Some of you may already have read my earlier post: DD is 100 years old today! What’s her secret?, about my maternal grandmother, Mildred Maclean (aka, to her grandchildren and many others, “DD”). I wrote it for her 100th birthday on March 8, 2011. She is now 105! She has slowed down a lot but is still very engaged in the world.
In my previous post about DD, I mentioned she has always loved to give advice, and ever since I have been an adult, I have known enough to listen closely. I feel privileged to have been able to have this adult relationship with my grandmother and to be the recipient of her advice. She has seen so much in her lifetime and yet she never stops wanting to learn more and to share what she has learned in a helpful way. So, here’s another post in her honour.
In this post, I want to share some words of wisdom that DD and my grandfather, Alexander Maclean, shared with me and my husband Andrew, when we announced we were pregnant with our first child, over 18 years ago. They sat us down in their cheery kitchen in my hometown of London, Ontario, and laid out their wisdom on the table for us. DD did most of the talking. My grandfather, a Scotsman, was a man of fewer words and a talented whistler.
At the time of this particular advice-giving, my grandparents had been happily married for almost 60 years. We already knew one of their mottos/secrets, which had to do with two “bears” – “Fore Bear” and “Bear With”. On their wedding day they were given two little bears, one with the sign “Fore” and the other with the sign “With”. Fifty years later, they were presented with the crystal version of the bears pictured here. They gave us similar fuzzy bears when we were married. However, apparently there was more to a thriving marriage and thriving children than just the bears. We were about to find out the goods. It boiled down to three points:
- The best thing you can give your children is a happy marriage. To have a happy marriage, you need to invest in your relationship on a regular basis. Doing this is good for everyone. You benefit from being away from the children and they benefit from being away from you.
DD elaborated a little more on this point…The children leave the house when they are about 18 years old and then you are left with each other. At the time of the advice-giving, my grandparents could look back and see that the majority of their marriage had been spent together without their three children in the house. So their message was, be proactive about keeping up a good relationship throughout.
For us this translated into regular date nights, usually on a Friday, as well as relatively regular overnight trips, for just the two of us. The biggest gift of this advice for me has been having NO guilt as we take time away as a couple. I truly believe it’s good for everyone. My children benefit from having people other than their parents care for them and teach them. And, I’ve noticed that the best dates are usually the simplest and the cheapest, and tend to involve a walk with a good chat.
- Never underestimate what your children understand, especially when they are young. They understand more than you might think.
I think DD and Grampa were bang on with this one. This was a good “heads-up” for us. We have tried not to talk about our kids in front of them as if they weren’t there, even when they were little. When children start to talk and ask questions you realize just how much they have been taking in about the world around them.
- Try to be consistent with each other. Don’t undermine each other in front of the children.
This is a really hard one! We strive to do this, but in the moment don’t always succeed on the details. But on the bigger points, it’s so important to try to present a united front, don’t you think? I find children are very intuitive about sensing any weakness in the parental positions. That being said, I am ok with our children knowing that their Dad and I don’t always agree on everything and that sometimes we need to discuss issues before coming to an agreement of some kind. Of course having a strong relationship helps to make healthy discussions and disagreements possible. Hmm…back to those date nights.
Upon reflection and 25 years into marriage, 18 of those with children (3 in total, and 1 with special needs), I can say that receiving and acting on this advice from DD and Grampa has been instrumental in defining our marriage and our parenting. Our marriage has remained strong because we have proactively taken time to be alone together regularly. We are continuing to evolve as parents, operating from the firm foundation this advice helped us build. We are so grateful to have received their advice!