Nearly 13

So when I started this blog, I was determined that it would not be a parenting blog.

But it’s harder and harder for me to write about our life without telling a few parenting stories or relaying something or other having to do with kids. Thus far, we’ve opted to keep our kids faces hidden,…that will likely change soon, but for now, you’ll have to make do with stock photos unless you know us personally. :)

As we attended our oldest kid Jadon’s very last summative (it’s a group presentation once per quarter), it didn’t hit me until it was over that that was the last one we would go to since he is moving onto Junior High in the Fall. Isn’t that always the way? As we went to Trader Joe’s to snag a few grocery items before heading home, a rush of emotions flooded me, which I promptly swallowed and logged away for a future time when ugly crying would feel more acceptable.

Since then, I feel like I’m counting down the days…

Only 6 more Christmases, only 6 more birthdays, only 6 more grades…only 6 more.

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Dam(n)

I consider myself a pretty good listener. I enjoy hearing people out, listening to them talk about their issues, and offering advice when asked. The one person it seems to be the hardest to listen to- is Tim. You see, for a long time in our marriage, he didn’t speak up whenever there was conflict. So now, when he does, I have to catch myself and really listen, instead of immediately going on the defensive and writing him off.

You know, for having feelings. Yeah, I know. I’m working on it. Here’s a little history...

When we were first married, and for quite awhile afterward, our pattern went like this…

1.) Ash acts
2.) Tim doesn’t react
3.) Ash runs amok.
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You may laugh, but simply put- that’s exactly how our life was.  As Tim mentioned in his last post, he really wasn’t present emotionally during the first years of our marriage. Which, as a fairly emotional person at the time, was a cruel shock for me. I had this boyfriend who doted on me, said all the sweet things, wrote me letters on a daily basis telling me how much he adored me…and then once we were married, that all but disappeared. He felt cold, distant and unmoved by anything I did. I would ask him to tell me how he felt, I craved words of affirmation, of adoration, but it seemed like he didn’t have much to give anymore. It was like he had built this dam to keep any and all emotions at bay. The only “upside” to that in my mind was, he basically let me have and do whatever I wanted without complaining or resisting. Yet all the while, Tim had feelings about these things that he wasn’t sharing. And his resentment was growing under the surface. Eventually, something would tip the scales and he would shut down completely. Then all of it would come tumbling out in a frustrated mess that left me shocked and angry. I remember saying things to him like, “Oh NOW you have feelings you want to share? Now you want to talk about how you feel?” I was so upset by the fact that the only emotions I seemed to be able to elicit from him were anger and sadness. When he would confront me about how he had been upset about something but hadn’t told me in the moment, I would snap at him, “If you didn’t want me to do ____ or didn’t want us to _____ YOU SHOULD HAVE SAID SOMETHING THEN! NOT WAITED A YEAR AND THEN THROW IT BACK IN MY FACE!” What I didn’t say was, “I’m feeling insecure about my life generally and you disapproving of this feels like you disapprove of me, and I don’t know how to handle that.” and “I want your input and to know your thoughts, but I’m afraid that if we have conflict- you’ll decide I wasn’t worth it and walk away.”

He would, at that point, turn off all emotional expression and simply walk away. The message I got was, “I don’t care enough to fight about this with you, come find me when you’re ready to apologize.” and “I’m taking the power in this situation by ending the conversation when I want to, without taking any responsibility for my part.” I completely missed his message which was more like, “I don’t really have the tools to communicate this effectively, and I’m worried that if I show emotion, you’ll judge me. But I’m also afraid to say ‘No’ to you, because I don’t want you to leave me.” That was at the very core. If you follow anger or frustration down to it’s core- you’ll always find fear, sadness or both.

We continued on this cycle up until Tim started counseling about 2 years ago. I felt triumphant when his counselor began encouraging him to express his emotions. HA! Hadn’t I been telling him this for years? His homework was to start telling me how he was feeling. I imagined him sitting me down and ravishing me with poetic-like statements about his endless love and admiration for me, how he couldn’t live without me, how I and only I- his perfect dove would forever be the apple of his eye.
God laughed.

And what I got instead was verbal diarrhea. It suddenly seemed like I couldn’t even move without Tim telling me it upset him, or pulling up something from our past and telling me how he really felt about it. This was not what I had hoped it would be. It was like the dam that Tim had constructed to keep back his negative emotions had been blasted to smithereens, and I was left drowning in the torrent. I remember thinking, “What have I done?” In that moment, I wished the old Tim back. The seemingly placid, easy going one who didn’t call me on my crap or express frustration and anger. I wanted so desperately to put the lid back on that Pandora’s box. It was so messy. So imperfect. After weeks of conversations every week about all the things he was working through, it all came to a head when after a counseling session, I asked what they had talked about. It was me, they had talked about how Tim felt about my mental health issues. My stomach dropped as Tim expressed how it had been for him, dealing with my issues for so many years. “So you resent me because I have depression?” I asked, my voice quivering. “Yes, sometimes.” he admitted in a low voice. I had absolutely no idea what to do with that, so I just cried. I held in sobs until my stomach hurt, and refused to let him hold me. His love language is physical touch, and in that moment, I wanted him to hurt. I was so raw, and so was he. We were tired. And in that moment, I had to make a critical decision.

