The recent Supreme Court decision to overturn DOMA has really got me thinking about what I want to teach my son about marriage and relationships. As a marriage and family counselor, I see all kinds of relationship. I have seen marriages at the most poisonous of stages. And I have seen amazing couples struggling to figure out a way to make their families work. My husband and I are always super conscious about talking to our son with an open mind about our expectations. I know, he is not even 2 yet, but habits (both good and bad) are hard to break and I want to be sure we start thinking about these conversations and lessons now.
One of the things we do all of the time, and it totally takes certain members of my southern family by surprise, is that we always make sure that any discussions of future partners is kept gender neutral. We say things like, “Noah, you are really going to make some woman or man really happy one day.” Or we will ask him about a girlfriend or boyfriend from school. We just want to make sure he knows, from day one, that we will love him and support him no matter who he grows up to be.
On a separate but related note: It really stresses me out when adults place job labels on my toddler based on his current interests. For example, Noah LOVES to play with my shoes. He puts on my high heels and wears them around with more grace and ease than I ever could. We recently spent some time at my mother’s house and, of course, he got in her closet, put on her spring sandals, and took off running. My mother says, “I really think Noah is going to grow up to be a show designer.” To which I replied, “Or he could be cross-dresser. “ Seriously- stop it!
We have also always talked about marriage as choice. My parents got divorced when I was about 5 years old. I took it really hard, needed lots of counseling, and eventually learned to cope with the craziness through writing. But, the remnants of the divorce never went away. My parents fought for years- about child support, visitation, college tuition, holidays- and, as a result, I developed some nasty ideas about marriage and commitment. Why would anyone ever want to get married if this could happen? Yes, there were other successful marriages that I knew about but, like I tell my clients every day, your children learn how to be in relationships by watching their parents. There is a reason that women with “daddy issues” make terrible relationship decisions. They never learned how to be an equal partner as part of a healthy couple.
I became one of those girls. Fortunately, I had Matt. We met early. We were 16 and went quickly from best friends to high school sweet hearts (maybe I will tell y’all the story one day). I fell hard and fast and, after a couple of years, when I knew I had him wrapped around my finger, I began doing everything I could to try and get him to leave—just like my father did. I won’t go in to the details (for his sake) but there were a couple of years that I treated him and our relationship like crap. And I came home every night expecting his stuff to be packed and him to be gone.
But he stayed. He grew up in a home with parents that loved and supported each other. They weren’t perfect- far from it. But they showed Matt that marriages are forever. They take work and commitment and communication. Gender roles were non-existent. Men were gentlemen- polite and caring and hard-working. Women were all of the same things too. So, Matt stayed.
He ended up convincing me to figure out to come to terms with my “daddy issues” and so, after a long year of the silent treatment and some pretty severe soul searching, my father and I figured out how to start over. While I have never really given my dad a lot of credit, I would like to tell him out loud that this took A LOT of courage. My dad drove to Chapel Hill, not really knowing what I had in store, and listened to 20 years’ worth of hurt and pain and abandonment. Now, don’t get me wrong, he had a few choice words for me as well but, he allowed me the space to stand up to him. Allowed me the opportunity to say what I needed to say and fight the fight I had wanted to fight for a long time.
And, while I am so grateful that my father and I now have a very good relationship, this “fight” made it possible for me to evaluate my behavior in my relationship with Matt and gain some awareness as to why I was so desperately afraid of letting him love me. I finally conquered my “daddy issues” and Matt and I learned together how to be in a healthy relationship with each other. We are honest, we talk about everything and anything, we confront each other, and (probably the best advice I could ever give any couple) we laugh and laugh and laugh- all the time. Our home is full of funny. We make jokes; we make fun of each other; we don’t take each other or ourselves too seriously. We truly enjoy being married to each other.
And that is what I immediately thought of when I heard about SCOTUS and finally figuring out that everyone deserves the right to feel the way I feel every morning when I look at my husband in the bed next to me. I always thought of marriage as a choice- something 2 adults decide on together based on history, logic, and maybe even love. But in watching all of the media coverage and seeing the true joy and celebration in people’s eyes as they finally feel the way I felt when Matt proposed, I now know that marriage is not a choice. Marriage is a basic and human right. I want to teach Noah that relationships are valuable and deserve respect from everyone. And I hope that, one day, he will be lucky enough to meet a person, woman or man, that makes him feel the way I feel about his father.