The average parent spends 38.5 minutes per week in meaningful conversation with his/her children, the tidbit of trivia proclaimed from the page of a magazine that my temporary neighbour in the bus was reading. Naturally, I was intrigued. Unfortunately, no sooner had I made myself comfortable next to her, she folded her newspaper and proceeded towards the exit. Leaving me to wonder, where did I rank as a parent on the meaningful conversations scale?
I started having conversations with La Niña and El Niño as soon as the pain of the C-sec surgery began to wear off. Day 2, I think it was. I just talked, about the fun we would have, the places we would go to. I had read somewhere that with every word we speak, we are making deposits in the memory banks of our children, teaching them to speak, form sentences, and express themselves.
As a working woman who spends a little less than 5 hours commuting to and from work, I have precious little time with my children. By the time I reach home, it is time to feed the children and put them to bed to ensure that they get their daily quota of sleep and that my school going daughter in particular is able to wake up on time the following morning. While El Niño, at 20 months, is too young to hold a conversation with, La Niña at 4½ years of age has a lot to talk about.
To my despair, she rarely talks about what happened at school. I feel a little left out sometimes, considering that as a child, I used to give my mother a word-for-word account of what happened at school. She knew all my teachers, their physical descriptions, habits, foibles, attitudes, even though she had never seen them. I miss that with La Niña.
The thing I remember and cherish most about my conversations with my mother when I was a child was the histories she would share, old family tales and anecdotes that told me more about myself in turn. Those stories put life into perspective for me. I look forward to sharing such stories with my kids.
While La Niña is not very keen on talking about school, there is a lot that my little girl does want to talk about. She faithfully relates to me the conversations she has with her imaginary friends, one of whom is a single woman named Chennai, and another is a married mother of three boys named Calcutta. The boys incidentally are named Peru, Fanas (Marathi for guava and jackfruit) and Banana. I enjoy these conversations and look forward to them.
La Niña’s stories are widely imaginative and thoroughly entertaining. They tell me a lot about her state of mind at any time, things she worries about, things she is upset with etc. Sometimes she even sneaks in some news about school happenings, but from the perspective of one of the three fruit-boys.
We talk all the time, all through her waking hours. Even when she is watching TV, she discusses what she watches. The other day, one of the biscuit ads showed a boy eating a biscuit and turning into a tiger. “What a crazy ad!” she declared, “Eating biscuits does not make you a tiger.”
Often she asks me questions about how my day has gone. At first, I found myself trying to simplify things so she would understand until a day when I realised that I was underrating her capabilities and that she was capable of understanding far more than I was giving her credit for.
I am always amazed at our conversations. La Niña is very observant and often initiates discussions about things she sees. We have spoken about a destitute woman lying on the road, homeless families, crowded trains, buses and helicopters and hungry crows, among other things.
These interactions have helped me to realise that meaningful conversations don’t necessarily have to be about weighty subjects. They could be about the simplest of things, but they have to have meaning for you. La Niña and I have had meaningful conversations about why a dog’s tail is shaped like a question mark, about where crows get their food from and why school buses are always painted yellow. I allow myself to get engrossed in those conversations, because I know that if the channels of communication between us are kept open and free, she is more likely to approach me when difficult questions plague her mind.
Of course, there are many times when she really tests my patience. Through her angry refusal to do my bidding and my explosive ranting, I have come to realise that even though we are both talking a lot at such times, it isn’t a conversation that is helping either of us.
Having meaningful conversations with children has wide-ranging benefits. Conversations help our children to break up the events of the day into bite-sized pieces that are easy to understand and relate to. Numerous studies have found that parents who engage in meaningful conversations with their children are rewarded with offspring who are more motivated, more emotionally secure and confident. Never underestimate the power of regular parent-child conversation.
Successful conversations also require us to respond immediately when children first call out to us, to listen with more than our ears, to give our complete attention to our children, to not interrupt when they are talking, to encourage their questions and respond to them with affection.
Sadly modern life doesn’t leave us much time to engage in conversation with our partners, let alone our children. It would help if we could drum up the strength of will required to turn off the television, stay logged out of our emails and social networking sites, and eat meals together.
It’s best to start early with children while they still think of us as the epitome of wisdom. Before we know it, the kids will grow up and we might have to run the risk of indulging in conversation that is a mixture of texting and grunting.
Meanwhile, I still don’t know how well I measure up on the meaningful conversations scale. Maybe I should go home and initiate a deep conversation with La Niña on the subject.
Cynthia Rodrigues Manchekar loves being mamma to 4-year-old La Niña and 18-month-old El Niño. A working mother, she enjoys writing short stories and poems and looks forward to being published someday. She blogs at http://cynthology.blogspot.in and tweets @Cynth_Rodrigues.