Without any doubt, my kids hold me accountable – as they should.
I can forget on occasion; I can mix up Ann with Anne with Anna. But after that, I’m sunk – especially when I see their pained expression and hear “You weren’t listening.” Ouch. If I am going to pull them in, I need to be prepared to listen and to listen closely.
I work to focus in on each daughter in different ways. I need to (and sometimes do) take notes so that I can remember a new friend (or enemy), a class assignment or test date; or the greatest singer, hottest actor, funniest Youtube cat video or best tumblr post.
I’ve come to realize that my failing memory is as much a function of their age as mine. Here’s how: as my girls have gotten older, I’m no longer present at their events from playgroups to class field trips to parties; I’ve become that ‘taxi mom’ who is peripheral but still (and thankfully) quite necessary to the majority of their day.
Not being immediately present means I don’t have a face to associate with a name or a classroom to visualize with a teacher and students/friends.
And not being (quite so) young anymore means that their trends are not mine – no matter how hard I try to stay … um … hip? current? with it? in? (Cripe! Am I just that un-cool?)
The key then is respecting our generational differences and having fun with them.
It’s not about standing on the outskirts amused or confused; and it’s not about me trying to find ways to fit in. It’s really about learning what they are tuned in to and not being so removed from it. It’s about listening to their music (sometimes) and watching their choice of movies (sometimes) and allowing them to fit in with their peers (still within certain constraints) while encouraging them to maintain their quirky sense of self.
And the key is to treating each of my daughters as differently as they individually are.
And the master key in all this is? … The one that unlocks all the doors?
It’s not just important, it’s essential. Telling them how much I love them is one thing. Proving it in small and significant ways is another. My girls don’t need to hear me talk as much as they need to know that I am listening. This is what strengthens our relationships.
To stay engaged in the conversation, I have to actually be engaged. I need to jump in with replies and lighten up on the unnecessary parental commentary. (NOTE: Parental commentary comes in 2 flavors: unnecessary and necessary. More on how to determine the category in another blog. Hint: Try listening to yourself. You’ll know.)
Along the way, I have learned to ask the more meaningful questions to get to the more meaningful answers. It is in the asking that I can assure them that I care. (See last week’s post, “Why NOT to Ask ‘How was your day?’”)
And I’ve learned to turn my tech off so that I won’t inadvertently avert my eyes or my mind.
My own “tech off” time, however, led to the realization that we need moments where my daughters are also “tech off”. Fair is fair. If I’m listening to them (and not distracted by my own sets of pings, rings, and dings), then they need to be fully present with me and not distracted by their own tunes and tones. When one of us is so much as glancing at our tech, there is a very loud unspoken message: “Hold on. I just want to see if this person is more important than you.”
Nope. I’m giving full eye contact. (And, I grant you that this is not always easy.) And I expect the same from them. I’m doing Q and expecting A. I stay involved in the conversation and thus with their life; and, as they’ve gotten older, they’ve turned the tables on me.
So, yes, I fully understand that I am role modeling a bigger picture here, trying to set them up for a stronger relationship with a partner and better relationships with a boss, colleague or employees.
From my daughters, I’ve learned how to:
Be accountable. Be engaged. Be the active listener.
Because the message for a few moments of every single day should be and CAN be: "No one is more important than than the person I am with."
I care what each of my daughters says and neither should ever doubt that.