Having interviewed over 30,000 people, I consider Oprah to be an expert on the human condition. During the bulk of my adolescence I watched her sit and chat with thousands of different people on her talk show. There was the big hair and big earrings of the 80s. Then the high-waisted jeans and shoulder pads of the 90s. Now we seem to be living in the celebrity explosion of the millennium. From Oprah, I learned how to connect with people. I saw her allow for a sometimes awkward but always powerful moment of silence which gave her guests the permission and the space to respond to her questions openly and honestly.
Recently I came across a video where a student from the Stanford Graduate School of Business interviewed Oprah on life and leadership. It was over an hour long and at around the thirty-third minute she said something that would eventually change the way I parent my 3 and 5-year-old children. She said:
“…presidents, politicians, Beyoncé herself. At the end of every interview, the murderer to Beyoncé, the question everybody asks . . .is, ‘Was that ok? How was that?’ Everybody says that.”
Oprah shared how she had sensed and ultimately identified a common denominator in the human experience. That in each and every conversation, argument, interaction and exchange we all wanted one thing: to be validated. Then, in her classic Oprah way, she paused and asked the audience, “Did you hear me? Did you see me? Did what I say mean anything to you?”
Something about what Oprah said really struck a chord with me. As a mother, I consider myself to be living in a daily experiment of the human experience. Last week I was doing some work at home and could hear my 3-year-old daughter repeating “See me, Shay. See me, Shay. See me, Shay.” (Shay is the nickname she created for her 5-year-old brother, Evan.) I could hear this yearning in her voice and it made my heart ache. I was immediately reminded of the Stanford interview and all I could think was “Come on, Evan! Answer her! ‘Yes, I hear you. Yes, I see you. Yes, what you say is important to me.’”
In our home we talk a lot about kindness. Actually, in our home we talk a lot in general. As a family we have identified three important core values that we use as guiding principles in our parenting. After thinking more about what Oprah had shared, I realized that her story was in alignment with our values: kindness, communication and self-expression.
I make it a point to talk to my kids about how their words are powerful tools and be used for both good and bad. And in the inevitable instances where other kid’s words or actions make them feel dejected or hurt, I use it as an opportunity to talk about kindness.
Maybe it’s a Boston thing, but I grew up knowing that making eye contact was important. As a general rule, I try to be as flexible as possible with my little ones (and life in general)! But let it be known that I’m a stickler when it comes to greeting friends, teachers, family and even the person checking us out at Trader Joes with a hello, goodbye, please and thank you. Words are powerful tools and learning how to communicate effectively is a gift I hope to give both my kids. Plus, it just feels good to be on the receiving end of a warm hello or to be acknowledged by a genuine thank you.
In my home, we have the classic first born, sensitive, sweet boy followed by the challenging, precocious daughter. Note: you might be surprised to read the definition of precocious. I’m the youngest of four children and one of the many things my parents did so well was allow each of us to be ourselves. There was no mold we were expected to fit. We all had different interests and gifts and somehow my mother managed to find the time and energy to allow each of us to explore all the different parts of our selves. And that, my friends, is why I have an espresso machine on my counter.
We are so adorably clueless about the responsibility that we take on when we become parents. Perhaps if we really knew just how tremendous of an assignment it was, we wouldn’t sign up for it. I encourage you to think about the three core-values that you could identify as being a guiding North Star of sorts for your family. And once you know them, use them as an anchor in your communication and also how you can determine if your family is on the right track when it comes to decisions both big and small. And remember, everyone, from your “precocious” 3 year old all the way up to your defiant teenager and even Beyoncé herself are all seeking one thing: to be seen.