It was in the evening time, after the kids had gone to bed and my wife and I were sitting on our living room couch. This soft, giant, u-shaped brown synthetic fiber couch was one of the best investments we made when we first moved to North Phoenix. It's the kind that has several especially cozy spots that you can sink into. Our nightly ritual is to catch up with each other's days, talk about any problems that arose with the kids and how to handle them. Our parenting is a constant dialogue of both our observations of each child and mulling over advice from my parents who live with us. It's one of the greatest responsibilities we have and this year forced us to step up our game significantly.
The burden was on my wife as I left teaching for a "normal" hourly job which meant summer was all on her. On top of that, we got a taste of insanity when schools sent everybody home and we were trying to help four children navigate their online environment. Thankfully, before summer, that last quarter of school I was at home finishing up my own teaching for the year and was able to help organize the chaos. I had three laptops, one was my mom's, and an iMac on our dining room table. I called this sacred gathering, the "war room," for obvious reasons. We found out very quickly who was able to fend for themselves, who needed motivation and who needed tutoring from one parent or the other based on topic.
Being at home from mid-March until the end of May was eye opening as we realized we needed long term solutions to our parenting that were being held together by short term strategies. One child needed a very heavy intervention of behavior that was a battle of the wills and where we could discipline in short periods before, required long term consequences. We all had to suffer for a time until this child finally gave up and started changing the behaviors we had identified. It took a little over two weeks to have video games earned back. What started out as a four-day punishment turned into twenty-three days of added time. There were so many incidences that I had to make a note in my calendar to remind myself why games were taken away on any given day.
It paid off because now when a big issue arises and my child loses video games for a couple of days, it stops there. The behavior is identified, and my child chooses to adjust both the behavior and the attitude. If there is behavior change but a negative attitude is still projected, the child is still just as bad as when the behavior was present. They are prone to only "perform" in front of you to get you off their back, but a bad attitude reflects the heart. That is what my wife and I really want, is their heart to change along with the behavior. As a friend once said to his child, "You need to have a happy heart," to describe this abstract concept to his then, four-year-old.
The "attitude change" is also a sign of remorse and repentance. We don't want our children to just be upset that they got caught doing the wrong thing, we want them to express empathy which is showing sorrow and then a desire to change and not repeat the behavior. When a child shows repentance, you usually see a smile after the discipline is over and you embrace with a heavy hug. Your child leans into you with their whole weight as if showing a physical surrender to you and they trust you to catch them and hold them up. They eventually wipe away their tears and smile when you offer them forgiveness and love despite the in the moment discipline or the consequences that have yet to occur.
As my wife and I sat that evening, she showed me another one of her Instagram influencer’s posts, how many married mom's that have a following I don't know. She said with surprise, "This is the seventh one that has announced they are getting a divorce." This has all happened since May during this pandemic.
This is what I realized has happened and is still happening across every household in the world; families are finding out the thing that is holding them together. This global crisis is not just a virus or the economy but an emotional crisis. Each person in the family unit is handling it in one way or another but what is being tested is the family's resolve and resilience. If you have children in the home, or not, your marriage is being tested and you are finding out what has been there all along. It isn't the pandemic’s fault, its simply forcing deep rooted problems to surface. What are you doing with them? What holds your family together and helps you face these issues?
What my wife and I have found is that God had prepared us for this years ago in our marriage. Not that this has been easy or that the pressure is going to let up soon, but what we have found is the material, the glue that holds our marriage together and with that, holds our children together. It consists of several things that without certain ingredients, the children would cause a crack, we would cause a crack or the circumstances around us would cause a crack. We have found that we are stronger together, things are staying in place and we are weathering the storm.
My wife and I have an added vow in our marriage, and it is that we will love each other, "Through fun and no fun." This reflects our sense of humor and one of the ingredients that binds us. We recognize the fun times and we recognize when things are no fun at all. We will look at each other and one of us will say, "This is no fun at all." That brings up another couple of ingredients, validation and what we call "Team Diaz."
Camaraderie between a couple isn’t something that is often taught but maybe it’s implied when we say the two become one. When this component to a great relationship is identified you will find out if you are moving the same direction. More than that you will ask, “Am I rooting for you to win? Am I setting you up for success? Am I seeing your potential? Am I looking for the best in you? Do I trust you, win or lose? Do I see you as my equal even though we have different positions on the team?” These are questions that will force you to reevaluate your ability to handle life’s difficulties. If you as a couple are not intentionally setting each other up to succeed then you will only see failure and blame. When you are a team you take the loses together, sharing the burden and not pointing fingers. You look inward and ask, “What can I bring to this team today?”
As you work on your own skills and abilities you pray for God to do the same in your spouse. If the team improves than you improve. When you find yourself losing with a strong team, you learn from it and become better. You take the losses gracefully and rebound with a sense of purpose that wasn’t there before. Something was learned through that experience, love was built, compassion was sown, empathy took root.
Do you understand where your teammate is weak and where you are weak? Help each other and play to your strong side. You must do it together otherwise you will find resistance. Resistance in marriage is the antithesis of resilience. If you clash with your teammate over little things than when the big things come, what becomes of you? Don’t resist your spouse, positioning them to have to fend for themselves while you pursue your own interests. What is the opposite of resistance? Attraction! Which direction are the magnets of your heart facing? Are they repelling because they are facing the wrong direction, or are they attracting which brings an unstoppable connection? When your heart is in the right position you will know it because you will find your spouse closer to you rather than distanced.
What is holding your marriage together? It’s never too late to reconcile, mend a broken heart, forgive and resolve to be better. If 2020 has hurt your marriage then you need a tune up. Counseling, a date, romance, advice, words of affirmation, physical touch, an act of service or even a gift from your heart. Find your spouse’s love language and remind each other what brought you together in the beginning. What attracted you to that person and verbalize that to them and tell them it’s still true today.
“Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for a friend.” John 15:14, NIV
In this case, “That I lay down my life for <insert name>!”
In Truth & Love,
Matthew J Diaz