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.