On his way home, my husband Daniel asked about my weekend. I recounted tales of birthday parties and soccer games, bedtime tantrums, bickering at the beach, and pizza eaten in the bed of a pickup truck.
“So, you spent your weekend driving our three kids around in a minivan, going to birthday parties and soccer games? What would twenty-year-old you have to say about this?”
I gave it some thought. Twenty-year-old me graduated college early, in a hurry to figure out her life. She was about to suffer her first and only painful breakup, about to learn to live on her own, to manage her money, her time, her household, her dreams. Twenty-year-old me was a couple of years away from meeting her husband, but she didn’t know that yet.
She was selfish, but she didn’t know that either. She was comfortable in her physical skin but not in her station in life or in her actual person. She was disoriented. Though she was happy and though there are certainly good memories, they are all tinged with so much unknown and so much yet to learn.
Daniel and I recently celebrated nine years of marriage, and our children, one, five, and seven, are growing before our eyes. Almost everything has changed. There are the obvious changes: we used to live in a cool, downtown neighborhood where we could walk to everything; now we live a state away on a suburban street with mature trees. I used to work full-time, practically enduring a decathlon every morning before arriving at the office. Then nearly three years ago I quit my job to be home with my children.
When I was twenty and thought all I wanted was to get married and get my life started, I caught up with a friend who had just gotten married. “Is it awesome?” I asked, breathless.
“It’s an adjustment,” she said in a Southern sigh.
Marriage is an adjustment. Motherhood is an adjustment. I am not the same person I was on my wedding day, not the same person I was when my eldest daughter made me a mother. Here are five of the biggest adjustments I’ve made for my marriage and children:
Putting Others First (Without Losing Myself) – Everyone says if marriage doesn’t teach you to put another before yourself, parenthood will, and of course it’s true. And while I initially found it difficult to think of my husband before myself, putting my children first came to me like breathing. Before I knew it I was on the outside, grumbling that there didn’t seem to be anything left for me. It has been critical to find time in the fringes that I can take to center myself. All day I am a vessel, pouring myself out, and it’s honest work for the people I love most in this world. But even the best vessel doesn’t do anyone a bit of good if there’s nothing going into it. If my spirit isn’t being filled, then I can’t hope to give others what they need.
Laying Aside the Right to be Right – I’m analytical, and I like to be right. Our first years featured fights over really inconsequential things. And then we learned no one ever actually wins a fight. We learned you can be right and still behave wrongly, and that peace between us is far preferable to prevailing in an argument. I’m learning to word my arguments differently, with the goal of being heard and understood instead of winning, and I listen more intently to his points too.
Asking for What I Need – Somewhere along the way, I picked up the ridiculous notion that asking for things in relationships made one needy. So if I wanted my husband to do something around the house, I would wait for him to notice it needed to be done, huffing and gesturing, then I’d complain when he didn’t figure it out and I’d do it myself. So I wouldn’t get what I needed, and I would stew in my righteous indignation that my husband just didn’t “get” me. He begged me to just tell him what I needed. “I’d do anything for you,” he’d say, “if only I knew what you needed.” Maybe he “should” have known. But he didn’t.
I find when I ask him for what I need—help around the house, something for our children, time to myself—he is my greatest advocate. I’ve also noticed the added benefits of fewer arguments and greater understanding, as we learn more about each other from both the asking and the response.
Making Allowance for Faults – Last year we adopted Ephesians 4:2-3 as the guiding passage for our marriage and family: “Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults, because of your love. Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace” (NLT). This passage has been a game changer for us. Now, instead of punishing each other for recurring faults or mistakes, as we have done for years, we try to choose grace. We have been delighted to find that grace seems to beget grace. The more we receive it, the more we seem to want to give it away. We are finding the same with our children. The more we accept them—flaws and all—and meet them where they are, the more peaceful our relationships and our home.
Giving Up Control – While it’s true that no one is in control of their life, it was much easier for me to feel in control of my life when I was the only one in it. C.S. Lewis wrote, “The most precious gift that marriage gave me was this constant impact of something very close and intimate yet all the time unmistakably other, resistant—in a word, real.” Living every day with four people so delightfully, obstinately, irrefutably other than me is at once a joy, an irritation and a struggle. Consequentially, it means I am no longer in control of our schedule, the condition of the rooms in our home, or the location of all the socks. Lately I am reminded that I am not in control of my children’s dispositions, their interests, or their choices, big or small.
And most worrisome, I am not in control of the fate of any of these people I love more than life itself. I cannot control their comings or their goings, their health, their happiness, their safety, or the number of their days on this earth. I cannot, and it is terrifying.
Marriage and mothering have driven me to my knees harder and with more fervor than I had previously thought possible. I am finding that they require me to make almost constant adjustments, as we are all always changing and growing and navigating the shifting landscape.
Each night when I hit my pillow, exhausted, I fall asleep with the names of my husband and children on my lips, grateful for the chance to know them, to love them, to hold them if but for now, and grateful for all the changes they inspired that I didn’t even know I needed.