It seems I’ve gotten on a theme with families this week. Today, I want to talk directly about my family.
There’s lots of things I could discuss about families. For example, I wonder how common it is for a child to follow in a parent’s career choice. I wonder how even less common it is to emulate both parents, which is what I’m currently doing. My mother is a teacher. My dad is a pastor. Right now, I kind of wish at least one of my parents had been a handsome millionaire…
I could discuss how my being born first helped me to become a fearless leader early on, although I was a jerk who had to cultivate empathy for others, while my younger brother worked in the opposite direction.
I could talk about all the statistcs that link the sort of family you come from with the kind of life you’ll lead, and so forth. But I don’t know those statistics.
I’m reading Malcom Gladwell’s Blink, a book about our instinct for snap decisions. He discusses a research firm that looks at 15 minute videos of couple’s discussion of a contentious subject. With just 15 minutes, they can predict with over 85% accuracy who will still be married 15 years later. Sounds like how we fight is pretty important.
Did your parents fight? Everyone says that every couple fights, so my guess is that, yes, your parents had some fights. My parents could fight sometimes, and my brother and I could fight, with each other and with them too. I’d say my childhood was pretty peaceful, but those fights could get pretty serious. Nothing physical, but they were stressful family affairs, nonetheless. Not worth writing a book about, but maybe a blog entry.
I’ll spare you the details, but let’s say this. Our family fights included plenty of the following:
1) Airing of grievances.
2) Feats of strength.
And we all took part in breaking several commandments, us kids included. I mouthed off pretty viciously as a teenager, even enough to make my mom cry once or twice; a fact I was proud of at the time. My mom was toughened by an outrageously obstinate father, so it was a minor victory to be able to get under her considerably thick skin. My parents even came close to divorce. They didn’t go through with it after an extended separation, and I’m not sure why to this day, but I’m glad for it. My parents would have definately fallen into the ‘15%’ with the researchers.
Statistically, people who come from divorced parents are more likely to get divorced. I wonder if the same is true for good old-fashioned family feuds.
On the other hand, my wife never saw her parents fight. Never. That seems pretty impressive. But as an adult, she’s been able to detect in her memories the same tensions that exist in every relationship. But they did a good job keeping it quiet, so kudos to them.
Statistically, I should probably be a lot more prone to yelling and stuff than my wife is, but so far, we’ve had very few arguments. We’re just very good roommates, and we hate to raise our voices at one another. That may all change when there’s a little crumb-cruncher crawling around someday. It so hard to disagree peacefully with Elmo on the TV. I think the few serious fights we’ve had happened during Elmo TV commercials.
The thing is, I don’t respect my parents any less for their ‘shortcomings’ when it came to resolving their differences. Sure, a good Christian marriage and family handbook might tell them they were horrible people. Sure, they provided occasional examples to me of what not to do in an argument. But I’ve actually come to respect them a lot more. I say that because I know they haven’t had an easy time living together. They dated a short time, and had a lot to work out as a “blissfully” married couple. Yet, despite whatever happened between them, they decided they were better off together.
I’ll tell you what I learned from my parents, which is the same thing every marriage book will tell you. It’s all about communication. Failure to communicate creates a fight, and a fight escalates the failure to communicate. You never communicate more clearly when you’re fighting. That knowledge has made my relationship with my wife so much easier.
Not that I would recommend fighting in front of your kids, just so you can stay married and make your kids love and respect you, but it did work for my folks. But what do you think? Have you followed in your parent’s footsteps, in your career or in your home? How do you and your mate manage disagreements, or what have you learned from your parents’ or your own divorce? What advice can you share?