Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Another Word on Marraige

I know, this is weird. Two blog posts from me in less than a week?! What is this madness?! Well, I had an experience this morning that really got my wheels turning.

As you know, Peter was out of town for school for over 2 months (see previous post). Upon his return, the inevitable happened: readjusting to life as a father of five young children has been challenging. J He has been away for so long that the little things that kids normally do, things that a seasoned parent has developed a thick skin toward, are driving him up the wall. His patience has definitely seen better days. We both knew this was going to happen and expected it.

Last night when Peter was dealing with one of the twins who had kicked off (mind you, we had been dealing with copious amounts of barf and diarrhea the entire day from 2 kids, so both of our nerves were shot) he was pretty close to losing his temper and was dealing with the situation in a way I didn’t like. I thought he was being way too hard on the little guy. And I told him so. Right there. In the middle of the exchange. I know, probably not the best place to do that. Anyway, a spat between the two of us ensued. We both went to bed in silence, fuming a little.

Now, I know the whole adage about ‘not going to bed angry,’ but this saying was coined by someone who doesn’t know my husband. In the early days of our marriage, I would push and push for us to ‘resolve’ every disagreement immediately. Which basically meant, when I wanted to resolve it. After nearly 12 years together, I’ve discovered that if I try to force Peter to ‘talk it out’ before he’s ready, it will all just blow up in my face. I have to let him (and myself) cool off, think about things, then talk it out. This approach may not work for everyone, but it has worked for us for years now and I’m not going to mess with what works.

Anyway, this morning as I was driving a close friend called and we talked on the phone for a bit. This particular friend knows me very well. She knows Peter very well also and knows all about our history together, including the few years during which we struggled. She asked how things were going now that Peter was home. I was still a little upset about the spat from last night and briefly described the exchange to her. I didn’t rail about it, or badmouth my husband, and I was really fair about describing my contribution to the whole thing. Then she says, “Wow, do you think you should go talk to a marriage counselor?” And she was sincere. For a split second, I thought she was joking. What? Counseling?! Over a silly disagreement about parenting? No, I said, I didn’t think that was necessary at all. “Well, I just don’t want things to get hard for you again,” she said.

This exchange has been on my mind all day, for a couple of different reasons. The first thing is something that has bothered me for years: the people who I’m closest to (friends and family) who know about Peter’s and my history will forever hold it against him. It’s really my fault, I guess, because they were my shoulders to cry on during that time and they got my ‘side’ of everything. But (and this is a big ‘but’) Peter and I have worked everything out, I have forgiven him and he has forgiven me for the things we both did and said during those 2 rough years. That’s all that should matter to anyone else. And it was nearly five years ago, for crying out loud! J Anyway, I can’t really change anyone’s opinion now, no matter how hard I try. But every time I’m met with this bias against Peter from my closest friends and family, a single thought penetrates my mind. That is not the Lord’s way. And it shouldn’t be ours.

When we mess up, as we humans are apt to do, and we sincerely repent, the Lord doesn’t remember our sins anymore. They are wiped clean. If we truly believe in the absolute power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, when people we love mess up and ask our forgiveness, we should extend it. Wholly and completely. If we are true Christians who are trying to become like Christ, isn’t that the least of what we should do for those we love? Peter and I have spent the last 4 ½ years making right our past mistakes, so much so that we hardly remember them. Neither of us ever even brings it up, so when friends and family do, it’s a little jarring. And it’s unfair, as well.
Another thing it’s made me think about is other peoples’ marriages. Do they all run off to a marriage counselor when they have a spat? “Honey, you left your socks on the floor again. Time to call the counselor,” or, “Dear, you didn’t rinse your whiskers and shaving cream out of the sink. I’m calling a therapist.” No, it’s ridiculous to even say. One HUGE thing we both learned in counseling was that a good marriage does not mean you never fight. It means you fight in the right way. That was big for me, because I honestly went into it thinking that a ‘good marriage’ meant that you never argued. It was a revelation to me that that was just not the case. And it took a huge amount of pressure off me, too.

Now, this is just my own personal philosophy, but I really believe that every marriage should have disagreements. If you don’t, that means that someone (usually the same person every time) gives in and is not heard, all in the name of ‘keeping the peace.’ Maybe that works for some people, but I can’t help but think that it’s a very temporary fix. Eventually, all of those times of giving in, of not letting your voice be heard, of not compromising so that both people can be happy, will wear down the relationship. It creates a fundamental imbalance in a marriage that can’t be sustained. One person is almost always getting their way, calling the shots, steering the ship. The other is always allowing that to happen, not taking an active role in family decisions, not asking for their needs to be met too. These two people will eventually, in my opinion, come to resent each other. I would imagine it’s very isolating and lonely in a marriage to either a.) have to make all the decisions alone without the input of your partner, or b.) feel like you don’t have a voice or that your voice isn’t important. I can’t imagine that a relationship like that is fulfilling. Or fun. Or viable.

When I look back on our marriage, I can see how each experience, good or bad, has helped us grow. Even the really bad times I can look back on and, in retrospect, be extremely grateful for. If they hadn’t happened, we wouldn’t be where we are now: happy, together, steering our ship as a team. If I had always ‘given in’ in the name of keeping the peace, where would we be? I think we are commanded to marry because that relationship almost forces us to grow up, in a sense. If we don’t take those opportunities for growth that are a natural byproduct of living under the same roof with our spouse, then we are stunting our own growth.

