Author: Susan R. Johnson MD, F.A.A.P.

Published: April 29th, 2001

I lost a very special friend 3 years ago. He was my medical school roommate's father. I spent many holidays with my roommate and her family for the 7 years that I trained in Chicago, since I often wasn't given the time to travel home to be with my own family. That special friend was a human being that knew how to listen and in his listening, I felt loved, so I called him Chicago Grandad. When Chicago Grandad listened to you, for those moments, you became the most important person in his life. He paid complete attention to every word that was said, and he did not interrupt or immediately bring the conversation back to himself. He didn't try to immediately solve the problem or give his advice. He just listened with understanding. You could laugh, you could cry, you could tell him anything and he listened.

I think this type of listening demonstrates unconditional love, and it is the kind of listening that I struggle to do with my own child, family members, and friends. I often do a better job of listening to others when I am at work than listening to my son when I am at home being a mom. I am often tired, and I only half-listen to what my son is saying. I often don't make sustained eye contact with him and just continue doing chores while "pretending" to listen. My son knows the difference. He longs for my full and complete attention. The times when I do meet his gaze, stop washing the dishes, get close to him and really listen are the times when things go the most smoothly in our home. If I can just give him 10 or 15 minutes of real listening, he often will be filled up with my presence and can then play by himself for an hour or two. I realize in order to do that type of listening, to show that type of love, I have to take better care of myself. I have to get more rest, eat properly, take walks in nature, and just take time to be with myself and breathe out.

A wise teacher once shared with me that in our loving of others, we need to be a chalice, filled to overflowing. We need to take what is in the cup for ourselves, and only give the overflow to others. If we continually give until our cup is empty, we can't help but feel depleted. This depletion causes us to lose our temper and resent others (especially our children). We then develop guilt feelings toward ourselves for feeling so much anger and resentment. These feelings of guilt make it difficult for us to set clear limits and boundaries with our children. We feel guilty and so we become inconsistent in our discipline, change our minds, and "give in" to our child's demands even when we know it is not the best thing to do.

So how do we take care of ourselves and keep our cup full? It is something I am trying to learn in this life and struggle with greatly. Quiet reverent walks in nature, Eurythmy, painting, singing, and meditative silence are a few ways I have found to replenish myself. Each of us must find our own special ways of keeping our chalice full. The welfare of our children, our family, our community, and our world depend on our taking good care of ourselves. For then, we can be fully present to listen and demonstrate a love that is unconditional.