Recently I reconnected with an old friend. As we started to catch up on each other’s lives, she suddenly became very somber. The last time I saw her she was reeling under the sleepless reality of having four kids under six years old and a husband who traveled a lot. Theirs had been joyful wedding full of promise and hope and no one had any qualms about their marriage. They started to have children right away and seemed to thrive.Continue reading
You’ve just celebrated a big birthday: 21! You have a year left of college and you’re assuming that, like your friends, you will find the love of your life and get married right after graduation. But guess what. That’s not going to happen. Your friends will graduate with engagement rings on their fingers but you will not even have a boyfriend.Continue reading
This is going to be yet another blog about my journey raising boys. I apologize that this will make the second entry in a row on the subject. I try to diversify topics, but once again, this is where my heart leads. So please bare with me! I’ll go with it and hope for something new next time.
Because I was single and dated in my 30’s, I saw how ill equipped some men are for marriage. There are lots of good guys out there, but there are also a lot of men who have not yet grown up. Before Marvin, the men I dated were not ready for marriage, financially, emotionally, spiritually or mentally. And this is not unique. Take a look at television sitcoms and movies. Many depict 35 year old men living with roommates or their parents and playing the field. They salivate over big boobs and date for recreational purposes. They are boys. They have the sex drives of grown men, but in every other respect, they are immature and hindered by emotional issues they never address. And many are enabled to be this way first by their parents and then the women they date and the culture in which they live.
It seems to me that 50-60 years ago a man was expected to be ready for a wife and children by the time he was 25. By then he was expected to have a job that could support a family and to be the man of the house. I know many of these men had issues and many were schooled to be dictatorial leaders, not servant leaders. But nevertheless, the expectation was strength, not weakness. Compare the personae of Cary Grant and Hugh Grant, for example. One dignified and strong, the other boyish, fun and weak.
By the time our sons are 25, they will certainly be physically (sexually) ready for marriage, and the challenge for me as a parent is to do my part in helping them be ready in every other respect, too.
There are many things in our culture that make it particularly hard to raise boys to be good husbands. Entitlement has to be in the top ten.
If our boys feel entitled to have every toy they want, every gadget, every convenience, it is quite possible they will grow up to feel entitled to have sex whenever they want it, a new girlfriend when the old one gets boring or worst, a newer cuter wife when the old one looses some of her luster. Perhaps he’ll feel entitled to a house he really can’t afford and newer cars which keep his family in financial bondage.
It’s hard to ward off this plague from ruining our sons, but we have to work at it. We want our sons to be men who cherish their wives and lead their families with humility and care: men who have the self-control and patience to wade through those seasons in marriage when sex is scarce (like those first post-partum weeks or the ensuing months with infants who seem allergic to nighttime sleep).
If we want them to love their wives selflessly, we have to teach them when to put the needs above their own, teaching them to honor commitments and to be loyal to their friends: teaching them the value of a promise, a covenant, a code. And we have to show them that things worth having require hard work.
Which leads me to the next thing: this pervasive cavalier attitude towards financial stability, hard work and education.
Growing up in a poor country, my husband heard the same mantra from grade school to grad school: the way out of poverty is “education, education, education.” And yet I don’t really hear this mantra in America. It’s not that America’s young want to be poor, but there seems to be, among some, a lack of planning and purpose and sweat: “Who needs college?” or “Who needs marketable skills? I’ll get money somehow… I’ll figure it out later.” Where this is perfectly natural and fine to be the attitude in younger years, it’s the thinking of a boy, not a man and it reveals an unrealistic view of the world. The number of international students always far outnumbers the Americans in my husband’s science classes and lab. And for the first time, women outnumber men in medical school. I applaud that internationals and women have an open door to the sciences, but where are the American men? Science is certainly not the path for everyone, but I fear that these stats reveal something deeper. I don’t want women to out-perform men; I want both men and women to perform the very best they can, in every field.
And so this laziness, this flippancy about work and school and money, how do we keep it away from our sons? I’m not really sure, but certainly as they grow we have to teach them how to work hard, the value of money and how much money it actually takes to own and run a home. How wonderful if they can offer their wives the same gift that was offered to many of us: the choice to stay home. I want them to have the strength of character, the positive pride and the practical abilities to take on the burden of supporting a family solo. And then if they have wives who want to work, wonderful! But I don’t want them to need that or expect that.
