Has anyone else noticed that the whole “we’re in this together” thing has sort of morphed into “now I’m depressed and you’re in this alone”? CALL ME!!!
I’m sitting at my computer watching a slide show of photos of happy kids, untroubled parents and a family that clearly loves life, each other and having fun. Who are these people? They look an awful lot like my family. But there’s no way these happy-go-lucky folks are even remotely related to me, my exhausted husband, or my increasingly annoying two children.
Why can’t life be more like a photo montage? I mean, in all fairness, I took a lot of these pictures. I was actually present for each and every happy moment that’s parading before me on my computer screen. I can even remember most of the events without a great deal of prompting. I ought to feel as joyful and carefree as my celluloid image. But I don’t.
The mom in the photos is young, happy, and easy-going. I, in contrast, feel tired, ancient and about as close to breaking as an overstrung archery bow. I can’t even imagine my two sons sitting next to each other without trying to kill each other. And I’m not sure I can remember the last time I saw my husband smile. This is making me sad.
Maybe there’s some way to “fake it till you make it.” If I just pretend to be as happy as photo me, maybe I’ll somehow morph into her. Maybe if I act like her, my family will follow suit and my kids will burst out into peels of laughter instead of screeching furiously at one another. Maybe if I can just convince myself that she is me I can bring a sense of joy and ease back into our lives.
That seems kind of impossible from my current vantage point. Maybe I’ll just write a play about a writer who wills herself into her computer to relive all the happiness depicted in her iphoto albums. I bet that’d get old pretty quickly though. I mean, how many chilly San Francisco cable car rides would it take before even photo mom got bored?
No. I guess I’m stuck out here, being me, watching her, wondering how we all got so frustrated and disgruntled about life when it really is filled with so many opportunities to love and enjoy each other. Maybe I just need to realize that we do have joyful moments, mixed into the misery of 113 degree days, unending errands and piles of dirty laundry. Maybe it’s all about focus. When you take a picture you take a moment, you breathe, you stay still and snap, the perfect shot. Most of the time in life I forget to breathe, am running 150 miles per hour and never even look where I’m headed.
I am that woman in the photos. I just need to aim my eagle eye at the good things, the happy moments, the daily victories, and not to concentrate so hard on the tirades, the tantrums and the tragedies. It’s all about where you aim the camera, set the F-stop, and how you choose to compose each shot. Plus one can always add a little bit of flash to brighten up the image a bit. Remember, as Gentle Giant once sang, “I am a camera.”
My husband is moody. This bothers me a great deal; especially because his darker moods are the ones that often accompany him home after a hard day of pleasantries and professionalism. But I’ve realized something huge about this. You see, my husband was raised in a loving, nurturing environment. His parents loved him unconditionally. But this, I’ve come to realize, is the crux of the problem.
You see, unconditional love is a crock of shit, and I want to officially declare: it doesn’t work. In fact, it accomplishes the exact opposite of what it promises to deliver. Which poses a substantial problem for those of us raising little ones today.
Think about this: my son is loved unconditionally by me and his father. We love him when he’s kind. We love him when he’s cruel. We love every inch of him, even when he’s at his worst. If he grows up believing that he is, and always will be, 100% lovable, how, I ask you, is he going to treat the people who are unlucky enough to end up living with him?
Unconditional love is the culprit of all rotten behavior. Do you think your husband would yell at you for spending too much money if he thought you might just pack a bag and exit the premises the next time his voice raised to a certain decibel? Would he really forget to bring you flowers on Valentine’s day if the possibility existed that he’d be spending all future cherub-related holidays on his own, taking care of the kids, or nursing a Stella all by his lonesome self on a bar stool in a smokey gin joint? Of course not.
But instead we parents lavish our children with so much unconditional love it’s like a recipe for future marital disaster. We’re practically asking our kids to treat the people they love with disdain. The message is crystal. No matter how thoughtless, insensitive, moody or just plain mean you are, those closest to you will love you unconditionally so don’t bother putting any effort at all into those relationships.
Sure people get divorced. But most marrieds don’t walk around thinking that each day may be the last day of blissful couplehood. However, if they did, they might end up treating each other a whole lot better. Husbands might choose not to expend an audible sigh coupled with that ever annoying eye roll when asked to take out the garbage, for instance. Wives might decide that continued nagging over the unseparated whites and colors might not be worth spending eternity with a naked ring finger and sole custody of three hormonal teenagers.
The truth is, we need to impart a bit of fear and insecurity into the hearts of our children. “No, Johnny, mommy might not love you if you don’t eat all your vegetables.” Keep them on their toes. Reward good behavior with overflowing amounts of love, warmth and admiration. But we must stop reinforcing their vicious tantrums, irrational melt-downs and mean-spirited remarks with the promise to love them, warts and all, for all eternity.
Only by refusing to love without question will we raise children who can be civil to their spouses, gentle with their own children and careful with all the people in their lives. So I urge you to stop loving your kids absolutely. Instead, teach them to treat those around them with kindness, honor and respect by instilling a sense of insecurity and fearfulness. If they are not loving, you may not stick around. That’s the message you want to impart. It may sound cruel, but it’s really the best way to prepare them for a happy, fulfilling life with a partner. Just like the wise and thoughtful Erma Bombeck once said, “Marriage has no guarantees. If that’s what you’re looking for, go live with a car battery.”