Practicing Family

I tell my kids to practice a lot.Jackson

Practice Violin
Practice Piano
Practice Reading
Practice Breast Stroke, Diving, Freestyle, Butterfly, Flip Turns
Practice Addition, Subtraction, Multiplication, Division
Practice Spelling
Practice Kicking, Catching, Throwing (whatever the sport season requires)
Practice Ballet

That’s a lot of practicing, and yes I realize how high maintenance this makes me sound, and how programmed my children are.

After a hellish winter that went on and on and on, and a fall that included the drama of moving and relocating to new schools, we are on our family’s first vacation in a very long time. We, and what appeared to be the rest of our Midwestern town, headed to the Coast.

As we drove bumper to bumper like birds desperate to head south to warmer climate and annoying little sports cars zipped around us arrogantly suggesting that their arrival time was more important than the rest of ours, the dialogue in the van went like this:

“That’s my seat”
“Move Over.”
“I don’t want to watch that movie.”
“You shut up.”
“No you shut up.”

“I have an idea,” I said, “Let’s practice kindness. You don’t actually have to be kind to each other. I mean I wouldn’t want you to pull a muscle or anything, but, just practice kindness.”

Eyes rolled faster than our idle tires.maclean

“Your feet stink.”
“Your breath stinks.”
“Your butt stinks.”

“Practice Kindness!” I sing in my Julie Andrews imitation from the front seat, turning up Frozen just a bit.

“Mo-om! He hit me.”
“No, I didn’t!”
“Yes, YOU DID!”
“Owe! Mo-om!



Twenty four hours later three kids are holding hands on their own accord laughing with each other and jumping waves. All electronics are off and we are sitting around the dinner table with familiar but often neglected friends, “The Old Maid,” “Uno” and “Checkers.” Sun tanned and wind-blown, with tired bodies and hungry stomachs, three kids are sharing the same seat, hip to hip, actually being kind to one another.

This is a moment. I know it won’t last forever. In a few minutes someone will do something that will annoy the other,but for a moment this feels like family.

It takes practice to be a family. Families don’t become families because the same people live under the same roof and eat food out of the same refrigerator.

Families become families because they tolerate each other on a different level than the other human beings they encounter ever day. We could never get away with treating our friends the way we treat our siblings.

Families become families when they yes, practice kindness, but also take time to be together. I don’t mean be together in the car on the way to a lesson, or to school.

I mean time together like 12 hour road trips and playing a game, or doing a puzzle or building a sand castle. It takes space and time to practice being a family. I know this sounds idyllic and maybe unrealistic. Life does not lend for this kind of time easily. I think they only way to get this time is to demand it. It requires saying “no” to other events and activities. It requires saving Friday nights just for the people with whom you share a home. It requires discipline – as most practicing does.

There are high demands on families today. Yes, we put that pressure on ourselves to be Disney World for our kids and give them all the opportunities they need, from camps, to lessons, to experiences. Maybe I’m out on my own here, but I don’t think so. I think many of us are working so hard and trying to make sure our kids are prepared for the world that we have forgotten that right now, today in this sacred moment, we are a family that needs to practice being a family. Here are some of the disciplines that are required in practice:

Families Share. They share their stuff. They share germs. They share space. They share a common story.

Families Listen. They listen when they would rather be heard. They listen when they are tired. They listen because every person has a voice and should be honored.

Families Trust, They trust that they are safe to express feelings, be vulnerable, fail, and be imperfect.

Families Celebrate. They give each other high fives and share successes. They are proud of each other and cheer each other on. They show up.

Sometimes we take advantage of the people in our lives we call “family.” We assume they will always be there and we can put off practicing being a family for another distraction. Until one day we look around we think, “what happened to my family? Why don’t we talk anymore? Where did they all go?” and we realize our family has been neglected and has become rusty.

It might take you a while to remember how to play. You might have to practice a lot to get the hang of it. You will play some bad notes and make some mistakes along the way. – Be kind to yourself – After all you haven’t practiced in a while. You may need to try different ways to practice to make sure everyone plays in ways that allows them to get their practice in. The more you discipline yourself to practice on a daily basis it will become easier, more melodic, less foreign. Never practice for perfection. Perfection is overrated and is a falsehood. Practice for the messy, funny, challenging, joy of it. There is no greater reward.




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