Dear Parents of 2018,
The world is full of advice on how to raise your children. Over the years, I’ve learned strategies that work for my unique children, but I will not assume to have any clue how you should parent your children. In fact, I am always amazed at the diverse way we all interact with our kids. But after spending another evening with a group of phenomenal teenage girls, I would love to speak into your marriage. I think we get a little too locked into breastfeeding vs. bottle, disposable or cloth diapers, co-sleeping vs. cribs, and whether or not fruit snacks are the devil. (btw, they are! just kidding!) I think the most important piece of parenting has less to do with details on raising the children and more to do with our marriages.
So many of our teenagers are carrying weight that they were never meant to carry. They hear us fighting, they worry about our unions, and they are drowning in our tension. They feel responsible for adult emotions and they have no power to actually make it better. We think they are resilient and strong. They are completely faking it. They are scared that if they add one more thing to our plate that we will snap and their entire world will change. Obviously I am not speaking to the healthy marriages that have bad days and regretful interactions. Every marriage will go through seasons of stress. But wouldn’t it be so much healthier if we worked out our stuff so our children didn’t have to carry it themselves?
I remember one Christmas that was especially awful at our house. My husband and I were struggling. I can’t speak for him, but I was driven solely by feelings at that time, and my feelings were not good. As we sat unwrapping presents together on Christmas morning, my husband threw out some hurtful words, I reacted with tears and an ominous threat that we “wouldn’t be together next Christmas.” So basically, we ruined Christmas that year for our kids. They asked us to never put the tree in that room again and made me promise that I would never buy their dad another watch in the history of forever since that seemed to be the straw that broke the camel’s back. We spent the next four weeks in marriage triage. We spent a whole lot of time learning how to talk to each other in a healthy and loving way. We had to dial it back because we knew it wasn’t healthy. It was hurting our kids. After that fight, I made a promise that I would never again threaten to leave. Marriages are only forever if we honor the promise. As I sometimes tell my husband, “I love you. I will always stay, but I don’t really like you that much right now.” And I’m pretty sure the feeling is sometimes mutual.
Finally, I’m going to say something that will probably make my very conservative grandparents uncomfortable as they sit with Jesus. Intimacy in marriage is a non-negotiable. You have to have sex. Obviously there are times when this is physically impossible. Even if your husband tries to convince you that there is no difference between four weeks postpartum and six weeks postpartum, he is misinformed and slightly delusional. We took breaks when it was necessary. But that has always been the glue that holds us together. Sex is an act that you ONLY share with each other. You interact with the rest of the world all day long, but THIS is something you only share with each other. And if we can still manage to connect while living in a hotel room with four children after losing our house to a tornado, you can find a way to connect too. I don’t even want you to imagine how creative you have to be in such small quarters with tiny hotel shampoos everywhere and sexy words like, “Please don’t touch my head wound” floating around. Even John Mayer would struggle to make that situation a wonderland. But intimacy reminds us that we fight against the world together. We are a team!
No one should stay in an abusive relationship. That is a given. But for otherwise healthy couples, can we all just agree that out of all the things we could give our kids, THIS is the most important. They crave security and they want to know that fifty years down the road, we will still be together…holding their stories. For my friends that have lost their loved one or been handed circumstances in marriage they did not ask for, redemption is such a beautiful option in your story. What you do next is what matters the most. You get to show your children that God heals hearts and builds a beautiful 2.0. This is sometimes where we get to learn that second chances are a gift. But enter into your 2.0 carefully. The temptation will be to write a new story quickly. Let your heart heal, trust God, and wait for your new chapter. Your kids are watching and this will be their example on how to rise after a fall.
We are by nature a very messy bunch. Let’s all try to help each other out by building into each other’s marriages. Let’s say the encouraging words, offer the free babysitting, and be honest about our struggle. Healthy relationships can take an enormous load off of our children. If you need a friendly, nonjudgmental friend with few answers but a willingness to listen, hit me up.