My mom and dad arrived at my house before I got off work.
“Well, I can’t be home until about 5:30,” I had said in a phone call.
“We’ll probably be there at 3,” was my mom’s breezy response.
I smiled inside and promised to leave the back door unlocked.
About once a year, my parents make the 10- or 12-hour trek from Indiana to Omaha just to hang with my husband and me for a long weekend. That brings the total number of times I see my parents annually to about three. I love my family dearly and playing host is one of my very favorite things, so naturally I look forward to this. I get clean sheets on the guest-room bed, I think of a few restaurants they might appreciate, and I make a pitcher of sweet tea for Dad.
However — you knew there was a however — each visit emphasizes the fact that I’m entering into a very different relationship with my parents. My parents are aging, and so am I. It’s introducing a few new challenges. What exactly is my role when I host my parents as an adult in my own home?
Let’s start with the innocuous stuff, by which I do mean stuff.
My family historically has had a bit of magpie in our lineage. Most of us like stuff. I was fortunate enough to live with a roommate after college whose housekeeping habits were positively sterile. I realized that not being surrounded by piles of things was calming, and I try to keep my house kind of the same way now. Not minimalist by any stretch, but everything better damn well have a place to be.
When my parents visit, our comfortable-but-small house feels the addition of new stuff quickly. For about four days my table will be covered with travel mugs and baggies of snacks. The floor will be home to random things like boxes of my grandmother’s 12-piece dinner set and antique chairs salvaged from an abandoned farmhouse. I’ll have to clear space on the countertops to prepare dinner, and the small table in the bathroom will hold everything from a paper-cup dispenser to wet wipes. My parents do not travel light.
Granted, I was excited about the dinner set and chairs, so toss that blame at my door.
I suppose I could spend those four days letting the chaos that I’m no longer used to stress me out. Instead I promise myself I’ll do a once-over of the house before they leave in order to minimize the size of the package I’ll have to mail to Indiana in a week. It’s absolutely worth it to see Mom and Dad, but it does reaffirm that my lifestyle is diverging from theirs.
Speaking of diverging lifestyles, let’s talk about religion and politics. Actually, I don’t, not while my parents are visiting. As an adult growing comfortable in her own skin and her own beliefs, I’m still coming to terms with how to handle those conversations with Mom and Dad in my home. On their most recent visit, my dad bowed his head at our first meal together, and I paused for just a moment before I did the same.
I don’t do this anymore, came the thought. I genuinely do not live like this anymore. Does that mean I’m pretending right now? Or am I just being respectful? Am I avoiding a conversation? Am I scared?
I’m still gnawing on that bone, if I’m honest. In their home, I bow my head for prayer with everyone else. I smile politely and silently when someone claims a religious belief or a Fox News bulletin to be fact. So when the tables are turned, when they’re guests in my home, shouldn’t I feel free to be every bit as authentic in my own home as they are in theirs?
For the duration of my parents’ recent visit, I chose to maintain the same behavior in my home as I do in theirs. Until something drastic happens, that’s probably what I’ll continue to do. Is it more important to assert my adulthood? My ownership of a home? My independence?
Meh, I don’t think that’s what hospitality is.
I don’t think that’s what welcoming looks like.
My parents are careful not to ask too many involved questions about my beliefs these days, which indicates that they know something’s changed. Sure, they make some passive aggressive remarks, but I do too. If they want to say a prayer with everyone before a meal, I have room for that in my home.
Which leaves me space for the important things when it comes to hosting my parents as an adult.
Like telling my dad about the running trail nearby for his half-marathon training.
Like learning that Mom prefers a certain kind of coffee creamer these days.
Like wondering when the hell did Dad stop eating beef and, well, I suppose we can have chicken tonight instead of steak.
Like listening to Mom worry about Grandpa.
Like getting advice from Dad about how to build our new retaining wall.
Like offering my parents a comfortable, welcoming respite in a gracious, open-minded space.