In this post, I’m going to give you an insider’s glimpse into the dysfunction of my marriage and family. You’d never discover this information unless we chose to share it, and most people would choose not to reveal these things about themselves. But I think honesty (KIND honesty) is likely to be helpful! And you’ll see the beauty of our marriage and family too. And even if this does nothing for those who read it now, I want to document it for my kids. Because this blog is for them… even though I hardly find time to write here anymore!
Olson Tinies, someday, when you read this and are no longer tiny, you will be reminded that your parents fought when you were little. We aren’t there yet, but I’m guessing it is a pretty sure bet that your parents fought when you were big too. And of course you remember – you lived here while it happened! When you remember that we fought/still fight, I hope you also remember that we came to find you afterward so we could talk to you about it. Because the fears you imagine and the unknowns you cannot name are far more terrifying than whatever is really happening, and we know that. So we told you what was going on, and even more so as you got bigger and could understand. You might also remember that you were welcome to weigh in, never during, but always after the fight once we told you about it. And you did weigh in – you bravely pointed out how we both contributed to the problem, whatever it was. And we talked about it. If nothing else in this family, we TALK about things, don’t we? That’s because we love each other.
The other day, Mommy and Daddy had a fight about vacuuming the van, or so it would appear. But we never actually fight about things, issues, topics… I can’t imagine that many people do. If we look closely, we notice that we fight about people, specifically, we fight for people. And most often, we fight for ourselves. Some facet of our personhood is being questioned or damaged, and our feathers get ruffled, and we step up to fight! Defend! Set things right! When we do this on behalf of someone else, it is a good thing. When we fight for someone who cannot or will not fight for themselves, we are laying ourselves down and instead picking up the cause of someone because they matter. They have value and we see it in them, even if they don’t see it in themselves. We are so proud every time each of you has done that! But when we fight on behalf of ourselves, our selfishness gets in the way and muddles things up. Are we doing good? Or just defending our pride? It’s often hard to tell.
I called Daddy and told him that we were going to clean out the van after lunch. It took a long time! We emptied out all of the trash. We collected all of the toys and artwork and random items that were worth keeping but had been forgotten in our van. We took out the booster seats and CLEANED. We used Clorox Wipes and worked on the windows and the cup holders and all the nooks that collect junk. We even vacuumed with the wet/dry vac! It took a long time, we did it in the hot sun, and we worked as a team.
I called Daddy again to tell him about our hard work. The wet/dry vac hadn’t really done a thorough job, so I told him that we were going to take the van to a detailing place. He immediately responded to a secret fear that cropped up – he didn’t want to spend money unnecessarily. He didn’t know how hard we had worked and that the wet/dry vac wasn’t sufficient. But without realizing it, he believed I was asking him to be flippant with money, and his feathers ruffled and he was not going to let that happen! Instead of directly telling me that he was concerned about the money so that we could talk about it further, he started making various excuses about why we couldn’t and wouldn’t be taking our van to get vacuumed. These excuses included questioning my credibility to make this decision, whether we had done good enough work in the first place and were just being lazy and passing it off to a professional instead of working hard ourselves, questions about cost, questions about whether their equipment was any better than what we had at home, and other things I don’t remember now.
That triggered two of my secret fears – I was being treated unfairly and someone considered me inferior when compared to them. My feathers were ruffled and I set out to prove that of COURSE I knew what I was talking about and we WERE going to do this because I said so. I systematically found the flaw in each random excuse Daddy listed, readily proved that this was doable, practical, and definitely going to happen, and even researched our community for places to take the van. I found one, and they closed in 40 minutes. This was a problem because I couldn’t drive the van over myself and leave you all at home (the booster seats were out and staying out until the vacuuming was finished) and Daddy would have to hurry home to switch vehicles, then hurry across town to get the van there before the business closed. He didn’t think it could be done, and I decided that it had to be done and Daddy had to do it.
And I was making excuses too for why Daddy had to do it. It did make more sense since I had all 3 of you home and no good way to get you there without reinstalling carseats that are time-consuming to install safely. But those were excuses, because my real reason was that if Daddy didn’t take it there himself, he would question me again and I was tired of defending my intelligence and ability. So he drove home, switched vehicles, made it in time, and got the van taken care of, all for a very reasonable price.
