My two oldest sons both got married this summer. Both weddings took place in August (which nearly caused me to have a nervous breakdown). One was outdoors and one inside. One was a traditional Chinese/American wedding and the other was a non-traditional artistic expression of being united. Both of my sons chose beautiful brides to share their lives with; each possessing exactly the personality I would have imagined my boys would choose.
Of course, neither son has asked for marriage advice – not before and certainly not since their weddings. Since I am divorced from their dad, it probably makes sense not to look to me for instruction in this area. But, those that know me know this won’t stop me from offering what I think is the best marriage advice out there. After all, I collectively have 25 years of marriage experience under my belt. Since I wanted to make sure not to repeat the same mistakes in my second marriage that I made in the first I read a lot of books in between. Those points alone make me qualified to dole out advice.
We all know that every marriage has problems. I believe that the more you know about combating those problems, the more likely it will be that you can not only survive but thrive in the midst of those problems. While you can’t plan for every situation in life, you can plan for what you know. You can also plan for a few “what-if’s” along the way.
That said, this advice is for my sons (and the remainder of my children who will eventually tie-the-knot) on how to deal with what I believe are the top 5 marital problems.
Remember when your momma said “be careful who you marry, you’re actually marrying the whole family”? She was trying to warn you that in-laws can bring some stress into your otherwise blissful marriage. It could be your nosey mother (yep, I’m owning this) or her overbearing father; in-laws defiantly produce some serious tension. Now that the honeymoon is over you may begin to realize that dear old mom might have had a little bit of insight when it comes to crazy in-laws and it may be time to set some boundaries.
Accommodating her family’s tradition of bi-weekly giggling in front of Skype may have been fun during the dating phase, but now that you’re married, you just want to watch basketball, football or NASCAR from the comfort of your couch – in your underwear, without expectations of having shaved. (This scenario is totally made up stuff. If it remotely resembles anything actually going on in life, it was just a lucky guess.)
Try to recognize that it may be very easy for you to be critical of her family and somehow overlook the stress that your own family causes. Although it may be entirely possible that your family is totally normal and hers is completely insane, it is much more likely that you’ve become immune to our particular brand of craziness.
When it comes to dealing with in-laws the best rule is to compromise as much as possible; tread lightly, offering her family as much grace, compassion, patience and understanding as you expect when dealing with yours.
Now that you’re married, you have to agree on living quarters. Weather you plan to rent an apartment or buy a house, the housing situation can be an ongoing battle. This battle can change from month to month, year to year. Where do you live? Close to family? Hers or yours? Or far-far away? Beach or Hills? City or Suburb?
While housing is expensive – probably the most expensive part of marriage – it is unavoidable. Expert planning in this area can make or break your marriage. You have to consider not only the mortgage, but property taxes and maintenance. You have to consider financing options, length of stay, work commute, family commute, build or buy and always return on investment.
Before you even think about buying a home, make sure you can afford it. Burying yourselves in unmanageable debt is the number one reason marriages go belly up. Avoid a lifetime of stress and live within your means.
Speaking of financial stress, you don’t have to own a house to experience money troubles. The source of money woes could be anything from do you open joint checking accounts or maintain separate ones. Do you share the responsibility of paying bills or do you divvy them up? Who is responsible for paying off all those student loans? Who is going to work? Whose career takes precedence? How much debt are you comfortable taking on?
The Bible says “money is the root of all evil.” It is also the root of most marriage problems. The solution is to agree on and make a plan – budget for everything (even emergencies) and live within your budget. Almost every marriage has a spender and a saver. Avoid arguments by recognizing which role you play and own your weaknesses. Support one another and compromise. You have got to be open and honest with every major purchase. Set up a limit for each spouse’s discretionary monies and honor that limit. Transparency is the only sure fired way to avoid financial ruin.
- The Rut:
Every so often in your marriage you will come up against the rut. This is when life is actually going as planned: your jobs, your home, your in-laws and your finances are all under control. The rut happens when nothing new, exciting or challenging is going on – life is predictable. You would think life would be grand and you couldn’t be happier, but you find yourself falling victim to boredom. You may not have thought this possible in the first months or even years of your marriage: learning about each other and learning to compromise proved challenging and ultimately fun. You or your spouse may encounter what is known as “the seven year itch”. (It comes around every seven years, so technically it could be the 14 year itch, the 21 year itch, etc.) It’s a strange phenomenon where married people start yearning for something more out of life. They start to wonder if they are missing out on something or someone better.
