“Your kids LIKE to come home — how did you do it?” is a question my husband and I are asked frequently.
My typical answer is — I dunno. As I lead the kids and student teams at our church, you may think I’d have a more helpful response, but we couldn’t think of anything intentional we’d done to make it happen. Our kids are pretty independent and three of them have kids of their own. But they do still like to come home. As I talked to my friends I heard stories of adults who only do the obligatory visit over the holidays or don’t go home at all.
When our kids were little, we weren’t intentionally doing anything to insure they’d keep coming around as they grew. Most days we were more focused on making it to bedtime or keeping their butts dry and their bellies fed. When our kids were in their teens and early 20’s I heard a talk where we, as parents, were challenged to take a long term view of parenting. Parenting isn’t just about training, it’s also about building a relationship that will last into adulthood, long after they’re out of the house. We tried to encourage independence, while continuing to strengthen our family unit. But that still didn’t answer the question — why do they come home?
I was curious, so I asked my kids — what makes our home a place you want to come back to and what makes you think twice about getting in the car and popping over.
I asked friends too. I was amazed by the emotion in their responses. This question hit a nerve. It brought up wonderful memories and really painful ones too. Even people who didn’t want to go back home hoped to write a different story for their growing families. While the responses and experiences varied greatly, everyone desired a place where they felt safe, loved and known. A place where they could retreat. Whether their parents’ home was that place or not, all had a desire to have a place to call home. Here are some of the common threads throughout their stories.
Clean sheets matter
This one surprised me, but speaks to a broader desire. We want to know that we’re expected and wanted. Crumbs in the bed do not convey we’re glad you’re here. To make it easier for our kids and their families to drop by we keep diapers stocked in every size (with six grandkids who are 3-years-old and younger — all sizes get used) and a few toys and books to keep the littles occupied. Having clean sheets and a few basic kid supplies conveys to our adult kids that we want them to come home.
Kids will be kids, so hide the valuables and buy dark furniture
Kids are messy. They spill things. Adult kids can also be messy and often spill things. So either buy furnishings that won’t show the wear or be okay with spills. One mom shared, “I used to marvel at the fact that my mother-in-law had very light carpet and yet did not worry about her grandkids spoiling anything. They were allowed to be kids.” I once went to a home where my 2-year-old was given a china tea set while I was told “kids need to learn to take care of valuable things.” That was not a warm and welcoming place for us. It also was not a safe place for the china tea set. Don’t hold kids, big and little ones, to expectations that are impossible to meet. Accidents happen.
Talk with your adult children
For some who grew up in a home they couldn’t wait to leave, creating a welcoming environment is hard. “I struggle with how to create a happy home for my own adult kids to come back to because I never experienced it myself. I see my kids gravitating toward in-laws families and that stings.” Another shared that when her father confessed, “I don’t know how to love my adult kids well but I want to” the door to great conversations was blown open. If you think your kids might be avoiding you, talk with them. Ask what would make them feel loved and excited to be home. And if you ask, be prepared to make changes and adapt to their ever changing needs.
Food feeds more than bellies
Food was often mentioned as important in making a house feel like a home. “I love going home because I know what to expect. I know what it will smell like and what food we’ll be eating. There’s so much in our world that changes and that we can’t control, but those small pieces of sameness are reassuring and comforting.” Start family dinners when kids are little and we’re more likely to enjoy meals with our kids when they’re grown. Meatloaf and mashed potatoes was the meal our youngest son always picked for his birthday dinner. Recently his little family was going through a really hard and scary time. Guess what he asked me to make when I visited — meatloaf and mashed potatoes. It filled his belly, comforted his hurting heart and brought a piece of his childhood into his chaotic situation.
Bite your tongue when tempted to advise without an invitation
How important is that wisdom that you so desperately want to impart? Does your opinion about their car purchase or your grandkids’ dietary needs really need to be shared now? Offering advice when advice has not been requested is a great way to shut down communication with our adult children. One friend summed it up well, “I want to go pretty much anywhere where people listen without always trying to offer advice and fix me. That builds trust so that when the time is right there is a place for counsel.” So when we’re tempted to advise, instead let’s close our mouth, open our ears and listen.
Put away your electronics — I’m talking to you grandma
It’s hard to focus on the people in the room when you’re glued to a screen. Nothing communicates “you’re just not that important” more than checking social media or catching up on a favorite show while family is around. “It’s hard when the TV is on all the time because there is less engaging happening. If I wanted to watch TV we could do that at home.” Let’s turn off the TV and enjoy the people sitting in our home. Play a game. Make some play-doh. Take a walk.
Remember what it was like to have young kids and teenagers
Parenting is hard. Often our adult kids are in the midst of challenges when they come home. Simple things like changing a diaper or refraining from correcting a rude teenage grandchild is helpful in creating a home that is safe and welcoming. “Loving my kids unconditionally and helping with some of the basic tasks is the best way to love me.” Also, we must be willing to change our schedule. As adults, we can adapt to dinner time changes much more easily than toddlers. Schedule mealtime when it’s best for the kids. This is an easy way to create a welcoming environment.
Remember the Bravermans from the hit TV show Parenthood? There is a reason so many went out and bought lights for their backyards after watching the Braverman family, dysfunction and all, gather around that long table in their beautifully lit backyard. We want that for ourselves and our kids. A place where we can return. A place where our cares and responsibilities are few. A place where we don’t have to decide what’s for dinner. A place where we feel loved, known and safe. A place where we’re stingy with judgement but generous with food and encouragement. A place where even for a moment someone else is in charge and we can sit back and relax. It’s not about the physical structure, but about the people who live there.
One young mom shared “Our faith in Jesus has been an important influence because when you have experienced the manner in which Jesus has loved you, you should be motivated to love and forgive in the same way.“ Loving someone requires sacrifice and growing a relationship means the desires of the other may take priority over our own.
The Bible says, “Children are a gift from the Lord. The children born to us are our special reward.” Psalm 123:3–4
Children are a gift no matter their age. In order to fully enjoy this gift, as they grow into adulthood we must be ready to adapt and make sacrifices so that our relationship will continue to grow and thrive. Our kids do the same. They sacrifice for us. The fruit of that sacrifice and changing relationships is a houseful of kids, lots of laughter and messes with plenty of food and fun. So regardless of the type of family we were born into, it’s not too early or too late to consider how we can build a home that will draw our kids back for years to come.