Sometimes, as a parent, you just have to be blunt. Ask what you’re curious about, say what you mean, quit beating around the bush and be direct. Being blunt can feel awkward, pushy, or intrusive. We may worry about putting our kids on the spot or fret about how it makes us vulnerable. But I tell you what, I’d rather be straight with my kids and deal with the odd awkward moment then always be wondering what they think, or always walking on eggshells when I have a question or a comment to share.
Last night I was direct with my daughter.
My daughter, who is often a mystery to me. My daughter, who does not wear her emotions on her sleeve. She carries herself like a young lady, is a master of self-control. But she is not a master of self-expression. Her thoughts and feelings can get stuck inside her with no words and here I am, a wordsmith who loves deep probing and conversations that ignite self-discovery and I want to know my daughter so I look for ways to connect. I have learned it doesn’t often work to speak to her in poetry and subtlety. I have to be direct.
“Are there any questions you want to ask about growing up?”
She and I were spending some time together, just the two of us. She was my captive audience for ten minutes or so. I was curious.
So that was that. For a second. But then. . .
I don’t even remember exactly how it happened. But there were some questions. And statements. And moments of vulnerability along with shared knowing glances. “Did you ever feel like this, Mommy?” and “What was it like for you?”—questions to fill a mother’s heart to overflowing—came my way. And then, a little while after our shared time ended she approached me in the upstairs hallway.
“Mommy, can we set aside some one on one time this weekend? So we can have another conversation?” Another knowing glance, a shy moment of eye contact that told me yes, Mommy, you are making a connection.
“Yes, baby. We can sure make that happen.” I am amazed. I don’t know why I am amazed. You would think by now I would get the fact that my kids enjoy my attention. They want to connect with me as much as I want to connect with them. They crave my undivided attention, want my input, are curious about my experience. This is what a healthy relationship looks like.
But I still am amazed. Isn’t intimacy the most amazing thing? The fact that we not only have the personal experience of living in this world, experiencing all its wonders and revelations and struggles, but that we can then share those experiences with other people, and share the beauty of this life with someone else who can hold our experiences with us, reminding us that they’re real.
I felt the realness of my connection with my girl when I sat down to read to my kids that night before bed. The way she bounced over to sit by me, the way she snuggled into me and solicited my tickles, the way she rested her head on my shoulder when any other night she would have chosen the cat to snuggle with instead. Intimacy begets intimacy—what a profound principle to remember.
Parenting, for me, is a mystery. And yet I discover new truths every day it seems, tangled up in the trial and error of finding what works. Directness has not always been my strong suit, but I am reaping the rewards of trying it on for size. I guess sometimes our kids just need us to ask: “What do you want to know?” and be ready to respond when the questions come.