The solution to this problem is prevention. Keep fanning the flame. Learn what makes your spouse feel loved and do that! Do not accept the rut as a way of life. When you start to notice that comfort is becoming uncomfortable, shake things up. Try a new hobby, a new vacation spot, or just checkout a new hotspot in town. Create regular opportunities to have fun together. If you don’t have kiddos by now, maybe you start reproducing – maybe not. If you have kiddos and find they hinder your adventurous side, get a sitter and go out. Better yet, include those offspring in some new activity. Whatever your situation may be when the rut rears it ugly head, remember that adding a new “friend” is not the solution. The enemy is routine – not your spouse.
To have or not to have. Sooner rather than later? One or Two? (In some cases more.) The offspring issue can be the most challenging struggle for any married couple. Even if you have talked about this in detail, multiple times, and have the kid topic mapped out down to the names of your future son and daughter (exactly in that order) you could find that life doesn’t always go as planned. Changes to any plan can be stressful. Changes to the kid plan can be devastating!
Infertility may become an issue. Unplanned pregnancies may come along at inconvenient times. Illness, fatigue, crankiness and all that is grumpy can come out of having -or not having – kids. Views on child rearing are often very different. Even if you’ve discussed this over and over and over again. You agree that you will not ever raise your voice, let alone your hand to your adorable little mini-me. This is just good practical parenting and you are both very practical people.
But, when little Johnny openly defies your 200th attempt to re-direct him from jumping off the bookshelf onto his baby sister’s head, something inside of you could snap. Your head could spin around and you may spew words at volumes you didn’t know existed. Your face might turn purple and you could possibly forget all the promises of remaining calm and collected under any circumstance for the next 18 years. (Minimum)
If that happens, you could blame it on the fact that you have not had a good night’s sleep in over 2 years. You could blame your spouse for wanting to move to far-far away: away from the grandparents who would help babysit. You could explain that you haven’t had that overdue date-night or even sex in 6 weeks. You could argue that you can’t afford a sitter since you’re working overtime just to make ends meet. Whatever your excuse, she would have witnessed as you lost it and yelled like a mad-man at a little boy in batman PJ’s yelling Geronimo. You would ultimately get a look of disgust as your spouse rescues both of your children from your explosion and throws a blanket and pillow out the bedroom door.
Kids have a way of turning everything upside down. The best advice on this one is to work through the first four problems long before you introduce kids into the mix. Unless of course, that surprise pregnancy comes along. If that happens, just hang on, enjoy the ride and get Skype up and ready for grandma (or move much much closer).
Dear White People: Film Tackles Racial Stereotypes on Campus & Being a “Black Face in a White Space”
If you think “Racism is over in America. The only people thinking about it are…Mexicans” you need to see this movie.
I hope this serious yet funny film gets you out to the box office on its release next weekend. Most importantly, I hope it gets you thinking or rethinking what you believe about the life of minorities in America.
Parenthood changes everything.
But parenthood also changes with the addition of each child.
Here, some of the ways having a second and third child differs from having your first:
Your Clothes –
1st baby: You begin wearing maternity clothes as soon as your OB/GYN confirms your pregnancy.
2nd baby: You wear your regular clothes for as long as possible.
3rd baby: Your maternity clothes are your regular clothes.
The Baby’s Name –
1st baby: You pore over baby-name books and practice pronouncing and writing combinations of all your favorites.
2nd baby: Someone has to name their kid after your great-aunt Mavis, right? It might as well be you.
3rd baby: You open a name book, close your eyes, and see where your finger falls. Bilbo? Perfect!
Preparing for the Birth –
1st baby: You practice your breathing religiously.
2nd baby: You don’t bother practicing because you remember that last time, breathing didn’t do a thing.
3rd baby: You ask for an epidural in your 8th month.
The Layette –
1st baby: You prewash your newborn’s clothes, color-coordinate them, and fold them neatly in the baby’s little bureau.
2nd baby: You check to make sure that the clothes are clean and discard only the ones with the darkest stains.
3rd baby: Boys can wear pink, can’t they?
