I have two daughters who I love more than life itself. I (almost always) love spending time with them. Because when we do, and it's just us, we have some fascinating chats. We get to bond and get to know each other better. The trust factor increases and, generally, so does the "like" factor. Our favorite places to have these chats are generally at a great restaurant or in the car. It's one of the reasons I purchased another season of ski passes for them-- because our drive up to our favorite ski resort in Park City, Utah is 45 minutes of "us" time-- no distractions, electronics must be put away, we talk, we listen to music. It's one of my favorite times of our entire week. I also love a good road trip when it's just the three of us, exploring somewhere new and, yes, talking.
Not long ago, I attended a parenting class that was fantastic. As part of this class, we were given 10 open-ended, probing questions to ask our kids that would help ascertain the condition of their hearts. How are they really doing inside their heads? How are they processing their world? How loved, secured and supported do they feel from me? And there were questions that would help us delve into those meaty topics. I a sharing these questions with you and adding/tweaking them to fit my parenting style and concerns.
First, I did not ask all of these questions at once. It was more like one question per week. I would ask the question, and we would dialog it. Yes, I really listened to them. And over the course of the next, say, week or so, we would come back to these questions.
1. How is your heart?
This question can be rather open-ended. And when I asked them, I offered up very few clues as to what I even meant. I was basically asking how they felt inside-- grateful, angry, forgiving, optimistic... But this is the information I was really looking for. Were they struggling with friendships, adult relationships, depression, or did they have unrealized needs that were not being met. I started this one off myself.
How was my heart? At that time, it was felt with extreme gratefulness. I was alive. I had survived some pretty terrible medical treatments. I was slowly getting stronger and better. While I wasn't yet strong enough to ski with them, I was able to take them up to the slopes and sit in a coffee shop writing while they skied. I was able to make future vacation plans (Costa Rica was coming up!). But I also felt incredible anger and sorrow. How did I get sick in the first place? How was this fair to them? What if something happened to me? I kept these fears silent. Perhaps there was a time for it, but it wasn't then.
2 What do you worry about most?
Without breaking confidences, I feel comfortable only sharing so much here. But they worried about their dad a lot,. They want to see him, re-establish ties. And while he has reappeared, my oldest especially, has a deep fear that he will vanish again. it effects how she sees herself. My youngest doesn't worry about much-- mostly speaking in public and not wanting to fall on the ski slopes while she follows her sister on her snowboard.
3. What if you failed at something BIG, do you feel that you could recover and, if so, how?
This question really pointed at self esteem and confidence. It was one of my favorite questions of all.
4. When things get tough or difficult, what do you do to cope?
Answers here ranged from taking a bath, talking to a friend, asking me for help, going for a drive, or going to their youth pastor. My teen has a pastor whom she really trusts and looks up to. She gets a lot of guidance there and I am grateful for it.
5. What do you do when your heart is hurt?
So far, neither are answering with "drugs" or "alcohol," though I know my teen has tried drinking a few times. I suppose that's normal and I worry about it. We have had "those talks" that if she EVER gets tempted to drink and drive, her car is gone forever. (Did I say these conversations ought to be non-judgy/preachy? Listen, talk, learn and understand. At least those are my goals.
6. What preoccupies you? What do you daydream about?
I share with them that I am preoccupied with my health and my relationships. I daydream about better treatments and cures. They listen, we talk. I think they are understanding me better and what drives me. During those times that we argue, I hope they remember that I am not perfect and that I, too, am dealing with some pretty big stuff. Their answers are far more interesting than mine, but I'll keep them private.
7. What are you must proud of accomplishing? What makes you feel most valuable?
8. Early on, what do you want others to know about you?
This question deserved almost an entire drive up to the slopes and back. How do they want to be perceived by others? What do they need to do to ensure that happens? How do they feel others perceive them and why? For my teen, where do boys and their opinions fit (or matter) in her life? How should she expect (demand?) to be treated? How about setting boundaries for what is appropriate and acceptable behavior? And what do you do when someone falls short?
9. What do you want and expect out of life? What do you think will make you happy?
For me, I thought I had this one all figured out. Happiness was a marriage, kids, dogs, mortgage, a career and a couple weeks of vacation per year. Turns out, none of those things made me happy and I didn't care a twit about most of it (minus the kids, of course!). What makes ME happy is creating memories, growing relationships, living life big, and learning to love in pure and authentic ways. Now it's their turn to figure that out, but taking it through is very fun.
... And this is my favorite, most important question of all:
10. Is there anything you can do that would make me love you more? Or less?
I had to ensure that they know that I love them purely, without strings attach, no matter what. I will never leave them, stop loving them, or not be there for them. EVER. My door and heart is ALWAYS open to them. And you know what? I don't think they ever thought about it. But they do now. I may not agree with their choices, I may need to try to redirect the in life-- but I am here for them until my dying breath, no strings attached. And this is important, Moms. Our children will, no doubt, disappoint at times. But they must know that our love for them is unwavering. Yes, it matters, and it helps.