Nurturing the Spirit of Family

The warm weather of late June acts like a beacon to my family; it draws us Up North for our annual 4th of July camping trip.   As a family, we have been migrating to the serene northwest part of Michigan for the last ten years.  Fishing, hiking, dune climbing, and playing in the sand and surf fill our days while campfires, s'mores, stargazing and family stories complete the nights.  

When we began this tradition in 2009, it was me and my husband, a teenager, two middle-schoolers and two elementary-school-aged kids.  Fast forward to 2019, the landscape of the family has changed – a lot!  The teenager is in his 30s, and a few of my kids have found their life partners and started families of their own.

This year, my husband and I stared in awe at my almost two-year-old granddaughter as she played in the sand and water, as she attempted to climb trees with her dad and uncles, and as she had her first ice cream cone.  This was her second trip to camp and this year she was joined by her three-month-old little cousin.  The littlest Harvey enjoyed sticking her toes in the sand and water, but tree climbing will wait another year.

One morning, as I was enjoying sitting on my deck, I was just taking it all in and feeling incredibly blessed by this time with everyone.   As I watched my daughters-in-law interact with their children (my grandchildren) it struck me how differently from me they parent.   Not bad, not good:  just different.  My observation had nothing to do with judgment, after all they chose my sons as their partners: they know full well where my parenting errors were made. 

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One momma is cautious and takes only planned calculated risks.  Another momma is more adventurous and let her baby lick a slice of watermelon.  And this momma, I let it be.  One of my biggest pet peeves about my mother-in-law has been that I always feel judged.   From the beginning, I never felt like I measured up, and this placed distance between us that, 20-plus years later, has not been bridged.  A big goal for me as a mother-in-law is to encourage my sons' wives and partners to be fully themselves when we're together.

This year at camp, I thoroughly enjoyed having parenting conversations with the younger mommas. Conversations I would not ever have been comfortable having with my mother-in-law.  As I talked and listened, it clicked in my head that our conversations were framed by the Parent Café Agreements.  That together, three mommas had found a safe place to share our hearts.  We didn’t share other people’s stories; we didn’t judge; we weren’t looking at our phones; and we didn’t give advice.  We just enjoyed the safe space to share.   Of course, the other mommas didn’t know that these are the Parent Cafe Agreements, but I did, and I am grateful they are a part of me.

That week brought back sweet memories of days long gone by and it brought us all closer.  It gave us a mutual understanding and in several instances gave us an additional perspective.  Asking each other questions, answering them with stories, and using them in our journeys if they fit.  Respecting each other’s perspectives, ways of doing things and doing family makes us stronger, closer and looking forward to our next adventure together. 

Article by: Robyn Harvey, Central Region Program Manager and Senior Trainer