1st baby: At the first sign of distress – a whimper, a frown – you pick up the baby.
2nd baby: You pick the baby up when her wails threaten to wake your firstborn.
3rd baby: You teach your 3-year-old how to rewind the mechanical swing.
1st baby: You take your infant to Baby Gymnastics, Baby Swing, and Baby Story Hour.
2nd baby: You take your infant to Baby Gymnastics.
3rd baby: You take your infant to the supermarket and the dry cleaner.
Going Out –
1st baby: The first time you leave your baby with a sitter, you call home 5 times.
2nd baby: Just before you walk out the door, you remember to leave a number where you can be reached.
3rd baby: You leave instructions for the sitter to call only if she sees blood.
At Home –
1st baby: You spend a good bit of every day just gazing at the baby.
2nd baby: You spend a bit of every day watching to be sure your older child isn’t squeezing, poking, or climbing on the baby.
3rd baby: You spend a little bit of every day hiding from the children.
***I have no idea who to give credit to for this content. A friend saw it and sent it to me. I loved it and thought I’d share.
5:30 a.m. – I roll over to turn off the alarm. Dang it, The Ring leader is already up. She is standing next to my bed, staring at me with her big green eyes. She is frowning and says “I miss Daddy already.” How sweet. I give her a big hug and kiss and reassure her that Daddy will be home soon. (I silently pray that Daddy will be home soon.) I think about just how adorable she is. I offer her the ipad and whisper to her “stay in the bed. Do not wake the others. Do not go into her bedroom to get dressed. Do not make a sound and you can have the ipad all to yourself.” She smiles and agrees; glad to have special privileges first thing in the morning. I get into the shower smiling to myself about just how cunning I have been. I feel empowered.
3 minutes in to the shower, head lathered, I heard a crash and screaming and laughing and running. I emerge half rinsed to find water all over the bed, the night stand, the floor, the wall. A fully clothed Ring Leader and buck naked Informer, jump from the bed and run screaming down the hall. The Boy continued jumping on “the trampoline”. He explained to me that pillows don’t belong on trampolines; they had to be thrown off. Also I should not put a glass of water next to the trampoline; it makes a big mess. Steps 2 and 3 just went out the window. (See I told you it wouldn’t make sense if you didn’t read the previous posts…..)
After stripping the bed, moving the nightstand, soaking up all the water that I could from the carpet and putting a fan on to dry the rest, I hid the pop-tarts, wrested The Informer into her clothes, scolded The Ring Leader for not staying quietly in my bed and fussed at Little Miss Independent for playing with that stupid iphone again before putting on her shoes! We ran to the bus stop. The driver sees us and takes pity on the crazy woman with soap in her hair, waving her arms, screaming at him to stop. The other moms at the bus stop stare. I stare back.
I strapped The Informer and The Boy into their 5 point restraint car seats so I could jump back in the shower and finish getting ready for work. The entire drive to daycare I lectured. I reminded them that my bed is not a trampoline. I told them Daddy would be ashamed. I threatened them both within an inch of their lives if they hit, kicked, spit or looked cross eyed at a teacher today. As we exited the van and walked into daycare, I asked them if they understood. The Boy told me garbage trucks are big. The Informer said she would be good if Ms. Angel was good, otherwise she was going to hit her. I am not feeling empowered any more.
As any good planner knows, plans must be flexible – Introduction of Step 5 – Reinforcements.
Days 3 – 4
There’s a saying in the Fostering/adoption world: adoption is not for sissies”. I don’t think of myself as a sissy, but I am only 1 person and there are just so darn many of them. I am not ashamed to admit that I needed reinforcements. I called in one of my grown sons and his girlfriend for the weekend. Two more adults helped re-establish a fair adult: child ratio. This was extremely beneficial in preventing me from implementing Steps 6, 7 and 8. (I can’t post those details here or some do-gooder would definitely turn me in.)
A friend brought her daughter over for a play date on Saturday evening. I’m pretty sure that within 10 minutes of being at the house, my kids had driven her bonkers. I picked up on this when she said “I don’t know how you do this, your kids are driving me bonkers. We need to send your son and his girlfriend to Liquor Barn for daiquiri mix” – which I did. (Don’t judge me. Jesus turned water into wine.)
