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.

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

A marriage is what you make it.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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Thanks for reading!

-Trix

June 2015 Shared on the Wise Woman Linkup

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Faith, Life, Philosophy

I Just Wanna Be a Sheep

Sheep by Linda Tanner on flickr

“I just wanna be a sheep

Baa Baa Baa Baa

I just wanna be a sheep

Baa Baa Baa Baa

I pray the Lord my soul to keep

I just wanna be a sheep

Baa Baa Baa Baa”

 

So go the lyrics to a popular Sunday School song.  And contrary to the way it may sound, the words are not a declaration that we want to follow the other sheep like mindless drones, but that we want to be led by our ‘Good Shepherd’ (God) and thrive under His care.

But I do think that sometimes Christians are viewed by those outside the church as sheep foolishly following the herd.

Certainly if I am to believe the Upworthy website’s slant on religion (for one), Christians are uniformly closed-minded, hard-hearted, and altogether lacking in individualistic thought.  Surely, the philosophy goes, if you’re a church member then you must be sitting there in your pew each Sunday judging those who aren’t attending, heaping burning coals (figuratively) upon those who disagree with your viewpoint (which is, inarguably, the same as the viewpoint of The Church), and basking smugly in your exclusive salvation.  “You in the church,” they declare, “Open your eyes and see the truth… Admit your hypocrisy, accept the fact that you don’t have a divine right to heaven, and allow everyone to choose whatever works for them.”

The prevailing message is that Christians are willingly naïve; that there’s a greater disparity between what we say and do than what the general non-believing population says and does; that we are wrong to believe Jesus’s declaration that He is the way, the truth, and the life’; that there is no absolute good and evil.  And that, in failing to admit these things we Christians are, at best, disillusioned and, at worst, downright malevolent.

I’ve met people who actually do embody the kind of closed-mindedness that some critics think characterises all Christians.

There was a kid in my high school Social Studies class who spouted racist propaganda with such confidence and venom that it was clear that he had been indoctrinated into this philosophy deliberately and consistently from an early age.  His parents had a deep distrust of people who weren’t from around here, feeling threatened by competition from foreign workers for local jobs – and instead of directing their concerns towards a political agenda or accepting the benefits of a more multi-cultural society, they became embittered towards all foreigners; and they passed that bitterness and hatred along to their son. We’ve all met people like the boy in my class; there’s no clear definition between what their parents believe and their own philosophies in life – and they’re often extremely stalwart and vocal in these beliefs, even though they haven’t come by them honestly (not having considered and evaluated any other viewpoints for themselves).

And of course there are some Christians who are like this; people who don’t actually have a reason for believing what they say they believe but who are happy to profess it anyway and even to argue against those who disagree (even without countering other arguments with anything considered or intelligent).  There are also atheists who are like this, and Buddhists, and Hindus, and Muslims… you get the idea.  Some people do have that sheep-like mentality.  Just look at how many otherwise-reasonable and otherwise-nice and otherwise-decent people who followed the Nazis and allowed so many atrocities to take place right on their doorstep.  Just look at the Milgram Experiment, in which so many people ignored their conscience and blindly obeyed instructions to harm (ostensibly) another human being; they were willing to follow even against their better judgement.

But as a Christian, I believe that we are to be quite the opposite of mindless sheep.  We are not to just follow one another blindly.  Heed this, too, non-Christians – nor are you.  The only one who has the authority to lead us, to make the distinction between right and wrong, to define good and evil – is the One who created us and set the world in motion.  The One who created order out of chaos.  The One who sent his son to die for us and to show us how to live.  We are not automatons.  God gave us the ability to choose our own opinions and follow our own instincts; it’s important for us to use those gifts with His wisdom and in good conscience.  In this life we have to decide what we believe for ourselves, and why we believe.

I will never be a mindless follower of men.  I know what I believe and why I believe it.  And I look to my Good Shepherd for His comfort and care as I walk confidently and mindfully in the path He has laid out for me.

