My daughter is 12 and, for the most part, independent. She is quiet and introspective. A chatty Cathy she is not. Getting her to talk about herself and her feelings has never come naturally to her. I press when I feel appropriate, but I also leave her to her own thoughts and processing. I often want to pepper her with questions, but I know this will only get her to shut down. Sometimes this can be frustrating for me, her way of communicating is not my way of communicating. I walk a tight balance between getting her to open up and giving her space. I do not always balance correctly, and we have left each other in tears over things that should have been simple conversations. I try to remain open, so I do not push her away.
If you are raising preteens, this tight rope walk will be familiar for you.
As a preteen, she can handle all her own personal care. Brush her teeth, take a shower, dress herself and fix her hair (yes, moms of toddlers, you will get there!). I have never been great at hair; I can do a very simple ponytail and curl with a curling iron if I must. My hair is easy to manage, and I was never taught nor cared to learn fancy hair techniques or styles.
One night she came to me and asked if I would French braid her hair.
“You know I do not know how to do that,” I responded. She said, “I don’t care if it’s perfect, mom, I just want you to try.” How could I say no, do I not teach them to try their best and not give up? So, I began my haphazard attempt at a French braid. As I sat there combing through her hair, something happened. She began to talk. And talk and talk and talk. I am not sure if it was premeditated or if she felt very comfortable in her own feelings because she was facing the front, but I tried my best not to ruin the moment. I let her talk as I braided. I did my best not to offer my opinions but just truly listen to her and ask careful questions when appropriate.
My brain (and hands) were distracted by both attempting to braid and listen to her at the same time, which seemed to work to her benefit. I do not think she was looking for much verbal interaction. It took me a while to braid her hair, not only because I was enjoying listening to her, but because I kept having to start over. As I said, I’m not very good at hair. She was patient at my attempt and the length of time did not seem to bother her. I have never heard her say so much in one sitting and I was learning my own lesson in attentive listening and how best to approach my preteen or rather have her approach me.
When I was done, it was far from perfect (a perfect metaphor, really), but she loved it. She hugged and thanked me and walked away. I sat feeling a little stunned. The next week, she came back to me with a brush and ponytail in hand. Mom, will you braid my hair?