The dawn of a new school year brings the resurrection of the evening inquisition, those oh-so-brief few moments in our house of parent/child interaction that, in a perfect world, would stretch to minutes, maybe even hours, of deep conversation, smiles, laughing, and hugs — such truly intense bonding not seen since the days of Marsha and Greg hanging out in the kitchen with Mom and Alice. But it’s not a perfect world and the Brady Bunch was, sigh, just a really groovy television show. So what do I get?
It’s my own fault, I know, for breaking a cardinal rule of good mothering — Thou shalt not ask close-ended questions. You know the ones — “How was your day?”; “How was lunch?”; “What did you learn today?”
I’ve read books written by people who claim to be really good mothers who suggest a different approach. Instead of asking how their day was, say to them “You look as though you had a very fulfilling day. Please share with me the events of your day that made such an impact on you.” Instead of asking how their lunch was, try, “Who did you sit next to while you ate your lunch and what conversations did you have while you ate it?” Asking opened-ended questions such as these — these wise, writing mothers say — will most certainly open the door to spirited, fulfilling, two-way conversation between you and your teenager.
I am not certain where exactly these women are from, but I suspect they have never met my teenagers.
While incredibly polite, well-mannered, perfectly wonderful people, if I were to ask my 14-year-old or 17-year-old what events of their day made it fulfilling, I can assure you they would not embrace me with details and spirited conversation. I suspect it would more likely go a little something like this ...
Me: “You look as though you had a very fulfilling day. Please share with me the events that made such an impact on you.”
Son: “What? Uh. Nothing.”
Our daughter, on the other hand, might be more vocal, more open in her response.
Daughter: “Is something wrong with you? Why are you talking like that? I’m going upstairs.”
My husband and I used to worry about our incredible non-talking teenagers until we asked around and found there are many more out there like them. And if I crawl back into the far recesses of my memory, back to 25 years ago when I was a teenager, I can vaguely recall hating my own parents’ questions every day. I learned right quick, however, to answer one of them.
“What did you learn today?”
The words came out of my father’s mouth one evening of my high school years. I, like every other seemingly million times he’d asked me, simply replied, “Nothing.”
Two hours, the first one third of the S volume of the encyclopedia and a quiz later, and I vowed to never, ever say nothing again. If I claimed I learned nothing that day then, by God, he was going to make sure I learned something. Did you know that humans have over 600 salivary glands, that Schnauzers carried messages between troops during war in Germany, and that you have to be at least 30 years old to be a United States senator?
I do. Lesson learned.
Sigh. I suppose I can still dream of a day when my teenagers hang out with me in the kitchen and talk and talk and talk about their day. We would laugh and hug and eat hot chocolate chip cookies with milk and then they would skip up the stairs to do their homework while I cooked dinner in my pearls ... no, wait ... while my housekeeper Alice cooked dinner ...
What can I say? It’s a really groovy dream.
Contact columnist Mandy Flynn at firstname.lastname@example.org.