Wisdom on marriage and parenthood — part 2

On Tuesday, I shared with you what my dad wrote as advice on maintaining the balance between marriage, parenthood and the rest of life.  Today I offer my mom’s words of wisdom.

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In looking back over the 43 years that we have been married, I would have to say that the years of raising a family were some of the most challenging ones for us as a couple.  Trying to find a good balance between being a couple and being parents can be difficult at times.  The good thing for us, was that my parents were very willing to have our children visit with them and stay overnight, so that would give us time to do things like go to a movie or out to dinner as a couple without interruptions from the kids.

Dealing with work schedules
The thing that probably brought the most challenge to us was my husband’s work schedule.  He had months, and even years, that his place of employment required six-day workweeks, and there were always the weeks where he had to work seven days a week.  He job had a lot of stress, and the hours were extremely long.  For a good portion of his career, he went to work at 4 a.m. and didn’t come home until 5 p.m.  He was always on-call when he wasn’t at work, so that was a challenge, too.  I think that just planning on date nights worked out well for us.  We tried to find times as a couple so that we could be better parents.  The evenings or afternoons out always allowed us to be more focused on our family times.

Learning to communicate
Communication was always a challenge for us.  The main reason is that I am a talker and enjoying talking about any issues and maybe talking about them a little bit more than necessary and my husband is just the opposite.  He is not a talker and after giving his thoughts on something, he considers that is enough, and he sometimes would not be too thrilled when I would mention it a second or even third time.  In our early married years, this was frustrating to both of us. It took some time for both of us to realize that we needed to compromise a bit on this communication thing.  Many times, we would try to talk things out, but daily life would get in the way.  Telephone calls, kids and work would prevent many conversations from being completed.  I would think about it and want to continue and he would sometimes forget that the conversation had not been completed to my satisfaction.  If I could advise a younger couple, I would tell them to talk out things and make sure that their spouse knows their feelings about things that are important.  I would advise the talkative spouse to make sure that they are not repeating things so often that they are tuned out by their mate.  And to the quiet one, I would advise them to try to open up just a little bit, so that their mate has an idea of what they want or what they are thinking about things.

Finding time together
I think that making time for one another is so important.  Time goes by so fast.  I have heard this phrase all of my life, but it is so true.  You are a newlywed and a young parent, and before you know it, the years have flown by and you are a retired grandparent.  Sometimes in the midst of living life, you think certain things are so important.  These are things that are part of your life – meetings, work, extended family and chores.  If you are not careful, these things can get in the way of spending quality time with your spouse.  It is hard when you have outside obligations — as well as work and family — to schedule time with your spouse, but if you want a strong marriage, that is exactly what you should do.  It is not always easy, but it is like so many other important things in life, it pays off in the long run. In my experience, I have observed couples that never seem to do anything with each other and when their children are grown and on their own, these folks just continue living their somewhat separate lives.  That seems sad to me and I think that if you nurture your marriage the end result is a happy, contented married life.  This is the person that you chose to spend your life with and you can make it a enjoyable journey or maybe just one that you tolerate.  I wanted to choose the one of joy!  Life is too short to just spend days with someone that you only tolerate, not enjoy!

My parents on vacation a couple of years ago. They are enjoying extra time together now that they are retired.

It was very challenging to make time for one another when our children were older and involved in so many other activities.  Those were the years that having a date night was probably the hardest to manage.  How can you add even one more outing to an already full schedule of evenings?  That was always tricky, so the answer for us would be to sometimes find an afternoon off work when we could have time to go to a movie or drive to a nearby city for a special meal for just the two of us.  I don’t exactly want to promote “calling in sick” to a job on a regular basis, but sometimes in the hectic years of trying to meet schedules for kids and spouse, that is just a good answer!  I am retired now, so maybe my perspective is different, but I can’t think of even one single thing about my job that came close to being nearly as important to me as my husband and children.  I gave a lot to my job, but taking a “sick” day really didn’t seem to make difference to my job.  They could function one day without me, and now that I have retired, I can’t help but notice that the school I retired from is still doing quite well without me being there!

Dealing with a new baby
If I could give advice to a young couple about to have a baby, I would tell them that one of the most important things that they can do as a new parent is to make time for each other.  Not every couple can plan a weekend get away or a week’s vacation alone, but having couple time is so important to the overall well being of their home.  No matter how much you love that new baby — and you will love it so much — there are going to be days when you just need a break from diapers, feedings and a little one who is looking to you for everything.  If you have parents, relatives or good friends who can step in for a few hours and care for that baby while you have some quiet time with your spouse, you will come back refreshed and ready to meet the challenges of being  new parent again and you will enrich your marriage.  You will be more patient with that guy who has just taken you to dinner or a movie and he will be more relaxed, too.  I compare being a parent to having a job.  No one that I have ever met, even the ones who love their jobs, are willing to work 24/7.  Everyone looks forward to that day off, and being a parent is like that.  You don’t want to give your child away, you just want a break, and taking that break with your spouse, just gives you a bond that draws you closer as the years go by!

Thinking of others first
I think that it is so important to be aware of what your spouse is going through with issues in life.  Sometimes, when things are going well, life can still be a challenge, but when you see your spouse struggling with hard issues in life, you have to work harder to let them know that you understand and that they have your support.  My theory for my spouse and for my children, too, was always that the world can sometimes be a hard place to be in and I always strove (maybe didn’t always succeed, but I tried) to make our home a place of peace and retreat.  If your home is not welcoming, then life can be way too hard.  Everyone needs a quiet place to go to for rest and to get refreshed for the next things to face out in the world.  My goal was always to keep my home a sanctuary from the outside world.  I want it to be a place that my kids and my husband want to be at, not a place that they want to escape from. If you have coworkers who drive you crazy, you don’t want to come home to that atmosphere, because how can you cope if you have no place to escape to?

Having a team mentality
Marriage is like so many things in life.  You have to work at it to keep it good.  The end result is so much better if you have invested your effort into making one another happy.  Does this mean that life will be perfect?  The answer to that is definitely no, but it can be full of happy and joyful times that you can share together.  Will you have to compromise?  Sure you will, but that is what life is all about: finding someone you love and striving to give that person the best life you can.  The reward is that the one you love will work just as hard to make you happy which is a winning combination!  One thing that I have tried to always keep in mind when dealing with issues and challenges in life is that my husband and I are on the same side!  This helps me to stop and think before blaming him for the things that have come into our life that have been hard or just plain frustrating.  It would be so easy to blame him for hiring the guy to fix something in the house, and that guy turns out to not be a very good person for the job.  But then I remind myself that my husband was only trying to get the problem solved and not trying to create more problems.  Just reminding myself that we are on the same side helps me to remember that blaming him is pointless; we are in this together!

Finding strength through faith
Of course, the key to the best marriage is making God the center of your life.  I personally believe that the key to being the best of anything – parent, spouse, child, friend or whatever, comes from serving God. When things go well or when things don’t go so well, it has always been my experience that keeping God in my life has made all things work out better.  My faith has sustained me through so much, and I believe with all of my heart that God has enriched my marriage and my life!

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