Married, with children: What I’ve learned in the last 8 years.

us black and whiteErron and I celebrated 8 years of marriage this week. Last year we spent our anniversary in the PICU, extubating Shepherd and hearing his precious first words, “I want to go home.” We were exhausted, having experienced every possible emotion in that one day alone, after a marathon 9 days of minimal sleep and intense fear. Yet it was the most meaningful anniversary we’d ever had considering what we’d just experienced as a couple, the nature of Shep’s accident, and the fact that Erron wasn’t even in town when it happened. The gift of a second chance at life with our son was indescribable. I later learned that in the bible, 7 stands for completeness and perfection, or something that is finished. I internalized this as God saying, “This catastrophe for Shep is over, I will make him whole and perfect, and you two will make it through this.”

7 years
Last year’s anniversary pic. Shep had been extubated earlier that day and we could tell we really did have our little boy back. We were filled with joy and relief, and also very, VERY tired.

Except I forgot that a lot this year. The truth is, this year was rough. We had so many intense emotions process through. PTSD hit me like a tidal wave the day Shep was transferred out of PICU and hung around for months. But we circled the wagons and continued to put one foot in front of the other. Anyone who’s done it can tell you: Marriage isn’t easy; and marriage with children is something else entirely. I recently watched my little sister walk down the isle and it got me thinking over the things I’ve discovered about making a marriage work since Erron and I said “I do,” at age 23. We were babies. What did we know? And who’d  have thought we’d experience all we have so early into our vows? So, I made a list…8 real things I’ve learned after 8 years of marriage, plus one to grow on.

1. Sometimes the mundane is harder than a crisis: Erron and I tend to unify quickly in really scary or exceptionally stressful situations but it’s the day-in-day-out grind that gets to us. Things that all couples face: Unexpected expenses, an over-packed schedule, and the perpetual lack of sleep that comes with our particular little people. This stuff gets under our skin and starts to cause friction between the two of us. We become short-sighted, irritable, forgetting that we aren’t really in total control of our circumstances in the first place. After a while, we have to call a time out, remind each other what really matters, and hit the re-set button.

2. Have a higher calling: There was a clear moment; sitting slack jawed on that little couch-bed in the hospital room, nurses buzzing around us…when the two of us were pretty sure we were going to loose Shepherd. In that minute I looked at Erron, eyes wide and nervous, and I whispered, “Are we in this together?” He looked me in the eye and said, “Yes, we’re in this together.” It was the first time I could take a breath. Erron’s few words told me all I needed to know. He still believed in Us, and he felt as I did: If we had to say goodbye to our little boy, it didn’t mean forever. Facing whatever the next minute would bring, we were unified in our belief that this was not “The End”, and our whole world hung on this belief. That moment was bearable, and oddly peaceful, only because our faith was bigger than our circumstances.

3. Being a good Dad counts extra. It just does. There are seasons when Erron and I are not on the same page, things are not awesome, and we are not madly in love. But even in our worst moments of marriage, Erron has never quit being an intentional Dad and I’ve never failed to notice how obsessed our kids are with him. Being a great parent counts big time, sometimes more than being a great husband. And it goes both ways, I know Erron thinks I’m a good mom and that matters…. A lot. Erron and I always manage to get back on track, but I’m not going to pretend I’m never motivated toward ending an argument so we can just go back to being a happy family.

4. One-on-one time actually IS a big deal. NO, we do not have weekly date nights, not even close. But on the rare occasion we make it out of the house child-free I’m always amazed at the difference it makes. You don’t have to leave the house. Sitting at home watching Netflix while your kids are in bed does not count. But sitting at home and having an adult conversation while they sleep does. It’s the talking that does the trick. Conversations with little people are hectic. Attempting a serious personal conversation with our kids around looks like this: “Babe. I’ve been thinking it’d be really good for me if I started- “SHEPHERD! Stop wrestling your sister!” or, “At work I’m having this issue and I’m trying to figure out how to -“CHAR! No more cheerios before dinner!” You get the picture.

