As I prepare for the holiday season, I often reflect on something I once read. The author explained that we talk so often about how much our families mean to us. We move mountains to see each other and show up for one another. We have photos of them in our homes and our coworkers may even know their names; yet, when it comes to time together, we can absolutely miss each other. Yes, we may have sat across the table from one another and passed the mashed potatoes, yet totally missed actual, true connection.
Call it busyness, technology, social awkwardness, or years of unforgiven conflict, there are countless reasons why we walk through all of the motions but move past our true goal of connecting with one another through spending time together. But this year has been different. It has slowed us down and made us much more aware of the people who live in our houses. During this time, we knew every single thing the people in our homes ate and wore and maybe were even a little too aware of how much toilet paper they used. (Let me tell you as a newlywed, it has been such a unique time.)
I wonder as a parent what it was like to see your children’s world open up again. Maybe it reminded you a bit of what it was like when they were growing up. Just weeks ago you know every single person they talked to and every school assignment they were working on. Yet, all too few days later, you wondered who they were texting or snapping. I have not forgotten as I transitioned from ministry to ministry in the church where I interned that in the nursery when parents come to pick up they want to know if their child went to the bathroom, how many times, and what it was like; yet, once a child reaches fifth or sixth grade we may not even know what their parent looks like.
I imagine it’s weird. It’s strange to look at this little life and know you shaped and formed them, whether biologically or not. You remember their phases of loving to dress themselves in silly outfits or fighting to get them to brush their hair and now it feels like an invasion of their space or privacy to know what is going on in their life. And the weirdest thing about teenagers is that while their behaviors work to do everything in their power to push you away, they really want you closer than ever before as a safe and supportive role in their life.
We want to make it easy for you to have meaningful conversations with your daughter. We have created a special conversation guide just for you. But, before you download it and get talking, check out these six simple steps below.
Step 1. Find a spot or activity at a mutually agreed upon time. It is important to consider where and how she feels comfortable. It has been interesting for me to learn that some girls care the most about conversation. They want to sit and talk and get all of their words out while other girls need an activity. The very last thing they want to do is sit and stare at you, but take them with you grocery shopping and you’ll find it crazy all the things you will learn. Once you find your place or activity, give her advanced notice of the time. Make her feel special in the way you ask her.
Step 2. Go and be present, but don’t be weird about it. If you are on your phone responding to work texts or e-mails, she is going to quickly interpret this is something you are checking off your list. If you have a list of 18 questions the minute she gets in the car, she is going to quickly interpret you are trying way too hard and will likely begin guarding herself. Be cool, Mom or Dad. Take some breaths between sentences and treasure the value of just having a shared experience. It’s okay if you did not have a Danny Tanner moment and hug it out. Maybe you just got donuts and that is okay.
Step 3. As it pertains to conversation, be aware of pitfalls. You know your girl and you know what she will and will not want to talk about. Does she struggle with a learning disability that makes reading comprehension hard? Don’t ask about books. Does she having an eating disorder? Don’t ask about what was for lunch. She will know you are pressing and will be way ahead of your motive before you even knew you had one.
Also, don’t monologue. When you ask her favorite class and she tells you English, she does not want to hear about when you had to act out a play in your English class and someone’s pager went off. She does not know what a pager is and has probably heard this story 100 times. Ask her follow up questions. “Oh English? Who is your teacher? Do you have to write papers?” It is okay to share some information about yourself, especially about your current thoughts and circumstances because you are in this together. But if every conversation leads to a story she has already heard she will be scrolling through Instagram and much more concerned about Billie Eilish’s new haircut.
Step 4. Enjoy her. Laugh together. Tell her she is fun to be with and enjoy her presence. Make fun of a weird food you ordered on the menu or giggle that you parked far away and you are going to get soaked running to the car.
Step 5. Be mindful of what she shared. You can continue to show that you remembered and care in conversation, but if the other parent or sibling brings it up her trust will feel broken. It’s okay to text her and say “praying for your speech class.” It’s not okay for her brother to tell her she is terrible at talking because she told you she was nervous. She also may really not care to have her photo of your time together all over Facebook. That’s your generation’s preference, not hers.
Step 6. Repeat. Keep pursuing time with your girl. Find things you think she would enjoy or listen to ideas she recommends and make a point to enjoy them together with your phones put away.
Mom or Dad, you absolutely got this. You formed her and God specifically placed her under your care, love, and guidance. Enjoy your girl!
Emily Katherine Johnson lives in Rome, GA serving as the Coordinator of Discipleship Programming with the WinShape College Program and just married her best friend, Emery! EmK fell in love with girls ministry in her own student ministry in Spartanburg, SC and still enjoys mentoring middle and high school girls. Emily Katherine has a Masters of Divinity in Christian Education from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, and she recently released a book on authenticity and grief entitled, Let’s Be Real! Connect with Emily Katherine: Website // Instagram