Family Harmony, Life, Marriage, Relationships

‘Til Death Do Us Part (or until it gets boring…)

Boring by Cheryl Colan on flickr

I woke up this morning to a Pokemon transaction taking place on my right, a pocket-money negotiation on my left, and a nappy-clad wriggly bottom right. in. my. face.

It’s not glamourous, this parenting-of-small-children.  Don’t believe anyone who tells you it is (is there such a person?  I can’t imagine so.)

Just in that moment, though, surrounded as I was by all my special little people and flanked on the left by my one scruffy big one, I was perfectly content.  This is my life, I thought, and I wouldn’t change it for the world.

Married life, when you’ve got kids, is so often not wine and roses.  It is so often waking up at an unearthly hour next to a chronically unshaven spouse (prickly legs or prickly face – equally uninviting), to the indescribable noise and chaos of some cranky early risers doing battle in the next room.  So often it’s leaping out of bed into the cold when you’d rather snuggle into the duvet and curl closer to your hubby or wife; it’s rushing to stop the six-year-old from flooding the kitchen as he pours milk from the giant containers that take up too much space in your always-too-small fridge; it’s stepping into the shower to find that your ten-year-old has used up all the hot water; it’s tripping on toys or sliding on a book left on the floor and having nobody there to help you up because everyone’s busy and it’s not like in the movies when your other half is there to lift you lightly to your feet or mop your brow or rescue you.

It’s tough.  It’s gritty.  It is not romantic.

So many couples find, in fact, that as the dust settles after raising small kids – whether it be the slight release from the constant exhaustion of the parenting-babies stage or the final emptying of the nest as grown children set up their own homes – they are left depleted, scraped-out, and devoid of any semblance of the romance that first drew them together.

Others wake up, in the midst of a mundanity that they’d never imagined in their most pessimistic dreams, and discover that they’ve drifted into complacency about their relationship and it has grown stale.  Life as they know it has become Boring.

And it is at this point that the cheerleaders of the world start to offer their tuppenceworth, with the ‘wisdom’ of modern philosophy (i.e.. if it’s broken then throw it out):

You deserve better.

You deserve to be happy.

You need romance.

Couples whose relationship has become Boring realize that changes need to be made.  They decide that they deserve better.  They decide that they deserve to be happy.  They decide that they need romance. And so these couples make a big decision – to call it quits.

What’s important, says the world, is that you do what you need to do to make sure that you are happy.

As long as you end it first before starting another relationship, it’s just fine.

Kids are better off with happy single parents than unhappy married parents.

People change.  It’s not fair to expect someone to stay married to a spouse that’s so different from the one they married.

You’ve heard all those before, right?  Sometimes you’ll even hear celebrities marketing these philosophies.  Undoubtedly you’ve heard friends or relatives speaking in this way about a marriage that has gone sour.

We throw away a life together with the same careless abandon we’d display in tossing a carton of milk that is past its Use By date.

It is a throw-away society that we live in.  We are a society that applauds people for walking away from mistakes and failures instead of teaching them how to fix and restore.

We forget that when we get married we take on the responsibility for another person’s happiness as well as our own.

We should be willing to work to meet that other person’s needs, to go the extra mile to answer the question, What can I do to be the husband/wife that my spouse needs?

We should be willing to fight hard for our marriages.  We should be willing to claw our way back to togetherness when we find we’ve drifted apart.  And, more than that, we should be alert to the signs that our marriage is eroding in some way, and act with great effort and intent to repair damage – with the clear goal of restoring the relationship – before things get to a point where the problems feel irreparable.

Of course I understand that there are marriages in which abuse and serial infidelity have so marred the trust that the relationship cannot be salvaged without both a complete change of heart by the offending partner (such change is possible) and the wronged spouse’s courage to forgive.

Of course.

We live in a broken world, and broken people can break the things and the people around them if they do not look to the Restorer of Life for the strength to heal.  But these are the rare exceptions to the rule of ‘til death do us part – and we are kidding ourselves if we think that these particular separations are any less painful and damaging than those in which a decision to divorce is taken more lightly.

Bless you, friends who have been hurt and harmed by the ones you should be able to trust the most.  Bless you if you have watched, helpless, while your spouse has walked away.  God sees your pain, and I do not judge it.  It is not your story to which I direct my critique; you know all too well the damage that is done when a marriage relationship is ruptured.  You know all too well how it can bleed you dry to cut off a part of yourself –and you weren’t even given a choice.

