Dear Bracha,

I have a few teenage children and I wonder how I can open up the lines of communication with them. I like to give them their own space, but I still want to be more involved in their lives without them feeling like I'm interfering or mixing into their business. Some days, I almost feel like we are all strangers living under one roof, with little sharing or communication of what is really going on in our lives.


You ask a very important question, the answer to which is different for each family as a fingerprint. There are two primary times of the day that are easiest for communication; they are before and during supper. The next best opportunity would be during a shared family project, but these are usually twice a year things that are more of a boost than a regular event, so let's discuss supper.

First: the before supper time. With teenagers I suggest that you make a routine that one of your teenagers help you prepare supper each night. Discuss this with them first, I'm sure you can explain this in a way that will appeal to them or at least appeal to their sense of fair play. During the time that you have your supper helper, this will be your one on one time together. Whether it is fixing a special meal that your teen suggested he/she would like to make or you just get to talking or making jokes together. Take it easy, this is more of a fun time together, with cooking as the creative focus that lets you "hang loose" and just enjoy each other's company.

During supper is the next time to communicate. Family suppers are a must. Sometimes there are basketball practices or Dad has to work late; things of this nature, they should be the exceptions not the rule. Families eating supper together may be old fashioned in some respects, but it works, and as I always say, if it works, it works!

Supper time has its own rules:

1. Everyone must come when supper is called, so you can all eat together.

2. Everyone must stay at the table until supper is over.

3. Everyone must help clean up the kitchen before they leave.

You can help by not dragging out supper time, yet don't feel obligated to rush your meal. The family should clean up the kitchen together as a regular routine to avoid anyone having to clean up the mess of others as well it promotes team work. The parents or at least one parent should stay in the kitchen and be involved as part of the team. Some families sing while cleaning. I suggest asking your teens what is good kitchen cleaning music and letting it blast away while you all swing to the music and get that kitchen sparkling. Nothing should be left over for Mom to do, dishes, counter, floor, the works!

The key to all this is to gain cooperation from your teens. Part of that is explaining these new routines to them beforehand and allowing for feedback. I think if you are serious about this, they too will be. Explain to them that everyone has their jobs in a family. Most often Dad and Mom both work outside the home and the children go to school. Even if Mom is a "stay at home Mom" there are very few I know of who are really at home most of the day. They are running around on family business that benefits everyone and that is their work. So in the evening everyone should be pitching in their fair share, having one person do it all, such as Mom making and cleaning up from supper is very unfair unless others are physically incapable of helping.

By concentrating your efforts on this time of the day, you will end up with a nice mix of one on one family time that really helps your family connect.

Wishing you and your family all the best!