Tuesday, February 12, 2008

kids and spouses

On the second and fourth Tuesdays of each month during the school year, I go to MOPS, or Mothers of Preschoolers. It is a lovely, lovely thing. The children are separated into groups by age, so MyGirl, NumberOneSon and HB get to play with other children, and the kiddos are watched by grandparents and other volunteers. We mamas sit down, eat food that we didn't have to prepare, drink coffee, and Talk With Grownups. Sometimes there's a Discussion Topic, sometimes a craft, and sometimes there are other offerings, like Pampering Day.

Today was The Men's Panel. The head pastor and operations manager of the host church were there, and also two male therapists. One of the therapists was My Guy, who has been an immeasurable help to me over the past handful of years. The forum was this: moms ask questions, Expert Men answered questions. It was a great experience, the guys had so much constructive and uplifting things to say about marriage, raising children, in-laws and the "S" word (yes, I mean sex).

There were a couple of things I noticed as I listened to the questions, the answers, and the conversation that followed.

Successful marriages require the spouses to be very intentional about spending quality time together. We must also be intentional about expressing what is going on inside our heads and what the state of our feelings is.

Spouses, like our children, often need to be trained. Now don't read that and assume I am being condescending (or comparing my husband to my kids). We don't think alike. We need different things from each other. I, for example, feel loved when The Mister does things around the house like sweep or vacuum (I am capable only of pretending to vacuum), put laundry in the washer, pick up a few toys...you get the picture. He's great about helping; it helps that he's a clever man, and I have said 'Can you HELP?!?!' only one or two (hundred) times in the six plus years we've been married, and almost always in the (not) nicest way possible.

Women were freely asking the Men Experts questions today, spilling their hearts out and wanting to know how to make their husbands understand this, or that, or the other thing. The Experts almost always asked them a question back: Have you told your husband you feel this way? Have you told your husband you need this? And these sad, hurting wives would look at the Experts incredulously. Well, no. I guess I haven't. It was so sad and matches up with the statistics about married women in our demographic (white, middle-class, mothers), who think they must do it all and be everything to everyone, and who are tired and frustrated and angry because they feel guilty for being tired and frustrated and angry.

Our spouses are like our children. Kids don't know that running into the road is dangerous if we don't teach them that it's a bad thing to do. Our spouses don't know that we would like to get a little gift once in a while, or not have to make dinner, or not be the point man for the kids on a Saturday. But if that is what it takes to keep you going, then for heaven's sake, people, express yourselves. And say it before you start wanting to smack people. No good talk comes from the mouth of She Who Wants To Smack People. Ever.

Expectations can lead to disappointment. The Mister and I are prime examples of this: if we aren't being intentional about talking with each other, and assume the other person is reading our vibes, or that our thoughts have rubbed off by osmosis while having the quick good-morning peck, we tend to fall back into having unspoken expectations of each other. And inevitably, we're irritated by dinnertime, if not sooner. I can think of at least a hundred examples of times I've expected The Mister to do or be or say, and he doesn't do or be or say. Not because he doesn't want to play nice, not because he doesn't love me, but because I forgot to tell him I wanted him to do. Or be. Or say.

It's such active work, this love and marriage and parenting stuff. If someone told me that before I got married, I sure wasn't listening.

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talk to me, people. because you know i get all giddy when you do.