Now That My Kids Are Big: 25 Things I Will Never Have to Do Again

I have to remind myself that it wasn’t all sunny days and cuddle-time. I have to remind myself that every phase of motherhood has its joys and challenges.

There are eight years between our eldest and youngest sons (with two girls in between). Our youngest recently turned 13, which means that my husband and I will have spent 15 years – a decade and a half, roughly 5,475 days – parenting teenagers before we tap out in 2024, not that I’m counting.

I actually (mostly) enjoy being the mom of a houseful of young adults and almost-adults. They are smart and interesting, and every day they make me laugh. But whoever told me, all those years ago when I was wrangling a houseful of little ones, that it would get easier was a bold-faced liar.

What I wouldn’t give now to be able to schedule their play dates or coax my kids into submission with just the promise of an extra episode of “Backyardigans.” How I would love to be able to physically move them out of harm’s way or strap them into their carseats and just drive them around until they stop fussing.

Yes, in many ways having small children was easier, and I loved those years. In fact, though I wouldn’t trade my teenagers for all the world, I am one of those moms who would gladly go back and do it all over again. Since I can’t go back, I sometimes have to remind myself that it wasn’t all sunny days and cuddle-time. I have to remind myself that every phase of motherhood has its joys and challenges.

When that doesn’t work, when I’m really longing for the simpler days of life with little children, it helps to stop and think about all the things that weren’t easy about having small ones and all the things I’ll never have to do again now that all my kids are big. Things like:

  • Catch vomit in my hands
  • Be used as a human napkin
  • Simultaneously nurse a baby and feed a squirming toddler
  • Hear “Swiper! No swiping!”
  • Sing “The Wheels on the Bus” all the way to the Gulf Coast
  • Interrupt a conversation to smell another person’s bottom
  • Get up in the middle of the night and step on a wet diaper – or a Lego
  • Fish something out of another person’s mouth
  • Bargain with someone to get her to eat
  • Eat any place that doubles as an arcade
  • Live with the shame of just throwing a towel over the spot in the bed where someone peed in the night
  • Assemble a doll house at one a.m.
  • Have the panicky realization that we’re only an hour into a 10-hour road trip and our car’s DVD player just stopped working
  • Try to sneak money under the pillow and pretend it was there all along
  • Cut grapes in half
  • Hide in my closet to eat the last cookie
  • Hear the words, “Hey kids! Wanna watch a show?” and know that was foreplay
  • Calm someone down who is hysterical because his sock is twisted
  • Go out to dinner with my husband only to eat our meals in shifts
  • Fall asleep reading “Blueberries for Sal”
  • Be frantically shaken awake because I fell asleep reading “Blueberries for Sal”
  • Count to three to get a response
  • Spend half the morning running errands before someone tells me I have spit-up down the back of my shirt
  • Carefully examine the contents of a diaper in hopes of finding that penny
  • Watch even one more episode of Barney

Of course, none of these minor annoyances ever really lessened the joy of parenting small children, just as none of the worry and stress of raising big kids lessens the joy of watching them grow into adults. No, parenting big kids might not be a cakewalk, but I won’t wish even one of those 5,475 days away. I know from experience how quickly they will be over and how much I will wish I could do it all again.

Determined…to Lighten Up

Lately, I’ve seriously resolved to take myself less seriously. It’s a paradox, isn’t it? Just like so many aspects of life. As time goes on, I’m finding that many age-old oxymoronic mantras ring true: less is more, pride brings low, humility brings high, giving is receiving, and so on.
As I find myself five-and-a-half years into marriage and two years into parenthood, I’m creating my own paradoxical saying. I’m determined to not be so determined, or I’m serious about being less serious (whichever you prefer).
I find striving for control a natural instinct. Though the motives of my heart may be pure (e.g. – “I just want what’s best for my family.”), the ripple effects of this habitual behavior in our home are almost palpable. It discourages, undermines, and steals away from what could have been an otherwise pleasant situation.
Manipulating the environment around me to be “just so” tends to go hand-in-hand with taking life too seriously in all the wrong ways, as well as fretting over outcomes that are beyond my control. Allow me to provide a few examples:
Correcting the way my husband loads the dishwasher.
Over-analyzing something he said innocently in passing.
Harping on things I want to get “done” around the house at a time that is only convenient for me.
Worrying excessively about my son’s milestones and whether he’s meeting them.
Comparing him to other children.
Being anxious over my every action as a mother, while spiraling down a wormhole of fear as I consider how each expression and word spoken might impact him as an adult.
(Cue: loud exhale)
There is a time and place to consider and address (almost) all of the examples above. I’m not suggesting that forsaking healthy order and parental responsibilities is the way to go. But letting these petty instances become the soundtrack in my home will suck the joy right out of the people living here.
To what end? That has been the question I’ve been asking myself lately. Why do I do this, and what is it all for in the long run?
Ultimately, the dishes will get cleaned, even if the way in which it happens is not the most efficient. My husband and I will hurt one another’s feelings, whether we intend to or not. Things around the house will get done, and it’s okay if it’s not on my preferred timeline. My son will reach his milestones at his own pace. He already possesses strengths and weaknesses, just like every other human being.
Yet, here’s the doozy for me lately: Not everything I say and do is going to powerfully impact my child. Sadly, it is pretty guaranteed that we’re all going to mess up our kids. This is unavoidable, so I can let that fear go right now.
We’re also going to do some really amazing things for them. Ironically, I think that the more we try to be perfect, the more we’ll probably mess them up.
When I take myself less seriously and simply be me – as a wife, mom, friend, and whatever other role I play in life – I’m reminded that I’m the best wife for my husband and he is the best husband for me because we intentionally chose each other, regardless of whatever our fleeting emotions might tell us.
Similarly, I’m the best mom my son will ever have. He was given to me and I was given to him purposefully, because we suit one another in spite of whatever challenges come our way.
So I will continually try to let go of controlling each facet of my life. I might even resolve to enjoy the imperfections as a sort of beautiful chaos. I aim to free up my husband and son to be themselves while providing them the extra respect, love, grace, patience, and understanding that I hope to receive from them.
I’m determined to stop wasting energy on the insignificant and the inevitable. It’s time to lighten up.

