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.
The way in which two family members deal with
one another in a specific instance affects all other family members, even those not directly involved in that particular episode.
The dynamics of family life are complex, and a
detailed analysis of all areas of family interaction would be well beyond the limitations of a single volume.
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. 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 peckalah 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?
On one of his tapes, Horav Avigdor Miller cites the
verse from Mishlei (28:14), Ashrei adam mefacheid
tamid, Happy is the man who is always afraid, and he elucidates it as
follows: Happy is the person who is always on guard, anticipating any possible trouble that may be lurking ahead, so that he can be properly prepared.
Rav Miller goes on to present the following
illustration: Suppose you are about to come home after attending his lecture. As you put your hand on the doorknob, pause a moment before opening the door. Ask yourself what you think you will find waiting for you when you enter. Will your parents scold you for coming home later than they expected? If so, how will you react? Will you lose control and lose your temper? Or, will you respond with due respect?
The point Rav Miller was making could apply to us
all. 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. Dont demand X, Y or Z
from someone until that person, adult or child, has had a few moments to relax.
This applies to the one coming home as well as the
one already at home. Often, we can not 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
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.
Lets peek in on the Shiffman* home
one Friday afternoon, as Jack is about to come home from work. Jack keeps long hours at his insurance office. His wife, Linda, has lately been complaining that Jack comes home too close to Shabbos each week. She really would appreciate Jacks coming-home a bit earlier, so that he could give
her a hand. But even if he could not manage that, the least he could do, she feels, is not to make it into Shabbos just under the wire.
Today, Jack is feeling quite proud of himself. Hes made it home a full hour earlier than usual. Hes planning to offer to help Linda when he gets home. Hes also looking forward to having a quick bite with Linda as soon as he walks in the door so he wont go
into Shabbos famished, as he usually does.
Now Jack has just arrived on the scene at home. He
can smell all of the Shabbos goodies simmering on the stove, and
he asks Linda to join him for a snack.
But Linda is in the middle of bathing the kids, so
she calls to him over her shoulder to take something for himself from the fridge.
Jack is miffed. He barks at Linda. Linda feels
overwhelmed and hurt. She snarls at Jack. The children feel anxious and start to cry. The tension lasts through the afternoon and ruins the first few hours of the Shiffman Shabbos.
Had Linda remembered that Jack had asked her to prepare a bite for him when he got home, she might have had something ready for him this week. Had Jack considered that Linda would be busy when he arrived, he never would have even expected company with his snack. But because neither Jack nor Linda gave much thought to the others end of the coming-home
equation, the week-long wait for the serenity of Shabbos was made
Now lets 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 Senders bar mitzvah.
Sixteen-year-old Fraydie is about to walk in the door, after a particularly disappointing day at school.
Fraydie was hoping to win a part in the schools 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. Fraydie 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, Fraydie 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.
Lets see what happens:
Fraydie 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! Fraydie begs, almost in
Mrs. Tauber does not acknowledge Fraydie. 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 Fraydie.
Ma, I have to talk to you! Fraydie
insists, already starting to cry.
Mr. Green, please excuse me for one minute. Im terribly sorry, Mrs. Tauber says into the phone. Then, covering the mouthpiece with her hand, she says to Fraydie, Cant you see Im on the phone?
Fraydie erupts into a torrent of tears, storms upstairs and slams her door. Mrs. Tauber is disgusted with her daughters impatience. She concludes her conversation with Mr. Green. Then she goes up to Fraydies room to scold her for being so rude.
You dont want to know what happens next. Trust me. It isnt pretty.
Both Fraydie and Mrs. Tauber could have easily prevented the conflagration which ensued if they each followed Rav Millers advice. Fraydie 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 Fraydie 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 Fraydie 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 Fraydies 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.