It’s 9:55 P.M. A lover of sleep, what I want to do right now is curl up in bed with my hubby and watch an episode of M*A*S*H on Netflix while I fall asleep on his shoulder.
Instead, I flip to Chapter 33 and start reading Unbroken (a book about an Air Force lieutenant in World War II). It’s just me and my two middle school boys in these final moments of the day. And though my body longs for sleep, my heart is full.
In this last half hour of the night, I scratch the backs of my ever-growing boys, and then we read. Together we enter a different world. Sometimes it’s fantasy. Sometimes it’s history. Sometimes it’s biography. And sometimes after we return from the book’s world, the boys invite me into their worlds, sharing their thoughts and dreams. Though these times are rare, it’s taken me a lot of work and learning to get to this point.
Here are a few key elements I’ve found to be necessary in order to successfully communicate with my sons.
1. Don’t Push
My sons’ worlds are not open to me all the time. In fact, more often than not, their thought lives do not welcome a visit from Mom.
In their early elementary years, this seriously bothered me. To counter it, I pummeled them with questions on the ride home from school each day: “How was your day? Who’d you play with at recess? How’d your spelling test go? Did you eat all your lunch?”
Their grunts and two-word responses didn’t satisfy my need for information, and my barrage of questions annoyed my boys. After completing seven long hours of school, the last thing they wanted to do was talk about it.
I had to back off.
So I continue to pick them up from school each day, just as I have since the first day of kindergarten, but now it isn’t uncommon for us to ride home in silence. Some people decompress by talking it out; my boys decompress in their heads. Once I figured out that my attempts at pushing myself into their thought worlds would never be successful, I decided to take a different route.
2. Show an Interest in Their Interests
Instead of focusing on getting all the details of their lives that I so desperately wanted to know, I started showing interest in the things my boys care about. Early on that meant kicking the soccer ball back and forth a million times in the yard. Now it’s more about understanding video games, learning the names of NBA players, and watching Dude Perfect clips on YouTube.
Doing these things doesn’t provide me the personal information that I desire, but it does show them I care about their lives. A wise person once told me that my boys will never let me into the deep recesses of their worlds if I show no interest in the places on the surface.
When those surface conversations open a door to a deeper place, I do my best to get in before it shuts. Laundry can wait. Dishes can wait. Facebook can wait. I don’t encourage dropping everything every time our children call our names—it won’t be to their benefit to believe they are the center of the universe—but it is important for them to know that we value their interests and talents.
Sometimes the right thing to do is say, “Sorry, buddy. I don’t have time to watch that video of a kid backflipping off the hood of a truck.” But other times the right response is to leave the unfolded clothes in a pile on the floor and ooh and ahh over a montage of “The 10 Best Dunks in History.” Who knows? That video might lead to a discussion about basketball, which might just lead to a discussion about an issue he’s having with someone on his basketball team.
The deep daylight talks are rare in our house, but I believe my interest in their interests has led to them being more open for bedtime discussions.
3. Know When Your Kids Are Most Open to Talk
Maybe you will discover a different time of day when your kids are most ready to talk, but for us it has always been bedtime. The “when” isn’t important; the key is to be a student of your child, learning when he tends to be the most vulnerable and open, and then follow his lead. It probably has something to do with the quiet room, the dim light, and the desire to stay awake a little longer, but we’ve had some great conversations in the final moments of the day.
The number of hours we’ve spent reading Unbroken compared to the few moments of quality conversation that have resulted would look very lopsided if weighed on a scale. But deep conversations of any length with middle school boys are invaluable. And if reading a World War II biography for thirty hours leads to an hour or two of quality conversation, it’s time well spent.
During our bedtime talks, we’ve covered everything from forgiveness to war to the boy at school who has yet to discover the benefits of deodorant. And because I know that every night of reading while sitting in the chair beneath my boys’ lofts opens up the possibility of entering their private worlds, I do it. And I suspect I will never regret it.
4. Give up the Need to Know Everything
Though our conversations are great, we haven’t yet come across many serious issues that need to be dealt with. But I know a time will come when my boys will have to work through something really tough. And as much as I love them, I know there will be some stuff they will not want to share with me, no matter how many YouTube clips I watch with them or how many evenings we spend reading together.
This is a hard reality for me to accept. My mom-instinct is to hover, to overprotect, and to want to know everything. I have to remind myself that though an open line of communication is important, it is healthy for them to begin separating from me.
5. Foster Relationships Between Your Boys and Trusted Adults
It’s essential for my boys to have the right person to turn to when talking to their mom won’t cut it. Our desire as parents is to foster relationships between our boys and other trusted adults as they enter deeper into their teen years. Our kids genuinely respect and enjoy our youth pastor, and I am confident he will provide them a listening ear and solid biblical encouragement when they need it. And because of my husband’s years of serving in youth ministry, our family also has relationships with a number of young adults who would make great mentors for our boys.
There are people out there who can care for our kids and provide them with advice and encouragement, and it is advantageous for us moms to be proactive in making those relationships available to our boys. We can’t force our kids to confide in people we trust, but we have a great opportunity to steer them toward godly mentors.
The Journey to Adulthood
Middle school boys are different creatures than I imagined they’d be when I was chasing toddlers out of mud puddles, but they’re still amazing and wonderful. I want to train mine up to independence and maturity while still being open and available to meet their needs.
It’s a journey that will no doubt lead them away from me in many ways as they grow, but while we are in this thing together, I’ll keep reading to them. I’ll keep watching YouTube clips. And I’ll keep slipping into every door that cracks open into their souls.