My daughter got married this weekend, Valentine’s Day and it was perfect. Everyone was healthy and happy and the sun was shining. The day couldn’t have gone any better and all of our family and friends were there to witness the sweet and sacred moment.
What made this day so successful for me was not the hours of planning and preparation around flowers, dresses and food, but the hours I have spent with her over the years discussing and exploring life.
Our children look up to us from the day they are born. They observe us very closely and they imitate us (for better or for worse). They inherit not just our DNA, but our beliefs and our values too.
As I watched my daughter marry, I reflected back over our years together and suddenly, I felt deeply grateful for two courageous things I did in our relationship; two things I now believe made a big, positive difference for her.
The first thing I did was this: I showed her what it looks like to be true to yourself — even when it was really hard, and looked like failure to others. More specifically, I left my marriage to her father when she was 14, because even though we co-parented well enough, and everything looked fine from the outside, we were never able to achieve any sort of true intimacy in our 18 years of marriage, and I longed for that. We were competitive, and never able to “be on the same team”. I take responsibility for my part in that and I can now see my own immaturity and shortcomings.
This was a very scary time for me, but I knew deep inside I had to do it. Often, I hear people say they stay together “for the kids,” and perhaps that works for them. I wanted to do that, but at the same time, we were both extremely unhappy, caught in a hamster wheel of suffering, not knowing how to change our dynamics after 18 years. Finally, the thing I knew I needed to do to be true to myself was to leave. This decision was extremely difficult and required a tremendous amount of mental preparation. When I was finally courageous enough to leave, she no longer had to witness her parents living together in an uncomfortable tension-filled relationship. She could see each of us for who we were and develop relationships with us individually. And more importantly, she no longer had to witness our less-than-ideal relationship as her primary example of what marriage is supposed to look like.
The relationship I now have with her father is cordial and friendly enough and we both exhibited stellar behavior at the wedding this weekend as we mutually gave her away to her new husband. Our attempts at communication are still a bit awkward, but at least, we’re no longer pretending that we’re fine or trying to fix what may not be fixable in this lifetime.
I’m now very happily re-married to a man I resonate with on every level (yes, they’re out there and that possibility truly exists)! My new husband and I have had to work though our issues and deal with our fears. I have now seen how that’s a normal part of any committed intimate relationship. Everything I have learned about marriage says that we marry someone who stimulates the places in us that need healing and now I know from experience how true that is. I have learned that when you’re with the right person, you want to do the work because they too are willing to work with you. It requires self-understanding and courage, but ultimately there’s a sort of underlying joy in it and a huge reward as the intimacy deepens every time you work through a painful issue.
The second courageous thing I did for my daughter came about 10 years after the divorce. When I turned 50, and my daughter was 23, I asked her to tell me what, if any, traits of mine she would not like to inherit. Tears flowed from each of us, as she shared a few things with me that were painful to hear, but well worth it. It was the best birthday present I received, because it forged a new road to trust and intimacy that made our bond deeper than ever before.
I asked her this question because I wanted to know if there was anything in my behavior that I could change while I was still alive. There was, and I did, and I’m actually a lot happier and more comfortable in my own life because of it. I’m so proud of my daughter and grateful to her for being courageous enough to reveal her truth to me and for allowing me to face my fear of not looking perfect in her eyes (thank you, sweetheart).
I think all of us parents want be role models for our children, but what’s most important is that we be brave enough to be honest and authentic above all else. When we offer our offspring our deepest truth, we inspire them to live from theirs. I saw this in my daughter as she married this weekend, and to me, that was the most beautiful thing to witness.
I urge you to take the time to ask this question of your children when you feel they’re at the appropriate age. Of course they will inherit your traits, but wouldn’t you like to know which ones they have observed that are not inspiring to them? That way, you can decide if you want to shift some of your behaviors. Remember, when you keep evolving well past “middle age,” you’re modeling that for them as well.