Sunday, February 22, 2009

Ask . . . And You'll Be Surprised What You Learn

Sunset, Playa Flamingo, Costa RicaImage by Mark Sun via Flickr

I hear so many moms of teenager complain that their children never tell them anything. I wonder what exactlyis "anything" and I wonder if their children wonder the same thing.

Well, I'm hear to challenge those information-starved moms by asking, "When was the last time you asked for anything?" No, really. When was the last time you asked your child something specific and engaged in a way that told them that you really wanted something in return? You don't do this when you are driving and talking on a cell phone or fighing traffic with a younger sibling in the backseat. No, as a parent of teenager, you must find the right time, the right place and engage with 110% interest and presence of mind.

Granted these times are difficult to find when we are shuffling kids from school to basketball to ballet and trying to fix dinner and complete homework all in the same hour. But that's what makes parenting teenagers such an adventure. It's as much about finding the perfect time to chat, as it is getting the teenager to open up and share.

I found one of these rare moments recently in a pool in Costa Rica. There's a lot to be said about leaving the country to find time to talk to your teenager in a place where they cannot communicate with anyone in English and their iPhones don't work. You might say, it's an experience worth paying for! I not only got a tan, but got to hear about my daughter's teen experiences -- lucky me!

We were in the pool floating through the labyrinth of canals, just my 15-year-old daughter and I. Suddenly, I brought up the fact that she is currently the same age that her birth mother was when she first gave birth. Peering around my umbrella drink, I surprised her with a simple factoid. "Do you realize that you are the same age that your birth mother was when she gave birth to her first baby?

I had a difficult time determining whether it was the factoid or the randomness of the conversation that startled her most. She was very surprised, so I went for the grand slam. "How would you feel if you were pregnant right now?' It was a great conversation starter but one I am sure not many teen moms have asked.

She described how she would feel scared, worried and confused, which was my opportunity to make it even more relevant. We talked about how understandable it was for her birth mother to give her up for adoption, and how difficult it would be if she were a mom right now. Clearly, we wouldn't be floating in a pool on an exotic beach in Central America sipping non-alcoholic umbrella drinks.

Factoid #2: If my 15-year-old were pregnant, I might need alcohol. The conversation took many turns -- from friends who were actively having sex to feelings about abortion. In the short 10 minutes of conversation, I learned more about my daughter on a deeper level than an hour riding in the car exchanging yes and no answers.

I believe being a mom of teenagers makes us take a step back and approach parenting a little differently than when our children were toddlers or preschoolers. It's a time of evolution not only for our teens, but for us as mothers. It's time a time not to want just anything, but to want everything.


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