What My Parents’ Marriage Taught Me About Fighting With My Husband

Spoiler alert: Not much.

My parents have an idyllic marriage. Really. This August they will have been married for 32 years and they still make eyes at each other, kiss in public and hold hands under the table.

I can count on MAYBE five fingers the number of times I was aware of them arguing during the 18 years that I lived at home. When you think about it, that’s quite something.

I think this can be attributed to two things: 1) My parents are both pretty agreeable people who just don’t argue much, and 2) They were very intentional about having disagreements behind closed doors/after us kids were asleep.

On the one hand, this made for a very peaceful, loving environment to grow up in, and it gave me a nice picture of what a beautiful marriage looked like. I really respect my parents for the way they approached this issue. On the other hand, however, it did not provide me with many realistic expectations for how to deal with conflict in marriage.

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public domain image via pixabay.com

Because I almost never saw them, I wasn’t aware that it was common for married people to have disagreements, and to work through them. As a child, the few times that I did notice my parents arguing were pretty upsetting, because it was just such an uncommon occurrence. I immediately assumed that arguments meant serious problem/separation/divorce. And it took me a while as a newlywed to realize that there wasn’t something wrong with my marriage just because we seemed to fight more than my parents did. I expected perfection because that is what I was used to.

My marriage is different than my parents’. Jonathan and I are two passionate, headstrong, opinionated, sometimes contrary first-borns, and we both have a tendency to want our own way. These characteristics make great things happen when we are united toward a common goal, but they can be a real pain when we have a disagreement. Things can get heated quickly.

But you know what? Disagreements happen in marriage. They just do. We disagree, get angry at each other, take some space, work it out, apologize and move on. While it is very important to me that Jonah not be forced to hear things that are inappropriate related to his parents arguing, I do want my son to be aware that married people disagree sometimes, but they always work it out, and they love each other through it all.

We’re still working on this, but I think disagreeing respectfully in the earshot of children is a very important skill to have. This means things like keeping our voices even and our language neutral, and when we can’t do that, we table the conversation until a later time. Often, the act of having to wait to hash out an issue makes it resolve itself anyway.

In the early days of my marriage, I wish I would have known that married people can disagree sometimes but still love each other and be happy, and that life doesn’t have to be perfect to be really darn good.

 

What is your approach to arguing in front of your kids? How is it similar or different to your parents’ approach?

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I Support Public Education (And So Should You)

I’ve written quite a bit about being a former public school teacher. You might think that because I left teaching I have a problem with public schools. In fact, the opposite is true. I love public schools. I think they are the foundation for a democratic and equitable society. I support them, and you should too. More on that in a minute.

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First of all, a story. Growing up, I attended both private Christian and public schools, though I ended up graduating from a private Christian school. Here’s a brief summary of the state of the school options in my hometown (circa 2002-2006): expensive college-prep private, mediocre Christian private, and public schools containing mostly minority students.

When I say the private Christian schools were mediocre, I mean lacking options, like AP/IB classes, electives, even honors classes in most subjects–things the public schools had in abundance. Case in point: At the time that I graduated from my private Christian high school, there was ONE AP class offered–AP Calculus–that wasn’t doable for me. I entered college with no college credit, when other students had full years.

My parents were paying thousands of dollars a year for fewer options than I could have gotten at the local public school, for free. It boggles the mind.

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So why am I writing about this? Am I still bitter, ten years later, about not getting to take a few AP classes? Of course not. I’m writing about this because it matters, a great deal. The way people feel about public schools affects education policy at the state and federal levels–how much funding schools get, how public school teachers are evaluated, how (and how much) students are tested, etc. In the end, that affects all of us.

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Why are public schools worth supporting?

  • Public schools are legally required to provide all necessary academic services that children need, for free.

Did you know that public schools are required by the government to provide all services that children with various needs require to have equitable educational access? This includes services like ESL, classes for the intellectually gifted, a variety of special education classes, hearing and vision specialists, and speech, physical and occupational therapy, to name a few. One of my previous schools even purchased expensive cochlear implant hearing aids for all of its hearing-impaired students with district money. Do you think private schools offer all of these services? You would be very hard-pressed to find one.

  • Public schools are held to common state and federal standards.

