Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Reflective Listening

My twelve-year-old son peeked his tear-reddened face out his door. “Hey mom, can we talk a minute?”
This means I’m in trouble, right?
He had stormed off to his room after a fight that started with me telling him he had to load the dishwasher before he played his computer game, and ended with him saying, “Well, you spend all your time working on your book!”
I sat down in his desk chair, reviewing the reflective listening techniques I’d learned in parenting class. Whatever he said, I had to stay calm and just let him know I’d heard and understood him.
He sat down on his bed, hunched forward, still scowling, “Mom, what’s so good about reading books?”
I leaned back in the chair, digging through my brain for a good answer. “For one thing, when you read a book your vocabulary improves. You learn new words.”
“You learn new words when you play computer games too. Computer games have words.”
Technique went out the window. “Whoa, Ben, listen, if you want to try and convince me that computer games are better than books, then it isn’t going to work. I am not going to have that discussion with you. We have different opinions on that subject. It is no use trying to argue opinions.”
He took a deep breath and let out a shaky sigh. “Okay, but mom, I feel like... well, I want to be a computer game programmer, and you said that computer games are a big waste of time.” Fresh tears dripped off his cheeks.
I closed my eyes, and I was a teenager again, still in pajamas on a Saturday afternoon, with drawings for my science-fiction graphic novel all over my bed, and my mom came in and said, “I can’t believe you have wasted this entire day. Now get up and clean your room.”
It hurt. I felt like she was saying my writing and drawing were a waste of time, something so dear to me that I enjoyed so much was an utter waste of time. Now, as a mother myself, I knew that’s not what she meant. But that’s what I had heard.
So I told my son, “I’m sorry. It wasn’t fair for me to say that. There are good computer games. Some computer games help you learn things, and some computer games are fun and good recreation, and they help you learn to keep trying, and to solve problems. I said what I did because I was frustrated that you spend so much time thinking about computer games and playing computer games, and sometimes you are inconsiderate of your family. I’m sorry I hurt you.”
My son nodded. “I think computer games are way better than books because when you’re reading a book, you don’t get to make any of the decisions.”
I smiled. “There are good computer games, but anything taken too far can be bad, and there are bad computer games. Really awful ones. Same thing with books. There are lots of good books out there, but there are bad books too.”
My son jumped up. “That’s why I want to write computer games! I want to write good games! I want to be a game editor that families can trust, for people who are looking for games that don’t have anything bad in them. I want to prove that I can write a really fun game that has nothing bad in it!”
Tears came to my eyes as I realized that my son wanted the very same thing I did. My heart echoed the thrill of conviction in his voice. “I didn’t know you were so serious about this, Ben. That’s great.”
“I’m serious about it. I’m willing to do whatever it takes to get to be a computer game editor. I don’t care how hard it is. I’m going to do it.” He rubbed the tears off his face. “Well, mom, I’m ready to go load the dishwasher now.”
“And when you’ve got a game written, I’d like to try playing it.”



  1. Oh, to have the faith of a child. When I was a kid I thought I could do anything. As an adult... still waiting for "anything" to happen!

  2. Aww! It brought tears to my eyes. I don't know if it's because being a mom I could feel your pain, or being a writer with a dream, I could feel his pain. Probably both. It's so true that we wear our dreams on our sleeves sometimes. When we feel them the least bit threatened we are defensive. Mostly we are defending our dreams to ourselves because they don't always seem logical and we know it. But we must cling to them and help others cling to them. It was so good that you recognized his dream and encouraged it but still held your ground. Thanks for sharing this.

  3. I'm so proud of you. It's important for a parent to support a child's dreams. My dad was very UNsupportive and told me dreams were foolish. I'm 47 years old and he just told me the other day that dreams don't pay bills, I should go out and get a REAL job. Even after all these years, it still hurts. Your son is very lucky to have you on his side.

  4. It's hard to be a parent. Likewise, it's just as hard to be a child--even when you're all grown up.
    Dreams are such fragile things, which is why I think it's that much more important to support them. Like you said, anything that takes over your life can be dangerous. I also believe that in almost every dream (there are a few exclusions) there is something pretty spectacular too.

    Glad you're supporting him.

  5. Rebecca, I loved this post. Great listening and hooray for Ben! My heart sings when one of my children have a passion for something like that. (I bet you feel this way too with Amber and her harp?)
    Without reading who the author of this post is (I am not memorized on whose posting day it is, either), I knew it was written by you. I recognize your spirit in it!
    Thank you for sharing this with us!!

    Happy New Year! :)

  6. I have always been more interested in the creative arts than the sciences. I remember wanting to act, and sing, and write. I wanted to communicate to the world through my creativity. My mother told me I should develop a more marketable talent. I felt cut off and somewhat unsupported.

    I'm glad that you took time to discuss and support Ben.

  7. As Rebecca's mom I find it interesting that a moment that had totally faded from my memory had made a lasting impact on my daughter's - a good reminder that we never know when what we say or do may deeply affect those around us! In my defence I'd like to add that her dad & I avidly supported her love of making animated movies - buying her equipment & supplies & providing space in our home for her to film. I only wish I could post some of those results for y'all to see!! She was brilliant at it!

  8. Yes, in general, my parents were VERY supportive of creativity. They've been rewarded with adult children who are writers, illustrators, actors, singers, musicians, computer programmers, and shading artists at Pixar.

  9. Rebecca, I am very impressed with how you handled that situation. Many are the times that I can remember where my dad flat out told me that computer games are a waste of time. And he wasn't the only one.

    Now that I am a game industry professional, my Dad hasn't said games are a waste of time for years (at least not to me). He has said, however, that he's proud of the fact that I hold a steady job and that I support my family well, and that's good enough for me.

    Tell Ben that I too am proud of his desire to make good, fun, unoffensive games, and I truly hope he can achieve his dreams.

  10. So awesome you're son would share his true feelings and that you listened!



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