Thursday, August 21, 2014

What Makes Parenting So Hard

It's a common saying that parenting is the hardest job in the world, and for good reason. Fussy babies, sleepless nights, electronic toys, excrement, whining, sex offenders, driver's ed, college tuition . . . the list of parenting worries and woes is as endless as those restless newborn nights.

But when you boil it all down, what makes parenting so hard isn't the sleep deprivation, constant neediness, errant behavior, peer pressure, safety worries, or any of the other things we think of when we think of parenting difficulties.

What makes parenting hard is love.

No, really. The deep and abiding love we have for our children is what drives the vast majority of our frustrations, fears, and freak-outs.

When a baby's not sleeping well, that's hard. But what really makes it hard is that we love them too much to just ignore them or sleep through their wailing. Changing diapers stinks (ba dum pum), but love compels us to do it anyway. Worrying about our kids is torture sometimes, but we worry because we love them. Dealing with their weird behaviors can be challenging. But it's mostly challenging because we want them to be happy and successful. And why do we want them to be happy and successful? Because we love them.

If it weren't for love, we could just let our offspring do whatever and not worry about it. We could ignore them when they cry, let their troubles roll off our back, and spend their music lesson money on a weekly massage without a second thought.

So when parenting feels tough, love is really the core of the problem. And the beautifully ironic truth is that, when parenting gets tough, love is also the solution.

How cool is that?

So as I'm sitting here trying to finish up some writing, my 4-year-old is half sitting on me, singing the alphabet song at the top of his lungs, right in my ear, in his underwear. And I'm feeling annoyed and frustrated because I just want three more minutes to solidify my thoughts and get them down before they vanish. Three minutes. Is that really too much to ask?

But then I remember why I'm even writing this blog. Because I'm a mom, and I love being a mom. I love this little boy in his skivvies, I love that he's singing the alphabet song, and I love that he wants to be close to me. Even in this moment of minor annoyance, love is at the heart of it.

Love is the ailment and the cure. The question and the answer. The problem and the solution. Pesky, crazy, beautiful love. 

"I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, 
there can be no more hurt, 
only more love." 
- Daphne Rae 

(This quote is often wrongly attributed to Mother Teresa, just FYI.)

Love makes parenting hard. 
Lattes make parenting easier. 

A slightly different version of this post originally appeared on Motherhood and More on 2/11/13.

Monday, August 18, 2014

That Time Our Kid Found a Condom on the Sidewalk

This weekend we had a barbecue with some friends at a park by Lake Michigan. The sun shone, a breeze blew, the kids played while the grown-ups talked. It was picturesque and lovely and perfect.

And then our 10-year-old, Dolittle, came up running up to me.

"Mom, come here. I want to show you something."

"What is it?"

"Anya and I found this thing, but we don't know what it is."

"Well, what does it look like?

"Just come look."

She starts leading me away from the picnic area, toward the sidewalk.

"It looks kind of like a long, white balloon."

"Ooohhh . . ."

I then recall that despite it's loveliness during the day, the park we're in has a reputation for some unsavory activities at night. We walk a little further. I brace myself. Dolittle points to the ground.

Yep. Sure enough, right there in the middle of the sidewalk, is a used condom. Used. In the middle of the sidewalk. I swallow and think.

"Did you guys touch it?"

"No. What is it?"

I take a deep breath and do some quick mental parental gymnastics. Ordinarily, we're very open with our kids when they ask about sex, but condom use isn't something I expected to come up at a barbecue. I hate to pass up a learning opportunity, especially when it's literally dropped right in front of us. If we'd been alone, I'd have just told her. But I knew it would be too hard for her not to talk about it with Anya, and I was pretty sure our friends didn't invite us to a barbecue so our 10-year-old could teach their 10-year-old about safe sex.

"Ummm . . . well . . . it's something called a condom."

"What's that?"

"You know, normally I'd tell you, but since there are other kids here I'm going to have to explain it to you later. I'm not sure if Anya knows about yet, and it really should be her parents that tell her. We'll talk about it when there aren't any other kids around okay?"

"Okay. Is it disgusting?"

"Umm . . . well . . . you'll probably think it's disgusting."

"Maybe I don't want to know."

"It's okay for you to know. I just don't think we should talk about it with other kids around."

She takes my hand as we start walking back to the picnic tables.

"Anya said her parents would talk to her about it later, too."

HA! At least we're all on the same page.

What do you think, parents? Would you have handled that differently?

Saturday, August 9, 2014

16 Things We Don't Do to Stay Happily Married

As of yesterday, I've been married to my husband, Havarti (My sweetheart's cheesy nickname. Ba-dum-pum.for 16 years. Happily married. Really happily married. 

I don't want to seem too self-righteous here, but since marriage can be tricky and marital woes are pretty common, I thought it might be helpful to share what a happy marriage looks like from the inside. Or more accurately, what it doesn't look like. 

I've witnessed a lot of people's relationships over the years, and I've noticed some things that can cause or exacerbate problems in a marriage that Havarti and I just don't do. Maybe that's why we're still happily hitched after 16 years? Maybe? It's worth a shot.

1. We don't place blame. 
The cleanliness of the house, the behavior of the kids, the status of our finances—it's easy to finger-point when certain aspects of life get frustrating (which they inevitably do). But we're partners, which means we work through these things together. Blame just builds rifts; it doesn't solve problems.