All public schools are held to the same state and federal standards under which they are judged. Teachers are required to be highly qualified and evaluated for effectiveness at regularly-scheduled intervals. Money in the budget has to be accounted for. Curriculum is based on the Common Core standards. Private schools aren’t required to meet any of these standards. (In my nine years in private school, I don’t remember a single instance of a teacher being evaluated by an administrator while I was in class.)

  • Public schools expose children to those who are different.

It is a fact that many private Christian schools in the South opened during the 1960s and 70s as a way for parents to keep their white children separated from the black students in newly-desegregated public schools (see here, and here–the latter article is about my hometown). Most private schools remain overwhelmingly white. For example, there were maybe 5-7 black students in my entire high school of approximately 200.

As the average evangelical church is fairly segregated, your average white Christian child at a private school could conceivably go through his or her life and not interact with a person of color until adulthood. Personally, the first time I can remember talking to a black person was when I switched from private to public school in the 7th grade. What message are we sending to kids when they are constantly surrounded by those who look and act just like them? How do we expect them to feel and to act when they do encounter diversity?

Public school provides middle-class white children with the opportunity to interact and become friends with kids of different races, ethnicities, cultures and socioeconomic classes. This interaction (a) fosters empathy, (b) prepares children for the increasingly diverse United States that we live in, and (c) teaches children that they are not the center of the universe.

  • Public schools have the potential to be the great equalizer.

Theoretically, public schools have the potential to be true meritocracies, where all children enter on a level playing field and have the ability to succeed or fail based on their own merits and hard work. We know in reality that this is rarely the case. Even though no one is paying for an eduction at a public school, middle class parents are still able to provide extra benefits to help their children succeed, such as outside help and support, a knowledge of how the system works, etc. But the dream is there. Done right, public schools have the potential to be truly equitable in a way that private schools can never be.

 

So what is the point of this post? What’s a concerned parent to do? I’m not saying that public schools are the right choice for everyone in every setting. If I lived somewhere with a very low-quality school system Jonathan and I would perhaps choose private, too.

This is my point: Truly weigh all of your school options before automatically selecting a private school for your child. Make sure the private school really is a better choice, and has the services and options that the public schools do. Do your research. If your child won’t experience racial diversity at school, intentionally include it in your lives in other ways. Consider the fact that if more middle-class parents chose public schools, the school system would likely be better for everyone. Most importantly, don’t assume public schools are bad just because they contain a lot of black and brown children.

Why I Would Rather Be 28 than 18

Jonathan and I will have been together for 10 years this November. 10 years! That is over a third of my life. I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how I have changed over the last 10 years, and I think I’ve changed quite a bit, in mainly good ways. Holly Love at 28 is a different person than Holly Gushee was at 18.

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Check out these babies! I was 19 here, but close enough.

People talk a lot about “the best years of your life,” as in, “enjoy college, those are the best years of your life.” I find statements like this problematic. If certain years really are the best of your life, what about the rest of your life? Is it just all downhill from there?

I like to take a different approach. Common sense says to me that there are good and not-so-good parts of each different life stage, and that we should appreciate the best parts of the stage that we are in. And I’ve realized the best parts of my current stage are pretty awesome. Adulting has some good things about it, amirite? Here’s what I’m enjoying about being an “older” young adult:

  1. I’m not afraid to ask for what I need.

If I want something–at home, at work, etc.–I’ve learned that it’s okay to say so. It’s fine to say at work that I have too much going on and that I can’t take on another project. It’s fine to tell Jonathan that for my mental and physical health I want to make going to yoga a priority, and that we should be able to spare the money for me to do it. If I need something, I’ve learned to verbalize it and to advocate for it. It sounds so simple, but this isn’t something that I did much as a “younger” young adult, and this is something I’ve also noticed in the younger people that I work with. It’s so much more effective to directly say what you need than to hint around it, keep it to yourself and then get upset when you don’t get it.

2. I appreciate my body more for what it can do than for how it looks.

Having a child has fundamentally changed the way I feel about my body, for the better. Carrying, giving birth to and nurturing Jonah with my own body has helped me appreciate my body for the amazing things that it can do, and has helped me to cut myself a little slack for my body’s imperfections. Case in point: I am currently trying to lose about 8-10 pounds. Four years ago, I would have been pretty obsessed about this and upset that I was having a hard time fitting into my size 4 jeans. Now, it’s something that I’m working on, but it’s nowhere near my main concern.

