Nice Families

The other day I was talking to someone I had just met about a family that we both know. This new person said to me, in a very warm and heartfelt way, “I really love them – they are such a nice family.”

I agreed, because they really are very, very nice. Their kids are so sweet, kind, gentle, and polite. The parents are thoughtful, considerate, soft-spoken. They’re all talented and smart and accomplished and generous. They enjoy charity work and calling their grandmothers on Sunday. They are seriously, SO nice.

But of course, because it’s all about me, I started to wonder if anyone out there would deliver such a spontaneous, gushing review of my own family. I have to think not. What do outsiders see when our family approaches? A harried, tired-looking mom? Whiny children? A thumb-sucker, a nose-picker, and a third having a meltdown? Kids who are too loud, too mean, too unfamiliar with the concept of personal space?

There’s a great scene in the movie Parenthood between Rick Moranis and his sister-in-law (in the film), Mary Steenburgen. Rick is talking about getting his hyper-articulate, brilliant daughter into a gifted program. Meanwhile, Mary’s youngest son has put a bucket over his head and is repeatedly running into the wall. Mary gives Rick an apologetic smile and says, “He likes to butt things with his head.”

Oh Mary, how well I understand you.

It’s getting into the doldrums of summer, and I’m melancholy. We’ve had some really good times this summer, been to some fun places, done lots of interesting activities. And yet. Day in, day out, it seems I say the same things, do the same things. I feel like I could easily be replaced with a lifetime supply of pre-boiled hot dogs and my voice on a tape-recorded loop, saying:

Stop that.

Leave your sister alone.

That is NOT funny.

No one is getting any candy, so STOP ASKING.

Hands and feet to yourselves!


That was his first, DO NOT SNATCH, USE YOUR WORDS.

We are NOT buying anything for you today, and STOP CRYING.

The next person to say the word “butt” or “poop” is going to their room.

And so on. Are other homes like this, where we alternate between love fests and hating each other? Or are the nice families having nice times playing board games and appreciating each other’s inherent value and respecting everyone’s opinions and thoughts?


This morning I told the kids it was grocery shopping day, and the Captain said to me, “Why does it always have to be about what YOU want to do, and you NEVER do anything for your kids?” And that really, really hurt my feelings. Does he really not notice the cooking, the cleaning, the laundry? Does he really not remember the day trips, the visits to the library, the little special treats they get almost every day in the summer? Does he really think that grocery shopping with three kids is what I WANT to be doing with my time? Does he really not understand what being part of a family and part of a household means?

I guess I’m just not a nice mother.

If Sir Monkeypants had been home, he would have punished the Captain for talking to me that way, which would not have been unjustified, but I was so deflated I didn’t have the heart for it. It would be one more thing to yell at them about, one more thing to fight over, one more battle that they’ll “appreciate someday.” Instead, I told him that he’d be spending some time every day this week making a book of all the stuff we did over the summer. I hope he will see (and value) the great things we did.

How do the nice families do it? How do they make kids that are empathetic? How do they take trips to the grocery store without everyone asking for something, someone having a meltdown, and everyone whining that their lives are just SO BORING?

Today, I feel like I’m doing something wrong. Today, I’m looking forward to school starting.

Today, I’m feeling like we’re not a nice family, no, not at all.

13 thoughts on “Nice Families

  1. i feel i know you well enough now to say “snap out of it woman!”

    you know very well that you are an incredible mom and that the kids are just being dinks. “nice” families freak me out a little to be completely honest. there has to be something going on at home, behind the scenes that we just don’t see. some sort of brain washing i’m sure. i smile more when i see the nose picking kids then i do when i see the perfect little angles. they just seem a little off, a dull look in there eyes. maybe because i can relate more to the mother of the nose picker.

    all that being said, you are intitled to have a bitchy day where you vent all the things that have been penting up and bitch about being underappreciated. just remember we all have them, that your kids love you to bits and they will soon realise the wonders and fortunes they have in you as their mother.

  2. “How do the nice families do it?”

    They put up a good front and when no one is around, they become just like everyone else. I’ve met a few women like that too, where they seem so perfect and everyone loves them, but they hide a lot and I don’t know where they find the energy to put that mask of perfection on everyday.

