Creating Routines: Love and Marriage

Crafting my Life Creating RoutinesBefore I decided to close Crafting my Life, I was running a monthly series on the site that was all about creating positive routines. I was enjoying it quite a lot, so I decided to move it over here and re-jig it a little. Each month I’m setting one goal towards creating a more purpose-filled life. If you’d like to join in and take some steps to create better rhythms and routines in your own life, I’d love to hear how you’re doing it.

Last Month’s Recap

In February, I committed to stop texting and walking. In the first place, I don’t relish the idea of walking into a mall fountain. In the second place, I was hoping to cultivate more presence and mindfulness. I would say that I succeeded. As the month wore on, I found myself reaching for my phone less and less while I was on foot. My Instagram postings decreased, which provides independent verification that I succeeded. I spent more time talking to my kids on the way to and from school, and less time saying, “Just a second,” while I tapped out a tweet.

creating routines positive change love marriage relationships

Creating a Routine for March

For March, I’m focusing on my marriage. It’s not in trouble – on the contrary, I think things are generally pretty good between Jon and me. However, relationships take work, even good ones. I’ve been asking myself what I can do to make mine better. I’ve decided that the answer is to cultivate appreciation. I don’t just mean telling my partner I appreciate him. I mean reinforcing in my own mind what I appreciate about this man I married.

To that end, I’ve created an Excel spreadsheet, because I do adore Excel, with a deep and abiding passion. Every day, I open that spreadsheet and list five things I love and appreciate about my husband. It takes only a minute or two every day, and when I’m done I feel all warm and fuzzy and happy. I’m not sharing the spreadsheet with my husband, although I am using it as fodder for telling him what I appreciate about him. Really, though, it’s for me. In fact, if he’s reading this post, he’s only just learning about its existence now. Sometimes love, and blogging, is weird like that.

Start With Small Changes

One thing I’ve learned on my journey towards a more purpose-driven life is that change happens best in small, bite-sized pieces. That’s why I’m once again choosing something small as my change in routine this month. I invite you to do the same thing. Is there something small you could do to improve your daily rhythm or overall mood? If so, what’s holding you back? Create a new routine, and leave a comment so that we can cheer each other on!

No Place to Lay my Head

One day recently my son Jacob, who is almost four now, was telling me where everyone sleeps. According to him Hannah sleeps in Hannah’s room, Jacob sleeps in Jacob’s room and Daddy sleeps in Daddy’s room. Then I asked him where I sleep, and he looked confused. He had no idea how to answer the question – and I can understand his confusion. Years of co-sleeping have blurred the issue considerably.

Serious boy
Jacob doesn’t know where I sleep

The truth is there is no single place that I sleep. When one of my kids wakes up at night and needs me, I crawl in with them. This is why I got them double beds as toddlers. I didn’t relish the idea of trying to squeeze myself into a car bed with a two-year-old, as I’d heard many of my friends had done. When it’s really hot out and my husband Jon wants to have the fan on and the window open, I go to sleep in Jacob’s room, where it is more than a little too warm but blissfully quiet. And sometimes, it really does happen that I get to sleep in my own bed with my husband and no children all night long. (Dare to dream!)

In Jacob’s mind, all the other members of our family have a room of their own, and I just drift about between them. Sometimes it really does feel that way. I am a woman without a country. I have no single place to lay my head. I go where I am needed, I get enough sleep most nights, and I try not to overthink it.

There was a time when I never would have dreamed of sleeping any place other than my own bed, beside my own husband. In the early years of our marriage we would argue most every night about the temperature (I like it hot, he likes it cold) and the sleeping conditions (he likes the fan, I like it quiet). Not once did it occur to me to sleep someplace else. I would have viewed that as a sign of marital discord. And so we compromised, and both of us were unhappy, and I could rest easy knowing that if my husband and I were tossing and turning, we were tossing and turning together.

Time changes things, though. Two children and various sleeping arrangements and some major furniture purchases later, I’m much less fussed about where I sleep. I no longer consider it a necessity that I sleep beside my husband all night, every night. The truth is, really, Jon likes his space when he sleeps anyway. He’s never been one to spoon, preferring not to touch me at all while he slumbers. And yet, our marriage survives. The difference between sleeping on opposite sides of the same king-sized bed or sleeping down the hall from each other is largely academic, and I don’t think it signals imminent marital meltdown.

Is it unfair that with four people in my family, I am the one who doesn’t get a room to call my own? Maybe. Mostly, though, I just think it’s a pragmatic reality. My goal isn’t fairness, it’s sleep. I’ll do whatever I can to get the most sleep for the most people in my family. If that means that my preschooler can’t tell you where his mom sleeps, well, I can totally live with that.