3. I know the true value of money and material blessings.

Nothing will teach you the true value of money than going through a time in your life where you don’t have much of it. I had a very blessed childhood and young adulthood. This past year money was kind of tight for Jonathan and me, and it’s increased my feelings of thankfulness for what we have.

4. Some of my ideals have died. 

I planned to be a teacher forever. I wanted to change the world. But I’ve learned that my family and my mental health are more important. I don’t have to be involved in direct service to make a difference in the world.

5. I’ve learned that not everyone is just like me.

This is a big one. The first step to empathy is realizing that many, many people have a difference experience of life than you do. Since being out in the world, I have been exposed to many different kinds of people, and I’ve realized 1) my privilege and 2) that not everyone experiences life in exactly the same way as an upper middle-class Southern Christian white girl. Once you really get a glimpse of what life is like for others, it is much easier to love, and much harder to judge. (Many politicians need to learn this! *cough* *Donald Trump* *cough*)

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Present-day Holly, Jonathan and Jonah

What have you learned as you have gotten older? How has growing older changed you for the better?

Envy

I’m not proud of something that I felt today.

I was in a conversation with someone I am directly connected to. I obviously won’t say who it is. I see this person about once a week and will for the indefinite future. She is a newlywed married to a young guy who got an awesome, high-paying job straight out of college. He is five years younger than me and makes roughly double my income. Let’s call her husband Mike. Today this girl and I were talking about her job search. She was trying to get a certain kind of job to get hours to apply to a graduate school program.

“How’s your job search going?”-Me

“I have a lead on a job at _________. Oh by the way, Mike and I have decided I’m not going to try to go to (type of graduate school).”-Her

“Oh really, why not?”-Me

“Because Mike has such a good job, we decided that it wouldn’t be worth the money for me to go. It would be better to put that money toward his education. So I’m planning to just get a part-time job.”-Her

“Oh, why not full time? Because you don’t have to?”-Me

“Yeah, because I don’t have to. Since Mike makes so much money, there is no reason for me to work full-time. It makes sense to have one of us home to take care of the apartment, make dinner, stuff like that.”-Her

I felt physically ill when she said this. Even now, thinking about this conversation makes me feel queasy. It took everything I had not to say, “OH HOW NICE FOR YOU” in a really bitchy tone of voice. Instead, I bit my lip (literally), stood up and went outside to get some fresh air.

Important to know: This person has made comments like this before. “Mike and I are really comfortable… blah blah blah.” And she knows that my husband is unemployed right now and looking hard for a job.

Jonathan and I are so blessed in so many ways. In general we are pretty comfortable and have no reason to complain. Since he lost his job at the end of July, things have been tight, but we are making it. He’s been looking hard for a job and has had some interviews, but nothing has come of it so far. During our marriage to date, there has never been a time when I wasn’t the main breadwinner, for a variety of reasons. More on that saga another time. Recently I have been feeling a bit resentful about this, even though I like working, and I love my job. I’ve been wishing that I could spend more time with Jonah. I think I am tired of HAVING to work, of having to be the dependable, responsible one. Is it wrong to want to be taken care of for a change?

I’m a little scared of how honest this post is. Stuff from the deepest, darkest part of my heart is coming out.

So back to this conversation. Hearing this girl, who doesn’t have a child, who doesn’t even have pets, talk about how she doesn’t really have to work and needs lots of time to take care of things at home, made me feel sick to my stomach with envy. There–I said it. i am envious of how easy life is for her. I’m not proud of it. Obviously lots of people make more money than we do, but I’ve never felt before like I felt today. Today, it was personal. I can’t recall ever feeling as acute a sense of wishing I had what someone else has as I did today.

What’s funny is that I have never wanted to be a stay-at-home mom. As someone who thrives on a schedule, I’ve never thought I would be happy without one. I tend to get stir-crazy when I’m at home too long. On the other hand, I would love more time with my baby. Isn’t that the working mom’s dilemma? I do think a goal of mine might be to work part-time someday when we can afford it. And obviously it would be amazing if Jonathan made enough money that I didn’t have to work, even though I probably would anyway.

People, choose your words carefully. Think about other people’s situations in life before you speak. And clearly don’t spout off about how comfortable you are if you know someone else is struggling. As for me…I need to be content with what I have.