Listen To Them or Lose Them

Barbara Challies

Barbara Challies | 07.26.11


Barbara Challies is mother to five grown children (three of them girls) and grandmother to eleven grandchildren. She and her husband, John, live in Chattanooga, Tennessee. (Yep, you guessed it . . . she’s mom to prolific author/blogger Tim Challies!)

Daughters. How we long for them and love them. But what exhausting little creatures they are! Ask almost any parent and I think you will hear the same thing. They love to talk . . . and talk . . . and talk.

Fortunately as a woman, I love to talk . . . and talk . . . and talk, as well. But I also love to listen. Over the years, I have spent an astounding number of hours listening to my three daughters. In retrospect, I think this is one of the best gifts I have ever given them. Let me explain.

All children are born with questions, big ones. I remember Susan Schaeffer Macaulay (Francis Schaeffer’s daughter) saying that every question she has heard from an adult she has also heard from a child–just presented in a different form. An adult might ask, “What are foundational, epistemological principles?” A child just asks, “How do I know I am not really a robot?” (a secret fear of mine as a child). Children need answers to big questions, desperately. One of the most important functions of a parent is “prophetic,” interpreting life to tiny people who have next to no context for determining the nature of truth and reality. What a privilege this is for the parents! What a gift to the child! The importance of this type of communication applies equally to boys and girls.

The reason girls become particularly exhausting is that the world of ideas is just one level of their being. Along with this, they have tremendous interest in the world of people. Specifically, they are extremely sensitive to people as they impact their own lives. “What did she mean by that?” “Is she really saying she doesn’t like me?” “Are they better friends than we are?” And so on. Girls twist themselves into knots responding to their own world of people. Because of this, they are often desperately insecure. And the related pain is very real.

If you don’t parent them on this level, there is generally one result. They can’t carry the burden of these emotions and they harden. As I tell my grown children, “Listen to them or lose them.” For any child, time spent with him equals love. But for girls, time “being listened to” trumps any other activity. Their need for support, to know and be known, is simply voracious. And there is nothing wrong with that. They resonate to “people vibes.” It is the way God has made them.

If you work with this, they feel known, loved, and safe. You win their hearts. They become your friends. You don’t cease to be a parent, but you have a genuine friendship, as well. And this bodes well for the future. As they get older, the bond of friendship–the horizontal bond–pulls them toward faithfulness and loyalty to you as parents just as much as the vertical bond of authority. There is just too much love and intimacy for them to easily go astray. Girls do not readily violate intimate relationships. It is just not their nature. They are “bound” with bonds of love–built on the foundation of listening.

Of course, alongside this is the nurturing of an intimate relationship with God–also built on the two layers of the objective and the personal. God and His ways fulfill both mind and heart wonderfully. When girls are well-known by parents–both the best and the worst about them–they “dare” move close to their heavenly Father because they understand grace. It has been offered to them from childhood. And it all stems from listening to them–knowing them better than they know themselves, then caring deeply and intimately for their souls. This is what they most want. They will love you deeply for it.


  1. This is a timely post. I was just gritting my teeth as my 9-yr-old daughter explained in detail her (very long) dream about befriending a shark and helping children in a third world country through their friendship. All I could think about was how my coffee was getting cold. Thanks for your encouragement; I will go back and ask her some questions now!
    posted by Aimee Byrd
    on Tuesday, July 26, 2011 at 7:54 am
  2. I love the insight in this post! Thank you! I need this reminder to reach out to my girls. As always , knowing I need to do it and actually getting down to spending time with them is the hard part.
    posted by Susan McCurdy
    on Tuesday, July 26, 2011 at 8:36 am
  3. This sounds like my mama! :)
    posted by Coie Watson
    on Tuesday, July 26, 2011 at 9:03 am
  4. There's a song by Judy Rogers that my children and I have enjoyed listening to for years. My girls and I always grin at each other in a knowing way when this particular song comes on. It's called "Talk to Me" and some of the words are... "Talk to me, show me that you care!.. Talk to me, Listen to what I say, ... I know you love me when you talk to me."

    When I catch myself saying "a huh" to my daughters when they talk, because my mind is busy elsewhere, I always try to stop right then, even ask them to come back and tell me again. I realize how crucial it is that I give them my heart (and time and attention) so they in turn will give me their hearts. And more importantly see the faithful love of the Father through me. The LORD always is there to listen to me and to them!

