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Newsflash:
Thursday, 22 March 2001

Writing Wrongs

Written by  Laura Strathman-Hulka

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As parents, my husband and I used to spend a great deal of our time hobbling around with at least one foot in our mouths. My reaction to teen problems is often of the knee-jerk variety, and my common sense goes out the window when confronted with teenage angst. My husband goes stonily silent, and gives all comers "the look."

So, what is the solution, besides constant treatment for hoof-in-mouth disease? Write it!

When my eldest child turned 13, and turned on the puberty fire full blast, I gave her a small, fat, lined notebook. It began with this forward: "My dearest daughter, today, you are on the threshold of adulthood - and I give you this notebook as a means to an end. If you ever have problems communicating with me, or have a problem that you cannot deal with face-to-face, write it here, and slip it under my pillow, and I will write back to you."

The thing that really made the difference was that the kids got the sense that there were alternatives to yelling, crying and gnashing teeth. We could communicate on different levels, at different times, and weather almost any problem.

And so it began.

We "talked" about boy crises, we "talked" about school, we "talked" about her decision not to attend church any more, and we "talked" about her anger with me over 10,000 different topics. We even "talked" about death, and funerals.

Two years later, I applied the same technique to my son, when he too reached the "magic" age. But, it didn't work the same way for him! He wanted to talk one-on-one, with whatever came along with it. And so, we do.

But he still wrote - "Mom, I need $65 for basketball shoes", "Mom, I want to subscribe to the Playboy Channel on our satellite dish," "Mom, I need...," "Mom I want..." and I would write back, "Work it off by doing yard work...." or "In your dreams.... Wait until you are 21 and no longer living at home!" Still communicating, still providing guidance, but staying non-confrontational. Trying to use humor, a gently written explanation of my point of view, a sensitive way to say, "NO, but maybe."

The thing that really made the difference was that the kids got the sense that there were alternatives to yelling, crying and gnashing teeth. We could communicate on different levels, at different times, and weather almost any problem.

We have been through a lot, as kids and as parents - the death of a dear friend at the too young age of 16, deaths of pets, moving cross country, car accidents, cancer, and a host of serious and not so serious "stuff." We have always loved each other, and we have done our best as a family unit. But best of all, we have almost cleared that dangerous fragile time of growing up, and we still LIKE each other as human beings. We have gained a lot of understanding of each other's needs, and opened up doors that might have stayed permanently welded shut, if it wasn't for those two wee books, now seldom used.

I have encouraged my children to keep the books, and the idea behind it, for their own children, when the time comes. For after all, isn't loving communication the key to most human problems?

Last modified on Sunday, 30 October 2011 12:25
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Laura Strathman-Hulka

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