Real is Messy

There are days when I feel completely ripped off. I usually only feel this way when I’m not getting what I want. I admit – I like things to go my way.

Thing is, I rarely get what I want when my kids come home from school. Oh, it’s not a snack that I want or a mushy hug, necessarily, but I would like a bit of time, a bit of info and maybe just a bit of cheer.

But here’s what’s more likely to happen.

They’ve been at school all day working hard to give their best to the world. Trying to please their teachers, impress their friends, or be a contender for MVP in whatever is happening in P.E. They’re taking notes and writing exams and learning new languages. They’re trying to be witty and kind and creative and help someone around them. They’re taking in assemblies on mental health, navigating the swearing and inappropriate humour in the halls, overloading their brains with talk of graduation and requirements and plans for the future. And, as if that’s not enough, they’re just trying to fit in!

I, on the other hand, have been alone usually. I work from home in front of my computer screen in mostly silence. While I put time and thought and energy into what I’m doing, I haven’t had to deal with outside voices or social pressures. (as evidenced by the tights, favourite cardigan and glasses!)

Our days are different, my boys and I. By the time they get home I’m ready for interaction. I’m ready to talk. My introverted self has had enough alone and quiet and I’m ready to regroup with my people and gab about all of the things.

But they’re feeling exactly the opposite!

They’ve been out – busy and talking – and come home feeling physically and emotionally drained. They’re ready for quiet. For down time. For no prying questions. Just time to be.

It took a long time for me to figure this out. Before I did I would get so frustrated. They would come home from school and I would be cheery and ready to greet them and they would give me a shrug and an undecipherable grunt for an answer.  If I pushed they got snappy. If I pried they retreated more. If I got mad at their lack of engagement, well – it just got ugly.

It’s a hard place to be – knowing that everyone else gets the best part of your kid. The world out there gets the best foot forward, the carefully chosen words, the laughs and the smiles. I get the tired, the grumpy, the arguing and disengaged.

Once I realized what was going on I had to learn to change my expectations and my tone. We developed a motto for our home as a reminder. Of any place in  the world, home was a safe place to not be okay.

Our kids hold it together for so many hours out there in the world. They stuff down the harsh words people speak, they act non-chalant about the jokes someone threw in their direction or the criticism a teacher offered about their work. They build walls to protect themselves. They barricade their heart so they don’t look weak. They pretend that nothing is ever a big deal. They’re good. Life’s good.

And then – home. Home needs to be a place where our kids can unravel. Where they know that it’s safe to show weakness. Where the barricades can come crashing down and the emotions are allowed to come out. Home is a place that the pretenses get dropped and we get on with the getting on of being real.

Spoiler Alert: Real is messy.

But isn’t it in the messy and sometimes ugly that we get vulnerable? And isn’t it in the vulnerable where real relationship grows? And isn’t it the real relationships that we want to have?  I do.  

It can become our bent as parents to want our kids to be shiny happy people all of the time. We can’t help it. REM sold us on it decades ago. And so we set unrealistic standards for them to be something we could never even be ourselves. But what we need to understand is that even when they’re grumpy, even when they want quiet, even when they can’t get out more than a grunt – we’re getting the honest. I don’t know about you, but I’ll take the messy but honest any day of the week.

I guess what I want you to hear is that it’s okay. It’s okay that you aren’t engaging in deep conversation every single day at 3 pm. And it’s okay that they just want their headphones on for an hour or to lie on the couch and play an app for some time.  

Home is their haven too. This is not just my home to operate in the perfectly slick way that I want it to. It’s the home of five people. Each with their own mode of operation. Each with their own need for time and space. Each with their own need for love and safety, retreat and relaxation, quiet and calm.

Be encouraged parents, if your kids are giving you real. It’s the relationship you want.

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