    I have two grown daughters that I have very special relationships with and I am so grateful! Even though I did not always stop and listen faithfully to them, God is faithful and blessed those efforts. I also have two younger daughters still at home and daily still get the privilege of putting this into practice with them. I pray God will someday bless me with two more grown daughters who love Him and their parents.
    posted by Mary
    on Tuesday, July 26, 2011 at 9:10 am
  5. This was quite timely. I find I may struggle with this more than any single other thing with my (almost) 5 year old. It just seems she talks...continually. Crazy imagination and LONG LONG stories. God has been continually convicting me of the importance of stopping what I'm doing, looking at her, and listening to her matter how crazy or boring they seem to me at the time.
    posted by Gina
    on Tuesday, July 26, 2011 at 9:29 am
  6. Being Barbara's daughter, I can attest to the fact that she spent hours and hours with us. And Dad was very plugged in to listening as well. As a Mother of 2 daughters myself, I think this time translated into a feeling of validation. And this sense of belonging and acceptance has impacted me more than anything else. Something I daily work toward with my own girls, and pray for the same marathon-patience that Mom had:).
    posted by maryanne helms
    on Tuesday, July 26, 2011 at 10:14 am
  7. Beautiful post Barbara. Knowing two of her daughters, they are both secure women of God. Thank you for this advice!
    posted by betty
    on Tuesday, July 26, 2011 at 12:07 pm
  8. Thanks for sharing this. I had no idea if it was good or not to have looong talks with my daughter, she is just like you described a girl. Talks ant asks things and I must admit sometimes I've said why is she asking this insignificant thing?? And so hours go on some times in the middle of the morning with too many things to do, or at night when I´m so tired, but I can understand that it's also my best gift for her.
    posted by Diana
    on Tuesday, July 26, 2011 at 12:47 pm
  9. I have memories of my own mother never stopping to do whatever it was she was doing to just look me in the eye and engage me. I remember thinking that I, her only daughter, was not nearly as important as chopping the dinner vegetables or sweeping the floor. (Maybe some of you are thinking, "Well, she was multitasking!" or "Well, you picked a bad time to try to talk with your mother.")

    I'm now the mother of two daughters, both preteens, and although I myself would never win Mother of the Year, I deliberately try to stop whatever I'm doing, look them in the eye, listen to them, and give responses and ask questions. (As a matter of fact, I had to stop typing this message for a moment to talk with them both.) When I really can't talk, I let them know what I am doing and that I will be with them in a few minutes (like I just did, trying to finish this response).

    I guess, in a way, I have my own mother to thank for that, but the behavior is the result more from remembering my own anger and hurt feelings growing up than by a strong, godly example.

    Unfortunately, my mother and I are not very close today. While I don't espouse the Children-Are-The-Center-of-the-Universe mentality, I do believe we should love our neighbor as ourselves. Treat others the way you want to be treated. Our children are some of our closest neighbors, no?

    I'm not signing my name to this because while I want to share the hurt I still feel as at times a grown woman, I do not want to publicly dishonor my own mother, either.
    posted by No Name
    on Tuesday, July 26, 2011 at 1:05 pm
  10. I am convicted by this post, as I am more often tired of hearing my oldest speak than eager to listen. I need to listen more and to decide to genuinely care for her by listening.

    I do have a question though. What about teaching the value of controlling the tongue and learning to listen and be silent. If we were to always listen to my talkative child, it seems that others in the family would not have opportunity to speak. She would talk all day, even meaningless things.

    Another struggle is words that put others down or are bossy and comparing. I am thinking of the Bible verse: Proverbs 10:19 (NASB)
    When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable, But he who restrains his lips is wise.

    How do you cultivate that validation to show that her opinions matter, that SHE matters, and yet teach her that she does not need to say everything she ever thinks of? Or the value in thinking before we speak so that we are careful to speak words of life, not hurtful words?

    And where do we draw the line between important things to them (that seem frivolous to us) and talking just for the sake of talking when one needs to choose to stop?

