We’re thinking of going on a trip to Russia. I suddenly realized that I have no idea what happened to the arch villain of my youth, the Soviet Union. I know it broke apart, but why and when I can’t tell you.
I also realized that there are specific social references to popular TV shows and music that are unfamiliar to me. Totally. Never heard of them.
When I thought about it, it came to me that the 80s were my lost decade. Actually, I lost from 1976 to 1992. Those were the years that I was immersed in raising young children.
Everything from those years seems to be just a blur, although I do remember large shoulder pads.
I’d like to say I remember my children’s first steps, first words, and first tooth. I was a full time stay-at-home mom, so I was sure I’d have those milestones etched in my memory. Gone, totally gone.
(So to those of you who work outside the home and worry that you will miss those important events, relax. Those of us who were there don’t remember being there anyway.)
I realize that those years were lived in a bubble of diapers, pediatrician visits, play dates, broken nights, and carpools. I had a husband who worked late and often on weekends, four children, and no help. The children were the center of my life.
In hindsight, what I did not realize was that I was probably neglecting my marriage.
I don’t think I understood that one day it would be me and my husband alone at the table and we’d better still have something together, not only parenting our children. As the Bette Midler character says in an upcoming movie, “When the kids grow up, it’s your husband who stays.” (If you’re lucky.)
When our nest finally did empty, the kids all married and out on their own, it was time for me and my husband to face whether we really still had an “us.” You may not realize it until it’s past, but I think most parents of young children spend more time talking about and thinking about their kids and their work than just about anything else. The concept of “us,” husband and wife (or husband and husband/wife and wife) goes on the back burner.
I remember the day we sent our oldest child off to sleep-away camp. Standing next to us was a couple who were sending their youngest child off for the first time, leaving them with no children home for the summer. Steve turned to Sue, took her hand, and said, “Now it’s time to see if this marriage really works.”
When we were raising our kids, we had little discretionary income and no one who could easily pitch in and babysit. We rarely went out by ourselves and had little “alone” time. Our lives revolved around the kids.
So when the last of our children went off to college, and we were, indeed, “alone,” we faced the question all empty-nesters face. Do we still really like each other? Love each other? What will we do? What will we talk about?
The cautionary tale here is that it is very important not to lose each other as you climb the occupational ladder and immerse yourself in child-rearing. There must be intimacy–not just sex but (I believe even more importantly) touching, holding, cuddling. Conversations need to be about the two of you–how you’re growing, what you are thinking about, what you care about. I know too many couples who divorced once the kids were out of the house after long marriages, not to mention younger couples who couldn’t make it. They lost each other, and themselves as part of a couple, along the way.
Thankfully, my husband, who I met when I was 16, fell in love with when I was 17, and married when I was 21, and I still do like, respect, and love each other.
But if I could give my younger self advice, it would be to consciously put more into growing and sustaining the marriage throughout every stage.
As it is, I think for us it was just blessed good mazel (luck).