As I watched my son get into the car and make the drive to the airport to board a plane that would take him thousands of miles away to Marine Corps boot camp, my heart shattered.
My son. My little boy. The same little boy who played with the Toy Story characters Woody and Andy and rode his bike all summer was now a man going off to become a warrior. My heart swelled with pride and broke with pain.
My kids are everything to me and many times I placed them before other things in my life including other relationships. I knew I would see my son again and I knew my life would go on after my child left home. But when my friend lost her 22-year-old son to cancer I questioned how a parent move through the devastation of the death of a child. As I was talking to her, she spoke of and how hard it was to let go of him but she knew he was in such tremendous pain. And she spoke of the future, her future. She talked about her daughter, her husband, and the foundation they had created after her son was first diagnosed with testicular cancer at 13.
For many of us, our children have been the most important people in our lives since becoming parents, often times to the peril of other relationships. But when we focus so much on the relationships with our children, we can lose sight of the relationships with our mate, friends, and family—the people who remain after our children leave.
But as my children begin their own journey and a beautiful man has entered my life, I’ve learned a few things about relationships and love. Here are four things to remember about love and life for mothers, fathers, divorcees, and those in marriages and relationships:
“I” before “we.”
First, and most importantly, I’ve come to realize that I—not my children, not my lover, not my career—am the center of my universe. When we are exhausted from taking care of kids, working, volunteering, and running a house we can become angry and tired, and left feeling unappreciated. We are so busy serving other people that we can miss the most important part of love: being present in the presence of those we love. To do that, we need to practice self-love and self-care so that we can not only pour into the people we love but to live life with them. I make sure I take several hours throughout the week to meditate, do something I love, or have alone time. Since I’ve begun practicing this I’ve truly begun to live my life. I have more energy, I’m happier, and I have more love to give. My life has become fuller and more fulfilling.
We can sometimes fall into the belief that our kids should be our first priority. By not placing ourselves first, we can become drained leaving ourselves empty. Similarly, we put our kids before other relationships, which causes those relationships to suffer. Relationships are never static: there may be a time a friend needs your help and you need to make that the priority. There are times you need to make an extra-special effort to spend quality time with one of your kids. While you need to come first so that you can better serve and love others, every relationship is important and deserves your attention. The needs of your inner circle—children, friends, significant others—must be a balanced and equal effort.
Effort needs to be made every day. I recognize that a fatal flaw in not only my marriage but also in failed friendships is the lack of consistent effort. Like an artist who is constantly looking at the details of his masterpiece, we need to be watching the dynamics of our relationships. This can be hard when daily life takes over and consumes our attention. But I have found that with a little effort, my relationships leave me feeling energized rather than drained. Sure, there are times when relationships struggle and are hard to manage. Looking at the big picture, however, our relationships bring more meaning to life.
And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.
~ Raymond Carver
Isn’t that what we are looking for? To feel beloved you must make others feel beloved. It’s a beautiful dance between two people, whether they are lovers, friends, or family. You cannot control the dance of others, you can only control yourself but you should always put in the effort every single day.
Everyone important in your life is worth fighting for. In my failed relationships, the most pain has come when people didn’t fight for me. Those were the hardest from which to recover because it caused me to question my self-worth. There are times when friendships and lovers no longer serve us where we are in life. And it’s okay to gently let those go. Many times, those relationships naturally move away as our life journeys take separate paths. But for lifetime relationships, children, family, or life partners, we need to fight. Sometimes the fight is to keep growing together or to make sure needs are being met. Sometimes the fight is during difficult season when partners need to dig deep to remember their love and keep it alive. So learn how to fight fairly and productively. But most importantly, fight to hold on to the person you love. If you love them, they are worth the fight!
Recently, I met a man who is pretty amazing. We are only months into our relationship but my heart still beats faster when I think of him and I get a stupid smile on my face. After a failed marriage, I’ve read countless articles and I’ve watched the happiest couples among my friends and wondered what the key is to loving without fear and I think I’ve found it: to make each person you love your number one priority.
My boyfriend is just as important as my children. My friends are just as important as my boyfriend. If we put in as much effort and attention to detail with all of our relationships that we’ve done with our children, we will find relationship success.
Author: Amy Weitzel
Ediotors: Sara Kärpänen, Katarina Tavčar