    I look forward to your input and exhortation.
    ps. my daughter is 7
    posted by mom of 2 young girls
    on Tuesday, July 26, 2011 at 1:22 pm
  11. cont'd:
    I want to teach my girls to speak wisely so others will be encouraged and eager to listen.
    And I do enjoy seeing their eyes light up when they talk about what really matters to them. I guess my question is more about the nonstop issue and the negative words. I hope this makes sense.
    posted by mom of 2 young girls
    on Tuesday, July 26, 2011 at 1:26 pm
  12. I have a little boy (age six) who talks and talks and then talks in his sleep! He surprised me one day by saying, "You know how sometimes I will talk and you will not be really listening?". Wow! Busted! But, oh what a drain it can be. I confess that there are times when I hear him call, "mom!" I am instantly annoyed. It is not just thank he talks constantly, he also disagrees with people no matter what they say (which makes his older, and quieter brother completely crazy) and leads to bickering and frustration. How do I teach him restraint and the importance of choosing his words wisely without making him feel like I don't want to hear him?
    posted by Laura
    on Tuesday, July 26, 2011 at 1:51 pm
  13. Laura and mom of 2 young girls,
    I have identical struggles with my own 4 (2 boys, 2 girls). I think part of our solution may lie in asking our children questions to draw out their talk in appropriate ways (certainly not in neglecting gentle, Biblical correction). I am abominably bad at asking questions, so I write half to answer the questions I've had myself and half ask for some counsel from other moms for each of us...who has some good questions to ask so we can give our kids an opporunity to talk to us and let them know we want to hear them? I once heard someone give a list of questions you should regularly ask your children, and I have wished numerous times I could remember where I heard it so I could get a copy. A 'script' from more experienced moms often helps me since I'm a slow thinker and can't come up with much on the fly!
    posted by Tracy
    on Tuesday, July 26, 2011 at 2:08 pm
  14. This is a wonderful read, and something I need to work on. My daughter came home from school one day (she was in fourth grade) and said "My teacher told me that my mouth needed a rest for a half hour." I laugh every time I think about that -- from six years ago.
    posted by Terry Nugent
    on Tuesday, July 26, 2011 at 3:33 pm
  15. Hello: This lesson is really a timely one as I am struggling w/my relationship with our 15 year old daughter. I know that you are mainly talking about middle school girls. She has attended a Christian school through her 8th grade. Going into high school last year, she only knew a handful of people. She did make the Freshman volleyball team and was voted MVP. She has a strong desire for the Lord and picks her friends wisely. That being said, she really only has 1 close friend who attends another school. This summer she has only gotten together for one outing with 1 girl from her school. I've tried and tried, encouraged, encouraged her to invite someone over or to go to the beach. She doesn't want to. I hurt so badly as she sits inside the house on beautiful days when she isn't at volleyball practice. To be honest, I am angry abit at God because I don' know why it is taking so long for Him to have her cross paths with a good friend. I just don't understand and I truly feel hopeless. I've prayed sooo long and I am confused as I don't see any answers. She has mentioned that many of the people she knows at school do drugs or alcohol and she refuses to be around those type of people on wkends. I have a hard time believing that there isn't 1 girl at her high school that has the same morals/values as her. Any comments would be greatly appreciated. Thanks so much for listening.
    posted by Lynn
    on Tuesday, July 26, 2011 at 4:30 pm
  16. Hey Lynn, your daughter sounds a lot like mine (same age, same MO)! As much as we want to shield them from those kinds of hurts, loneliness is sometimes the path for a regenerate believer, even a young one. There may be other believers at your daughter's school but they may not know each other, or if they do, may not be drawn to each other as friends. We can't control all the things we'd like to control for them; we can, though, trust God's providence in the circumstances and happenings of life. Rather than such hurt over your daughter's circumstances, and especially being angry at God, encourage this trust in God's wisdom and governing of all things for you and your daughter.

    Toilet training often seemed like it would never happen but as people always say, "They won't wear diapers to college." Likely as she grows older, your daughter will work out these issues (no pun intended). My daughter began public school last year as well; this year looks like it's on better footing.
    posted by Jeri Tanner
    on Tuesday, July 26, 2011 at 4:55 pm
  17. Hey, ladies,

    Barbara Challies doesn't have access to internet today, but she hopes to respond to your (great!) questions tomorrow.

