The Key to Family Fun: Embrace Imperfection


“This hike would have been so fun if only Corbin hadn’t been so grumpy!”

“Tonight would have been so perfect if only Isen didn’t get so upset about the fireworks!”

“Today would have been such a nice day if only the kids hadn’t made such a mess and refused to pick it up!”

I frequently make these kinds of comments. We try to do something fun as a family, and something goes a bit wrong, or someone gets upset, and we have to struggle through some difficult moments. Later, I’ll often comment that the day would have been “so great” or “so perfect” or “so fun”. . . if only something hadn’t ruined it.

Family Hikes Aren’t Easy or Perfect

Family hikes are always imperfect. Our family has been doing a lot of hikes during this strange summer and fall when most activities have been canceled. But they involve a lot of work and a lot of challenges with our young kids. At the end of the day, there is always an “if only.”

The Key to Family Fun: Embrace Imperfection

On one recent hike near Santa Fe, we encountered a tent caterpillar infestation so extreme that caterpillars were falling out of trees and landing on us. The caterpillars had consumed all the foliage, leaving the trees bare. If only there weren’t so many caterpillars, this hike would have been much prettier!

On another recent hike, my husband arrived at his destination in the Jemez mountains after driving for two hours and packing a car full of snacks, lunch, and water, only for a giant storm to completely derail his plans. If only it hadn’t rained!

On our most recent hike, our two-year-old started begging me to hold him when we had been hiking for about three minutes. He was whining and crying and we could still see the parking lot. If only he hadn’t ruined the hike with his terrible attitude!

Beautiful Moments

Although our family hikes are imperfect, they have many beautiful moments. On the “caterpillar” hike, the boys jumped across a creek and threw rocks from a shady bridge. They were happy and dirty and entertained for hours.

After his 30 minute meltdown, our toddler recovered and had a fantastic time. We made it to the end of the hike (something we almost never accomplish!). We took in the beautiful views from atop a mountain.

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Our 8-year-old who has cerebral palsy repeatedly exclaimed “I’m crushing this hike!” while navigating difficult rocky terrain. I realized with pride that while I once thought hiking would be impossible for him, his grit and determination have proved me wrong.

Imperfect Is Still Worth It

I’m starting to think that these wonderful moments just can’t be achieved without enduring some frustrating moments as well.

When I say, “This day would have been so fun, if only . . .” I’m erasing all the beautiful, fun moments in one sweeping statement. I’m believing that a few difficult moments cancel out all the wonderful ones. But they don’t. We often have to push through the frustrating and the challenging moments in order to get to the beautiful ones.

Family outings shouldn’t be judged on how perfectly or smoothly they went. They are a success because you did it. You packed the stuff, you loaded the kids, you handled the various moods and needs of many people. I call that a success!

At the End of the Day

So after a family outing or a family vacation or even just a day at home, I’d like to stop saying “If only!” I won’t declare the day “ruined” because we encountered some challenges. I won’t erase all our hard work and laughter and happy memories just because the whole thing wasn’t perfect.

I like things to be perfect. Neat and tidy and perfect. But the world rarely works that way. Family time almost NEVER works that way. We have to let go of “perfect” in order to appreciate the good.

Originally published October 2020.

The opinions expressed in this post are those of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of ABQ Mom, its executive team, other contributors to the site, its sponsors or partners, or any organizations the aforementioned might be affiliated with.


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