By Angelica Shiels Psy.D. (Article also posted on Mamapedia)
For two days after the birth of our first child, my husband and I were overcome with this complex combination of calm and crazy. As first-time parents, we were so proud, so bursting with love, so certain of our destinies as protectors of this new life, and so…naive.
I imagined (and I’m sure my husband did too) that our next several years as parents would be filled with snuggly bed-time stories, endless “I love you’s,” pudgy arms squeezing us in frequent hugs, attempted drooly kisses constantly blown our way, contagious giggles at the dinner table, gentle pillow-fights and tickle times that would end in tummy raspberries and roaring laughter, magical celebrations around every milestone….
Oh, and my husband and I would continue to effortlessly maintain our iron-clad friendship, respect, and passion for one-another, continue to laugh and talk most nights until we drifted off to sleep in each other’s arms, grow more and more in love simply by virtue of the interaction of what was now a family. Our life was simply going to become one “Hallmark Moment” after another.
Ummmm…. Yah. No.
Now, five years and two more kids later, my husband and I realize that unlike our naive pre-children expectations, in reality, the love that exists in our family is truly unfit for a hallmark card.
Over the years of having an actual family, not just the idyllic vision I had in my pre-child imagination, I’ve learned that:
“Love,” as it is in an actual family in real life, is a series of conscious choices we make to bite our tongues, exercise patience, go to our happy places, and not unload on each other when we are tempted to react carelessly. “Love” is not effortless laughter, sunshine, and rainbows, and sometimes “love” is not even remotely fun…
“Love” is reaching my arm out to welcome my 3-year old in a hug when he sneaks into my room to wake me up at 6:00 AM on a Saturday morning. (When everything in me wants to scream at him to GO-AWAY-AND-LET-ME-SLEEP.)
“Love” is fighting with my husband about who is going to make a run for necessary-milk at 11 PM– Both of us fighting to be the one to do it even though we are both so exhausted we would rather not.
“Love” is continuing to calmly hug a sick child even while he starts to vomit white stuff all down my shirt (overriding my first instinct, which was to push him away and make a mad-dash for the shower).
“Love” is one brother spending five minutes digging through the bin of balls at the dollar store, desperately seeking a green ball, since green is his brother’s favorite color. (Love is me letting him do it even though we are running late and then helping him clean up the balls that fell out all over the floor.)
“Love” is my husband standing out in the freezing cold, scraping my car windshield off every single morning that it snowed this winter (and that’s a lot of mornings!).
“Love” is spending two hours helping a five-year old cut 100 squares of construction paper for a school project even though it would be so much easier to just do it myself.
“Love” is taking the time to try out creative strategies to get my 2-year old to stop throwing his toys instead of resorting to yelling or spanking. (Okay, so putting a toy on “time out” counted as creative to me.)
“Love” is a kindergartener asking his teacher if he can take home an extra prize for his little brother because he really likes stickers.
“Love” is my husband containing his frustration when I forgot to pick up the dry-cleaning, leaving him to wear the same clothes to work two days in a row (because he truly knows how much I have on my plate).
“Love” is a four-year old sitting in the bathroom keeping his two-year old brother company while he sits on the potty with a tummy ache. (Love is the feeling I get when I hear them singing together while in the bathroom.)
“Love” is willingly letting my husband take a three-hour nap on a Sunday while I clean the house and take care of the kids, because I know he is absolutely exhausted.
“Love” is saying “thank you” when my husband helps with the laundry, even if he shrinks my sweaters. (No, wait. That was the other way around with him thanking me for the effort and me shrinking the sweaters.)
“Love” is patiently enforcing clean-up of the entire tub of dumped-Legos instead of flipping-out on my curious, energetic 2-year old…(Love is holding him close, looking him in the eye, and telling him how sorry I am if I do lose my temper.)
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So even though this “love” is utterly challenging and completely unglamorous;
Even though there is sometimes more chaos than cuddles, more magic-erasers than magic-moments, and more tiredness than tenderness;
Even though our naive fantasies about family life have exploded to smithereens;
This “love unfit for a Hallmark Card” actually turns out to be pretty great.