We used to refer to divorced couples as having had a ‘failed marriage’.  But in treading lightly out of care for the feelings of divorced people we now do them the disservice of championing their decision to call it quits.  Instead, we say that couples have ‘split up’ or that they’re just ‘not together anymore’ – as if marriage were just a casual arrangement that has just as casually been undone.  We no longer speak the truth about divorce – that it is, indeed, the result of a ‘failed’ marriage.  It does, indeed, damage people – and not only does it damage the couple at the epicentre of this severance but also their family and friends.  Their children – those poor innocent bystanders in the whole messy operation – are damaged, too.  These children’s marriages may suffer because of the trust their parents broke with one another.  How do you just stop loving someone like that?  And on it goes, through the generations, like a curse.

We need to see divorce clearly for what it is.  It is an amputation.  It is a severing of a part of you – it will leave scars.  We need to return to the ideology that marriage is for life, and anything less than that is a failure and a denial of sacred vows.

Married people, we all need to evaluate ourselves regularly: Am I doing what it takes to nurture this relationship?  Am I giving my best to my spouse?

So – you deserve better?  Do better.

You deserve to be happy?  Invest in keeping your spouse happy.

You need romance?  Instigate it – make a date, plan for romance.  Make it happen.

We need to cultivate a good relationship.  We need to cultivate feelings, actions, and attitudes to have a successful marriage.

We need to be invested in our relationships; to perform check-ups and tune-ups on our marriages.  We need to be willing to work on ourselves instead of pointing the finger at our spouse.  We need to avoid the trap of vanity; the presumption that the person we married should look better, be better, act better, ‘because we deserve better’…  Instead, we need to be working to better ourselves.


‘Til death do us part should be a thrill and a privilege.  And Boring?

A marriage is what you make it.




At the end of the day, it boils down to the choices we make:

What’s easier: taking time out each week to connect with your spouse or watching the one you said ‘I do’ to walk out of your life?

What’s worse: having to work at keeping the romance alive or accepting the status-quo of a relationship that feels boring and unfulfilling because you have done nothing to bring enrichment or satisfaction to your marriage?

What’s better: seeking opportunities to grow as a couple through attending marriage events and courses or allowing your spouse to become a distant stranger?

Choose love.

Family Harmony, Marriage, Parenting, Relationships

How to Sell Your Husband (or Wife)

How to Sell Your Husband

If you’re married – and have been for longer than a minute or so – then in your tougher moments, the title of this post might pique your interest: How to Sell Your Husband (or Wife).  It’s just tongue-in-cheek, of course – a hyperbolic title like those of the comedies ‘How to Murder Your Wife’ and ‘Throw Momma from the Train’.

Frustrations in a relationship are inevitable, unless one of you is overdue for sainthood (Hint: you’re not).  And in the tougher moments, those frustrations can bubble up a little.

I don’t know about you, but when I get steamed up, I tend to vent at the mouth.

It’s easy to let those little niggley frustrations turn into little nit-picky comments.  And, as with anything that you practice at, eventually it becomes a habit: nitpicking becomes the norm; nagging becomes your default.  Letting things slide goes by the wayside, and you give voice to whatever isn’t perfect.

Sometimes that happens in this house.  Sometimes I get a little too ‘good’ at picking up on what’s not perfect about my hubby and a little too bad at noticing the good stuff.

So here I am, married to this kind, strong, loving, loyal guy – and instead of telling him all about the wonderful things I see in him, I end up pointing out the negative things I observe.  Remember, too, that what we notice when we’re mad tends to be coloured by our emotion – so those little things that ordinarily wouldn’t worry us suddenly become sources of rage.  I’m talking about the dry cough; the incessant leg-bouncing or pen drumming; the towel that just gets flung down every.single.time and never gets to dry properly (ugh!)

And what happens when you’ve got kids?  Well, you’ve got an audience for the whole thing.

What we don’t always realize is that how we talk about our spouse is how we’re ‘selling’ them to our kids.  We are marketing our spouse’s qualities through what we say about them as well as how we speak to them.

