by Elise Bowerman
Making a marriage last with both love tanks filled is WORK.
I’m continually surprised by the shock I hear when I say this. All relationships take conscious effort to last in a healthy, beneficial, loving way… for all parties.
For the sake of our focus here I’ll be sharing about my own marriage and family life (because we learn so much from one another), along with considerations of recent research to continuously improve quality of life.
Define and re-define your parenting role
The most important factor my husband and I decided early on is this: I am the designated available parent 85% of the time.
(By 85% of the time, I mean - when plans change, I'm typically the one rearranging my day to make it all work. Hubby is way more involved than 85% of the time. He's awesome.)
We lived this way even before we had children! We envisioned the life.
Saw what it would take to live the life we dreamed of and how to make it happen.
By discussing ideas out loud we both understood our responsibilities to our marriage (us) and to our family unit. I believe there was (is!) less resentment and hurt in the long run.
Now, don’t get me wrong - there are still times when anger and bitterness sweep in about not being able to pursue more of my personal/career aspirations in a greater capacity… and I have been known to get jealous of his effortless ability to wake up thinking about work; rather than the million things going on in our household.
When those feelings start flowing, I know they are natural. After all, we both grew up receiving higher education, lived independently for years, and set a foundation for our career paths.
No one properly informed us of the slap-in-the-face parenthood would place on the independence and freedom we took for granted in our marriage. Society does not help navigate this great junction either.
I intentionally refocus on my ‘why’ for structuring my life this way: the bigger picture.
(Venting to friends and husband helps a lot, too.)
The bigger picture – consciously nurturing the life of my children in a way that unifies the four of us, developing the trust in our children to have at least one parent available when needed… and I will still have time to pursue more of my personal aspirations later in life.
(Please know I’m okay with the choice of being the more available parent. We must do the inner work to know ourselves well to understand what we can or cannot deal with. Each of our healthy boundaries vary. By no means am I influencing anyone to diminish their light. Let it shine!)
Squished in the sandwich generation
For us, we know the desire of being available for our children works well.
As with all families – things are more complicated behind closed doors. Since 2015 I have been in the sandwich generation when my mom had a major stroke in another state and I became her durable power of attorney.
We were able to shift our lives quickly so I could leave to make major life decisions for her wellbeing. Had we not discussed our priorities and set our lifestyle up in this way it would have added even more stress on an already stressful situation.
This story may not happen to you. I hope it doesn’t. But there will be circumstances you may prioritize loved ones over work income.
By developing a strategy now for when a figurative tornado hits, you will be grateful of the big and small changes made to be able to shift your time and attention to an urgent matter.
Parenting is lifelong, but changes in effort
Native people all over our planet have understood for thousands of years the value of how conception, pregnancy, childbirth, and the first seven years of life support personality traits, essentially, who we are at the core... even as adults.
As usual, over the past 25+ years modern research has proved this to be true.
While we can heal and honor when our parents were not able to be the parents we need/ed or how circumstances created trauma at any time in our lives, my hope is that culturally our children will have to heal less. We (as parents) may intentionally birth a future generation focused on prevention and wholeness to not require healing (or as much), because we took the time to s-l-o-w down to be a conscious available family unit.
Pregnancy, babies, and small children continue to grow and their requirements of us caregivers, protectors, and nurturers will be different.
Currently, my kids are nine and 11 years old. I like to say, “there’s more space between us now.”
It does not mean there is any less love or momma bear protective instinct within me. It means I am doing my job as a parent to develop a little human who can think independently, be resilient when things don’t go as planned, and cultivate compassion for all aspects of being human.
My role evolves as their mom. Now, when they are in school, activities, playdates, or when their dad initiates “Mom’s alone time,” I can get some of my personal aspirations in… because I’m more than just a mom.
There will be time for everything. We only have 18 years as our baby’s main guiding lights. Eighteen summers together until they are officially off to explore more of the world to become the person they were were meant to be… with the roots we provide.