Nine years ago today, my hair was in a seemingly impossible up-do of loops and pearl pins, the sun was shining brightly and the ground had miraculously dried out after a huge rainstorm the previous night, and I was about an hour shy of getting married. Not surprisingly, I’m feeling a bit reflective today, so I thought I’d share some lessons (nine of them, actually) I have learned over the last nine years. I hope some of these are helpful to you; if you have other family or partner lessons to share, please feel free to comment in below.
1. Think about people - not parameters - first. One lesson I wish I had taken to heart as we planned our wedding was to think about people - not parameters - first. I read this advice in (the hilariously on target) Miss Manners on Painfully Proper Weddings; the idea being that when you plan a wedding you should think first about who you would like to have present and only afterward, what you can afford to feed them (versus cutting guests in order to have more frills and an expansive menu). By today's standards, our wedding actually was rather modest, but we definitely felt the strain of our space and excluded some people (a regret I still carry). To me, this general idea also translates outside of the wedding sphere; for example, for Laurel’s last birthday, instead of cooking up a huge party as in previous years, I tuned into her personality (shy) and preferences (just a few close friends) instead of looking at the affair as a way to catch up with all of our parent friends in one setting.
2. Don’t fester. Jon and I tend to be pretty level emotionally (no plate smashing or shouting arguments). This, however, invariably leads to periodic festering. Which is bad. For so many reasons. We’ve worked hard on expressing emotion in the moment, and have found that situations are more quickly diffused and understood when we talk things out instead of withholding.
3. If you can’t work it out, get help. Sometimes it’s just incredibly hard to see your way through and out of issues when you are deep in them. Jon and I never have been on the brink of splitting up, but we have definitely had issues - particularly around the challenges of transitioning into parenthood - and we’ve benefited enormously from counseling. Don’t be afraid to seek help if you need it!
4. Prioritize “me” time. Plain and simple, “me” time is essential, no matter how big or small the mindful dose. One way we have achieved me time is via “swap time” over the weekends. In addition to time spent together as a family we also swap up, where Jon will hang out with Laurel while I do my own thing and vice versa.
5. And don’t forget about “we” time. A couple of years ago I joked about the fact that therapists who didn’t even know me told me that I needed to prioritize date night. It’s a cliché but it’s utterly true. For a relationship to survive, you need to get out and actually talk and listen to one another, away from the clamor of family life.
6. Own up to your insecurities, even if they’re kind of embarrassing. Recently, Jon and I have been working on owning up to various insecurities, from the major life ones to the minor and seemingly inconsequential. We’ve found that life is much easier when we're totally open about being who we are.
7. Beware of old habits. At some point in our marriage, Jon and I fell into predictable patterns – him taking over financial matters and me taking over domestic. And over time, it led to periodic tension. We’ve recently started merging more in our responsibilities, to much happier effect.
8. Put down the baby. We joke (sort of) about how our approach with Laurel has, at times, gotten us into trouble (e.g., refusing bottles, refusing alternate caregivers). We’ve been working on getting better at “putting down the baby” - a phrase that harkens back to our first week of parenting, where we realized on day 4 that we had not put Laurel down for one single second since she was born (seriously!). Not only does it help us to not be so on top of her, but it helps her.
9. Follow your instincts, even if they seem crazy to other people. Some people were surprised that I could so easily leave a career I spent 10 years building, to forge a new life in the unknown (to me) and unstable world of freelance writing, editing, and design. And when I tell people that Jon is soon to transition from his current (stable, lucrative) job to (less lucrative) counseling work, I can see the thought bubble, “Are you guys freaking nuts? In this economy?” But I followed my instincts and things have worked out, and my instincts tell me that things will work out for Jon and for us as a family. There undoubtedly will be bumps in the road, but for us, following our instincts translates to pursuing passions and joys. I couldn’t ask for anything more.