Another thing that seems disturbingly prevalent is emotional immaturity. I don’t at all have the key to raising mature boys, but I do know that part of the solution is letting my husband be their dad. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve wanted to step in while Marvin was correcting one of our sons. Sometimes his way just seems too harsh to me, too rough and I want to baby the boys, snuggle them and tell them it will be ok. Well, certainly boys need this affectionate maternal touch sometimes, but they also need what their dad brings to the table. Often, they don’t need to be babied, they need to take their punishment, from their dad, like a “man”; they need to cry, let it out, and then wipe off their tears and move on. They don’t always need mom’s soft touch. My boys are blessed; Marvin is often affectionate with them; he often snuggles them and tells them he loves them. But he also has a way of “cracking the whip” in a way that I don’t. And they need it. I just have to step out of the way and let him do what only fathers can do.
With fifty percent of boys growing up without a dad at home, how many of them are missing this dimension of parenting and how many of them will be weakened as a result? Women, let your husbands be the dad your sons need. And single moms, find a male role model who can bring some balance to your parenting. You may think you’re tough, but moms often find it hard to be tough in the way their sons need.
My boys are 6 and 3. Who knows if they’ll be ready for marriage at 25 or if they’ll even want to marry at that age. But I want to make life easier for the single women they date and interact with. May our sons be part of the solution not part of the problem.
Much has been written of late about the importance of putting our marriages first. Perhaps we’ve seen how unpleasant children become when they are at the center of our universes. That coupled by the divorce rate in both the church and secular world have made psychologists and pastors a like place an emphasis on giving our spouses first place (well, second to God, that is), instead of our children.
I agree with this wholeheartedly, but agreeing and doing are two vastly different things. And like so many good things in life, making our spouses top priority doesn’t happen naturally. We love our husbands with an undying love, but the truth is, children will slowly but surely soak up every bit of time, physical and emotional energy and money we have, if we let them. When they are little, they need us to do almost everything for them, from providing meals to making sure they don’t kill themselves during their enthusiastic discovery of life.
We love our children so much, we worry about them so much and they need us so much that our husbands can slowly wind up at the bottom of the pile. This is even more so if we have demanding jobs or aging parents. Everything important vies for first place and it’s easy to take our marriages for granted and let that one slip.
So how do we do it, really? This is one of those things I’m discovering right along with you. I haven’t arrived at the elusive goal of Perfect Wife; I don’t do any of these things as consistently as I’d like, but it’s far better to have a goal and fall short of it than to have no goal at all.
Here are a few suggestions, if you, like me, are trying to figure out how Godly priorities actually happen in day-to-day life.
#1: Time alone together at home with no kids around. Many of us understand the value of regular date nights. And date nights are incredibly important. We need to get out of the house sans kids, do something fun and different and reconnect on an emotional level. We need time away from computers, televisions, cell phones and dirty dishes where we can focus on US.
But we also need time, everyday, when we’re home together and the kids are in bed. Even if we’re doing our own thing (working, writing, watching TV or reading), if the kids are out of sight, we have emotional space to have casual conversation and gel as a couple. We might comment on the book we’re reading, or a problem at work or laugh at a funny TV show. Even though we’re not having serious, concentrated conversation, we still learn something about each other in a casual way. With kids bouncing around, this rarely happens, especially at night when they’re either tired and whiny or tired and hyper. There will always be evenings when we go our own separate ways to have dinner with a friend, or attend a church event, or work late at the office, but on those nights when we are both at home together, it’s important that there is a pocket of time when we’re just couples again.
I think a good rule of thumb is two hours: two hours at night when you’re awake and your kids aren’t. So if you can’t stay awake past 10, put them in bed by 8. If they’re old enough, they can always read in bed if they’re not tired enough to sleep yet. But avoid the tendency of letting them stay up so late that you hit the sack as soon as they do. It’s just not healthy: for you, for your kids or for your marriage. You need that same emotional space as a couple that you may get during the day when your older kids are in school and your youngest is napping. It’s time to breath, time to slow down, time to think, time to love.
#2: Be as attentive to your husband’s preferences as you are to your children’s. For example: sometimes I find myself thinking only about what the kids like to eat and fail to think about what my husband likes. My kids love pasta and tolerate rice. My husband loves rice and tolerates pasta. It would be easy to serve some sort of pasta dish 5 out of 7 nights a week because I know the kids will eat it – without complaining. But that leaves my husband merely tolerating most of the meals I cook. And that doesn’t seem right. So I try to have a variety, knowing sometimes the kids will love it and sometimes Marvin will (and on a few occasions, everyone will!). My husband shouldn’t be the only one compromising.