Days 5- 9
The Reinforcements left to go back to their quiet lives on Sunday night. The second half of Mission Trip week went much better than the first. I decided to relax my expectations and gave more control over to the kiddos. I let The Ring Leader wear her winter boots to summer camp. I decided that McDonald’s drive-thru biscuits were nutritious enough for breakfast. Happy meals were nutritious enough for dinner. Daiquiris make momma sleep pretty good.
Basically, I surrendered. That alone eliminated a lot of problems.
Although things improved, one evening went abnormally well. The kids had their happy meal for dinner, stayed up an hour past bedtime watching a movie and climbed into their beds without first having a bath. I went into each bedroom to tuck them in, say our prayers and kiss them goodnight. I always go into The Boys room last. I finished our routine and kissed his head. He whispered, “Jesus told me in my heart that I have two thousand, two million, twenty two hairs on my head”.
“That’s a lot of hair” I said rubbing his noggin.
“It sure is” he said with a grin. “And Jesus told me in my heart you need a BIG kiss”. He reached those little arms up and wrapped them around my neck, giving me a big squeeze. I decided they toys could stay on the living room floor for a little while longer. There was time to lie down next to my baby and play our kissing game – fishy kiss, butterfly kiss, Eskimo kiss and puppy dog kiss. When he was satisfied that he had given the right number of kisses, he rolled over a fell fast asleep.
Day 10 – Daddy’s return
Activity man and step-son returned safe and sound. They are tired and hungry. They tell stories and show pictures; lots and lots of pictures. Pictures of babies, kids playing, houses made of scrap metal and the beautiful countryside.
They tell stories of serving people, building houses and delivering food and clothes. They tell about the food they ate and the friendships they’ve made. Oh, and of course there was a long bus ride and diarrhea (there is always diarrhea).
The travelers have been changed by the experience – they usually are. At least for a little while, before the routine of everyday life takes over and the euphoria fades. Step-son has another year of high school before heading off to college. Hopefully, he will consider this experience and remember that real satisfaction in life comes from relationships and helping other people and not from the newest tech-gadgets and expensive jeans.
This Mission Trip, I learned that a clean house and perfect kids are not required for happiness at home. I learned that I can handle things by myself while hubby is away – but I don’t ever want to do it again.
Let me be honest, I knew things were not going to be easy with the hubby out of the country for 10 days. Having 4 kids under 9 – three of those being “our kids from hard places” is challenging even when both parents are under the same roof. These three little bundles of joy can be conniving, defiant, spiteful, and oppositional defiant. We don’t have the typical “kids will be kids” type of challenges. No amount of talking, pleading, punishing or negotiating seems to work. The challenges these kids present are much more complicated. These kids are “those kids”, kids with attachment issues, kids with fears of abandonment, kids with ADHD and bipolar disorders. Dealing with these kids is exhausting. My husband and I have a “divide and conquer” technique that seems to keep us afloat most days. Other days can be hell -pure hell.
They have us outnumbered and have the advantage of youth. This would seem to give them the upper hand. They can create an atmosphere of confusion with their subatomic energy levels. They use the “tag-team” approach; when one kid stops whining, demanding or throwing a tantrum the next takes over. Think Chinese water torture. They even manage to use this tactic during the night. Every evening they get in a huddle and designate the evening intruder. The intruder’s job is to wake up every hour and a half, climb into our bed and commence wiggling, twisting, turning and kicking our faces. If this maneuver is unsuccessful at making us get up out of bed, they will demand a glass of water. If this demand is not met quickly, they sound the alarm. If the others hear the alarm – they will come. Then all alarms go off in unison, causing the house to shake. This usually achieves their plan to prevent us from completing a full REM cycle.
Luckily, my husband is a planner. He uses logic and reason. He sets rules and establishes guidelines. Usually this does not work so he resorts to the basics in parenting – wear the little buggers out. He takes them to the YMCA, the park, the pool – never stopping for naps or breaks. Any time school is out, hubby has them doing something. Hubby is simply known as “Activity man”. This week “Activity man” is gone. He left me the pool passes, the Y passes and directions to five different parks. He warned me to keep the busy. He said he would pray for me.
