The first thing you notice about Debbie Phelps is her eye contact. There is no mistaking that she is listening, and not only that, but that she cares about what you are saying when she asks you a question. The second thing you notice about Debbie Phelps is her positive and very real outlook on life. Ups and downs, good and bad, she tells things they like are, from her heart. There is very little doubt about how she feels about something, and the tenacity and passion with which she shares her story is contagious.
Which of course makes Debbie Phelps, author of The Mother of all Seasons, a fabulous spokesperson for The Century Council’s Ask.Listen.Learn campaign to educate teenagers and their parents about the drawbacks, consequences, and danger of underage drinking empowering them to say “no” to underage drinking.
During a recent lunch at the fabulous Rasika restaurant in Washington DC, I had the opportunity to listen to Debbie and talk about the life of her family, lived sometimes out of their mini van as her three children spent time each day in training at the swimming pool. She shared anecdotes about how she approached transitions and choices with her children, now all adults. Her approach was similar to the idea behind the words Ask, Listen, and Learn as she used guiding questions to help her children reflect on whatever situation or decision they faced. She listened to them as they thought about the consequences and then reflected on the impact of their choice, hopefully learning a thing or two for the next time. Clearly her strategy worked because each of her children is highly successful, driven, and maybe more importantly than all the rest, supportive of one another.
The takeaway for me was the importance of communication, the power of a great open ended question to foster thinking and reflection, and the need to be transparent and honest. With our younger children, with our older children, even with our adult colleagues and friends. Learning cannot happen without these key ingredient.
Chatting with Debbie Phelps and her daughter Hillary was a reminder that regardless of a family’s celebrity status or Olympic goal medals, the key to growing and learning together, is handling the various speed bumps in life with flexibility. Flexibility that allows for emotional reactions but that is built on a foundation of questions, active listening, and a willingness to new ideas.
But of course, I realize that these conversations are hard to have. Often times, at least in my case, I react before listening. I react before allowing others to reflect. It happens. But the power of stopping, and focusing on the long term impact of our choices instead of worrying about the sometimes minutia of life, is so much more empowering.
Disclosure: I was treated to lunch by the Century Council and The Motherhood. All opinions are my own.