As mothers we work hard to ask our children the right questions. The ones that elicit more than an eye roll or a yes/no response. The kind of questions open-ended enough they might lead to a discussion, or if we’re lucky, a small reveal of some below-the-surface thoughts.
Middle school is prime time for the exploration and formation of inner lives and yet puberty and peer orientation make it harder for parents to break in with good questions. I have some evidence.
This week in the car I asked my middle schooler about opinions on today’s pop music. Open-ended. Radio on, timely, topical, relevant. He paused, giving me hope, and answered: “I like it.” Bubble popped. The next day on the way home from basketball practice, I asked him what he thought about NBA players being vocal in support of political candidates. This time a quick response, but equally abrupt: “Mom, I’m 13.”
Thursday was a public holiday and so we went on a family hike. I lingered back with the 13 year old, armed with a few probes, forgetting that where brothers and freedom to pee are combined, Mothers-of-Boys and conversation are sure to lose. “Cool, thanks” was the longest response I got. Kinder, yet still dismissive and definitely with a period at the end.
But then there was last night. When no one comes to the table with scripted questions because it’s Friday night, everyone’s tired and the game is on in the background. The dinner conversation begins with your middle schooler’s concern for a friend who shared news of his parent’s divorce; crosses into a discussion about the benefits of being uncomfortable; transitions to news of the latest seventh grade couples; remarks on how we get better by doing hard things, then great detail on the difference between mature and immature seventh graders and extends past the last bite, weaving and winding conversation, several layers deep. A natural lull and then the middle schooler asks YOU (even as the game on TV starts to get exciting):
“Can we keep talking?
As Moms we may not always get the answers to the questions we ask our kids. But I have this suspicion our kids know when we’ve been generous and sincere in the asking and they will respond with a piece of themselves. Sometimes even with some elaboration, when we are least expecting it.
Can we keep asking questions? I think so. Even with the white noise of the middle school years. Happy Mother’s Day!