2. We don’t play mind games.
We don't hold back when we need to say something, and we're careful to say exactly what we mean. We don't set up verbal traps for one another or freeze one another out. I've watched couples over the years play really bizarre mind games with one another, and it looks absolutely exhausting. Way too much work. Say what you mean, and try to say it with kindness. Simple.

3. We don’t read into things.
Since we say what we mean, we never need to wonder if the other is secretly harboring anger or upset. This took a little figuring out early in our marriage, as Havarti had known women who did just that. Having open, clear communication removes a lot of angst. If we aren't sure what the other is thinking or feeling, we ask. We don't assume anything.

4. We don’t hold grudges.
Perhaps this is just our personalities, but neither of us are grudge-holders. If we get irritated, we express it, talk it out, and let it go. Grudges are unproductive. 

5. We don’t complain about each other to other people.
Ranting about your spouse's faults to your friends is never good for a marriage. Maybe a friend can help provide a fresh perspective on a specific challenge you're facing, but that can be discussed without publicly flogging your partner. 

6. We don’t talk about everything.
Even though we're very open and talk about most things, we don't tell each other every single thing we're thinking all the time. I'm not talking about hiding or holding back important thoughts or feelings; it's discernment. I don't tell Havarti things that I think would worry him unnecessarily or that I know he honestly has no interest in. I'm sure he has things he doesn't talk to me about for similar reasons. We've been married long enough to know the things we need to talk about, the things we like talking about, and the things that we prefer to talk to other people about (or not at all). It's also good to keep some things 100% private. Havarti has a journal I'll never, ever read, and I think that's awesome. It's healthy to keep some things between you and yourself and God. 

7. We don’t do jealousy.
Havarti has a thing for Parminder Nagra. Not like an obsession—no posters hanging on the wall or anything like that—just an admiration of her beauty. And he knows that James McAvoy and Michael Vartan make my lil' heart go pitter patter. Silly celebrity crushes. But even in real life, Havarti can say that he thinks someone is attractive without it bothering me, and vice versa. If he talks to an old friend who happens to be female, I don't get jealous. We know each other's character and trust our relationship. Jealousy is insecurity, pure and simple. 

8. We don’t expect each other to fill all of our needs.
We definitely fill a lot of each other's needs, but not every single one. Being someone's everything sounds like a nice love song, but it's much too high a standard to try to live up to. Sometimes we need time with good friends or other family members. Sometimes we need to be alone to meet our own needs. All good. All healthy.

9. We don’t let life and kids trump our marriage. 
At least we try not to. :) This can be a tough one. Especially when the kids are little. An older gentleman once told me that the hardest part of his 40-year marriage was when the kids were toddler/preschool age. Naturally, marriage takes on a different dynamic during certain periods of parenthood or stages of life, but we try to always keep our marriage at the forefront. Sometimes that might mean just touching base to lament how little time we've had together. But making the connection and expressing our solidarity says "We're still in this together." 

10. We don’t underemphasize—or overemphasize—the importance of physical intimacy.
I'll just leave that one right there. :)

11. We don't neglect each other's love languages.
The "love languages" thing sounded a bit fruity to me at first, but it's actually really helpful. My strongest love language is Acts of Service and Havarti's is Physical Touch. It's valuable for me to know that giving him a backrub is as important and meaningful to him as his cleaning the house is for me. Knowing what one another needs means we can put our energies into the expressions of love that will have the most impact. 

12. We don't take each other for granted.
I genuinely appreciate Havarti's strengths as a partner and a father. I recognize the stress on his shoulders to be the primary breadwinner, and I am grateful for all of the things he does around the house. (I can count on one hand the number of times I've mopped the floor in 16 years, because he always does it.) And Havarti recognizes and honors the juggling/balancing act I go through each day, educating the kids, working at home, trying to keep the house from falling apart. We know that we both work hard and we have a good thing going, and we are sure to thank one another for it.

13. We don't dwell on one another's faults.
We fully recognize that we both aren't perfect—we just don't focus on those imperfections. Some faults we view as adorable quirks. Others we just overlook because the good far outweighs the bad.  

14. We don't fight.
No, really, we don't. We might argue a bit, bicker sometimes, disagree on things, but we've never had what I would classify as a fight. We don't yell at each other, call one another names, storm out of the room, nothing like that. Again, that may largely be a product of our personalities, but I can't imagine ever fighting the way I've seen/heard other couples fight. If it ever got to that point for us, it would mean something was really wrong. 

15. We don't take ourselves—or each other—too seriously.
Maybe we also don't fight because one of us usually ends up laughing before we get too heated. We nurture a lot of silliness in our marriage. We have lines from movies that make us giggle, impressions we do of friends and family members (all in good fun, I promise), goofy faces, gentle teasing—we have a lot of fun together. Life is too short not to enjoy it.

16. We don’t think marriage should be hard, and we don't entertain the idea of it not working out.
That's really two things, but they're related. It's not always 100% easy, but overall, marriage should be a nurturing, mutually beneficial thing. If it ever does get too hard for too long, or if it feels like the health and happiness of our marriage is in jeopardy, we'll get help. We haven't needed counseling yet, but that doesn't necessarily mean we never will. Who knows what challenges lie ahead. But we'll do whatever we need to do to face those challenges together. That's what marriage is about. 

We're not perfect, so neither is our relationship, but it is pretty darned awesome. We're both looking forward to another sixteen years, and hopefully many more. 

Are there things you don't you do to keep your relationship healthy?