Accidentally on purpose

whatwomenwant_header_1Most of the really memorable moments in our lives happen by accident.

by Sheila Wray Gregoire

I fell in love by accident, which is out of character for me. I am a compulsive planner. I have to-do lists of to-do lists, and though falling in love was on that long-ago list, I meant to fall in love with someone else. But one day, while I was hanging out with my best friend at university, I realized that he and I were more than friends. And I told him. It took him a while to come around, but he did eventually, and the rest is history.

Most of the really memorable moments in our lives happen by accident. Think about the last time you as a family laughed so hard milk came out of somebody’s nose. What started it? Strange bodily noises often launch many such instances of hilarity, but it could also be an inside joke or a strange face. If those strange bodily noises had been emitted when only the stinky one was present, no one would laugh at it for generations to come. But because you were all in the same room, it becomes the stuff of legend.

With most shared laughter, though, the intensity of the hilarity is inversely proportional to the thought that went into the matter beforehand. Anyone who has sat at the dinner table after a proud 7-year-old has mastered the art of belching knows that it isn’t humorous when it’s forced. It has to be an accident.

I think the same is true for our serious memories as well. They can’t necessarily be planned. They happen when you’re tucking in your daughter, and a little hand reaches up squeezes your neck as she says, “I’m so glad you’re my daddy.” It’s precious.

We women often go too far to create these Precious Memories. We bake cookies and plan a night of Monopoly only to find the kids get sick eating the cookie batter, the batter that survives gets burnt, and nobody wants to play Monopoly anyway. Then we get grumpy and wonder why nobody appreciates us.

While we women plan and fail, though, many men fail to plan. And that’s the funny thing about these accidental moments: they’re not really accidents at all. Family accidents—at least the good kinds—rely on two things: time and attention. When we spend time with our families, things happen. When we don’t pay attention, they don’t.

Our society has it backwards. We think quality matters, not quantity. But that whole quality time thing was made up by people who didn’t want to feel guilty about being so busy. Now, no one had more to do on this earth than Jesus, but He still took time to talk and eat with everyone, important or not. He made people feel comfortable with Him because He gave them His attention. He probably laughed at jokes, and may even have cracked some Himself. He enjoyed life, and so did those who were with Him.

I know you’re busy. Everybody’s busy. But planning for downtime is still possible. Friends of mine were tired of the monosyllabic grunts they received from their teenage boys when they asked, “How was your day?” So they put in a hot tub. Sitting in hot, bubbly water seems to loosen teens’ vocal chords and real communication finally took place. The parents were thrilled, at least until the teenage girls in bikinis started to show up. But that’s another story.

Maybe you don’t have a hot tub, but you can still plan for uninterrupted time with your kids. Summer’s [almost over], and nothing builds family legends like Dad trying to set up the campsite in the rain while the kids complain that they’re hungry and Mom asks why this tent peg is so bent. You may be miserable at the time, but that story will live on forever.

You need to take the lead on this, because when we women do, we try too hard. Men are much better at spontaneity than we are, because if we’re venturing somewhere, we need to know what food needs to be packed, how many changes of clothes may be required, where all the bathrooms are along the way and, by the way, where’s the first aid kit? We’re exhausting.

Men are more prone to picking an idea and running with it. And chances are something unexpected is bound to occur. No matter how much we try to stop you, then, stick to your guns. After all, most family memories have a “minor disaster narrowly averted” element. It all adds to the charm!

So let’s have some fun this summer [and fall], accidentally on purpose. Plan, every now and then, just to do something silly together. Or even plan to do nothing at all! Either way, spend time together, pay attention, and then sit back and be amazed at what everyone will remember later.

Sheila is the author of several marriage books, including Honey, I Don’t Have a Headache Tonight: Help for women who want to feel more in the mood. You can find her speaking at marriage conferences around the country, or at

The article above was featured in the July 2009 issue of SEVEN magazine.