Life is absurd. And life is precious. Family is a lot of both.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Me in Real Life

At least once a year we sit down together and watch Dan in Real Life (Steve Carell, Juliette Binoche, 2007). A well-written, sweet family comedy that anyone would enjoy, it's become our official family movie for several reasons. There are eerie similarities -- we own the same old twin beds, an almost-identical station wagon, and a copy of Everyone Poops (now I know you're going to rent the movie). Also the movie stars Steve Carell (one of our favorites) as Dan, a writer of an advice column who dreams of big syndication. How crazy is it that there is someone in this house who also dreams of big syndication? Okay, that person dreams first of being paid at all to give advice. I would totally kill at advice columning. But I digress...

Probably the biggest reason we love the movie is the setting -- an older couple welcomes home their four grown children and all their families for a long weekend. The interaction between the grown siblings (and the young cousins) is just what we would love to see one day when our own brood comes home with their families in tow. No idea where they will all sleep, but we really hope we are having as much fun as Dan's family. A big, happy family is such a beautiful thing.

Dan in Real Life (2007) Poster

Our family is definitely big and mostly happy. Because I write about them so much, I get asked now and then about our best advice for growing great kids. (I told you I am destined to be a popular advice-giver. I'm just waiting for the phone call from the people who are going to pay me big bucks to do it in a pithy, daily format. Oops, digressed again.)

Seriously, I don't have any formula for producing perfect children. We have been all over the map about sleep training, toilet training, sports training, spiritual training, academic training, etc., etc., etc. We often still find ourselves shrugging in disbelief, drowning in self-criticism, and cringing in embarrassment when something or someone doesn't turn out like we had planned.

A couple of blogs have gone viral lately (good for them...whatever) concerning the stupid pressure we put on ourselves and other parents to perform perfectly. They are worth reading here and here. All I have to add to them is a resounding, "Amen!"

But after a thoughtful discussion with my husband about this whole business, we realized that we do have a list of non-negotiable principles when it comes to the big picture of having a successful family.

1. Love Not only do our children need to know we love them (not hard to do), they need to know that we love God and love others above ourselves (hard to do). They need to see that love is our abiding focus. That's from Jesus, by the way.

2. Security Those little people need to know that home is the safest place they will ever be. I have plenty of friends who have to deal with a fractured family thanks to divorce or death (not to mention long term separations due to the military or other such jobs). Can those families produce great children? Absolutely. It's just way harder when you throw insecurity into the mix. If for no other reason, this should be why you nurture your marriage as much or more than you nurture your kids.

3. Confidence Not the "you can do anything because you are a superstar" kind. The "I have no doubt you can meet and even exceed the standard I have set for you" kind. We firmly believe most terrible twos and terrible teens are self-fulfilling prophecies. Kids are not incapable of doing the right thing as long as the goal is clear and they have you to help. Not kicking them when they're down is helpful here too.

4. Vision They won't be two or 10 or 16 forever. They need to realize that every thing they do is an investment in their adulthood. This doesn't mean loads of lessons and performances and competitive teams necessarily. It means loads of practicing the manners, skills, habits and character traits of successful adults.

5. Individualism We all need to know that we are created to be something special. It's rare that you can tell what your 2-year-old is destined to be. Or your 10-year-old or 16-year-old, for that matter. If they can nail the abilities listed above, they can go forth and be an academic, a plumber, an executive, a coach, an accountant, a whatever. Our kids know that we don't care what profession they choose, we just care what kind of character they take with them into that profession. (Although having at least one who is capable of and willing to take care of his/her old parents one day would be a comfort. You know, in case this rich-and-famous-syndicated-advice-giver business doesn't pan out.)

6. Joy, JoY, JOY! We fervently believe that this is key. Life is full of disappointments and frustrations and occasional tragedies and we remind our kids that happiness is not an inalienable right. The pursuit of it is inalienable, but for a multitude of reasons some of us are going to have less happiness than others. It's joy that goes down deep into the soul and gets us through. And joy is imbued best at home from the people who love you, have confidence in you, have a vision for you, and believe in the amazing individual with whom God has gifted them for a season.

Naturally there are lots of other practices we believe are non-negotiable (think church, limited screen time, reading of the great books, healthy eating and exercising, pitching in with housework, and all those other "duh" things). But the practices are where we regularly fall short and beat up ourselves and others. If our principles are in place as a solid foundation, it won't shake us quite as much when things don't go exactly as planned.

Like being a syndicated advice columnist. After first going viral. Right. Did I mention that already?