The shoe can be on the other foot, too – at times the way our spouse speaks to us or about us within earshot of our kids negatively influences our kids’ opinions of us, even unintentionally.

Sometimes I notice a creeping disrespect in my boys towards me.  I find them trotting along to their Daddy for verification of whatever I’ve said.  I see them taking longer to come when I call them.  I hear them arguing more when I ask them to do something.

Feeling ignored or disrespected is my particular catalyst to misery (I am thin-skinned, after all) – so when I see this behaviour I know that I need to tackle it right away.

When these challenges arose recently, I reflected, observed, and prayed.  And through this process it was clear that we have created the problem, West and I:  the root of our boys’ disrespect is in how we speak to (or about) one another and in how we choose to respond.  We need to focus on ‘marketing’ each other’s best points so that our kids develop a healthy sense of respect (and, if it’s not too much to hope for, admiration) for both of us.

This isn’t a concern unique to us, either – many families struggle because their kids have developed attitudes of disrespect and ambivalence towards one or both of their parents; and, if not nipped quickly in the bud, those attitudes take root and grow.

So, how should you sell your husband (or wife) to your kids to avoid selling him (her) short?

Guard your words.  You need to be careful not to dismiss or belittle the things your spouse has to say.  Avoid dismissing or belittling him (her) as a person, too.

Master your thoughts.  The little negative opinions you hold can shape your behaviour; being aware of the ways in which you fail to cherish your spouse can help you to care better for him (her).

Demonstrate love.  When you’re overtly demonstrative, you help reassure your kids that you love your spouse.  Not only will they thrive in the security of seeing your love in action – your spouse will, too.

Avoid criticising.  Bite your tongue.  Seriously – Bambi’s little friend Thumper had it right: “If you can’t say something nice, then don’t say nothin’ at all!”

Lavish praise.  If you can think of one good thing about your spouse, he (or she) should hear about it.  So should your kids.  Chances are you can think of quite a few things you appreciate about your mate.  Praise him (her) truthfully, regularly, and abundantly.

Communicate intentionally.  This one’s tough for some.  But failing to communicate sends the message that your spouse isn’t worth your consideration or attention.  So take the time and trouble to let him (her) know what you’re up to.  Apologize if you’re running late.  Share your thoughts and feelings on general topics as well as those closer to your heart.

The last thing any parent wants – in fact, the last thing anyone wants – is to be dismissed and disrespected.  Belonging and significance matter greatly – show your spouse that they’re an integral and important part of your family; and be deliberate in how you work to curtail disrespectful attitudes in your kids.


Remember: If the way we speak to/about our spouse is like marketing them to the rest of the world, we have to be intentional about how we’re ‘selling’ their image.  Their reputation depends on it.




Food for Thought

How do you sell your spouse to your kids?  If you asked your children what you think of Mum or Dad, what would they say?


Thanks for reading!


June 2015 Shared on the Wise Woman Linkup

Family Harmony, Marriage, Parenting

The Dance

shadow dancing by Kevin Harber on flickr


When you go to a dance, do you know what to do?
Swing your partner, swing your partner, swing your partner to you…

-lyrics from ‘Swing Your Partner Round and Round’, by Judy Garland

It’s a dance, parenting (when there are two of you) – sometimes a waltz; sometimes a jitterbug; sometimes a good ol’ country square dance; but always an exercise of partnership, of moving together in harmony and avoiding stepping on each other’s toes.

Good parenting involves teamwork.  It involves communication and co-operation. It requires us to extend ourselves beyond our selves and figure out how to bring out the best in someone else.  Needless to say, this isn’t accomplished by pointing out one another’s faults.  And yet, just the other day, I found myself telling West, “Well, I hope you enjoyed playing with Buzz Lightyear while your son sliced his fingers to ribbons.”  It felt good, for about a nanosecond, and then I realized that it was neither true nor helpful; the baby had only picked up a dull table knife, and West had only been momentarily distracted.  All I had achieved was the fleeting satisfaction of being snarky.

It’s so easy to get into the habit of making sharp little comments or criticising one another; it’s too easy to see all that you do and miss the things he does…  And the thing I’ve found with this kind of interaction is that it breeds discontent and causes more sniping, and more unkindness, and more ingratitude towards your spouse.  I’ve been guilty of perpetuating that kind of atmosphere at times – when I’ve been extra-tired or hormonal or otherwise emotional – and it’s just not nice.  All of a sudden we find we’re at odds more often than not.  Neither of us can anticipate or appreciate what the other is doing, and it’s hard to find some common ground; indeed, without effort on one or both parts it would be easy to see that any common ground would soon be lost.

