The Accidental Happy Family


Yesterday, due to 1) a rare black hole in the sports schedule universe, and 2) compulsory down-time resulting from “natural consequences” of poor behavior choices the previous week, we had a free day. Granted, there is always something to do and even doing nothing is actually doing something, so there is really no such thing as empty time, but yesterday our schedule was oddly open and I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to do something.

Feeling a little raw from being a tough-love mom during the previous week (see #2 above), I suggested that my three kids and I go out for a special lunch of pizza and bowling at the Flatbread Company in Somerville and then head over to Lyndell’s in Cambridge to get coffee (for me, of course) and some of the best cookies on earth (for the kids, but I was also planning to eat one, just to show my willingness to sacrifice my own health to join in the family fun).

From the wailing and whining and impassioned protests, you would have thought that I had said, “hey kids, let’s go out for succotash and then take in a four-hour Italian opera.” What’s a mom to do? Other than get really mad and insist that everyone “shape up” so we can go have some damn family time. And then yell and lecture about how ungrateful they all are. This did not get the desired result.

Seeing the futility of the situation, I called the whole thing off and went to my room for some focused pouting. I put away clothes and felt sorry for myself. I cried a little, thinking about how I dutifully do all of the things that have to get done for our family and never get to just have fun with my kids. And I thought about how they will never give their dad a hard time like this because his attention is a more scarce commodity, which makes me sad for them and jealous of him at the same time. It feels bad to think about all of this, but I take comfort because it is familiar. I know how to do disappointment better than I know how to do happy family.

When I live in the “now,” I can fill it up with all kinds of projects and driving and work and tennis and coffee and driving. It is sometimes easy to forget that the time with my kids is short, because well, it isn’t always fun (see #2 above). When I do pick my head up and look around, I panic that every day we do not go out for pizza and bowling and cookies, is a lost opportunity to make happy family memories. Memories that will make them laugh and reminisce together as adults. Memories of what a great mom I was which will make them pick a really high quality nursing home and visit me frequently when I am old. It is hard to know how to accomplish this since I didn’t grow up with that kind of family feeling. I want it now – for myself and for my kids – so much and I keep grasping for what I think it might look like and spend too much time worrying that I am not getting it right.

Then the beau comes along, with his sweet bald head and penchant for simplifying complicated things, and says, “maybe they just want to be at home, instead of do stuff with you, because they already have that feeling.”

And I realize that he could be right. (Again, dang it.) I guess my homebody kids might want to be here, snuggled in on a Saturday with their pj’s on all day, because, to them, home feels like a safe place to get away from it all. Maybe they can ignore me because they trust that I will always here. Maybe they interrupt me to tell me seemingly unimportant things (especially if I am working) because they do need me. And maybe jumping on each other and teasing makes them feel connected. Maybe they can experiment with bad behavior choices because they know, without a doubt, that I will always love them no matter what. Maybe they don’t want to go do anything with me because just being together in our house gives them the feeling I have been blindly grasping for. And I wonder if I will ever get better at seeing that I already belong to the family I have always wanted.

Share This:


  1. Oh, Annie. Once again, you’re writing my life. I know I’ve whined to my beau more than once about how I miss just having easy fun with my kids. And how, when I’ve tried to make fun, it so often falls flat. I know one thing that can get to me (when I get into this place), is regret/sadness for the years in which I was coming apart and putting myself back together again after the divorce–in many ways the heart of the childhood fun years. They were 8 when the crisis really hit, and by the time I regained my equilibrium, they were pretty much past the years of wanting to do “fun” things with me. Although I tried mightily to stay present and engaged in the midst of all that pain and turmoil, I couldn’t enjoy them the way I wanted to then. I try to stay focused on where we are now, and appreciate all that we are now. It is very comforting to know I’m not the only one who struggles with these things. Thanks for writing this.

    1. annie kip says:

      Hi Rita – yes, we share many of the same struggles and I really thank you for telling me about yours. It helps me a lot. I wonder if we are going to look back and think how magical those “early teen years” were…when they are heading off to college or getting married. It is so hard to live in the moment and accept that where we are is where we need to be and not compare to other times. Our kids are who they are because of the unique experiences they have had – experiences which may require years of therapy! – but still, unique to them. We can’t know which experiences will help or hurt or how it all fits together – we just have to keep watching as everything unfolds.

  2. Stacy says:

    Very well put!! I know I have had all of those feelings before – and love that your beau put it so simply…sometimes it is hard for us to remember that our kids will always need their mommy, even when they don’t think they do.

    1. annie kip says:

      Thanks, Stacy – I find it so challenging to balance doing my “own thing” because my kids are busy and seem happy to have me out of their hair, with being idle and available for the spontaneous conversations that can happen with teens. I just keep trying to figure it out!

  3. Ingrid says:

    Dear Annie
    What a wonderful post. i can really feel your angst
    and you have helped me see that bad behavior in kids
    can mean they trust and feel space and safety to test the boundaries

    1. annie kip says:

      Thanks, Ingrid! In the moment, it is so hard to remember that kids are really just testing boundaries. If kids feel like there is no room to mess us with us, I suspect that they will take their bad behavior choices behind the scenes where they can get into serious trouble. Hard as it is, I guess I would rather have everything out on the table!

  4. Deb says:

    What a lovely post!!!!!!!!!! Very eye opening for me, too … I go through a lot of the same things … thanks, Annie!!!!!! A wonderful way to start the week!!

    Love ya!


    1. annie kip says:

      Hi Deb! Thank you! Glad to know that. you can relate. It makes it easier for me to get through all of this when I know I am not the only one!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.