Home as a Haven

Home as a Haven

Home as a Haven

Home as a Haven

Oh, these little boys. Be still my heart.

One of the most heartwrenching parts of motherhood, I’ve come to realize this fall, is watching your child go to school. With other kids. Who will be sweet sometimes, tease sometimes, play nicely sometimes, hurt feelings sometimes. How hard to think that all those little ones sometimes will feel lonely or left out or embarrassed or sad. I know those are good emotions, too (we’re striving for wholeness, right?) but maybe not for him. Maybe just happiness for this child, okay?

Toby has had a somewhat tough time adjusting to a new school with new kids, many of whom have known each other for years. He enjoys school overall; he just has wobbly moments here and there. Plus, four-year-old Toby still seems so little. An exchange at the neighborhood playground the other day:

Another four-year-old: “Have you ever seen Star Wars?”

Toby: “No…have you ever seen Elmo?!!”

Well, as usual, the brilliant Jenny Rosenstrach must have read my mind because she recently wrote a Real Simple essay about her seventh-grade daughter, who was having a tricky time with some school friendships. Jenny didn’t know how to help, so she did what any self-respecting adult woman would do: she called her mom. Here’s what happened:

She told me what I already knew: I’d have to sit this one out, as well as the next one and the one after that and the one after that, too. It was time to let the kids figure this stuff out on their own. But in a vehement tone that I imagine she reserves for her most unruly clients (she’s a real estate attorney), Mom did give me one tangible way to help: “You just make sure that when those girls walk in that door every day,” she said, “they never doubt that home is the most comforting place for them to be. That is what you can do.”

So that is what I will do: Make sure that when my children walk in the door every day, they never doubt that home is the most comforting place for them to be. We’ve slowed down our evening routine and added some rituals. We light candles at dinner, we play games on the floor, we pile onto the sofa to read books. And Alex and I have started putting Toby to bed together—instead of switching off, we focus on him, and lie down (with Toby in the middle), and talk and sing songs and give “challenges” (like “what sound does an owl make?” or “pretend you’re swimming” or “count to 20”) which Toby loves. And, the next morning, when Toby pads into our bedroom at 6 a.m., and stands at my side of the bed saying “Mama? Mama?”, I pull off my ratty sleep mask and give him a huge grin, no matter how exhausted I am. Home is a haven, a soft landing place, and no matter what happens in the outside world, they will always have that.

P.S. Do your eyes light up when you see your child?

(Photos of Toby and Anton playing ice cream shop by Winnie Au)

  1. Jessica says...

    We moved to Paris this last year and my 6 year old is struggling profoundly this year in school with exactly what you described above as Toby’s experience. I remembered this essay and re-read it again tonight. Thank you, thank you for your beautiful words. I wrote some down on a post-it to keep by my computer. Joanna, if you have any further advice regarding how you helped your sensitive, sweet little boy adapt to a new school with kids who had been friends for years, this momma of a very similar boy would love to hear it. Thank you for all you do for our COJ community. xo

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      what a lovely note, Jessica. I’m sorry to hear your sweet little boy is having a tough time. I’ll try to remember what else we did — but I can tell you, it all got better and he is so well adjusted now! I’m sure your sweetheart will be just fine and you sound like the nicest mom xoxoxo

    • Jessica says...

      Oh thank you for the kindest reply Joanna! I read it right as we were going through the worst of it and it gave me comfort, even just knowing I wasn’t alone. Things are getting better, slowly but surely. Thank you for the reminder that our children grow and adapt, just as we must.
      Much love and appreciation, Jessica

  2. Peg says...

    You wrote this so beautifully. Such an important and absolute necessity for my little boys to feel like I am a haven, as well as our home. It’s so so tough to imagine the heartbreak ahead, and yet, I know that it was often the tough times that of course made me deeper and stronger.
    Over the past year or two, I’ve been wanting this for my spouse as well, and for myself. So much turmoil happening out there in the world. Inside these doors and walls, I want us to feel loved and safe.

