Mother/Daughter Communication By Any Other Name
Every now and then I experience some guilt over the “bonding” activities I do with my daughter but not with my son. Sure, I’m quick to remind the kids that fair isn’t equal, but it’s still hard not to compare, sometimes.
At 15, due to a combination of his age, personality, and maybe even his gender, my son’s needs in terms of attention from me are straightforward and easy to fulfill. Although I am not a gamer, if I will listen attentively and ask appropriate questions while he tells me about his latest adventures in D&D or Minecraft or the most recent Homestuck (do not ask me anything about Homestuck; I do not understand it at all), he is happy. A good 10 minutes of my undivided attention is enough to fill his tank for the day. (That sounds… awful… when I say it that way. I mean that if I give him 10 minutes when he gets home from school, he will then happily wander off to do homework and read and game and whatever, after.) Should I ask him to help me cook or assist with chores, he is cheerful and eager to oblige, and so he is my most frequent helper as I putter around in the kitchen before dinner. If anything is bothering him, he tells me then, straight out, leaving no question as to his issue. In the evening before bed, he has no problem with finding me wherever I happen to be and folding his ever-lengthening frame into my lap. “I fit!” he giggles, as I make a point of complaining that he is all knees and elbows and clearly far too big for this. “It’s fine!” he assures me, as I poke him and protest. “I fit right here! Perfect!” A couple of minutes of laughing snuggling and he’s off to bed.
At 17, my daughter is more complicated, though that’s always been the case. She wants me to leave her alone, unless she wants me to treat her like my one and only. I should stay out of her business, but I should be at her beck and call. She doesn’t need me. She always needs me. It’s Moms & Teenage Daughters 101, I suspect, though the particular constellation of needs/personality here puts the whole thing on steroids. There are days when I feel like I can’t reach her at all, and days when I feel like I’ve been with her every second, yet at bedtime she becomes tearful because she “needs more time” with me. Either this game has no rules, or there are rules, but no one will tell me what they are.
So that’s fun.
I try to meet her where she is, as best I can. So far I’ve managed three solid hits in a sea of misses, so let’s just focus on how great that is instead of what that makes my overall batting average.
Vegging out in front of the television together is unlikely to win me any sort of creative parenting award, but it is a great way to learn a lot about my kid and also slip in some useful conversation bits when she’s distracted. Her current program addictions include Gray’s Anatomy (great opportunities to talk about relationships), Law & Order: SVU (great opportunities to talk about when bad things happen to good people), and Girl Code (great opportunity to laugh until you have to pee, but also to discuss everything under the sun, no holds barred). Watching TV together is a low-pressure situation, a good excuse to cuddle up, and she tends to say yes to it even when she’s mad at me. Score!
Face-to-face conversations can be hard. Know what’s not? Texting, or sending each other stickers on Facebook. When she turned 17 this weekend, I let her install Snapchat, and I installed it as well, and wow do I feel old now that I have this app. But! She sends me a ton of messages, and responds well to the ones I send back. We’re not solving world hunger, or anything, but I’m getting another window into her life and I’m able to let her know I’m thinking about her with a non-sappy delivery. (I mean, a super-close-up photo of my scrunched-up face with a scrawled “GET TO CLASS!” across it is all about love in a backward sort of way, right?) Basically anything I can make go through her phone at this point is a better guarantee of “reaching” her than anything else.
On a whim, I purchased this Just Between Us: A No-Stress, No-Rules Journal for Girls and Their Moms one day when it was on sale, and gave it to my girl wondering if she would think it was stupid or maybe too babyish for her. So far, so good—it’s a mix of prompts and free-responses, and we’ve worked out our rules for passing it back and forth. I won’t presume to speak for her, but I am really loving it. I’m learning more about her and telling her things about me and it’s like this whole new secret channel of communication (it’s just us, and we are not to discuss what we write in there with others or even each other) giving me clues to who she is and what she needs. I suspect it’s humanizing me to her, too, in a way that’s more digestible than listening to me talk. (“Ugh, Mom. Stop talking.“)
I feel like the clock is ticking; we’ve only got about a year left together before my firstborn flies the coop. It’s hard for me not to badger her to talk to me (I am a words person; I would gab forever if she was up for it), but I’m learning to restrain myself and treasure the glimpses as they present themselves.