For the past five and a half years my life-cycle phase has been that of a “couple” (plus a fur baby). Its been TJ and me, and its been good. God has provided us with so many amazing opportunities…. traveling the world, health, and security in so many facets of our life. I’ve written at length about my main fear being this shift we will be making from the life-cycle phase of “couple” to “parents.” It’s not paralyzing by any means. I actually believe it is healthy. It facilitates conversation. Insight. Planning. The fear lets me know that the relationship is important, and therefore, will remain a front and center focus.
In the more recent weeks, I’ve started to look back at my upbringing, drawing direction from the two people who raised me: my parents. Married for 35 years, having raised two children… I decided they knew a thing or two about how to raise a child and nurture a marriage. As I reflected I came to the realization that there were four main areas in which my parents were able to tend to their relationship and cultivate a loving family. While I know there are always bumps in the road… conversations that have to be had (some easier than others), my hope is that one day my daughter will look back at TJ and me and see us as a pillar of strength, as an example by which to raise her little family.
Get a baby-sitter, plan a date night: Growing up I can remember countless evenings that my parents went on date nights. I would watch my mom get dressed up while my dad picked up the baby-sitter. Then off they would go to enjoy an evening together, while Allison and I dined on take-out pizza and got to hang out with the “cooler” older baby-sitter (usually one of my friend’s older sisters). They went on extended trips together, while my grandparents watched us for the week. Anniversaries were celebrated, birthdays were special, and cards were meaningful. They spent time nurturing “them” and in turn my sister and I always felt safe and secure. Taking after them, TJ and I have come into the mindset that a happy marriage leads to happy and secure children. We plan to take full advantage of an aunt and grandparents who can’t wait to baby-sit.
Be on the same page. Always: I vividly recall a time asking my mom if I could spend the night at a friend’s house. The answer was “no” (I can’t remember why… likely due to a commitment the following morning). I didn’t appreciate that answer, so I went and tried my dad. Bad choice. They had already talked, were on the same page, and I ended up losing television privileges for attempting to go behind their backs. Lesson learned then, lesson learned now. There were also the times when I said something not so kind to one of them and the other would immediately point out the disrespect and necessity for an apology. They had each other’s backs and supported one another. There are so many areas that couples can disagree when raising a child, but what I took from these examples was that they had already done much of the communicating behind closed doors. They presented as a united front, which made it difficult for a little one like me to create any gaps. Which I am certain ties back to the first point of cultivating and nurturing the marriage.
Each parent cultivates a unique relationship with the child: My parents were excellent at this. They supported, and encouraged, the other parent in forging their own unique bond. When I was little, my dad’s role was to read to my sister and me before bed, sing us a song, and say prayers with us. As I grew older, my dad and I spent Saturdays at the ice rink together. He would watch while I took lessons, we’d enjoy lunch together, and then “free-skate” in the afternoon. We enjoyed watching Chicago sports on television. My mom was my confidant… we would get lunch together, get our nails done, talk about books we were reading, and enjoy a day of shopping together. Having a unique relationship with each parent helped me to feel connected, and supported, by the parental unit as a whole.
Plan family time: My parents made family a priority. From nightly family dinners, to Sunday mornings spent at church (and a donut run to immediately follow), and many family vacations… family time was planned and valued. It was a time for all of us to connect and touch base. A time to check-in and process how life was going. It’s something TJ and I talk about often: instilling the value of family within our little ones by setting the example that family matters.