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June 2006
Is Anybody Home?

by Annie Fox, M.Ed.

"What parenting choices support the resourcefulness our kids need to blossom and feel at home with themselves...?"
Welcome home The customs official in Houston handed back our passports and said, “Welcome, home.” My eyes instantly welled up. Admittedly I’m an emotional marshmallow. I worry about one-legged pigeons in the park. I rush to the aid of droopy plants in restaurants. But to cry at such an innocuous greeting, well that’s just ridiculous, isn’t it? I wasn’t so sure. Maybe my reaction had something to do with the trip we’d just completed.

White-faced capucin monkey.
(click for larger image)
White-faced capucin monkey spotted in Cahuita, along the Carribbean side of Costa Rica.
(photo © David Fox)
White-faced capucin monkey.
(click for larger image)
Foxes in Costa Rica: (left to right) David, Annie, Fayette, Sarah Jebrock, Ezra.
White-faced capucin monkey.
(click for larger image)
Cloud forest in Monteverde.
(photo © David Fox)
Costa Rica’s Volcán Arenal, an active volcano.
(click for larger image)
Costa Rica’s Volcán Arenal, an active volcano.
(photo © David Fox)
Now if you’re picturing some foreign vacation from hell, you’ll need to switch channels. Instead imagine white sand beaches on the Caribbean, jungles, monkeys, sloths, rainforests, an active volcano and the people we love most in the world sharing it with us. David and I had been to Costa Rica visiting our college-age son and his girlfriend who are studying there this semester. Our daughter joined us from her home in London.

After a sweet reunion packed with lots of laughs and some amazing adventures, it was sad to say goodbye to the kids. I know they’re not kids anymore, but still… The only thing that eased the pain was realizing how fully capable they are of being on their own. They demonstrated that exceptionally well by taking over most of the details of the trip. Working as a team, the “kids” planned our itinerary, made our reservations and served as guides and translators. We loved the role reversal and greatly appreciated all their efforts on our behalf. They acted like the thoughtful, caring, capable adults they are.

Ultimately, that’s what all parents want their kids to become — fully functioning, thoughtful, compassionate adults. But we’re genetically predisposed to protecting them and sometimes our protectiveness holds them back. So how do we quell our own fears and help them do what they’re genetically predisposed to do, i.e., leave home and make their own way? How do we nurture without smothering? Encourage without over-reaching? What parenting choices support the resourcefulness our kids need to blossom and feel at home with themselves, no matter where they are?

Big questions. No easy answers.

When I was 15 my father died suddenly. Even though I continued living at the same address until I left for college, it never again felt like home to me. That’s probably when I began looking for something that couldn’t be lost or taken away — a feeling of home inside of myself.

When you meet someone who is truly at home in the world something in you is drawn to him/her. It’s as if that person puts others at ease by osmosis, but there’s nothing mystical about it. Their own self-acceptance has expanded to include other people. When you’re on the receiving end of that kind of acceptance, you can relax and enjoy what you’re doing and whom you’re with on a whole new level. You’d probably agree that being at home with yourself is a life skill worth acquiring for your own benefit and for the benefit of others.

Many of you are celebrating your kids’ graduation this month… from elementary school. From middle school. From high school to college. Major transitions. Big changes in store for your kids and for the whole family. How well prepared are they for the next chapter in their lives? How confident are they in their ability to cope with and adapt to what’s ahead? And what can you do to help and support them throughout?

How to raise young adults who are at home with themselves

  1. Create a home base that’s a safety net and a launching pad. The home we make for our children needs to support emotional development and nurture the spirit. With a stable, loving and accepting family to return to, anything is possible… even venturing into the unknown. Kids who grow up with a strong foundation are like turtles, always carrying their sense of home along with them. Remind yourself as often as needed that your goal is to prepare your children for life. That means helping them develop critical thinking plus ethical choice-making skills. It also means acting with compassion, kindness, and generosity of spirit. Whenever you catch your teens doing or saying something that demonstrates these capacities, let them know you approve. It helps them develop a positive self-image, essential for feeling at home with themselves.
  2. Uncertainty is not a dirty word. When you know absolutely what you stand for then you should absolutely take a stand. That’s a great message for adolescents who often let their addiction to peer approval steer them away from what they know is right. But uncertainty is part of life. Kids brought up to believe that doubt isn’t an acceptable emotion are reluctant to try new things. How can they be at home with themselves if they’re unwilling to experience confusion? How can they be at home in the world if they’re not open to new things? If you truly want them to become self-confident adults who move through life with grace and courage, then they need occasionally to feel something akin to: “I have no idea what to do in this situation!” Sometimes things only become clear after we’ve had the courage to venture forth armed only with uncertainty and a willingness to accept what crosses our path, take it in, and learn from it. Let them know that it’s okay not to know.
  3. AloneModel adaptability and an open attitude. If you tend to be anxious about the future, your attitude may be making it all that more difficult for your kids to feel at home anywhere. Ask yourself these questions:
    • Do you like surprises?
    • Do you enjoy: Meeting new people? Eating new foods? Listening to new music? Going to places and doing things you’ve never done before?
    • Do you take time to notice your surroundings?
    • Are you critical or suspicious of things that are different?
    • When you’re feeling “out of your element” do you usually: Shut down and withdraw? Become combative and defensive? Have a drink? Crank up the volume of your social self? Acknowledge your discomfort, and try to relax and become more open?

    If your temperament drives you toward needing to feel in control then challenge yourself to become a bit more flexible. The more open you are to change (planned or otherwise) the more adaptable your kids will be.
    "So kiss them goodbye, then watch them take off and shine. And like the customs guy, always be there to welcome them home."
  4. Travel, as a family. If you’re planning a family vacation, you might use this opportunity to step back a bit and let your kids show what they’ve already learned about being at home in the world. Notice their competencies and acknowledge them for it. And if you’re traveling to a new place, you might take the point of view that you are all strangers in a strange land together. As “strangers”, your family has a chance to observe, learn, and push the edges of your collective comfort zones. You can talk about that and share your feelings. Yes, being in a strange new place can be scary, but it can also reinforce how strong and capable each of you are.
  5. Encourage independence. Now’s the time for you to be stepping back from center stage where you’ve managed your teen’s life for years. It’s their turn to take over as their own manager. They’ll need that experience when they actually leave home. They’ll also need to know that “home” (including their growing self-confidence, plus your love and everything you’ve taught them) is always right there in their heart, nurturing their spirit.
So kiss them goodbye, then watch them take off and shine. And like the customs guy, always be there to welcome them home.

In friendship,

Annie

 

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