Monday, August 6, 2007

The Importance of Open Communication

The Importance of Open Communication

In doing family research one of the respondents shared the following about their family: “I guess our problem was COMMUNICATION, COMMUNICATION, and COMMUNICATION. I often felt very alone with my problems and didn’t have anyone to confide in. I think all us kids kept everything to ourselves and hid our struggles. We never felt like we could discuss anything with our parents so we sought the information and advice from other sources.”
Open communication is an extremely important factor in the overall happiness and satisfaction of individual family members. It is not a coincidence that talk is widely used as a treatment by social workers, psychiatrists, counselors and other family specialists in helping to solve personal and family problems. Talk is a major treatment to relieve tension, emotional and mental conflicts and a host of major and minor problems in human relations. We can provide the opportunities for our spouses and children to communicate in our own homes and enjoy the love and security that comes with it. A friend had this experience with his son:
"In the early 1970's my occupation caused me to travel a great deal. In order to continue building relationships with my children, I would often take one of them with me in my travels. On one such occasion my six-year-old, Mike, and I traveled from Springfield, Missouri to Fort Smith, Arkansas. We talked about school and related topics as we drove along the Interstate. I decided it would be a good time to teach my son about the facts of life. I wondered what understanding he had at this point in life about this important subject.
I decided to test his knowledge and try to teach him some valuable lessons of life. "Mike," I said, "Have you noticed there is a difference between boys and girls?" After thinking about it for awhile, he said, "Yes, Dad. Girls are pretty and boys are ugly!" Though I was tempted to chuckle, I remained serious, and tended to agree somewhat with him. I asked him if he realized what it meant for his mother to be pregnant. "Yes, Dad. It means she is going to have another baby!" "Well, son, do you have any questions about that?" He thought for a moment then said, "Does everything Mom eats go down and hit the baby on top of the head?" Again, I had to restrain my feelings to laugh. I explained that the baby was carried in a special place so that the food did not hit him in the head.
For the next 45 minutes we had a most interesting talk as we traveled toward our destination. Finally as the conversation waned, I told my son how much I had enjoyed our talk together. Then being desirous to recap this experience, I said, "Mike, what did you learn from our discussion today?" I was anxious to hear him repeat some of the great knowledge I had imparted to him. He pondered for some time and then stood up in the seat of our old Volkswagen. He stepped over the console, put his arms around my neck and said, "I learned I love my Dad!"
It wasn't what they had talked about that day that really impressed this six-year-old. It was the talk. He felt the love of his father and responded to that love. Open communication builds self-worth and as a side benefit is a lot of fun!!
Many years ago I called my wife from work to give her a quick message. Our nine-year-old daughter Naomi answered the phone. I immediately asked to talk to mom. Before getting her mom she asked me two penetrating questions: “Why don't you ever want to talk to me?” I tried to defend myself by saying that I did want to talk to her but was just in a very big hurry. Her next question was: “Why are you always in a hurry?” I had no good answer for that question.
Why are we in such a hurry that we don’t have time to stop and talk to each other? Media researchers estimate that by the time a child is eight years old he or she will have already spent more time watching TV than they will in an entire lifetime talking to their fathers. Whether that is true or not it is obvious we need to spend more time in meaningful conversation with family members. Some may feel that they just don’t have the skills to communicate effectively but Thomas Monson stated: "The ability to communicate is not something we are born with. We have to learn it and earn it." (New Era, Feb 1969 p. 2)
The following is an excerpt from one of my journal entries that illustrates the need we all have to communicate openly. “A new family moved into our neighborhood two weeks ago--a father and his four little boys. One of the boys is named Issac and he participated in the children’s choir program today at the church we attend. He is a cute little boy with thick glasses and a big cowlick. His parents have only been divorced a few weeks before they moved into our town. During the program I noticed that someone was singing very loudly. At first I couldn't tell who it was but soon figured out that it was our new boy Issac. Before long everyone in the audience had big smiles on their faces as they listened to this young boy sing at the top of his lungs. The longer the program went, the louder and more expressive he became. Soon the smiles turned to laughter watching this young man giving it everything he had. It was as if he had the solo part and the rest of the children were his backup singers. I was sitting on the stage with the children and could see his red-faced father in the very back of the church. After the program, Isaac’s dad came onto the front. I wondered what he would say to his young son. When he got to his son I heard him say, ‘Issac why were you singing so loud?’ He replied, ‘Dad you were sitting at the back of the church and I wanted you to hear me sing!’ A huge grin came over the father and he hugged his son. I think this young man expressed what all of us desperately want and that is to be heard.
Through the years several surveys and research projects have been undertaken determine the communication patterns in their homes. In a survey I completed as part of the research for a graduate degree, I asked a large group of teenagers if they felt close enough to their parents to talk to them openly while growing up. The vast majority said they could not. Many felt that they would be judged, get a lecture or be rejected if these adults were taken into their confidence.

