AMONG the memories I treasure are the two post-midnight visits my son, then in his early 20s, paid me. Fresh from a gimik, he walked into my bedroom at around 3 a.m., just when I was in the perfect stream of sleep, woke me up to ask me what I thought of his “love problem.” He said he couldn’t go to sleep.
I wanted to tell him, I’ve had a busy day, could this life-and-death issue not wait till morning, and just drink milk so you could get some sleep. But no, I propped myself up in bed, eyes closed, and listened to him go on and on about his quandary over his relationship.
I could give details here but I’d rather not, given the chance that he reads this and accuses me yet again of grave invasion of privacy. (When my two sons were in pre-school and grade school, respectively, and I would write about them, I remember, they confronted me over lunch and told me that I had to stop writing about them or at least ask their permission first. “That’s libel, Mama,” the younger son said, and actually was able to pronounce the word correctly. I could have withdrawn those lunch plates and deprived them of pan pizza, but didn’t. Even in their early childhood, I ran a democratic household.)
Going back to that night, I don’t even remember what love advice I gave him. What I remember is how elated I was that my grown man was comfortable enough to confide in his mother and actually discuss his girlfriend with me. (By the way, his girlfriends, past and current, also come to me.)
Communication heaven can’t get better than that—when your child tells you what’s on his mind and in his heart. Of course, there must have been times when my sons didn’t, but those nights were good enough track record for me.
There are friends, especially the women, who ask me how they can communicate with their children (especially teenaged kids). So, my two cents’ worth:
First, you don’t only talk. You also listen, which is not easy. This means that you make time for the children, without hovering around and leaving them to feel stifled. Take the time to listen—even at 3 in the morning.
Children hate dictators at home. (Not in politics?) So pretend you’re no dictator.
Not the enemy
This means you cannot be perceived to be the enemy; otherwise, you will just drive them away from you and to their friends, some of whom could be bad-influence friends. You will not be their go-to person in their lives; you must be.
This is a good place to start—don’t be the enemy; you and they are on the same side, even if only in their perception. This means that you don’t shoot down everything they say. If you did, you’d never know what’s on their mind or what they feel. They will clam up. You’d never know what’s up with them—legal, illegal or quasi-legal.
Take it from a “ninja mom” who tries to be omnipresent in the lives of her children, even if not physically, and who tries to be all-knowing about their lives—sometimes even when she tries to be invisible, like a ninja, and not noxious and obvious about it. (I use the loose meaning of “ninja”; am no assassin.)
These are my confessions on how I strive to communicate with them.
Know. It starts with knowing how, where, who your children are and what they’re up to. And usually, you don’t get the answers by merely asking them. Chances are, they won’t tell you, or the most you get is a reply—“Ok lang.” (Hate that phrase. It’s like them telling you, end of conversation.)
So, what you do is, you just have to be there, and not only when they need you or when they want to talk.
I literally look over their shoulders, especially when they don’t notice it.
They don’t know (or do they now?) that I have compensatory vision—one eye is nearsighted, the other farsighted. So, usually, in the car, seated behind them, I can read what they are texting, and whom.
Yes, ninja moms spy on their kids. That’s not illegal. There are things kids don’t and won’t tell you, so you resort to para-legal means to find out, from their friends sometimes.
If I wasn’t a friend to my kid’s gym instructor/trainer, I wouldn’t have known that my son was leading in the mixed-martial arts tournaments in the country. (This was years ago.)
One time, when I knew my son had a big fight coming, which of course, he wouldn’t tell me about—all moms are paranoid; you would be, if you imagine how your son is being beaten to a pulp by an opponent—I requested my tennis trainer, who loved MMA, to watch the match, without being seen by my son, and to text me a blow-by-blow account. (Of course, he was found out. He and my son ran into each other in the men’s room, during the match intermission. I forgot to tell my tennis trainer to refrain from going to the men’s room.)
Anyway, my son won that match, unscathed.
A good network
My point is, so that you know what’s going on, you spy. And like any spy, you need a good pervasive network for covert or overt operations.
In ancient times, this was known as knowing who your children’s friends were.
When my sons were growing up, I tried to coddle and feed my sons’ friends (overt operation). I called them the “siopao gang” because they all have the same fat, pumped-up faces so that you could mistake one for the other, and needed only marks on their foreheads to tell the asado from the bola-bola.
My sons are young adults now, so I don’t spy anymore like I used to. Why? They’re big enough to suffer or enjoy the consequences of their decisions.
Unlike a “tiger mom” who’s outrightly fierce, dictatorial, imposing exacting standards on her kids, a ninja mom doesn’t have to dictate—in a rigid, structured manner—to get what she wants.
