I am the official Spring Break Chauffeur or “SBC” as I am enjoying calling myself. If you’re at my house you might even hear me announce, “The SBC says it’s time to depart.” {Somehow using a title gets my kids moving toward the van instead of my usual boring mom role.}

This past week a multitude of children have poured in and out of my van. Each leaving a wrapper or two, an empty juice box, mitten, toy or other such mark of their traveling existence with my family. But what I did not anticipate was learning a few things from these kids who sit so unassumingly in the back seat. After their “Hi, Mrs. Rosic!” or “Thanks, Mrs. Rosic!” they settle in and after a few moments, conversation begins among those kiddos and I have learned to start listening.

One such conversation was held in the ‘way back’ of the van between my oldest and a friend of hers. Their dialog started simple enough about what they were going to do for the rest of break and whom they would see. But then it transformed into a deeper discussion about family and responsibility, and then ultimately about adoption. In that conversation was race, birthmothers, and a diverse range of family types. Their personal stories wove in and out of hard topics and difficult personal experiences. I am often still aghast at what our babes have come through, the loss and trauma, and all that they have felt – will feel. But as I listened I realized that while their conversation flowed in and out of incredibly difficult areas, these are the very things we as adults have difficulty talking about. Why was it so easy for them? Why can they share so openly and don’t shut down as we adults so often do? That’s when I started taking mental notes.

Here are the things I learned from these eleven-year-old backseat sages. You guys, this is how to talk about the hard things.

  1. Don’t stop asking questions

The first piece of sage wisdom – never stop asking questions. Yes, this first point hinges on the concept of listening and listening well. Listen first. Then ask. Learn about another’s experience by asking key questions. Questions don’t hurt. Questions lead to more information. Questions ultimately lead to greater understanding. If you don’t understand someone’s experience ask and listen. If they have had a different experience than you, ask and listen. Really, you can’t go wrong here. If eleven-year-olds can do it, we can.

2. Don’t assume anything about the other person’s story

The second piece of sage wisdom – don’t make assumptions. I listened as these girls talked about their families, each having a diverse and unique family situation, and they never once assumed they knew the whole story about the other person. Or more importantly how their friend felt about the topic at hand. Do we do this? I think I listen until I feel like I ‘know’ or understand the other person and then assume I get it. When the questions stop, that’s when the danger begins.

3. Don’t fix it

The third piece of sage wisdom – you are not there to fix it. This is a hard one. One of the greatest lessons I have learned as a parent is to ‘coach’ my kids more and ‘fix’ things less. To operate more from a partner level as a parent than a healer, that is a tough one. I listened as these girls DID NOT offer suggestions, only their presence. Some of the things were hard to hear as the SBC – I wanted to pull over and hug each of them and make them feel better; take them for ice cream, recommend strategies to cope – FIX IT. But that is not what they needed. They needed to be heard, to have a peer listen to them without being rushed, and particularly without the pressure to solve it. As an adult, we must seek less to fix it, and be present more.

4. Don’t judge

The last sage piece of advice is perhaps the biggest, best, most generous of heart. No matter what the experience they never judged one another. There was journey, not sides. They let each other have their story with all of the big feelings they felt and neither of them said, “Well, I don’t think that’s true” or “I think you are overreacting” or the absolute worst alienating words of them all “Well, that wasn’t my experience.” They let each other speak and be heard on the merit of their experience.

I have come to love that backseat and my role as SBC. It’s a privilege to drive these kids around, to have them neatly tucked away in our van, wrappers and all. I have a great deal to learn from these kids in the ‘way back’. This week these eleven-year-old-sages taught me how to talk about the hard things.

What will they teach me next?