Recently I had the pleasure of spending some quality time connecting with my friend’s mother; which I might add, is a really wonderful thing to do if you’re missing that motherly connection sort of thing in your life. She has four grown, beautiful children that love to be with each other, and actively seek their parents out to spend time with them.
I asked her what her secret was for creating the type of home that they felt so comfortable returning to. She told me some beautiful gems that I’d like to share with you today. What follows are 5 nuggets I managed to polish from her abundant quarry of wisdom. I hope these gems help you love more and be happy in your consciously designed family dynamics.
1. Be willing to pick up the pieces of their lives over and over again without expectations.
Your children will come to you when the shit hits the fan in their lives, and you might not hear from them as much when things are going smoothly for them. Make your home a trustworthy place to be in times of crisis. Cultivate trust and be trustworthy. The home can be a safe place where your children know they can go to receive support – if you create it that way. The home that is not a home emphasizes all the points you may think they should have done differently or should have known better about. Similarly, the ‘pick yourself up by your bootstraps’ attitude only diminishes their experience, and doesn’t actually help anyone. A more supportive attitude encourages the child to experience themselves safely supported, free to explore their true feelings without the fear of being invalidated, or having their emotional climate hijacked. This communicates true love and trust for another autonomous human’s process. This communicates that you know they are going to make it, that you have faith they can do it, no matter what “it” is, beyond the twists and turns they are taking in the journey.
When you value their living of their lives as paramount to what happens, you do much to support them as actual people, not characters in your story.
Know that the clouds of their sorrows are just that; stormy weather that will roll away eventually. The beautiful symmetry of this embodiment is that which gives you the space to support them. This kind of support stems from self-nourishment that comes from not being weighed down by their pain as your own. You have bandwidth for what is, right now, as they need you to love and be with them. You trust them to live their lives, which also means that you can live yours without the heaviness of being responsible for more than yourself. It’s a lightening of the karmic load. From this place of levity, comes the compassionate connection your children genuinely need. When you connect on an empathic level with your children, they remember the feeling of home and willingly return. And that’s really the heart of the matter.
I am not talking about children who feel obliged to visit their parents, but rather, children that feel most fully alive and nourished in the home that you created together.
Sometimes you might wish your children would call you more, or come over to share the happy or even mundane moments of their lives, but instead, they are likely to choose their lover or friends first. This is normal. It is tempting to want love from your child, especially when you feel like everything other than a discreet and unique individual. You might feel like a genie summoned out of his lamp only in times of need or distress; the shuttle driver, the money tree, the maid, the chef, the eternal wish granter… everything other than an actual human being.
While it is certainly the responsibility of parents to help children tune in to their interpersonal boundaries by being honest with them about their capacity to give in any given moment, generally speaking, ‘loving us’ is not what children are here to do.
To be fair, I consider it a developmental milestone – a part of their story as individuals in the world at large – for children to learn how to see their parents as people beyond their needs and generally to evolve beyond being the center of their universe. But then again, that’s their business, not ours. Remember? We’re responsible for supplying examples and loving attention, not for their realizations, but for the authentic living of our lives. In good faith, and in the name of dignity, we cannot take this away from anyone, least of all our children. When we understand how selfishness is created, we trust that our desire to create a home that our children will want to return to is best served by focusing on the gift of our own life.
It is a poor return on your investment in living if you create children for the purpose of loving you.
If your children are to be fully alive, the life charter ‘Love Me’ will inevitably disappoint you and enslave them. It is also a tragic substitution for the fulfilling our deepest hearts longing to make life more wonderful.
Life is a gift – the ultimate gift from which all others flow – that expects nothing in return. The Earth gives us everything we need and more, freely and without expectation. Parents, especially mothers, model this unconditional giving. This is how we initiate the experience of gratitude that unlocks the joy of giving for the child. This is where we discover the beauty of the gift, and the unexpected spontaneous flow that comes from joyful giving and full receiving.
Further, it is a beautiful thing when your children take your love for granted; it is an indicator that they have realized their worthiness to be here, no matter what they do, be, or say – just by the fact that they are alive.
What could be more beautiful or all-encompassing of our experience, than the gift of our life nourished freely from this material world? What a gift in and of itself, to be a living testament to the abundance and unconditional love that flows freely from our planetary mother.
