Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Things I Wish They Would've Told Me When I Was a Newlywed

My 14 years younger brother just got engaged this weekend.  And I'm so, so happy for him and his soon-to-be bride.  They are young, in love and doe-eyed, and have their future stretched out in front of them.

And for some reason, this has got me thinking back to when I was their age, and thinking about my future.
Maybe young people of this day and age have a better handle on reality and life than I did when I was young.

Growing up, as an LDS teen, attending Young Women's every week, every lesson, every activity that sunk in for me told me to focus on getting married in the temple, do everything you can to get there, be worthy, find a worthy mate, and get married.

 And then have babies.

That last part I think was implied, or maybe I just assumed that was the next step because my mother had 8 babies.

And these are all very good things; important things to plan to do as a teenage girl.  And I did them.  I made it there.  I married a good, handsome, worthy priesthood holding man in the temple.  And then had babies.

But at some time during that first year of marriage, I had an existential crisis.  At no point during my youth, had I made any plans for myself beyond my wedding day.  This was it.  I had made it.

Now what?

Eventually, I figured it out.  Or I'm still figuring it out.  And I'm sure most people do, but for my brother and his bride, and young (or old, like me) people everywhere,  here is a list of things I wish they had told me before I got married.  By no means, does this mean I have all the answers.  Not even close.  But these are little tidbits, ideas, and notions that have helped me along the way.

1. The fairy tales are lying to you.  You don't step off the boat from your honeymoon, and magically live happily ever after.  Being married in the temple doesn't make you impervious to marital discord. You don't have to stop trying just because now you're married. Being married and living with another person is hard. Really, really hard.  You have to work at it every single day.  Over and over.  Yes, there is such a thing as happily ever after, but no, it doesn't happen automatically.  Put in the work, you will reap the reward.

2. Pray every day to love your spouse (this is actually the best advice my mother ever gave me.  She told me one night when I came to her house crying after a silly fight with my new husband in our first year of marriage).  Some days, he will irritate the heck out of you.  Sometimes, you won't even like him.  Many times, you will disagree about things. But, pray to love and accept him the way he is.

3. Date nights are important! Whether you have no kids are 20, alone time, one-on-one time together are husband and wife are crucial to nurture your marriage and your friendship with your spouse.  I've heard and read other people say you can even have date nights at home.  This is great, but with 5 kids, it just doesn't work. At least for me.  Inevitably, at least one will come knocking, or want to join you.  As our kids have gotten older its gotten easier, but they know, Friday night is Mom and Dad's date night.  Every week.

4. Express Gratitude to your spouse. Every day.  Saying Thank you goes a very long way.  Men and Women alike like to feel appreciated.

5. Be Friends with your Spouse. At some point, that honeymoon phase will wear off.  You will both go to work, or school every day.  Time will pass.  And one day you will wake up with 3 babies, and realize that the only thing you and your husband have said to each other in the last week is "We're out of milk", "Did you pay the light bill?" or "The baby has a fever.  Again." Don't let your relationship be all business.  Have fun together.  Laugh together.  Read together.  Play together. Involve your children and let them see you enjoying each other's company.

6. You don't have to agree to get along. And just because you disagree doesn't mean it's the end of the world.  Or your marriage.  Learn to express your differences in a calm and open minded way.  My husband and I are complete opposites when it comes to personality and interests.  But we compromise. We participate in each other's hobbies.  We talk.  We listen.  We bite our tongue when necessary to avoid conflict or hurting the other's feelings. But know that it is important to talk about your disagreements and differences.  There is no room for resentment or grudges in a marriage.  Be open. TALK. Communication is key.

7. Forgive easily and be trustworthy. This is really important.  And doesn't need much explanation.  Be faithful in thought and deed.  Don't sweat the small stuff.

8. Accept unsolicited advice graciously, and then make your own decisions. There will be many who will want to share their infinite wisdom with you.  Take it with a grain of salt, glean what makes sense to you, and use what you have to do what works for you.  There is no right or wrong answer. This blog post included. This applies to children also.