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Was I going to choose to be on the same team about this? Was I going to be supportive of this new version of my husband who told me the truth even when it really hurt? Or was I going to build a wall to shut him out because I didn’t want to get hurt? I wish I could say that it had only taken a moment, or even a few hours for me to get to that place, but it took a few days of uncomfortable silence. I had been pushing and pushing for him to be open with me about his feelings about me for years. Now he was doing just that, and not all of it was pretty. How could it be? I wasn’t perfect. I had to take the honesty whether it made my heart fly- or sink. I remember thinking- “Marriage sucks right now.” I think I was right. It’s not always fun. But I can tell you, as Tim has learned to unlock this side of himself and feel more safe around me, the honesty has been so sweet, even if sometimes there are flies in the honey.

-ASH


In Front of the Fire

Some of my favorite moments in my relationship with Ashley on a daily basis are the times when we are able to simply be together. No agenda, no project, only us.

I do not have a lot of memories from the early years of our marriage. My head was not in the right place and I rarely was in the moment. I was always looking for the next stage, the next job, school being done, our kids being a year older, etc. But, there is a moment I remember fondly.

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MARRIED with kids...

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First of all, No- we are not currently pregnant, this is an ultrasound photo from our first pregnancy, the day we found our our oldest had boy parts. That was a surreal day. But more on that another time. Today, I wanted to share a little bit with you about being “Married with Kids.”

A little backstory- here was our plan… Get married, wait 5 years, have 2 maybe 3 kids, be perfect parents. You’re laughing inside, aren’t you? That’s fine, I’m laughing too. We plan, God laughs, right? Well, that WAS our plan, here’s what actually happened… Get married, get pregnant 5 weeks later (while on the pill), have 4 kids, be okay parents (we are doing our best, but are nowhere near perfect.)

So these two crazies got married and had to get a babysitter for their first anniversary. I don’t recommend this plan. But there we were.

We hadn’t even gotten used to each other yet, and here was this little human we suddenly had to make space for. I’m going to skip a LOT of time here and say, we didn’t really understand the absolute necessity of putting each other first every time, until we were probably about 8 years in. By that time, we had 3 kids and were trying for a 4th. Our lives revolved around breakfasts, snacks, Daniel Tiger, zoo trips, changing diapers, cleaning up all manner of human bodily fluids, scraping boogers off the wall, and collapsing into bed at the end of the day exhausted and not even sure we wanted to be there sometimes. Sure, we managed a date night once in awhile, but neither of us were living mindfully, and we certainly weren’t living mindful of the other person. I think Tim would agree with me when I say we eventually devolved into roommates who had good sex. We were basically in survival mode. And you know what? That happens. It happened to us, we know it happens to a lot of couples, because let’s face it- our kids often tend to demand more than our spouse does, and so naturally, we put the kids at the very top of the priority list.

But here’s the thing...the kids should not come first. Your person, your partner, should come first. Now before the mommy bloggers come after me with torches and pitchforks, let me explain why.

 
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I called up my mom, since she and my dad have weathered a nearly 30 year marriage and are still happily married with their parenting days behind them. In her words, you need to put your partner first, “Because you’ll have them longer!” She went on to say that parenting  goes so fast, and one day it’s behind you, you’re at your youngest daughter’s wedding dancing, and realizing- you’ve made it. You fought the good fight. You want to arrive at the end of your parenting journey hand-in-hand with your spouse and onto the next adventure.

This rings so true, I can’t even tell you the number of divorces I’ve seen after the kids leave home, because these two people who made this family have nothing in common anymore. I asked her, “Okay, so what would you say to our readers about why, if parenting is such a brief period of time in your marriage, why can’t you put the kids first while they are at home, and then work on your marriage and devote your time to that once they leave?” Her answer was that marriage just doesn’t work that way. She says that had she and Dad not worked on their marriage actively, there wouldn’t have been anything there to go on with once all us kids were grown.

Marriage is an investment. An expensive one, but one that is well worth the blood, sweat and tears. Tim and I are still in the thick of the parenting stage, so how do we invest in our marriage now?

We go on dates. We go on weekend away trips at least once per year. We talk about things. We text each other through the day. We’ve learned to be active listeners and to be humble when confronted. We laugh together, we cry together. We also dream, and make plans and goals together.

This sounds so much simpler than it actually is. Finding time and money to do these things is difficult, but however you’re able to carve out that space to put each other first, that has to happen if you’re going to have a chance at a long and happy marriage.

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You have to look at your marriage like a business, in a sense. Not just something that happens to you. You wouldn’t start a business without first making a business plan. If you fail to plan, you can plan to fail. Sitting down with your spouse, making a plan, setting goals and talking through your priorities enables you both to be on the same page. These goals and priorities can of course be fluid and flexible as life happens, but the one thing that should always be at the top of the priority list? Your marriage.

Not just for you, but for your kids as well. Showing your kids an example of a functional and happy partnership between you and your spouse not only gives them hope for their own marriages should they choose that one day, but it gives them the comfort and security kids crave from a peaceful home.