“Family” is not for the faint of heart. As a family therapist and someone who has a family myself, I actually think that marriage licenses and pregnancy tests should offer disclaimers. Similar to the warnings on alcohol and tobacco products, I think it might be fitting to include a pleasant little notice like:
Surgeon General’s Warning: Sally, what you are about to do will stretch, drain, and pulverize your mind and body to the extent that, within 7 years, you will become completely unrecognizable from the person you are today. There will be days where you scream and yell; there will be days where you cry for your mommy. Sure, it will be worth it and great in many ways, but Sally, you might want to wipe that naïve grin off your face.
Luckily, for those who may underestimate the emotional and physical demands of being a parent and spouse, I have just the solution. Presenting…
Family Boot Camp (A training program for soon-to-be spouses and parents):
1) Train yourself to tolerate intense physical demands. I’m going to interrupt your sleep 3-9 times per night for a series of 364 days. Then, one afternoon when you are particularly drowsy, I will ask you to carry six full grocery bags and a 30-pound hungry and hyperactive chimpanzee, across an obstacle course of bicycles, helmets, and baseballs. Of course, you will do this while also holding the hand of an adorable little 3-toed sloth who is perfectly capable of walking, but is, unfortunately for you, extremely content to remain tethered to his spot in the grass. And if your phone rings suddenly, pick up. It might be the vet’s office.
2) Train yourself to provide compassionate and understanding responses to completely irrational nonsense. (Errrr….For the record, my kids and husband are never upset about irrational nonsense, and I absolutely never have to intentionally remind myself to lean into their perspectives. Promise. That sounded convincing, right?) For this part of your training, I am going to spend 82 minutes explaining my outrage that Justin Bieber’s tour does not include a stop in Baltimore. If you give even the slightest hint that the world has not in fact ended, I will kindly provide you the realistic response to habitual invalidation: A tearful declaration that you are a worthless son-of-a-bitch, and 3-4 rocks smashed through the windshield of your car.
3) Train yourself to withstand moments of total failure. Next, I am going to take you over to the kitchen and ask you to bake an extremely simple pot-pie from this extremely simple recipe. Oh yah, and the chimpanzee and the sloth will be there, throwing raw chicken across the room, sticking peas up their noses, and trying to shove each other into the oven. All the flour you accumulate in your hair will age you 20 years. Speaking of 20– In about 20 minutes, another woman, about 20 pounds lighter than you and holding up a large platter of 20 varieties of tiny quiches, will walk in and cheerfully observe that it sure is taking you a long time to finish up.
4) Train yourself to tolerate having absolutely no control. The next training task is quite straight-forward. Merely teach this tree how to read. While I bombard you with commercials and articles about how your 10-foot tree not reading Shakespeare will inevitably lead to your tree living in your basement for the rest of your life and you having to use all of your retirement savings as tree fertilizer. This family training is not complete until you have calmly accepted all inevitabilities in this scenario.
5) Train yourself to be calm and patient with people who ignore, misunderstand, and defy you. I am going to put you in a room with a random man, and ask that you somehow figure out a way to teach him the mechanisms of Keynesian Economics to his satisfactory comprehension. Only this man exclusively speaks Russian. And I have instructed him, in Russian, that the objective of this meeting with you is for him to teach you an Olympic-quality gymnastics floor routine.
And, of course, if your friend or your mother-in-law, or your spouse criticizes your ability to do any of these, you are faced with conquering one final skill…. which is biting your tongue, putting your chin up, and reminding yourself that you’re doing a damn good job.
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