As our children grow, often the opportunity to share with them about some of the most important things in life slips by. This is one mother’s letter to her children – on love, marriage, parenthood and relationships.
My dear Child
There are only four questions of value in life…
What is sacred?
Of what is the spirit made?
What is worth living for?
And what is worth dying for?
The answer to each is the same…
Don Juan DeMarco (Johnny Depp)
As you navigate through life you will experience love in its many forms. There is no greater love than that between a man and a woman who have determined to spend the rest of their lives together. I have watched you fall in love and heard you talk about marriage and babies and building a home together. I want to share with you some of the things I have learnt over the years which I hope will encourage you on your journey.
Love and Romance
Right now you are probably enjoying the romantic stage of your relationship. But romance is not the butterflies in the stomach and the racing heartbeat of the courting couple. This is merely infatuation, which will pass as surely as night follows day. Romance is the art of showing someone you love them in a way that is meaningful to the other person. There are therefore a myriad of ways to keep romance alive.
You also need to know that love is not a feeling – it is a decision. When you marry you don’t promise to stay together until your feelings change for one another. You promise to stay together through those times when the romantic love is suppressed by arguments, fatigue, bad habits and monotony. The greatest mystery of love is that loving actions, even when you feel loveless, actually generate loving feelings. So the quickest way to restore the love is to act like you love.
Making sure you have a strong partnership that exhibits sharing, co-operation and compromise will ensure that love and romance remains alive.
Everyone needs a relationship where they are confident they are loved unconditionally. No strings attached, no pre-requisites. Unconditional love is the only environment where a person can truly grow to become the person they were meant to be.
When you marry you will no doubt commit to the relationship “For richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health”. Hardship, financial trouble and ill-health will magnify the character of your relationship. They will break down and even break up a relationship that has not been built on a firm foundation. They will, however, make an already stable and loving relationship stronger – magnifying the love that already exists. Work on building a foundation to prepare you for the storms ahead.
What does love look like? It does not look like getting your own way, thinking you know best or making sure the other person always accommodates your desires or your behaviour. It doesn’t keep score, it is patient, trusts God, and always look for the best. It never looks back and keeps going to the end.[i]
Accept and Celebrate Each Other
When it comes to loving each other, don’t try and mold yourself into some artificial rendition of the perfect wife or husband. No such person exists. Just be yourself. Ralph Waldo Emerson said “to be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment”. Your relationship should help you both to be yourselves, not inhibiting, not restricting, not stunting your spiritual or emotional growth.
Observing and listening are the keys to understanding what makes your partner happy.Trust is paramount. Trust that you will tell each other the truth. Trust that you won’t do anything to harm the relationship. Trust that each of you will always have the well-being of each other and of your family at heart.
You will both grow up and you will both grow old. The challenge that lies ahead is making sure you grow together, not apart. Exercise tolerance and patience and recognize that as you grow you will no doubt change. Embrace and celebrate each other’s growth.
Remember that love without conversation is impossible.
The Wonder of Children
I was once told there is no convenient time to have children. Yes, you can plan to a certain degree but cannot totally control conception, pregnancy and labour. Regardless of how inconvenient a baby’s arrival may be, they enter the world at exactly the right moment for them – and enter our lives at exactly the right moment for us.
Author and educator Elizabeth Stone said that when you decide to have a child, you make a decision for your heart to walk around outside your body for the rest of your life. Like me, you will find this to be true.
Each stage of a child’s development has its challenges – whether it’s sleepless nights when they’re teething or sleepless nights when they’re out partying. But each stage has its joys – from their first word to the last grown-up conversation you had with them.
It’s important to position yourself appropriately in the eyes of your child. You are first and foremost a parent: protector, nurturer, healer, teacher, provider, safe haven. Then, and only then, can you be their friend.
The hardest word you will ever say to your child is “no”. The most loving word you can ever say to your child is “no”. The hardest thing will be to gently love them when they display their displeasure at not hearing the word “yes”.
The issue of discipline is a controversial one but as far as possible, use positive reinforcement. Highlight the right behaviour, while directing them away from wrong behaviour. I found quite early on that this was the best approach. ‘Spare the rod, spoil the child’ is a saying that grew out of a Proverb. A rod was a stick used by shepherds to guide their sheep to go in the desired direction. Shepherds did not use it to beat their sheep. The proper translation of the saying is ‘Give your child guidance, or they will go astray.’
Have regular conversations with your child about day to day things so when you need to discuss serious issues they will be receptive. If you only speak to them about things they should or shouldn’t do, they will quickly turn off and turn away from you and you will have little or no influence from that point on.
‘Trainup a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it’ (Proverb). This doesn’t mean he (or she) will always walk the straight and narrow. But it does mean that there is a very good chance your child will eventually come back to the rules for living that you taught them when they were young.
No matter what happens, always make sure they know that you love them. Psychiatrist Harold S Hulbert reminds us that “Children need love, especially when they do not deserve it.”
And remember that your child will need to know that his parents love each other unconditionally too. Your grandfather often said that the best thing a man can do for his children is to love their mother.
Brian (Head) Welch (formerly of the band Korn) says that, most of all, children need communication and love. “I never got too many hugs when I was growing up”, he says. A hug can express so much when there are just no words to say what you feel. A hug can calm a child’s fear, make them feel safe, sooth the hurt, share the joy, show appreciation – but most of all a hug is the exclamation mark after “I love you”.
