As a working mum, one of the things that contribute to and escalate my guilt levels has always been the thought that I was missing out on my childrens lives. I felt (or rather imagined) that there was a gulf growing between us. The truth however is that I’ve become more in tune to my children! When we are together, I no longer take this time for granted, I do my best to give them my full attention, to stop what I’m doing and actually engage in conversation…yet this nagging feeling wouldn’t dissipate.
One evening after work, as per my usual routine, I asked Little Miss “How was school today?” Her answer was the ever predictable “Fine”
Later I asked Little Man “Whatd you do at school today?” Again the answer was completely predictable “Nothing” … And that was the furthest thing from I wanted to hear. And then suddenly it felt like I had experienced an almost physical lightbulb moment!
It made no difference whether I was a stay home mum or a working mum, I wouldn’t know about their day, or their lives if I kept asking questions like this. They were both answering me, its just that the questions themselves were wrong! It reminded me of the following quote:
“Asking the right questions takes as much skill as giving the right answers.” – Robert Half.
The next day I asked different questions and got completely different answers. Answers that gave rise to conversations, which actually opened for me a small window into their time away from me. Over the next few days, I kept trying to think up new questions, which would allow us an opening into real conversations.
Here’s an example of some of the questions I ask now:
• What was the most fun part of your day?
• What was the most interesting thing you learnt today?
• Did anything happen today to make you sad or upset?
• Were all your friends at school today? What did you guys do during break?
• Did you see anything interesting on the drive home?
• Which teacher was your favourite today?
• Did you find any interesting books at the library?
• What happened today that you hope doesn’t happen tomorrow?
The answers to questions like the ones above are not “Fine” or “Nothing” Because the questions were more specific but left enough room open, these answers actually turned out to be introductions to stories and anecdotes about the day, giving me small yet valuable information about their day, such as the things that were interesting, friends who may be ill, a child who might’ve been mean, a funny story a teacher may have shared, or admitting they’ve lost yet another juice bottle or pair of gloves, and sometimes even a new word in a book that they didn’t know the meaning of. Another important point to remember is that this is not a one-way street: As much as you want your children to talk you, you need to share with them about your day as well.
Your ability to parent depends on knowing what’s happening in your child’s life, and being able to influence the decisions they make as result of it. And that derives directly from the depth of communication you share. Deep communication is only possible if you find ways to talk about the everyday stuff, so that they feel comfortable sharing with you the hard stuff stuff if and when it pops up.
With so many influences out there, its more important than ever before to have an open line of communication with our children. When a child feels comfortable, and more at-ease then they can open up about what’s on their mind. In other words, by entering into your child’s world and genuinely connecting with them, they feel safe enough to spill the proverbial beans. And even more importantly, they’ll be coming to you (hopefully!) for advice on everything from their changing bodies, to feeling bullied, to questions of culture and faith and politics.
I have come to realise that one of the best ways to boost a childs self-esteem is to listen to them, like they matter…because they do!