Yesterday I had one of those jaw’s too tight, shoulders up high, uptight Mom days. I recognized the foul cloud early on but for one reason or another I couldn’t shake it.
Then at the end of the day as we sat watching TV together, he did it. He reached across from his side of the couch, looked deeply in my eyes, and with an outstretched hand he said:
Meet me at the helicopter.
The palm of his hand was face up and open beside a plastic toy helicopter.
I had to laugh.
The words might have been meet me at the helicopter but what I heard was: Meet me halfway. If this isn’t a metaphor for marriage well, I don’t know what is.
I knew marriage was hard before all of these children got here but to be married while parenting? It’s marathon hard. If a marathon included tiny versions of yourself both encouraging you to keep on running but then also doing everything in their power to destroy you.
I always thought the trick to making marriage work was to make sure that both people are headed in the same direction for the same reasons. Values + aspirations + action = future. And this remains true. But, but but but: this mostly goes on hold when rearing the littles. Mostly meaning kind of and temporarily. In a way. Let me elaborate…
It’s been 34 months since my marriage changed forever and here’s what I have learned thus far:
If you don’t have accountability, you’ve got jack shit
If there was a word to describe our marriage it would be accountability. Say it like a cheerleader and it gives it the sort of spirit this word needs to make it fun.
Accountability is everything and everywhere and most definitely necessary when one believes that growth is critical to happiness. Growth can be gruelling (not suffering) like when the Grinch’s heart grew two sizes. He was happy but it probably hurt, too.
To be parenting while married and trying to raise decent humans one must walk the talk and that means saying sorry, admitting it when you’re wrong, and owning your shit.
Individualism and Partnering
When my first born was just six months old I went back to school in the evenings. I cried a lot when making this decision ‘cuz you know there ain’t no guilt like #MomLife guilt (say it like “there ain’t no party like a westcoast party”, ok?) but I did it anyway.
One simply cannot accept all the responsibility of two other lives and then forget all about our own life. Something’s got to give. Parents need an outlet: creative, athletic, and social.
This hardly touches on the other side of the coin: Partnership.
Parenting while married requires profound levels of teamwork and communication. Like, NASA flight-command style.
There are too many roles to play in the house: Parent, Cleaner, Chef, Financial Planner, Interior Decorator, Teacher…. The list goes on.
One parent cannot fill all these roles.
Then comes the task of raising decent, kind, and well-adjusted small people whilst doing minimal psychological damage to them.
#ProTip: if you think going for an eye-exam is a well-deserved break then your partner is an asshole.
Prioritize Joy like you Mean It
If you aren’t having fun there’s a problem. And I mean fun like laughing, playing, simple f-u-n.
When we parent while married it’s so easy to get caught up in the work of it all. The to-do’s and honey do’s and meal-planning…. Oy vey.
It can’t be all work all the time. ‘Cuz you know even having fun with small children has an element of work to it ‘cuz you know someone will need something or scream about another thing.
This brings me back to the toy helicopter, or as my little guy says: hopta-copter. One must let go of the everyday reasons to be uptight (like who forgot to buy cheese? It wasn’t me. It was you. Your job is to remember to buy the damn cheese.)
One must meet halfway and just let it go. And then laugh about the cheese ‘cuz it’s just cheese and really, we could have real problems, right?
Author’s Note: I am Dutch and therefore cheese would categorize as high-priority.
A Stretch of the Imagination…
I love stories when people who take things for granted or make bad choices wake up to alternate universes. It’s a Wonderful Life is a favourite.
This leads me to my final note: The real reason I wrote this.
No, I didn’t take my partner for granted and make like Bill Murray in Scrooged. Even better.
I witnessed two dear friends get divorced this year. And it scared the shit out of me.
I used my imagination and the stories they told me and it occurred to me how easily it could happen to a decent team. Especially when you add a toddler to the mix.
Timetables and what’s for dinner and RESP’s and toilet cleaning and preschool registrations and sleepless nights and … and … and …
It all compounds and if you’re not having fun, if you’re not a team, if you’re not accountable, and you’re not growing and if you’re not you anymore, well, it might all fall apart on you.
Can you see what I mean? It isn’t entirely ridiculous to imagine how just the job of rearing small humans and putting food on the table could break up a marriage.
There are days when I feel like I’m in the trenches. It’s dirty. It’s hard. I’m building a home and protecting it at the same time and oh god, nothing’s out for dinner again (and we forgot the cheese hardy har har).
But this is parenthood. This is marriage right now. Thankfully, this too shall pass.
So, if you’re looking for advice? Here it is: Start with meeting halfway at the helicopter.