He’s back! As many of you know, recently our son, Cameron, returned from a 2-year absence serving as a missionary for the LDS church. I know I’m not alone in this experience. Many mothers wiser than I have had a similar emotional adventure—whether for college, travel, or simply kids being absent in their lives—and navigated it much better.
However, from my own learning I’d love to share a few “Definite Dos” that have hit home for me over the past week in handling, helping, and enjoying this unexpectedly incredible experience.
- Prepare for the shift. This includes understanding a happy shift is still an emotional shift, and to navigate it means open communication is key. A few days ahead of him returning, we discussed as a family some basic emotional dos: do understand that emotions will be a bit rollercoaster; do express what your feeling openly (but not annoyingly…); do choose a healthy coping skill including talking about how you’re feeling so we can work it through together. I believe this open policy reduced meltdowns to a minimal doable two and made laughter the best medicine again.
- Reset the Norm. In emails to our son before his return, we began sharing subtle hints of what was expected when he came home—what are your thoughts on school, work, and living arrangements? We also shared some new norms with the kids already at home, including that Cameron was now an adult so let him be (note to mom). And in fact, in the spirit of open communication, I said to my son, “I’m still your mom, but if I’m being too hover mother, just give me the cut off sign.” (Some patiently raised eyebrows but no sign as yet…)
- Ask for help. Due to a change in schedule, the person who was going to pick up the welcome home banner wasn’t able to. Problem: I had a super tight margin of time to run back down, get it, hang it up at our mailboxes, then run back to the house and change, then pick up three kids at three different schools and still head to the airport in time. My first thought was, biting my lip, I can do this, I can do this. Then it hit me: I can’t do this. My next thought was, my Visiting Teacher (our church program where a neighbor volunteers to make sure I’m sane every month). One call, that was all. She said, I’ve got it, and when we drove home, there it joyfully was.
- Accept help. On the same weekend of his return our neighbors hosted their annual Pie Night. A dear, thoughtful friend texted to know if we were going—I said yes (and had optimistically bought the Granny green apples and pie crusts to make said pie). She texted back, I’ll make one for you. We came home from the airport to find the most beautiful homemade caramel apple pie you’ve ever seen. It almost didn’t make it to Pie Night.
- Details don’t matter. The most important thing both to us and our son was a bed to sleep in. We planned to have him room with his older brother and ordered not one but two beautiful new beds. They arrived on time but one of them was the wrong bed. And being late to the airport, we didn’t get out the darrrrling new bedding, pjs., and new outfit laid out on the new bed. Using the back-up plan, while he was being officially released by clergy, our daughters hurried to make the bed up fabulously. We returned to a busy evening, family prayers, and a late-night movie—I thought, All is well. But the next morning the truth came out: he had slept on the couch. His response? “That couch was more comfortable than any missionary bed I’ve had.”
Ultimately, what I learned over and over and OVER all week long was that the seemingly important details did not matter one whit. Because what was key was laughing, talking, eating, and hanging together.
I can’t describe the joy I’ve felt this past week. The sacrifice in having our son gone has been nothing compared to the purest, fullest joy of having him return a true man-child, with heart-felt convictions and soul-earned stripes of honor, diligence, and love.