Days of Fragmentation and Wholeness, available at: ForYourMarriage.org


Happily Even After

Days of Fragmentation and Wholeness


July 21, 2010

by Josh Noem

One of the constant challenges of family life with small children is trying to get a word in edge-wise.

It is routine to carry on two or three conversations at one time. Stacey and I can be in the middle of discussing a recurring issue, trying to dig in and get to the bottom of something personal and important, when suddenly one child needs help with the toilet, one needs help with homework, and the other needs help with tying a shoe. It is stressful to simply try to keep track of who is saying what to whom.

For me, in particular, it is difficult to stay engaged with the process, when such a conversation requires me to both think and identify how I might be feeling. I think it is like this for many other men—speaking, thinking and feeling seem to be three separate functions, all requiring focus in their own right. (Stacey, like many women, seems to be able to function in all three areas instantaneously.)

Last night, I was bemoaning the challenge of this aspect of family life. This morning and throughout today, I discovered the other side of that equation.

In the span of half an hour this morning, I had a significant exchange with Stacey and with each one of the kids. I went upstairs to retrieve something from my room and side-stepped into the boys’ room to sit next to Oscar for a few minutes. I observed him playing with his Legos and stepped into his shoes for a moment. (How does one create water with square and rectangular shaped Legos?) I gave him some affirmation and we exchanged a hug.

I then joined Stacey on the front porch—she was finishing the chocolate-chip pancakes I had just made her—and watched her joke with Lucy, who was asking for piggy tails to match her mommy. Simon, meanwhile, plopped down in the small rocking chair next to me and explained he was taking a halftime break from an imaginary football game. All of this transpired in the span of 15 miutes in the middle of the first sunny, clear, bright morning we’ve had in several weeks.

A busy, ever-moving, dynamic family life can often make my days feel fragmented. But the other side is that a busy, ever-moving, dynamic family life can make my days feel richly integrated. I am at my best when I can recognize this harmony and take a deep breath to offer God my gratitude.

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A Moving Proposition

A Moving Proposition

We bought a house by accident this summer.

We had been saving up for a down payment with plans to purchase a home next summer, but thought it wise to dip our toes in the market this year, just to see where things stand. We figured that we’d have a better idea of what we would be looking at when it matters next year.

We walked through a home and found parts that we liked and parts we didn’t like. Another home was for sale across the street, so we thought we’d better check that one out, too. When we walked through this second home, we found very little that we didn’t like. We especially fell in love with the spacious backyard, half of which was thickly wooded.

We had an overcrowded summer that included nearly six weeks of continuous travel, so why not throw the purchase of a new home on top of all that? The one thing we learned from our last house transaction, however, was to take things one step at a time—that it is a long process that unfolds over months.

Every new step we came to made the way clear for us, so we kept proceeding, and here we are—we closed on the house last week and have moved everything in (thanks to some hard-working and generous friends). Most of our rooms are still packed in boxes, but we have transitioned to a new living space.

In 16 years of married life together, Stacey and I have moved ten times. By the second or third move, it was clear that we are at our worst when we are moving. Some situations call the best out of us, but moving is not one of them. Our personalities and communication needs are at their most oppositional during a move, and the stress of the transition makes things worse.

Knowing this helps some, but does not alleviate the problem that our communication patterns conflict. Despite what we know about it, that factor remains. As is the case in anything that comes up after vowing to love and honor each other all the days of our lives, we simply keep at it and do our best. What else is there to do?

We find that whenever we keep trying to communicate, though—no matter how unproductive and maddening it might seem—we always learn something new about each other.

For example, we had a week to move into our new home after closing. We had six rooms we wanted to paint, and a split-rail fence to build to keep our dog in the yard. All of this on top of packing up one house and unpacking in another.

During the painting, we found that I had much more patience to handle the detail work of cutting in the edges with a small brush. But if it hadn’t been for Stacey’s initiative and motivation to push on through the work, we would never have finished it all. When it comes to painting, Stacey is all about the quantity of the work, and I’m all about the quality. Both aspects are important—in fact, once we discovered this fact, we did our best to play to our strengths.

Another example: when it comes to packing, we are just the opposite. My idea of packing is to open the biggest box I can find and literally dump shelves into it until it is full. I simply want to get everything out, so we can organize it in the new space. Stacey had every room organized and packed up in neat and tidy boxes, each with its own label. Again, both approaches were needed—I had the drive to move the work forward, and Stacey was all about doing it well.

The biggest challenge we faced in all of this was simply having time to stay on the same page and figure out all of these communication needs. Both of us have spent every evening for the past two weeks working, painting, packing. We are doing the same work in the same house, but not in the same room. We collapse into bed, exhausted. Trying to find time to communicate well has been difficult.

I wish I could say that we put our backs together and faced this transition like heroes. The reality is that the only time we had to share with each other in a day was in the bathroom at 11:30 p.m., brushing our teeth, working through conflict while trying not to raise our voices as the children slept.

Heroism in lifelong marriage comes down to sticking with the time-worn, difficult conversations, wading through them together, and seeking and giving forgiveness. While that would not make a good plotline for the next Avengers movie, we came through the experience richer for it because we learned more about each other. Our lives have grown together in yet another new way.


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Days of Fragmentation and Wholeness, available at: ForYourMarriage.org
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