I just wanna be a sheep, Baa Baa Baa Baa…

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Parenting

The ABCs of Parenting

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Happy, happy we will be

When we know our ABCs

Accept that there will always be some things you can’t change.  We are guides, not surgeons, in our children’s lives.

Believe that your relationship can still be happy and healthy even when your kids don’t behave the way you’d hope they would.  We can delight in who they are even when we don’t like what they’re doing.

Change yourself first.  The qualities we need to acquire in the process of parenting are the same for many of us: greater patience, loving responses, firm but kind guidance…

Discover the depths of your love, courage, resourcefulness, and grace.  These are the things we need to tap into as we meet the challenges of raising kids.

Engage with your kids.  Avoid multitasking when you’re with your kids, at least some of the time; they need eye contact and undivided attention to feel loved and valued.

Fight the urge to fix everything for them and within them.  We need to give our kids the space to make their own choices and recover from their own mistakes.

Gather with other parents to commiserate, encourage, discuss… We need to be open to giving and receiving support from other parents; by sharing this journey within community, we grow.

Humour your kids when you can.  It’s easy to dismiss childish concerns, but in taking the time to tickle away the monsters under the bed or hear all about teddy’s adventures we honour our little ones and help them know that they’re important to us.

Imagine what it will be like when they’re grown.  When we think of the future and how we’ll look back on this time, it gives us clarity about which things are worthy of our time and energy, and what we should let slide.

Joke with and about your kids.  Humour provides relief, release, and perspective.

Keep trying, even when you feel like giving up.  We all have days when we feel like we’re just treading water; find a shoulder to cry on, pray for strength, and carry on – parenting is a long term investment.

Listen when they want to talk.  It’s easy to become habitually dismissive (especially during their garrulous phases), but we must practice taking time so that we don’t miss our kids’ most important communications.

Make memoriesWe should buy the ice cream cone, try the science experiment, create traditions – these are the practices that underscore our family life and add meaning to the mundane.

Nurture your family through the everyday tasks you perform.  Thinking of cooking or chauffeuring or communicating as nurture helps us to infuse these duties with love and kindness.

Observe your kids in different settings.  Watching our kids with others provides us with clues about how well they’ve internalised our family values and how easy or difficult they might be finding social situations.

Pray.  In parenting we plumb the depths of disenchantment and experience the pinnacles of human existence – often all in the same day.  Bringing our triumphs and struggles before God allows us to tap into His strength and wisdom when our own wells would run dry.

Quell your fears and tread confidently in your decisions.  Knowing where and why we’ve set boundaries helps us to stand firm while allowing us to be flexible in our parenting.

Respect yourself and your kids enough to own your mistakes and apologise when necessary.  Admitting our own weaknesses and learning from our errors encourages them to do the same.

Show mercy and grace at every opportunity.  This is how we practise and teach compassion.

Teach by example.  When we are intentional about modelling right behaviour for our children, we let them see our values in action (and actions speak louder than words).

Understand where the parent leaves off and the child begins.  When we don’t acknowledge the division between us as parents and the choices our kids make, we misappropriate their triumphs and their failures for ourselves.

Voice concerns and hopes to your children.  By sharing our hearts with our kids we give them the opportunity to make decisions that are informed by our greater wisdom and experience.

Walk the walk.  Kids abhor hypocrisy; it is vital that our words and our actions are complementary.

X & O (Kiss and hug) your kids often!  Even when they wriggle out of our hugs or dodge our kisses, we must offer physical demonstrations of our love – even just a squeeze of the arm or a gentle ruffling of their hair lets them know that we care.

Yield on the unimportant things.  In choosing our battles wisely we avoid becoming wrapped up in conflict over unimportant things and help our kids to differentiate between negotiables and non-negotiables in our family.

Zigzag towards your parenting goals.  The path to mature, responsible, respectful adult kids almost never runs straight; we should be prepared for the detours and navigate closer to our ultimate goals over time.

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