As my boys approach adolescence I have accepted that my parenting role is evolving. My job to keep them healthy and safe has taken on a big-picture approach, balancing structure and appropriate limits with emerging freedoms. Successfully navigating this new terrain requires that I connect to the young people they have become; unfortunately, teens are widely known for their evasiveness. Given this reality I have found myself reflecting upon tips I learned at a lecture by author Rosalind Wiseman, author of Queen Bees and Wannabes, who discussed takeaways from her book Masterminds and Wingmen:
Don’t see eye to eye. After years of insisting that my children make eye contact with adults when speaking, I was surprised to have my assumptions about that preference challenged. But sometimes having to look you in the eye makes it harder for your kids to engage in conversation – especially about uncomfortable or important topics. Don’t insist upon staring them down when you want to talk. Instead, engage in conversation while in the car or when doing a task together. Don’t conflate their discomfort with disrespect – it will only blind you to their true feelings.
Space out. Sometimes I think my kids want to call me Smother instead of Mother. Now that they are older and gone from me for so much of the day, it’s hard to resist bombarding them with seemingly benign questions as soon as I see them. A better approach is to give them some space, especially right after a full day of navigating middle school minefields. Remember how you felt when their toddler selves bombarded you with calls for “mom” incessantly? (Ok, don’t get derailed with memories of how cute they were as toddlers – although now that they are so teenager-y it is very hard not to). It is natural to react to ceaseless verbal onslaughts with exasperation, so even if you have a million questions, try playing the quiet game for a bit (another adorable toddler throw back!) If you want to get closer to them, a little space goes a long way.
Get a sinking feeling. So you try to discuss something with your tween that you want to make sure he understands. You leave the “conversation” impatient and unconvinced, since he has barely responded and has not contributed anything of note to the chat. Don’t be defeated by an initial unproductive exchange, especially if this is the first attempt to connect on an issue. Instead, give him some time to process what you have said. After having a chance to let your points sink in, circle back around to the topic and follow up. While there’s no guarantee that you won’t still be underwhelmed, you are more likely to have a swimming response after some time for reflection.
For more cool ideas for connecting with your tween, check out this interview with the teen-whisperer, Rosalind Wiseman.
Bess Kercher, M.A. is not a parenting expert but she is trying really hard. She explores the reality of motherhood in her blog "A Few Good Moms...Can You Handle the Truth?" Bess lives in Charlotte with her husband and two sons. You can read more of her writing at www.maemucho.com.