My partnership

I’ve been finding myself thinking about my childhood a lot these days.  I guess in these days of wondering what the “best ways” of parenting my kids are, and trying to decide if I have ANY of it figured out, I think back on the only other parenting style I think I know well.  My parents’.  It’s all I really have to compare to without speculating.  And reading Raising Happiness by Christine Carter has also inspired many of my thoughts these days.

My parents weren’t perfect.  But I think they did something (or many things) right.  They put a bit too much pressure on me.  Pressure to have the right friends, join the right activities, get perfect grades, excel at everything, eat the right way, etc.  But even with all these pressures, I look back and am quite certain I was happy.  I felt loved and comforted.  Yes, I was and still am way too sensitive.  I overthink everything in my life. I have had my share of eating and control issues.  But in the end, I’m quite well adjusted, found a wonderful man to marry, have had a stable and fruitful career and Love Life.

So what is it that I believe was so RIGHT in my childhood?  My parents.  The way THEY were together.  Forget how they were with me and my brother.  The way they treated one another, the love and respect they showed to each other day in and day out. I truly believe this has all made me a better wife, mom and adult.  Were they sickeningly sweet to each other?  Absolutely not.  But they gave each other a kiss good bye and hello each and every day as my dad left for and came home from work.  They held hands when we walked together as a family.  They played in the waves  in the ocean together on family beach vacations.  They made eye contact with each other when they had conversations.  And they always talked.  Rarely would they sit without talking.  And from experience, I can admit, that sometimes it can be exhausting to talk.  Sitting quietly is often easier.  But the conversation is important for a partnership.  And that’s what my parents were (and still are).  Partners.  My parents always made it clear that THEIR partnership came first.  Yes, even before the partnership between them and me.  That might sound harsh.  But it’s true.  It might sound selfish.  But it worked for them and I may have made me stronger and more self sufficient.  I think they realized that in the end, they would have each other.  When my brother and I grew up and started lives of our own… it would be just them.

I can’t remember a time when one of my parents (usually my mom) would say “no” to something I wanted and I would then have the inclination to then go ask my dad.  They were united.  Had obviously discussed how to parent together (behind closed doors) because when one said yes, they both agreed.  When one said no, there was no opposing view.  And for a child to know that their parents are a team, I think adds a level of comfort to a child’s view of their world.

My parents also had FUN together.  I remember when I was 13 or so and we were on a vacation on the beach.  My parents were playing Kadima (that game with the paddles and ball) with each other.  They were diving for balls, falling on their asses and laughing hysterically.  I recall rolling my eyes in embarrassment at my two “old” parents acting so foolish.  I looked to my brother and said with that teenage sass, “Oh god, LOOK at them!  How embarassing!”.  He looked back at me and said, “Why is that embarrassing?  Do you know how LUCKY we are to have such cool, fun parents?”.  I didn’t see it then.  But I do now.  It’s how I HOPE my kids view Tim and I one day.  Fun.  Cool.  Active.  Even if we embarrass them along the way, at least they’ll know we love each other and each other’s company.

My parents also fought.  Not screaming fights but arguments nonetheless.  I’d look nervously between the two of them as my mom’s face got red and my dad got that “look” that I always feared.  I never really knew what they were fighting about since they must have had their own little language to prevent us from knowing the details, but it was clear, things were tense.  My brother and I would go about our business  as the tension between my parents grew and then it would end.  And the next day, they’d be holding hands and smiling again.  BUT, they always let us know, that what we had been privy to the prior evening, was resolved and ok.  I never had to wonder if there was something still brewing or if their marriage was on unstable ground and could end in divorce.  NEVER did I worry.

As a parent, I find fights with Tim very difficult.  I don’t want the kids to see or hear us arguing.  Or bickering.  I worry that the bickering effects them negatively and if they’re learning bad habits from us.  But what I’ve decided (from my experiences as a child and also some reading) is that it’s not the fighting that could have a negative effect on them, it’s the way we resolve our fights and that they SEE us make up and move on.  No, constant bickering is probably not healthy for them to see but disagreements are a part of life and our kids need to learn how to handle them.  I have decided I actually WANT my kids to see some of our disagreements so that they can learn how people who care about one another act to resolve their disagreements.  I grew up feeling stable with my family and the support of my family BECAUSE of the WAY my parents dealt with the realities of controversy between each other.  Pretending a fight didn’t happen or pretending fights never happen is not reality and won’t help anyone.

I still look at my parents today and am amazed at the love they show each other.  They spend a TREMENDOUS amount of time together doing anything from crossword puzzles side by side, to kayaking, hiking, snow shoeing or just sitting enjoying a cup of coffee at their local train station.  And the conversation still flows.  They still hold hands.  They still kiss hello and goodbye and tell each other they love each other.

