My husband and our thirteen-year-old daughter are in the study talking. Six-year-old Doug is lying on the floor outside, trying to peek through the crack under the closed door. When the door finally opens, he bursts into the room shouting, “Hey, Dad, is it my turn now?”
“Not yet, Doug,” my husband, Mark replies.
“But Dad, I’m tired of waiting. How long is it going to be?”
“Not long, Doug. Just three more to go.”
“Three more!” Doug sighs as he leaves the room, taking up his vigil by the door again. “Girls! They talk too much.”
He’s the only boy in a household of six girls. And he is waiting for his very own interview with Dad.
Mark regularly gives each of our children, one by one, a father’s interview. This has become a very important time for the children and their father, and our family has reaped tremendous benefits from this practice.
It all started ten years ago, when we had only two little girls. Hearing quite a bit about the communication gap between teenagers and parents, we decided that we ought to learn to communicate early. By opening up communication lines while the children were young, we reasoned, maybe by the time they were teenagers we would have solid communication skills established. And maybe those skills would help us eliminate some of the problems parents and teens can have as they try to understand each other.
We decided that Mark would conduct the interviews. Since he is gone away from home much of the time, we felt the interviews would help him establish a closer relationship with the children. When there is a need, I join in, too. We chose Sunday as the interview day. At first, Mark did most of the talking. But as the months passed, that quickly changed.
Now, with seven children, we are beginning to realize the rewards of that long-ago decision. Our older girls are entering their crucial teen years, and strong communication lines between us have been solidly established and reinforced. Our children have learned to talk to us about any subject. They each have a good rapport with their father. They know he is their friend, someone they can easily come to when in need. And as they have learned to trust him, they also have learned to trust me.
A great problem in communication is being able to talk about feelings. Mark has always encouraged the children to talk freely by keeping the interviews on a feeling level. This is not a time to discuss discipline or criticize, but a time when all subjects can be discussed in a frank, open manner. No subject is taboo. They discuss problems they’re having with boyfriends and girlfriends, family members, schoolwork, chores—and any other subject that is on their minds.
After problems have been expressed and questions answered, my husband and the child discuss solutions. This is a joint effort. We want the children to know that what they say and feel is important and valid. We want them to know that we love them and respect their views and feelings.
The interviews are always conducted in the privacy of my husband’s study. The children have received “facts of life” information from their dad and me in this setting. Certain four-letter words heard at school have been discussed and explained. All questions are answered without hesitation or embarrassment.
When our oldest daughter saw an educational film on maturation at school, she and her dad discussed the subject thoroughly during their interview. Later, she was the only one in class who raised her hand in the affirmative when the teacher asked if they had been able to discuss the film with their fathers. She was proud of that. This verifies the kind of relationship they have developed with one another over the years. I feel that the interviews have contributed to this relationship in a very positive way.
We have found it important to be flexible with the interview schedules. Recently, our nine-year-old came to us and asked urgently if this was interview week. We knew right then that something was wrong. Mark and I took her into the study to talk to her immediately. She just couldn’t hold it in any longer. A very embarrassing incident had happened in the park that week, and it had disturbed her a great deal; she had been having trouble sleeping because of it. We were able to help her by letting her talk it out. How wonderful it was to have her come to us with this problem. Because the communication channels were opened long ago, she felt safe talking it out with us. Had we not developed this easy rapport over the years, perhaps this experience would have remained bottled up inside, causing emotional trauma later on.
Sometimes there are no problems or questions, so the children just talk about what’s happening in their lives at that time. Many times at the end of the interview, goals are discussed and challenges are given.
Six-year-old Doug patiently awaits his turn for an interview. He sighs audibly through the crack under the study door, hoping, perhaps, it will distract his sister into talking faster. Finally the door is opened and Doug bounds in, triumphantly shutting the door. He jumps on his dad’s lap, gives him a big hug, and snuggles up close to him. “Dad,” he says, “what do you want to talk about?”
After reading “‘Dad, What Do You Want to Talk About?’” individually or as a family, you may want to consider the following questions and suggestions.
1. Why are personal interviews with a parent so valuable to children?
2. In your home, are there regular interviews between father or mother and each child? If not, would they be helpful to your family?
3. Parents: What topics would you like to discuss with each of your children? Children: What topics would you like to discuss in private with one or both of your parents?