We stood in my friend’s kitchen, chatting and drinking coffee, when one of her sons walked in and said, “Hey look what I made!”
We politely listened and ‘oohed’ and ‘ahhed’ as he gave a detailed description of the Lego spaceship with all possible luxuries. We’d been chatting quite a while, as moms do, and I think we both felt like he needed this moment to have our attention, but when he left the room I told her that sometimes it's so hard for me to listen to Lego descriptions or other seeming never-to-end conversation topics from my kids.
My constant phrase seemed to be, “Not right now!” or rushing them to finish up their description.
Right Now It's Legos – But what Will the Conversation be About Later?
She said, “I have a hard time too, but I want them to know that I will listen to them when they have something important to tell me. Right now it’s Legos, but what about a few years from now? It could be drugs or sex. I want them to feel like they can talk to me, and if I don’t show them that I value their interests now, why would they turn to me later when the topics get even more difficult or uncomfortable?”
Wow—if I hadn’t been motivated before, suddenly it became very clear to me that the structures I set up now would be so important later.
These little moments of listening were smoothing the way for long term deep connection.
This sparked a long term project for both of us to really look for ways to make ourselves available for these conversations, and to get in the habit of being families with open communication.
I started seeing the commentary on Lego spaceships as an invitation into their world, and on the other hand, I also got better about saying, “I'm not able to focus on you right now, but how about we talk at bedtime (or while I make dinner, or when we're driving to the store…)” and then making sure I paid attention when I said I would. Ten minutes of my focus is 100 times better than an hour of partial attention and annoyance!
Along with getting better about noticing when I was totally distracted while “listening”, I began looking at how I shut down communication by jumping in too quick or being uncomfortable about a topic.
Find more on opening up conversation with your kids:
- Lots of ideas in Alissa's book, Bounceback Parenting: A Field Guide for Creating Connection Not Perfection
- The Difference of 17 Seconds (Think you don't interrupt? Try this and see!)
- Between Mom and Me – Mother Son Journal offers creative way to connect
- Classic Conversation Games to Play With Kids