Who’s in Charge Here? Leadership and Grown Kids.

I just had the most wonderful week of vacation I can remember.  My husband and I, and five of our seven grown children, including both steps and in-laws, went to the beach and stayed in our tiny time-share on couches and air mattresses and bunk beds.  It was a time of rejoicing, because four of these five had long ago formed the blended family that was created when my husband and I got married.  The youngest, the only one that is “ours,” was at college and couldn’t come, so it was precious to just have the four older ones together, which hadn’t happened in more than fifteen years.  The fifth one who was with us was my son’s wife.

I thought about how our family “team” had changed over the years.  One had left for college, another had left to get a job, then another for college, then another moved away, then one moved home for a year, then one got married, then another, and so on.  Each change had changed the team.  The leaders of the team, my husband and I, seemed to be somewhat the same people, but as team members came and went, we were changed as well.  We were finally left with only the youngest, and just visits from the others, for the last seven years.  Just the week before this fabulous week, the youngest himself had even moved out.

So a lot had changed since the last time at the old timeshare!  Instead of being 12, 13, 14, and 15, as they were the last time we were there, they were now 29, 30, 31, and 32!  Grownups.  With their own successful lives.  Accustomed to making their own decisions.  With the exception of Eric, who is autistic, they had all been on their own for at least a decade.  And the two stepsisters hadn’t really spent much time together in that time since they had been grown.  They had grown apart, really.  One in Boston, one in Atlanta.  It was inspiring to watch their sisterhood blossoming again.

So how do decisions get made in such a situation?  Going grocery shopping was interesting.  My two had been raised as vegetarians.  My husband’s two had been raised by mothers who were very relaxed about health issues.  His daughter, though, had become very health conscious as a grownup, and has pretty definite standards for eating, although she is not a vegetarian.  And my husband and I had our own dietary needs. So the refrigerator was stuffed to the limit with choices for everyone: spreadable butter for this one, heart-healthy spread for that one, olive oil for the other one.  Both vegetarian and meat options.  Both wine and nonalcoholic options.

We had to become a team for the week.  We formed and stormed (only a little – love rules) and normed, and actually performed very well.  We fell easily into the old familiar routine of watching out for Eric.  Under the watchful eyes of his six loving “parents,” he had a great time and actually enjoyed the ocean more than any of us ever remembered him doing before!  We had only a few “scares,” that brought up memories of childhood frights:  One morning Eric got up before everyone else and drank all the wine.  Thankfully, there wasn’t a toxic amount.  Another time he got lost in the Maxway.  We fell together in the common cause of looking after our beloved brother and son, and it brought us back to the closeness we had had when we were all a bit younger.

The older “leaders” of this team backed off.  It was not our place anymore to make decisions for this crowd.  Sometimes they deferred to us, usually around issues of Eric, but otherwise we enjoyed letting them decide whether we were going to the beach or the pool, whether we were eating out or eating at home, and what we were having for dinner.  To our great amazement and delight they also cooked and washed up.  To our even greater astonishment, they also washed all the laundry and folded it regularly.  They proposed a movie, and we all went.  Took up a whole row at the theater.

I think it was a special time.  The moment teetering before falling into the status of being empty-nesters, but before any grandchildren.  Just a time to look at our amazing grownup children and be truly impressed and proud, and humble to think that we had even had any part in it at all.  I proposed that this become an annual event, as it used to be when they were small.  And they agreed!

The forming this time was wonderful, and gradual.  Some came to our house on airplanes, some in cars.  Some met us at the beach.  One got picked up in Virginia.  We formed over several days.  Time to enjoy each one.  Maybe we would have stormed more if the time itself had not been so precious.  The norming was tacit and lovely:  the first one up makes the coffee; Baxter and Austin need their exercise and their alone time; cell phone calls are made away from the group; towels are washed after one use.  Maybe that’s performing.  It all flowed together.

I pondered the leadership lessons.  The importance of celebrating team successes.  Reunions.  Looking out for the less able members, and we are all “less able” at some time or another.  Staying fit.  Deferring to the needs of others, and getting one’s own needs met as well.  And so the team broke up, and each went their own ways.  Eric back to Virginia, Baxter and Austin back to New York, Charity back to Atlanta, and Angel back to Danny in Boston.  Richard and I back to Asheboro, and then gave Isaac the key for the next week.

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About Talula Cartwright

Talula is a senior faculty member at CCL where she has managed both projects and programs. Talula trains the Center’s flagship offering, the Leadership Development Program (LDP)®, Foundations of Leadership, Coaching for Development, The Looking Glass Experience, and The Women’s Leadership Program. She uses her experience in executive and management development to design and deliver custom programs for Center clients in the corporate, private, and nonprofit sectors. She is a certified feedback specialist and executive coach.
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One Response to Who’s in Charge Here? Leadership and Grown Kids.

  1. avatar Judy Morris says:

    VERY interesting from many standpoints. I admire your energy, pulling off something like that (and was amazed to learn I have real vegetarian cousins). Also admire the energy and dedication it takes to sit down and blog; afraid my most poignant and pithy thoughts and memories are either wasted in random e-mails to random people, or stored permanently (and irretrievably, by anyone else) in my own mind.
    The closest thing we’ve had to pulling off a similar feat was having all 5 of our adult kids (my two and his three), their spouses, the seven total grandchildren, the fiancee of one adult “kid,” and my husband’s ex-spouse (and her spouse and additional adult child) over to our house for a few hours of happy munching, drinking, and visiting the Saturday afternoon before Christmas (Midwinter Solstice, in fact!). But a whole week?! We were lucky to organize them all into one spot one afternoon!

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