5. Forgiveness. I’m just going to go ahead and say Erron’s better at this than me. Erron seeks out reconciliation before I do, and it’s one of the things I love most about him. I feel like arguments repeat themselves less than usual because we work them out to the point of actual verbal forgiveness. This concept now extends to our kids. Since becoming parents, Erron and I have improved the way we argue, but we still tend to fight loud and it’s not always clean. Many times we end up going to our kids and asking them for forgiveness after an argument as well. It keeps us in-check and hopefully, the take away for the littles is that we aren’t perfect, but we keep trying.

6. Have at least ONE show you can watch together.If not, you’ll always be in one room watching Nashville and he’ll be in the other watching Walking Dead and that gets lonely after a while. Even if you’re too whipped to do anything but zone out, it’s nice being able to do together.

7. Get excited about what your spouse is excited about. I’m not into disc golf, but Erron is crazy good at it. I bought him a putting basket for Father’s Day last year and you’d of thought I bought him a truck. He loved it, best gift ever. I should be exempt from all future gifts, it gets used that much. Likewise, writing is not Erron’s thing. Still, he faithfully reads what I write and he takes me seriously when I talk about what I’m putting on the blog. It’s possible he only cares because he’s at high risk for subject matter, but I’m going to say it’s because he loves me. And I love that he cares enough to listen and provide feedback.

8. Sending out the distress signal can be a smart move. Hands down the best thing Erron and I ever did for our marriage was go talk to someone about it. We’d never done that before this year,  and we probably wouldn’t have if it was not so obvious to both of us that we were in way over our heads after Shepherd’s accident. Once we were able to air out our truths in a safe place, the truth didn’t seem so scary, and we realized things were actually really good between us. Inviting wise council into your marriage helps you process better and think as a team. We never left counseling more discouraged then when we came in.

9. Assume the best. This one is hard, but a game changer. I would say at least half our arguments are born out of false assumptions about the other person. And people tend to become the type of person you treat them as…so give your other half the benefit of the doubt. Erron is not avoiding that insurance paperwork because he doesn’t care about our family; he really is slammed at work and just forgot. Our house is not trashed for a week because I’m lazy, the kids are going through a phase that requires extra attention. Extending grace…goes a long way in short circuiting arguments.

For us, marriage means we’re better people together than we would ever be apart. It’s not about the individual (even though it really feels like it). It can hurt, a lot, having the rough edges of your personality worn away. Selfishness, entitlement, pride…. everybody struggles with these feelings, but tied to another person you have to be willing to own them….and cut them loose. Over and over again.  This year wasn’t always pretty for us, but it’s beautiful, what we’ve become. Erron collaborated with me to finish this list. Last week, I came to him, defeated over the lack of material I had to write this post. “Babe, I only have about 6 things to on my list! I panicked, “It’s like I haven’t even learned anything in 8 years of marriage! And after all we’ve been through!”

 “Or maybe…” he suggested, “…we’re just so damn good at it.”

Yes. Let’s go with that.

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Erron kissing allie

kisses

All pictures were taken by Erron's sis, Chelsea Ahlgrim Photography except this one. Shep took this a few days ago in our back yard.
All pictures were taken by Erron’s sis, Chelsea Ahlgrim Photography, except our wedding day and this one. Shep took this last week.

2 thoughts on “Married, with children: What I’ve learned in the last 8 years.

  1. Beautiful post Allie! I deserve photo credits for the pic of your 7th anniversary at that hospital! I love you both!

  2. Allie you once asked me why I read your blog and I am sure it perplexed you as I am not a mom yet and have been married for a short 4 years but it’s not only because your story moved me when I heard it but because you are so real and inspiring! I think our society is longing for something deeper, meaningful, transparent. I love reading your posts! My husband and I don’t have kids yet and I think this is why I love your blog so much because it helps me see what life may be like for us someday and I feel like your giving me the tools in advance to live an intentional, honest, forgiving, Godly, heartfelt and meaningful life! Sure appreciate you! Keep on keeping on! 🙂

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