Tag Archives: communication

Side-by-Side

mom tackleWhen your kids are little, they are all over you. Literally. A human jungle gym…they climb, writhe, wriggle and squirm all over, covering you with earthy hugs and sticky kisses. They share every single teeny tiny detail of their days even though you were right there navigating it all. They start conversations voluntarily with you.all.the.time.

I remember one of my preschool-aged sons asking me, “Mommy, do you like khaki socks? I like khaki socks.” I responded to his random question and he fired off another one without skipping a beat, “Mommy, do you like blue socks? I like blue socks.” I will spare you the details of this lengthy conversation and remain grateful that he didn’t have full knowledge of a 64-color crayola box at that tender age. Yet I hold dear the memory of that conversation because he was trying to connect with me, exploring things we might both like that mashed us together in his little mind. He wanted us to share every daily experience and talk about it over and over and over again.

When kids start school, all that sharing is spread out among more people…teachers, buddies, and neighborhood friends. You still get a good dose of after-school details, though, and you get conversation starters cued by art projects and smiley-face stamped papers they bring home.

Then your kids have the audacity to grow more. All of a sudden mini-adults are sparking out of them as they navigate the world of middle school and high school. Their minds are extremely busy places and they are doing a lot of internal processing. All of this chaotic brain activity shorts out their verbal processing and those sweet little childish conversations become more like staccato grunts and groans. I have boys, so plenty of bodily noises accompany their one or two-word responses. Although I’ve become quite adept at reading facial expressions and body postures, my mommy-brain is still curious about their experiences in those boys walking with backpacksbusy school hallways and classrooms. I still like to hear in their own words what impacted them in the course of an ordinary day.

I’ve embraced the subtle strategy of the Side-by-Side conversation. Most often this occurs in the car as we are driving to an activity or returning home. After an initial greeting and brief run-down of “how was your day?” type conversation, a natural lull fills the car.  I try to wait patiently while my son decompresses in his own way. Sometimes it’s through music; sometimes it’s a snack. Gradually some wordy tidbits start to fall out. I try to not scoop them up too hastily, but allow them to linger between us…because sometimes those few phrases turn into an avalanche of words. Suddenly I’m hearing a funny story about a new friend or how a teacher brings day-old bakery goodies to class, endearing him to this mass of hungry adolescents.

bedhead boys together on couchDuring this season of March Madness, I join my son on the couch and absorb a litany of sports statistics of his favorite teams. I’ve learned to ask specific questions about a few key players so I have a storyline to follow-up on each game. Sitting side-by-side, my son overlooks my lack of “fervor” at his level and seems to appreciate my tentative participation in his world of sports. We are training together in this new language of ours, connecting through the excitement of buzzer beaters, the disappointments of tough losses, and the shared eye-rolling at inane remarks offered by the color commentator.

These side-by-side moments are indirect and nonthreatening. With our eyes focused ahead on the road or a basketball game, our bodies are little more relaxed and the words come out a little more freely. We are aligned in a mutual activity. Somewhere in the midst of the drive or the time-outs in the game, I pick up nuggets about social interactions that would not have been shared directly in a face-to-face Q & A. I savor these and add them to my mommy collection of these brief moments that weave into the fabric of their childhood.


“So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.” Romans 14:19


I’ve learned that by coming alongside my boys in whatever they are doing or simply making myself present in their spaces, that something beautiful begins to unfold. A few words are batted between us. Sometimes I lob them too far and they miss their target entirely. Sometimes I come too close and they are returned with a solid shot. Timing is delicate. We tiptoe around, exploring neutral territory or trying a humorous diversion. Awkward moments are all too frequent, but we keep trying, side-by-side, because there’s a lot more than khaki socks out there, folks…but at least it’s a place to start.Tacosaurus socks

Words in our Home

The words we speak in our homes are so powerful. Words can be spoken in a way that edify and result in strengthening the connections we have with one another. Or our words can tear down and fray those tender threads that link us to our loved ones.

Words within a family carry underlying messages:

“I know you.” “You are meaningful to me.”
“I want to continue our story together.”
“We have something shared that’s unique to us.”

Not only the content, but the tone conveys so much….are we communicating warmth? criticism? rejection? belonging? This is a daily struggle. I have to be intentional DAILY in my choice of words, my timing, and especially my tone of voice. The words we have posted throughout our homes are as much for us as parents as they are for our children. They are reminders to maintain the peace, to speak truth, to be kind.

there's no place like home
“there’s no place like home”

When we think about the “tapes” in our heads from our own childhood, what do we hear? Think back to those tender junior high lunch encounters, those rowdy high school band trips, those tension-filled college interviews. How many of those events had a word or phrase etched into the memory? How many of these were more negative than positive because it felt seared into us at the time?

The lines repeated to us the most and grooved into us are most likely from our closest family members and carved in deeply during intense interactions filled with highly charged emotions. What are we as parents instilling in our children’s heads? What tracks are we laying down? When our child is in a tough spot, does our voice pop in with an encouraging tone “you’ve got this!” or a negative tug “what did you do NOW?” Home is where we practice our words and reactions with one another. It’s where the training ground is for communication.

My husband and I have been working toward fostering a ‘no criticism’ buffer around our dinner table, redirecting and reminding our sons to rephrase negative statements they make to one another. Recently, we capitalized on a sermon we heard about not using a filter of negativity with one another. The pastor’s message was about how much we “filter” over our interactions, not being true and genuine, often putting a negative spin on others to cast ourselves in a better light. Since we heard this message as a family, I made a #nofilter reminder sign and place it in the center of our table. When this reminder was first invoked, my #nofilteroldest son was particularly quiet throughout the meal. My middle son noticed this and complimented his brother on respecting the #nofilter rather than make critical comments to correct his younger siblings’ stories. We acknowledged both of their efforts and moved on, not dwelling on it. It’s a little reminder with a powerful impact: this time and place is a protected space to be yourself

The family dinner table is a small zone to cover, but so far seems manageable. It creates a safe zone when we all come together for a meal, especially if we’ve been scattered in different directions throughout a busy day. This safety zone invites us to linger a little longer over a meal because feelings aren’t being hurt by inadvertent comments or direct put-downs. It’s slowly becoming a family norm so we as parents don’t have to police the verbal barbs quite so much.

“A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.” Proverbs 25:11

One night shortly after starting this new routine, I served baked apples as a fall treat. I suggested to my youngest, who was my dinner helper, to come up with a quick family game. He chose “Apples to Apples” to coincide with our dinner. We did a 10-minute round of the game, which ended in a greater sense of family closeness and much laughter at my husband’s expense. (Now we have a new family catch phrase “Glitter hands!” that we can use as a tension breaker, but that’s another story!) I think I had more energy to prolong the dinner into a family activity because we hadn’t been refereeing negativity. It’s a simple shift in a specific family routine that hopefully will gradually extend into other interactions.

Where might your #nofilter zone be? At your dinner table? In the car? At bedtime? During school drop-off? The 30-minutes right after a child’s sporting event?