Remember when your daughter was little? You knew what she loved. You knew what made her giggle. You knew her funny way of saying things, her special little dance, her favorite song. You knew every corner of her heart.
But somewhere along the way between school, extra-curricular activities, friends, and life, things got complicated. Your little girl is growing up, but it’s getting harder to really understand the young woman that she’s becoming. She’s more private with her feelings. She’s more independent of you. She’s more connected to the outside world.
Your daughter is growing into an amazingly interesting & complex person…and it feels like you’re missing out on the best parts because it’s all happening below the surface!
Extraordinary Measures to Connect with Your Daughter
You may want to make a dramatic plea for a deeper relationship. You may feel the need for a heartfelt mother-daughter discussion. You may want to demand that she open up to you. But in most cases, extraordinary tactics will only work against you.
Have you ever heard of the Fable of the Wind and the Sun? In a wager to see which one was greater, they each attempted to cause a traveler to remove his cloak. The harder the wind blew, the more tightly the traveler wrapped his cloak around himself. But as the sun gently shone, the traveler eventually decided to remove the cloak.
You don’t need to bluster. You don’t need to take extraordinary measures. You can connect by doing something ordinary together and using that time to see what unfolds between you. The most important thing you can do with that time is to pay attention: learn what is important to your child by noticing what captures her imagination, listening to what she finds important, and seeing her for the person she is instead of the little girl she was.
Here are four ideas that can get you started, but I bet that you can think of many more. The key is to find an activity that creates space for conversations without making it the central purpose of the activity. So, turn the phone off. Give her your full attention. And remember to be the sun–gentle, warm, and patient–and not the wind!
1. Make something together
It doesn’t matter whether it’s a delicious dish, an art project, or a lip balm kit. Spending time making something can be a chance for creative expression, learning something new, or passing down a cherished family recipe. It’s an opportunity to have fun together and to take pride in the work of your hands.
Here’s a tip: let your daughter take the lead and be her assistant. By putting her in the driver’s seat, you’ll be able to discern her learning style and problem solving skills. You’ll also give her the chance to be in charge, demonstrate her independence, and–let’s be honest–order you around!
2. Take a walk
Whether it’s as simple as a stroll around the block or as involved as a backpacking trip, you can learn a lot about each other through the simple act of walking side by side.
And you don’t even have to talk in order to connect with your daughter. All you have to do is be present. Because your minds are partially occupied by the motion of your bodies, there’s room for silent reflection without it feeling awkward. Thoughts have time to naturally bubble up into the discussion amidst long stretches of comfortable silence.
Things can get really interesting on longer walks or hikes. With long stretches of undistracted time, you have time to think carefully about what the other person has said, which can lead to some deep conversations.
3. Grab your camera
An impromptu photo session is a chance to be fun & goofy together or a chance to explore the world around you and capture its beauty. Use your phone’s camera, or–even better–grab your best camera and let your daughter be the creative director of a photo shoot.
Pay attention to how she selects her subject and lines up the shot. Take a close look at the finished image. It’s the closest you’ll ever come to seeing the world from your daughter’s point of view. It gives you a glimpse into what’s important to her, what fascinates her, what she finds funny and what she finds beautiful.
4. Interview each other and record it
This one can be a tough sell, so you’ve got to be creative. Present it in the wrong way, and an interview by your mom can feel like being asked, “How was your day?”, only 1,000 times worse!
But what if your daughter gets to be the one asking the questions? You can offer to go first as the subject of the interview. If she’s interested in journalism or a career as a writer, it’s never too early to practice.
If you’re not sure what kinds of questions to ask, StoryCorps has a list of great prompts to get you started. Use any recording device you’ve got–your smart phone, your computer, an old tape recorder–but make sure you capture audio (and hopefully video) from the interview.
Now, here’s the most important part: play back the recording and really pay attention to the way you talk with your daughter and the way you listen to her. What are your verbal and non-verbal cues communicating to your daughter? Does your tone of voice sound the same as it did in your head when you spoke? Just like the camera lets you see with your daughter’s eyes, so too the recording lets you hear with her ears.
The Journey of 1,000 Steps
By finding small, ordinary ways to spend time together, you send a very powerful message. You are telling your daughter that she matters to you–her world matters to you–and that you don’t need a special event or an engraved invitation to share in her interests, ideas, and dreams.
Don’t expect some dramatic epiphany or magical Hallmark moment when you truly connect with your daughter. It doesn’t work that way. With patient, gentle, warm coaxing, she’ll begin to slowly open up and let the sun shine in.