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The “Mmf” Gene (and what to do about it)

That universal after school question, "What did you do today," is often a complete dead end if you have a child like mine. Read why I've learned to keep at it and that, ultimately, it's worth it.

The nature vs. nurture debate ended for me pretty soon after the birth of my second child.

Totally different from the moment they entered the world, my two daughters are case in point that whoyou are, in large part, is a genetic crapshoot and has largely nothing to do with the parenting you receive -- unless you are chained to radiators and beaten with brooms on a regular basis. You know what I mean.

This is illustrated in my daughters by the simple difference in their answer to a question asked millions of times each day across the planet:

"How was school today?" I ask.

Daughter #1 answers: "Mmf."  (I learn over time this is a vague approximation of the word "fine," but really means something like: "Leave me alone and get me a snack.”)

"Well, what did you do? " I grasp, knowing 99 out of a 100 times the answer will be:

"Nothin'."

So now, Daughter # 2, same scenario:

"How was school today?"

"Good! We got extra recess today, but then had to come in 'cause Joe was throwing snow balls at people."

"Why did he do that, sweetie?"

"I think he was mad at some of the kids because he felt like they weren't including him."

"That's too bad. What did you learn about?"

"How clouds work and adding big numbers...and did you know that there were Indians in Minnesota?"

Need I say more?

Neither daughter has more or less intellectual curiosity than the other. Number 1 simply keeps her own counsel a bit more. Which isn’t a bad trait, but knowing when to share a teeny bit more sometimes is helpful out there in the big bad world.

So here's where parenting can make a difference, I think:

Communicating requires some effort for both of us.  Many days my questioning of #1 ended with: "Mmf." Some days with: "Nothin’.” But on my best days, I would push her further: "Tell me one thing that happened today, good or bad." Sometimes I'd get: "Lunch was yucky"; sometimes: "We learned about long division";  or: "I made a clay chicken in art."

The content of those little nuggets weren’t what was important. More, it was that as I dug deeper until she told me one thing that happened at school, whether it was good, bad or innocuous, I think she got the message that her life, school experience and academic performance were important to us.

My hope is that my gently persistent daily questions let her know that I listen because I care-- a good investment in our future relationship.  Her disclosures about the mundane strengthen our bond, so when the biggies need to be talked about, we’ll (hopefully) have had enough practice so we can talk seriously.  And if she ever gets to the point where she routinely makes a mental note during the day, “Gee, I want to share this with mom,” well, I’d love that.

Now when I ask, “How was school today? ” I get a: “Fine,” sometimes followed – unprompted – by a: “I have to give a speech next week about my life, and I have no idea what to say.”

Well, what do ya’ know, I think, a bit of gold. Perhaps if I ask a follow-up question or two, and she gets some ideas from our little talk, she’ll know that somebody cares about what she has to say.

Molly Kelash is a Minnepolis, MN mom and freelance writer, as well as one of the creators of TeenSphere, an app that gives teens answers to common questions about issues related to relationships, mental health, substance abuse and more. She is the official blogger-mom for Labels 2 Learn, an innovative label redemption program for schools and day care centers that makes it easy to earn money for the stuff your school needs.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Lisa Gordon September 27, 2012 at 12:29 PM
Loved the article, Molly. I can relate! We have the same combo of children, only the boy version :-) One trick we learned from a classmate's mother was to have them tell us two truths and one lie from their day. Then we have to guess which one is the lie. Sneaky, but gets them talking a little bit more than they otherwise would! Your neighbor, Lisa Gordon.

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