I’ve noticed that my younger children have bought into our empowerment experiment a bit more voraciously than my older 2. They tend to meet our tasks fairly head on with out a lot of lip, sarcastic come-backs or the all too familiar tween/teen sigh-rolls (you know the ones … the pronounced, yet understated eye-roll punctuated with an audible air exhalation). I’m sure the younger ones will hone their skills in this area, but until that day, I’m going to do everything possible to solidify this work thing.
I’ve also noticed that about the time hormones fire up, around 6th-7th grade, the open door communication policy (where questions and conversation are welcomed and returned) has been locked. Somewhere along the line, the kids rifled through my parenting purse and stole my keys. Or maybe they took what was rightfully theirs. I’ve just been so accustomed to being in control, I thought they were mine.
So instead of free conversation, I tend to be hitting a cold hard wall.
“How was school today?”
“Who did you talk with?”
“What did you have for lunch?”
Annoyed sigh followed by silence.
“DO YOU HEAR ME TALKING TO YOU?! The least you can do is respond! Do you have ANY homework?!!”
“I have a paper.”
“WHAT?! SPEAK UP!” … Of course I then turn to “suggesting” a study strategy. What, when, how to go about getting the work done. Yadda, yadda, yadda .. blah, blah, blah. … I can still get away with this strategy with my younger kids. Not so much with the older ones. I can see why they turn me off.
So much for productive conversation. I usually to hit them right after school, right after a sporting event (with all my great insight into how they might improve), right after a party (which could be good or bad depending upon their insecurity level), and other inopportune times. It’s such a weird phase of life, the in be-tween years. It seems to even out by the middle to end of high school… but it sure can be a bear before then.
So what is the key? I think it is patiently waiting for them to open the conversation door rather than shoving myself through. I’ve noticed in as much as they shut me out, they welcome me in. Usually at weird, unexpected times.
Today, driving to church, somehow a mood had changed from annoyed silence (mad at the mother that required a wardrobe change … I just couldn’t stomach the sport shorts or three-day-old t-shirt), to genuine interest in telling me about an all-important incident from the day before. Honestly, I can’t remember specifics because I had no idea what he was talking about, let alone did I get it. But I know enough to feign genuine interest and to do my darnedest to figure it out. These open doors, sometimes only a crack in a window, require every effort to capitalize on a connecting opportunity.
The truth of the matter, they reach they age when they won’t answer when asked. They need to talk when they want … not when we want them to talk. Sometimes I’m offended by this, thinking it’s a sign of disrespect. But I’m not sure they always mean it that way.
Just the other day, I drove through the sports carpool line (something I rarely do since a neighbor brings Speed Police home from volleyball). Poor Sister Save-A-Lot had left her grammar book in her desk, so I thought I’d run her by school to grab it and pick up SP at the same time.
As the schnook emerged from thy gym, she spied our car. An indignant look overtook her normally happy expression as frustration rose through her body. I pulled up to let her in the car. (No need to note we had been patiently waiting for 15 minutes, 15 minutes that would have had us home doing things we would have preferred doing.)
“What are YOU doing here?!!” she barked at me.
“Uhhh… Picking you up,” I reply a bit shocked at the harsh greeting.
“Uhhhgg!!” she eye-rolled to her friend. “Why?!”
“Because I’m here.”
“Well … I’d really rather go home in Mira’s car.”
“Yeah, sure. See you at home.” Yes. I caved. Despite her outright disrespect, I chose to let her do what she wanted because it really wasn’t that big of a deal.
Later when we “discussed” her rude behavior, she admitted her inappropriate actions, especially in front of her friend. She honestly didn’t mean to do it; the reaction just burst out. Clearly, she hasn’t honed the skill of filtering feelings, something that will come with age … and practice.
So … how to manage? I heard on the street from a few MOAT fams, plus a sage and wise grandpa who goes home tomorrow (boo-hoo), a couple great ideas to help them learn to open their communication door more often than not.
First, get the kid away, preferably to some common ground without expecting much from them, but being available if something comes. Whether it’s breakfast before school together, a weekend pedicure, yogurt after a bike ride, a night away … something outside of our home, hopefully leaving emotional baggage and agendas behind.
Second, zip the busyness. Seriously. Clear schedules so margin exists. The new normal is undefined in that who knows when the conversation might flow … even they don’t know. So, if the phone rings when their mouths start to share – don’t answer it (man did I struggle with that one just today!). In my case, if little brother fires up a whine fest just at the moment of openness, stuff a lolipop in the wailer’s mouth and zero in on the talker.
In our house, the conversations rarely last long. Often I’m scratching my head wondering why blah, blah, blah was SO important to them. But I sure have realized the conversation lock-down is very real and completely gender neutral. My boy and girl equally open and shut their doors at a whim.
Thanks goodness I have a few younger ones who still tolerate my lame attempts to control everything. Also, thank goodness my older ones have started to take ownership of their keys. I want them to gain independence. It’s not easy for either of us, but important for both of us to work together, respectfully (Aretha R-E-S-P-E-C-T – on both sides), to navigate door movement.
Let me know your thoughts….
and thanks for walking the road with me.
tyle=”text-align: left;”>btw… when TTO thinks of an open door, I’m pretty sure this is how he sees it… :)