It is as refreshing today as it was 30 years ago.  I still learn from it.  I still feel warm inside because of it. And I know, having that with Tim is a part of parenting that is crucial to the way my kids grow.  I have to say, I can’t imagine ever putting ANYTHING in front of my kids.  At this point their needs, wants, desires, everything comes first.  But I do hope one day, my partnership with Tim is top priority.  I think it needs to be.  When it’s really what life will be (or should be) about.  (Controversial, no?)

I know that some of my readers are single parents and I mean NO disrespect At All and hope no offense is taken.  I feel in the minority and extremely fortunate to have grown up with the love between my parents that I did, and know that in reality, it’s not the case for your parents or for yourselves.  I can only hope that it works out as well as it did for my parents for me (it’s not easy!)… and I applaud you for all you do alone.

What are your thoughts on putting your kids or your marriage first?

How do you feel about arguing in front of your kids?


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36 Comments

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36 responses to “My partnership

  1. I 100% agree that my relationship with my husband comes before my children. I view parenting as preparing my children to become loving and kind adults — who leave. My husband and I are in it for life. So if we put our relationship “on hold” while we parent, we are not going to have anything left when they leave. We do twice a month dates out and the weeks in between we set aside a night to hang out. We also spend time on the spiritual side of our relationship, which makes a HUGE difference for us on how we treat each other.
    (I feel like my comment is becoming a post so perhaps I just blog it out this weekend and thank you for the inspiration!)

    • It took me a while actually to come to the realization that I should put my relationship with my husband first. I didn’t realize how healthy it is for our kids to SEE this first hand. We also have regular date nights and go AWAY once a year together. That part is easy. It’s the every day focus on each other that sometimes is difficult in our crazy lives but without it, the relationship would not be as strong. Thanks Alex!

    • Yes yes and yes. To both of you.

      The infrastructure of my marriage sets the tone for my household. My parenting, my housekeeping, and even my view of myself, in many ways. While I am not dependent on my husband to validate who I am as a woman and mother, I AM dependent on our relationship to set the tone for many of my struggles, my moods and my triumphs.

      I don’t mind if my children see us argue. I have so much confidence in my relationship with my husband that I don’t worry if things will turn out alright in the end. That said, there are times that we get upset and walk away without resolving things. And if my children see that, I think it does have potential to be frightening or worrisome for them. So I have made much more of an effort to work things out immediately instead of storming around the house mad, taking my anger out on the dishes, and cutting my patience with the kids down to nothing.

      I have no problem saying that my marriage is my first priority. I love my kids and would give them the world. I would leave my marriage for them if it were necessary. But I know it never will be. I am happy–even in the difficult times, even during the fights–and I know that if I protect the relationship with my husband I am ultimately protecting the relationship we BOTH have with our kids.

      • I love everything you wrote here Sarah. All of it. It’s inspiring. Thank you for taking the time to so honestly put it out there for me. xo

  2. I am one of those who come from a single-parent home. Looking back, my mother showed me how to fiercely protect my children, but she gave me no clue how to protect a relationship. She had three boyfriends as we were growing up, yet I never saw her touch, kiss, or be otherwise affectionate with them. I never saw that camaraderie you detail.

    In my relationship with my husband, I struggle with showing him affection, but it’s a priority. I hate the bickering, but, like you, I know that resolution is important. We’ve not had any big disagreements in front of the kids, but that’s because we decided a long time ago not to.

    As for which to put first, it’s so difficult as a child of divorce. I know that my relationship is not a given, but I also know that my children are fragile beings who need their mama. Suffice it to say I struggle.

    • It’s not easy Kelly. And every relationship is different. All I know is that I see that my parents have lasted the tests of time and it was GREAT for me to see. And I’d like that for my kids. None of this is to say, however that if my kids needed me AT ALL at ANY time that I wouldn’t drop EVERYTHING for them. Especially at our kids young ages when they need protection and guidance… their needs often need to come first. But in the bigger, longer picture, I think the relationship between mom and dad is of utmost importance.

  3. I didn’t grow up with parents like that – in fact, quite the opposite, and I know the effect it had on me. And that’s why it’s imperative that I nurture the relationship that I have with my partner, and I do, for my daughter. For all the wonderful reasons you stated. Ones I have never experienced myself.

    • I think we can’t even begin to understand how watching a healthy, loving, supportive relationship benefits our children. I just know it’s better than the alternative… so I’m giving it a shot! Thanks Justine.

