Put Yourselves First

I have been thinking about this story for awhile, trying to remember when I heard it for the first time. Romantically I think maybe it was before I got married and I am sure it was repeated then but really it was much sooner than that. It is one of those family stories that I know was told throughout my life and it became part of my consciousness.

This is advice my mom passed to me but it was advice a priest gave them before their own marriage.

“Put yourselves first.”

“Put yourselves first. You will have jobs, and kids, and money problems. You will have all kinds of things happen that you can’t predict or even imagine but if you two have a strong foundation then your family will be strong and you all will be OK.”

My parents had a beautiful relationship. Just like everyone, it wasn’t perfect but they truly loved each other. I think they took that priest’s words to heart and did make themselves our foundation. Our family was built on them and even when there were struggles, and there were many, they were a team and we managed.

My Dad has been dead for 21 years and I truly believe in many ways my mother misses him about the same today as the day he passed. They were made for each other.

Alex and I didn’t always act on this advice during all the years of our marriage but we really try to now.

When we wrote out our commitment to each other at the start of this Dd journey that was the first thing we wrote, that we were rededicating ourselves to put ourselves first before all else. Before jobs, schedules, other family members, and even our kids. That does not at all mean that we are neglecting any of those things and that they don’t sometimes take precedence in time and effort but what we are committed to is making sure that in the midst of what ever distractions we are faced with that we remain in touch and connected. That we touch base with the other to make sure we are OK and that we acknowledge each other.

It is a real shift in how we interact and takes time and effort. Anything worth doing takes effort though and the benefits for our whole family are so worth it.

Kids come into our lives and take so much of our energy that it often seems that we have no time to spare for our spouses. Before I ever had children I was drawn to the quote that says that we should give our children two things. One is roots and the other is wings.

rootsandwings

My parents gave me that gift. I hope when my kids are my age they feel the same.

In order for the roots to be strong though we have to be strong and so we have returned to the advice of my mother and the priest who she got it from. We are stronger now than we ever have been. We see each other. We pay attention. We make sure our foundation is strong because that is the greatest gift we can give our kids.

Top Spot

As we have gotten into this dynamic we have seen changes big and small. Our kids notice. Some they like and apparently some they don’t.

Certain patterns and rituals develop that are known and comfortable. Where we sit at the table is one of those things. We each have a spot.

table

As parents we each sit at an end of the table with the kids along the sides in their chosen seats. He essentially sits at the head and I at the foot of the table but as kids moved out to school I stayed in my spot and he moved up closer to our daughter. This then put me at the head of the table.

It stayed like this even after there were only three of us at the table most times but in the fall I started to feel weird about that so I moved over. I started sitting on the side and Alex sat at the head. It felt right to me and it felt right to him.

What’s funny is it did not feel right to our daughter.

It kind of freaked her out. She very begrudgingly has accepted it but only just.

Last night we had dinner with our oldest. Just us three and I sat in my new “spot.” Much to my amusement she didn’t like it either. Apparently dad should not sit in my spot and it somehow rocks their world when we mix it up.

I don’t care. I like my guy at the head of the table and the head of the house.

It is a sign of respect that he sit at the head of the table. He didn’t ask me to move. I did it for him and now it is our new natural. The kids will catch up.

Oh We Notice

Children learn from what they see around them. They learn from the behavior we model and from what they are exposed to. When we were broken and not functioning as a couple I really worried about this.

I want the best for my children and that includes finding loving relationships themselves in their adult lives. I want them to find someone that loves them and cherishes them, makes them laugh and makes them feel special. I want them to find someone who treats them with respect and and care. Someone who they can talk to and someone who listens.

We used to not talk, not laugh, not connect. We rarely touched or spent time alone together. I can remember having conversations with my best girl friend about this very issue. I worried that the adult, married relationship we were modeling for our kids was teaching them that this was normal. I didn’t want the lack of communication and the disrespect we both showed each other to be what they took away from our home and into their lives. I didn’t want them to think that the way to handle their problems was to not handle them at all and that it was OK to just coexist in the same household.

Things are so different now and I love that on many levels but one of the biggest reasons is that now they are seeing us interact in a whole new way. They see us happier and connected. They see us spending time together just watching TV or running errands together. They see us kiss hello and goodbye and a quick caress or touch. They see us more playful with each other.They also see us talking without a snarky tone of voice. They see me asking for his advice and input. They see me taking care of him in big and small ways, the cleaner house, the cup of coffee. I want them to see it all.

I had a conversation with my oldest not long ago about our new dynamic. I did not and will not talk to her about Dd but we talked about how much better our communication is and how much happier we are together. I told her that we were really working on our relationship and that we were much happier now.

I told her I hoped that she and her brother and sister had noticed. “Oh WE notice” she said and laughed. She told me how nice it is to see us happy and how that made her happy.

That’s so nice to know, so nice that what we are doing is making a difference to them.

Our number one commitment these days is to each other and the health of our marriage. We have a written agreement about Dd and at the very beginning is that commitment. If we are not OK our kids are not OK and our family is not OK. The fact that my kids can and do see the benefits of all of this hopefully means we are doing something right.

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