If These Scars Could Talk

I’m grateful for my scars. Each blemish has a story. Without my stories – and my scars – who would I be?

This is a submission in our monthly contest. November’s theme is Gratitude. Enter your own here!

I remember a story I saw on television as a child. It was the 1970s, before lasers were available to remove tattoos. The story was about a woman who wanted a heart-shaped tattoo removed from her derrière. Apparently, the doctor incised the heart tattoo and stitched up the wound. The scar that the excision left was in the shape of a capital letter Y. I remember thinking to myself, “She better marry someone whose name starts with a Y. Otherwise her husband might get jealous!” Something about that heart-turned-into-a-Y-shaped-scar always intrigued me. That woman had a story to tell.

At age nine, I earned my own first noticeable scars when I broke my femur. My parents bought a small motorcycle, and they’d take us kids out for rides on a piece of country property that our family owned. I was too young to ride the motorcycle alone, so I climbed on the back and hung on behind one of my father’s friends. It was an accident. Emile certainly didn’t want me to get hurt, but a piece of barbed wire was dangling in our path and it snared the wheel, yanking the bike onto my leg. I still remember the pain and the long drive to the hospital. The orthopedic doctor surgically inserted a metal pin through my leg to set me up for traction. After six weeks in the hospital, six weeks at home in a body cast, and several weeks on crutches, my femur finally healed. Over 40 years later, I still think about that accident whenever I see the small scars on either side of my right leg where the pin was.

Most of us don’t like scars. If you Google the word “scar,” numerous plastic surgery and dermatology websites for scar removal pop up. There’s a lot of money to be made in getting rid of our scars. Everyone wants beautiful, flawless skin that’s free of freckles, moles, and wrinkles. But if you think about it, scars equate to experiences. I’m grateful for my scars. Each blemish has a story. Without my stories – and my scars – who would I be?

I acquired other scars over the years, too. There’s a small one on my knee from a cut I received in a high school car accident. I think of my friend Linda when I see that scar, because she was in the car with me. Our vehicle was totaled, but Linda and I were okay. In adulthood, two cesarean section deliveries left a thin zipper across my lower abdomen. My sons are the result of those childbirth experiences, and the scars remind me of bringing Mason and Will into the world. There’s also the one on my back where I had a benign skin cancer removed. The basal cell carcinoma was likely the result of childhood sunburns, and that scar brings back memories of a particularly hot family beach trip to Corpus Christie, Texas one summer. I’m grateful to those doctors. The scars are my reminders.

My most serious scarring accident happened last year. It was spring break, and I was on a skiing vacation with my family. I was skiing to the right while a young man turned too fast to the left. Our skis crossed and I flew out of control into some trees. It was a frightening experience. I immediately felt intense heat throughout my ankle. I thought it was another broken bone, but I was wrong. It turned out to be a full rupture of my Achilles tendon, requiring immediate surgery.

Despite tearing my Achilles tendon, I somehow managed to attend the book launch events for my first children’s book. I couldn’t drive for a few months, but a wheelchair, a knee scooter, and Uber provided the mobility that I needed. I’m grateful to my husband, children, parents, siblings, and friends for taking care of me. I disliked being dependent on them, but I learned that the Beatles were right when they sang, “I get by with a little help from my friends.” I’m grateful to the ski patrol team that took quick action. I’m grateful I didn’t die when I hit the trees in that skiing accident.

When the orthopedic surgeon unwrapped the bandage to reveal my new Achilles tendon scar for the first time, I almost hoped it would be in the shape of a capital letter Y. That would’ve been perfect. But no, it’s just a two-inch horizontal mark.