  4. Hi Becca, what a beautiful reflection about your parents. I don’t think my parents’ relationship with each other ever gave me a warm glow. I lost my father when I was in my early teens so it’s possible I just don’t remember…

    I completely agree with this: I have decided I actually WANT my kids to see some of our disagreements so that they can learn how people who care about one another act to resolve their disagreements.

    I think a huge part of parenting is to let our children see and experience the real world unedited, show them the best way we know how to deal and help them thrive in it; not shield them from it. Having said that, I know how protective I can be of my 3-yr old and have much to learn in this department.

    • Thanks Belinda. I think it’s human nature to shield our kids from negativity. But it’s just not realistic. I think it’s possible (and probably a good thing) to shield from Pessimism but not negative things like conflict. It’s more important and constructive to give them the tools to deal with conflict instead, which is what I’m trying to do when it comes to my husband and my arguments or disagreements. I grew up in a very pessimistic household where my mom always put a negative spin on things and THAT I don’t want for my kids. But the disagreements… are a fact of life and for them to see them and understand them early, is for their own good.

      However, easier said than done!

  5. The bottom line is: a relationship, ie. marriage, will be a failure if the kids are placed first. It may stand the test of time, it might put on a good face for others to admire; but on a personal level, the relationship is not good. Kids thirive as a product of two people who genuinely admire and respect eachothers happiness. They know a flawed pairing and they often wish their parents would see the same thing. The kids want to see their parents in love. I grew up with parents who stayed in it for the kids. It was nice, but I would have rathered them find their happiness.
    Kids are important and loved and precious, but they grow up to be adults, who reflect on the couple their parents were and model their relationships on that example. Kids grow up, they are our adult children for the majority of the time we have them. It is most important to show them how to live as a successful, loving couple. More so than the number of soccer games you got them to; instead of spending time with your spouse.

    • Thanks joely. I’m glad you agree with my thought process here… I couldn’t agree more with what you said although it is difficult in the kids younger years to put so much importance on your relationship with your spouse.

  6. This is something that I struggle with because I know that I’m supposed to put my husband ahead of my kids(according to what I’ve heard in church). But, the kids’ needs seem to come first.

    Though, dh and I do have a very strong marriage, have fun together, and make sure we spend time together. It’s cheesy, but he really is my best friend.

    • Shell, I think at our kids young ages, their needs MUST be put first most of the time. We can’t neglect them and not give them the attention they need to gain self confidence and feel safe. That being said, it’s important for them to SEE their parents in a wonderful, cherishing, loving relationship and that means putting time and effort into it at the same time as giving yourself to your kids. And as the kids get older and NEED us less and less, our relationship with our spouse will still be strong and can continue from there.

  7. Nicki

    I sometimes wonder if the lack of seeing how adults interact is detrimental to my children. I don’t recall seeing my parents argue at all but I was 5 when they split. My grandparents raised me after that and I do not recall my grandmother and my grandfather ever fighting.

    • I wouldn’t think that it would be detrimental Nicki. What would be detrimental, I would think, is if they are privy to two parents together for the wrong reasons or together in an unhealthy relationship. It is so clear how much love you shower on your kids and THAT is what matters THE MOST.

  8. I like to think I take what I’ve learned from the relationships I’ve been privileged to observe (my parents, my grandparents) and keep what worked while resolving to change what didn’t. And I hope my children do the same, carefully watching my husband and me, knowing that we have a strong and secure yet imperfect partnership, and using what they see to strengthen their own relationships. (And Kadima? I’ve not heard of it, but it sounds like a blast!)

    • I find myself wondering what exactly worked and what did not when looking back on my childhood. Some things I could have sworn before I had kids I’d NEVER do to my kids but now, I can see why my parents did them. AND, I think I felt it when my parents put themselves first when I was younger, not always in a good way. I remember asking myself why they wouldn’t give up something to do something for me… I never thought I’d GET that. And now I do.

      That being said, I definitely agree… there are things that I promised myself I’d do differently with my kids (for example, I will never emphasize food (how much to eat, when to eat, what to eat) so much with my daughter… it’s not healthy to talk THAT much about food). And there are things that I will do just as my parents did too.

      Such a learning process, isn’t it?

  9. Really good post Becca, lots of food for thought and discussion. Let me say first how lovely it is that you grew up in such a healthy environment. As you know, my mother past away when I was quite young, and while that has affected me in so many serious, life defining ways, I was very fortunate in that my father met a wonderful woman and remarried. My stepmother is an amazing person and the two of them had/have just the sort of relationship you describe and I’ve always tried to model it in my own marriage. I agree with you that our marriages should be a priority. I don’t think that means it is more important than that we have with our children, just different.

