What do you get when you combine a pandemic, maternity leave and hours upon hours of HGTV? Well, you get the crazy idea to remodel your home, of course. This is how my husband and I, along with our 3-year-old and 6-month-old, ended up living with my parents for two months during a pandemic. Not only did we get a newly renovated home out of the experience, but we also got a renewed outlook on our lives that will influence our parenting for the years to come.
I come from an extremely close family and we have the luxury of being close in proximity too. My husband and I knew that living with my parents would be a treat for the kids and a huge help for us, but we had no idea just how much we’d learn from them during this time.
As a parent myself, the lens through which I view the world is very different than it was the last time I lived with my parents more than a decade ago. Whereas last time I spent most of my time looking out, imagining all that could be, this time around I spent more time looking in, realizing everything that is.
I am forever thankful for the time spent with my parents and the reminder of these simple lessons for a more enriched life.
Lesson 1: No plans are the best plans.
When it comes to planning, I am the master. I start buying Christmas presents in September. My grocery list is organized by aisle in the store. I schedule birthday cards a month out and my list of lists goes on and on and on.
The pandemic and a newborn have undoubtedly slowed my life in delightful and unexpected ways, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I constantly operate with a mental list of things that we need to do, even if that thing is to relax and have fun.
I did not grow up this way, but as I’ve learned to juggle all the balls I have in the air as a parent, full-time working mom, etc., planning has become a sense of control for me.
So as our new little quarantine pod of six sat down for our first Friday night dinner together, and I asked my parents, “What do you want to do this weekend?” my eyes widened when they said, “Not sure! We’ll just see how we feel tomorrow.”
Sacrilege, I thought to myself. But being a guest in their home I went along with it. And you know what? It was actually amazing. I can’t recount everything we did that weekend, but I know that I laughed a lot, held my baby more than I had in forever and felt the sunshine on my face all day. And we continued on like that for the next couple months.
Yes, plans were made at times, but our entire stay was a sweet reminder that life happens in the margins of plans. I can’t change who I am, but I am working harder than ever to find more margin in my life for the people who matter most.
Lesson 2: Make time for relaxing.
Going hand-in-hand with letting go of plans comes making time for relaxing. My parents reacquainted my husband and me with the art of relaxation and it was glorious.
While the two of them are the hardest-working, most giving people I know, they take time to let their minds and bodies recharge, and I think this is what allows them to show up so generously for their family. To test the theory that rest is good for the mind and body (remember, we have a toddler and a baby, so we haven’t had conclusive results in a long time), we prioritized taking naps on the weekends while our kids were napping instead of rushing through errands and housework. Instead of staying up with our laptops every night until 10 p.m. getting caught up on work, we allowed ourselves to enjoy TV and a glass of wine a few nights a week, something we haven’t done forever.
In fact, we’d meet my parents in the family room after the kids were in bed and watch an episode of Ridiculousness before parting ways for the night, because just sitting and laughing feels good. And it did feel good to rest our bodies and our minds more than we had in months. I relearned that I am better to everyone, especially myself, when I get a little more time to unplug.
Lesson 3: Grief and joy exist in tandem.
It was during our second week of living with my parents that my mother would come downstairs and tell me through sobs that my grandmother—her mother—had suddenly passed away. As mentioned, I come from an extremely close family and my grandmother was a beloved matriarch whose passing was Earth-shattering for us. We grieved heavily. We are still grieving.
But through a strength I didn’t know was possible, I learned from my mother how to live joyously amidst grief. Two days after her mother passed, my mother spent the day baking a birthday cake for my daughter’s third birthday with a genuine smile on her face. Amid planning a memorial and writing a eulogy, I’d find my mother on the floor with my baby, soaking in his giggles.
I’ll never forget that even in the hours after learning of my grandmother’s passing, that my mother sat in the car with my sisters and me as we cried so hard it hurt and then laughed so hard at memories that I thought I was going to float away.
A lot of people told me during this time how good it was that we were living with my mother so that she could have a distraction from her grief and sadness. But we didn’t distract from grief, we embraced it. And we embraced the rest of life that came along with it too.
I would say now how lucky I am to have lived with my mother during that time so that we could embrace the human experience with all of its ugliness and beauty in a way that we never had before. As Glennon Doyle beautifully said in Untamed, “we had taken a great journey together, to the place where brave people go, and it had changed us.”
Lesson 4: Nothing matters more than what goes on within the walls of your own home.
Nothing puts your life in check like losing someone you love. During the two months that we lived together, a lot culminated in the world from the pandemic to politics and we saw families and friends torn apart from the divisiveness. While our own family has its differences, we focused on the one thing that brings us together: how much we love each other.
It wasn’t that long ago in my life that I would take any mention of the issues in our world at large as an opportunity to share my opinion and engage in discussion. These are, undoubtedly, incredibly important conversations to have. But even more important are the conversations with those around you about how they’re really doing.
So instead of debating articles or poking holes in each other’s beliefs, we checked in on each other’s hearts and minds. Being supported in this way gave us all the bandwidth to show up for others in a similar way, and I think it is truly this trickle-down effect that changes the world.
Lesson 5: People never stop growing.
Growing up, my father worked endless hours to launch his career and provide for our family. He taught us that hard work and grit pays off, which has been a lesson that has helped set my sisters and me up for successful careers. But with his work schedule, my mother was left with many of the responsibilities of raising three young girls, a job that she has always made sure we knew she’s cherished since day one.
As kids, I don’t think we noticed how much my dad worked because my mother always compensated by giving us her undivided attention and presence, which has been a lesson that has set my sisters and me up to be (or at least aspire to be) present and joyful mothers.
Over the past few years, I’ve seen my father embrace being a grandparent in a way that I never expected from my own upbringing, and this was made even more apparent living with them. While he still works full-time and leads an important role with a big company, his pace and attitude are different.
I’d come upstairs in the morning to find him sitting at the table with my daughter, chatting with her about princesses over a bowl of cereal instead of rushing off to start work. He’d happily bounce a baby on his knee while taking a Zoom call, proud to show off his family in every way he could.
He wrapped up his day in time to sit with us in the kitchen over the hustle and bustle of making dinner just to talk and hear about our days. His priority was always his family, but he now embraces enjoying his family in a whole new way that will leave a lasting impact on my children.
Lesson 6: Respect boundaries.
Boundaries are where a lot of family relationships start to get messy, especially once you add spouses and grandchildren in the mix. My parents have always done a phenomenal job showing up for my siblings and me so completely while giving us space and support to make our own decisions. This has been best laid out in how well they’ve respected our parenting journeys, and I’ve tucked so much of what I’ve learned from them in the back of my head to reference when my children have children.
They were available to us but not intrusive. They were helpful but not assertive. They shared wisdom but never told us what to do. They were there for our children but never took away our time with them. They reinforced our way of parenting even when it may have been different than their own. Most of all, they respected our role as parents first over their role as grandparents, and our relationship strengthened evermore because of it.
As we wrapped out eight weeks living together, it was heavy on my heart just how much I’d miss living with them and how thankful I was for the experience as an adult. Perhaps the biggest lesson I learned was that even though the roles of parents and children change and evolve over time, we never stop learning from our parents.