If you are like most parents, the first few minutes when you pick up your child from school. or the first time you see them after a school day, is considered pretty important (by you). Your amazing, wonderful, fabulous offspring has been away from your precious care and out of sight from your protective, watchful eyes for 8 whole hours (or more) and you
want need to know everything that happened while you were separated. Part curiosity- how is my child experiencing school? Part need for control- did they eat all their lunch and turn in their homework like I told them to? Part guilt or expectation- good parents are supposed to ask their kids questions after school, right?….Inquiring minds want to know! And so perhaps this scene is familiar:
You enter the godforsaken minefield also known as the high school parking lot, right as the dismissal bell rings. Why do teenagers think it’s ok to just stand in the middle of this parking lot? Why do people not bother looking before they start pulling out of their spots? Why do some parents think they don’t have to follow the rules and think they can park in the loading zone? Come on people! It’s every carpool for their own! Caffeinated Moms, daredevil skateboarders and screaming younger siblings are everywhere. And it’s only Monday. You sit in your car near the baseball field (the predetermined, pick up spot) and watch the madness unfold. You remind yourself these memories are short-lived. Soon he’ll drive himself to school. Thank God…can’t wait! Ah, there he is, you spot your teen and begin to plot the escape route from the parking lot. He’s opening the door. You put your game face on. And….Go!
“Hi there!” (you greet him in your most awesome, loving sweet Mom voice)
“hey” (he grunts…are his eyes even open?)
“How was school?” (you say smiling in his direction, while honking at yet another kid staring at their phone who just walked in front of your car).
“fine” (he grumbles almost inaudibly)
And then whoosh…like a giant wave:
“How did your presentation in History go? Did you talk to your Math teacher about that homework problem #8 that you were stuck on? Was your friend who got food poisoning back at school today? What did you have for lunch? Did you turn in those forms to the front office? What do you have for homework? Did you write everything down in your planner? Did you find out what time practice is? Did you find your water bottle? When are you signing up for that SAT prep class? What do you want for get your sister for her birthday? Have you decided what colleges you want to visit over Spring Break yet?”
And that is when your adorable, sweet son turns into a ferocious scary dragon, looks at you with fire in his eyes, and roars: “LEAVE ME ALONE!!!”
Um, what happened? At this point you can roar back to that ingrate about how lucky he is to have a Mom that cares. Or you can sulk, whine and pout about how much you do for him and how you don’t ask for much and decide he must really just hate you. OR you can listen and follow what he’s telling you and simply leave him alone.
Dr. Shefali Tsabary, Conscious Parenting expert who I am a true fan of, talks about this after school parental inquisition and she makes a spot on observation- we’re really asking our kids about their day to satisfy some need or expectation of ourselves as a parent. Does this interaction serve the child in any way? I’ve thought about that a lot…and played with the concepts of the fine line between care & concern and control & crazymaking. It is indeed a fine line!
When facilitating my Positive Discipline Parenting class I pose the dilemma to parents like this, “How would we feel if the moment we walked in the house after a long day at work, our spouse or child bombarded us with all these questions?” If you stop and think about it, what do we as adults want when we come home after a long day? I for one, would like a moment…well, more accurately quite a few moments. In which I can take off my shoes and take a deep breath or two. Clear my head and shift into a new environment. Maybe get a drink (water or?) and perhaps a little snack. And then I could begin to figure out what’s next and plan out what needs to be done that evening. Sounds good doesn’t it? What on Earth makes us think that what we want is so much different from what our child wants after school? Remember they’re human beings just like us! Albeit a bit shorter. Or in my case, quite a bit taller now.
Once I had this aha realization I was determined to do something about it. What unfolded was unplanned magic I think. It was a Wednesday afternoon and it was an unusual day because I had a few minutes in between finishing up at work and when I needed to pick up my son. I decided to stop off at home and take Riley, our sweet pup for a quick “business” walk. Then it was time to make my way to the atrocious high school parking lot. I took Riley along for the ride. Once I parked near the baseball field, I rolled down the window a bit and Riley stuck his head out the window to spy my son. After a few minutes, the dog saw my son walking towards the car. Riley perked up and his fluffy tail started wagging. Once my son got in the car, Riley jumped right into my teens’ lap. His tail was wagging so fast it looked like it would wag right off! He started licking my son’s face and my son returned the excitement by greeting Riley with a huh, petting him and showering him with attagoodboys. I said nothing. I just witnessed. The magic of complete utter joy that Riley showed his best friend after not seeing him all day. And how that was so sweetly reciprocated. Riley didn’t ask about homework or lunch or anything else! And yet I could sense my son felt absolutely adored and loved.
Isn’t that what it’s all about? Isn’t that what we want to give our kids after a long day? A feeling of warmth, acceptance and love? Yes!
So take a Lesson from Riley: when you pick up your child from school ditch the questions and instead tell them and show them you missed them, you love them and your respect their need for some chill time. When you first try this, it will be awkward. For you and for your kiddo. The first time I tried this when my son got in the car I simply said “Hi! So good to see you!” I didn’t follow up with any questions or demands. I had no agenda. As we pulled out of the parking lot the car was silent. Finally HE couldn’t take it anymore and broke the silence with an exasperated, “Are you mad at me??” Nope. Not mad at all.
Simple? yes! Easy? no! Change usually isn’t and breaking habits can be challenging. It is so worth it though! Hold the space for them. Greet them with Riley Joy and don’t worry, when they are ready and willing to talk and share, they will find you. All you have to do is Just. Let them…BE.