For we parents who are suddenly home, face to face with disintegrating schedules, noisy dance parties, endless pillow fights, toy-strewn floors and back-talking tweens, a harsh truth is coming to light. Our kids are kids, and they act like it.

The lie we’ve told ourselves all these years – that kids don’t necessarily have to be loud, messy, impetuous, or unfocused – is now being exposed. We thought that if we just scheduled our kids, improved our kids, empowered our kids, controlled our kids – that we could make them not kids at all, but smaller versions of adults. Small adults are much easier to deal with than children are; you can reason with small adults. Small adults enjoy practicing their musical instruments and performing in recitals. They like to sit still and color. They are kind and considerate to their siblings. They love participation trophies and taking turns. They think farts are embarrassing – not laugh out loud funny.

Small adults understand when Mom and Dad need to work and are respectful. They accept chores and enjoy the sense of pride they bring. Best of all, small adults are so easy to photograph and post on Facebook.

But now we know – after just a few weeks of living with them full time – that kids are not small adults.  Turns out, all we had to do was let up for just ONE SECOND and they turned back into actual children. Rambunctious, clumsy, bickering, self-centered children. Also creative, silly, joyful, inspiring, spontaneous, generous, incredibly loving children.

Our Herculean effort changed nothing; children are children no matter what we do. Alrighty, then. If their true journey is to be a kid for a very long time, then we might as well settle down and enjoy the trip.

Perhaps now we can see the joy in two boys who are beating on each other with plastic light sabers. We can breathe in the freedom of screaming kids in a yard or toddlers jumping on beds. We can delight as they painstakingly construct a tower of blocks, only to kick it over with glee, and understand that childhood is a magical, temporary place that no one should be rushed away from. Perhaps now we can appreciate that an afternoon of getting the giggles or pretending to be a dog are just as worthy as painting a picture or solving a jigsaw puzzle. 

I’ve heard it said “you get one childhood.” But that’s not entirely true. If you are a parent, and you keep an open heart, you can have a second one while watching your kids.

Growing up is messy! We tried to tell ourselves it didn’t have to be – that we could make it manageable and tidy.

It’s a relief to know we were wrong.