I know that I am not the only one going through this. It happened about a year ago. My oldest child was just finishing her sophomore year in high school. Summer was about to start. I was looking ahead at the craziness of junior year in high school: AP classes, college entrance exams, intense pressure of coursework and summer jobs.
All of a sudden, I stopped short and realized that we only had two more years together with our five children at home. Two years, that was all! I started to panic. Have I taught my oldest everything she needs to know? How are we going to get along without her when she leaves?
I started thinking about how it will never be the same. We will be starting into college, long-distance calls and texts. Our world will be expanding from our hometown to a bigger world.
While there is excitement in that future, I paused to contemplate what we could do now to invest in family bonds that will carry us into the next few years and solidify our family identity. I decided I wanted to make the most of these last two years and make sure we spend as much time together as possible, the seven of us. We need to cherish and build our family unit now.
I worried that I had not enjoyed our precious family time as much as I should have the last few years. Had I mostly just been worried about making it through each day, making beds, getting homework done, fitting in piano practicing, getting them to bed at a decent time, only to get up the next day and do it again? What about taking the time to enjoy our family and spend time together doing fun adventures, or doing nothing spectacular but still loving and appreciating each other?
So, I started being more deliberate about cherishing family dinner time. The dinner hour has always been a bit stressful, but I keep trying to focus more on having the kids well-fed, even amidst the complaining about what is for dinner. I make sure at least five nights a week we are all together and sharing parts of our day. A friend stopped by the other day when we were all there together eating dinner. She commented later about how it warmed her heart to see the seven of us sitting around the table sharing a meal and just talking. Our family dinners have become sacred. When someone is gone, we all miss having them with us.
When the kids have sporting events, end-of-year school showcases, piano recitals, or receive an award at school, we are often ALL there. This is not because each child wants to go to everything, but because we have decided to support and show interest in each other. It touched my heart when my youngest had her kindergarten showcase a few weeks ago, and even her high school sister and middle school brother showed up. As a family we were able to see her artwork, hear her read stories, see the class turtle, and appreciate her for who she is. The youngest was buoyant and radiant that evening. Having the whole family care and take the time to be at her special evening seemed to boost her self-esteem.
It has been important to work together. We all help with Saturday work projects, help people move into their houses, clean our house and work on garden projects alongside each other. There are still the dissenters, those that aren’t as excited about having to pitch in. But, I have quietly tried to have the seven of us be together for as many things as possible to feel the joy of being a family and to work on projects outside of our everyday responsibilities. Sometimes, one of us is only there for a part of the project before it is time for a sports event, or school responsibility. We have discovered that even bits of time spent together are powerful.
We have also been taking a few days or evenings here and there to just have fun. We like taking the train to a beach getaway for a few days, driving up to the city to watch our favorite baseball team, watching a movie together, going on family bike rides, taking walks around the block after dinner, or hiking in the hills nearby. Whatever the event, the most important element is time together before high school graduation and college separates this family of seven in ways we will not understand until we get there.
Last summer, we attended a family camp. My son, who was attending a scout camp that week somewhere else, was the only one of the seven not there. At the end of the week when we were sharing our reminiscences of what we had learned and experienced as a larger group, my heart was breaking that my son hadn’t been there with the rest of the family. It had been a wonderful time. This year, all seven of us will be there together at the family camp. We plan to build our family identity and love for each other as we enjoy that precious time together.
Each stage of motherhood has its joys and sorrows. I am trying to make the effort now to create more precious family experiences. When the sorrow of my oldest leaving hits, I will feel like we tried to prioritize our family time together. As I watch her spread her wings and fly into her future, we will be loving her with cherished memories of fun moments together. These memories will be both in the daily things, and the bigger adventures we have shared.
QUESTION: How do you carve time together with just your own family? What things strengthen those relationships?
CHALLENGE: Find time to honor and notice each member of your family. Prepare your children to fly as they leave the nest.