I was at the kitchen sink late in the evening, scrubbing the stoneware baking dish and serving spoons from dinner.

Actually, I had been planning on turning my back on that forlorn mess of dinner dishes teetering in the sink. They could soak overnight, I told myself. It had been a long day and my tired body was ready crawl into bed next to my husband. I would tackle the mess in the morning.

But I changed my mind when I walked in the kitchen after putting my three young children to bed. There I saw my teenage stepson, mindlessly scrolling through his phone over a late-night study break of chips and salsa.

Sensing an opportunity to connect with him, I relinquished my thoughts of bed for a little while, at least. Without a word I rolled up my sleeves and walked over to the kitchen sink, like it had been my plan all along to confront the aftermath of dinner.

How did I know he would be open to talking? One reason: he was sitting at the kitchen island, not holed away in his bedroom with the door shut.

As a full-time stepmom of two teenagers, the kitchen sink in our home has always been more than just a place to wash the dishes.

It has been a place to hear about friend issues, frustrations with a class at school, current YouTube video favorites, and all the other interests and things on their minds.

Those quiet evening moments at the sink have been the times I have coached my teenagers through difficult relationships, helped mend a broken heart, given hope for tomorrow, or simply laughed along to a funny story from band. If we had exchanged tense words earlier during the chaos of the day, often the quiet evening hours in the kitchen have brought us resolve and unsaid forgiveness.

These impromptu encounters don’t occur everyday, but they do happen when they need to. They happen between busy schedules and homework and just needing a parent’s ear. While I scrub and rinse, it’s my chance to listen and ask questions. I am allowed into the details of their day and finally learn why they were in a bad mood after school. Then I casually turn and face them to offer advice or encouragement.

Late in the evening is when the teenagers know they will not have to compete for attention. With their young siblings sound asleep, the stillness of the house draws the older ones out of their rooms.

In the kitchen at night, I am available. It’s a place they can find me without looking for me, because looking would be admitting a need. They don’t want to feel needy; they want to feel heard.

It’s a time I can parent my teenagers without them knowing they’re being parented.

A couple of years ago, we hosted a German exchange student for a year. The kitchen sink became the place he and I discussed his joys and frustrations about living in a foreign country. He sat behind me at the kitchen island with a bag of his favorite American snack—Cool Ranch Doritos—and we chatted while I washed.

The kitchen sink is where I heard all about his parents, his favorite childhood toys, his grandparents and his aunt who lived with them, and that vacation they take to the sea every summer together. It was where we connected.

When our teenagers were younger and less independent, driving them in the car to and from school and various activities used to be a time for connection. That time, shoulder-to-shoulder, was my opportunity to speak truth to them about having self-respect and loving God and others. The car was a safe environment where they could let all the emotions out from their day or just talk for the sake of talking.

The kitchen sink, however, has remained an unchanging, non-threatening central location for connection and conversation throughout the years. It is the heart of the home, and the place I get to see the heart of my family.

Even if it’s just for a few minutes, and there is no guarantee of a deep conversation, I try to find a reason to busy myself in the kitchen when the teens are close by. Or just pull up a chair at the table. Because with busy teenagers, sometimes those few minutes are the only connection we parents get in a day.

Those precious few minutes can be the difference between a teenager making a poor friendship choice, believing a lie about themselves, or suffering from anxiety about a test—to believing they can get through anything with grace and perseverance.

Those little chats are the foundation of trust and security. Because even though the connection may start at the kitchen sink, it goes quickly to the heart.

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Heidi Farrell

Heidi is a stepmom and mom of five, whose ages range from 20 down to 2 1/2. She and her husband have seen the full range of child development in their house...often all at once! She is a classically-trained musician who plays in a couple of local orchestras, a licensedKindermusik instructor and home-school mom. Heidi blogs about lessons learned as a mom and stepmom with grace and humor at notjustastepmom.com.