What I’ve learned from my parents.
Today my parents have been married 42-years. Anyone who has been in a relationship for a while knows that is no small feat. As I sit here in my 12th, going on 13th, year of marriage, I realized just how much they had to weather, and through it all, they still choose each other (most days).
How They Met
My parents met in high school. Dad was a football player and science geek (the two don’t usually go together but if you know my dad, you know he’s quirky like that). Mom was into art (shocker!). They went through high school and didn’t really pay attention to each other. After high school, they were both in an art program at their local college. They got to know each other and began to make more and more plans for the future.
Dad once described realizing he should ask her to marry him when they were buying cool furniture together but didn’t have anywhere to put it. His proposal was something like,
“What do you think about spending the rest of our lives together?” Jeff Britton
Mom had no idea it was a proposal, and casually said, “sure, okay.” The next day they cleared things up. They rented this adorable stone cottage with the peaked roof in the woods from a friend of the family. They weren’t practical–there was no running water (or heat, some necessary thing was missing, I can’t remember).
After being married for five months, at the ages of 21 or 22, they discovered that I was on the way. (FYI When I had been married five months, I was getting diagnosed with Celiac disease. I was mistakenly told I might be pregnant, which totally freaked me out. I was not ready to be a mom, and I was 27.)
Family of three
I was not an easy kid. I had colic. I was ridiculously strong-willed (some may argue that hasn’t changed), bossed everyone around (again, debatable on if that changed), rebelled by listening to Broadway show tunes (this has drastically reduced), and drove my car into a few ditches and a cornfield (happy to report this has ceased). My mother once infamously said,
“I now understand why some animals eat their young.” Sue Britton
They waited 5-and-a-half years to have my brother Andrew just to only have him for seven years before he went on up to heaven unexpectedly. I’ll never forget the moment I realized that my parents were in their mid-30’s when Andrew died. At the time, I saw them as “old,” and now I know that they were so young, too young, to have to bury a child.
I hated this dress. Still do.
Given all that has happened in their 42-years of marriage, and my nearly 41-years of life, I thought I’d call out some of the things I’ve learned by watching them.
5 Lessons I’ve Learned/Observed About Marriage
One: It’s Okay to Fight
So, this is an odd one to start with but stick with me. My dad’s side of the family is Welsh, Scottish, and Irish. My mom’s side is German. My dad isn’t called “Papa Sparky” for nothing. It’s normal for people to have a difference of opinion, “discuss” the issue, part ways, and come back. That way, you both know where you stand, you understand the other person more, and you talk it out to get on the same page. Fighting isn’t mean, malicious, or disrespectful. It’s all about two different opinions, finding common ground, and being a little embarrassed about how fired up you got about planting the flowers in the backyard.
He found a turtle and made it a habitat to teach the girls. Then they let it go.
Two: It’s the Little Things
My dad is gifted with little gestures of thoughtfulness. This past winter, we were getting in his car to go to a client’s (I work with my parents), and he had turned on the heated seat for me, so it was warm when I climbed in. He’s set-up picnics in the woods, nighttime tea in the woods with a story to read, made a bunch on the patio just for mom, and sent me a text for one of my daughters that he knew she’d love. Gestures of love and respect don’t have to be grand or expensive, they can be thoughtful, sweet (okay, romantic even), and unique.
Three: Faith Matters
Growing up, my parents were active in our churches. My dad baptized me when I was five-years-old. Dad considered going back to school to be a pastor at one time, but then Andrew passed away, and things changed. When Andrew died, they didn’t give up on God. I’m sure they had some choice words for Him, but they kept believing. Over the years, their dialogue with God has ebbed and flowed, but at their core, their beliefs remained.
One of the best things I’ve ever learned (to some people’s annoyance) is that there are always two sides to every story. Before jumping to conclusions and “getting our panties in a twist” (as dad would say), consider the other parties to see if I have a right to be as mad as I am, a little mad, madder, or feel bad for them. This has been incredibly useful as I raise two curious girls who want to know “why (name withheld) squeezes me like a bottle of ketchup when she hugs me” or “why did (name withheld) say that she liked (name withheld) better than me?” Helping to understand other sides to the story increases our empathy, grace, and cools us down just a little bit.
Dad at the shop.
Five: Have Adventures
Growing up, we didn’t have any money. Dad worked as a carpenter during the day and then would go to a second job in a tool and die shop. Mom was a freelance designer with an original Mac and Letraset letters. With little money, we would go on so many adventures. Some were full-on vacations, and others were spur-of-the-moment surprises. Night-light Nights meant getting in our pajamas, climbing into bed, and then being surprised by our parents yelling, “NIGHTLIGHT NIGHT!!!” We’d pile into the car in our pajamas, go to Baskin Robbins, and drive around looking for fireflies or the best song on the radio. Also, it could be as simple as sitting on the porch swing with a cup of chamomile tea while my dad read me Peter Rabbit. To a little kid, that can be an adventure.
Now, before you think I have the best parents in the world, let me be clear they have made mistakes. Dad loses his temper too much, and mom focuses way too much on the details. Still, the big takeaway from my almost-41-years of being their daughter, is that life is about forgiveness, grace, a few free passes for poor behavior or perfectionism, grief, love, honor, and respect.
Dear Mom and Dad, Thank you for being an example of all of these things. We love you. Meghan
Image at top: Alayne Johnson Photography