When we dropped off our oldest son at college this fall, I did what I imagine most mothers do when their firstborn leaves the nest: counted the days until Christmas break. Four months. Nineteen Saturday mornings. I knew we’d get to see him on weekends here and there, but as we pulled away from his new home—all of us quietly uncertain about how much might’ve just changed forever—I already knew I’d long for more than quick stop-ins and a load of laundry to do.
Holiday break meant three whole weeks. Long enough to stock the fridge with his favorites and meal-plan all the dishes I was sure he’d miss. Long enough for rhythms to return. The ones that flow through our house like a current, life pouring in and out of rooms as familiar voices speak familiar things. The boys, talking over each other while a video game fills the background. The crack of an egg after midnight as the girls bake a batch of something sweet, their half-hearted whispers ringing through the house. Then there’s Crew, our youngest, in his own imaginative world but always close enough for someone to hear him say something cute. And when he does, his siblings all look at him the same way I used to look at them.
I can only describe it as a current of camaraderie, the sort of connection that only seems to flow in and exhale when walls are down, feet are up, and souls are at ease.
It’s not that life inside the Gaines house has changed all that drastically since our oldest moved out. Still, I want this upcoming break to give him a chance to fall back into that flow. Into conversations we’d left open, into inside jokes he’d shared with his brothers, even falling back into his favorite chair. I want to hear that life pouring in and out of every room and conversation. And I want Drake to feel as if the impression he’s made in our home remained even when he didn’t.
I’m thinking about this now because I’ve learned that I want to be intentional about creating that space for my kids to connect. Our house is built in a way where everyone could go their separate ways if they don’t have a good reason not to.
Yet, when I think back 10 years ago, I couldn’t have convinced any of them to leave each other alone. Connection as a family looked so different then. When our kids are young, what draws us together is second nature. We know how to give bear hugs and butterfly kisses. How to make forts with bedsheets and fight off dragons with imaginary swords. That shifts as they get older. We’ve had to learn how to ask the right questions. How to listen even better than we talk. Most of my kids aren’t the touchy-feely type, so even physical closeness has changed.
At some point, what once brought us together naturally started to change, so connection became something to cultivate more purposefully. I think this can happen within all sorts of relationships. For whatever reason, the ease of connection just isn’t what it used to be.
The holidays can bring these relationships into focus. This is the season of togetherness, after all. This is the time of year we invite everyone in—even those relationships where maybe the dynamics have shifted. Or there’s been a rift that’s still a little cracked open. Where gaps exist that need to be bridged more than they used to. And it’s probably the designer in me, but when it comes to how that bridge grows, I think of home.
Before home can become a feeling, it begins as a place. And I’ve come to learn how important flow and function are when it comes to making our houses places that capture connection. Making sure furniture placement allows for ease of conversation—and then letting it say something more, whether it’s with a puzzle that rests on the coffee table, a s’mores kit that’s always stocked, or blankets and lanterns beside the bench on the front porch. What we set out becomes an invitation to settle in.
"What we set out becomes an invitation to settle in."
It’s almost like I’m giving these simple intentions a place and a purpose so people can find theirs. From guests to neighbors to just the seven of us, I’ve noticed that even these basic additions to our home around the season give us all a reason to kick up our feet and stay a while. And if the pantry is stocked with the kids’ favorite ingredients, well then dessert will always be something we gather around. I guess you could say I try to make connection easier, hoping in the end that depth follows distance.
Sure, there’s still the sort of connection that can spark by happenstance. A chance encounter can be pure magic. But I also believe that connection can be fostered. Not for the sake of planning perfect moments but of preparing for purposeful ones.
And if I’m being honest, it’s my favorite view to step back and watch it work. Hands carrying cups of hot chocolate brimming with marshmallows, blankets strewn about. A new puzzle already replacing the old as wandering eyes give way to windier conversation. It’s in those moments, I can hope, that we find our way back to one another.
Where hearts are light, life pours out. And like a current, once it starts to flow, the next right thing to do is let it carry you.