“Did you hear about the woman in the news?”
My daughter casually asks this on the car ride home from grabbing Starbucks at the mall.
She is 15 and probably knows more about what’s happening in the world than I do. I have TikTok to thank for that.
“Which one?” I reply, bracing myself.
“The one who was attacked and killed by a police officer in the UK,” she calmly states, but I detect her gradual shades of outrage.
“Yes, I heard,” I answer simply, waiting to hear whatever she wants to tell me.
She is itching to talk about it. She brings up how the blame needs to stop being put on women for how they dress or act and how boys need to be taught from young on to respect woman. To respect the word, “No.”
At 15, she is deeply passionate about women’s rights, the underprivileged, and controversial issues. She speaks her mind regardless of what others think.
Sadly, she has already encountered boys her age who try to shame her for her opinions; make her feel small and insignificant and, well, wrong.
But my fierce daughter refuses to have someone else’s finger placed over her lips.
She is learning to step into herself, one intentional foot placement at a time.
She has been transforming, safe at home, secure enough to push boundaries and test her own strength. To hone the delicate art of molding words into well-crafted arguments.
There is no topic of conversation off-limits here.
My son, almost 18, is more introspective than his little sister. He doesn’t broadcast his beliefs to the world, instead he discusses them with a handful of people he trusts. His convictions, though equally as strong, are quietly clutched.
I wait for him in doorways, lingering in his bedroom, to give him ample opportunities to share what’s on his mind. Conversations with him are more elusive, so when my mama sense whispers that he wants to talk, I drop everything. No check mark on my to-do list is worth trading for a precious glance into the deep well that is my son.
So we talk.
My husband is a recovering addict, and we have always had an open dialogue with our kids about the dangers of addiction and the possibility that the disease may be passed down to them.
As soon as the kids were old enough, the moment they started asking questions, we talked about it. We told them at what age my husband and I tried alcohol, or smoked a cigarette. We talked about the mistakes we made and the consequences that followed. We talked about the lessons and the regrets.
Most importantly, we talked about the underlying reasons or traumas that led up to our poor decisions.
There is nothing we don’t discuss, no issue too taboo.
We talk about sex. Waiting–or not waiting–for marriage. God’s design for sex in marriage. Protection. How sex changes a relationship. We talk about it.
We talk about mental health.
When my son was going through severe depression, when he was cutting, when he was having suicidal thoughts, it took him a while to unlock those dark parts of his mind and bring its secrets out into the light.
Eventually the thoughts and words he had been trying to swallow for too long fell out of his mouth like rocks on our toes.
We were able to get him help.
We had conversations about my own depression at a teen and young adult and how I was a cutter myself.
We talked about my husband’s history with depression that had contributed to his long battle with addiction.
We still talk about it.
When my daughter began high school last fall, she spiraled into a deep depression herself. She was having frequent panic attacks, so acute that she was throwing up at school and in the middle of the night at home.
Thank God she talked about it.
She told me how a girl at school was body-shaming her. How some kids at school would stare at her in the hallway and then laugh while all glanced in her direction.
She told me about a boy who, when he found out some of her personal political views, began calling her names in the hallway.
We got her some help too.
There is never a perfect time to talk about such difficult topics, never an appointment that can be penned on the calendar to talk about all the things, so we talk about whatever, whenever, however it comes up.
We talk at the supper table or leaning against counters in the kitchen. We talk while resting against doorways. We talk in the middle of a movie. We talk while on dog walks. We talk in the car while we run to the store, when the kids are doing their behind-the-wheel hours, or while cooking supper.
We talk through the bathroom door.
We talk late at night when we should probably be in bed.
We talk when it is not at all convenient. When homework should be getting done or we’re exhausted from an arduous day.
When my daughter brought up the heart-wrenching tragedy of that woman’s death, she didn’t need me to say the right thing. Thank God for that, because I don’t think there was a right thing to say. I don’t think there ever is.
She just needed someone to listen. She just wanted to be heard.
In that moment, I gave her my rapt concentration.
These kids deserve my painstaking attention to their existence. My diligent acknowledgement of their ideas, dreams, and opinions.
Listening–across the rooms, the miles, and the years–to their life’s manuscript.
I pray they know that I will always be here, leaning in the doorway, waiting, ready.
To hear anything they want to say.
This is a contributed post from Melissa Neeb. Wife to her best friend and proud mom of two amazing teens. Contributor for Her View From Home, His View From Home, Filter Free Parents, Today Parents, Grown and Flown, and Greater Mankato Mom. Blogger for Faith in the Mess by Melissa Neeb. Lover of Jesus, nature, traveling, hiking, photography, creating art, reading, thrifting, and rescue animals. Read more from Melissa at her blog Faith in the mess and follow her on Facebook and Instagram.