It’s taken me just under ten years but I have figured it out.
Cracked the code.
Uncovered the secret.
Distilled the formula.
Want to know what your son is thinking? Interested in his school life? Curious about his peer dynamics? Or just wondering what he really thinks about that girl Paige in his class? (she’s the worst, by the way).
Here’s the answer. And it’s foolproof.
Drive the van.
Load up the van with him and a bunch of his friends and drive them somewhere. The destination doesn’t matter, but try for something fifteen minutes away, minimum.
And drive. Just drive. Don’t pepper them with questions, don’t insert yourself into the conversation and do not make eye contact. Pretend you are on a safari observing animals in their natural habitat (but don’t take notes, because they will see that and wonder why you pulled over. Same goes for whispering recordings into your phone).
The information you will gather by listening in (it’s not eavesdropping if they forget you can hear them) is astounding. Here’s a recent sampling, in case you doubt my methods:
Josh thinks he’s so great at soccer, but really, he isn’t.
Someone needs to tell Julia to settle down – everyone knows she’s loud just to get attention.
Adam claims he got to level K in math drills, but he totally didn’t. Liar.
Ryan is so mean that they’d like to take a power washer to him and wouldn’t even feel bad about it.
There are also some epiphanies which give you a peek into alternative parenting choices. For instance, one boy piped up with incredulity, “Wait, you can ride your bike on the street? Such freedom.”
You might be tempted to jump in and ask some follow up questions, but play it cool. Stay in the shadows. That time will come later.
It can be challenging to listen and not reply, but it’s worth it. You might want to chime in that maybe Julia feels insecure and is looking for a safe circle to be herself. Squash the urge to point out that maybe life is hard for Ryan and that’s why he acts out. Perhaps Josh doesn’t feel good about himself so he shows off the skill he is most proud of.
There will be opportunities for those conversations, but for now, just listen.
Drive the van.