What about you? Do you find your sleeping arrangement changing from day-to-day? Does it bother you, or do you accept it? I’d love to hear!

Podcast: Sarah Joseph Talks Parents, Romance and Relationships

Having a baby changes everything. We all know that. In fact, even people without kids know that. But until you have a child of your own, it’s really hard to understand just how much your entire life will be affected. If you have a partner, your relationship will undergo some pretty dramatic transformations. When you’re sleep deprived, covered in spit-up and baby poo, and you haven’t showered in three days, it’s pretty hard to carry on a serious conversation. And let’s not even talk about what that does to your sex drive.

Strocel.com podcast sarah joseph bringing baby home relationshipsIn spite of the big changes parenting brings, all is not lost. To get some insight and help, I connected with Sarah Joseph of Prenatal to Parenting. She’s a social worker, doula, and childbirth and parenting educator, and she facilitates a workshop called Bringing Baby Home here in Vancouver. The workshop is all about building and maintaining a positive relationship with your partner through the transition to parenthood. She aims to help couples gain practical skills they can use to form a strong bond.

Did you ever hear your parents fight when you were a kid? I’m a child of divorce, so you know I did. It wasn’t a good feeling. All the same, I’ve found myself arguing with my husband in front of my kids, in spite of my best intentions. I would say that our relationship is pretty healthy, but the truth is you’re simply not going to get along with anyone all the time, and sometimes it comes out when I don’t want it to. When Jon and I argue, I’ve seen that look of concern on my children’s faces. That also isn’t a good feeling. I’ve made sure to talk through the situation with them after the fact, and I think they’re fine, but I would guess most parents would rather model positive conflict resolution for their little ones. It’s just one reason I want to make sure that I have good relationship skills.

strocel.com podcast sarah joseph relationships bringing baby homeDuring our conversation, Sarah talked about what the Bringing Baby Home workshop offers. She also talked about relationship warning signs, and gave some easy tips you can use to improve your own relationship. You may not have the same uninterrupted time together with your partner that you enjoyed before your little ones came along, but with a little bit of effort you can still find ways to connect and remind yourself what it is that you found so compelling about that person in the first place. If you’d like to know how you can build up your own relationship with your partner, you’ll want to listen to our conversation here:

Next week on the podcast I’ll be sharing an interview with Karen LeBillon, author of French Kids Eat Everything. She’ll be talking about her book, and about how the approach to feeding kids is differs in France and North America. I think this one is a must-listen – it was very eye-opening for me, and not at all in the way I expected. Subscribe to the Strocel.com podcast in iTunes, and you won’t miss a minute!

Remembering Why

Sometimes in our relationships it’s easy to get caught up in the who did what and the oh woe is me and the gah, stuff all over the floor. This is true whether you’re talking about your partner, your mother, your good friend or your kids. Life is messy. Relationships are messy. If you’re not careful, they can devolve into finger-pointing and raised voices and hiding in the bathroom. But hiding in the bathroom never really works. They always find you.

In the middle of the crunchy, creaky, cranky day-to-day, I lose sight of myself. I forget. But then those moments come that remind me. Little flashes of truth and memory flit across my consciousness, until I almost can’t remember how very wronged I am. I watch my babies sleeping, or share an inside joke, or see that look in someone’s eye that lets me know they remember and care. These little moments are what see me through, and stop my words in throat before they come spilling out of my mouth into a big puddle of anger and blame.

Those moments make me swallow it all. It doesn’t taste good, but it makes me feel better. It’s kind of like taking medicine, I think. Sometimes you just have to choke it down.

Real life, right now

Looking around my family room right now, I see the ghosts of my days moving around in front of me. Water paints, dropped on the floor. Dirt on the carpet beside the back door. Flip flops, flung from little girl feet. A hard hat, worn by a very serious three-year-old “builder man”. It’s easy to feel annoyed, as I survey the remnants left behind. But when I remember the moments, I see exuberance and joy and play and life. Messy, messy, imperfect, beautiful life. There is just so much of it in this place that it explodes across the whole house, leaving debris in its wake. Reminders of the fullness that can wear me down, and build me right back up again.

Sometimes, when we can’t take it anymore, my husband and I get down on the floor and clean together, sorting Potato Head bits and puzzle pieces and dress-up clothes. Sometimes we both become frustrated until we’re shooting each other looks, wordless accusations flung across the room: look what your children did. But then a joke is made, the floor is clean, and we both remember why. Why we chose each other, why we love these kids, why our life is beautiful even in its messiness.