Let’s face it, I am not Activity man. I am just mom – much more laid back (lazy maybe). By the time the laundry is done, kids are fed, the dishes are clean, kids are bathed and wrestled into bed – I am done. I would rather hang around and let the kids destroy the house than load up 4 kids and go chase after them – in different directions – all over the park. So, although I’m a little bit worried that this is going to push me to drinking, I have no real plan.
Surviving the Mission Trip – the Home Front
4 a.m. – Activity Man and son head off to the airport. I’m oblivious to this as I’m fast asleep.
6 a.m. – The Informer started the attack by refusing to get dressed for school. She knows the rule is “no breakfast until you’re dressed – complete with socks”. She informed me – with arms crossed – that I could not make her get dressed, nor could I make her go to school. I simply reminded her of the rule and calmly went about my business. I had my cool on. I would not let a 5 year old ruffle my feathers. When she came downstairs – not meeting the dressing requirement – she was calmly escorted to the van and buckled into her 5- point car restraint and calmly told she would wait there until the others were ready. She sounded the alarm which could be heard 2 blocks away.
The alarm must have been the signal for the others to gorge some pop –tarts. Within 3 minutes, The Ring Leader and The Boy had inhaled an entire box. Admittedly, they did get some of the contents onto their school clothes that now had to be changed. Still yet, they ingested enough sugary goodness to put them into a sugar high. They were running around in circles and laughing uncontrollably.
By the time I finally caught The Ring Leader, took her upstairs to get changed and came back down, The Boy had destroyed the living room. I may have used my upset momma voice to tell Little Miss Independent to stop playing with her iphone and get her shoes on. This caused her to have one of her over sensitive meltdowns “I’m not even doing anything wrong and you always yell at me.” Guilt sets in. I apologize, give hugs and try to comfort the only child not creating havoc.
7:00 a.m. – We missed the bus.
8:30 a.m. – I arrived with a smile on my face to The Ring Leaders kindergarten graduation ceremony. She informed me that she somehow lost her brand new sweater. The sweater I told her not to wear since it was a warm day and she would not need it. The sweater she insisted made her look beautiful. The sweater she promised not to take off until after her graduation when she would then hand it to me so I could bring it home. That’s the sweater she managed to lose between 7:15 drop off to school and the 8:30 graduation. I’m still convinced she threw it in the trash.
3 p.m. – Phone call from daycare director informing me that The Informer had hit, kicked and scratched her teacher and that I needed to come immediately before said teacher walked out which would lead to my kids being expelled. Expulsion can NOT happen this week.
4 p.m. – I arrive to pick up The Informer who was sitting next to The Boy in the director’s office. Apparently, he heard of his sister’s actions. Of course, he didn’t want to take the chance that he would be left at school without her, so the only reasonable thing to do was attack his teacher.
I apologized for my children. I pleaded for another chance. I informed the director of my missing husband who was off having fun in Haiti while I was home alone with these hellions. I played the sympathy card. I was granted another day.
7 p.m. – The children got their melatonin gummies early.
11:30 p.m. – I am unable to sleep. Day one was done with no casualties – well, except for the poor teachers who were attacked and the missing sweater. Overall not horrible, I mean social services wasn’t called. I know I must plan for more strikes. After all, they will wake up in the morning recharged. I need to be on the offense.
I need a mom strategy – something that I can sustain for the next 9 days.
Here’s the plan…………….
Step 1 – Wake up early. Shower and dress before they wake. This way I can monitor their every move. It will also eliminate the need to be rushing around in a frantic attempt to be on time. Allow a full hour and a half before the bus arrives. Schedule time for a few bumps in the road.
Step 2 – Keep them together. I know the strategy of divide and conquer. They must not be allowed to use this against me. They must be kept in close proximity at all costs. Lock the doors, use gates, leashes, and duct tape – anything necessary. Do not let them split up.
Step 3 – Stay “calm and collected”. They expect me to lose it. This strategy has an element of surprise. This will throw them off their game and keep me thinking straight. Expect the unexpected and don’t overreact.
Step 4 – Bribery/Reward. Use the ipad, TV, candy, desert, and movies – whatever it takes. These little sugar monsters will do almost anything for an M&M. My pockets will be full of them. The Ipad will be fully charged and movie night before bedtime is as good as money for these kids. I know their weaknesses and I will use them.
It’s a good plan. A solid plan. I sleep well – for 4 hours.