My scars don’t bother me. They’re a literal skin road map of life that allows me to retrace my varied experiences. They reveal a sense of adventure. The scars point out that I might be a bit clumsy, and they always remind me to be grateful.

This post was originally published on the author’s blog.

What it Means to Build a "Home"

I don’t have a home anymore. I have places where my heart belongs, and people I love in those places.

Home. I’ve grown up my whole life hearing phrases like “Home is where the heart is,” and “Home is where your story begins.” Many people don’t know how this feels, or they live in the same house with their families but it is not Home. For me, “home” was always this beautiful, close concept of being absolutely together with the people you love in a place that’s comfortable and safe. I was lucky enough to know this reality.
My family moved into what I grew up calling “home” when I was five. I lived there until I moved to Chicago to go to college, and moved back there when I graduated. I moved out again when I got married, and moved back in after that marriage disintegrated. I moved out again last summer, when the overwhelming force of turning 30 wouldn’t stop beating against me and I felt compelled to prove I was a grown up and could “make it” on my own. My license still bears this address and every now and then, when I tell my daughter we’re going to visit grandma, I refer to it as home.
With all that being said, I must tell you something. I don’t have a home anymore.
I don’t mean to say that I am homeless. I am not, as Juniper so aptly words it, “houseless.” I live in a house with my JuneBug, two dear friends, and a refugee from Eritrea. We move around each other and make meals together and share a kitchen and a bathroom and we make it work. We have a backyard and air conditioning and couches and happiness. But it is not my home.
I can easily go to my mother’s house, where I grew up, and stay overnight comfortably. I can get up in the morning and move around the house effortlessly, fix the coffee, make the breakfast, put things where they belong. Generally I feel like I could still belong within those walls. But it is not my home.
I don’t have a home anymore. I have places where my heart belongs, and people I love in those places. When I think of the concrete word “home,” I don’t think of a specific place because there isn’t one. Home isn’t a place.
My mother is home, and the way she holds me when she hasn’t seen me in awhile is home. Snuggling with my daughter in bed in the morning is home. Watching a movie on the couch with my boyfriend, whiskey in hand and a smile on my face, is home. Catching chickens and waiting out the sunset over vast fields of farmland with my dad is home. Sitting on the porch swings at my grandmother’s house, listening to the sounds of the universe and the creak of wood paneling that has seen three generations grow up, is home.
I’m starting to believe that I will never have a “home” again. I might move somewhere else, or change my address, or settle in somewhere, but the abstract concept of home will continue vanishing. Home isn’t where the heart is, or where your story begins, or even where you feel most comfortable. Home is where the memories live. Home is where you can feel vulnerable and safe all at once. Home is being loved and wanted and deeply felt by another human being. You could live in a box and still feel like you’re “home.” So, I will let this word remain empty, and instead soak up moments that I will look back on sometime later in life, and, as if looking a great distance through a telescope, realize I was building “home” all along.
This article was originally published on Diary of a June Bug.

I Don’t Regret My Birth Plan: Notes From the Forever C-Section Mom

We all have the ideal plans for how we’re going to raise our kids and how they will turn out. Then life happens.

