We were on our way to my son’s Rock-Climbing Club on the other side of town. It’s always a quick turn-around right after school to hurry out the door and get there on time. After Rock-Climbing, we run home for a fast snack and change before he has wrestling practice right after that. He’s my sports kid and he loves them all.
As we were on our way, my son sat in the passenger seat next to me, and as often is the case, he was on his phone. I’m guessing he was scrolling through TikTok or responding to text messages from his friends. I get it. I really do. This is his way of decompressing and winding down. He needs it with so much going on in his life. I think we all tend to use our phones in this way, and I’m okay with it. But we had time in the car to have a conversation, so I told him to put his phone away and I asked him how he was doing.
I’ll ask him this question and often get “I’m fine” in response. A typical teen answer if there ever was one. I usually follow it with more specific questions to get more words from my one-word-answer kid. Sometimes, it will turn into a long conversation about something meaningful, which is always such a gift. He has inadvertently shared many personal issues or his feelings about social dilemmas he’s in, or things going on in the news that he has opinions about and I’m all ears, engaging with him about important topics and learning more and more about who he is growing up to be and this is thrilling to me. I love when this happens. I feel our connection deepens each time.
On this particular day, when I asked him how he was doing, his response surprised me. He told me he was really overwhelmed with everything. He went on to share intricate details of what was stressing him out and the pressure he is feeling about each one. I spent the entire drive listening to him unpack the various layers of his life that are challenging right now, and all the worries he has about keeping up with it all.
I wanted to interject several times with encouragement or advice, but I realized he just needed to get it all out. He didn’t need me to say a word. All he needed was for me to take it all in. And so, I did. I nodded and once or twice said, “That’s a lot, honey.” Or “Gosh, it does sound overwhelming.” Affirming his feelings and trying to simply stay out of the way, so he could say what he needed to say.
By the time we got to the Rock-Climbing location, he quickly wrapped it up and got out of the car, before I could tell him anything more. And there was SO much I wanted to say.
I wanted to tell him I hear him and he DOES have a lot going on right now. I wanted to thank him for trusting me with his inner turmoil, and I especially wanted to help him sort through each area that seems daunting right now and find ways to manage it all. I wanted to ask him how I can help him and offer my support in any way I can. I wanted him to know I understand what he’s feeling and I’m so proud of all he’s doing.
But right then, all he needed was for me to soak in all he was pouring out. And sometimes, isn’t that what we all need? There will be times we want advice or encouragement, guidance, and input, but most of all, we need someone to simply listen, so we feel heard and seen, and just knowing that helps make us feel just a little less stressed and a little bit stronger, and somehow makes the load we bear a little bit lighter.
As I drove home, I thought about all the times I didn’t ask him how he was doing and instead, immediately took to task on things he needed to get done. “Did you contact your coach about wrestling camp yet?” “When are you going to do your chores?” “Why haven’t you put your soccer practices on our calendar?” And I wonder why he’ll often act exasperated and defensive, off-put and frustrated. Could it be that the poor kid was feeling overwhelmed with it all? Probably. And adding more for him to stress out about was clearly not what he needed.
So, from now on, I won’t badger him with allthethings before I ask him how he is doing. I’ll give him the space to share what’s going on inside that head of his and allow him to free up his thoughts and release some of the weight he might be carrying on his sore and exhausted back. I’ll ask him some specific questions if necessary, just to make sure he is handling everything okay, and then take it from there.
I might start in with reminders and instructions, or his answers might need me to hold off on all those things and rather affirm and encourage him right where he’s at. And if by chance, he needs to unleash everything he’s been holding in, I’ll simply listen and nod and take it all in.