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Challenge: Walking the Talk

Were They Not Talking? Or Was I Not Listening?

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Ask any TV reporter — interviewing kids is like going to a casino: there’s that small chance you’ll win big with some adorable, innocent, insightful, sweet or gripping soundbite, but most of the time, prepare to lose big with one word answers and a whole lot of “I don’t know.” And if you find a kid who does have something interesting to say, they may just clam up as soon as the camera is rolling.

So from my past life in broadcasting, I knew that children weren't always the most forthcoming. But when my four kids were little, the ones who could talk would tell me everything. All day. Every day. I had heard about sullen tweens and teens who stopped talking to their moms, but surely, they hadn’t met my two daughters. I knew I was in for a rough ride with my boys, but since they were younger I felt like I had time.

And then one day, my oldest— that sweet, chatty little girl with the curly blond hair —started dismissing me, giving me one word answers, and rolling her eyes at me. I knew what she was doing, and that it was developmentally right on target, but it still hurt.

By then, I had swapped my reporter's mic for an instructor's headset at barre3 in Morristown, New Jersey. I loved everything about it, and considered teaching and taking classes to be a source of so much fun and my not-so-secret weapon against the stress of daily life. All the time, clients would walk into the studio and declare that this was their happy place.

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And at one point I put it all together…this is everyone’s happy place because it’s welcoming, no one’s being judgmental, the staff and instructors are there to help everyone who walks in the door, and in class, we meet every client where they are and give them a remarkable workout whether they’re in the best shape of their lives or working through an injury, tending to a pregnancy, or just had a baby.

So I decided for the sake of experiment to take some of those principles and apply them at home. As soon as the idea came to me, I felt scared. I think I knew what I’d learn: that my daughter might open up more if I actually showed her I was there to listen.

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I took stock of how things were and asked myself if I was doing at home what came naturally at the studio. At barre3 we build in the time to connect with clients before and after class. Was I really being present with them in the morning and afternoon? No. I was rushing around, taking care of their needs, but not really connecting. When I was at the studio, I’d never skip greeting a client with good eye contact and a smile, so why not slow down and give that to my kids?

As for being non-judgmental. Well…that’s really hard as a mom, right? These knuckleheads are doing ridiculous things. All. Day. Long. Like leaving a carton of milk out on the counter overnight, or making a huge mess and then walking away, only to blame it on their siblings when asked about it. Need I go on? It would impossible to stay neutral all the time. But I started being mindful of the vibe I was putting out there—because we all know it matters.

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And finally, at barre3 we’re so well trained to find what’s going right with someone’s work out —be it their posture, their breathing, their focus, their effort, or how about this: despite all they may have going on, the fact that they even showed up that day. What if I started doing that with my kids? Just catching something they’re doing well, however small, and complimenting them? And when I started looking for those little things, they were so exciting to find. I love how you’re teaching your little brother how to make bubble letters…That’s so cool how you did your hair today! You finished your homework, you rockstar!

So I started practicing this (and practicing, and practicing). I have absolutely stumbled, lost my temper, decided in the heat of the moment that one or all of them didn’t deserve my patience. But I have to say, as I keep going, my teen is a little more chatty, and I feel like I have a more open relationship with her and her younger siblings. And it’s because these tools help me see them. Every day.

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And since I’ve grown accustomed to having a teen (and in two months I'll have two of them), I know that there will be days I just can’t get any of them to interact all that much. And that’s fine. I just keep doing my thing so that when they do feel like talking, I won’t miss it.

Heather McBride is a partner in The Pickup Line newsletter -- a daily newsletter for moms delivered while they have a few free moments on line at school and sports pickup. Check it out www.thepickupline.net

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