Marriage is hard. Even good marriages, happy marriages, peaceful marriages. You don’t always agree and yet you can only move forward together. What’s hard is figuring out the balance between protecting yourself and protecting the relationship. It’s this way for all relationships really, not just marriages, not just straight partnerships, not even just amongst couples. That old dilemma of knowing how and where to set boundaries, which of course requires you to know yourself; what you will let go and what you insist upon, what makes you feel good or sad, what you’ve decided your priorities are regardless of the costs, and what you want most from those who love you and whom you love.
The dilemmas are not just about knowing the boundaries that you consider non-negotiable, but knowing how to set them in a way that produces the give and take that you need to live with and love someone else day in and out. Love is hard. Even strong love, lasting love, committed love.
As with most partnerships, children bring complications as much as they bring joy. Children really test the stances you agree on and the differences between your ideas of family, care, discipline and sacrifice. They add extra work and demand extra time, all of which brings new negotiations. They compel parents to take the implicit and honestly interrogate it as gently as they can to see what’s actually there, what’s actually shared, what’s actually possible. So many things that were easy or didn’t need planning or could happen without full communication have changed, and every path is a two way street that presents choices about the direction the whole family will go. And, this is the crux of the whole thing. Either you choose a direction together or everyone eventually goes their own way.
I’m so tired these days that when a young colleague asked me if I was happy, I didn’t have an answer. I was actually too tired to connect to my own emotions. I wonder how women manage to (stereotypically) be “more emotional”, that is connected to their feelings, than men when so often we are giving our all on all fronts, putting in more labour hours, doing more of the care work, and often still helping somehow to help patch up and heal the world. That “more emotional” state has got to be some kind of achievement because emotions are the most pure register we have for knowing when things don’t feel right and, when all the work that’s been put in has been worth it, and they do.
For me, at the centre of surviving the demands of work and family is emotional connectedness, without which we would drift like constellations, connected to each other, but far apart in separate orbits in the sky. I’ve come home every evening these past weeks and turned exhausted eyes to the evening moon, watched that bright star right below, and felt that it seems so simple for them, with their set paths and measured distance and similarly celestial light. But really, their silent sharpness is deceptive. Stars are living intense, fiery lives just like us. Just so, life is full of intensity through which we continue on our own and on our shared path as celestial beings.
So I try to make sure I’m emotionally present as I can and as partnership and parenting needs me to be. I’m trying to connect to both the joy and the commitment of making it work despite lack of sleep, lack of time and lack of more to give. Having Ziya is an unparalleled gift and she makes me realize that what could be assumed or ignored or deferred before, needs to be dealt with now in myself and in all my relationships however hard that turns out to be. Like all children, she can make her parents our best selves together, but only if we know that caring, cooperation and connectedness are an achievement. Especially caring that nurtures communication, patience and a fierce sense of protection for marriage and love as valuable, just because they can make each of us shine, separately and together.