Good teamwork –  having an effective parenting partnership – requires us to maintain a healthy balance in a few main areas.

One of the most important areas couples need to work on is figuring out an agreeable division of labour.  We have to share the workload.

I’ve often heard women complaining that their husbands don’t carry their weight around the house, or that their men act helpless when it comes to looking after the kids – and often this complaint comes in the same form: “It’s like I have another kid to look after!”

But what do we do with our kids and chores?  We all know that our kids will happily accept the status quo if we regularly do all the work around the house.  If we pick up their clothes from the floor, put away their toys, clear the table, make their beds, etc – even if we grumble and gripe while we do it – it’s unlikely that they’ll have an epiphany about the injustice of it all and motivate themselves to help out a bit instead.  If we haven’t trained our children to do so, we wouldn’t expect them to see what needs to be done and just do it without being asked.  So why do we expect that of our spouses?

If we want our husbands (or wives) do to something more, or to do something differently, then we need to communicate that.  Most of us would never actually make a decision to avoid teaching our kids the life skills required to live healthily and happily in community; but by failing to instil helpful habits (tidying, clearing up, and contributing in other ways to the household) we do just that.  And in the same way, we make a choice not to have an equal partnership when we neglect to communicate our feelings to our spouse.  He might not spend time with the kids unless he understands that it’s something you feel is part of his responsibility as a Dad.  She may not voluntarily clean out the car of all the kiddie-debris unless you mention that it bugs you when it gets so filthy.

This communication is best accomplished with a healthy dose of grace.  Sometimes the little things should just be done for the other person as a kindness, without resentment.  But when the scales start to tip – or even if we just feel overburdened by our share – then we need to talk about it.  This may not always change much in the actual division of chores, but more often than not it will expose areas in which we need to support one another.  Parenting can often be an exhausting job; both partners can feel like the workload is too heavy, and both might be right.  But sharing the burden of caring for the family and the household does lighten that burden and make it manageable.

It must be said that communicating our needs as partners is not the same as nitpicking.  It’s very easy to point out what the other person is doing ‘wrong’, but in focusing on someone else’s faults we often fail to acknowledge our own weaknesses.  I remember hearing some great advice to think of the acronym THINK before we speak to our loved ones, to determine if what we’re about to say is True, Helpful, Inspiring, Necessary, and Kind.

The way we support one another is also key to a good partnership.  It’s not enough to lend lip-service to the concept of being a team; our actions need to prove that we’re working as a unit.  This means having one another’s back when the kids are trying to play us off of one another; it means standing up for each other and intervening on the other’s behalf when the kids are disrespectful or unkind.  When one of us is unable to function at our normal ‘best’, we need to exert an extra effort to cover the difference – without allowing ourselves to become bitter or resentful.

This is an area of weakness for me, I must confess; when West is sick I am a crabby and impatient nursemaid.  I can’t wait for him to get better, but it’s not altruism that motivates this desire – it’s selfishness.  The very best relationships are those in which patience and kindness accompany the partnership even when the burden cannot be equally shared.  This is the perfection to which I aspire, but for now each time I’m not functioning at my best I am reminded of my need to be patient when Westley isn’t able to contribute in the way that I’m used to.

Finally, we need to honour and respect one another’s roles.  If men are from Mars and women are from Venus, then maybe a little bit of interplanetary diplomacy is in order.  We all do things differently; because men and women tackle the same jobs from different perspectives, and because we are all individuals who have our own take on how to accomplish chores.

