Mom connects bit by bit
At the beginning of this school year, my eldest son, Timothy (age 7), and I fell into an ugly after-school pattern. Most days, it went something like this: He would get off the bus and greet me with a hug so big that it would almost knock me over. Then, we would go into the house, and he would ignore me. He would kick off his shoes, grab the remote, and become oblivious to my questions about his day. After several minutes of being ignored, I would raise my voice, complain that he was being disrespectful and demand his attention, concluding with, 'I don't deserve to be treated this way, and I won't tolerate it!'
Apparently, though, I would tolerate it because we did this little dance, with slight variations, for three weeks. I asked specific questions; I asked open-ended questions. I asked lots of questions, but it wasn't productive or satisfying because we weren't really talking. I was needling, prodding and cajoling, and he was grudgingly giving up minimal information, in an effort to end the forced sharing as quickly as possible. It started to feel like a competition, and Tim is very competitive.
I, on the other hand, am not particularly competitive, so I tried to let it go. Maybe this was just typical 7-year-old behavior. Many of my friends were getting the same silent treatment. My sister said that her daughter behaved the same way when she was 7, but it passed. This, too, would pass.
I tried not to take it personally, but it felt personal. It felt like the first step in a slow turn against me. It felt like Tim and I were on the path to developing the same distant, combative relationship my mother and I had. I felt desperate to nip this behavior in the bud now, or lose his respect forever. These few minutes after school became symbolic of my entire relationship with my son.
One easy and obvious answer would have been to ban all afternoon television. I didn't want to do that, though, because I remember how I felt as a kid, coming home after a long day at school. I was tired and hungry, and I just wanted a few minutes to relax. I didn't want to think or answer questions or talk to anybody. I'd spent the entire day doing that, and I needed a break. Watching television had provided that respite.
And that's when it hit me. Maybe this was not about me, not about a lack of respect, not even about television time. Maybe Tim just wanted the same thing I had wanted - a few minutes of peace after a long day.
So I changed my approach. I still wait on the corner for the bus, and I still get my big-hug hello, but I have stopped the interrogation. I ask, 'How was your day?' He says, 'Great!' I fix him a snack and go back to work. The bickering has stopped and, surprisingly, I get more information about his day than I used to. It comes in little snippets now - when he pokes his head into my office to ask a question, in the car on the way to pick up his brothers from school, during dinner, in a few quiet moments before we turn out the lights at bedtime. I ask a few questions; he answers willingly. He even volunteers information every now and then.
I ask about the details of my son's life as a way to feel connected to him, and to show him that I'm interested and I care about him. Some boys might welcome that, but not my Tim. So I've backed off a little, and I'm trying to find a balance - a way to stay connected without smothering him or losing my self-respect. I do have some misgivings about this approach. It may be that this is just another example of Lenient Lisa letting the kids rule the roost. It may be that I was outsmarted (or outlasted), and called it a 'compromise.' It's not perfect, but it seems to suit us, and there's no rule that says a mother has to get all her information in one sitting. For now, I'll take mine in short but frequent intervals and call it a 'win-win' (which sounds much better than a 'compromise').