Mother’s lament: Where has all the communication gone?


 By Debra-Lynn B. Hook

McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

It’s an exciting day when your baby looks up at you and says “Ma-Ma” for the first time.

At this point, the trajectory of interpersonal communication can point nowhere but up:

First words become sentences. Sentences become paragraphs.

Soon enough, you and your child are having give-and-take conversations in a language you have taught her to understand.

Alas, what comes up must come down. Infants become teenagers like my daughter, who can manage 9,000 text messages a month with her friends but can’t seem to comprehend what she and her mother agreed about her high-school graduation party.

“Yes, we can have your party at the local park with your best friend,” I tell her. “But let me check on the park’s availability before we send out invitations. OK? No final decision until I talk to the park people.”

The next day I open my laptop to find that I, along with 300 others, including 78 who have already confirmed, have been invited to my daughter’s nonexistent graduation party at a local park that has not been reserved yet — that, in fact, will not be reserved because, I later learn, it has been booked for six weeks.

This is not an isolated case of correspondence gone awry. That same night, my 21-year-old son matter-of-factly reminded me he would be leaving the next day to visit his friend at a neighboring college away, even though we had yet to discuss the details, which happens to involve borrowing a family car for three days. The same day his brother, who is a week away from the excruciatingly nuanced age of 13, wound up in the basement watching baseball with his dad after I explicitly told him to go to bed.

So is this a tri-lateral conspiracy?

I want to know.

I find it awfully suspicious that the response from all three children was similar when separately confronted.

“But I thought you said…” “What I thought you meant…” “What I meant to say…” “What I meant to do…” “But Dad said I could…”

How does the delightful rainbow of parent-child communication begin to rival male-female communication gaps, becoming a colorless void similar to the one Alice tumbles down on her way to a new, slightly insane society?

Did we forget to turn on the carbon monoxide detector?

I posed these questions to an expert, the best one I know the aforementioned 21-year-old, a seasoned veteran, who, as the eldest of the three, has his finger on the pulse.

“It’s not as sinister as you think, Mom. It’s a subconscious thing. It’s like, ‘Mom doesn’t need to know everything I’m thinking.’ It’s like, ‘I can do this now and tell Mom later because I’m old enough to make this decision on my own.’ We really have good reasons for what we do.”

Armed with my son’s paradigm, I went back to my other kids to find out more.

I found out that my daughter’s friend had good reason for posting an invitation on FB: There are 400 kids in their graduation class. If they didn’t hurry up and pick a time to have their party, all the slots would have been taken. They could always change the location later, they reasoned.

My youngest child, likewise, had good reason to be in the basement: His dad called him down. He was just coming back up to check in with me.

My older son had good reason, too, for waxing nonchalant about his weekend trip: Unbeknownst to me, he had already worked out the details with his dad, with whom, ahem, I might need to have better communication.

Sometimes when you’re a parent you have to flip the switch inside your mouth from on to off.

This, understandably, can be hard to do, given your role as speaker of the house for the past decade or two.

And yet, unlike the early years when sounding out the words was the key to teaching my children, sometimes listening is the more golden of the two.

Silence is part of communication, too.

Journalist Debra-Lynn B. Hook of Kent, Ohio, has been writing about family life since she was pregnant with the first of her three children in 1987. E-mails are welcome at