As I perused Facebook during break and scrolled through the photos of projects and travels and get togethers, I was struck by two seemingly contradictory messages coming from parents. The first was how many clearly wonderful things were happening: fathers and sons building lego rocketships together, children using their free time to create blanket forts and put on concerts for parents, families creating memories together that appear almost Hallmark-channel ready. The second was how exhausting kids can be: their stubbornness, whining, arguing, and ungratefulness at times. As I reflect on the time I spent with my family over this winter break, I realize that they’re the same message.
Almost 20 years ago, I listened to a speaker talk about quality time. A dad in the audience spoke about how he had created a special evening with his son after a long stint of business travel and some difficult life events. Both the father and son were really looking forward to this time: a baseball game together. They arrived at the game and after an inning the child was bored and wanted food. The dad bought some. The child got whiny and wanted something else. At some point the dad said no. The child had a tantrum. The dad lost his temper. They left the game early. Both were hurt and frustrated and disappointed. This dad asked the speaker about how he failed at creating quality time. The speaker disagreed, saying that this man’s evening was absolutely quality time.
The mess, the struggle, the discipline, and the disappointment are all part of a real relationship, and we can’t get to the deep, authentic, and unconditional levels of relating without evenings like theirs.
Life is a beautiful mess, or a messy beauty, and a meaningful time together doesn’t usually mean a perfect time.