Every so often, someone emails me to ask what I think the secret to marriage is. Chris and I usually have a good chuckle, share a beer and laugh at how we have fooled everyone into being “experts,” and then finally sit in somber silence and stare into space as we realize that our marriage is built on a pretty crappy philosophy. In all honesty, VERY seldom do I even give the real answer as an answer because I’m so embarrassed that Chris and I have adopted THIS as a foundational pillar of our marriage. But, it works.
Our secret to a happy marriage?
Lower your expectations.
That’s right, friends. LOWER your expectations. I think most of the time, people go into marriage expecting fairy tales and romance and sunsets and champagne. And that’s fun for about the first month of marriage. But, then the sparkle begins to chip away and the wedding dust settles and you’re left standing next to this incredibly flawed, incredibly HUMAN person. I was SHOCKED to discover that Chris would not serve me breakfast in bed every Sunday morning. What kind of animal had I married?!?!?!
But, about a year into marriage, I realized that if I took all expectations out of my marriage, we were actually pretty damn happy. I no longer expected him to bring home flowers, to sit next to me and tell me how beautiful I was while I did laundry, or yearn to go grocery shopping with me on a Saturday morning. And once I let go of those expectations, Chris became a STELLAR husband because when you marry a good person, they are going to exceed your expectations – whether you set them or not. So, when he randomly showed up with flowers on a Tuesday night (…like, once a year), I am always blown away because FLOWERS! So unexpected! Or, when he offers to cook dinner so that I can write or read (or wrestle the kids into the bathtub), I am always so taken aback because THOUGHTFUL! So unexpected!
Now, many people will hear this philosophy and immediately think something like, “What a terrible way to live a marriage!” But, to these nay-sayers, I say, “Give it a whirl!” Lower your expectations and see what happens in your marriage.
A few weeks ago, there was this amazing article on parenting that went around Facebook. It was about how we need to be parenting more like our parents parented us. Which was basically to push us outside and tell us to, “Go play!” As the author wrote, my entire childhood flashed before my eyes. I remember my mom and dad kicking us out of the house on Saturday mornings, and we were only allowed back inside for mealtimes. Ginny and I roamed our neighborhood with a small army of kids our age, playing in creeks, riding bikes, in our backyard, in trees, in drainage sewers (gross, yes, but SUPER AWESOME for a ten-year-old kid), on swingsets, in cul-de-sacs, in parks, at the community pool, in tree houses, in forts, in driveways, in bushes. There was no where that was off limits. And our imagination was unlimited.
If I fell down, my mom didn’t know about it until I wandered home around dinner time. So, I learned to pick myself up and dust myself off. If a friend and I got into a squabble, my mom wasn’t there to help us work it out with “kind words” or “listening ears.” We just learned that no one would play with you if you weren’t nice. If a bike chain broke, our dads weren’t standing there next to us to fix the bike and help us get back moving again. We learned instead how to flip that bike over and fix the darn chain ourselves.
The Facebook article reminded me that some of the best experiences of my childhood happened BECAUSE my parents weren’t involved.
Now, was my mom at all my softball games and Student Government activities and Girl Scout meetings? Abso-bloomin-lutely. She was room mom (which basically meant she sent homemade cupcakes to school once or twice a year), team mom, and on the PTA, too. And so was my dad. I can remember him twirling in the kitchen with me as I practiced ballet for years and, of course, he taught me to play golf. But it was a very different type of parenting than what I see today. It’s different than what I do myself.
In the past few weeks, though, I have heard conversations pop up in my own circle of friends and in social media outlets about how maybe we need a little more of this “old school” parenting in our lives. And I, for one, whole heartedly agree.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that as the trend in parenting has evolved into creating entire lives and worlds around our children, so, too, has the divorce rate risen astronomically. Because, if all of your money, attention, and time is dedicated to your kids, where do our marriages fall? When is there time for your spouse? Or, heaven-forbid, YOURSELF?
