Watching my sons and other younger people in my life makes me sad sometimes. They’re all struggling with issues I struggled with as a young parent and wife — issues I now know better how to handle. Even though I know one has to learn by living, I’m offering some truths I have come to believe in, hoping that maybe one or two will spare some of you years of torture and confusion.
Babies are boring. They are parasitic blobs for the first 3 months of life. Then they become cuter blobs. They get a little more interesting around 6 months of age. But it truly takes a year before they start to interact in a way that transcends mere caretaking and starts to become a relationship. So if the baby is driving you nuts and you wonder why you don’t feel all-encompassing bliss as you had expected, remember that BABIES ARE BORING. Then they are fun, but that takes time.
No matter how little money, time, and babysitting resources are available to you, you must, must, must go out with your significant other for a cup of coffee for at least one hour each week.
You need to leave the home. Do not try to replicate this in the kitchen, even if the kids are asleep. You will not be able to have the clarity and pureness you can achieve at Dunkin’ Donuts, because one of you will see dishes in the sink if you do this at home. Or one of you will remember the kids have no clean underwear and will jump up in the middle of the one hour event to start the wash. YOU MUST GO OUT.
For under $5, you can sip coffee or tea and talk uninterrupted. It’s way cheaper than marriage counseling. Maybe I will write a grant application for Starbucks to fund 2 free cups of coffee a week for parents of young children. Show your barista that spit-up on your shoulder, and the drinks are on the house!
You will be better partners and parents if you do this. I’m quite serious.
Recently someone sent me a bunch of sayings that are supposed to change your life. This one may do just that: “People aren’t against you; they are for themselves.” What that means to me is that MOST of the time, people are not plotting and planning against you. They are just trying to protect and promote themselves. It’s a survival tactic.
Now some people are a little weird, and they may decide that protecting and promoting themselves requires them to destroy you. But that’s not typical. What IS typical is that people are intensely concerned with their own well-being, and harm to you is merely collateral damage. So try not to take thoughtless comments or slights so personally. While they may indeed hurt, the perpetrator was not aiming at you. You were just in the way of their own needs.
You can be angry or astounded or bewildered by relatives’ behavior, but you can’t be surprised. When people you know a long time continually do the same annoying or stupid thing over and over, and you can’t believe that they are so clueless they can’t seem to get out of their own way, you cannot feel surprised! Come on, you knew they were likely to do that stupid thing. My sister and I were always exclaiming to each other, “Can you BELIEVE that XXXX (insert annoying relative) said that to me?” Well, yes I can, because it is a variation on a theme that has been going on for decades. What – you thought that annoying relative was suddenly going to stop being rude/ignorant/bigoted/hurtful? Why would you expect that? Save your energy and turn it inside out:
- Get your sibling or significant other to join you in a game of “How many times will Mother say ‘Oh, surely THAT’s not what you’re planning to wear to the party!’ after you are already all dressed up and feeling snazzy?” This is a really fun game that can last for years, and it takes the sting out of the offender’s offending words/acts.
- Or how about, “How many times during Thanksgiving dinner will Grandma and Aunt Annie mention a medical diagnosis – their own or those of their friends?” Instead of groaning inside and vowing never to spend time with these deadly dull people ever again, you have created a fun treasure hunt! You can trade glances with your partner but try not to laugh out loud.
Turn on, tune in, drop out. Remember that Timothy Leary quote from the 60s (originally the words of Marshall McLuhan)? In the summer of 1989, my father died suddenly. I had two children, ages 8 and 3. I had a job and was active in both kids’ schools and in other organizations. I had tons of obligations and felt my involvement was crucial to the success of every project.
After my father died, I was amazed to learn that the world kept turning without my personal intervention. The schools, etc. chugged along just fine without me. All I wanted to do was huddle with my original nuclear family and grieve, and embrace the family I had created in order to find reasons to believe in the future. I took several months off from all of the outside obligations and concentrated on what was most important. It was a powerful lesson.
Sometimes I lose sight of what’s really important, but I can get back to center by remembering that summer when the world turned upside down and all the nonsense spilled out.
Leary elaborated in his 1983 autobiography Flashbacks:
Turn on“ meant go within to activate your neural and genetic equipment. Become sensitive to the many and various levels of consciousness and the specific triggers that engage them…. “Tune in” meant interact harmoniously with the world around you – externalize, materialize, express your new internal perspectives. “Drop out” suggested an active, selective, graceful process of detachment from involuntary or unconscious commitments. “Drop Out” meant self-reliance, a discovery of one’s singularity, a commitment to mobility, choice, and change….
It makes a lot of sense to me, and I hope to you as well.