This week, the Family Whisperer responded to a question from a mother who revisits her childhood summer home (“You Can’t Go Home but You Can Grow Up. Here’s How!”)
I never had that challenge–at least not with my parents. On my wedding night, my father told me he’d sold our summer house. I was disappointed, but part of me was also relieved.. I remembered what happened when my much-older siblings came for the summer with their families.
Three generations under one roof was like living in an emotional mine field. At any moment, a toy in the living room, sand in the house, icing eaten off a chocolate cake (by my brother-in-law, not one of the kids!) could spark an argument. My parent didn’t have to say the words; their sentiments were clear: This isn’t your house anymore.
Returning to your parents’ house as a parent is one of those times when family change forces you to take a new chair at the generational table. When I became a grandmother, I had to move over to make room for my daughter to take her rightful seat as Mom. It was such a profound realignment, we later created a website around it..
Similar shifts occur when a sibling gets married or a parent remarries. It can happens if a parent becomes ill or disabled and, to a lesser degree, when a child goes off to college. As one mother put it, “I feel like I’ve been laid off.”
I’ve been sitting in my new seat at our family table for almost twelve years, and the most important thing I’ve learned is to see my children as adults. I might still call them “the kids,” but neither belongs in the “child” chair anymore. My daughter has three sons, and my son has mentored his partner’s child, who was eight when they met, and now twenty-five.
Of course, as I pointed out to “Disappointed Daughter,” who was miffed because her father wouldn’t “stick up” for her, it works both ways.
To deepen your relationship with your dad, start to see him as a man, not a father, and act like the mature woman and mother you are.
It’s not easy. I sometimes look at blond children frolicking on the beach or cuddling in their mother’s arms and long for that time when a small human being was so dependent on me. And yet, I’m also thankful that I’ve moved into a stage of life when I’m only responsible for me! Similarly, my adult children struggle to see me as Melinda, the woman, not just Mom. We can’t bring back the past, or hold on to it.
In other words, as Buddhists put it, don’t argue with reality.
In my weekly Huffington Post advice column, “Dear Family Whisperer,” I apply “family think” to a range of modern family issues. Whenever an issue touches me personally, or I have further thoughts about it, I’ll post my reflections here. If you want to submit a question, email DearFamilyWhisperer@familywhispering.com.