The pregnant woman sitting next to me at the park talks jubilantly about her upcoming birth and the way she hopes her labor plays out. I smile and nod, feeling excited on her behalf. I have four children, and the birthing days are solidly behind me.
“Did you write a birth plan?” she asks me.
“Yep. Every time.”
“What happened?”
I hesitate, always hating the answer. “I had three C-sections.”
I am the ultimate cliché, the woman who detailed her plans for birth, going slightly over the recommended limit of one page for a birth plan. My husband and I took a birthing class and watched “The Business of Being Born”, taking notes for later reference. I dreamt of unmedicated birth, immediate skin-to-skin contact, and going home quickly after labor.
Then, for three separate reasons – breech baby, three-weeks-overdue baby with no signs of labor, identical twins with TAPS – I was taken to a sterile OR to be sliced open, my children removed from my body that was numb from the waist down. I baked under the heat of the OR lamp while still shivering and wondered what I had done wrong. I was handed my babies before I promptly puked. Still, I attempted to cradle them in shaking arms, my body wrecked from all the medication.
It wasn’t until I needed a procedure to obtain a sample of my endometrial lining that l learned I have a defective cervix, one that simply will not dilate. It was a painful discovery, both in a physical and emotional way, but I chuckled maniacally thinking of my still-saved birth plan stored on my computer.
How the hell was this little discovery supposed to make me feel?
A friend said I should be grateful. In countries where access to C-sections isn’t promised, I would have likely been dead, an obstructed labor taking my first daughter as well. I tried on gratefulness and truly did feel thankful that all of my births ended well. However, I still felt like a fool, a woman who felt humiliated by my own body and its betrayal of me.
I’ve had a year to absorb the defective cervix news, and in that time, my feelings have changed. Today, my decision to write birth plans makes me proud. I’m glad I did it, that I trotted into my doctor’s office each time with my wishes spelled out in ink. I’m glad I was educated about childbirth, that I went from knowing nothing about having a baby to researching and planning for months for the birth I felt was right for me.
It was my first step towards mindful parenting, the process of weighing all my options and settling on what I believed was the ideal outcome for our family. Of course, the ideal didn’t pan out, but having a plan in the first place gave me a jump-off point to work from. What could we salvage from the plan? How could we adjust? What was best for everyone when the circumstances shifted?
This lesson, it turns out, is one that every parent will have to learn at some point. We all have the ideal plans for how we’re going to raise our kids and how they will turn out. Then life happens. We regroup. We save what we can. We find ways to be thankful along the way and fully grasp that none of this was ever truly in our control. We keep trying.
I also gained experience in standing up for what I believe is best for my kids. When I planned to VBAC with my son, I received a variety of responses. People laughed at me. They expressed shock that I wasn’t signing up for another C-section without a fight. Many questioned if VBACs were even a thing and if I was endangering my son by trying.
I held my ground.
I now do this regularly when people question my decisions to homeschool, to not dress our twins in the same outfits, or to try gentle discipline instead of spanking. I didn’t successfully VBAC, but I knew it was the chance I wanted my son to have, so I tried to give it to him. I wouldn’t take that back.
Writing a birth plan prepared me for looking ahead and making conscious choices. It taught me that I don’t have to follow the crowd or someone else’s way of doing things. I can chart my own course and do everything possible to navigate the experience and land where I want.
I can also live through it when life inevitably has other plans.

When Food Is Medicine

This is a submission in our monthly contest. November’s theme is Gratitude. Enter your own here!
One night, after the results of my son’s routine blood work showed scary-high levels of phosphorous, an effect of his kidney disease, anxiety fluttered inside my chest like I had swallowed a hummingbird. Anxiety about his health, the new medication I’d have to force down him, the disease’s progression, his eventual transplant, school, life, friends … I clicked on the TV to take it away, to lose myself in some gorgeous, rainy, heavily-accented series on the BBC. I landed, somehow, on the “Great British Baking Show.”
I ate through the first season like it was cake, watching home bakers whip together sometimes beautiful, sometimes disastrous creations in their bowls and mixers and ovens. What struck me was how real – how average – these people were, baking for the simple pleasure of creating something, of feeding their families. I thought: I could do that.
My first loaf of bread came out lumpy and awkward but delicious. My three children ate it smothered in butter as I spoke to my son’s doctor and nutritionist on the phone. We needed to start him on a grainy, awful-tasting powder – a phosphorous binder – which would be his ninth daily medication. But something in me refused. They said I could sprinkle it on his food, or mix it with water – but I knew, and they knew, it wouldn’t be as easy as that. He was three-and-a-half, very particular, with a history of eating issues. There must be something else we can do.
They relented: We can try to make changes to his diet first, they told me. No cheese, no milk. Limit whole grains, meats, nuts, the list went on and I scribbled notes as the hummingbird fluttered inside me. Really? For this boy who spent the first two years of his life nearly unable to eat solid food? Who would spit out (or vomit up) a single Cheerio? Whose crackers I’d break into grains of sand and set with something like a prayer on his high chair? This child whom I’ve been spoon-feeding for far longer than is good for either of us? For years the message was always FEED HIM, in alarming capital letters. FEED HIM or we will we will write failure-to-thrive on his chart. FEED HIM or we will thread a feeding tube down his nose and into his belly and do it for you.
Now you want me to take the food away?
But my son, like my two healthy children, ate my bread and butter and something clicked. I went to the supermarket; I read ingredients. What I thought of as “good bread” with the label from a fancy Los Angeles bakery wasn’t just flour and water and yeast; it was a science project of chemicals and preservatives, even a phosphorous additive. I put it back.
I started keeping bread dough in the fridge, ready to bake when we were running low. Then on to other things: carrot cake, corn muffins, zucchini bread, forgoing the nuts and doubling the vegetables; French toast with pasture-fed eggs; from-scratch pancakes, waffles, everything with almond milk instead of cow’s. I baked at night, when my family was asleep and everything was quiet and dark, which was better anyway because summer days in LA were just too hot. I kept batches of waffles and French toast in the freezer to warm-up in the mornings. I joined a CSA and looked forward to Wednesdays, when a giant box of organic fruits and vegetables, sometimes with the farm dirt still kissing the heads of lettuce, would land on my doorstep.
Baking turned to cooking. Roasted delicata squash in coconut curry. Pasta with burst cherry tomatoes and garlic and kale. My littlest one now eating spoonfuls of (almost) dairy-free spinach pesto for breakfast, and why not.
Meat quickly took a backseat to fruits and veggies, but chicken from the farmer’s market, lightly pounded and pulled through sesame seeds could save the world. Soups, stews, sauces, and after too many years of spoon-feeding, my son started to use utensils on his own. Rosemary shortbread cookies. He’s feeding himself. Cucumbers and avocado with balsamic vinaigrette. Not just feeding himself, but feeding himself a salad.
I’m lucky to live where the produce is so bountiful. I’m lucky that my children (and husband) are good sleepers, so that I have my nights alone in the kitchen. I’m lucky that I enjoy the quiet miracle of turning ingredients into food. Some things take time, so I save them for when I have time. Good produce, meat, and eggs – it’s expensive, but hey: I serve expensive food on cheap plates.
Sometimes my cooking is beautiful and sometimes it’s a disaster, just like the bakers on TV, but watching my son’s phosphorous levels stabilize without medication, and watching my healthy son and daughter eat their veggies (and their cookies) with pleasure, makes the effort, and the expense, entirely satisfying.
 

