Across all areas of my life, my acceptance of any situation is inversely proportional to my expectations. I am grateful that I am remembering this now, at the beginning of our week home together, as opposed to having an “AHA” after a tearful experience later (and who knows, that could still happen!). With two kids away at school and two kids home full time with my husband and I, we’d be kidding ourselves if we thought Thanksgiving could be “business as usual”; we are a group of willful people who do not easily embrace a “go with the flow” state of being. Given that, I am sharing my three step process for bringing home the big kids:
- Awareness: Being aware, before the visit, that we have all changed since the August drop-off, is imperative. Knowing this helps me to address any stories I have already started to make up about how they will want to spend their time and how they feel about being here. Just being aware that I am only one person in this dynamic of 6 people, is a starting place for me. I take a deep breath, I take a step back, and I ask myself, “so….now what?”
- Acceptance: First, I have the kick in the gut. Admittedly, that is sometimes my first reaction. It is the start of my acceptance. Before I can accept that new awareness, I need to acknowledge that I am not 100% in control and my kids may not have the same expectations that I have for this week. I may not know what they want or how this will be for any of us, which means that the story I’ve made up about them wanting to spend oodles and oodles of time with me, having family dinners, playing board games and decorating for Christmas, may not be their truth. So I accept that. And I get really, really curious. I throw my ideas to the wind, and start my wondering of how they DO, in fact, feel? What DO they, in fact, want for their week at home? How do my other two feel about having their older siblings home? We’ve been in a nice groove here – with fewer conflicts, not as much competition for bathrooms, transportation, and time. How will this impact them? Bedroom configurations have shifted and the house is relatively clean on a regular basis; how might that change? Acceptance happens when I give up the stories I have made up and I acknowledge that I don’t know and need to ask some questions.
- Action: The action I take comes in the form of openness and willingness to shift my own stories and be open to something different. Action comes in the form of fully embracing that different does not mean worse. Different does not mean we aren’t happy to see each other. What it does mean is that my kids are “grown-ass” folk (their words) with their own wants and needs, and all 6 of us are fully capable of designing something together. Action takes place in the form of listening first, asking for more information if necessary, and establishing boundaries.
In my home, this started in phone calls over the last week or so. When calls came in from extended family about making plans for dinners and gatherings throughout the week, I let them know that I needed to have conversations with my kids about it before committing.
“I know you will want to spend time with friends next week, we’d like to spend some time with your grandparents on XXX day. Does that work with your plans? Can you keep that open for family time?”
“Will you want to go out with friends the night you get home? I want to make a plan for dinner and it would be helpful to know what to expect.”
My awareness and my acceptance has taught me that because my kids are used to having agency over their time while at school, I want to give them that agency while home, too. Some conversation beforehand helps us to manage our expectations and give us all some agency over our time. In my home, action also takes the form of setting boundaries:
“Yes, I would love for you to have your friends over tonight. Here is what is and is not OK. You can eat and drink whatever you can find in the house, but you cannot break the law of the land or the rules of our home. That means there will be no alcohol and no vaping and here is what you can expect my response to be if it does happen….”
“I know you hate the dentist, but you need an appointment. I’m happy to make that for you if you let me know what the best days are for you.”
Finally, we design what the week will look like. We may not plan it all out, but for those who have transportation needs, appointments, work, or other “must do’s”, they are added to the calendar. We are ALL a part of the planning and therefore are ALL invested in working together. Letting go of my expectations is not something that comes easily for me, and let me tell you, cats do not have dogs; my kids have expectations and are highly invested in having them met. This litter of kittens has many, many similarities to their Mama; those similarities call for designing something together, some discussion and compromise, and then stepping into Thanksgiving week with much excitement and joy about being together. And if I stick to this plan, they may even gift me with some snuggles and board games.