Anyhoo, a few weeks ago, while chatting with a fellow mom, she let me in on a little secret:
“Our ‘coolness’ lifespan is getting shorter and shorter,” she said.
(Of course, we have to assume that we were ever actually cool, but that’s another conversation.)
She went on to explain that, generations ago, parents were first considered an embarrassment when their child turned about 13-14 years old. Later, by the age of 10, an outward cringe was necessary when hugged by mom in public (I think I was in this generation). And now, in 2014, the same mom confided that her 8-year old rarely spoke to her for more than 2 minutes at a stretch – preferring to chat via Facebook or text emojis to her little girlfriends instead.
“I’m just not cool anymore,” she complained. “I mean, I knew it was coming, but I didn’t think I’d be the dweeb parent for at least a few more years!”
Yikes. Ryder is almost 6 – how much more time will I have with him? When will he begin to walk 5 feet ahead of me – barely looking back as I hurry to keep up? What or who the heck are Skylanders?
Now I know my coolness lifespan is sadly out of my control – I’m really not willing to bleach out the tips of my hair, sport Justin Bieber nail polish or follow Lil Wayne on Twitter. At the same time, I don’t believe parents have to ride off into the sunset – there are less dramatic ways of connecting with your kids and tapping into their world (without changing the pre-sets on your car radio).
So I polled the experts – moms of tweens who make a concerted effort to connect with their kids. And a very interesting trend arose early on – it seems that in today’s crazy world (parents working, organized sports, music lessons, round-the-clock computer usage, etc.) – the only time these moms were really having a conversation with their children was via the little pockets of time they had strategically carved out: in doctor’s waiting rooms, on the way to hockey practice, while dinner was being made (not consumed, contrary to popular belief), and during television commercial breaks. In essence, while “waiting” for other, more essential tasks to take over. After hearing the suggestions, I was inspired to share their relationship-building techniques.
(Family game night? Puh-lease. It just does not exist outside Hasbro’s marketing department, according to my sample group.)
So how does a busy mom keep in touch with her kids? By making every moment count. And that means creating bonding opportunities in 10-minute intervals. Here are some tips and tricks that I’ve put aside for when my coolness factor wears thin:
1. Buy a teen magazine. Take it with you when you’re stuck in waiting rooms with your children, are attending a sibling’s sporting event, or have a few moments alone on a quiet afternoon. And read it together. Ask your daughter to explain the fascination with Harry Styles. (Is that his real last name? Cause it’s awesome.) Giggle as you read each other’s horoscope. And let her know which mini skirts are approved – and which are definitely a no-no. You’d be surprised where the conversation goes, and many topics you come across can actually serve as an ice breaker for things you’ve already had on you mind.
2. Let your kids know more about their elders by playing “Guess Who”. The next time you’re in a car ride, tell your kids a tale about yourself, their father, uncle, grandma, etc. and have them guess who did the deed. I tried this game with a friend’s 10-year old son and his eyes literally popped out of his head when he learned that his father once shaved his legs after he lost a bet. He retold the story to his siblings, and the whole family had a laugh at poor dad’s expense. The point is, it’s just as important to talk about yourself as it is to try to get your children to open up.
3. Feign ignorance. Young children are always excited to be asked for their opinion or help, especially if it’s outside the realm of normal everyday chores. The next time you’re cooking dinner, pretend you’re not sure which pasta to use – penne or spaghetti? Forget how to mix a pitcher of juice. Or ask for an official taste tester when baking cookies. Once you’ve lured them in, use the opportunity to chat with them about whatever comes to mind, especially those touchy subjects which are best discussed in a light-hearted way. Moms that I talked to insisted that it’s during the preparation of a meal – not the meal itself – where they were able to make the most of their child’s time and attention.
4. Talk just to talk. Sometimes kids just want to talk, but our parental instincts take over and we turn the conversation into a lecture or an opportunity to teach them something. Bah! Kids don’t always need to be preached at; it is okay to chat with them without having to prove a point. An example: When I was about 12 years old, I told my mom about a girl at school who lost her math textbook (covered with a New Kids on the Block book cover, of course). My mom instantly launched into a lecture of why it’s important to keep your belongings secure, yada, yada, yada – when all I was looking for was a “Gee, that’s too bad!” Sometimes an important goal in communicating with kids is simply talking just to talk.
5. When all else fails, create 10 minutes of quality time. Drop in their room before they go to sleep. Press mute during TV commercials. Get into the habit of waking a little earlier so you’re not rushing around in the morning. Take a moment to call them from work if you know they’re already home. It’s so important to continually find moments to connect and make every moment count.
I think I’ll be saving this blog post for when my little guys are little older. Thankfully, as both are under 6 years old, I’m still part of their inner circle (although my husband definitely outranks me). I’d love to hear more suggestions of how to stay connected when your coolness factor runs out – and to all the moms who work hard to stay relevant in their child’s life – y’all TOTALLY rock!