A Tale of Growing Up and A Drive-Thru Memory to Keep

The thought of placing a drive-through order gives me the jitters. “What? Don’t worry, I will place the order,” he says, his tenor that of an adult.

“Mama, can you stop at McDonald’s drive-through? I’m super hungry,” says my 14-year old son.
It’s Thursday evening and we are returning home from his Taekwondo class.
“It’s a week night. I cooked stir fry okra today. Your favorite,” I tell him.
“I don’t want to eat that. Please.”
Why is he refusing to eat at home? He knows our family’s rules: we only eat out on weekends. My son is an only child, so I worry about him growing into a selfish and insensitive adult.
I was born and raised in India in a middle class family. My family did not own a car; my siblings and I bicycled to school, exposed to the sun in summer, buttoned up in raincoats in monsoon, bundled up in scarves and hats in winter. Eating out was restricted to an ice-cream cone once a year, on the evening our final exams culminated. I never tried to bend or question my parents’ rules.
I talk to him about spending wisely and saving hard-earned money. I eulogize the benefits of eating fresh, home cooked food. I demonize the empty-calorie comestibles sold by fast food restaurants.
My son pulls a long face. That and the fact that he will be fleeing my nest in another three years soften my heart. He is a good kid. It’s not his fault that he has not seen poverty and longing up close.
I have to accede to his request today.
The thought of placing a drive-through order gives me the jitters. I tell my son that I have never, in my 15 years of life in the US, done a drive-through.
“What? Don’t worry, I will place the order,” he says, his tenor that of an adult, resolving a puerile conflict.
I glance at my son in the passenger seat. His head is bent into his phone. The line of black hair on his upper lip appears thicker and darker. Pimples and their remnants dot his forehead and sideburns. A whiff of Axe deodorant escapes from his underarms.
This boy, who came from the smiley shaped incision on my abdomen, now towers over me. He has never noticed that his dad has been on the wheel anytime we have done a drive-through. What else does he not know about the machinery of our life as a family?
What does he mean by he will place the order? He doubts my spoken English. He corrects my pronunciations, tells me which syllables to stress in words like Indianapolis and Kentucky. But I am an Information Technology professional and am gainfully employed by an American business.
My mind begins to wander. We recently watched an Indian movie “English Vinglish” on Netflix, in which the protagonist is an Indian mom who visits the USA to attend her niece’s wedding. This woman, who has a tremulous command over English, tries to order a coffee at Starbucks and ends up being insulted by the barista.
My son is unconsciously drawing parallels between that woman and me. I have never heard Starbucks baristas speak in a condescending tone. The plot is implausible to me.
My hesitation is not because of my lack of language but because of my short arms. I am a tiny person. My mind is mired in doubts – what if my arms don’t reach the window and I drop my credit card or the food packet?
Finally, I scrape out courage from each cell of my puny body and pull into the drive-through lane, approach the microphone and rattle off the order of one Filet Fish sandwich with a medium fries. The person on the other side does not say repeat or pardon.
My son looks up from his phone. I approach the payment window, steering carefully. The window guy’s fingers reach mine and I hand him my credit card. Success. We then float – my son, my Lexus, and I – as an autumn leaf to the next window, where another oblivious partner hands me the paper package.
I hand over the steaming package to my son, without even looking at him, like it was a mundane activity.
“Thank you, mama,” my son says, looking at me with eyes brimming with pride.
My son narrates the story to my husband later that evening. “Mama is brave,” he says, “She just needs to try.” Animated conversations and moments of levity have become rare in our house.
The teenage years have pulled my son into a shell of reticence. He answers in deep sighs, bored monosyllables like “yeah” and “no” or boorish phrases like “kind of’” and “not really.”
My son has stopped lingering in the kitchen. Before, he used to turn over the parathas for me or shell the boiled eggs for curry, all the time chattering. I had to ask him to stop the blabber or my fingers would forget to add some vital ingredient, like the ginger-garlic paste to the egg curry.
He has moved his homework station from my kitchen island to the den. He leaves the den only when called. He eats with us every night and heads upstairs to his room soon as he is finished.
I don’t complain but I have not stopped missing him. I miss trimming his nails every weekend and pouring eye drops in his eyes every night. I miss helping him with his homework. I miss his telling me of his tummy aches. I miss his asking me simple questions.
As I lie in bed, I feel accomplished and happy. I have conquered a fear and I have built a strong memory with my son. This memory is most precious. My son might forget how I raced in my heels to his daycare. He might forget how I wracked my brains over his Math Counts problems long after he went to bed. He might forget how I folded his laundry and placed it neatly in his closet when his dad asked him to do it. He will never be able to forget this drive-through experience that we shared. Perhaps, he will narrate this tale of his puny mother’s courage to his kids.