So, no, we won’t be going back to counseling now. J Just as I thought, we patched things up before lunch and by tomorrow morning it will be a distant memory. I’m really glad, too, that my husband will disagree with me. I’m glad that he has an opinion and that it’s not always the same as mine. Some of our best conversations are about things on which we do not agree. It’s a wonderful thing to have someone love you enough that they still love you, even when you ‘win’ and make them see a chick flick instead of an action or sci-fi movie. J

Saturday, July 27, 2013

The Song of the (Temporarily) Single Mother

Well it’s been a few months since my last post and, while I don’t have one specific topic to address, I have had a few things on my mind that I thought deserved to be written down. So I hope this post doesn’t seem too scattered; here goes.

This current summer is our last one in law school. This time next year, Peter will have taken the Bar and we will hopefully be settling down somewhere in a new job. I’m really looking forward to being ‘normal people’ again. J But Peter and I knew this summer was going to be important for him professionally. It’s his last chance to make connections and network before he starts looking for a job. He started thinking about his summer externship last FALL. Yeah, I know it seems premature, but really it wasn’t. He couldn’t really find anything listed that caught his attention. He applied for a bunch, and was offered a few, but none really felt right. He ended up fashioning his own summer clerkship with two district court judges down in Utah. He found out that both of these judges were men he had known growing up and they were more than happy to have him come and clerk for them. The justice center where he would be working was less than 3 miles from his parents’ home. He could stay there for free all summer.

We were both really excited when all the details of this summer work opportunity were hammered out. But then the reality of what it was going to mean for the kids and me started to trickle into my awareness. Me. Alone. With five kids. For 9 WEEKS. Yes, the thought of it was daunting, to say the least. I knew I could handle it, but I wasn’t sure if I really wanted to. What I knew I didn’t want was for Peter to be preoccupied with home and worry while he was trying to dazzle the judges in Utah. So, while I shared some of my concerns about the summer with Peter, I tried not to focus on the negatives. I didn’t complain or bemoan the situation. I think if I had known what was in store for me, I would have complained a LOT more.

Peter left shortly after he finished finals, the last week of May. The kids didn’t get out of school until the 5th of June, so my routine didn’t really change that much the first few weeks. I continued on with my regular schedule: chores, laundry, cooking, church, kids’ homework etc. I stayed pretty busy with all of their end-of-year events and activities. Honestly, being the wife of a 2nd year law student is pretty good training for being a single mother. J

Since I knew in advance we were doing this, I started scouring Pinterest in December for ideas for summer activities, homeschool material (I’ll blog about that later), and art projects. I had a huge bevy of material ready by the time Peter left and the kids and I hit the ground running.

For the first 4 weeks Peter was gone, I found myself thinking more than once, ‘Wow, this isn’t as hard as I thought it was going to be! I got this.’ I’m normally a total morning person. I get up very early and am super-productive until about 4 pm. By 6 pm, I hit a wall and am fairly useless for the rest of the night. But those first 4 weeks, I had energy to spare! I actually had to take a sleeping pill many nights just to get to sleep, which is unheard of for me. I also discovered who was making all the messes and eating all the food around here. The place was immaculate and we had leftovers running out our ears. J But I was really honestly amazed and how well things were going. I even found a gig watching a couple of extra kids (ages 8 and 12) during the week which put some much-needed cash in my pocket. I was feeling pretty much like Super-Mom.

Then, around mid-June, Peter came home for the weekend so we could baptize Nathan. It was a very special event for Nathan and all of our family. We were all so relieved to see Peter and happy to have him home, even if it was just for a couple of days. He drove all night so he could pop in early and surprise the kids. There were many tears of joy shed that morning by all of us. It was a great weekend!

After Peter’s visit, with 5 more weeks stretching out in front of us before we’d all be together again, things got more difficult. My energy started to wane. And by ‘wane’ I mean, completely disappear. I was exhausted from the minute I opened my eyes in the morning. The kids started to have some unpleasant behaviors which I’m certain were their way of expressing the feelings they didn’t have the words to verbalize. My potty-trained-for-months 3-year-old twins were suddenly peeing all over the place. Which doubled and sometimes tripled my laundry workload. The boys were picking at each other and getting pretty lippy with me. Their homeschooling work, which they’d been excited about and eager to do before, was now something they whined about incessantly.

I couldn’t figure out what to do to get things back on track. I racked my brain for what I was not doing or doing differently now. I continued to push on, not wanting to give up, but my phone calls with Peter became more and more negative as I had a hard time being positive about anything. I could hear concern in Peter’s voice. He felt helpless because he was so far away and I felt guilty that I was burdening him like I was when there was nothing he could really do to help. We kept going, having our good days and bad days, until I threw in the towel and limped down to Utah with the kids a week earlier than planned, exhausted and completely spent.

Now that we’re home and I can look back over the experience objectively, I can see where I went wrong. The first half of this experience I was on my knees a lot, asking for help and guidance… I got a little cocky when things were going so well. I thought I was doing such a great job, I was really keeping things together. As I relied less and less on the Lord and looked more and more to myself, I was like a drowning person who, when thrown a life ring, decides after a few minutes of holding on that they really can swim out on their own and heads out foolishly into the riptide. What was I thinking?! I can’t think of the exact scripture right now, but it goes something like, “Lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him and he shall direct thy paths.” I think they should have added, “Sarah” to the end of that. I seem to get sucked into this every time I am going through challenges. Why do I think that when things are going right, I am the sole cause, but when things are going wrong I get on my knees and beg the Lord for help? It’s made me a lot more aware that the good things in my life are there because they have been bestowed upon me by God. And the challenges are there because they have been bestowed on my by the same God.  To teach me, to smooth off the rough spots on me. To hopefully make me more like Him. Thirty-five years on practice and I still seem to get it wrong nearly every time! It’s a good thing the Lord is patient.