I may have chuckled at how silently and solemnly West changed a nappy (without any of the chatter or tickles or kisses I bestow during changing), but I’d never have criticised him for performing the task in that manner (and as the years have gone by, nappy-changing has become more of an interactive activity for him).  Likewise, West might never understand why I’ve occasionally made the kids late in leaving for school just so that I could scribble their lunchbox love notes and tuck them in with the sandwiches – but he respects me and my role as ‘chief nurturer’ enough to be patient with the process.  Westley has never come upstairs from his home office and questioned why the house is still a mess and why dinner’s not ready.  Maybe one of the fringe benefits of having a work-from-home hubby is that he knows what goes on all day to prevent me from getting stuff done – and thus he knows better than to ask for an accounting of my time…  He’s far more likely to pick up the vacuum and attack the dust-bunnies than to open his mouth and criticise me for not having done my share.  I’m more likely to answer a question he hasn’t heard or give a hug to soften his discipline than to nag him about listening or question him about giving one of our boys a time-out.

Ultimately, it is impossible to keep an accurate tally of everything each of us contributes to the household – to try to do so is not only pointless but detrimental to the relationship.  Partnership – a good partnership, that is – requires us to share the workload; communicate effectively (especially remembering to THINK before we speak); support one another; and honour and respect one another’s roles.

When we parent as partners, we move together in harmony and grace.  It’s a beautiful thing.

Family Harmony, Life, Marriage, Philosophy

Forget and Forgive

arm in arm - by BC on flickr


On her golden wedding anniversary, my grandmother revealed the secret of her long and happy marriage. “On my wedding day, I decided to choose ten of my husband’s faults which, for the sake of our marriage, I would overlook,” she explained. A guest asked her to name some of the faults. “To tell the truth,” she replied, “I never did get around to listing them. But whenever my husband did something that made me hopping mad, I would say to myself, ‘Lucky for him that’s one of the ten.'”

-Roderick McFarlane in Reader’s Digest, December, 1992


I read that delightful anecdote many years ago, and the message stuck with me.  Being intentional about overlooking the faults (and mistakes) of others can help us to avoid a whole host of difficulties in our relationships, most especially in our marriages.  And if we’re honest about it, we have to admit that we expect others to extend the same grace to us.  It wouldn’t be much fun living with someone who was constantly irritated by our quirks and unforgiving of our missteps – and nor would we readily keep friends if we were hyper-critical, were easily affronted, or held grudges.

‘Forgive and forget’ – it’s a well-known, noble principle.  As a practice, it affords us a release for bitterness and a healing from the hurt; author and theologian Lewis B. Smedes put it aptly:

“To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” *

But what if we turned the phrase ‘forgive and forget’ back-to-front?  In switching it to ‘forget and forgive’, we would approach our interactions with others with a much more easygoing attitude; we’d start by trying not to take offence in the first place.  And in not reacting negatively to other people’s actions, we would avoid being ensnared (or imprisoned) altogether.  This is, I think the true magic of the wife’s approach to overlooking her husband’s faults in that sweet anecdote.  Instead of allowing herself to heap blame upon her husband when he did something upsetting, she shrugged it off.

We all know people who are prickly and over-sensitive; they react to everything as if offence was intended – they never give anyone the benefit of the doubt.  People like this sow the seeds of unhappiness and discontent throughout their relationships, because they’re always feeling hurt or misunderstood by those around them.  For people who are quick to feel insulted, forgiveness is more than a hurdle – it is a giant, often-insurmountable step they have to overcome before they can move on or ‘forget’.  As has been pointed out, “There’s no point in burying a hatchet if you’re going to put up a marker on the site” ** – but people like this almost can’t help taking note of even the tiniest transgressions against them, because they feel that they are such big things to forgive.

On the other hand, those who are slow to anger or to feel affronted are likely to maintain warm and loving relationships with those around them.  Thus ‘forgive and forget’ (and its inverse) isn’t just good advice; it is crucial for harmonious family life and friendships.  It is also biblical:

“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.”

– James 1:19

In my own life, I consistently strive to ‘forget and forgive’.  When friends have apologized to me for saying or doing something they were worried might have insulted me, I’ve often been able to reassure them honestly that no offence had been taken.  Why would I imagine that a friend would intend to wound me in some way?  This is not to say that I’m thick-skinned – on the contrary, I may quite easily feel wounded when people are (or seem to be) critical or unkind.  But it’s just that I’m not affronted by it.  I don’t easily see an insult, even if intentional, as a ‘slap in the face’.  I might feel bad about myself as a result of their words or deeds, but I generally don’t allow it to make me feel bad about them.  Especially if they are my friends, I am always willing to extend to others the benefit of the doubt.  This is something that I was taught as a child, and something that I am attempting to instil in my children (as well as practice in my own life).