Q. How often were you able to talk openly with your parents growing up?
Father Mother
Never 25% 11%
Rarely 27% 15%
Usually 32% 34%
Always 16% 40%
(American Youth Survey, 2001.)

What a sad commentary that only 16% of high school students felt like they could always talk to their fathers openly and only 40% with their mothers. An even more alarming finding that is not shown in the chart is that only 11% of all these high school respondents felt they could always talk openly with both their mother and father. If children cannot communicate with their parents, in many cases they turn to their peer groups to confide their feelings and ask questions without criticism. Youth are going to go to someone, somewhere to be listened to and we should see that that someone is us and that somewhere is in the home.

What can we do to improve communication in our home?


Anonymous said...

growing up, my mom didn't know how to react to situations that she didn't understand, nor when we were behaving beneath her standards, so she'd turn her back on us. many times, i made bad decisions even when i wanted to do what was right simply because i felt she left me alone in trying to do right, while my friends seemed to support me in doing wrong. our lack of communication in my youth and early adulthood caused her to not understand that i had desires to do good, and caused me to be ostracized by the only support i really needed. in her defence, i know that it's hard to be able to react affirmatively when we're sorely disappointed. this is why communication is so important. she would have known who i REALLY was rather than having to create her own reality of who she though i was. and i would have known that she really did care about me.

full of hope said...

I have to totally agree. I felt the same way. I was being abused by my dad and had no one I could confide in. I tried to do differently with my children, but I still reacted at times to the news they had to share. At times I couldn't hold back the fear or dissappointment. Even going through counseling numerous times has not kept me from shutting off the shutting down or off the chat line. Many times they feel I can not handle their choices in their life so they don't tell me things. Instead their confide in each other. I have sought much prayer and fasting on this subject. I now am going through this all over again with a 10 yr. old and I feel I can't reach him. I'm glad some one out there is giving ideas. They the girls say to me "mom, I just can't talk to you", but 2 hours of sharing with me tells me I must be doing something right, so I listen and pray someday they will feel they can open to me.

Anonymous said...

My Father has always been a very shy and quiet person. As I get older I have come realize and understand the very sad childhood he had. It breaks my heart because he is such a wonderful person. I never saw him talk a lot to people, only to my mother. As we got older I noticed him say a few words trying his best to communicate with his teenagers. Although it was hard and unfamiliar for him he always seemed to open the line of communication. Although I feel it is easier to talk to my mother, I know he will listen to me and offer all the help he can. Though it is hard for him to say "I Love You" I know from his awkward yet special pats on the back that he loves us. We definately love him.

Anonymous said...

I think having open communication from the time they are little is key. No matter what happens, what they do--they need to understand that they can come to you with it. When my daughter is in trouble, I struggle with wanting her to know that what she has done has upset me, but at the same time I don't want her so afraid of me that she can't talk to me about what happened & why it happened. While my parents really struggled with open communication, I never felt like they would judge me for what I honestly told them. I think that helps me work on trying to be a more open communicator (than my parents were) with my kids, but also establishing that we will listen to whatever they have to say and still love them no matter what it is.

Odessa said...

You write very well.