    You do plenty for your children. I’ve been following your blog for awhile now and see that. Don’t beat yourself up because your kids were giving you a hard time. People sometimes say critical things but don’t actually mean them. 🙂

  3. bibliomama2

    And if they ARE perfect (or as near as families get) it’s because the mother spent hours and hours saying all those same things you say every day. My kids are generally nice, funny and a joy to be around, but Angus STILL never brings his dishes back to the kitchen and Eve has days where she makes snarky remarks to everybody and everything — I swear, I’ve heard her dis the dishwasher. And sometimes one of them can say something so hurtful at exactly the wrong time, which is what happened to you. But that’s because they’re kids, and no matter how smart they are, in the great grand scheme of things they’re still kind of dumb. You’ve been giving them a great summer and they will appreciate that. Some day. For today, I prescribe chocolate and hiding with a book while your kids watch TV.

  4. I’m sure you are one of the nice families (unless you secretly make your children run on treadmills to power the TV so you can watch Dance Show – if that’s going on, I reserve judgment).

    Personally, I prefer kids who are interested in everything (even though that tends to result in a lot of “stop that”s) than ones who are content to sit and be nice.

    Also, kids live in the moment much more than adults. That can be good (when they notice things you’d never see), but it also means that if something didn’t happen in the last 10 minutes, it can seem like it never happened at all (and they can’t see past the boring grocery shopping to the food they’ll be happy to eat later).

  5. I think we are a nice family. Deep down. I think you are too. Nice families are like all the others but when it comes down to it we all love eah other and take care of each other. Even though I tire myself out saying “don’t lick your sister. Yes you can lick yourself:.

    I live this “Why does it always have to be about what YOU want to do, and you NEVER do anything for your kids?” That made me laugh. Hard.

  6. I haven’t met your family, but when I met you at BOLO, I thought, wow, she is one of those really really nice people; such a bright and friendly face. I’m absolutely serious that I thought that.

    And aw, my kids have pulled that before about how we never do what they want to do. I know it’s hard, but don’t take it personally…kids are supposed to be self-centred that way. I think it’s a survival mechanism. In the past I have just listed out all the nice things that we have done together, and they come around pretty quick.

  7. I think it’s safe to say that we’ve all been there. Where we work hard, keep trying, and then all of a sudden your child says something that feels like the wind’s been punched out of you. I think you did well by biting your tongue! That’s what nice families probably do, and I’m not sure I’m that nice! 😉

  8. It is the same here. If i have to yell at my kids one more time I feel like my head might pop off. And add a clingy (wonderful but clingy) infant to the mix and most days I feel pretty sorry for myself.

    We are all the nice family sometimes. We all get our turns. One day we are the ones people look at with sympathy in their eyes, and other days they look envious.

    But I will admit that almost 2 months with all 3 kids has worn me down 🙂

  9. I’ve met your family and you are a nice family!

    I think it’s a great idea to do a “review” of summer with ungrateful, er, unknowing offspring.

    Another idea, if your computer is in a high-traffic area, is to load it up with photos of your summer adventures and set them as your screensaver. CONSTANT REMINDERS are the way to go here!

    p.s. your kids will grow up and be more grateful. Trust me.

  10. Ya, what everyone else said. Kids are supposed to be self-centered. They don’t have the emotional maturity to be anything else yet. And if you’ll remember the “nice family” in Parenthood — they didn’t turn out to be quite so perfect after all, did they? If kids are perfect, subdued and robotic in public there is something seriously wrong.

  11. I think everyone else has said it too. You do rock and there really is no such thing as perfect. BRB … Just telling delightful son to stop squishing his sister… Where was I? Oh yes. Keep up all the awesome things you do. I like the summer book idea and I think we’ll do it too.

  12. i love parenthood (the movie, and, well, I guess the state of being) – it was on this past weekend.
    my 8 year prefers the cooking of our neighbour (a stay at home mom) and always says stuff like “no offence, but suzy’s casserole is better – i guess she just has more time to make it better”. my five year old just yesterday said (rather, screamed) that i was the meanest mommy ever (i punished her for non-compliance at the dinner table). i tend to think other kids don’t talk to their parents like this, or, maybe they do and nobody admits to it. thanks for coming out of the closet 🙂

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