Earlier this week, for the first time ever, my husband and I were at home by ourselves for two days and three nights. Over the 15 plus years we’ve been parents, we’ve had the occasional night or two away but we’ve always moved out and someone else has moved in to take care of our children. This has meant that every time we’re alone together for an overnight we are somewhere new, doing new or different things. Whether it’s a local hotel or a city in a foreign country, we are eating differently, seeing different things, talking about new places.
Not this time. This time our children went away to camps and to friends, and we stayed home.
Less than 24 hours into the alone time and I was panicking.
It felt strange. I wasn’t consciously missing the children but I was really uncomfortable with the dynamic of just the two of us. Readers of this blog will know that it’s been a rocky couple of years, and although we have seen great healing, one of the things (it turns out) we’re not very good at, is spending time alone together just being.
We want different things. He wants companionship, I yearn for solitude. I want to sit in a room alone, he wants to be together. We aren’t very good at talking to each other.
We took our dog for a walk and I broached the weirdness with him. He agreed. He said it had felt like a really long 24 hours. We laughed and agreed that so long as we both felt it that was probably ok.
We got through it. We did what we are good at and planned some activity which we did together. And then we got one of our children back and a few days later all of them.
But those few days made me begin to fear for the future. That’s right – the future that I don’t even have yet. The future that isn’t right now. The future that is only imagination in my head.
I started to worry that I wouldn’t be able to stay married to my husband. ‘If we can’t even manage 2 days and 3 nights, how will we ever manage the years after our children leave home ? Can I do it ? Can I promise that now?’
And then a friend told me that forever is a long time and I should just think about the moment I am in. And I realised that I haven’t even been given tomorrow yet, so it’s rather presumptuous of me to worry about a future which is entirely in God’s hands.
When our children came home I relaxed as we resumed our usual roles – husband and wife, but also Mum and Dad. We’re good at the Mum and Dad bit. Really good in fact. Good together.
And I was struck by two things
Firstly – I am comfortable in what is my ‘ordinary’ right now, and that is having 3 children living at home with me whom I take care of. I spend much of my time with them, and even when I’m not with them, they take up a lot of my thinking space. I was trying to jump into being comfortable in a very short time with what is ‘extraordinary’ – just being with my husband. I realised that when the time comes for us to live without them, it is likely to happen gradually, and we will have moved towards that being our ordinary. It won’t be as great a difference as it is now when we jump from 5 to 2. We have, all being well, another 11 years before our youngest leaves home, so I really am jumping the gun in trying to be ready for it now. I’m like a pre-schooler worrying about taking high school exams after visiting the high school for a fun fair.
Secondly – I know that there is, rightly, a concentration of books and speakers and bloggers urging married parents to make time for their couple within the marriage. To have date nights and alone time, and all kinds of marriage building things, as without that core relationship the family is not strong. I agree with that, and it was something we had utterly neglected in the lead up to our great crisis. BUT I’d like to add a slightly different perspective.
I’m trying to find a good analogy, and its tricky but this one will at least give you a sense of what I’m thinking.
If you imagine marriage as an art work, when children are brought into the family they add to the art. They aren’t the foundation of the piece, but they bring new colours, textures and shapes to it. And the whole piece changes. Maybe lines or shadows that were quite striking in the original piece become less so. Maybe the edges become less distinct. Maybe new colour highlights previously unnoticed colour in the original. Once it has been added to it can’t be stripped back to its original form.
I think our marriage is like that. We can’t go ‘back’ to being the two of us, because that pairing has changed because of the three people who live their lives with us. We can’t go forward to when it will, perhaps once again, be just two of us, because we have no idea what we will be like then.
It makes me realize that at this point when our children range from 7 to 15, we are, very much, the people we are when we are living alongside them.
When there are only 2 of us – there is only one possible interaction. When there are five of us together there can be a possible 24 different interactions taking place at any one time! It’s a totally different way of living, and because we are adaptable humans we have learned to do that, and in fact if we ddin’t adapt to that, life with children would become intolerable.
So I’m actually writing this to anyone else who thinks ‘how the heck will I manage when it’s just the two of us ? what will we talk about ? How will it be?’
I have no idea, and I can’t imagine it, but that’s good because it shows that I’m doing well at living the way I’m supposed to right now, which is as part of a unit of five. Yes, my husband and I, we need to keep loving each other, care about what is going on in the other’s life and look out for each other, but we don’t need to panic when we struggle with more than 2 hours by ourselves.
I’ve been reminded to trust God this week.
To trust Him to finish what he has started.
To trust Him to walk with us through whatever lies ahead.
I’ve been reminded that it’s presumptuous to worry about the future.
I’ve been reassured that I’m doing my ordinary well.
With thanks to Esther Emery and the #wholemama community for making me stop and reflect on the goodness of the ordinary. If you want to read more on the theme of ordinary click here.