My son turned 20 last month. 20!
Typically, on birthdays we reflect on the growth our children have made in the past year. This year however, I reflected more on how our relationship with him has grown.
When he was younger, we certainly had the same struggles as many of you are going through now. The countless walks back to the bedroom at night, the fight of wearing an appropriate jacket, handling interactions with his 2 younger sisters, working around screen time, etc. We had successes as parents and failures as parents. It hasn’t been all rainbows and sunshine and happiness. We made him cry many a time with our limits and he made me cry a few times with my feelings of “I blew that one.” But we tried to make sure we learned from those failures. Always attempting to provide an environment of consistency, clear limits, respect and love.
Recently, Mason’s actions (detailed below) made me think of an article by Janet Lansbury that I read last year….http://www.janetlansbury.com/2013/01/raising-kids-who-enjoy-coming-home/
To summarize, the article talks about children coming home from college and the relationships between these college children and their parents. To summarize a few of her points:
“…it’s easy to lose our way when our success-driven society doesn’t encourage (or really even recognize) our number one duty as parents: forging a relationship with our child that is grounded in trust, acceptance and respect. But if we can let go of all other parenting agendas and keep striving for these ideals, my experience says we’ll count the days until our college student returns home, savor the precious time together, and burst with pride and gratitude for the extraordinary child we’ve raised.”
While I know your children are far from college age, what you do now affects that relationship with your child when he is college age. For us, the importance of being together has always been stressed to our children. The main focus of that has been family dinners and supporting each other.
Family dinners have always been a priority to us. When possible (and there were the occasions when practices, meetings or commitments prevented us from sitting down together) the 5 of us would sit down for dinner every night. We used it as an opportunity to connect as a family…to make each other a priority. (Sarah wrote a superb blog about family dinners last week…read it here: http://www.charlottemontessori.com/2017/04/06/family-dinner/ )Sometimes we ate without much conversations, sometimes we ate while setting limits of how to eat politely, sometimes we discussed our days, sometimes we talked about the most random of things (just last week, we had a discussion about the symbols of the periodic table). Our children came to expect that dinner was a family affair and we would often sit after we were done eating to finish conversations.
Additionally, we made a big point of supporting each other. My son played baseball when he was younger, my husband has coached softball at the high school for 15 years (and counting) and my girls play softball currently. It was an expectation that everyone would go to each other’s games to watch and support. Sometimes it was begrudgingly, but attendance was insisted upon by my husband and myself. Not only that, but after a game (usually around the dinner table) we would each point out our highlight of the person playing in that game.
Those 2 things have shaped our children’s ideas of family and our commitment to each other. I often suspected that my son truly enjoyed coming home at breaks from college (back to the article) …but he really showed it a month ago. His sisters were playing in a Saturday tournament on the same team for the first time in their softball careers, which my husband coaches. Mason was having a difficult time finding a ride to come home that weekend. He was determined to come home and worked it out to get here. He was insistent on being here to support his sisters and dad in this big milestone. (He even willingly got up at 8:00am to be at the field for the first game…that shows definite commitment).
That evening as we sat around the table and relived the games, I took a look at my little family around the table and was filled with happiness and pride. I know that the time spent around that table, at their events and activities as a family has made Mason value our time together.
While it is impossible to be the perfect family, providing the environment of respect and love will help your child have a solid commitment to family and your children will look forward to coming home from college to visit. (When they do come home, bring them by the school….I’m sure I’ll still be here!)