By Wendy Wisner
My son is 14. He likes to spend his free time shut in his room, playing video games, messaging his friends, and watching YouTube videos. He’s a good kid who gets his schoolwork done and even enjoys hanging out with our family from time to time.
So, I’ve pretty much resigned myself to the fact that this is what teenagers do and that he will eventually come out of hiding and join the real world. I hope.
Still, I’ve missed my son. We’ve always been close, and there have been times lately that I’ve worried that he’s slipping away. This was especially true at the height of the pandemic, when we were still isolated at home and he was doing school on Zoom. I noticed that even though we were constantly under the same roof, there were somehow fewer opportunities for us to connect.
Now that he’s back in school and in more of a routine, I’m finding that—although he still spends most of his at-home hours holed up in his room—there are more ways for us to connect. In fact, we’ve gotten into a routine that involves several daily check-ins.
It makes sense, in a way: my son has always been a creature of habit and thrives on rituals and routines. When he was little, this sometimes meant that he was obstinate and inflexible, but now these qualities seem to be working in my favor. At least for now!
These check-ins are small and don’t always involve some sort of intense connecting. But I’ve realized that they are meaningful, and I’m milking them for all they are worth.
Family Bonding: Connecting with my Son
Here are what our check-ins look like:
1. Lunch-time text
The kids in my son’s school eat separately due to COVID concerns, so my son sits at a little desk alone in the cafeteria most days. Like clockwork, every day during sixth period, I get a text from him. It’s not great timing, because I’m usually knee-deep in work then, but I always text him right back.
He’ll tell me one or two funny or interesting things that have happened that day so far. Lately, he’s been texting to complain that one of his teachers isn’t posting that night’s homework early enough, which means he won’t have a chance to do it in study hall. I text him back an eyeroll or an angry face emoji, and hope he doesn’t think I’m too much of a dork.
2. After school check-in
I work from home, so I’m able to greet my son everyday after school. It’s our only time alone during the day before his dad and little brother get home, so it’s pretty important. Again, this one isn’t that convenient for me either—I really should be working—but I make sure I can take a break and be there for him.
While he’s getting a snack, he’ll tell me something about his school day or the bus ride home. He’ll even let me make another of my dumb mom jokes and ruffle his hair a bit. And then he’s off to his room for the rest of the afternoon.
3. “Doing the periods”
This last ritual is actually something we’ve been doing for a few years. Ever since he was in middle school and he started switching classes, my son makes a point of telling me one thing that happened in each period. Just one small thing, kind of like a headline or “best of” for that class. He calls it “doing the periods.”
This is something we do at the end of the day, when I’m totally spent. But it’s something that’s important to him, so we rarely skip it. It allows me to stay abreast of what is going on in his life—and sometimes he’ll have quite a lot to say about what happened in a particular class, and things can get pretty personal and deep.
As I recount each of our check-ins, I realize one theme that they had in common: these rituals all happens at a less than opportune time for me. Either I’m in the middle of work or I’m half asleep. But I’ve learned that when it comes to connecting with our kids—and especially our teens—you have to take what you can get, when you can get it.
Each of these things make up no more than 5 to 10 minutes of our day, but they really keep my son and me connected and close. Plus, they make it okay that he’s usually MIA when he’s at home. Well, mostly okay.