An exclamation of annoyance comes from the back row of the minivan: “Ugh, I didn’t plug my phone in and I left the iPad at home. I can’t read or I’ll feel sick.”
I call back to my tween, “How awful! You might actually have to have a conversation with your mother. Gasp!”
It is dark and I am concentrating on the road but I can imagine the eye roll that greeted my offer.
When she was a little kid, we spent almost every minute of every day together. At night, we’d cuddle together and talk about her dreams, her worries, the meaning of life, and whether unicorns or mermaids were more magical.
Now, I count myself lucky if she tosses out a “Hi, Mom,” on her way up to shut herself in her room. Unless, of course, she’s procrastinating. Then I am suddenly the most stimulating conversation partner in the world.
Still, I know that she needs that connection with me and her dad, more than ever before. It builds up and then suddenly the words come tumbling out when she cannot hold them in anymore. All the hopes and fears and triumphs and losses that she has been keeping inside just explode.
We need to do a better job connecting so I am making a New Year’s Parenting resolution to give her the gift of conversation. This works just in time for the holidays too. In ways both big and small, I am going to make sure we have those talks that will build a stronger bond and also keep her confident and safe as she makes healthy choices. (Here’s a good guide for when those tough questions about alcohol come up.)
Just like when I used to cut her sandwiches into funny shapes or add cheese sauce to her veggies, I am going to have to dress this up and maybe even be a little sneaky about getting in our chats. I have thought of some “gifts” I think she will enjoy that will really give me more quality time with my kid.
* Coffee Shop Gift Card: Tweens think it is so mature to hang out at the coffee shop, even if they are just getting a chocolate shake, hold the coffee. She’ll feel even more grown up when she pulls out a card to pay herself. While we are sipping, we can catch up.
* Movie Gift Card: Tweens are often ready for slightly more mature moves–but not too mature! Peer pressure, parties with alcohol, bullying, and romantic relationships, often feature in movies suitable for the middle grades. Watching something with slightly more grown-up themes is the perfect time to discuss the choices characters make, how she feels about them, and why there is no way we’re hosting one of those parties.
* Parent/Child Book of the Month Club: My tween always wants me to read her favorite novels. I will never be able to keep up with her voracious reading but she can select a book each month to read together. Then, we’ll never be at a loss for conversation topics when her devices run out of charge.
* Classes and Workshops: My daughter does a lot of cool activities but why should she have all the fun? Signing up for a dance class, a paint night, or a cooking class will give us plenty to laugh about–bonus if she is the expert and can show me the ropes!
* Baking Mix or Art Supplies: Scheduling in a class can be challenging and sometimes it is outside of the budget. We can discover together and make our own fun at home with some supplies.
Most of all, I am going to make sure I notice when she needs to connect. Even if I it is late and I am pretty sure she is just procrastinating bedtime, five more minutes won’t make a difference. When she is getting stressed out, maybe we need to head for the beach to look for sea glass. Hopefully, somewhere in those times, she’ll let me know what is on her mind.