Dan Kois and his wife always did their best for their kids. Busy professionals living in the D.C. suburbs, they scheduled their children’s time wisely, and when they weren’t arguing over screen time, the Kois family– Dan, his wife Alia, and their two pre-teen daughters– could each be found searching for their own happiness. But aren’t families supposed to achieve happiness together?
In this eye-opening, heartwarming, and very funny book, the fractious, loving Kois family goes in search of other places on the map that might offer them the chance to live away from home– but closer together. Over a year the family lands in New Zealand, the Netherlands, Costa Rica, and small-town Kansas. The goal? To get out of their rut of busyness and distractedness and to see how other families live outside the East Coast parenting bubble.
HOW TO BE A FAMILY brings readers along as the Kois girls– witty, solitary, extremely online Lyra and goofy, sensitive, social butterfly Harper– hike through the Kiwi bush, ride bikes to a Dutch school in the pouring rain, battle iguanas in their Costa Rican kitchen, and learn to love a town where everyone knows your name. Meanwhile, Dan interviews neighbors, public officials, and scholars to learn why each of these places work the way they do. Will this trip change the Kois family’s lives? Or do families take their problems and conflicts with them wherever we go?
Belle Boggs is the author of The Art of Waiting and Mattaponi Queen. Her stories and essays have appeared in Orion, Harper’s, the Paris Review, Ecotone, Slate, and many other publications. She teaches in the MFA program at North Carolina State University. (photo credit: Barbara Tyroler)