We do have tea parties in my home.

My girls and I don’t dress up for them. No china. No watercress sandwiches. No bonnets.

It started when my husband left. I would wake up crying in the middle of the night. Or the tears would start with my hands in the dishwater, or scooping clothes out of the dryer.

My teenage daughters would silently fill a saucepan and pull a mug out of the cabinet. They would sit me down with a cup of tea and a box of tissues and we’d have a chat. They would bring me from the rearview, help me reroute to the unfamiliar road we were traveling.

Now they enter my kitchen, bedraggled in yesterday’s makeup, drop the handbag, and make the tea. They speak, and it doesn’t need to make sense. In a torrent they share their half-achieved goals, lovelorn hearts, betrayals, and wake-up calls. I listen and question and pass a box of tissues. I hold my tongue until the time is right. And then I try to shut up.

We drink coffee in public. The tea is for us, when we are fragile. At our tea parties, etiquette is optional, but empathy reigns. All our work clothes and party clothes and selfies can be evaluated here, but this party is a sweatpants and messy bun event. There are no competitors or frenemies or Mr. Wrongs in my kitchen. They drop their game-faces, their armors and seductions. Younger siblings float in and out of the kitchen to show Big Sister their latest treasures. It’s our safe place.

As they unburden, I’m searching the fridge for leftovers. The image of that daughter as a toddler flashes through my mind. I want her to reconnect amidst the onslaught of young adulthood. I might give her an old mug for the tea, and a new plate with a familiar food. Their evolving college lives present my daughters with shiny new things every day. But this tea party is also about our roots. About refills and rewinds and pauses.

We’ve come so far since I was in charge of their clothes and playdates. We’re thrust out farther into this world than I ever imagined we could be. They chose different paths than I’d predicted.

My shortcomings as a mother both humble and haunt me, but there’s no way to change it. By now, they’ve developed insight into my failures. I don’t know if they yet see my intent or the times I judged well. As a younger mother, I read books and articles and consulted with friends. I cooked things for the nutrient content, not the taste. I tried. I still try.

I can’t scoop up my crying college girl, can’t rock her to sleep. I can’t banish Mr. Wrong or make life choices for them. All I can do is provide a place to talk it out, a ritual, a frame of reference.

Too soon, they’ll rush out the door to whatever piece of their future needs attention. I hope to send them on their way with enough sustenance to build on their past, to build a future, with strength and confidence.

It seems such a tiny thing amidst it all, and maybe it’s true power remains to be seen. But I hope our tea party ritual warms them with love as they forge through, and helps to stabilize the spinning.