Recently, I called my parents to lament the recent atrocities brought to me by the mailman. On the same day, we received not only the hospital bill from my husband’s recent four-day stay, but also a letter from the IRS saying we’d been audited and owed them a lot more money than was in our bank account. It was not a good day, and since I couldn’t run over the mailman, I called my mom and dad instead. Once I got out the story and several obscenities and maybe a few tears, my mom said what she always says when I am in need of some support, “The couch is always open.”
It’s something she started saying when I first moved out of state over a decade ago. She said it to me through college life, through heartbreak, through marital strife, and motherhood. Those five words signified so much more than an empty couch.
Those words mean that I can always come home. That there’s always a place for me there.
When life gets hard, when I want to pull my hair out, when I just want to sit in the bathtub and cry, I can always come home. My parents will always accept me with open arms. They will not judge my decision to escape my real life. They will not interrogate me about what’s going on. They will just open the front door, give me a hug, and point me to all of my favorite snacks in the pantry and a 2-liter of Diet Coke in the fridge.
For a few years, I thought it would be immature to run away from my life and find solace in my childhood home. After all, I didn’t move out until I was 22, so I had already spent too many adult years living under my parents’ roof instead of forging my own way in life. I felt I had to be strong, to tough it out, to be mature and figure out my own shit while standing in the midst of it.
Thank goodness I eventually got over that nonsense because it was blinding me to what was actually being communicated by my parents: We love you unconditionally, and we are always here for you.
That’s the type of relationship I want to have with my kids when they become adults.
I want them to know that regardless of what happens, they can always come home. It doesn’t matter if they get into a fight, are getting out of drugs, or lose their apartment because of a poor financial decision. I want them to know that home is wherever I am, and wherever I am is a place of peace and comfort and love.
Though my kids are only 3 and 4, I know that now is the time to begin embedding that knowledge in their brains. To constantly affirm them, console them, counsel them, and let them know that no one else on the planet cares more about them and their well-being more than I do. I can’t imagine having a life where I didn’t have a couch to run to if I needed it, and I don’t want my children to grow up without having that same freedom available to them.
There’s so much security in knowing there’s a place you can go where you will always be loved. You can make mistakes and go after dreams and fall on your face because you know there are people who love you and a warm home to house you while you soak in the love and recover from the harsh realities of the real world.
It’s only been a time or two that I’ve taken my parents up on their offer of the open couch, but I’ve thought about it many times — just like on that shitty day when the mailman brought so much bad news. I almost cashed in all my good wife points and begged my husband to let me spend the money to go see them for a few days. I needed a break. I needed a reprieve. I needed an escape.
I didn’t end up going because my kids needed me, but the simple fact I knew that I could gave me the strength to persevere because I knew — I still know — that there’s a place for me to go when I can’t take real life anymore. And when that time comes I will lie on their couch and watch old episodes of Matlock, eat grilled cheese sandwiches, and go to sleep knowing I am loved unconditionally.
And when it’s my turn, when my kids are grown and need the comforts of home, I will follow my mother’s lead: “The couch is always open, baby.”