Keeping The Lines of Communication Open

Keeping The Lines of Communication Open

Mary, the “mom”

Well, school is back in full swing and summer is already a distant memory, despite the 90-degree weather. Gone is the whining “I’m bored”. Instead, we’re back to running in circles. And, at least for us, this year is worse than ever. Despite how busy my kids were last year, we were able to eat together almost every night. This year’s activity schedules don’t work out as well and as a result, there is no time most weeknights when everyone is home at the same time anywhere near what one would consider dinner time.

The result is the rest of us eat while our older daughter is a dance. She has something light before she goes and again when she gets home. I’m not worried about her nutrition, but I am concerned about losing that talking time. Granted it wasn’t always quality time. You know, we had our share of: “Your chair is too close to mine!” “Don’t touch me!” “Who finished all the potatoes?” But at least we were together and talking.

My second favorite place for catching up and talking with my kids in the car. God knows we spend enough time in it! Well, thankfully we’ve gotten some good carpools going, but the downside is that I can’t really talk to her then either.

I use to walk into her room when she was going to bed and say good night and just see if there was anything on her mind. But I recently made a new rule that I won’t step into her room unless there is a path cleared. (While there was a real danger of falling or stubbing your toe, worse was the effect it had on my blood pressure!)

At 13, I think it’s more important than ever to keep those lines of communication open, in case she decides to actually, you know, communicate. So, do I take my life in my hands and walk back into her room? Do I make a point of getting some alone time in the car? What do you think?

Rach, the “teen”

Having relatively recently been a thirteen-year-old girl, there is absolutely no reason that you shouldn’t try to talk with her as much as possible. Navigating her room, no matter how messy, is completely and entirely worth it.

My mom and I spend a lot of time talking in the car, sure, I want her to drive me to go shopping, but a lot of that want to go with her is because I want to be alone and just talk. No judgment of dad, no annoying brother, and no feeling of pressure that it’s “time to talk.” It’s nice to be in the car because there isn’t a need to talk about deep meaningful things – we can talk about anything.

So, “Mom”, talk to your older daughter, and your younger one too. And your son. Just make sure that each kid gets some alone time, even if one night they don’t want to talk when you come in, make sure you keep doing it, so they always know you’re there when they need you.

Brad, the “dad”

Oh, you actually talk to your fourteen-year-old? What an interesting idea. Not that I’d want to try it myself, you understand, but…interesting.

Seriously: the “meal together” strategy is wonderful, but it broke down for us right around the time the second kid entered teenhood and trying to enforce it made things worse rather than better. After all, we want the kids to be socially active, have extracurricular activities, work on group projects…and that made ’set’ mealtimes impossible for all the right reasons. And like “Mom,” when one parent or the other was driving the one kid to school all alone, that 20 minutes or so each way was an ideal opportunity for a little ‘tude-checking and information exchange. But now we’re deep into carpooling, and that particular private-time is gone as well.

So this summer, Mums and Duds decided that each of us would quietly but intentionally carve out some kind of ‘routine’ time to have casual conversational contact with the Elf. Waltzing into her sanctum sanctorum and demanding an audience? A non-starter. But she was interested in learning to draw, and her Mom, as a former art teacher, was more than happy to set up a little “art class” for her and some friends at our church. Now Mom gets some of that private drive-time back every Saturday morning, going to and from the class, plus a lunch most weeks, that she can use to catch up. Meanwhile, the Elf and I have discovered a – yes, I’ll admit it – unhealthy love of certain video games. So I invested in a subscription to GameFly, and we spend a couple of hours a week shooting at or running from things in a succession of RPGs. Strange how much conversation works its way in between salvos and big-bads – bits and pieces that let me know how she’s feeling, what she’s up to, what’s bothering her.

That would be my only advice: just because dinnertime or drivetime doesn’t work anymore, do not give up on finding a routine, casual time to stay in touch with your young teen. Find some time, anything, in common and nail some regularly scheduled schmooze into the calendar. Not only is it good for the kid(s) in question, it also forces you, as a parent, to make a regular commitment in the midst of a highly irregular time of life – for everyone.

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