It happened again this weekend. I was hanging out with friends and they all asked each other questions about their professional jobs, but I just got asked, “How’s your daughter doing?”
My primary job right now is caring for my daughter full-time. I’m proud of my job. I also freelance on the side (nights and weekends), but it’s minimal. And apparently, as a SAHM (stay-at-home mom) people assume all I want to talk about is my kid.
So here’s how social events go down: People ask me one kid-related question while everyone else is asked about their work, bosses, and career progression. No one asks about my life or the nuances of my work, even though I spend 40+ hours a week teaching and caring for my daughter.
This has frustrated me, ticked me off, and frankly, made me feel left out and disconnected. If you’re a stay-at-home-parent, you’ve probably felt this, too.
But, I’ve realized this is just part of a larger, systemic issue: We all suck at making good conversation.
Have you ever left after hanging out with friends or family only to feel exhausted from being the one who asks all the questions? Or have you felt unseen and unheard because nobody asked you how you were or checked up on your life and what you’re doing? Yeah, me too. And not just when I became a mama—it just seems more obvious now that I am one.
As adults, we should be able to carry on decent conversations. You know, a healthy conversation with thoughtful questions and honest responses? I’m not perfect, but here are some lessons I’ve learned that I try to implement when talking to all people:
Start By Asking Thoughtful, Open-Ended Questions
No one is inherently and forever bad at conversations. It’s a choice and it’s a skill. I’ve learned I have to keep making an effort. It’s about thinking outside yourself and asking questions about the other person’s life, interests, ideas, and world. Ask questions you would like to be asked.
Also, ask open-ended questions that allow the person responding to craft a longer response. Open-ended means they are questions that can’t be answered with a simple yes or no. Those are called closed questions. For example: “Did you drive to work today?” is a closed question. But “How did you choose your car?” is an open-ended question. (Tip: questions that start with, “why” “how” or “what do you think about” are always open-ended questions.)
Follow Up With More Questions
You’ve probably heard of the movie Hitch, starring Eva Mendez and Will Smith, right? At the beginning of the movie, Will Smith’s character is teaching men how to talk and relate to women. One of his basic principles is: “Listen to what she is saying and respond.” This applies to any good conversation.
Pay attention and listen when someone is talking, so you can actually respond back with another question or comment. It’s as simple as that: listen and respond.
Learn To Share About Yourself
Hopefully, during conversation, each person will ask the other one questions. But that doesn’t always happen. If you’ve been asking lots of questions and received none, feel free to share something about yourself.
Share something that happened during your week—a funny moment, an interesting thing you read or learned, etc. Sharing about yourself lets the other person know more about you.
Ask Stay-at-Home-Parents About Their Jobs
Talking about work is a typical go-to conversation topic. But SAHMs/parents can feel excluded because people don’t know what to ask them. They’re working full-time too, it just looks different. Some work-related questions to ask:
What’s your schedule like these days?
How have you been doing while taking care of your kid(s)?
How do you manage your day?
How do you manage stress and self-care?
What have been some of the challenges over the last week?
What are the best parts of your week?
Ask Questions NOT Related To Work
Even when I worked in a full-time professional job, I didn’t always want to talk about work. I’m sure I’m not alone. So, let’s get creative and ask people non-work-related questions like:
What are you doing for fun these days?
Do you have any hobbies you’ve been wanting to try?
What types of books or movies are you into?
How are your ______ (insert any family member’s name here) doing?
Why do you think about ____________? (People love being asked their opinions.)
Where We All Go From Here
It doesn’t matter if you work full-time with your kids at home, or work full-time with co-workers at an office, we are all human and we all value connection.
There’s no shortage of opportunities to have a good conversation. Ask good questions to everyone—even if you don’t understand what they do full-time. And, be bold! Be the first in your friend group or family to break the mold and ask a non-traditional question . . . you know, like one not about work? *gasp* Ask about their weird habits, their crazy relatives (or friends), their embarrassing moments, whatever.
Because having meaningful conversations matters. And no one wants to feel forgotten or left out.