Who knew? Parenting is so many things, but I had no idea is was going to challenge my communication skills. My resumé has always listed; Strong Interpersonal Skills. Did my children not read this before they came out?!
I had been a teacher for nearly a decade where my entire job was to communicate ideas and build relationships between teacher and student, before I became a parent. This was a whole new ballgame! I needed to build a relationship from the moment of their existence. Their everything depended on my communication abilities. Doesn’t he see I’m unhooking the nursing bra as quickly as I can? Does he understand I’m changing this diaper as well as I can at this moment? Why is he screaming at 2am? What could it be? How can I show him I’m doing my best?
When our first child was born I quickly learned that smiling while looking into his eyes, talking sweetly to him as I struggled through frantic moments, and cooing back when he cooed at me were the keys to our growing relationship. This is only a foundation and I needed to provide him with more information. I started explaining things to him.
This meant I found myself in the produce section of the grocery store, people walking by with confused looks as I explained how to choose the sweetest bell pepper to my baby tucked away in a Mammas Milk Sing, that was often confused with a stylish silk, cross-body bag.
I talked to my children often. They were building their brains and I did’t want to miss an opportunity for them to have a diverse and rich vocabulary. My experience as a teacher had exposed me to enough research articles about language development and future problems in school to make me paranoid about missing a “window of opportunity”.
But I had a suspicion that talking at my child in the grocery store was not all I needed to build a trusting relationship with them. I had to learn a new way of listening, well, because we all know that good communicators are also strong listeners. But my children didn’t speak the same language, their cries, peeps, and occasional, “Cau, cau!” didn't translate for me. I had to watch and see what those sounds could possibly mean. Then I would respond with my own motherese, letting them know that they were heard.
This give-and-take we had created was the foundation of conversation and they were learning that they have an important point-of-view, an important voice to be heard.
Even now, as they are older and in elementary school, I find myself looking for new ways to communicate. To show them respect, to model appropriate interactions, and to help them navigate their social world with comfort. Family dinners are full of lively conversation, questions, stories, and opinions. —Defiantly one of my favorite times of day.
We have many opportunities to practice, and I don’t always get it right the first time, but my children are always gracious to give me another chance to make my point gently, clearly, and firmly.