Now that school is back in session, most of us are getting settled into our routines. For some parents, that means they can finally relax a little. No longer are they required to entertain 24/7, referee, or chauffeur during the long summer months. They can find more pockets of time during the day to get things done, without the tag-a-longs or the drag-a-longs. They have more time, alone or with a partner, in the evenings now that bedtimes are highly encouraged or strictly enforced. We can finally watch HBO instead of Disney!
I am that strange parent who actually loves having my children home during the summer. With four boys, ages 10-18, in three different school buildings, I dread the first day of school. We dive into school schedules and activities once that first bell rings and don’t seem to come up for air until Memorial Day.
Tonight, as I am writing this, we are juggling, student council, two soccer practices (one in which my husband coaches), one soccer scrimmage, two musical rehearsals for West Side Story and piano lessons. This is topped off with the standard homework and dinner. No problem right? Wrong. It is exhausting. I know I’m not alone in feeling short on time and low on energy, but we keep going because it is an incredible sense of accomplishment to watch your children realize their talents and potential. Plus, the hamster wheel is spinning so fast, we can’t get off!
With four boys involved in so many activities, we could easily fall into the trap of a revolving door home, eating in stages at the nearest drive thru and never really connecting at home. I try to make it a point to connect one on one with each one of my sons every day. If your kiddos are two and four, it may seem crazy to have to schedule face to face time, but it’s a reality as they get older and busier.
How many of you pick up your kids from school or call them from work after school and ask, "how was school today?" Most kids toss back the easy answer, "fine."
You might continue the conversation with questions of, "what did you learn today?" and they quickly and without thinking, answer, "nothing" or "I don’t remember", and the conversation stops.
It doesn’t have to be like that! Ask yourself, do you "want" to know how their day was? Are you interested or are you just going through the motions? If you do want to engage your child in conversation or would like to enjoy more than a one word or two word answer (especially from your teenager), you can try a few tricks that work for me.
Start when they’re young. Sit with your elementary school child at eye level and ask some colorful questions.
"Who did you sit by at lunch today?" "Did he/she have anything in their lunch box that looked yummy?" "Did you laugh at anything today?" or "What surprised you the most?"
Middle school or junior high kids are always fun to surprise. I tend to ask embarrassing questions to get their attention, but will keep it G-rated here. Instead of asking, "how was your day?" you can start with, "What made your day a great one?", or "Who did you walk with between classes?" or "What was the grossest thing at lunch?" It’s so easy to let your kids fall into a bland routine, but remember, they’re not bland children. They have so many things to share. They just don’t know if you have the time to listen. Start the conversations. You might be surprised at what they share with you.
Once they’re in high school, you have to work with what you’ve got. If your son or daughter acts tired or stressed, they might be. With technology the way it is today, a lot of kids don’t "talk" out loud. They text, or tweet or post instead. Don’t give up. They will talk, if you do most of the listening. Try to make that face to face connection every day, even if that means going TO THEM.
Yes, parenting can be exhausting, but kids are so fun to talk to. There’s a reason there are sayings like, "from the mouths of babes" and "kids say the darndest things". I work hard to keep the lines of communication open because I enjoy it, and I always remind myself what my Grandma told me, "you have one mouth and two ears for a reason". Kids talk if you listen.
Jacqui Slater Lawrence