The art of having a conversation while children are present is my biggest pet peeve. And believe me, it’s not for lack of trying. It’s supremely frustrating trying to talk above and through the chattering haze of children with equal parts grace and respect. And if you’ve been the person with children attempting this, or the person who doesn’t have children trying to talk to your friend whose child has taken center stage in your conversation scenario, you too can relate.
Surely I can’t be the only one who feels ridiculously short-changed and slightly embittered by the real-life consequence of these perennial interruptions? For me, it’s gotten so bad that I can no longer string a complete coherent sentence together even when children aren’t present.
Moms, ask yourselves: When was the last time you were able to catch an uninterrupted 10 minutes to ruminate on that horrific moment in The Hills when Heidi Montag goes to visit her mother for the first time after umpteen surgeries? You ran for the phone desperately dialing the numbers to your best mommy BFF to talk about (a) how you would have reacted the same way, (b) how “some” mothers are jerks, and you totally would have placed square blame on the shoulders of Mother Montag for not showing her daughter “enough” self-love, or (c) how privileged preppy white males are the scourge of the earth and you blame MTV for all of the world’s problems.
Except none of this happened because at that precise moment, the custom-ordered lunch that was delivered to your 3-year-old by you, her personal chef, precisely 15 minutes before your phone call, coincidentally required re-heating. Hold me back.
I recall having a telephone conversation with my daughters’ principal one afternoon about a Very Important Matter. I was completely mortified and embarrassed that my girls were continuously screaming and giggling around me no matter how many times I gave them the death stare. As I repeatedly attempted to shush them, dashing from room to room plugging my one available ear, and apologizing profusely for the endless back-chatter, the principal started laughing and said, “You don’t think that you’re the only person this happens to, do you?”
I might have paused and said something like, “Why, yes, Mrs. S., until I came face to face with my Worst Living Nightmare that one day I would be on the telephone with the Directrice of my daughter’s Montessori School and my daughters would choose this particular moment to act like, well, children, I was absolutely positive that only my children behaved this way.” She might have laughed and reiterated that nope, I wasn’t alone. And, of course, after her reassurance I was able to breathe a sigh of relief and we agreed that we would talk later, sans children scurrying under foot, natch.
Previously, I had always wondered why it was that whenever I visited my sister, who had three children before I had mine, it seemed impossible for us to discuss our lives without these attempts being derailed by a child. My nieces weren’t high-need children who required their parents’ undivided attention. It’s just that whenever they were present, the conversation ultimately steered towards them – if the conversation hadn’t already been hijacked by them mid-stream.
The intention, of course, was never to exclude them – after all, socializing children while adults are present is a critical part of raising full-rounded human beings. However, what of these moments when all an adult wants is to have a conversational exchange without that exchange being about the children present? It’s a THING, I tell you.
The way the teachers at my girls’ school handle interruptions by children is a step in the right direction. If a teacher is engaged with a student and another student absolutely needs to have the teacher’s attention, the student will calmly place a hand on the teacher’s shoulder. No words are spoken, but the gesture is an unspoken communication tool to alert the teacher to the fact that the student needs her. The child waits patiently until the teacher is finished, and she then gets the undivided attention. Of course, if the matter is super urgent, then the child taps the shoulder a little more furiously, and the teacher will either excuse herself to address the furious tapper stating that she should wait until she is finished with the first student, or she will turn her attention to the furious tapper and the first child will have to wait.
At home, we do not stand on such formality, and we have taught our girls to simply say, “Excuse me, mommy” or “Excuse me, daddy,” if they have something to interject while we adults are conversing. Sometimes we’ll all simply interrupt one another – there is no “perfect” solution – but for the most part, there’s an understanding that everyone gets to finish their train of thought without abrupt interruptions from folks who believe that they’ve been struck by the most important epiphany when you’ve got the floor. The results, I’d say, are mixed. Our girls know that it’s impolite to interrupt, and they also know how to politely interject. Part of the learning process for all of us of course is deciphering the social cues of when to use either appropriately.
How do you handle conversation interruptions by children? Do you simply wait to talk when they are no longer present or have you developed other strategies?