February 5, 2013

Mates

images from our 2009 camping trip in the northeast kingdom of vermont

This last year has been filled with reflections on my struggles and successes as a parent. The first 12 months after Little Smith was born was pure survival, the best and most beautiful form of survival. In his second year, I have actually had time to make make considered choices, change behaviors that aren't working well, and learn from my many mistakes. It's far easier for me to be honest to myself and others about the ups and downs of motherhood, but more challenging to apply that perspective to my role as a partner and wife. 

In this space, I sometimes think my marriage comes through as plastic. It's actually better than it might seem from a passing glance, because it's real; more humorous, filled with debates, love, silliness, and also arguments. We are both strong willed and we disagree... a lot. It can be tough when partners both hate to give up, hate to lose, and truly believe they are are right nine times out of ten. It's even harder when we collaborate on design projects, but it keeps things exciting. This works for us, fiery but fun.


Before we were parents, I didn't worry when we'd battle over how to light a fire or pack a trunk... this was just 'us' and we usually kissed and made up in record time. As Little Smith gets older though, it's really critical that he doesn't see a silly dispute as a worrisome argument. I keep thinking about how to argue respectfully in front of kids, and it isn't easy because neither James nor I had parents with successful marriages. We have a lot of experience with toxic arguments which has given us a guide as to what to steer clear of, but knowing how to do it right isn't as intuitive as I'd hoped. 

My first instinct was to suppress any conflict entirely, to keep disagreements private and not burden our kid with them. There are a few problems with that strategy though; it feels insincere (talk about plastic), and it also just doesn't work. I can strive to be a better version of myself, but I can't completely stuff away my sarcasm and passion for the few hours a day when my child is sleeping. It's maddening, and it also deprives my husband and my son from really understanding who I am. It's true that not every petty thing is worth arguing over, but equally true that both James and I thrive on being challenged by one another, love a spicy debate, and ultimately grow from these conflicts (well... most of them!).


A few  moths ago, I read this wonderful piece from Lauren about her late father. It was incredibly moving in so many ways, but what really stuck with me was her brief description of how her parents let her see them argue, so that she understood that yelling wasn't the end of a relationship but part of its normal shifting. It's a beautiful idea, and I am desperately trying to live it without really understanding how. I'm working harder to maintain respect in every debate, no matter how heated. I'm trying to forgo picking fights when we've had less than five hours of sleep, or before sunrise.


I know how lucky I am. It isn't easy to find that person to share your life with, to grow together and not apart, to make each other laugh and after a decade, to still be engaged enough that you want to invest in an argument. I love that we are blindly cobbling together our version of a healthy marriage without any real precedents. It's scary and we make so many mistakes, but it is working. I'm proud of how far we've come and excited to imagine where we're going, together.

30 comments:

  1. wonderful! all of this post is: the words+pics.xxoo

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  2. This is good. I have never thought about arguing in front of Casper, as he is still so little (not so much anymore) but kids soak everything up. Aren't we the first generation of people from divorced parents to raise families? It's weird, most of my friends and I are from broken up families. I hope I can raise my son in a conscientious way.

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    1. Yes, I think we are probably the first generation where divorce is so prevalent... it does make finding our way more challenging, but I think this generation will beat the odds and more of us will stay together than our parents did. That's my hunch!

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  3. I think one of the most important jobs of parenting is letting our children see we are human. After all, the goal of raising a child is the raising-- preparing them to go in to the world and face its challenges successfully. Seeing parents argue, compromise and grow teaches a child valuable lessons on how to get on in life. I think its a mistake, a HUGE mistake, that so many parents are trying to raise their children in an illusory bubble-- life isn't clean or black & white, and allowing kids to grow up thinking it is, does them a disservice!

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    1. It's so true that our children have to be ready for the realities of the world, and shielding them from everything can be such a disservice. It can be tough to find that balance.

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  4. This is a really thought-provoking post. My own parents have been married for close to 30 years, but not without their arguments. As a child/teenager and the oldest child, I felt (and still feel) a big urge to suppress conflict, to make everyone smile again. It's something I struggle with as an adult, being honest with my previous boyfriends about my negative feelings. I saw my parents argue from time to time, my mum, passionate in her love and strength but also in her frustration. My dad, stoic and sometimes teasing in those situations but blessed with an endless patience and sense of humour. Neither me or my brothers quite understood at the time. One particular argument occurred on my brother S' 10th birthday and I (as a 15 year old) managed to mediate Mum and Dad and everyone into the car to go rock climbing. Another year, Mum cancelled Christmas due to my brothers' lack of help/gratitude on Christmas morning. I was at work all day and remember talking to the boys all lunch break. Mum and I had our fair share of arguments (involving yelling/crying/thumping up and down stairs) because we are both similarly passionate and emotional but have different views of certain situations.

    Life is ups and downs and conflict is not something to be avoided or embraced .. and I think the biggest gift a parent can give to their child is showing them how they deal with it all. Show them their mistakes, even their really big ones that they are embarrassed of... and show them, how they managed to move forward from those mistakes. I think it's so good to be aware of all these things like you are.

    thanks for this, lovely lady. sorry for the essay of a comment! x

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    1. Thanks so much for sharing some of your experience. It is good to remember that even when parents stay together, it doesn't necessarily mean that they are modeling healthy ways of fighting in every instance. I think you are right, showing how we resolve these inevitable issues is the best gift to our children.

