Sometimes I wonder if that’s the response that Adam got from Cain when he asked him throughout his life, “So how was your day, son?” I can almost see in my mind Abraham, at over 100 years old, walking into the tent, laying down his cane, and saying the same thing to Isaac, “So, my boy, my great hope, my promise from God… How was your day?”
It’s the tried and true answer that kids give when they don’t really want to talk about how their day was; something to get their parents off their back so they can go back to the Wii, or the coloring, or the whatever. It’s also the answer that simultaneously infuriates and saddens moms and dads who want to have real interaction with their children that they haven’t seen sometimes for several hours.
I don’t like the answer. I’m not okay with the answer. There has to be more to it than that. In the answer, I feel the waning influence over my children; the reality that over time I will become less and less the main influence in their lives is acutely apparent. We’ve got to push passed the mere “fine” and into the details. But how do you do so with patience and love? Here are a couple of hints that seem to be effective (at least 10% of the time) with our kids who are now age 8, 5, and 2.
1. Show respect.
I know how I would feel if I were involved in something and somebody suddenly demanded to have an in depth conversation about something entirely different. It’s a way of showing our respect to our kids to pick the right moment. Let them finish the game. Let them finish their picture. Then make your move. The tendency, though, is that as the day gets later and later, the time for conversation gets shorter and shorter and pretty soon the opportunity is gone. That leads us to number 2:
2. Establish a regular time and place.
For us, this is the dinner table. Over time, and it doesn’t and hasn’t happened over night, our kids know that we expect genuine conversation over dinner. There’s no TV on; no books or phones or toys allowed at the table. Just us. It’s sometimes a battle to pry open their mouths and hearts, but the pattern has developed. But don’t just be satisfied with asking, “How was your day?” Go the extra step in opening up the communication…
3. Get creative.
“How was your day?” is a fine question; it’s just pretty bland. Try to get a little creative. Often, we will play “Two Truths and a Lie” at the table, where the kids have to share 2 truths and 1 lie about their day. The rest of the family has to guess what the lie is. This is more effective with the 8 year old than the 2 year old; but we still celebrate when the 2 year old can articulate 3 things about his day. Another way to get creative is to just spice up the question a little bit:
“Tell me something unusual that happened today.”
“What was the most amazing thing that happened at kindergarten today?”
“Complete this sentence: My day would have been more exciting if…” This last one is pretty fun; the last time we asked this question we found out that 2nd grade would have been more exciting if a herd of zebras had invaded the lunch room. Indeed it would. But that led us down the road of discussing math, playground games, and other stuff.
4. Be specific.
Instead of the general question, ask about specific relationships. Ask about tests. Ask about what you talked about the previous night. We want to show our kids not only that we care, but that we actually remember. But to do that, we have to listen, and then bring up what’s been talked about before. Which is, in truth, easier said than done, especially since I at least am already preoccupied with how my own day went.
5. Have fun.
Sometimes the day really was just fine. That’s fine, even if I don’t want it to be. But it’s during those “fine” times when you can branch out and talk about upcoming family events, vacations, and other stuff.
In the end, though, the whole conversation is about reminding the kids that their first outlet can and should be their parents. Just as our first outlet is our Father, who always listens and cares.