Since his real concern was spending money unnecessarily and that had been avoided AND the van was now beautifully vacuumed, he felt that resolution had been met when he got home. However, since my real concern was that I was treated as an inferior, I was hurt and angry when he got home. He wanted to know why I had been so crabby on the phone; I wanted to know why he thought it was okay to talk to me like I’m a moron who can’t think anything through for myself and needs to be told what to do. I was crushed by his perception of me.
I did a lot of yelling. To his credit, Daddy had already grown immensely in actually acknowledging the places that he was at fault, and he saw what really happened. He saw that his fear about wasting money was more important to him than treating me respectfully and approaching this and every situation as partners. He saw that his lack of trust in my ability to manage the details of our life was irrational and also damaging to me. He saw that he makes up random crap to constitute excuses for why he doesn’t want to do something rather than just tell me his actual concerns.
Before Daddy got home and I yelled, I actually handled everything really well. I showed myself to be a good household manager, I did the majority of the hard work with the help of my awesome kids, and I planned and executed the final piece. But then I yelled. And everything I said was true and applicable and I shared my feelings, but I was sinfully angry and more than willing to stomp on Daddy while trying to tell him that he is not allowed to stomp on me! And no one should be stomping on anyone in this family. I felt justified in my anger and I was defending my personhood and I was making sure Daddy knew he wouldn’t get away with treating me so badly, so I told myself that yelling was okay. I believed that I could yell however much was “necessary” to make myself heard. That’s a lie, and I believed it.
When we sat down to eat dinner (late, because you guys had to wait for us while we worked through all of that), we talked to you about it. We explained that Daddy said some really mean things about us not doing good enough work on cleaning the van. All 3 of you were rightfully offended, and you said various versions of, “Daddy! That is not nice to say! We did a GREAT job! The vacuum couldn’t get everything, but we still tried really hard!” And Daddy apologized and you said it was okay and Daddy said, “It’s not okay, but I’m really glad that you forgive me.” When we prayed before we ate, one of you asked God to help you not be so mad at Daddy for saying something rude. And I was struck by how I should have prayed that exact thing back before I started yelling! We learn so many things from our amazing kids.
We also explained that I had been yelling a lot at Daddy about what he said, which you knew, so you all nodded and agreed that my yelling was a bad choice and not okay either. And Daddy said that he is working on being a partner and not trying to be in charge of everything and take over and tell other people that they can’t do good work unless he does it for them. And I said that I am working on talking about things without yelling, because that makes things much worse instead of better. You nodded your support of us and our need to work on the areas where we sinned.
And then the most amazing thing happened. You listened and understood the situation first, and then you graciously joined us. One of you kids pointed out that you were working on whining. One of you was working on being okay with not being perfect and accepting your mistakes. And one of you was working on obeying. After we had all shared because you were willing to be vulnerable too, Rissa said, “See! We ALL have things that we are working on!” And that was that. We’re a mess, we’re working on it, it’s hard, but we’re in this together.
And that’s why we come and explain things to you kids. Yes, it is important for you to know that our family has a real marriage where Mommy and Daddy make real mistakes. And we need to admit those to each other and to you, because you have to live with the consequences of our bad choices too. But you also have incredible insight into your own hearts as well as the workings of our family. And you model partnering to us by being vulnerable and joining us when we admit our wrongs. And we model partnering to you by coming to you as your parents and acknowledging our wrongs. And then we all grow.
The very next day, someone prayed at dinner, “Thank you, God, that we have such a nice family.” I don’t always think of us a nice family. We are fun… we are real… we are loving and snugglebugs… we are a disaster in many ways… we are a mess… we are constantly working on it… but nice? That sounds like a distant future version of us when we have all of these problems handled and are better able to deal with our life! And I worry that we’ll never actually get there, wherever there is.
But hearing one of you pray that and knowing that you experience us as a nice family, despite the fight that happened only 24 hours prior and the rest of the craziness that goes on around here – that floored me. I realized that God HAS given us a nice family because He has given us one another and Himself too! We are so very blessed to have a Mommy, a Daddy, a Zach, a Rissa, and a Nathaniel! We are exactly what each other needs and also what each other has always wanted.
Yes, there will be more fights. But we’ll keep talking about it and working on it. And there will always be love here. We’ll learn and grow, and we’ll do it together. That’s Mommy and Daddy’s promise to one another and to each of you.