I'm the queen of worrying about all the "WHAT IF'S..," especially when it comes to my kids. I've got a list a mile long and then some. I would have to say that one of my top worries has been our, Raylan and my, relationship with our kids. I've spent a tremendous amount of time thinking, ok flat out obsessing, over the years about creating an atmosphere in our home where the kids felt emotionally safe to share not only the good stuff, but the difficult stuff as well.
An open door policy is a challenge for any parent, but extra tough for parents of kids in a blended family. The kids 50/50 schedule between two households added an extra degree of difficulty to our desire for an open door policy. We didn't see them everyday, had different rules at each house and the sheer reality of our situation created a window for unaccounted time with our kids. All of which engrained in both Raylan and my mind, that without trust - Our trust in them - Their trust in us - We would be fighting a losing battle.
Sounds good, but getting started was a problem. I wish I could say here's our plan, but we didn't have one. So we just started trying things. I am confident that some of the things we did had an effect, but to what degree I'm not sure. Here are some of them, not in any particular order:
- When we have the kids, it was our family time. As much as possible, we did things together, even if it was just watching our favorite reality program. Date nights, dinners, etc. we tried to schedule on our nights off!
- Regular nightly family dinners
- Sharing our imperfections with the kids. Even making fun of them! Subtly telling them we are not perfect, nor do we think we are perfect. We're human just like you!
- Sharing with honesty our own mistakes at their respective ages. How we wish we could have or would have done things differently
- Taking conflict the kids had with us, with members of their other families or even friends and using it as a tool to teach them how to talk through difficult things and have positive outcomes.
- Showing our warts as a couple and parents, as well as, the icky love stuff.
- Last but not least, doing our best not to judge the things our kids share; respond with love rather than anger, provide boundaries without being a Dictator.
The overall thread has been that we started a two-sided conversation with our kids early on. Over the years I have been glad to have them feel comfortable enough to share and talk about the hard issues, ask the hard questions. What they haven't shared I have not idea, but grateful for what they do.
Even so I was little surprised by the phone call last weekend from Jax asking if his friend Sadie could spend the night at our house. She had a huge blow-up with her Mom and might need a place to cool off for the night. Could she stay at our house? Raylan cool as a cucumber asked a few questions, said let me talk to Lisa and I'll call you right back.
I'm not sure why we were surprised given that he's almost 18, graduating from High School and going to College in two months. I guess we hadn't wanted to accept that he's all grown up until it smacked us in the face! We knew that Jax had been spending a lot of time with this classmate who is "Just A Friend." Our first thought was to look at this as an opportunity to get to know her, set what we felt were appropriate ground rules for their age, whatever their relationship. All of which he willingly agreed too.
Although, Sadie and her Mom didn't end up needing the cool down period - we were glad to know that he felt safe enough to ask and share the worry with us about his friend. Proud that he considered our home a safe, warm and inviting place to bring his friend. And we both hope that it was a positive experience for Jax and that he will look to us in the future for support in the new challenges that await him.
The conversation continues both ways and the door remains open!