    I also agree that our relationships are important models for our children and I try to be very mindful of that, to show them we love each other, that we are friends, and that sometimes we just don’t get along. And that’s okay. We have argued in front of them, but we always resolve in front of them too.

    Really enjoyed this, wish we could chat about it in person.

    • Good point Christine. It’s not “more important” but “different” important. One can’t really take precedence over the other but I don’t think the parent/child relationship can work as well without the parent/parent relationship being healthy.

      Thank you for this Christine!

  10. Becca, I had a hard time putting my marriage first when I first became a mother. But as time has progressed, I realized that my boys would use our relationship was a template for their own someday.

    I don’t like arguing in front of the boys. There will be an occasional disagreement, but I think that they need to see that people can disagree and do it in a respectful manner and still be deeply in love.

    While I will shelter them as much as I can, I think that they need to know how to handle themselves, and others, when things don’t go smoothly.

    Great post, as always. I tagged you over at my blog. I promise I will let up on the memes for a while :)!

    • I hate when my kids see us arguing. I try to argue with a fake smile on my face so they don’t really know what’s going on… but I’m sure they see right through it! It’s not easy to let them in on the disagreements, but I do think it’s real life and healthy for them.

      Thanks Maria!

  11. I hope your parents read this. It’s a wonderful tribute to them.

    I worry about the arguing thing, too. But I think you are right–it’s important to show them how to disagree without disrespecting, and that sometimes conflict ends in something productive.

    • They may read it but I’m not sure… I worry a bit about the “negatives” that I wrote about how they parented but I think the good overshadows the bad, maybe.

      Thanks Kitch!

  12. Such an important post, Becca. It’s amazing how all the little things that we observed as children – how to love, how to fight, how to forgive and make up – were never explained, but always demonstrated. It’s both overwhelming and encouraging to realize that as parents we have opportunities every day to set those same examples for our own children.

    • it is overwhelming, you’re right Gale. I can’t believe how much my daughter soaks in, remembers and then brings up later! The examples we set are more important than ANYTHING else we do in my opinion. They are little parrots and nothing gets by them, sometimes without them even realizing it!

  13. Jen

    Becca. I don’t have anything more to add that hasn’t already been said. I just wanted to let you know that I enjoyed reading this post. It’s an important one. I think so many of us spend our time making sure we do what’s best for our children, and sometimes what’s best for them is actually putting ourselves–and our adult relationships–first.

    • Thanks Jen. I agree… the examples we set by being caring, loving, supportive, empathetic and honest are probably more important than anything else we do.

  14. Wonderful post and so wonderfully put. I was not as lucky as you to have this kind of example growing up, but wish I did.

    I always strive to remind myself the priorities in my life are God, My Husband and then my children. And this is the way it really should be.

    And I agree that letting your children see you argue and then resolve the argument will help them in the long run. I think one of the problems with marriages is that we feel like everything should “look” perfect. And it’s not possible.

    When things are not perfect we need to struggle through and make it through. And to let your children see that you can have a disagreement with someone else and to “teach” them how to resolve these arguments will be the biggest and best lesson in there lives.

    I will be adding your link into my Super Surfing Sunday post.

  15. Pingback: Super Surfing Sunday | Pepper Scraps

  16. New reader…love many of your recent blog posts. I am going to wander out and take a peek at that book today. Looks wonderful! great post and love the comments too.

  17. I, too, want my future children to be able to see me and my husband disagreeing and resolving the disagreement. That’s something my parents have never learned to do well, which affected me and my sisters in our own ways of resolving conflict (avoiding it, fearing it, being unable to sit with it while it’s happening, etc.). Good modeling makes a world of difference indeed — hence why we’re trying to practice “better” fighting strategies …

  18. I grew up with parents like that, too. We try very hard to be the same example for our children. We argue in front of the kids sometimes, but try to never disagree in front of the kids about parenting. If I disagree with something he did (or vice versa) we talk about it in private (whole united front thing). We have had children get an undesired answer to a request and ask the other parent, and made sure they learned early that was a HUGE problem never to be repeated.

  19. Parents who work together, who show each other respect and love – these are tremendous gifts for children. I know my husband and I don’t always get to go out – but we do light a candle and talk when the kids are in bed. Because if we don’t catch up with each other, we’ll be heading in different directions before we know it.
    Nice post.

  20. I realized a little while ago, that I parent like my parents did.

    I had wonderful examples. I am blessed. They loved each other so very much. And they loved us.

    My father traveled quite a bit, but my mother never left us. She decided to stay home with us. I’ve often wondered about his.

    Tom and I rarely leave the kids and sometimes I feel that I put the kids before “us.”

    I think your parents are right. Your partnership is the most important thing.

    But I feel like I want to share everything with my boys, all of them.

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