Listening: you wouldn't think it was that hard, would you?
But in recent months, there seems to have been a major ear-related malfunction in both me and my adolescent lad, Ben. The trouble comes when he wants something explaining. When I try to clarify why, say, we need trade unions, or what/who caused the bleedin' banking crisis, he can't seem to understand me – I mean he really cannot understand me.
It's like I'm speaking Ancient Greek (which I'm not, because I can't). And no matter how hard I try, the message just doesn't get through.
For example, there we were this week, him sitting at the kitchen table while I cooked dinner. Somehow the conversation turned to South Africa, apartheid, boycotting Barclays, all that stuff.
'What did Barclays ever do to you?' asked Ben.
'Well, they didn't do anything to me, exactly, but they did business with South Africa and...'
'What's so wrong with that?'
'South Africa was a horrible regime in those days, so they shouldn't have invested there,' I replied.
'But I don't understand – how could they invest in a country?' he said, becoming increasingly exasperated.
Here we go, I thought. 'Banks often invest in countries,' I said, getting fractious despite myself, scrambling for basic economics while trying not to burn the chops. 'They lend money to the government, and support companies there, and...'
'What?' said Ben. 'That doesn't make any sense!' then marched off to watch Mythbusters.
This happens all the time, leaving us both feeling crappy and confused. And I must confess, I've been just as guilty. Now, I think I'm a pretty good listener – I'm a personal coach as well as a writer, so I have to be.
Clients come to me for help with their own troublesome teens and everyone tells me their troubles: friends, family and sweet little old ladies on the bus. I like listening. I find people endlessly fascinating, so it's no great chore. But with Ben, it seems increasingly hard to put all my parenting knowledge into practice.
And it drives him nuts. He says I never listen, that I just talk at him all the time. And, grudgingly, I recently had to admit he was right. It's partly adolescence, of course, because we seem to butt heads a lot these days – I know, I know, it's classic adolescent-boy stuff to disagree with everything I say.
He's fighting me to pull away; becoming his own person by proving he's not just a mini-me. I know these things. But the fact that I know them intellectually doesn't always make actual, real-world parenting any easier.
Anyway, things were getting really fractious between us and I had to do something. So I decided to start listening. Properly. However much I want to jump in, I now bite my tongue and let Ben speak, then reply – back and forth, like a normal conversation, you might say.
It seems to be working, so fingers crossed...