? I also do this with vets.
Love this post, so true!
Good call, Marcela! I'll have to remember your comment when we go "doctor-shopping" in the future. ;)