What This Magic Ratio Says About Your Relationship

For every negative interaction during conflict, a stable and happy marriage has five (or more) positive interactions.

Whether it’s about not having enough sex, the dirty laundry, or spending too much money, conflict is inevitable in every marriage.
To understand the difference between happy and unhappy couples, Dr. Gottman and Robert Levenson began doing longitudinal studies of couples in the 1970s. They asked couples to solve a conflict in their relationship in 15 minutes, then sat back and watched. After carefully reviewing the tapes and following up with them nine years later, they were able to predict which couples would stay together and which would divorce with over 90 percent accuracy.
Their discovery was simple. The difference between happy and unhappy couples is the balance between positive and negative interactions during conflict. There is a very specific ratio that makes love last.
That “magic ratio” is 5 to 1. This means that for every negative interaction during conflict, a stable and happy marriage has five (or more) positive interactions.
“When the masters of marriage are talking about something important,” Dr. Gottman says, “they may be arguing, but they are also laughing and teasing and there are signs of affection because they have made emotional connections.”
On the other hand, unhappy couples tend to engage in fewer positive interactions to compensate for their escalating negativity. If the positive-to-negative ratio during conflict is 1-to-1 or less, that’s unhealthy, and indicates a couple teetering on the edge of divorce.
So what’s considered a negative interaction?

The one negative interaction

Examples of negative interactions include another predictor of divorce, The Four Horsemen, as well as feelings of loneliness and isolation. While anger is certainly a negative interaction and a natural reaction during conflict, it isn’t necessarily damaging to a marriage. Dr. Gottman explains in “Why Marriages Succeed or Fail” that “anger only has negative effects in marriage if it is expressed along with criticism or contempt, or if it is defensive.”
Negative interactions during conflict include being emotionally dismissive or critical, or becoming defensive. Body language such as eye-rolling can be a powerful negative interaction, and it is important to remember that negativity holds a great deal of emotional power, which is why it takes five positive interactions to overcome any one negative interaction.
Negative interactions happen in healthy marriages, too, but they are quickly repaired and replaced with validation and empathy.

The five positive interactions

Couples who flourish engage in conflict differently than those who eventually break up. Not only do the masters of marriage start conflict more gently, but they also make repairs in both minor and major ways that highlight the positivity in their relationship. Below is a list of interactions that stable couples regularly use to maintain positivity and closeness.

Be interested

When your partner complains about something, do you listen? Are you curious about why he or she is so mad? Displaying interest includes asking open-ended questions, as well as more subtle signals such as nods, making eye contact, and timely “uh-huhs” that show how closely you are listening.

Express affection

Do you hold hands with your partner, offer a romantic kiss, or embrace your partner when greeting them at the end of the day? Expressions of affection can happen in small ways both within and outside of conflict.
Within conflict, displays of physical and verbal affection reduce stress. If you’re having a difficult conversation and your partner takes your hand and says, “Gosh, this is hard to talk about. I really love you and I know we can figure this out together,” you will likely feel better because their display of affection is bound to reduce tension and bring you closer together.

Demonstrate they matter

Our motto for making marriage last is “small things often.” The small acts that demonstrate you care are powerful ways to enhance the positivity in your marriage.
Bringing up something that is important to your partner, even when you disagree, demonstrates that you are putting their interests on par with yours and shows your partner that you care about them. How you treat each other outside of conflict influences how well you’ll handle your inevitable disagreements.
For example, if your partner has a bad day and you stop to pick up dinner on the way home, you’re showing him that he is on your mind. Those small gestures accumulate over time and will provide a buffer of positivity in your marriage so that when you do enter a conflict, it will be easier to engage in positive interactions that outweigh the negative.

Intentional appreciation

How you think about your partner influences how you treat them. By focusing on the positives of your marriage such as the good moments from your past and your partner’s admirable traits, you put positive energy into your relationship.
Negativity is bound to enter your thoughts, especially during conflict. Intentionally focusing on the positive will counterbalance any of the moments when you struggle to find something good about your partner.
Now turn your thoughts into action: every time you express your positive thinking and give your partner a verbal compliment, no matter how small, you are strengthening your marriage.

