Family Is Practice and Performance

Almost two hundred years ago, Ludwig van Beethoven was one of the musical giants of his day. Labeled a child prodigy by most, he began playing the piano publicly before he turned nine, and he had some of his own music published by the age of twelve. Less than thirty years after that, with his hearing greatly impaired and his musical career complete, Beethoven had played, conducted, and composed his way to international fame.

People adored this guy—by all rights, he was one of the great celebrities of his time. One particular story tells of a female fan who walked up to Beethoven, complimented his musical ability as “genius,” and then told him she wished she could play the piano like he did. Considering all of his accomplishments and accolades, Beethoven’s response to this woman’s praise was pretty humble. He replied to her by saying something that went a lot like this: “Ma’am, I’m no genius. If you want to play like me, all you have to do is practice your piano eight hours a day for forty years straight.”

I guess even a child prodigy understands that excellence doesn’t come without practice. Sure, some of Beethoven’s skill at the piano may have been unnatural, but even he understood that if you want to be good at something, you have to work at it first. This concept is true in just about everything, including family life. But there’s a catch when you put relationships into this practice-makes-better equation. When people are involved, practice isn’t just a practice. When people are involved, the rehearsal and the performance don’t happen separately. In our home lives, the rehearsal is the performance. They’re rolled up into one. If you want to have good, healthy family relationships, you’ve got to start practicing well and performing well with your family members.

It would be foolish of me to think that I can have a great relationship with my kids or grandkids without spending any time with them. If I want to be good at being a dad or grandpa, then I have to practice talking with them, hanging out on their turf, meeting their friends, and learning what they enjoy. These things don’t always feel natural or easy. Sometimes they feel like symphony-level parenting and family skills. Still, I know that if I don’t keep plunking away at them on a regular basis, I’ll never get better. If I don’t practice, I’ll never be the kind of dad, grandpa, or husband I want to be.

Many people seem to think family is just supposed to work because, well, here we all are together under one roof. That’s just not realistic, and it certainly isn’t true. You can’t expect that out of nowhere your whole family will love each other and want to be together all the time. That sort of thing takes—here we go again—practice.