It’s difficult to know which actions or phrases you do or say will have lasting impacts on your children. Some small thing that you don’t even think about could resonate with your kids for their entire lives. I’m lucky right now. Our oldest isn’t three yet. Pretty sure she won’t remember any specific things we say. But soon we’ll have to worry about that.
One of the phrases I think about a lot is something my mom said once. Only once. I don’t remember if she said it to me or if I overheard her telling it to someone else, but it’s had an incredible impact on my life. She said that she had to divorce my dad so that my brother and I didn’t see their relationship and think that’s what marriage is. She didn’t want to set a bad example for us. I think about that quite a lot. I love her so much whenever I think about that hard decision she made, or maybe it wasn’t hard at all once she put it into that context. But it was certainly work. She worked at McDonald’s to pay her way through nursing school so that she could start her nursing career working the night shift to pay the bills. My dad was laid off. She also belonged to a church that wasn’t particularly fond of the idea of divorce. Her sister hadn’t been treated well by the church for the same offense. But she did it, because she knew it was the best thing for me and my brother.
It did happen to be the best thing for her too. I remember going to family counseling. The waiting room had faux-wood walls. You know, like the 70s. But this was the early 90s. The counselor asked us to draw pictures about how we felt. My mom felt terrible when she realized we had to share them with each other. She’d drawn herself walking through the grass on a sunny, cheerful day. Because she was happy. For the first time in a long time. It was around that time that I recall riding in the car with her while she sang along to “I Can See Clearly Now the Rain is Gone.” I’ve always paired these two memories together. In retrospect, that probably made me realize it was ok to be happy about it. As much as we worry about it and try to always do the best thing, we never really know what small thing will impact our children’s lives forever, positively or negatively.
Sunny and I have been happily married for over ten years. While I wouldn’t say we’ve never fought, I will say we’ve never fought about anything terribly important. We’ve always been on the same page about major decisions. When people say marriage is hard work, I don’t really know what they mean. I guess people also say if you love your job you’ll never work a day in your life. We’re probably really lucky to have found each other. But I’m also really damn lucky to have the mom I have. She didn’t have the opportunity to show me what a healthy marriage looks like first hand, but then maybe seeing an unhealthy marriage end makes a more powerful impact.