#3: Get the rest you need to be his friend, and his lover. Sometimes at the end of the day, it’s very hard for me to concentrate when Marvin is trying to tell me about his day. I want to know how things are going at work, but I’m so tired. In my flesh, I just want to veg out. So if I am particularly tired I make myself take a nap mid-day, instead of getting distracted by dirty dishes or email, just so that I’ll have more energy at night. Let’s face it, you want your husband to try to be attentive to your needs, even when he’s busy or tired, and he wants the same from you.
Also, at times I say No to the kids when they want to do some strenuous activity because I’m already tired and if I agree to a 3 mile bike ride, I’ll be toast. I’m consciously trying not to let them suck every last drop of life out of me so that there’s nothing left for anybody else.
#4: Make your bedroom into a cozy refuge, not just a place to sleep. I learned this from some dear friends whose marriage I admire. They have a warm coffee nook in their bedroom where every morning they drink coffee alone together. This is especially important as kids become teenagers and don’t go to bed at 8:00 anymore. It’s an attractive, romantic space, not a kid space.
#5: Pray for your husbands as much as you pray for your kids: for their safety, success and protection on every level.
At the end of the day, we want our husbands to put us before their jobs. Even though they spend more hours there than at home, we want to know we come first. Our husbands want the same.
We love our kids enough to die for them, but in 18 years, they will probably leave home and never return (except for visits). They will fall in love (God willing) and get married and start their own families and we will fall a few notches on their priority list. By God’s grace, we will always be close to our kids and be there for each other, but their spouses and children will come before us. That’s God’s design, and it’s a good, healthy thing.
Your husband is the only person you cut covenant with; it is to him alone that you made a solemn vow to stay with for your entire life. You have become one flesh. That’s powerful and sacred and wonderful. Make sure you are just as close and just as in love when your kids leave home as you were on your wedding day. It will take work, but I want to be in love when I’m an empty nester, don’t you?
This Thanksgiving we invited the PhD students over from my husband’s lab. We usually go to someone else’s house for the holiday, but this year, we wanted to host our own dinner and invite these students who are all international and who would otherwise have no where else to go that day. So along with the regular Thanksgiving fare, we had Indian curry and Chinese wings: a different and wonderful twist!
We had a great time around the table, sharing stories and finding out about each other’s lives. I love hearing about different lands, customs and traditions and they loved being in an American home. But ours was not just any old American home; this was The Professor’s House! I knew intellectually that Marvin was their professor and their “boss” in the lab and, having been in China, I knew how much the Chinese respect their teachers. However, I did not put two and two together until that day.
After dinner, as is his custom, Marvin got up and began taking everyone’s plate and clearing the table. Almost in unison, the students piped in and protested, “Oh, no, Professor! You cannot take my plate!” Who is Professor? I thought. Oh yeah, my husband! To me, he’s Marvin, my friend, my love and Da da to our son. He’s the guy who takes care of the trash and maintains the cars. I love and respect him, but usually in a homey sort of way. At that moment after dinner, however, he was elevated in my eyes. I saw how much his students esteem him and how important he is in their lives — and my respect for him grew exponentially. I caught of glimpse of who he is the 10 hours a day when he’s not at home giving Isaac pony rides, chatting with me or fixing something in the house. And I realized that because of familiarity and the routine of the average day, I had lost sight of the other dimension of my husband. And that day our guests reminded me of it and gave my estimation of him got a fresh boost.
Men need respect so much. They need to feel affirmed, admired and esteemed, and yet in the midst of laundry and children and meals we women can forget this. Sometimes we focus on their faults, or we just fail to praise them for their successes. And so we need to see them shine. At regular intervals, we have to observe them in “their element,” whether it be in the work place, or coaching the little league team or directing a soup kitchen or scoring the winning goal, we need to see them doing what they do best and listen to what others are saying about them. Frequently, we have to get out of our little worlds of houses and kids, cooking and cleaning and remember who we married: a man who is great in some way at something – other than how he contributes to our lives.
I remembered a line from my wedding vows to him: “I will be your loudest cheerleader….” Every woman should be her husband’s loudest cheerleader. Don’t let another take that role. Yes, he takes out the trash and burps and leaves his socks on the floor. But he is also a great man craving your attention and respect.