On our most recent family vacation, I had a mom meltdown.
The trigger was an activity we really wanted to do that didn’t work out (and didn’t work out in an unnerving, unsettling way).
But that wasn’t the actual reason for my meltdown.
The real reason was something my poor family did not understand, though they tried, bless them. It’s something I’m pretty sure only moms of big kids (or pre-big kids) can really understand: that the older your children get, the more time together takes on epic significance because you know just how much it took to get to that place and you don’t know when you all might find your way back there again.
Gathering an entire family (which may include teens and young adults) for any extended length of time is a feat of scheduling, negotiation, and preference management. International treaties have been worked out in fewer steps. The sheer number of details that have to line up is mind-boggling.
The same goes for multigenerational family dinners and holidays and other moments whose casts include older kids who have other things to do (have to do, want to do) and other people to do them with or for (bosses, friends, coaches, teammates, significant others).
So as moms, when we look at our people all together at a table or sprawled on couches or posing in front of some scenic backdrop for an obligatory family photo, we think we never know when or if we’ll see them just this way again.
We see days past and envision them spilling over into the present and future.
We see the relational house that love and time built and imagine adding onto it.
So, when something interrupts this scene or chips away at it, we freak out a little (or a lot).
We do this for the same baseline reason we do everything as moms: WE LOVE OUR PEOPLE.
We love spending time with them. We love watching them interact with each other. We love hearing them laugh together. We love seeing whom they’ve become…and whom they’re becoming.
And so, dear spouses and teenagers and adult children of the world, if the mom of your family gets a little meltdowny when all you’re trying to do is sightsee or play a game or eat a meal together, please try to understand what that “together” represents to her.
You will tell her, kindly and with the most reassuring of intentions, that it doesn’t matter if everything doesn’t work out.
But you see, it matters to her because YOU matter to her. If she’s falling apart, it’s because she wants so much to hold you all together.
by Elizabeth Spencer