That’s why Chris and I are taking our marriage philosophy and making it our parenting philosophy, too. It’s time we lowered our expectations as parents. I cannot attend 14,000 birthday parties, 3,000 play dates, 200 “family dinners”, baseball practice, baseball games, swimming lessons, ballet, AND church on Sunday mornings in one weekend. I just can’t do it. It’s expensive, time consuming, and at the end of the day, our kids go to bed worn out and satisfied, but Chris and I are left sitting exhausted on the couch at night, staring at the TV because we have no energy left to give to anything that WE would like to do. We’ve given the best of ourselves to our children.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I love having an active family. I love having a place to go, something to do, an activity, or an outing. I drag my family to theme parks and playgrounds and splash pads 9 times out of 10 because I want to get out of the house more than them. And I probably won’t stop doing that. But, if I am going 90 miles an hour just to keep up with the Jones? Screw that, man. The Jones are probably miserable. Why would I keep up with them?
So, here is what I’ve started doing. It’s my baby step. I’ve stopped entertaining my children at home when I don’t want to or when I’m busy. If Gracie comes up to me and wants me to stop what I’m doing to fix her toy so that it can play “Let It Go” for the 481st time that day, I’ve started saying no. Actually, I say, “If you can’t fix it, then you need to find something else to play with.” Or, if we’re out somewhere they don’t want to be, like Ikea or Home Depot, and the kids are complaining and whining, I tell them to pipe down and deal. Actually, I say, “Then, drive yourself home,” and they laugh.
And I laugh.
And they laugh nervously.
And I keep shopping.
And they stop laughing.
And, you know what? THAT’S OKAY WITH ME.
Today is a very different world to raise children in than when I was little. I can’t kick my kids outside all day because the world just isn’t the same anymore. But, I can start remembering the importance of independence and self-sufficiency, and I can take steps to bring those things to my kids life by lowering my expectations of parenthood.
As I write this post, it is Saturday before Easter and my Facebook wall is full of good moms dyeing Easter eggs with their kids, out at Easter egg hunts, visiting the Easter bunny, and just generally being awesome. And, honestly, my first instinct when I see these pictures is, “GIVE ME A DOZEN EGGS AND VINEGAR BEFORE I RUIN MY CHILDREN’S LIVES!” But, when I stop and think about it, my kids didn’t even enjoy dyeing eggs last year. In fact, my friend Danielle and I ended up sitting at a kiddie table, dyeing a dozen eggs ourselves while our kids chased each other in the backyard.
Why would I do that again? Because Mrs. Jones has posted another perfect picture of her brood in matching, embroidered outfits she had made specifically for the day before Easter? Pa-shaw. What I SHOULD do is ask her to add my kid to her monogram order and then just send Bean and Gracie over there to dye eggs. I’m sure she’d send me pictures.
I’m lowering my expectations of motherhood. Will some call me a slacker? I’m sure. Will there be people who read this and think, “SHE DIDN’T TAKE HER CHILDREN TO SEE THE EASTER BUNNY?!?!??! WHAT KIND OF MOTHER DOESN’T TAKER HER KID TO SEE THE EASTER BUNNY?!?!?!?!” And I’m sure my kids will be a little pissy at first with all this new “independence” nonsense. But, here’s the thing…
Come closer. I don’t want to say this too loudly on the internets or else people will throw imaginary tomatoes at me.
I DON’T WANT TO RAISE HELPLESS, SPOILED, ENTITLED, SNOTTY, INCAPABLE CHILDREN. And as a middle school teacher, let me tell you that the surefire way to raise children like that is to constantly entertain them. Constantly provide for them. Constantly “be there” for them. Sometimes, kids need to feel a little uncertain. Sometimes, they need to solve a problem for themselves. Sometimes, they need to not get their way. Sometimes, they need to wait. Sometimes, they need to do things that are not “kid-friendly.” Because do I want to raise a fragile, rare flower who only blossoms and grows when the sunlight, water, and temperature are exactly perfect?
Hell no! I want to raise WILDFLOWERS!!! I want to raise a kid who can grow anywhere! Who can bloom when nothing else around them does! I want to raise a kid who can rise up in between the cracks in the sidewalks! Hothouse flowers are overrated. Grow yourself an independent, bold, beautiful wildflower!
I don’t want to raise children in a world that revolves around them because when they are not children anymore, the world most definitely will not revolve around them. And what kind of cruelty is that for me to push them out into that world without any preparation? So, I’m prepping them now:
Read that book yourself.
Fix that toy on your own.
Find something to do.
Get your own crayons out.
Work it out between the two of you.
Be happy about it, or go do something else.
And, you know what? I feel really good about it.