Find opportunities for agreement

When couples fight, they focus on the negative parts of the conflict and miss the opportunities for what they agree on. When you seek opportunities for agreement and express yourself accordingly, you are showing that you see your spouse’s viewpoint as valid and that you care about them. An alliance in conflict, even minor, can fundamentally shift how couples fight.

Empathize and apologize

Empathy is one of the deepest forms of human connection. When you empathize with your spouse, you show that you understand and feel what your partner is feeling, even if you express empathy nonverbally through a facial expression or a physical gesture.
Saying things like, “It makes sense to me that you feel…” will help your partner see that you are on their team. Empathy is a profound connecting skill that all romantic partners can and should improve, and there is no limit to the amount of empathy you can express.
If your partner is upset with something you said or did, simply apologize. If you can find a moment during conflict to say, “I’m sorry I hurt your feelings. That makes me sad,” you will provide a positive and empathetic interaction that reinforces your bond.

Accept your partner’s perspective

An approach that drastically improves conflict is understanding that each of your perspectives are valid, even if they are opposed to each other.
While you may not agree with your partner’s perspective, letting them know that their perspective makes sense will show them that you respect them. One of the best ways to do this is to summarize your spouse’s experience during a conflict, even if you disagree. Remember that validation doesn’t mean agreement, but it does signal respect.

Make jokes

Playful teasing, silliness, and finding moments to laugh together can ease tension in a heated conflict. Most couples have inside jokes they only share with each other. This highlights the exclusivity a couple has.
However, a word of caution: remember to find a way to joke around that maintains respect and appreciation for your spouse and that serves to bring you both closer together.

Test your ratio

Is your relationship unbalanced? Observe how you and your partner interact. For every negative interaction that happens, are there more positive interactions? If not, take it upon yourself to create more positive interactions in your relationship, and also try to notice the small moments of positivity that currently exist there, and that you may have been missing.
Keep a journal for one week that notes the positive interactions, however small, in your marriage. As Dr. Gottman’s research has revealed, the more positive actions and feelings you can create in your marriage, the happier and more stable your marriage will be.
Remember to maintain the Magic Ratio in your marriage with our 5:1 Tumbler.
This post was originally published on The Gottman Institute blog.

A Mother's Proclamation About How This Day is Going to Go

Today, we will get out of the house. This will be no easy feat, but we will get out of the house.

This is a submission in our monthly contest. October’s theme is Determination. Enter your own here!
Today, we will get out of the house.
This will be no easy feat, as I will need to dress both of you while you are fully committed to this riveting episode of Paw Patrol. It will be like attempting to tug clothes onto an angry octopus, or actually, like trying to dress two fighting octopi that can’t keep their tentacles to themselves.
But we will get out of the house.
I must pack enough snack rations to feed an entire small town for a week, even though we’ll only be gone for a couple of hours and you just ate your weight in muffins at breakfast. And I need to make sure I have exactly the same number of banana applesauce pouches for each of you. Strawberry applesauce is obviously not acceptable.
And you, my dear daughter, must go potty. I realize this is a 42-step process, and that you will shout “I pooped!” just as I am trying to wrangle your brother to the ground, pinning him down with my body weight so I can change his diaper. But we can do this. We must.
And then we will be ready – hooray! Dressed, bag packed, faces (somewhat) clean, hair brushed. We will just need to find your shoes and socks and put them on. Easy-peasy, right? Yes, I know we are missing one of your gray socks with blue whales, and that it is nearly impossible to go on living without it, but we will prevail.
Despite all of this, we will get out of the house.
We will figure out a way to get in the car, even though you will each insist that I buckle you into your car seat first.
We will go to the library to return our overdue books and pick out new ones, even though you, my sweet son, will sob, your little face scrunched in rage, because I have the audacity to insist that I hold you while we cross the street.
After the library (where one of you clearly will not respect the quiet rule), I will – despite my better judgment – take you to the bakery next door for a donut. You will argue over who gets the bigger half (news flash – they will be exactly the same size). You will coat every square inch of your face, the table, and the floor with cinnamon sugar.
But today, I will get out of the house.
Here is a list of things I will not do:

  • Fold the load of laundry that’s been waiting for me in the living room for three days.
  • Clean the kitchen, which may be reaching health code levels of dirtiness.
  • Spend any measure of quality time with my husband.
  • Clean out the back of my car, or finally take those clothes on top of my dresser to Goodwill, or do our weekly meal planning, or write, or go for a run, or take a nap.

