At the start of September, whenever my 2nd-grader hopped in the car after school, I found myself asking her the same exact question out of habit: “So, how was your day?” (I mean, that’s just involved parenting, right?)
With a huge grin on my face, I’d go right into questioning mode — practically begging for information before she even buckled her seatbelt, and hoping to hear about all the amazing things she did that day. But the conversation would always crash and burn, almost as quickly as it got started.
It would go a little something like this …
“Hey, how was school today?”
“What’d you do?”
“I don’t know.”
“Did you make any new friends? Do anything new? What about that music club?”
“I guess … Can you put on Lady Gaga?”
It was at this point in the conversation that her voice usually trailed off, as she gazed out the window, with her mind clearly on something else.
The truth of the matter was, I was overly interested in what my daughter was doing and how she was adjusting. She’d just started at a new school and I was nervous (and okay, a little too eager) about her settling in. I had every reason to have concerns, too — she’d had a rough school experience under her belt already, and I was desperate for this new one to be the perfect fit.
But it soon became pretty clear to me that all my cards were showing. My neediness for answers was like laying all my worries out on the table for her to absorb. And she was likely drowning me out for that very reason.
I wasn’t getting the answers I wanted or needed to know that my daughter was happy and thriving in her new environment, and my anxiousness was apparent. So apparent in fact, that it was probably making her anxious, too. Plus, I realized that my daily barrage of questions was both predictable and boring.
Who would want to answer them? They sounded more like an interrogation than a conversation.
It also occurred to me that there weren’t any other people in my life that I’d push so hard to get an answer out of. So why was I doing it to my own kid?
The answer to that one was easy: Because I’m a worried mother. But that didn’t help my cause as far as my daughter was concerned.
No, I needed to take a step back, play it cool, and just respect her boundaries. She was clearly hinting that she didn’t like my approach. So instead of getting annoyed or upset, I decided to change it.
I secretly vowed to ditch my interrogation efforts and simply start respecting my daughter’s lack of response. I wouldn’t ask her any more questions about her school day — and if I felt like talking, I’d tell her about my day instead. Or just give her a hug and a kiss and put on Lady Gaga right off the bat.
Right away, I noticed a shift. After listening to me jabber on about my own ventures — what me and her younger brother did that day, projects or stories I was working on, or having a few quiet moments to digest her thoughts — she’d start doing her own jabbering. She’d think of things she wanted to tell me about, new friends, new clubs (even some boy drama!), and she wouldn’t stop talking until we got home from school.
Sometimes, she’d even insist that I sit in the car until she could finish a story (and yes, I’d happily oblige).
Suddenly, it felt like she was an open book. It wasn’t all question and answer; it was genuine. I started to see that maybe she had actually been really wanting to open up all along, she was just tired of all my nagging questions.
It sounds a bit mean, and even uncaring, but I never ask my kid about her day anymore. And I urged her father (who was basically up against the same wall I was) to do the same. We’ve both reached the same conclusion: that she’s much more willing to chat us up if we simply resist the urge to question her.
No, I’m not suggesting that we all simply throw our hands up, and neglect trying to find out what’s going on in the lives of our children. But I do think that letting them come to us can have an empowering effect. This one simple (but not so easy to apply) tactic certainly worked wonders for my daughter. Because who doesn’t feel more open to share when they aren’t being pressured to? Now she knows she can tell me what she wants to and I’ll listen — without chasing her down for the answers.
In the coming years, as my daughter turns into a tween and then — Lord, help me — a teen, I know I’ll have way more questions. And at times, I’ll even be desperate for answers. It’s not going to get any easier from here on out to resist the urge to ask away. But if I’ve learned anything from my little school pick-up experiment, it’s to keep my eyes and ears open, and my mouth shut. If I want an actual conversation, I can’t pry. I just have to be here for the good, the bad, and the ugly, and hope the words keep flowing.