Maybe one day, I will find order in the chaos. Maybe one day, my children will learn to put all of their stuff away and I will become better about enforcing tidy-up times. Maybe one day the mess won’t grate on me like it does now. Until then, I do my best to remember the why behind the crunchy, creaky, cranky day-to-day. It’s always right there, waiting to remind me.

Choosing not to Take Offense

It’s Thursday, so I’m Crafting my Life! I invite you to join in the fun. If you would like to share a story from your own journey, please drop me a line. If you’d like to find out more about my online class on living with intention and my upcoming e-book, visit craftingmylife.com.

Last week I talked about my decision to pursue happiness, rather than spending my time focusing on the slings and arrows of daily life with little children. After all, I chose this life deliberately. I knew that having kids would present some challenges, but I chose to do it anyway. And the truth is, my life as a mom has many perks. I’m trying to focus on the upside, even as the downside has a way of pressing on from every angle.

My resolution to seek greater happiness is all well and good, and I’m committed to working at it. I’m making progress, too, which is great. But it doesn’t come easily for me. I am something of a natural optimist, which helps, but I also have a tendency to wallow and I am quick to take offense. You may not see this if you only interact with me online, because online I have the benefit of time. I can pause and re-frame before I respond to a perceived slight. I am curious, not furious, even though my natural impulse is exactly the opposite.

I was thinking about my rush to take offense as I once again found myself, in the course of an ordinary day with my kids, filled with rage towards them. It’s amazing how kids can do this – they can inspire extreme love and extreme anger all at the same time. I don’t think they’d even done anything that remarkable, it was just one of those days that drags on and on and on until you’re *thisclose* to running screaming into the street and never coming back. Even as I found myself in that position, I knew I had no choice but to pull it together and be the grown-up, so I did, as I muttered silently about my offspring’s extreme ingratitude and, oh, woe is me etc. etc. etc.

Not long after my near-meltdown during dinner prep (side note – these things always happen during dinner prep, don’t they?) I had some heated discussions with my husband. The topic doesn’t matter, and it really could have been anything. But already worn down by our days, it didn’t go well. We snapped at each other and glared and stomped and generally behaved like the children instead of the parents. In that moment, I could see how my bad mood led me to take everything that my husband said The Wrong Way. There’s nothing he could have said or done to placate me, because I was not in a space where I was ready to be anything other than offended and wronged.

I’m not beating myself up over one bad day, or even several bad days – we all have them. And yet, as I look back on the whole situation, I can see that I played a large part in creating my own misery. Out of habit, I often choose to take offense. I keep track of wrongs – real and perceived – and fly off the handle when the tally gets too high. I conveniently overlook anything that doesn’t jive with the story in my head about how very bad I have it, and in the process I ensure that I’m very unhappy indeed, and so is everyone else around me.

How would things be different if I employed my online strategy and paused for a moment before responding? How would things be different if I chose not to take offense, and tried to see other people’s actions in a positive light? I suspect that I would be happier, and my relationships would be better. I would probably see the good in other people’s motives a little more clearly, if I didn’t spend most of my time looking for reasons to feel wounded.

I don’t want to return to my people-pleasing ways, because that’s not productive. Taking a moment before responding, and making a conscious choice not to take offense where there’s probably none intended, is a very different thing than bending over backwards trying to make others happy. In truth, my tendencies to be a pleaser are what lead me to take offense so easily. When I subvert my own wishes and dreams for others, I expect them to be thankful for it, and that’s what leads to wallowing and moaning. When I place a priority on my own needs, and meet others on a level playing field, I can improve the way that I relate to them without becoming a doormat.

In my quest to become bad enough, I don’t need to treat others badly. So I am going to try to pause before I react a little more, and consciously choose not to take offense. It feels like a change worth making.

Are you quick to anger when relating to others? When someone says something you’re not sure how to take, are you more curious or furious? And how do you avoid falling into the trap of pleasing others and feeling wronged yourself? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Happy Birthday to Jon

I will open this post with a confession – I had no good blog post ideas for today. Some people would say that means I shouldn’t bother posting, but as my posting schedule shows, I am clearly not some people. But then, as if God Himself heard my desperation, a realization washed over my consciousness: today is my husband’s birthday. Cause for celebration and blog fodder, I smell a winner!

