Even an "only child" does not live in a vacuum. He or she lives and relates to you, your spouse and any other extended family members who live in or visit your home. And when there is more than one child at home, the possible interactions increase geometrically...
There is one arena of family dynamics, however, which can underscore the power and potency of all the rest, while highlighting the need for constant vigilance and preparation: the daily point of reconnection, when each member of the family crosses the threshold coming home. On the one hand, it is an opportunity to find the warmth, comfort and security of family life. On the other, it is also the time which presents a constant challenge to attend to and be aware of the needs of others.
With the exception of sailors and traveling salesmen, coming home is something we all do almost every day.
With the exception of sailors and traveling salesmen, coming home is something we all do almost every day. In fact, virtually every member of the family over the age of 3 or 4 comes home each day from school, work, shopping, etc. Coming home is so much a part of "every day" that we usually take it for granted, for ourselves and the other members of our families.
Nevertheless, coming home represents the initial encounter, after separation for a brief or extended period, with home and family. As such, it is fraught with expectations, anticipations, and hopes, as well as surprises, demands, and responsibilities. Perhaps, however, the most important feature of coming home is the way in which it sets the tone and atmosphere for that which follows.
If the father comes home angry, it is very hard for the mother to feel affectionate. If the father comes home and finds the mother hostile, it is hard for him to feel caring towards her. And what about the children? What happens when they come home? What do they find waiting for them when they get off the school bus? What tone is set when they walk in the door? And how does all that make them feel about themselves, their brothers and sisters, their homework, and everything else that is going on?
Certainly, parents are not totally in control of the environment that exists when the children come home. It may be that both parents are not there. One parent may come home very late. And the child often comes home with his or her own bunch of trials and tribulations from school.
But there are many things parents can do to enhance the experience of coming home. There are a few rules of thumb which, if implemented effectively, can help make coming home a positive, constructive, and tension-free experience.
1) Anticipate and prepare yourself for coming home. Ask yourself, "What will I find and what will be expected of me?"
...We should try to imagine, for a moment, what will greet us when we enter the doors to our homes. Will it be just as we wanted and hoped? Or, will things be different from what we expected? How should we respond in either case? Just taking a few seconds to prepare ourselves can prevent untold hardship for ourselves and our families.
2) Keep the responsibilities placed on family members immediately after coming home to a minimum. Don't demand X, Y or Z from someone until that person, adult or child, has had a few moments to relax.
The moment of being reunited at the end of the day is the worst time to bombard someone with your agenda.
This applies to the one coming home as well as the one already at home. Often, we cannot wait to get home to ask, tell, or request something from someone at home. But the moment of being reunited at the end of the day is usually the worst time to bombard someone with your agenda. Delaying for even just a few minutes can mean the difference between a pleasant evening and a night full of conflict and tension.
3) Tune into others. Pay attention to their needs. What was their day like and how do they feel?
4) Encourage a brief refreshment when coming home. This can take the form of food, drink, music, mail, or just a few moments in an easy chair.
...Let's look in on the Tauber home, late one weekday afternoon. Mrs. Tauber is on the phone with the caterer, making final arrangements for her son's bar mitzvah. Sixteen-year-old Rachel is about to walk in the door, after a particularly disappointing day at school.
Rachel was hoping to win a part in the school's annual play. She had not tried out in her freshman year because she was too shy. Last year, she did try out, but was not accepted. This year, she thought she would do better since she had been in the play at camp during the summer. In addition, all of her friends received parts in the school play. Rachel had no intention of missing the fun and excitement of rehearsals, performances and the big party at the end.
But, as you may have guessed, Rachel learned today that she did not get a part. And she can not wait to unburden herself to her mother. But Mrs. Tauber is on a very important call.
Let's see what happens:
Rachel bursts into the house, scattering her books, coat and scarf on the floor. She runs into the kitchen and finds Mrs. Tauber on the phone.
"Ma!" Rachel begs, almost in tears.
Mrs. Tauber does not acknowledge Rachel. She sees her, but figures that since the conversation with the caterer is almost over, she will wait and then devote her full attention to Rachel.
"Ma, I have to talk to you!" Rachel insists, already starting to cry.
You don't want to know what happens next. It isn't pretty.
"Mr. Green, please excuse me for one minute. I'm terribly sorry," Mrs. Tauber says into the phone. Then, covering the mouthpiece with her hand, she says to Rachel, "Can't you see I'm on the phone?"
Rachel erupts into a torrent of tears, storms upstairs and slams her door. Mrs. Tauber is disgusted with her daughter's impatience. She concludes her conversation with Mr. Green. Then she goes up to Rachel's room to scold her for being so rude.
You don't want to know what happens next. Trust me. It isn't pretty.
Both Rachel and Mrs. Tauber could have easily prevented the conflagration... Rachel should have considered that Mrs. Tauber might not be available to soothe her hurt feelings at just the moment she walked in the door. In addition, Mrs. Tauber could have considered that Rachel may need at least some acknowledgment when she comes home from school, and she might have made that important call either a little before or a little after the time Rachel usually comes home each day.
But even if the caterer had called Mrs. Tauber, she still could have asked him to hold on while she briefly acknowledged Rachel's arrival.
These suggestions apply to children and adults, both to the "comer home" as well as the "waiter at home." If implemented, these suggestions may minimize some of the tensions, frustrations, and disappointments so often associated with "coming home."
Excerpted with permission from "Partners With Hashem" - effective guidelines for successful parenting. Published by ArtScroll/Mesorah Publications Ltd., Brooklyn, NY. http://www.artscroll.com