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  5. This is so honest and important. I am really grateful that you wrote it. I always feel so guilty when I fight in front of my kids. I have a really great marriage, but there will always be some fighting; it's who I am too. And this is the first time it ever occurred to be that fighting a little is okay. They can see us apologize, forgive each other, and move on and that is way more important than them believing everything is always perfect.
    Such a great post. Thanks again.

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    1. Thank you Rachel. I love that you talk about apologizing, that's an important piece of resolving arguments that I don't always remember. More to work on- always!

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  6. Amen. The less than five hours is a fantastic rule of thumb too. Thank you!
    www.bingbangcrashboom.blogspot.com
    Emily

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    1. 5 hours of sleep seems to be my benchmark for keeping clear headed in a dispute, amazing what lack of sleep can do for your temper! Thanks Emily.

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  7. L- I feel like I could have written this post. Everything, I mean everything, hits home with me. I really do believe it's important to set a healthy example for our children when it comes to relating to our spouses. And healthy to me includes disagreeing. I never want to set Gus up to think that the relationship that's right for him is one where two people get along 100% of the time. That's just not going to happen, even with people who aren't as into being right and debating as we all seem to be. :) Marriage is a constantly evolving thing, in my experience, and figuring out how to respectfully argue with a kid at your feet after not having that for so many years is hard. But, I think we're all doing it right in knowing that it matters the way we relate to each other in front of our children and taking the steps necessary towards making ourselves better. xoxoxox

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    1. Julie-- I agree! I also think that a relationship where the people get along 100% of the time would be not only shallow, but somewhat boring! :)

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    2. Thanks Julie, I am hoping that we're doing it right too... it's true that even the most even tempered couples aren't going to be perfect all the time and it's important that our children understand that and have realistic expectations. And if they inherit the know-it-all gene, then they'll definitely need those skills!

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  8. I really enjoyed this post, Lilly. And am touched that you mentioned me! My parents probably modeled some not-so-mature methods of arguing in front of me and my siblings, but ultimately, the message was there: we are human, we will disagree, and this does not mean things are over. It's a constant struggle to model the best way to resolve conflicts in front of our boys, but I hope that they see the balance of love and respect thrown in there! Marriage is hard, but marriage with kids can be even harder! I think the key is keeping your sense of humor. I read somewhere that if two people are in an argument, one is always angrier than the other, and that is is the responsibility of the less-angry person to crack a joke and try to lighten the mood. Swallowing one's sense of pride can be hard though! And I have a nasty streak of sarcasm, especially before 8am!

    Thanks for this thought-provoking post. You are such an amazing writer/storyteller!

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    1. Thank you Lauren, and I do think humor is what helps us keep perspective more than anything. Amazing how you can go from wanting to rip a head off to bursting with laughter in just a few seconds :) And of course, thanks so much for sharing your own story and examples that help me consider my own actions and relationships.

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  9. Those photos are gorgeous. I thought that first one was out of a book. Lovely piece of writing too. I agree you can't cover up arguments completely. That wouldn't benefit your child in the long run. I think if you can keep from yelling (too much) and calling names, you are probably good. :)

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    1. Thanks, that forrest was so amazing with the rows of trees that were obviously planted at some point. Perfect spot.

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  10. Thank you for this wonderful post. This topic, it definitely hits me now. Life with our second was a wee bit more difficult than I had anticipated and there have definitely been moments of high frustration, followed by laughs. Its just nice to know others feel this too. I appreciate your insight and also the wonderful post on CrumbBums. So happy to find your blog. Also, amazing pictures! Meryl

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    1. Thanks very much Meryl. I'm sure life is much more challenging with a second, we will soon find out!

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  11. Such a great post. You put feelings into words so well! It sounds like you are amazing parents, and just taking the time to think about how an argument might affect your child in the long run is evidence to that. And wow. The photos are just breathtaking. Is it film?

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    1. Thanks Ruthie, I think we actually took these pictures with our old crummy digital, but it may have been an old crummy film camera too (I found them in an ancient file and I can't quite remember!). It was such a beautiful place that it was easy to capture :)

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  12. Your words are so seamless! I love this post.

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  13. Yes yes and yes. My husband and I share that fiery dynamic you mentioned and it is indeed a whole different ballpark with a little one. What was once a heated and ultimately ridiculous argument over who used the last of the cumin or whether a song can be objectively good now has so much more weight because there is an audience absorbing the play by play. I love this post and I commend you for actively seeking new and more productive ways to communicate while not masking your authentic self. I agree that our children need to see us as three dimensional beings (flaws and all) and learn from our truth, not some plastic version of super mom.

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    1. It seems there's a lot of us 'fiery matches' out there. It feels good to have company, thanks Tara.

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  14. I wish I had time to say more, but will just say thank you for writing this, I really enjoyed and appreciated reading it.

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  15. Thank you for sharing this.. for your honesty. My husband and I are similar with our fieriness. We have been married almost 13 years now and we have had some epic arguments. It was really hard for me, and still is at times, but I have grown so much because I have had to really work at trying to not be argumentative, and to really understand another human being, not just brush it off or avoid the person. I like how you described how its easier for you to be objective when approaching motherhood but not wifehood-- this post seems like a HUGE step in the right direction-- I too have the same issue. The blogging world is amazing because not only can we put our feelings into written form, but we can also meet others who feel similar instead of always meeting those who say "Oh, we never fought" (which I can see with certain personalities, but that is NOT me and my husband)
    loads of love and crumb cake,
    Heidi

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  16. I've heard that authenticity is like a pheromone which readers flock to....you willingness to be honest came through so beautifully here.

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