And as your child grows, go with them into the world – show them the things that you enjoyed as a child and discover new things together. Talk with them, read with them and help them understand the world they inhabit. Encourage them to be curious, to ask questions and to explore for themselves. Rachel Carson, writer, scientist and founder of the environmental movement, said “If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in.”
Be Alert for Threats
The two major threats to marriage are debt and adultery.
The burden of debt crushes even the most well intentioned hearts. Resolve to borrow only what you can easily repay and learn to be content. Contentment is about being happy with what you have. If you truly believe that what you have now is enough, you will always be happy. And everything else will be a bonus.
“In marriage do thou be wise: prefer the person before money, virtue before beauty, the mind before the body; then thou hast a wife, a friend, a companion, a second self”. (William Penn, English real estate entrepreneur, born in 1644)
As for adultery – it takes many, insidious, forms and is not just sexual impropriety. It starts when a physical, emotional, mental or spiritual attachment displaces your spouse from their rightful position in your life. Cherish your partner and if you feel there is less physical contact, less conversation or more time apart than there used to be, it’s an early warning sign that you need to re-connect.
Plans and Dreams
Create shared dreams and nurture them – however distant they may be and however impossible they may seem. Sharing a dream gives it substance and brings it to life. It joins your hearts together and moves you forward as one. The saddest relationship is one that cannot see past tomorrow. There’s a good chance that if you can’t picture yourselves together in 5 years, 10 years or 25 years time, then you are heading in different directions. Take the time to build plans and dream dreams that take you both forward together.
“When we are dreaming alone it is only a dream. When we are dreaming with others, it is the beginning of reality.” (Former Catholic Archbishop of Brazil, Dom Helder Camara)
And Walt Disney, who built an industry around dreams, said “All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.”
Commitment and Compromise
There is no such thing as the perfect couple. No-one is ever 100% right for each other. The difference between relationships that work and those that don’t is that those who are serious about commitment will overlook some of the imperfections while the others will spend their lives searching for something that doesn’t exist.
It’s not necessary to agree on everything but it is important to try and see things from your partner’s point of view. Why is it they have the opinion they do, why are they afraid of certain things, why do they act the way they do, or love the things they do? Don’t worry if you just don’t get where they are coming from. You are different people, wired differently. But the fact that you take some effort to understand is worth a whole lot.
Don’t expect to like all the same things and don’t give up activities your partner doesn’t like just because they won’t do them with you. Be supportive of anything that gives each other joy and seek a balanced independence. Both of you will have compromised at least something in your decision to pursue each other, but the ultimate goal is to build a relationship that benefits both of you – where you both feel safe, where your needs are being met and where you have the surety that whatever you’ve had to compromise on is absolutely worth it.
When you commit to each other you commit to compromise and negotiation every day. It can be hard work, but the result is enormously rewarding. You don’t join a gym and expect to get fit without working out. And you shouldn’t get married expecting your relationship to grow and flourish without being prepared to put in the hard yards.
Marriage is all about dependability. Trust, loyalty and love grow out of the knowledge that your partner is one who can be relied on through every circumstance, even when you feel you may not be deserving of it. Dependability keeps the furnace of romantic love smoldering, making it easy to fan into flames of passion.
Always treat each other as partners. When you don’t include the other person in decision making, you exclude half of the ability and gifts that God has given to your marriage. Women are not better suited to some tasks while men are better suited to others. Share in the chores that need to be done. Don’t be afraid to put your hand up for the jobs you prefer to do, and negotiate fairly for the ones that neither of you care for.
Respect the contribution that each makes to the relationship and the family and remember to show appreciation often. “Thank you” can mean so much to someone who has just washed the floor, put the rubbish out, washed your car or ironed your shirts. Never take for granted the servant heart that works to make your home comfortable and your family cared for.
God’s Thoughts on Marriage and Intimacy
It’s good for a man to have a wife, and for a woman to have a husband. Sexual drives are strong, but marriage is strong enough to contain them and provide for a balanced and fulfilling sexual life in a world of sexual disorder. The marriage bed must be a place of mutuality-the husband seeking to satisfy his wife, the wife seeking to satisfy her husband. Marriage is not a place to “stand up for your rights.” Marriage is a decision to serve the other, whether in bed or out. (1 Corinthians)
God holds marriage in such high regard that he likens it to the relationship that Christ has with the body of believers, the church.
Husbands, go all out in your love for your wives, exactly as Christ did for the church-a love marked by giving, not getting. Christ’s love makes the church whole. His words evoke her beauty. Everything he does and says is designed to bring the best out of her… And that is how husbands ought to love their wives. They are really doing themselves a favor-since they are already “one” in marriage. (Ephesians)
Enjoy Life Together
Finally, and importantly, enjoy your life together. Entering into a committed, long term relationship doesn’t mean that all of a sudden you need to be sensible all the time. Sure – be responsible. But sometimes being sensible will deprive you of life’s greatest moments.
Cultivate a spirit of happiness in your home. Put some energy into coming up with ways of leaving work behind and injecting some fun into every day. Life is short, the years pass all too quickly. Have fun together and do whatever it takes to keep your relationship interesting. Enjoy your life and your partner will always be glad they chose you. Laugh often and laugh loudly. Be your partner’s most enthusiastic supporter. Clap and cheer the loudest for each other – each and every day.
As you plan your life with your partner, and as you travel your chosen path together, I wish you a safe journey but, above all, I wish you Love.
[i] 1 Corinthians 13