I’ve always admired families who stay close after their children are grown. A boy who wants to bring his girlfriend home, girls who want to go shopping with their mom even after moms style is mom-ish. Happy camaraderie and freedom to be unique while coming back to the fold to be loved unconditionally are metaphoric blocks we are trying to build into our family structure.
Happy, healthy, close (but not clingy) grown families are so rare anymore. When I see one, I want to stop and pull up a chair and watch, like a happy movie, pressing pause at my favorite scense and hyper analyzing each minute detail.
I watch my neighbors in awe, Sundays set aside for their grown children to drop by. I watch the massive quantities of groceries rushed in the door in preparation. Lays potato chips, peeking out of the grocery sack, the smell of the grill starting as one by one vehicles arrive, as their kids bring their kids home. I feel like a stalker but it’s hard to tear myself away from the sweetness of a family who loves so well.
But looking at the epically cool families while your little ones arent even sleeping through the night can be depressing: Happy philosophy discussions over bowls of ice cream might seem light years away.
I don’t know this for sure, but here’s what I think: take heart because happy starts now.
I don’t have a 3 step plan, but we care deeply about creating a safe family. Our kids aren’t babies anymore, they are all teenagers. We don’t know how it will all turn out. But here are 11 things we are doing to build relationships with out kids and create a home they’ll want to visit some day.
1 listening – lecturing
If I want my teen to talk to me about life, then I must listen to my younger children as well. It is hard sometimes I find it hard to focus. Several weeks ago my son my son went to a friends birthday party, and then came home and told me all the details. I honestly didn’t want to hear every little bit, but a warning deep in my soul stopped me from re directing him. Instead I kept on with the dishes and listened to his chatter. I realized listening mattered.
Does talking stop for teens because parent stop listening? I don’t know yet? I only know at this stage I’m very tempted to stop listening: the stakes aren’t super high, the stories aren’t super interesting, I hear alot about different kinds of pizza, jokes, and play by play video game events. But every time I start to tune out, I think about what I want in the future.
2 structure and spontaneity
Children love surprises. Adults love surprises to, though we’ve conditioned ourselves well to the daily grind of life. But surprises aren’t much fun if they happen constantly. One aspect of the job as mom right now is creating a structure so that we can be spontaneous. This means bed times, baths, and school work, the rhythm of a weekend,chores, and hard work. And then, it means throwing it all up to skip school and ride in the car to Chicago to a roof top pool hotwire deal and see fire works over Navy Pier.
Structure and spontaneity is eating oatmeal for breakfast all week so we can eat donuts every Monday morning. It means going to bed early so they can stay up late when we have company. It means working hard so they appreciate throwing the job list in the trash and going on a hike. Schedule makes surprises so much sweeter, but too much schedule is just sad. Why wait for your kids to be adults to travel with them, or eat out? Do the fun stuff now!
While shopping is hardly a cross for a woman to bear, it takes time and energy and I realized with a flash one day that my son had been begging me to go shopping and I was just too busy. I love thrifting and he was looking for the video game store. I was stunned and shocked at how much he loved doing this with me! Even though we had much different interests. And he actually stuck to his budget, spending his own money and not asking to borrow from me.
Much like listening, if I want him to know I love and care for him, and care about his needs, I need to be involved in all those feelings now.
Our family loves music. It’s easy to make music styles a hot button conflict as kids get older. But we try to avoid that by creating “us music” not “me music” this requires patients! Patients from us and kids.
We listen to music we can appreciate together.
5 Open door to friends.
When does the proverbial door open to friends? I”m not sure and I don’t want to miss the window, so our door has been open from the start of our kids being able to have relationships. It only gets more enjoyable and fun as their friends get older (and funnier and more interesting).
It’s never easy to allow your home to be open. Its not easy to teach a child how to be and have a good friend. Having friends and being friendly is something tought most often by example. It’s exhausting to have toddlers over that bite and spill juice all over. It’s not easy to deal with hurt feelings when little girls leave each other out. And it’s embarrassing if your child is the offender. It feels weary to explain why your son can’t shoot his nerf gun at his friends with out eye protecting.
Sometimes it seems easier to close the door to friends. But I’m not sure anything other then temporary comfort is accomplished by that choice. Inter acting with my children and their friends gives me the opportunity again and again to train them, to demonstrate and teach wisdom and grace as well as speaking life and love into the extra kids in our home. I don’t want to wake up one day and realize that don’t even know my kids friends.
6 Patients with trends and styles.
Children are going to become adults. It’s important as parents to guide their steps and set parameters, but there should still be a lot of room for individuality. Think carefully before you chose to die on the hill of which shoes your child wants to ware to the family reunion. This is really hard for me because I feel like our kids reflect us. We don’t want them to be rebellious but I’d rather use my influence on issues that are black and white rather than making my son a mini of his father. Our kids are just hitting the are of caring about all this.
I may live to regret this, but we have found that saying something like this works “Hey, this isn’t our favorite thing and please don’t ware it to special events, but why don’t you ware it when going to a friends house?’ Time and time again I see the thrill of said trendy item wear off and the child acquiesce to our families more classic look. But in the mean time we have averted multiple wars and wounded spirits and misunderstandings.
7 pizza night
On Friday nights at our house, you will see people draw their activities to a close and show up for pizza and family movie night. We have done this for years now. I am surprised at how much everyone still enjoys it.
We eat in the living room and shut all the curtains. We take turns picking the movie.
Journaling is actually a new way I’m communicating with the kids but it’s been so successful that I’m sharing it here. I grabbed two blank journals, googled a list of questions to ask kids, and wrote one at the top of each journal. I explained that each childs response was 100% optional and I promised no hurt feelings if the never wrote back.
I did not expect their intense fascination with journal sharing. They pour their hearts out on paper and then leave it by my pillow. I have laughed and almost cried reading what they think about life and love too. YOu should try it!
9 Debriefing after events.
This is huge for our family. We have a lot of event traffic and travel and guests and it’s very easy for us to loose track of family life. When I was a kid I capitalized on those busy times to do exactly as I pleased and I was pretty sure mom and dad would never notice.
Debriefing gives us a chance to see how each child is doing, if there’s anything to address from the event that just happened or soothe hurts, or even just simply saying “hey you guys were awesome.
10 Sending kids to grandparents.
Everyone needs breaks from each other. Training children is not a lasting assignment, but marriage is, and it’s important to cultivate your marriage. I admit feeling guilty every single time I send kids to their grand parents, but to fall in love again is a better gift to our children than marriage burn out.
11 Going outdoors.
Something about being outside seems to make humanity realize that the universe does not revolve around themselves. Being exposed to the elements is something gentle and something harsh but its all directly from the hand of God, unlike being inside our carefully controlled environments. The normal every day frustrations of family life seem to pale a little when you leave bills on the desk and crumbs on the floor to head outside.
Laying in the back yard on fresh cut grass eating cookies, catching bugs, or building a fire, watching the stars comeout, listening to the birds. Brings an awareness to us.
I don’t want to create a close family so that I cling tightly, unable to say goodbye. But create a safe place to help children grow into people who will do the same thing.