“They must be crazy!”, available at: ForYourMarriage.org


Happily Even After

“They must be crazy!”


March 9, 2010

“They must be crazy!”

The priest repeated this refrain in his homily at our wedding on May 9, 1998, at the church on the campus of the University of Notre Dame. We were technically still college seniors, celebrating the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony the day after finals.

The priest recalled for all present that the novelty of the news of our wedding had spread across campus. When our fellow students heard that we were finishing finals on Friday afternoon, holding our rehearsal and dinner later that evening, and getting married at 1 p.m. on Saturday, they thought we were out of our minds.
 
We both will admit that our GPAs suffered that spring semester of senior year, but it was worth it. The wedding served as a fitting culmination of our relationship, which had grown entirely within our time at Notre Dame.
 
We met on the first day of classes when we shared a humanities seminar together and by spring of our junior year, we had asked our parents for their blessing and had a date to be married. We may have been crazy, but we weren’t stupid–all of our friends were on campus and finished with classes and ready for a party. Our Irish and Polish family and friends celebrated with the fullness of joy that only weddings can manifest.

Yet, sacraments are starting lines, not finish lines, and we’ve hit our stride as a married couple of 11 years and counting. We crossed the continent when we lived in Alaska for a year, serving as Jesuit Volunteers, and then moved to Florida for the birth of our first son, Oscar (9 years old). We returned to Notre Dame as the first married couple to work through the Masters of Divinity Program together.

After earning our degrees in 2005, we were graciously received by the University of Portland in Oregon to serve as campus ministers, sharing one job, and we’ve been here ever since. The university allows us to share one full-time position, so one of us can be at home with the kids during the day. We each take two or three days on campus during the week and have a very highly coordinated calendar.

Two more children arrived along the past five years here in Portland: Simon-Peter, who is pushing 4, and little Lucy, who is two and a half.

In some ways, our married life is atypical: we share a job and an income; we shared the formative parts of our lives together, including the turn to specialize in a career; and we both see our vocation as a married couple intimately tied to our vocation to serve the Church as lay ecclesial ministers.

In many, many other ways, though, our lives are very typical: we worry whether our kids get enough to eat when all that seems to go into their bodies, despite our best efforts, are fruit snacks; our solitary car needs a new transmission, probably, and the rear window wiper doesn’t work; and any given Friday evening has us renting a movie and turning in early.

Our goal in this blog is to simply share with you glimpses into our married life and what we do to sustain it. After being married nearly a dozen years, significant moments and insights continue to come to us throughout a typical week. Our hope is that, perhaps, sharing these will be useful. At a minimum we are most grateful for the opportunity for some intentional reflection.

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Parenting the “Now More Than Ever” Teen

Parenting the “Now More Than Ever” Teen

I feel like a war-worn, battle-tested survivor today after parenting the kids alone while Stacey is away. In one day, two of the three children abruptly outgrew their school uniforms—their pants just all of a sudden didn’t fit. Next, I held lines with a hormonal, irrational, and emotional teenager over an utterly nonsense issue without escalating. Finally, I had to break out the sewing kit to make repairs to two non-clothing items, once during breakfast and then again during dinner.

The key to it all, looking back from a comfortable distance, was holding lines and boundaries and avoiding escalation. Escalation is how we describe what happens when a conversation continually rises in intensity and then boils over.

I usually have the line-holding thing locked down. That part is easy for me. It is just that I easily escalate as I hold those lines because I become offended if they are crossed.

For example, Oscar began a conversation just before bed by saying this, “Daddy, I feel like you outright lied to me…” I called a time out right there and had him go back to his room and think about a better way to begin that thought. I told him that I did not intentionally deceive him, and accusing someone of lying is a big step. He consulted a dictionary and held his line—he felt like I lied to him.

Understanding that he had come to this conclusion thoughtfully, I let him proceed with his statement. He was talking about something utterly insane—he felt like I was preventing him from going to bed sooner—so I called a second time out and told him to hit the sack because the conversation was not going to be productive.

Now, if it was still an issue in the morning, we could talk about it then, I told him. He was miffed in the moment, but I’m pretty confident he got over it in 15 minutes. Our poor son has hormones raging through him and he just isn’t himself sometimes. In some ways, he literally is becoming someone else—his voice is changing and his body is transforming into an adult’s.

There is an old saying that is ringing more and more true to me the older I get: the boy is the father of the man. The line means that the habits and proclivities we cultivate in our youth shape the adult we become. Looking back, I see this as true in my own life. Looking ahead, I see that we have a responsibility to help Oscar cultivate the man he will become one day.

That lens changes what lines I hold with him and why. I used to hold lines about respectfulness because I felt like children should honor their parents (which they should, of course). Now I hold those lines with Oscar because I want him to become a respectful man who communicates thoughtfully when he matures.

Oscar is changing, and his changes are transforming our family, and asking more out of us as parents. As a teenager, he is highly sensitive to anything that even smells hypocritical, and this is calling us to more integrity and honesty in our parenting. We have to be able to hold lines in a firm, but loving manner, and to absorb escalating emotions without making him feel distanced. We can clearly see that he absolutely needs firm boundaries now (more than ever), but that he also desperately needs to feel heard now (more than ever).

On top of all this, we must maintain and perhaps even increase our physical affection for him. Touch is one of the ways Oscar receives love—he has always responded to physical affection, whether a rub on the back or a sudden hug. As he grows into his teenage body, which starts to resemble an adult body, it seems natural to give him more space and privacy. While he does need those, he also continues to need bodily expressions of love.

So in many ways, he is asking us for that which is most difficult to give right now—parenting him is like swimming upstream. Balancing all of that is not easy, but true growth never is, and it will make us stronger swimmers in the end. We are taking another step in the way family life is calling us to grow towards perfection.


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