Tag Archives: love

Finding Family Love for Valentine’s Day

I used to think Valentine’s Day was all about mushy love notes, chocolate, and flowers. I actually got upset the first Valentine’s Day Scott and I were married because he didn’t give me anything. I feel pretty silly about that now. Those things don’t matter so much to me these days. Don’t get me wrong–I like all of those things. But after 17 years of marriage and a family of two that’s turned into six, I’ve learned a thing or two about love.

First off, love is hard sometimes. And it’s not always about having good feelings toward someone. I have to remind my children about this regularly. Loving my husband is pretty easy. I don’t have a hard time seeing the good stuff in him–because there is so much of it. And at our age we’ve learned to talk through our disagreements without calling each other names (though we may still need to take a break sometimes when we aren’t getting our way!).

My kids are still learning about love. They didn’t get to choose each other the way I got to choose my roommate. They fight. They say mean things. Their personalities sometimes clash. They ask regularly why they can’t have their own room. Sigh. Those times are hard. They are heart-breaking for a mom who’s maybe a little oversensitive. I know they always love each other. Sometimes it’s just really, really deep down there.

Ah, but then there are those other times. The times when, like last night, my two older kids were up talking and laughing at the dining table way past their bed time. I didn’t have the heart to interrupt them, even though I knew they’d be tired in the morning. These are the moments when they are putting deposits into their sibling bank accounts. My job is to just take a breather when they decide to pull out some of those deposits–because tomorrow there is a very good chance one of those kids is going to tell me they’d prefer their sibling move to a different planet. We’ll get past it.

But for Valentine’s Day, I wanted to see if we could focus for a little bit on what it means to be a family. I sat them all down and said, “I know it’s hard having siblings sometimes. And it’s hard having parents sometimes” [this was particularly directed to the 12 year old who was mad at me for not buying him the $70 Vans his friends have!]. “But the great thing about this family is that we will be together forever, no matter what. And the people around this table are going to love you forever, no matter what. How great is that?” They looked around at each other. One person rolled her eyes but the rest sort of smiled and nodded. (I guess 5 out of 6 ain’t bad!)

Addie, my 7 year old, then passed a big paper heart to everyone at the table. On each heart was the name of someone in the family. “Here is the plan,” I said. “On this heart is someone’s name. You have one minute to write everything you love about that person. Go.” Addie set the timer and we started writing. When the timer went off, we passed the hearts to the right. It was cute to see them want more time. After everyone had a turn writing on every heart, Addie passed the hearts to their owners. I loved seeing everyone take a look at what their siblings and parents had written. Siblings who had fought earlier were writing things like “You’re a great sister!” and “You are so funny!” and “I love you. You are a great big brother.” I think everyone enjoyed taking a minute to realize how much they are loved–no matter what.

Today, the hearts still sitting on the dining table made me think of a book I wrote that came out a few months ago called “I Can Love Like Jesus.” I always thought it looked more like a Valentine’s book, but I hadn’t picked it up and actually read it for a couple of months. Today while I was snuggling up with Sam for his nap time, we read the book. It reminded me of why I wrote this book. It’s all about Christ’s love.

I wanted to capture the idea that we say “we should love like Jesus” but we don’t often talk about what that actually means. I loved cuddling Sam while we read about service, and forgiveness and thinking of others before ourselves. That’s what love is really all about, and we have the perfect example to learn from. [Side note–I love how this author captured how we live in the world today but can still love others the way Christ did 2,000 years ago. And I love that the kids are fighting on the couch–perfect! Thanks Chase Jensen!]

My plan for Valentine’s Day is to focus on what love really is all about. Not so much the chocolate (though I will be enjoying some of that) or the paper valentines (though I will be helping my kids make those) but real, no-matter-what, so-glad-you’re-part-of-my-life, you-couldn’t-get-rid-of-me-if-you-tried love. That’s the kind of love I want to celebrate.

Here’s to Mother Eve

I was on a walk today at a park, pushing my son in his stroller and listening to a podcast that mentioned something about Eve. I don’t remember what was said specifically, but my thoughts started to wander as I thought more about Eve and the example she set for the rest of us mothers.

Eve had it pretty good, in the beginning. She was in a beautiful garden. She didn’t need to worry about cooking or folding laundry or shopping or making sure her children did their homework on time. She didn’t need to vacuum or clean toilets or break up sibling squabbles or pay the mortgage. She just had her husband and a lovely place to dwell. Paradise, you might say.

So what was the problem? We don’t know how long it took, but at some point Eve looked at the fruit she had been forbidden to eat, and she thought, “What if there is more to life than this?” She somehow came to the conclusion that it would actually be better to know good from evil, to feel sorrow so she could truly know joy. So she transgressed the law, meaning she crossed over the limits God had set. She did it because she knew that happiness was more than endless, frictionless sunny days.

I like frictionless, sunny days. But I like them especially after a storm. I feel so happy when my children are playing nicely together, because I have seen them fight. I love having a clean house, because I have seen it torn apart. I relish a delicious dinner, because I shopped and chopped and cooked and got it on the table for my family to enjoy. And I feel gratitude when I hug my healthy kids, because I have cared for them when they’ve been sick.

Here’s to Mother Eve who understood. She knew that there was more to life than a beautiful garden. She knew that hard times and work and children would bring frustration and sacrifice, but that they would also be the means to indescribable joy.

Here’s to the mothers out there, including the incredible women in my life. Thank you for your sacrifice. Thank you for your love and your work and your patience. Thank you for seeing the bigger picture and for helping us all grow. Thank you for everything you do to make the world (with all its thorns and thistles) a better place.