2. Woo their partners.
Children grow up and start families of their own. That’s what they do. They build love relationships and partnerships. They frequently have children of their own, and create routines around these people and their interests. How their partner feels around you is going to make the difference in their collective choices to be more or less connected to you. Think about that every time you meet a boyfriend/girlfriend. This is someone they have chosen as worthy of their time and attention. That is a really big deal, and we have the opportunity to support the sanctity of their insight and intuition as they develop acuity- even as youth. Take for example, the boy that your 8-year old daughter considers her boyfriend- even though their main interaction is passing notes back and forth in class. He is not just ‘her little friend’. At that time, in her mind, he is of epic importance and there is real value in acknowledging the things that are important to our children, even if we think to ourselves ‘ oh honey, you don’t even know’. The truth is you don’t even know- you just think you do. As we refine our sensitivity to the significance of chosen partnership, it becomes obvious why accepting them in this same way is so key to creating a home that your children will want to return to.
Often times parents feel it is their responsibility to screen and deem partners ‘acceptable’ or not. As much as we like to assume the roles of judge, prosecutor and jury, judging partner worthiness to date or marry your child is shooting yourself in the foot because it implies that your opinion matters more than your child’s. It usurps their ability to develop discretion, and it erects giant barriers to connection.
The whole ‘If she’s good enough for you, she’s good enough for me’ goes a long way. Even if you are ‘right’ about a poor match, two things are likely to happen. First, they are not going to talk to you if trouble arises or things turn sour, because they will want to feel free to sort it out themselves, without your coercion or guilt tripping. Secondly, they are less likely to admit to themselves or others that it isn’t what they want, because your resistance has only solidified their choice as an extension of themselves and their asserted autonomy. They will fiercely defend their beliefs as a substitution for not being validated in the first place. Your opinion has the power to dichotomize their ‘rightness’ with your ‘wrongness’, or vice versa. Parents can make or break relationships, but that’s not something to be proud of or abuse. That is a privilege that you earn as a trusted advisor at their high council of ‘sorting life out’.
Court their partners. Woo their sensibilities. I know this may sounds strange, but this is the best thing you can do to facilitate your children’s dreams, and therefore create ‘home’ wherever you are. Let these lovers know that you are genuinely interested in them, what they think, what they feel, ask them questions as you would someone you were dating for the first time. Let them know that the default setting is acceptance. Show them this by striving to offer comfortable interactions and inviting their true nature forward beyond their anxieties. It’s not easy being ‘brought home to meet the family’, so make it easier for everyone by creating ease.
This will take the spotlight off ‘Will they like me??’ so that you can more authentically experience what your child finds so charming and special about them. This will also allow the focus to be shifted back where it should be; on the unfolding of love between your child and their partner.
Most importantly, for our purposes of this discussion, this will establish a connection that they will want to return to again and again. They will say to themselves; ” I like your mom, let’s go there for Christmas!” And as a bonus, imagine that in the heart breaking situation of divorce and parental separation, you’re likely to see your kids and grandkids far more often when you are allies with your in-laws rather than enemies.
Feeling like one has to choose between the people we love in order to prove loyalty, is an age-old dilemma that we face– especially as children. A frequent example of this is when parents get divorced.
Parents and even grandparents speaking poorly of the other parent, or implying love for one family line at the expense of the other, is quite common, and quite poisonous.
This is a sure-fire recipe to repel children and grandchildren from your home. The truth is that you don’t have to be wrong for another to be right. No one has to lose in order to win. It’s not suckers and assholes out there, regardless of what you may think. This de facto reality we see of the dog-eat-dog-world is not hardwired into our genes. Stop it! Just stop. It is more accurate to say it is our culturally impressed world view upon nature.
In The Descent of Man, Charles Darwin’s 828 page sequel to the Origin of Species where he discusses human evolution, he writes only twice of survival of the fittest, but 95 times of love. He writes of selfishness 12 times, but 92 times of moral sensitivity; of competition 9 times, but 24 times of mutuality and mutual aid…
But we rarely, if ever, hear this meme. Is this lens an example of our symbolic world projected onto nature? As parents we have a unique and incredibly powerful opportunity, through the acceptance of our children’s mates, to forgo sacrifice as a condition for devotion and imbue life with the beautiful dignity of win-win power structures.
3. Create the space.
Do you have the mental and emotional space to receive your children? Do you take the time to nourish yourself with joyful activities so that you are actually available to be fully present with your children? Growth is a lifelong process that never ends. We may become grown up, but we don’t stop developing– if we know what’s good for us. Always take care of yourself.
There is no other place to nurture others from than a self-nurtured place. Being an adult has nothing to do with age, and everything to do with our ability to get our needs met.
Take the time to explore yourself, to play, sing, dance, have solitude, and stimulating companions. Out of this energy you create the psycho-spiritual and emotional landscape to live life in the present moment.
