Last month my mother came to visit me. What started off to be a mom and daughter weekend in Nashville quickly escalated into mom, daughter, middle sister and two nieces. By the time they got on the road from Georgia, I had but a few hours to prepare myself for the fact that my tiny apartment would have to accommodate five people instead of two. I went into the weekend with the hopes of two things: 1) avoid conversations about my future plans and 2) don’t let them see how stressed out they are making you. Spoiler alert: I failed miserably. But by the end of Sunday afternoon when they were headed back home, I realized I had learned some much-needed lessons about having my family over now that I’m an adult.
Lesson 1: Don’t sweat the small stuff.
My mother is the master at coming into my house and cleaning. I’m not sure if it’s her nervous energy or if it’s her love language, but she always comes into whatever space her children occupy and “clean.” Cleaning to her is tidying up. The reality is she rearranges things just enough to annoy you, but not drastic enough that you can freak out. Move the drying rack to this side of the sink, hang the coats in the other closet, put the extra books on that shelf. That’s fine for anyone else, except for me. In my apartment and life, everyone and everything has a spot and space for a specific reason. So watching my mom casually move my dish rack secretly sent me into a tailspin anxiety attack. I knew I couldn’t tell her not to…at the same time longing for the moment I could move it back. By the end of her stay, after she had rearranged almost every room, I realized if I was going to hold it together I would have to let it go. Sure it was annoying, but I knew she wasn’t doing it entirely on purpose. She genuinely was trying to help clean the kitchen. She probably was snooping through my books to learn more about my life by what I was reading. Living with my mom again for two days retaught me the lesson of “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” She will always have her reasons for the things she does; I just have to learn to live with them.
Lesson two: Address the elephant in the room.
When my mom goes to visit anyone, there’s some underlying motive. Her house has been the hub for family travel for 16 years so whenever my mom travels to see loved ones, it’s to settle something in her brain she’s worried about. In college, it was to make sure I was eating and not starving. Her first visit to Nashville was when I called her panicked after a wreck. Last year it was to see my new apartment after my husband and I had initially separated. When she mentioned coming up, I didn’t take her seriously because I didn’t think there was much for her to worry about. When she showed up, it set this tone in my mind that there was some big news concerning my life I hadn’t heard about yet. For two days I waited anxiously for her to find the moment to drop the bomb and address the elephant in the room. My assumption filled me with a nervous energy my mom could sense.
That energy put her on edge wondering why I was so tense. By the time we finally addressed the elephant in the room, she was convinced something serious was going on in my personal life that I was hiding from her and was angry and frustrated that I waited to tell her. After finally hashing things out we both decided we would clear the air at the beginning of our visits rather than wait for casual conversations to bring them up. Looking back over the weekend, I see how my mom nervously kept herself busy. She didn’t know how to navigate asking her grown up baby girl the hard questions, so she cleaned. This gave me a new perspective of how hard it must be as a parent to watch your kids move away and somehow not feel entitled to every detail of their life. Her willingness to attempt to foster a conversation naturally about my future plans were admirable. Next time she visits, I plan on being more receptive to that conversation sooner than later to save us all the headache.
Lesson three: Don’t set the bar too high.
I may not be a Nashville native but absolutely love this city. Whenever any of my family or friends visit, I feel compelled to take them to all the “Nashville” things. I was excited to show my family my city until we showed up to lunch at a local lunch spot and my sister requested to leave because it was too loud and crowded. What I learned was that my family was less concerned about seeing my city and here purely to see me. If we ate fast food all weekend but got to spend hours of quality time together, they would’ve been content. Realizing this helped me not to feel determined to show them the whole city and forget to enjoy them. That afternoon we ordered pizza, watched movies, and enjoyed every moment of being in Nashville together.
By the time my family headed back to Georgia, I had regretted walking into the weekend with so much anxiety and expectation. Instead of just enjoying their company I spent half the weekend on eggshells trying to impress them, while also keeping them from disrupting my life. I’m learning now that when people show up in your life, even if it’s in the form of a weekend trip, let them. Let them rearrange the kitchen, let them ask their questions, let them eat the food they are familiar with. The fact that they took the time to travel to see you speaks more about their love for you than it does about their need for an eventful weekend. Don’t let the stress of your family visiting send you into such anxiety that you don’t enjoy them. These are moments that in 20 years we will look back on and cherish. So what if mom moves a few things while she washes the dishes. Pull up next to her and cherish the moment; move the rack back when she leaves.