Recently, I was plowing around the house, trying to put away folded laundry and man my phone for incoming work emails while my second grader trailed behind, spouting off facts about sperm whales. Did you know sperm whales have the biggest brains on earth? How about that they can go 90 minutes between breaths? Or that their decaying cadavers can occasionally spontaneously explode? Neither did I, even though my son has told me these facts approximately 20 times.
The reason? It’s possible that even though I’m giving audible responses, I’m not exactly...listening.
And this time, he totally caught me. “Mommy!” he wailed. “I feel like you’re not focusing! I feel like you’re just saying everything I’m saying back to me!”
He’s completely right, of course. See, while I pride myself on being an engaged parent, rarely willfully ignoring my kids and generally up for talking about the things that interest them, I realize I’ve made the common mistake of equating responding with conversing—a mistake that many adults take well into their professional and social lives. In this case, I’m saying things like, “Wow. Right. Biggest brain.” And, “Oh, yikes. 90 minutes.” But I could easily be parroting my husband’s plans for the day back to him while thinking about my upcoming work call, or punctuating my colleague’s story on that work call with “cools” and “no ways,” while browsing the internet for vintage Oriental rugs. The point is that I think I can get away with not paying attention, simply by repeating a snippet of the conversation back to the person who first said it.