It is said that the greatest compositions have hidden melodies in addition to the evident ones. After mastering a Shostakovich concerto, a pianist may suggest that more music has appeared, as if the composer left a secret embedded series of notes that were only revealed after a thousand repetitions. Not until the piece is played unconsciously, freeing up other cognitive processes to attend to additional stimuli, does the previously concealed melody emerge. I was playing Shostakovich’s Violin Concerto No 1 in A Minor as I had for 30 years when I heard another strain. It wasn’t on the page, it wasn’t part of the notes. But it was there.
Because our time with our children is so limited, it behooves us as parents to be sensitive to their hidden agendas, to perceive what they are communicating--between the lines--efficiently. Direct communication is difficult for people across ages. So parents have to listen with all our attention. What is this 17-year-old saying? My job is unbearable, she begins. My boss hardly knows what she’s doing, gives contradictory orders. I spend half the shift cleaning up after her, making sure our team doesn’t get in trouble. It’s a miracle I’m able to get everything done. I don’t know how long I can keep up the pace at work and with my courses, maintaining my grades. I’m exhausted all the time.
At first glance, or after a hundred repetitions, this sounds like a complaint. Is our young adult asking for permission to cut back her hours? Is she setting up her parents for a subpar report card? Is she just grumbling? Or is she truly stressed and unhappy?
Or are we not listening hard enough? Is the reality that rather than complaining, she is actually bragging?
Perhaps her griping can be better understood as, I get it done. I’m an adult. I am proud to be earning my own money. I am balancing work and school. Maybe our first impression—that she’s looking for sympathy or that she’s expressing disappointment—is just plain wrong.
As always, I am in favor of giving kids the benefit of the doubt, believing that they are doing the best they can. I am always looking for and frequently finding a reason for their behavior that reflects well on them. I also believe that determining the underlying reason for a child’s conduct is one of the fundamental sacred duties of good parenting.
Because who knows? After paying close attention to your kids over time, it might turn out that there was an unheard melody waiting to be discovered all along.