    Hang tight,

    posted by Paula Hendricks
    on Tuesday, July 26, 2011 at 5:08 pm
  18. This is so, so very true! I cannot overstate how crucial these insights are! I was raised by wonderful listening parents who had a daughter who loved to talk and still does! I recognized myself in this post several times over, not only as a daughter but as a mom of two girls myself. Outstanding insight!
    posted by Christine
    on Tuesday, July 26, 2011 at 5:30 pm
  19. Thanks so much for all your comments and questions. I have just read them as my husband and I were on the road all day yesterday without any internet access...No Name, my heart really goes out to you. I am so glad, though, that you have turned things around with your own children. I work with many hurting young people and I constantly encourage them that, if they haven't known a healthy mother-daughter relationship from the daughter side, they still can from the mother's side! And you are proof of that...Momof 2 young girls and Laura: I don't think you have to listen with equal commitment to all types of speech. With serious issues, always and completely; with chit-chat yes, but not exhaustively. If a child wants to talk about a long dream, I think I would say, "You know, Megan, Mommy has SO much to do right now but I sure want to hear about your dream, too, so I am going to turn the timer on for two minutes and I want you to tell me all the most important parts. Then I would listen intently for those two minutes, exclaiming and responding. At the end, I would thank her for sharing that interesting dream with me. Very talkative children do have to be given gentle limits! Negative, argumentative speech is sin, of course, and has to be dealt with in that way...Tracy: I think questions can be a great way to lead and direct conversation to make it more meaningful and productive -thanks!...Lynn: I am so sorry your daughter does not have many friendships right now. I have been there with my own kids and know that pain. I just encourage you to trust God in it. Kids who have been marginalized grow deep roots. But I sure understand the cry of your heart, "How long?" It is so interesting that even perfected saints in heaven - as they wait for God's judgment- make this same plea...
    posted by bchallies
    on Wednesday, July 27, 2011 at 8:15 am
  20. A good reminder for me as a mom of a 8 year old daughter. Thanks+
    posted by Ulu
    on Thursday, July 28, 2011 at 7:00 pm
  21. Thank you for this wonderful post. I have two little girls, 8 and 5, so the chattering is "in stereo" as it were! Sometimes I feel guilty that I am anxious for school to start, just to have a break from the non-stop talking that begins at 6 a.m. and goes until bedtime at 8 p.m.! But then I think of my own wonderful, godly mother who listened to all I had to say, endlessly patient, for almost 41 years. Now that she is in heaven, I sometimes feel as if I would give everything I have for just a 5-minute chat with her again. So...I can be that mom to my own girls!
    posted by alice
    on Friday, July 29, 2011 at 12:00 pm
  22. This is also true for some boys, especially extroverts who need connection with people. My son talked continually, was measurably brilliant (with an IQ of 165 at age 4.5) and knew he could outsmart nearly everyone. He started "telling how it is" with authority when he was 8 and we had to teach him about humility, about filtering his speech to say what people needed to hear and not everything he was thinking. He turned out to be an empathetic, loving man who knew he was valued. Listening is essential, but it's also important to teach children consideration by showing them how and when to talk. And limit caffeine and sugar.
    posted by Joyce
    on Friday, July 29, 2011 at 1:06 pm
  23. I am Praising Jesus that I could not sleep tonight...
    insomnia led me here. What a gift to be reminded what is most important to my daughters...amazing how my busy, tired Mommy mind shuts down to the eternal matters. I will listen joyfully in the morning.
    posted by thina
    on Saturday, July 30, 2011 at 1:15 am
  24. Tracy:

    I don't know if this is the 'script' you are looking for, but it does have heart probing questions that I and others have found extremely helpful. It's called 'Wise Words for Moms', and it's 4 calender pages that list a child's behavior, heart probing questions for each behavior, reproof ('put off'), encouragement ('put on'), and additional Bible verses. You can find it on amazon for $4 -


    I, too, have had to deal with loneliness in the area of having a close Christian friend. I highly recommend you (and your daughter) read 'Finding Your Way through Loneliness', by Elisabeth Elliot. In it "she gives hope to the lonely through tender reflections on God's love for us and his plans to bless us". It's short, but packed full Biblical truths and encouragements.

    Thank you for sharing your wisdom Barbara!
    posted by Michelle
    on Tuesday, August 2, 2011 at 8:12 pm
  25. Thanks Michelle! And I was remiss in my first comment-thank you Barbara, for this post. It was convicting and a helpful reminder to be more deliberate with my listening! I was reminded and challenged by the comments and personal stories to be circumspect about when I ought to be listening and when I ought to be giving correction so that I do not do one to the neglecct of the other.
    posted by Tracy
    on Wednesday, August 3, 2011 at 3:54 pm
  26. Hi Jeri:
    Thank you for your response and comments. I truly appreciate them. I know I need to continue praying and believing that God has a friend for our daughter.

    Thank you very mucy for the book recommendation. I have it on order and looking forward to studying it w/our daughter.
    posted by Lynn
    on Sunday, August 7, 2011 at 8:52 pm
  27. i have a question: what do you do when both your parents don't really show you grace, never were affectionate your entire childhood, never really listened, talked to or were interested in getting to know your heart? what do you do with these scars when they've dug deep down into your heart?
    posted by Bonnie
    on Tuesday, August 16, 2011 at 1:34 am
  28. Bonnie,

    That is so sad. I’m sorry you have been hurt in this way.

    I suppose the only way to not be hurt is to not care about people. When relationships are toxic, we need to ask the Lord to bring grace and help and healing into our lives. He won’t take away the sadness, but He can and will indeed heal the wounds (Psalms 147:3) so you can be a person that is able to love generously and wisely even with what you have experienced. Without His help, we have a tendency to close ourselves off to relationships, or bitterness may grow, or we fear being close to people. Jesus makes it possible to love and be loved—even when it is difficult.

    Set your affections on Him, Bonnie. Trust your heart to the truth of Romans 8:28. Rest in His love for you (Deut. 33:27). May the truth of His Word even now bring peace to your soul.

    He heals the brokenhearted
    and binds up their wounds.
    Psalm 147:3

    And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.
    Romans 8:28

    The eternal God is your dwelling place,
    and underneath are the everlasting arms.
    Deut. 33:27

    We are so glad you posted on this blog, Bonnie.

    Praying for you!
    posted by Sarah, with the TW Team
    on Monday, August 22, 2011 at 8:37 pm

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