You just have to know where your kids are coming from, and start from there.
Your daughter is into music festivals (you imagine drugs, sex, or whatever)? You don’t achieve anything or get to know what’s going on by telling her how you hate such gigs and that she should stay away from them—which is exactly what my mother-friend is doing. You will just drive her to the underground. Or shut the door between the two of you. My friend and her daughter are not talking now.
Instead, ask her to tell you about the experience and listen. That’s a good start. At least you know.
Oftentimes, to know, a mother uses her intuition. You just have this feeling—about what your kid is doing and with whom.
One guy, who wasn’t allowed yet to drive, took the car for a spin on the expressway. Before he knew, running alongside his car was another car—with his mom in it, asking him to pull over at the next exit.
Another girl, who was forbidden from smoking, was packing her stuff for summer camp with, of course, the nicotine stash in the most hidden corner of the suitcase. Surprise! When her mom came to look into her carryall (ostensibly to help her pack), guess the spot where her hands landed.
Ninja moms. Just be there.
Listen before you judge and lay down the rule. Yes, even if in your wise adult mind, the issue is already a no-brainer. Kids want to be heard and understood. They think they are always right, and you are not.
So even if their skewed reasoning is already making you cringe, don’t cringe and definitely don’t show them that what you’re hearing is enough to make you hyperventilate. Just take it all in—momentarily.
Then, when you feel that the time and situation are right for them to listen, you tell them. But in telling them, they must know that you understand where they’re coming from—and that you have their best interest and welfare at heart.
It is in this context, in this conversation mood, that you can put your foot down, if you must.
What and when is this setting?
Wait, wait, before you strike. Timing is everything, not because you want to be lenient or you want to take the path of least resistance, but because you don’t want what you say to just fall on deaf ears.
Friends sometimes ask me, when is the best time to talk to your kids? The best time is when they’re ready to listen. Follow your gut-feel in identifying the right time and place.
When my boys were growing up, I would hold them captive whenever we were in the car, on those long drives through traffic (the only upside to gridlock) —and they couldn’t jump out of the car if they didn’t like what I was saying.
In the bathroom
I know of a mom who strikes when her kid is in the bathroom. She walks right in, locks the door behind her, then starts talking to or talking at the poor kid, who’s glued to the toilet and thus can’t bolt the scene. Commando mom.
But then, how effective is that? You can force your way into their ears sometimes, but not all the time.
I consider myself lucky that when my boys were growing up, there were no smartphones. But then there were game gadgets they sometimes tinkered with the moment I opened my mouth.
So, to try and get them off the gadget, I would use my grizzled editor’s skills—I would utter words that would grab their attention, like an editor crafting a stop-in-your-tracks banner headline.
Be patient. A parent who’s in tune with her kids will know when and where they are in a mood to talk and to listen.
Talk. Even after a messy fight, talk. Don’t let the no-talking-to-each-other mode run for days or weeks. (It’s tragic that some parents and children don’t talk to each other for years.)
I’ve had great fights with my boys, and now that they’re adults, there have been times when it was just tempting to give them the silent treatment after a fight. But no.
As a parent, you don’t give up. You must tear down the wall between you and your kids, even if they keep on building one. It’s a blessing that I’ve been good at this exercise.
The older your children grow, you will note, the better they will be at erecting walls. So the older you get, the better you should be at tearing those down.
You fight for your kids so that they don’t go to the dark side. Then you pray.
Mind those words. Avoid uttering things you will regret later. Words have a way of creating realities—their negative or positive energy gets released into the universe—so mouth only those that will create a good, happy reality. At least try.
Breathe well-being into them. Before they go to sleep, or before you leave them at home, whisper words of well-being into their ears or forehead, so that they will be well and protected. Visualize a white shield of protection over them.
I know of a leading female journalist who would do this to her children every time she left the house for the office. We used to call her, in jest, “the witch.” Little did we know that we ourselves would be “witching” when our time to parent came.
Transmit your thoughts to your kids, and you’ll be surprised how powerful a ninja mom could be.
I don’t think I was ever a tiger mom—not when my kids were growing up, and certainly not now. I never imposed a score card on them.
How I wish I was more demanding—then perhaps my son would have stuck it out in varsity swimming and become a champion swimmer. Perhaps.
But then, I’d rather be a ninja mom—you’d never know when I would leap into view. Nearly invisible, yet omnipresent.
Final word—kids do as they see and experience, not only what they’re told. And I speak from experience. (Perhaps that’s why I now have a shopaholic son.)
Your actions are your most powerful words to them. They live your values as you yourself live them, or don’t.