I’m often asked “how are you so close with your teens/adult children?” or “your family is so tight-knit. How do you do that?”, or “my kids won’t talk to me, how do you get your kids to talk to you?”
I never thought about these questions, until I was asked the first time. I always felt like I was flying by the seat of my pants most days, and barely getting by. Sometimes I was getting through the days minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day. There were days from the time my children were born to when they were teens, where I wasn’t sure if I remembered to brush my teeth. Who can relate? Motherhood is definitely, not for the faint of heart and there isn’t a handbook for each situation. I have made my share of mistakes, but I know I did something well too. I’m very proud, and happy with how my “3 Lil M's” communicate with us still! I would cry if they didn’t.
Most of you know me, but for those who don’t, I have a singleton son, Mark II (22), and Identical/Mirror/Mo-Mo twin girls, Martha & Melissa (21). Mark is a Senior at Dallas Baptist University (DBU) studying Psychology. Martha is 1 year from graduating from Penn Foster Veterinary Tech online school. And Melissa graduated from Tarrant County College with a Certificate in Photography. We are a retired military family, which comes with so many different factors our family has faced over the years. We have lived through deployments (BK-Before Kids), weeks, and months of TDY (Temporary Duty out of town). Most of the time these happened at the most inopportune moments. For example, hubby was on TDY for 2 weeks out of state. THAT is when 3 Lil M's had lice! OMG! Let me tell you, that was crazy to take care of by myself with 3 kids, 3 cats, a 2-story home, and a Suburban to clean. As if that wasn’t enough, lice were found 2 DAYS BEFORE PK and K school pictures! I tried to complete all tasks in 2 days and I did, but I did not anticipate what that lice shampoo would do to my bebe’s hair! It stuck straight up, and someone suggested, “Hey, you can do retakes”. Well Hallelujah! Why didn’t I think of that? I also was so vigilant with the lice spray for furniture, that all 3 Lil M's woke up wheezing.
All of the changes – schools, homes, workplaces, friends, etc. I navigated those relationships just like my 3 Lil M's. We had people in other places refuse to friend us BECAUSE we are a military family. They (adults and children) would say “we don’t want to be friends with you, because you’ll be leaving anyway”. It was hard for me, but how do you tell your 6, 5, 5-year-olds how to cope? We became close-knit, because, in some places, all we had was each other. However, we also had people in those same places, that took us in and treated us like their own family. We and our children learned life lessons often in our moving. It’s what makes us who we are as a family. We instilled in our children to be Christ-like, to help others, and to love others anyway. We taught them being a family is important, and to bring others in to be part of our family too. It wasn’t until a few years ago they found out their “Uncle Chris & Aunt Janet” are no relation to them by blood, but they’re family because we choose to be. We weren’t always able to go “home” for the holidays. We have made new traditions, and one was to invite a family in need over for our Thanksgiving dinner. My 3 Lil M's grew up making room at our table for others and giving to others. When they grow out of their clothes, or they don’t like something (even now at their age) they bring them to me and say, “Mom we need to give these to someone”. All of that to tell you raising my children has been trial and error, as well as, from what we learned from our own difficult childhoods, this is how we didn’t want to raise our children.
What works for our family may not work for everyone else’s families, and that’s ok. The bottom line is to use what works for you, and I hope something here helps you in some small way. We began when our children were little, but getting along with them can begin at any age. We respected them, didn’t talk down to them, bent down to talk to them on their level, praised them, disciplined them, and gave them a chance to explain their feelings-something both of our parents never gave us a chance to do. We have always used the “Golden Rule” in our home with just my husband and me (BK), and after we had children. We live by if you don’t like it being done to you, don’t do it to someone else. Some of the things we did:
*Baby to Kindergarten: Played with them, read to them, talked to them, a lot of time was spent revolving around them, took them to the park and to Multiple MOMS events, which is probably the same as most of you.
*Elementary Years: (1) show them you care – attend their performances, add little notes to their lunch box or school bag, (2) Weekly Game nights – we decided to be fair, they each picked the game they wanted to play, and SOMEONE ALWAYS picked Clue! Never fail. We played all 3 games and played them in the short version to get them all in that night. There were times we just hung out with them watching movies, playing Mario Kart, and playing Guitar Hero or Rock Band. Rock Band was more fun because we had four instruments- Mark II-usually played guitar or drums, Martha-guitar, Melissa- drums and guitar, Mark Sr – usually sang and played guitar. I opted for videoing and picture taking of them playing and singing. At times, Mark and I would swap out, and I played bass guitar and drums. Those are the memories the kids remember, and not much of the things we bought them.
