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Going Home Grown Up
A Relationship Handbook for Family VisitsBy : Anne Grizzle
I grew up visiting grandparents at a farm called Broadview, set amidst the rolling hills of the Shenandoah Valley. My grandfather had purchased the original piece of land with its old stone house when my mother was a girl, though only after she was grown did they make it their main home. My sisters and I loved playing tag with cousins in the barn hay baled, riding horses over the fox hound trails, and eating Granny’s home-grown sweet corn every August. At the end of an active day, we would collapse around the heavily laden dinner table listening to my grandfather’s stories of growing up in west Texas, secretly hopping a train for southwest Virginia, courting my grandmother on horseback, and then eloping with her. Granny and GrandPop’s house at Broadview was one of my favorite places on earth. My parents spent relatively little time there, though they usually dropped me and my sisters off for long summer visits.
Interesting changes began when my grandfather died and left a piece of that family farm to my mother. My sisters and I were grown by then and living away from Virginia, but I began to read in my mother’s letters about my parents going over to this spot of earth, carting rocks to fill in the road, laboring to cut wayward cedars, and rejoicing with thrashed thistles. They bought a little camping trailer, put it on a back corner, and named it the Homestead, providing them an outpost to facilitate their coming and working there more often. My parents began to spend a lot more time with my Uncle Jim and Aunt Kitty, as well as with other family members. They began doing what I think my grandfather had dreamed of their doing for years—loving the land and the family.
My parents have described to me the inner movement that happens when you own your own land and are responsible for it. They gained a new sense of connection; they realized that they had control and could make choices; they assumed responsibility; and they developed the property in new ways. They began to occupy the land, not just to play on it but to work it…and hard.
I believe that this same inner movement happens without emotional and relational land, specifically the territory of connectedness with our family that we bring into our adulthood. As long as we feel that the activities and relationships that compose coming home involve merely a treading on our parents’ territory—in which we have no real ownership or adult partnership—we will only visit. We will keep a certain physical and emotional distance. We may admire, critique, or marginally contribute but will probably not fully enjoy or work the land of family relationships.
As adults we often develop a sense of ownership in our own marriages and with our children. We feel and act grown up (at least most of the time). But on visits to see our parents, we revert to patterns of childhood. We fail to speak up for ourselves as adults or creatively work for growth. Instead, we passively or reactively endure for a time a return to the old-world ways. We forfeit any sense of ownership, with its concomitant sense of responsibility and possibility, regarding our family of origin and, hence, our visits home.
This book is about our taking ownership for our visits home to see parents and family, acting like grown-ups with the people who knew us as children. This requires preparing for our visits in new, relational ways. The hard work includes cutting down the annoying cedars of thoughtless activities and digging out the thistles of frustrating relationship patterns. The invitation includes clearing new roads in the form of new patterns and rituals for our family. This "homework" takes place on three levels. Section One will offer help for the first level: preparing specific, practical steps for improving the relational encounters of family visits. Even small steps can make perceptible changes in the difficult repeating scenarios of family interaction and contribute toward positive relationship growth. Section Two will explore the deeper, underlying work of transforming or core relationship roles: helping pampered children take more responsibility, heroes become more human, and victims gain voices. Finally, Section Three will challenge readers to use the lessons from their families in the work of creating their own new homes.
Changing patterns that we have acted out since we were born is a great challenge. Doing that with the very people who taught us those steps is even harder. But as adults we must do that, attending carefully to what we treasure as well as what we wish to change about our family relationships. If we do that personal "homework," we will claim emotional territory that we can enjoy together with our parents or family before they, or we, die. I invite you to dig into the soil of your family frustrations, to plow the way for better family visits, renewed relationships, and your own personal growth.