In Praise of Re-establishing Reference Points (A.K.A The “Gathering In” of our Teens)

Megan Smillie // Tales From the Trenches


August 18  

I’d like to explore what I have come to see as the absolute necessity of establishing a “second home” early on in the lives of our children—a place of belonging, of “gathering” outside of the everyday cares of the home. Outside the drudgery of laundry and meals and untidy rooms and hidden dust bunnies. A welcome realization of being constantly loved and inexpressibly delighted in—just by their existence—the fact that they are here. A cheerful good morning, a concern for their sleep, their well-being. Have you slept enough? Have you eaten enough? What do you want to do today? Rest and breathe? Perfect. Then we will do just that. And maybe do a puzzle, play a board game, watch a simple game show. But we will do it together, squished close on the too-small couch, sharing a blanket while the night mountain breezes cool the room.

My parents’ home in the mountains of Colorado has, quite by accident, become that place for us. We visit every year, sometimes twice a year, and our children know every hill and crag, every bend in the road, and every path. The knowledge is in their bones—so much so that many of them want to move to Colorado when they strike out on their own. The mountains have become their second home. 

Looking back, I didn’t have a clue how important this “other home” would become. Quite frankly, when my children were little, those twelve-hour car rides were more of a purgatory for me than a relished get-away. My kids were young and noisy, and almost always came down with some cold or sickness—nevermind the constant worry of keeping them hydrated in the high altitude. My parents were amazing, of course. I loved that we *could* go, and I loved seeing my family, but all moms of young kids know it’s no picnic. And yet, the memories? Could fill a few novels. And the rewards and benefits we see now? Make it all worth it. This other place of belonging, to reset and reacquaint, is such a gift. I had no idea how much the fruits of our laborious trips would blossom. 

There’s a surety here in this “other” place of unconditional acceptance. As my teens branch out and exert independence, make choices and sport new, erm, accoutrements, (I never once foresaw the tattoos—hang onto the chubby, clean arms of your toddlers, sweet mamas—*wail*), it is the love that remains. And finally, that is what is most important. It’s a good reminder to harried parents of spirited teens—that the love, constant dialogue, and placing ourselves as the reference point for our kids—gathering them back close to us—this is what is most important. In fact, it is absolutely vital. And it is also an important reminder to our kids. Your parents are irreplaceable anchors in your lives. They are imperative to your success and to your salvation. They love you wildly, and these moments together are crucial in demonstrating just that. 

Maybe your second home is the family tent, where you explore and discover God’s unending love for you in all creation. Maybe it’s a beach vacation, or a remote cabin, or a river house. And maybe it’s Grandma and Grandpa’s home—just like it has become for my kids. It could also be the family tradition of a simple night on the living room floor, piled high with pillows and blankets, tons of snacks, and movies to watch together—just making time to be. 

This time away, to reestablish reference points with our children, to “gather them in,” is no less important than the time we spend in prayer with our loving God, or the time we spend at Mass or in front of the tabernacle in quiet awe and reverence. Our kids and teens and young adults need us as much as we need the guiding hand of our Father and the grace to raise our children to love him.

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