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Addressing a Common Communication Challenge

I originally wrote this post on October 5, a few days before a planned special trip with my teenage daughter to Israel. The topic seemed timely as we thought we'd be spending intense periods of mother-daughter time together. Unfortunately, the horrific events of October 7 prevented our journey. This article is dedicated to the memory of three young Israeli soldiers murdered on October 7 and whose bodies are being held hostage by Hamas, Sergeant Shaked Dahan, 19, Sergeant Kiril Brodski, 19, and Staff Sergeant Tomer Yaakov Ahimas, 20.

My husband and I were enjoying date night at a local restaurant when we noticed two people seated near us at the next table. We smiled, enjoying the sight of a mother and son having dinner together. Before long though, we began to feel uncomfortable as their meal proceeded without a single word exchanged. To the mother’s credit, she wasn’t on her cell phone, but what could have been a lovely bonding meal seemed (at least to the casual observer) to be nothing more than a lonely refueling stop. I know there are valid reasons why dining partners wouldn’t converse at a meal and I am comfortable giving our table neighbors the benefit of the doubt and assuming there was a good reason for their lack of conversation. However, this is not the only completely silent parent-child meal I have witnessed recently which leads me to think this is not uncommon. I empathize with these parents. I understand from personal experience how difficult it can be to engage in conversation with an uncommunicative child. Although a parent may find it more comfortable to sit silently rather than make awkward attempts at conversation, parenting is all about reaching beyond our comfort zone to meet the needs of our children and connect with them as we see from the very first parents in history.

The very first Torah portion is Parshas Braishis (Genesis 1:1-6:8), containing the creation of Chava (Eve), the first woman.

The man (Adam) named his wife Chava (Eve) because she was the mother of all the living.

Genesis 3:20

The problem is that the Hebrew word for Eve’s name has the root ch - v- h, which isn't the same root as that of "living", which is ch - y - h. Why did Adam name his wife Chava instead of Chaya which would have more directly related to her role as the mother of all living people? Ancient Jewish wisdom teaches that the name Chava also derives from a Hebrew word for speech. Speech is the defining characteristic of human beings. When Adam said Chava was the mother of all living things, he was specifically referring to those containing the spiritual quality of speech, humanity. Speech is unique to people and the engine of relationships. Chava, the first mother, epitomizes the quality of speech even more than Adam because women, more intuitively than men, use the power of communication to build relationships between people. (If you aren’t sure what I’m talking about, take a poll of the married couples you know and ask which partner more regularly calls to wish happy birthday to grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Enough said.) Chava’s name teaches us the crucial role that mothers play in transmitting language to the next generation and using language to build loving and lasting relationships with their children.

Parents must recognize that we are the ones responsible for our relationships with our children. We must take the initiative to build, nurture, and develop our relationships even when it's uncomfortable to do so. Spending time talking with our children is one part of the process, but it isn’t all. Our goal isn’t to interview or interrogate our children, but rather to communicate our delight in getting to know them deeper and better.

When we make eye contact and smile frequently, (even when we don’t automatically get smiles in return), we convey joy in being together and discovering their thoughts and opinions. Communication doesn’t always come naturally and conversation doesn’t always flow easily even when we love our children dearly. Here are some tips for ways to open conversations and make the time we spend with our children meaningful and enjoyable.

  • Bring along a game - sometimes it's easier to talk when you’re doing something. There are many small games that can be played while eating or sitting together.

  • Ask them to share their expertise with you - one of my children was passionate about sports for years. I know nothing about sports, but some of our best conversations in those times were when I asked him to explain a sports event or news item to me. His eyes would light up and all of a sudden, he had lots to say. Another child would talk at length if I asked about a political headline and yet another became animated when I brought up construction vehicles…

  • Share a story about your childhood. Bonus points if at that time you were the same age as your child currently is! Wait and see if they reciprocate with something similar they’ve experienced.

  • Ask specific questions (“What did you do during recess today?” rather than “Did you have a good day?”) and also ask open ended questions (versus yes/no questions).

  • Follow up on what they say to you. You can either repeat some of what they shared in a thoughtful tone (inviting them to elaborate) or ask a question that shows you want to hear and understand more about what they’ve said.

  • Share jokes. Joint laughter builds bridges.

  • Try some thought experiment questions such as “What three things would you take with you to a desert island?” or “If you won the lottery, what would you do?” or “If you could solve one problem in the world, what would it be?”. Don’t forget to share your answers too!

  • Respond to anything your children tell you with gratitude, openness and curiosity. Avoid any hints of criticism or judgment.

  • Don’t worry if the conversation sometimes feels awkward or talk doesn’t always flow. Some relationships are easier than others at various times. It’s still important to express our delight at spending time together and continue to try to connect with our children. There will be other opportunities to try again!

What conversation starters do you use with your kids?


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Dec 01, 2023
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

What a great parenting tool. I did not know Eve's Hebrew name, Chava. Thank you for educating me, Miss Rebecca. Thanks moreover for humanizing those murdered by terrorists. We support you, IDF.

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