*Junior High & High School: (1) show them you care- attend their performances, games, activities. Whatever it is they like to do, be there for them. This is a deal-breaker for children knowing their parents care about and are proud of them. (2) leave them notes in their lunch box and school bags. (3) Be Present! They know when you’re not engaged in what they’re doing. (4) Treat them like they’re important. This can be done by including them in conversations. Let them be a part of decision-making, and show them the process you go through. (3) Game nights were once a month, instead of once a week, due to activities schedules. Same procedures were done, with each of them picking the game they wanted to play, and we played all 3 games in one night. I posted notes on their doors for Valentine’s telling them what they were good at, for example - “You are awesome”, “You love animals”, “you are sweet”, “you are a great ____ (Clarinet, Trumpet, or French Horn) Player”, “you are kind”, “you are smart”. Lots of positive affirmations are a great way to build their self-esteem, and another way to let them know you love them.
I’ve always loved, Jackie Kennedy Onassis. I read one of her quotes to a reporter when asked about her duties now that she’s the 1st Lady:
“If you bungle raising your children, I don’t think whatever else you do matters very much”. ~Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis
If you ask your child “yes or no” questions, you will get one word and yes or no answers.
A helpful list to show how things sound when said, changing negative response to positive response.
| Don't say:
|| Instead, say:
| Don't worry.
|| That's a big worry, I get it.
| Don't feel that way.
|| You are upset, I would be too.
| Don't be disappointed.
|| You have every right to feel disappointed, I felt like that too before.
| Don't be like that.
|| You are mad. I understand, and you have every right to be.
| Don't be mad.
||It hurts to see someone do something you want to do, but can’t
| You are too sensitive.
||You are mad. I am sure you have a good reason, I want to hear about it.
Conversation starters – remember to choose the MOMENT to talk to your children. A lot of times, car rides to school or practices were a good time to get my 3 Lil M's to chat with me. The next important thing is to LISTEN – don’t interrupt while they talk. Check their MOOD. If they had a hard day, or are tired, don’t try to start a conversation. No LECTURES-that’s the last thing to get your children to talk to you. And lastly, tell your own stories about your childhood. Your children will moan, and act like they’re not interested, but they enjoy hearing about your stories too.
Asking the right questions is key to getting your teens to talk to you. Asking them, “How was your day”? will usually get a “fine”. Here are some examples to get more than a one-word response:
1. What one thing did you learn today?
2. What subject is your favorite?
3. Is bullying a problem at school?
4. What is on your current playlist that you love? And do you want to play it for me?
5. Are you reading anything you really like?
6. Is there a teacher that helps you the most?
7. What was the hardest thing you had to deal with today?
8. What is everyone talking about at school?
9. What class or subject do you wish you could take?
10. Was today boring? Or did anything exciting happen?
*I’ll never forget when I asked 3 Lil M's this one day after we had just moved to a new place. All 3 began talking at once, about a crazy thing that happened at lunch. They said 2 people began fighting in the lunchroom, and the principal and a teacher threw them against the wall to stop the fight. I was a little shocked but only listened until they were done. I tried not to judge or ask them questions that made them feel they shouldn’t have told me. I left it as an experience and hoped it didn’t happen again.
I’ve also found it they’re not talkative, something is usually wrong. I try to wait for them to tell me, but if it goes on too long, I try to ask a leading question. For example, “can I help you figure something out?”, “how’s ___(insert their best friend’s name here) doing, or are y'all getting together”? I just try to find something to ask that gets their attention, and usually, the flood gates open. Then I realize “oh Lord, I’ve done it now” because I didn’t have an hour to hear the story. Ha!
Watching my 3 Lil M's grow up has been fun, tiring, adventurous, and something I miss. The time has flown by for me, and I tried to enjoy every single minute I could with them. In the end, time is the most valuable thing you have to give.
“No one tells you the hardest part of motherhood is when your kids grow up”. ~Kelly’s Treehouse
Melissa Miller is a retired military wife of 33 years. They have 3 adult children - Mark (22) & ID/Mirror/MoMo twins Martha & Melissa (21). She is a Christian, Jesus loving, Southern, Cajun girl from Louisiana. She loves to craft, scrapbook, read, hand sew, and when she was younger she played women's and co-ed softball, fast and slow pitch. She cherishes her family time the most.