As parents, most of us want to do better than our parents did. We want to be more patient, supportive and accepting and, even if we had good ones, we imagine doing certain things differently. We want perfect family photos and harmonious family vacations and laughter and peace in our daily lives.
My family has no perfect family photos and, after failed attempts with photographers, we stopped trying. Now, we're lucky if we get a candid shot of the four of us all looking in the same direction. Our family vacations are fun but not without issues. Once, in Rome, my daughter and I got into a huge argument on Palatine Hill -- all because I wouldn't let her carry the camera. Crying on a dusty hill overlooking the Colosseum is not the kind of memorable experience most families seek to create.
I often wonder how our kids see us. Last night, as we watched an episode of Chopped on the Food Network, I found out. In the episode, a mother and father competed against their two adult children to see who was the best cook. While I sat with the kids, my partner watched the same episode in Panama where she is currently working. We kept in touch via text, debating who was going to win.
As the family on screen sliced and diced and fried and seared, we began to imagine how our family would behave in similar circumstances. Both kids agreed that they would be ruthless in competing against each other. I admitted I would need Luisa to prepare my meat since I'd much prefer to touch tofu.
In watching the show and listening to my kids project our family's dynamics onto the situation, I learned a lot about their perceptions of us. We were cast as impatient parents. They imagined our family would spend the whole time bickering. They laughed as they pictured this but I couldn't help but feel a bit sad. Those are not the family dynamics I'd hoped to create.
As I was pondering this, a Honda commercial came on that shows a family singing along together on a car trip and I thought, "That's the perfect family!"
They are happy and united and obviously filled with love for one another. I blurted out, "I want our family to be like that one!" just as both kids yelled in unison, "That family is the worst!" I was stunned and asked them why and they agreed on an answer: no family is that perfect. "But wouldn't it be great if we got along that well? Wouldn't it be nice if we didn't bicker in the car?" I asked. They both shook their heads and offered the following:
"Our family is interesting because we're all different."
"Our family bickers but it doesn't mean we don't love each other."
"Our family is just real."
Before having kids, I felt confident that my partner and I would be good parents but, after having kids, I began to confuse "good" with "perfect." I'm learning that there are no perfect families and my kids are helping me to find humor in the imperfection of ours.
PHOTO CREDIT: VIKKI REICH