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Rule 38: Play the Question Game

Aug 25, 2008
Nancy Erba is a single working mother with two beautiful smart children and an extremely supportive family. She is a vice president at a major storage company in Silicon Valley.

If you are like me, it's sometimes hard to have an in-depth conversation with your kids. The answer to "how was your day today?" is often met with "fine," "good," "ok." When asked, "Did anything special happen today?" the answer is "No, not really." You get the idea. I also struggle with how to talk to them about my day, without diving into details about a frustrating meeting, or a particularly successful project. It's very important to me to teach them about my career. It is a very important part of my life and who I am as a person.

I stumbled upon something that works for my family a little bit by accident, but it's now become one of our favorite bedtime rituals. We don't do it every day, sometimes only once a week, but more times than not, it will be one of my kids who says, "Hey Mom, let's play the question game!" when getting ready for bed.

I think the game started one Sunday night during a particularly busy weekend as a way to reconnect and settle down before bedtime. I wanted to see what activities they liked best and what maybe wasn't so high on their list. The game goes something like this: "What made you feel happy today?" The answers range from, "We went out for ice cream for dessert," to "I got 100 percent on my spelling test." or "It's Friday!"

I quickly learned two things. First, this was an awesome way to learn things about what my children were feeling without asking them very pointed questions and putting them on the spot. Second, their minds are capable of retaining an amazing amount of information. They can recite entire conversations that occurred during the day word for word if it is important for their answer. Over time, our questions have evolved to quite an extensive list:

"When did you feel angry/frustrated/disappointed today?"

"What made you laugh today?"

"What made you feel proud today?"

"Tell me something nice you saw someone else do today."

"Tell me something nice you did for someone else today."

"What/who hurt your feelings today?"

It's a very low-key way to start a conversation. I learn a lot about what happens at school, at sports events or during play dates. When something happens that makes them sad, or hurts their feelings, we talk about it, and how to address it and move forward the next day. The question game also encourages the kids to think about what events make them feel certain ways, and how their actions affect other people. I always try and include the "What made you feel proud today?" question so that they have an opportunity to share something they might not otherwise have told me, and to give me a chance to tell them how very proud I am of them, too.

There has been an interesting unintended outcome of this little game; they want to ask me questions too! This gives me a chance to talk to them about what happened in my day. It brings them a little closer to what I do at work every day. I'll give examples of things I'm proud of, of things that went really well at work, and also situations that might be frustrating to me. This gives me an opportunity to reinforce important messages like: how important education is; how I hope they will explore lots of different activities and find a job someday that they really enjoy too; that adults have good days and bad days at work just like they do; that I like my job and work really hard at it.

It was really easy to answer the question "What makes you feel proud Mom?" I told them that, of course, I was very proud of them, but that I am also very proud of my career and being able to share it with them.

As excerpted from "42 Rules (tm) for Working Moms" Super Star Press, 2008.
About the Author
Laura Lowell is the executive editor and author of "42 Rules for Working Moms." She has gathered practical advice and information from working moms all over the world to share with others. She lives and works in Silicon Valley with her husband and two girls. http://www.42rules.com/working_moms/index
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