  3. Susannah says...

    I am a teacher in a difficult part of southeast DC and this really resonated with me. In a world of unknowns, I work everyday to make my classroom a haven–a place that is predictable, safe, loving, and supportive. From the moment my kids (all 27 of them!) walk in the door it is my job to make sure they know they are known, loved, and celebrated for who they are and who they will become.

  4. This is gold! <3 Glad that I found this. My son will also be starting school next year and I'm excited and nervous at the same time. Will he know how to deal with kids his age? Will he be able to find his squad? Will other kids like him, too? I worry a lot and sometimes I wish he'd never grow up. But as moms, I understand we can only do so much for our kids. So I'm taking this message to heart. <3 Thank you!

  5. Amy P says...

    This is the third time I’ve commented on this post. I keep coming back to it. I’m not sure I’m very good at making our home a haven – I get stressed and snap at my kids too often, yet I think one of my biggest goals is to make our home a haven. I saw an image that said “I really just want to be the warm yellow light that pours all over everyone I love.”

    Being a warm yellow light and making a peaceful home are not easy for me, but they are my goal. Any tips you have, any future posts you write on this topic – I’m all ears!

    (And yes, I love reading Jenny’s posts. She’s a few years ahead of me which is great for perspective.)

  6. This is absolutely one of my favorite posts from your entire blog, and I have been reading since before sweet Toby was born! The advice that your friend Jenny’s mom gives is golden, and some that I still refer back to. My oldest girl is going into 2nd grade this year and we have already had to deal with some issues from “mean girls” at school. I greet her every single day with the biggest smile I can possibly muster, to make her feel like a million dollars. Thanks so much for this post.

  7. Amy says...

    Right now I have three littles at home with me (all day every day!) and so sometimes home just feels….the same. All the time. But with one going off to kindergarten, I think I’ll feel more driven to make it a haven for her when she gets home. Also, how great is the word haven?

  8. Lana says...

    i am a bit of an emotional mess right now (back to the office after so-short maternity leave) and this brings tears to my eyes (did you ever write about crying in the office? i’d like to read this)

    Great post. Thank you so much for writing this and reminding how important it is to have Home.

  9. Lynn says...

    this is from a mom who has one in high school and one in college. you are doing the right thing believe me. it will pay off for years to come ‘
    theres no place like home

  10. Gina says...

    I just re-read this post for perhaps the 10th time, and I love it more each time. My home, too, will be a soft landing place for my son (what a beautiful way to describe home). Cup of Jo brings me so much joy because it, in part, offers inspiration of the type of mother/woman/friend/sister I want to be. Crazy how a website can do that. Keep up the wonderful work, Jo!

  11. This post resonates so much with me right now and like one of your earlier commenters said; I must really redouble my efforts and slow down. My 4-year-old son came home from school many days this year asking if he was cool and that so-and-so says I’m not cool. It breaks my heart and all I can tell him is to try to find kids that make him feel good inside. I love the advice of making sure that home is the most comfortable place he can be. I really need to work on that. Thank you.

  12. this is the sweetest post ever! How did I miss it

  13. Vale says...

    This Completely resonates. I love it so much. Must redouble efforts- thanks for this.

  14. toby is a splitting image of you and anton that of alex in these pics! lovely!

  15. What a beautiful post from a beautiful momma. I 10000% percent understand. My baby boy is 2.5 and my daughter is 7 months. My biggest fear for them is facing adversity and cruelty in the “big bad world”. I get obsessive at times, but then I remember that yes, I can provide a strong and lovely platform from which they can face these challenges. YES, everyone faces hardships. What makes them unbearable is not having constant support from family and friends. Your boys have it in spades from you. I loved this post, and YES< my eyes light up whenever I see my babies, and I make it my mission as a mom to make sure they know just how absolutely cherished they are. Much Love to you Joanna! Your blog is inspiring on many many levels. xo

  16. I think I need to read this post daily for a while.

  17. This seriously hit home. Had to send my 3 year old to preschool in September and my heart hurt for him. I wish I could be there to sit next to him so I can help him with his letters, maybe feed him lunch and prevent other children from being mean to him. I want to protect him so that only good happy things happen to him.

    Thanks to your post I am going to work on ensuring hope is a happy place so that he knows he is loved.