We recently picked up our older daughter from a wonderful, rustic camp in the Adirondacks. It was a great reunion; she’d been gone for about a month, and reconnecting with her was amazing.
It was the first time we had seen the camp, so she gave us a tour, introduced us to a number of people and shared some stories during lunch. On the ride back she shared her journal of activities with us and reconnected with her younger sister and friends from home (ah, the wonders of in-car Wi-Fi). Earlier this year I wrote a bit about reconnecting, and picking up our daughter got me thinking a bit about these elements. I wanted to share a few more lessons about reconnecting that span both my personal and professional life.
Reconnecting is filled with mixed emotions
Our daughter was clearly excited to see all of us and check in with her friends from home. She also desperately wanted to stay at camp. This isn’t her first year at the camp, so we were prepared for her to be both happy to see us and sad that camp was ending. And, having learned from past experiences, we let those ranging emotions play out and gave her both space, and held her close, based on her needs and not ours.
As a parent, that can be hard. As a colleague, it can be just as difficult.
Returning from a vacation to work, for instance, regardless of how long that vacation is, can bring plenty of emotions for staff. It’s important for all of us to remember to check in and take cues from responses and body language. Knowing people — who they are and how they tend to reconnect — can make us more effective leaders and learners as we determine the level of support people need when they return.
Reconnecting can’t be forced
My daughter was excited to speak to a number of her friends but was also clearly looking for some self-time to get readjusted. Besides texting both camp friends and friends from home, she watched part of a movie with her sister and then read a book.
You simply can’t force a reconnection to happen, or guarantee it to run the way you want it to (unless you are the one leading that reconnection). I recently had this happen to me. A friend had reached out after a fairly long disconnect. We had been good friends, and then a number of events, many related to the pandemic, caused that friendship to fray. With no judgment attached, he had taken some actions that didn’t work for me. If we were to never become close again, I would be sad. But I also recognized that this was not fully in my control.
It was both interesting and nice to have him reach out. Where will it go? Who knows? Reconnections can’t be forced.
This applies to our work lives as well. Due to changing jobs and other circumstances, I stopped connecting with a good colleague a little over two years ago. We probably both could have worked harder to keep that connection strong over the last two or so years. Slowly that connection has been reestablished and may (hopefully) continue to build. Regardless of whether reconnections form or don’t, we have to recognize that we are only ever at most half of that equation.
A reconnection isn’t necessarily a repeat
Our daughter came home with a few new words and phrases that may enter her long-term speech pattern. She also had experiences that we will never be a part of. Even after a month away she is a changed person. In reconnecting with her, our relationship is changed; we can’t necessarily go back to the same patterns of behavior and interaction.
When dealing with both personal and professional reconnections, this means that we have to be willing to raise our patience level for at least a short period of time and push ourselves to be interested in what our reconnections have to share, even if we feel totally disconnected from the experiences and ideas. We can do this by leaning in as they speak, asking questions (both for clarification and for deeper information) and sharing connections that we can think of to the experiences they have shared. All this builds a stronger reconnection. So, while the bond might not be exactly the same as it was, the strength of the bond can be just the same or stronger.
We know from experience that we will all need some time to reacquaint to being a house of four (or five, with the dog). My hope is that I can follow my own learning about reconnection and welcome my daughter back in the way she needs (and use this experience to do the same for all those whom I have the opportunity to reconnect with on a regular basis).
Reconnections are important to further defining the relationships that exist throughout our personal and professional lives. It makes good sense to recognize them for what they are — and what they are not.
Fred Ende is the director of curriculum and instructional services for Putnam/Northern Westchester BOCES in Yorktown Heights, N.Y. Ende currently blogs for SmartBrief Education, and his two books, ”Professional Development That Sticks” and ”Forces of Influence,” are available from ASCD. Connect with Ende on his website or on Twitter.