There are lots of things that don’t change when parenting older kids. The basic tenets of parenting little kids will still stand you in good stead: boundaries; consistency; consequences; and love, love, love. And you still feel pretty much the same as you’ve felt since the minute you became a parent: which is to say tired, emotional, over-it and weirdly, inexplicably, content with all that.
But some things really are very different.
For instance, I have been quite shocked over the years at how the children who I literally had to pries from my skirt in order to have five minutes to myself, are suddenly nowhere to be found.
And I’m equally perplexed how the chatty five-year-olds who wanted to rehash their life story every minute of every day are suddenly, mysteriously only able to grunt (unless they are bickering with their siblings, in which case, it’s business as usual).
Or how strange it feels to not know my children’s friends nor their parents, to never even have laid eyes on them, let alone attempted conversation (see above).
It was bound to happen, of course. If we are doing our parenting job correctly, our children will want to become more independent of us as time marches on. I don’t mind that, it feels right.
However, I’m becoming increasingly aware of how little time I still have left to parent these kids. I haven’t done an especially good job in their first decade, give or take, so it’s absolutely vital that I put this next decade to good service. I still need to say the things I want to say, teach the things I think they ought to know and instill the values that I think are worth living.
Trouble is, the older they get, the less our kids want to hang out with us and certainly the less they want to listen to us. Parenting older kids needs to be done with a lot of stealth…
But I have a strategy. It’s my daily kid check-in, if you will, and they barely know I’m doing it. Each day I use a different tactic, but I do try to do at least one of these things every single day.
The daily kid check-in
“Any news today?”
I can guarantee you that if I asked “how are you?” or “how was your day?” when I see the kids in the afternoon, I would get a grunt in response. Instead I ask them if there is any news from today. Nine times out of ten something worth reporting will have happened and from that a general conversation about the day flows. They might start off by telling me how “So-and-so got a demerit for doing such-and-such in geography” and finish up telling me all about the geography teacher, homework, lesson plan. I like that.
The car ambush
There are three times a week where I’m in the car with the kids for more than 20 minutes. I put these times to good use. The second half of the journey we each get a turn putting on a song we want to listen to, the first half we chat about the day just gone. My kids seem to be able to open up more when we’re in the car, nobody is looking at anyone else and the sensation of being in our own little bubble is high.
Side by side
Have you noticed that when you’re busy at a task, conversation flows so much easier? I like to bake and garden with the kids for this reason (FYI, there is no other reason that I find even vaguely satisfying when baking with my kids). Other good activities for this include going for a walk, decluttering wardrobes and drawing or doing something creative together. Have a think about an activity that you can do with your tweens and teens that allows you to talk, but not focus on each other.
My kids love hearing about themselves when they were “little”. Looking at baby and toddler photos also opens up some great conversations about the “way you were” and the “way you are” and the “way you want to be”. When I show them my own childhood snaps, I find myself being so much more open about what I was like as a tweenie, something my kids really respond to. Telling them what it was like for me makes for truthful, heartfelt advice when they raise an issue they are currently facing.
I love travel for this, especially – even just exploring a new part of town together. Conversation is so open when we are a little bit out of our comfort zone. It also offers my kids the opportunity to take the lead. They might be the one to try to figure out how to get back on track, or decide which street we’ll go down next as we amble along. Just last week we walked around Paddington in Sydney, an area that I know well but had never explored with the kids before. We talked a lot about what it would be like to live in one of the terraces, away from the bush and I learned so much about the way my kids see their lives.
Books and movies
If heading out together isn’t possible, sharing a book or a movie together can have the same impact. Especially if you share your favourite movies from when you were your kids’ ages. Plus, I really enjoy reading YA fiction, so I’m always happy to pick up the book my son or daughters have just put down. Amazing chats are the result, the kind of talks that can only come when your kid feels that you are equals.
How do you stay connected to your kids?