I first met Jon in September, 1989, some 22 years ago. He was 12 years old, and his locker was right next to mine, so on our first day of junior high I taught him how to open his locker lock. It was not love at first sight (see: 12 years old), but I liked him well enough. And in fact, when my good friend asked me who I thought I would marry I said, “Someone sort of like Jon Strocel – but cuter.”

A summer day in 1996
Me and Jon, circa 1996

I saw from the beginning, even when I was only 13 years old myself, that Jon was someone special. He was a good listener, and a great conversationalist, which are not necessarily common traits amongst the junior high set. While most of the males at school wanted me to stop talking already, Jon actually seemed to enjoy hearing what I had to say. If only he had been cuter.

Luckily, puberty had its way with Jon, and by the time that he reached the end of grade nine he was several inches taller and his voice was several octaves lower. And so, when he was only 14 and I was only 15, I agreed to be his girlfriend. And, through some twist of fate I never stopped – not through high school, or university, or first jobs, or first apartments, or marriage, or babies. I have bought birthday presents for Jon for two entire decades now, and I hope to do it for many more still. Awwwww.

Self-portrait in Peggy's Cove
Me and Jon, circa 2004

You may have observed that I am older than my husband. It’s true, he’s four and a half months younger than me. While the importance of those four and a half months diminished significantly once Jon could legally drink, every year from May to September I am still keenly aware of the difference. My husband is a charming, lovely, wonderful man. I feel so very lucky to be married to him. But he is also a first rate smart ass. He does not hesitate to tease me about my advanced age, but as of today, the playing field is once again level.

So allow me to extend my warmest birthday wishes to the man in my life, who also happens to be the very best person I know. And allow me to also say, “Welcome to 35, Babe. You aren’t younger than me anymore.”

Playing at Being Grown-Up

It’s Thursday, so I’m Crafting my Life! This year, I’m just writing about whatever is currently on my mind. And if you would like to chime in and contribute a guest post about your own journey, please drop me a line and we’ll chat.

My husband Jon and I went away overnight this weekend. It was only one night, but it was our first kid-free night in a hotel since before our daughter Hannah was born in 2005. It also happened to be our first night away from Jacob, ever, in the nearly three years of his life. We were belatedly celebrating our tenth wedding anniversary and twentieth dating anniversary, and as you may have been able to deduce, this trip was a Big Deal.

We opted to buy a package, which included a fancy-schmancy room, a couples massage, dinner and dancing, a bottle of champagne and a buffet breakfast. (Aside – buffet breakfast is one of my most favourite things in the world.) Plus, the resort we stayed at has this great pool filled with water from the local hot springs to soak in. It was all very lovely, indeed.

View from our hotel balcony
View from our hotel room balcony

As we sat down for dinner, all dressed up and looking our best, Jon told me that he felt that this was a very grown-up thing to be doing. That is, wearing fancy clothes for a four course meal and an evening of dancing. I replied that it felt as if we were playing at being grown-ups. We were putting on a slightly contrived role along with our nice shoes.

When I thought about it, I decided that maybe this is really what I’m doing all the time. When I moved away from home I played at being independent, until I got so good at pretending that it became second nature to me. When I got married, I played at being a wife, until the game of make-believe became part of who I am. And when I had kids I played at being a parent, until I couldn’t stop playing at being a parent even if I wanted to. I also played at being a university student, an engineer and a blogger. Maybe life is just a series of role-playing games that never really end, and tend towards the mundane.

I feel the least grown-up when I fall short in my little game of make-believe. I forget to leave a tip for the hotel cleaning staff, or I let my kids eat too much junk food, or I don’t wash my dishes promptly and end up having to scrape off crusted-on crud. In short, I fail to act in the way that I expect a person in my adopted role would act. I am lifting the curtain on all the pretending I’m doing, and I let everyone (and especially myself) see that maybe I don’t really have it together after all.

I suspect I’m not the only one who feels as if they’re playing a role. I bet that we all feel this way from time to time. After all, it’s not as if anyone wakes up one morning and suddenly feels like a grown-up. It’s only time and practice and lots of playing at being grown-up that makes us so. In short, we need to fake it ’til we make it. Sometimes less faking it is required than others, but somewhere inside we’re all still the little kids who feel like intruders in the adult world. When I realize this, I feel less alone, and maybe even a little bit vindicated.

So, this weekend Jon and I played at being grown-ups. We played at being a couple who can eat dinner with two hands while it’s still hot. We played at being able to get up whenever we feel like it, and at taking a walk without stopping to look at every rock, flower and car. It was fun. And sometimes, we almost forgot that we were pretending.

Do you ever feel like you’re just playing at being a grown-up? Tell me all about it!

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