Beyond a home that holds love and friendship as a priority, having a physical space for activities and quality sharing is fundamental. Light up the BBQ, set up a badminton court in the lawn, install a waterslide, make lemonade; have comfortable space for your children and their loved ones to be at your home. No matter what society tells you, you don’t necessarily need a 10,000 square foot house, or all the latest gaming systems to accomplish this.
Create a comfortable space where you can meet your children on their terms and do your best to have them recall your home fondly as a place of delightful leisure and peace.
4. Be willing to see disputes from all perspectives.
If perspective taking does not come easily to you, this is a fantastic and meaningful place to practice! Not only is it good for your brain, but being able to see both sides of drama actually helps resolution emerge. Playing the right and wrong game is inimical to discovering the underlying needs that are not being met for both parties.
Often times it is not about the circumstances, but more about the resentment, distrust, and assumptions that have built up over time. Poke holes in this dense pile of bullshit by holding both perspectives in your mind without weighing the validity of either.
It is still their story no matter what you think or say. Learn how to allow people to have their stories. When your children are having conflict with another family member, lover, or friend, offering positive regard to all parties involved will encourage them to adopt it as well.
Validation does not necessitate taking sides.
Keep in mind that whoever you ‘make wrong’ is likely to feel alienated and unsafe in your company when the conflict is over. What people need is to see that conflict can be constructive, to understand that it emerges from naturally occurring differences, and that it can even be productive.
Conflict has the potential to forge better options than what those in conflict could have ever imagined before they got their panties in a twist!
Build trust with each other through the cumulative experience of conflict resolution. Encourage this type of mutual respect, this synthesis that can only emerge from thesis being tested by antithesis, by holding all perspectives as valid. Genuinely try to see what is alive in the person beyond what you agree or disagree with. In this way, you and your home will remain a neutral place of positive association.
5. Be willing to learn something from the younger generations.
OK listen up because this last one ain’t the easiest one to actualize. You may or may not be young right now, but if you can remember what it was like when you were a kid, you are going to be far ahead of the rest of the herd. Remember when you just knew that your parent was being a stick in the mud about something? Just by sheer exposure to the cutting edge progress of civilization, young ones tend to have their finger on the pulse of what’s up today. So much of what we believe to be true is a matter of context, and differs from situation to situation, and by the passing of time. It is natural that through the reflective process of comparing various experiences during your upbringing, you notice what worked for you, and what didn’t work for you. Hallelujah that this is so! It is only through experience with highs and lows, likes and dislikes, positive and negative experiences… that we come to know what nourishes us. When you grow up you realize that you would have preferred things to be different. This is your right, to see as clearly as you can what was for your benefit, or what inhibited the unfolding of your magnificence. It is one of the most sacred experiences, defined by its uniqueness and pricelessness, that you can accept your child’s version of this revelation when it is their turn.
Rather than taking their dissatisfaction of their childhood personally, as an assault to your ego, add depth to the understanding of their story by honestly extending attention to their perspective.
One of the most hallowed experiences you can share with your child, is accepting their version, their revelation, as valid. Haven’t you been there before? Even if your two year old throwing a temper tantrum about an ice-cream cone that fell on the floor really is ‘just tired’, it doesn’t usually feel good to not be taken seriously. To be told, ‘its not a big deal’. When your kid comes to you with grievances about how things went, instead of introducing the canned and nebulous statement, “You’ll understand when you are a parent”, add more brush strokes to their canvas of perception to include your past motivations and driving factors as a parent. If you listen closely, you may even learn something of value. Surely, if you suffered abuse, it is likely to be offensive when your child brings to your attention how their childhood was less than perfect. Who’s childhood wasn’t?
Keep in mind that it is not just what happened that makes an impression, but what the child perceives happened.
But still, that doesn’t make it any less real or significant than your own perception. It is also completely normal to want to do better than before. This multi-generational wheel of movement is what allows us to reach towards excellence and health in our being, in our environment with others, and in the world at large.
There will be a time when your children exceed your breadth of relevant knowledge. It might come sooner than you think! Our thinking, as human beings, works in straight lines. Every variable is a straight line and we can rarely hold more than three variables in our minds without using a pencil.
Reap the full measure of experience by honoring the unique personality, perspective, and curiosity that your child has for the world.
Children help us stay engaged with life and change over time. They are ‘hip’ and ‘with it’ and you will feel like home to them if you are willing to learn new tricks. Nip/Tuck is sooooo 2010; stay fresh in a way that keeps your spirit alive as well as your body; truly listen to what your children tell you. What they have learned, what has helped them, and what fills them with enthusiasm for life– learn something!