Falling and staying in love

Below is an excerpt from The Two-Minute Marriage Project, a book I wrote about staying in love over the long haul. It’s a topic I’ve thought a lot about in order to find the secret of a lasting, fulfilling marriage. Here’s what I found it comes down to, from social scientists, personal experience, and interviews with happily married couples: the little things. Over the next few weeks I’d like to include excerpts here on what I found. For today, a bit of background on love:

Right now in the United States there are 60 million married couples. We still love and believe in marriage. We love marriage so much that we fight over how to define it and exactly who can do it. But marriage today, by most accounts, is not thriving. Experts calculate that only about 40 to 50 percent of married couples stay together. People quit their marriages every day, and here’s the sad thing: The majority of people who quit simply fell out of love. As author Pamela Haag reports in the book Marriage Confidential, more than half the couples who divorce had a relationship that was “amiable but listless.” Basically, they just didn’t thrive. According to studies on couples who divorce, the vast majority of people who end their relationship report that they simply lost a sense of closeness and did not feel loved or appreciated (as reported in Gottman, 2000 The Timing of Divorce). 

Even many couples who stay together aren’t fulfilled in their marriages. Of the couples who do stay married, according to a group of marriage researchers at the University of Denver, only half are actually happy. (Howard J. Markman, Scott M. Stanley, and Susan L. Blumberg, http://www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/consumer/10238.html).

What is going on? Most people, at least in the western world, marry because they are in love. But that wasn’t always the case. For thousands of years, marriage wasn’t about love or personal satisfaction. Marriage historian Stephanie Coontz reports in her book Marriage, a History, that marrying for love didn’t come about until the late 18th century with the Enlightenment focus on individual rights. Before then, most marriages were arranged by outside influences who would be positively affected by the union. Something as important as marriage couldn’t be based on “something as unreasoning and transitory as love” (p. 5). Yet during the Enlightenment, a marriage revolution began to occur. We started seeing marriage as what it could be–a private relationship with the potential to provide great happiness for the couple, regardless of family wealth or political alliances (New York: Viking, 2005).

Staying in love

So we came along way as a society. We decided that it should be in our control as individuals to choose who we marry, and that we should do it primarily for our own happiness and not for the betterment of our relatives. We decided that marriage could be our greatest human relationship and the source of our deepest satisfaction in life. Yet, as Coontz reports, “the very features that promised to make marriage such a unique and treasured personal relationship opened the way for it to become an optional and fragile one.” (p. 5). Marriages are breaking apart because people are falling out of love. We aren’t staying in the same state we were in before, and that scares people. As George Bernard Shaw humorously pointed out, marriage brings together two people “under the influence of the most violent, most insane, most delusive, and most transient of passions. They are required to swear that they will remain in that excited, abnormal, and exhausromanceting condition continuously until death do them part.” (Quoted in John Jacobs, All You Need Is Love and Other Lies About Marriage, New York: HarperCollins, 2004 p. 9).

We “fall” in love–suggesting something outside of our control. Our brain is malfunctioning, to a degree. Staying in love–now that’s something we have some control over. It isn’t easy. Over the years, as a culture, we have lost some of the glue that helped couples stick together. As John Jacobs, professor at NYU’s School of Medicine, has written, some of the martial glue that helped keep couples together from the past is now largely irrelevant. The glue of women’s financial dependency, the belief that happiness is rare or unnecessary, prevailing religious dogma, and legal constraints are all gone. The only glue holding couples together now “is the glue created by the two of you–the glue of mutual satisfaction, gratification, appreciation, and respect. The glue of mature love.” (All You Need Is Love and other lies about marriage.)

We simply cannot forget to show love and affection to our spouse every day. As Dr. Jacobs declares, one of the greatest threats to a marriage relationship is complacency.  “If you want your marriage to survive,” Jacobs writes, “you must actively cherish your spouse and protect your relationship” (Jacobs, 234). Staying in love isn’t as easy or effortless as falling in love. It takes time, attention, and deliberate effort. But if we do it right, our marriage relationship can provide the same tingles and excitement as it did when we first came together as partners, soul mates, and best friends. Indeed, if we do it right, and if we do it consistently, staying in love can be the happiest, most fulfilling part of our lives. The trick is to do that even while living in a chaotic modern world. 

More to come…

Escape

Recently Scott and I went to see The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. I loved the story of a man who finally decides to start living his life outside his own head. As I sat in the theater, Scott and I listened to the theme song “Escape,” sung by Jack Johnson. I knew the tune, but it was the first time I’d ever really listened to the lyrics.

The song is about a man who is lying in bed one night looking at the personal ads, when he reads one from a woman who is looking for someone who likes pina coladas and dancing in the rain. The man considers for a moment his long-term relationship and the fact that he and his gal have slumped into the “same old, old routine.” So he answers the ad. He wants to escape too, just like she does.

As he walks into the bar to meet this exotic new lady, the man finds her and realizes “It was his own lovely lady.” They laugh and say, “I never knew . . .”

Sometimes the thing we are yearning for is sitting there right there in front of us. We think we need to escape our situation to feel better, to feel alive, when really, we might just need to mix things up a little.

For spring break this year, Scott and I are taking our little family beach camping. This is new for me. I love the ocean, so I figure that with a little, sand, water, and sunshine we have the perfect cocktail for a fun family getaway. I hope. As long as the dirt, wetness, and far-from-pillowtop sleeping arrangements don’t get in the way. If nothing else, we are stepping outside our old, old routines and trying something new. That should be enough for one family escape, with or without the pina coladas.

waltermitty