by Brenda Cacy
One of my favorite memories is of my five little girls all sharing a room together. We would put them to bed early, maybe 7:30 or 8pm, and tell them they could only get out of bed if they had to go to the bathroom or were bleeding...later we added barfing to the list of exceptions.
Then, the whispering and giggling would begin.
In the beginning, their ages were 2, 4 and 6 but, before they had their own rooms, they grew to 1,4,6,8, and 10! Once we left the room the older girls would take turns making up stories, playing games or singing songs, while sitting on their beds (two sets of bunk beds and a crib). They thought they were so clever - that they were fooling us and illegally staying up late! I think they even believed they were being quiet, so we wouldn't come and shush them.
We listened for distress, and ignored the rest. We were just glad for some adult moments! Looking back, I truly believe that their friendship with each other was nurtured in those moments, over several years, when there was nothing to do but be together and no one to do it with, but those in that room.
The desire for my children to be good friends, the friend that sticks close, was birthed out of my own unfulfilled longing for deeper connection with my own siblings. I still want to be closer to my brother and sister. They are quite a bit older then me; this has always presented itself as a challenge. But I see how they have opened their homes to their children and fostered strong family ties; their grandchildren are friends and business partners. It seems they love and support one another well! They are amazing people.
Over the years, I have tried and, I'm sure they have also, to build connection and share life with all of us who were born to the same parents; but somehow, we can't seem to be able to navigate our large age gap, and our efforts don't produce much fruit.
We don't live in the same town, so our visits are infrequent.
Phone calls work to catch us all up on major events, but don't ever seen to accomplish greater intimacy between us. I know that I can count on them, especially for the big things, but we can't seem to transfer that counting on each other to everyday life, to loving and supporting each other in the little things. For a time I tried to make weekly phone calls to stay in touch, but they seemed stilted. I pushed through the awkwardness for nearly a year, believing I was sowing into hard ground, but became weary of the lack of fruit and went back to the birthday and holiday routine. Perhaps you can relate.
I want more for my children.
Because of this, I started intentionally providing space for my own kids' friendships with each other and, most importantly, praying for God to knit them together and bless them. I really believe this is the most important thing....just asking our heavenly Father for help; everything else comes from that source. If I have done anything to help, I'm so thankful, but my contributions came from creativity and perseverance birthed from that place of prayer.
Time is essential for anything to grow, especially relationships. So my family does things together....crafts, sports, games, trips to the park and zoo, reading aloud, eating, music. I don't think it matters what you do, but inviting those nearest and dearest into activities gives space for friendship, shared memories and affection to blossom.
I fervently believe there is one critical key to the success of time together: kindness.
If I allow my children to harm one another with words or actions, then they will tear down the relationship rather than build it up. Because of this, we have zero tolerance for insults and fighting. Early on, this resulted in hours upon hours of “talking things out”, honoring the feelings of each other and my mediation of the daily squabbles of life together. Once they grew older, they asked me to let them work it out themselves and that was difficult because I didn't want to hear angry words directed at one of my “babies” ….even if they were young adults!
My children have needed to share rooms most of their lives. Perhaps it seems odd, but I would have them change roommates every 6 months. I like change, so this is mostly the reason but, I also wanted them to foster relationships, even with the sibling with whom they clashed. Often, I would strategically put together the very two who fought the most, hoping that the forced intimacy of sharing a room would help them to form true intimacy and learn to love and appreciate one another.
A surprising source of intimacy for my children are my own limitations. When I was unavailable both emotionally and physically, my children began to help one another, which opened the door for them to grow closer.
My oldest really wanted to learn to knit. I don't know how and didn't have the desire or time to learn when she was younger, so she checked a book out at the library and taught herself. Her sisters watched her knit when we’d read books aloud or watched a family movie and wanted to join in, so she taught them and shared her love and skills. Most of them still enjoy knitting and sometimes find the time to still do it together.
I really want to get to know my children individually, so I love to take them on dates. Unfortunately, I only manage this several times a year! Since we all want more one-on-one time, the kids take each other out on dates! Honestly, as a mom, I am jealous that I'm not going, but I am so blessed to see my children love each other and sow into those relationships.
My kids also get invited to events that I am unable to facilitate their attendance of (sports practice music/dance lessons, parties), so they ask an older sibling for transportation and get time together and the blessing of giving and receiving that service.
Harder to share about are the times that I just don't have what it takes to meet my children emotionally. Recently, I wounded one of the kids by focusing on a problem rather than their heart and our relationship. I didn't even notice this until I saw one of their siblings take over by giving a hug, asking questions and listening, to not just the result, but also the intent and struggle.
I was humbled by my actions, but proud of theirs!
It gave me a place to begin to repair the damage I caused by my insensitivity. Another time, a child was struggling deeply and I watched as the siblings took turns caring and listening and serving. It was too much for any of us to do alone, but together we could do so much more! It encouraged me that not only do I not have to raise my children alone, but they are actually better off when my weaknesses highlight the needs for others to step in, or even force me to ask for help.
Watching my children grow in love and friendship with each other has convicted me to continue sowing into my own relationships with my brother and sister and has given me ideas and inspiration in that journey. Last week, I visited my hometown and had a much better trip than usual because I was looking for ways to love and serve, but not feeling the pressure, that I have before, to do it all. When my niece offered to host a family gathering to facilitate my seeing more people, I was so blessed and encouraged. When I was hurt by some insensitive words, I was able to look for comfort elsewhere and then go back and still engage with my loved one.
As I write this, I am reminded to keep hoping and praying and opening up my heart and schedule as I watch to see how we can all grow in love and relationship.