Forgive and forget is a sure recipe for releasing ourselves from the twin prisons of bitterness and resentment, which are so often by-products of offences against us.  Forget and forgive is how to avoid being imprisoned in the first place.



“A man’s wisdom gives him patience; it is to his glory to overlook an offence.”

Proverbs 19:11







*~Lewis B. Smedes, “Forgiveness — The Power to Change the Past,” Christianity Today, January 7th, 1983

**quote from Sydney Harris, journalist

Family Harmony, Parenting

Lost In The Shuffle

Boys' gifts

Getting the three schoolboys out the door in the mornings is a frantic operation.

“Where’s your lunch?”

“Did you sign my planner?”

“Find your shoes”

“Is it the weekend?”

“What do you think?”

“Is there a note in my lunchbox?”

“Yes.  Shoes, please.”

“I don’t have something for show-and-tell!”

“Why aren’t you wearing shoes?”

“Are we late?”


“I did a double-knot…”

“Who didn’t grab their lunch?”

“Is my note in it?”

“Where’s my kiss?”

And if my Mum’s around, you can add a whole lot of grand proclamations about the weather (“It’s going to be -1 after lunch!”) and queries about the appropriateness of everyone’s clothing for the prophesied forecast – as if somehow we might have mistaken the sunshine outside for a leap into summer straight from mid-winter – making for even more clamour and debate.

There’s so much hurly-burly hustle during the send-off that by the time they’re out the door and D. and I have waved them off with a flurry of blown kisses and ‘love’ signs I wouldn’t be entirely surprised to find one of them still standing there just inside the door, having missed the ride/walk to school.  Sometimes, when I pass the big boys’ bedroom and see a lump under the sheets, I wonder if maybe someone got missed in the shuffle.

Every family I know with four or more kids has a story about losing one or another child during an outing – well, not us; but it’s early days yet for us as a family of six and I know that our time will come.  My goddaughter (the youngest of four) was once left behind on a soccer field when the children were being ferried home separately by their parents. Other friends have recounted their stories of that panicked moment when they’ve been away from home and they’ve suddenly looked down and realized that one of their kids wasn’t with them. It has become something of a legend in West’s family how, at age three, he (the third of four children) ventured on a solo journey from home to fetch his older sister from a friend’s house several blocks (and a number of street-crossings) away; my mother-in-law, apparently, only realized he was missing when she received a phone call from the friend’s Mum asking how he had got there.

That’s one of the challenges of having a big family, in fact – it can be easy for someone to get missed in the shuffle.  Sometimes it’s just because things are just crazy with so many people talking and negotiating and sharing and arguing at once – I know that at times like this our youngest (being a pre-verbal small person) can feel rather neglected.  Our C. (a kindergartener) has cause to feel left out, too – mostly when the bigger boys have older-kid stuff on the go, like music practices, homework, or playing games that are too sophisticated for a little brother.  B. can be super-sensitive, and he feels ignored whenever the focus is on anyone other than himself (that’s a whole other topic – watch this space), so his brothers’ birthdays and other celebrations aren’t easy for him.  And A. can sometimes be so acquiescent to his brothers’ demands that he doesn’t really get a say or have a chance to figure out what it is that he really wants in any given situation; so he can get a bit lost in the shuffle, as well.

So we try to give them one-on-one time.  We try to have family meetings where we each say something nice about all the other people.  We try to find little ways of acknowledging the boys (and each other), and having them acknowledge one another.

It’s always a challenge to give our children a reason to feel special and prevent them from feeling that they might be forgotten on the periphery.  This past Christmas, we found a pretty cool way of doing just that.  Instead of adding to the pile of gifts under the tree (we have such a generous family) and wrapping things up for each boy to give to his brothers, we encouraged them to find an activity they could share one-on-one – something that their brother (rather than themselves) would especially like to do.  In other words, they gave each other ‘presence,’ not presents.  We’re hoping that this will help create common experiences and memories, too, that will bind them to one another when sibling rivalry threatens the harmony of our household (as it does from time to time).

We can all sometimes feel a bit lost in the shuffle – our plans, our hopes, our dreams, can be waylaid in the busyness of life – so it helps if the people we love do what it takes to make sure that we don’t stay on the periphery for long.