I still walk to the bus stop with my ninth grade twins. Before you assume that I’m a helicopter, snowplow, lawnmower or some other type of machinery parent, please let me explain.
When my kids were younger, I admit that I used to go to the bus stop with them out of fear they would get hurt or kidnapped. But as they got older, I realized that I continued to walk to the bus stop to spend time with them. They felt the same way, since they let me know it was okay to keep walking with them.
Recently I reflected on why those five minutes felt different from the rest of the time I see them during the day and recalled a three-day training I attended when I used to be a counselor.
On the first day of the training, the speaker began by asking us, “What’s one good thing that happened to you today?”
It was 9 a.m. and I’m not a morning person, so my brain wasn’t functioning enough to think of a response. I also thought, “Not much has really
happened yet.” The class seemed to share my sentiment because only one other hand was raised.
“I drank my coffee,” said an eager volunteer.
The group erupted with laughter.
“Thanks for sharing. I’m glad you had a chance to drink coffee. Anyone else?”
No one raised a hand. She moved on to the rest of her presentation and I forgot about her question.
The next day, I sat in the same seat. Again she began by asking, “What’s one good thing that happened to you today?”
Oh, gosh she is asking it again, I thought. Surely, I should be able to think of something this time, especially since she asked it yesterday. But my mind was blank.
Three hands shot up this time.
“I was on time for the training today.”
“I ate a tasty breakfast.”
“My kid gave me a hug before I left the house.”
That day when I went home, I thought about the question and possible answers. I was determined to participate. When I woke up the next morning, I paid attention to all the positive experiences I had before I arrived at training.
That day when she asked the question, “What’s one good thing that happened to you today?” at least fifteen hands were raised, including my own.
“The sky was filled with beautiful shades of red, orange and yellow. Seeing it made me smile.”
The technique worked because the speaker asked the same question at the same time. This routine allowed me to anticipate and prepare to answer the question.
The Power of a Routine
Walking to the bus stop every morning is a routine that my teens can count on. For some families, it may be the drive to school, or for others, time spent at the dinner table.
They sometimes ask me questions or offer information about their day. And rarely do they have their phones in front of their faces (unlike the rest of the time I see them).
Dr. Laura Markham, a clinical psychologist and author of “Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How To Stop Yelling and Start Connecting,” says, “Having a regular routine or ritual that you do with your teen will bring you closer. Parenting a teen is not a set of strategies. It is a relationship.”
Most parents of teens worry about the possibility that their kid might use drugs or engage in other risky behaviors. Research shows that when parents have a positive relationship with their teens, the teens are less likely to take risks. Research also shows that when teens feel connected to their family and school, they are less likely to engage in violent behaviors as adults.
Even though it is only five minutes in the morning, the walk to the bus stop is enough time to create a connection.
When they come home from school, they are busy completing homework or talking with their friends. They often have activities or sports after that, so there are some days when we don’t eat dinner together. There are some days when our walk to the bus stop is the only uninterrupted time we get, which is why I value it.
“The time we spend together as families should be treasured. It should be spent supporting, guiding and enjoying each other’s company,” says Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg, a physician at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and co-founder of the Center for Parent and Teen Communication. “Too many families waste energy nagging. The bigger goal is to learn to communicate in a way that strengthens your relationships and prepares your teens for healthy relationships with you in the future.”
In less than four years my kids might be headed off to college. So, I plan to take as much time as I can with them, even if it is only five minutes a day.
On a recent morning walk to the bus stop, I shared that I had a job interview that day and I was nervous.
“What type of job is the interview for?” my daughter asked.
“A guidance counselor.”
“Which school?” my son asked.
“Don’t worry, it’s not yours.”
We all laughed knowing that my son did not want me to be his new guidance counselor.
The bus pulled up beside us and they climbed the stairs. Before finding a seat, my daughter turned around, smiled and shouted, “Good luck, Mom!”
Next year, my kids will be old enough to drive to school and won’t need to ride the bus. So, I’m taking Dr. Ginsburg’s advice and treasuring the time we have together—even if it is only five minutes.
Cheryl Maguire holds a Master of Counseling Psychology degree. She is married and the mother of twins and a daughter.