I will not do any of those things today.
Some days I wonder – what am I doing with my life? Am I achieving enough? Am I reaching for my dreams? Am I doing anything really worthwhile? And importantly – will these kids ever sleep? Will my house ever be clean again?
I am often tired and frazzled, overwhelmed by how much you need me and by my inability to do it all. But I do know deep down that it is all okay, and that nothing lasts forever – not even these days, which are messy, mundane, and maddening … but also magic if I am determined enough to pay attention.
Today, I will get out of the house. I will take you to the park. I will watch as you play in the sand, giggle your way down the slides, and shriek with joy while you chase butterflies. I will push you on the swings, one hand on each of your little backs. I will raise my face to the warmth of the sun and be grateful.

Life’s Curveballs

When people ask me what motivates me in life, the answer is always him. He’s my driving force, the reason I forge on.

This is a submission in our monthly contest. October’s theme is Determination. Enter your own here!
35 years ago, my older brother Kip was born with a very rare genetic disorder called Cornelia de Lange Syndrome. Along with his diagnosis came a plethora of complications. In short, his body will not allow him to do what he wants it to do. He is completely aware of his condition, and could likely tell you (in great detail) all of the challenges that he has experienced as a result of an unfortunate chromosomal mishap during conception.
Kip survives in a world of print he cannot and will never understand. He faces discrimination and judgments daily. People stare, they whisper. His daily tasks of living take more effort and courage than most of us can even imagine. Ultimately, he lives captive in a body that doesn’t work like it should.
Most would agree that Kip has been dealt some very difficult cards. Most of us would also look at the many obstacles and hurdles that he faces, and give up. But not Kip. He’s an example. A daily illustration of perseverance. Of strength. Of pure grit and determination. He wakes up each day with hope in his heart, willing to face whatever obstacles life happens to throw his way.
Despite the many difficulties he encounters, he never backs down. He doesn’t succumb to bitterness, nor does he feel sorry for himself. As a matter of fact, in 35 years I’ve never once heard him complain about the challenges he faces or the hand he’s been dealt. Not once.
Kip is the kind of person who takes money out of his savings account and buys a ticket to ac-company you on a flight with your three children so you don’t have to fly alone. He’s the type of person who responds with “it’s okay, we all have bad days,” when he sees me lose my patience and yell at my kids. When my husband left for a week on a work trip, Kip came and stayed with us, so he could walk my (very nervous) oldest son to and from kindergarten on his first week of school. He’s the kind of person who would do anything for you, if he thought he might be able to lessen your load. He’s kind, calm, and genuinely helpful. It’s so humbling to see someone who has everything in the world to be upset about, choose love and kindness above all else.
Now I don’t know about you … but I wouldn’t be able to have this much courage. I would be bitter, angry, and sad. All emotions that I’m sure that kip has experienced plenty of … but when push comes to shove, instead of resentment, he chooses strength and compassion. Every. Single. Day.
Talking about my brother and his challenges has not always come easy to me. I am ashamed to admit that when I was a young girl, I used to be embarrassed that Kip was different. I didn’t understand why I couldn’t have a “normal” brother like my friends. I would get frustrated and angry. I was young, self-centered, and could only see how his syndrome impacted me. As I write, these words are still as venomous and hurtful today, as they were 20 years ago. It breaks my heart and shames me, but I also know that these emotions were all part of the experience. The process. The teaching.
The thing is, Kip has been teaching me from the very beginning. When I waited for hours every morning while he finished his “routine,” he was teaching me patience; When I yelled at him for not being able to remember the phone message, and he told me “I’m sorry, my brain doesn’t work right,” he was teaching me humility; When I watched him approach my cheating high school boyfriend in the middle of the senior hallway and tell him he was a jerk “for making my sister cry,” he was teaching me unconditional love. Most importantly, his unwillingness to give up, despite assholes like myself, was teaching me about the true meaning of bravery.
Somehow I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to learn from Kip. Of all the families in this great big world, somehow our family was chosen. And the lessons are humbling. Lessons of strength, and tenacity, and persistence. He’s taught me perspective and to appreciate my abilities and the many things that I have been blessed with. He’s taught me empathy and the importance of valuing every single person’s worth. Above all else, he’s shown me that even in your darkest hour, when you think you can’t take another step forward, you can. I know it’s possible because he does it every single day.
My mom once told me that “it’s easy to be on top and keep your cool, but the true test of character doesn’t happen there. It’s when things don’t go your way, when life throws you a curve ball, that you are given the fleeting opportunity to show this world what you are really made of. Strength and tenacity only increase when tested.”
And she’s right. As for Kip, his daily life is a constant curve ball; and if you ask me, I’d say he’s batting 1000.
When people ask me what motivates me in life, the answer is always him. He’s my driving force, the reason I forge on. Because if he can do it every single day, I have no excuse not to. I’m so damn proud to call him my brother. I’m in awe of his strength and humbled by the way he handles his struggles with such courage and grace. It’s amazing. Inspiring really. To watch someone thrive, despite the daunting challenges he faces, and not ever give up. He’s making this world a better place, by serving as a constant reminder of what true determination really looks like.