We were all smiles as we poured the syrup on our pancakes, then held our glasses high to toast our school year together. We did it! We made it!
A whole school year of just the three of us together.
I was with my youngest two children (13, 17) as we celebrated at our favorite diner last week. Our school year together was coming to a close. Our college girls were soon returning home for the summer.
Last August, we weren’t sure what to expect as the two oldest girls went away to school, and the three of us were left alone. I had dreaded that transition. Our dinner table keeps on shrinking.
Three plates at dinner. More empty spaces. A much, much quieter house without our boisterous girls.
But, we have had a fabulous year together. They have found their voices in the midst of all the quiet. I have loved our quieter, simpler life with very little conflict. It has been a long time since I only had two children, and it has been wonderful! The Lord truly blessed our year.
We all agree that we love our loud, crazy family dynamics when everyone is here, but it has been nice to experience a different style of family life. I love that they have truly enjoyed our time together. Honestly, I was afraid I would bore them. : )
So, after Wednesday, we are all back together. And, I am realistic as two pseudo-adults rejoin our family mix. There will be a lot of family fun and love but there will also be some flat-out conflict.
When the girls were home for a holiday last fall, the Lord showed me that I had to shift gears. When we are together I just want all of us to get along- no argument, no tensions- just pure happiness. After all, we’ve been through such heartache, shouldn’t we get a pass on conflict?
But, on that visit, things were far from blissful! There was conflict. Loud. Confusing. Layered. No passes in sight.
And, at moments of escalating tension I desperately miss John. Dads have gravitas. John would deliver no-nonsense decrees that overruled conflict. He kept the boundaries of conflict in place just by his presence. I don’t carry that kind of weight. I wish I did.
But I don’t.
In the midst of the conflict a few months ago, I realized I had to accept three things, and I am reminding myself of them as the girls rejoin us for the summer:
1. Realistic expectations: Conflict is going to happen. It is a reality. Embrace it. I tend to despair when there is conflict and have usually assumed it is something to avoid. A sign that something is broken in our family communication. But, in the past few years as I have parented alone, I have learned that I was ridiculously unrealistic. It is normal and healthy to learn how to work through the emotions that are a part of human life. Our families are great practice rooms for working through these issues because our ties to one another are deep and enduring.
I am reminding myself: don’t panic when conflict breaks out.
2. Learning curve for everyone: Two of my children are pseudo-adults, and my third is soon going to join them. Becoming an adult is as new to them as it is to me. They are learning what it is like to do life on their own when they are away from us. When they come back and have to reintegrate into the family it is confusing and hard. Some months I am learning how to let them go, then at other times letting the new person they’ve become find where they fit in. None of us have ever done any of this before. We aren’t going to do it perfectly.
This summer I am going to mess up more often than I like as I awkwardly figure out my new place in their lives. So are they. It’s real and it’s okay. We’re learning as we go. Grace needs to flow in both directions.
3. Consequences are far-reaching. It is like gravity. Though they may be moving into adult independence, their decisions still impact all of us and can create tensions between us. In my opinion, part of becoming an adult is realizing these consequences are real: “My decisions impact the people I love.” Love considers consequences because love is considerate.
That goes for me too. I can bless my kids by being considerate of them and their plans. All too often I am still in the dictator role. Yikes. Considerate love is contagious. I hope I spread some.
Parenting alone makes me desperate for wisdom. Thankfully, the Lord is generous to lead me as a I cautiously make my way through this field that can be full of daisies or landmines, depending on the day.
I found this passage last year and it truly inspires how I parent now:
“For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.” 1 Thessalonians 2:11-12
So, for those of you who are welcoming college kids back home: my heart is with you! May the Lord bless our time together (in spite of ourselves) as we encourage, comfort and urge these people we are blessed to call our own.
Loving 5 place settings,
PS A great book for parenting teens & beyond that I have been reading lately: Losing Control and Liking It by Tim Sanford