9. It is not only acceptable but crucial for you to take care of yourself. Sometimes as adults, especially women, we get this disillusioned notion that we shouldn't be doing anything for ourselves.  This is fundamentally wrong.  I don't mean you should be selfish.  I mean that you can't neglect yourself and expect to have the energy to care for everyone else that needs you.  For me, exercise is the thing I do that's just for me.  Everyone has their thing. Find yours, and do it.  Guilt free.

10. It's no one else's business when you decide to start your family, and how many kids you have.  Of course that won't stop people from trying to tell you when and what you should do.  Again, accept their suggestions graciously, and do what's right for you.

11. It's okay to speak up and tell people you don't want 100 visitors in the hospital room when you have a baby. I didn't get the nerve to speak my mind til I had my 4th and 5th babies.  My first three, I was so overwhelmed playing "hostess" in the hospital, I wanted to hide under the covers and cry.  I wish someone had told me it's ok to tell people when its time to leave.  Or to ask people to call first before they come.  

12. Someone else's opinion is NOT a good reason to discipline a child. If I had a nickel for every time I disciplined one of my children for someone else's benefit... One day, I realized, who cares if this person doesn't approve of how I am raising my children.  I, their mother, know what's best for them, and no one else.

13. There is no better therapy than baby cuddles.  Messes will wait for you.  Sit down, read to your babies and cuddle.  Nothing cures the blues better than some snuggle-therapy.

14. You will develop some mad ninja wrestling skills when changing diapers. If you sing and make obnoxious animal noises, while giving your baby something to hold, he or she will magically hold still while changing their diaper.  You're welcome.

15. Sometimes YOU are your child's only advocate.  Be on their side.  Always. Even when you know they are wrong.  Even when they made a bad choice. Even when every other person in authority in their life is telling them and you that they aren't good enough.  It's heartbreaking, and someone needs to be in their corner.  That person HAS to be you.

16. Kids make messes.  And getting them to clean them up is tricky. I have to think up new creative ways to get my kids to do their jobs on a regular basis.  Be patient.  And stubborn.  I wish I knew a word for that concept.  Being patient and stubborn at the same time.

17. No one's children are perfectly well behaved all the time.  And neither will yours.  I remember being a young newlywed, and thinking, "Oh, my kids are never going to act like that."  Oh, if only I had known.

18. No matter how many times you tell your kids the rules, they will still want to break them. You will have to remind them to pick up their socks every day.  Every flipping day. Probably 20 times.  Remember that patient and stubborn thing.  It comes in handy.

19. Houses get dirty. Absolutely make time to clean, and involve your kids in the effort.  But don't hold yourself to a higher standard than you can maintain while keeping your sanity. And it's ok if it stays dirty sometimes.

20. Nobody stays caught up on laundry all the time.

21. Sometimes even good, righteous families forget to read their scriptures, or say their prayers or hold Family Home Evening.  So don't beat yourself up if you miss it sometimes.  Finding a balance that works is hard.  Just keep trying.

22. Stop comparing yourself to other people.  It's not a competition.  Be happy for other's successes, and be proud of your own.  And understand that no one's life is perfect.  Even the woman in relief society, who's hair is perfectly coiffed, who's home is always sparkly clean, and who's children seem to be perfectly behaved in their Sunday best every time you see them, who attends the temple every Tuesday, and always has some deeply insightful thing to say every time she opens her mouth. She is fighting some sort of battle.  So is everyone else.  You aren't the only one who has it hard.  Open up.  It's amazing how many people come out of the woodwork, when you admit you are struggling.

23. You don't have to pretend to be perfect.  Keep it real.  It's ok to have bad days.  It's ok.

24. Pray. Pray, pray, pray.  Every day.  I pray in the shower, or in the car.  A lot.  Because quiet time alone is very rare and fleeting.  And I couldn't make it through a single day without Heavenly Father's help.  Or just knowing He's there and listening to me.  And asking Him to be mindful of my children.  There is a deep comfort in that.

I know there are so many other people out there who have so much more knowledge and experience than I do. And I'm still learning.  Every day.  And some things I have to relearn over and over.  And my life is absolutely not perfect.  And I have my bad days. And what has worked for me might be different that what works for someone else.  But, I am happy, and remembering these things helps me to be happy, so I thought I'd share.

If anyone has anything to add to this list, I would love if you'd share your wisdom in the comments.