The big news recently has been the birth of a son to Prince William and Kate Middleton. Like most new parents, they most likely let out a sigh of relief when baby George Alexander Louis popped out with 10 fingers, 10 toes and a healthy cry. By George, he’s “normal”!
But as many parents know, things don’t always go according to plan. Having a baby is what Forrest Gump’s momma said about life; just like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get. Autism, Asperger’s, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, bipolar disorder, cancer — there are any number of things that can challenge a parent’s idea of what raising a child will be like.
That became clear at a recent gals night, where a dozen or so of us gathered to celebrate birthdays and catch up. As our “babies” have grown, we’ve been faced with a number of challenges — OCD, bipolar, chronic anxiety, homosexuality, dwarfism, brain injury, addictions among them.
It wasn’t what we were expecting. We expected “normal,” too, but we ended up with equivalent of the chocolate with the nougat center, which we never liked. Yet, we love and accept our kids, and have learned how to adjust our expectations. While we imagined the typical trajectory — “ace college, land a great job, find a great husband/wife” — we now are accepting (and sometimes still struggling with) the new reality and celebrating different accomplishments; The child with chronic anxiety got on an airplane alone!
That doesn’t mean we have lowered our expectations; it just means we have switched up our expectations of parenting, and how our children will live. We measure “success” on different terms.
So why is adjusting our expectations of marriage so much harder?
Well, before we get to that, what, exactly, do we expect from marriage?
Many expect marriage will last a lifetime even though about half end in divorce. Some expect there will be infidelity, even newlyweds. Others expect marriage will complete us and meet all our needs. We expect our partner to be our soul mate. And, we believe love is the main reason to marry, although love has made marriage a wobbly institution.
Maybe it’s time to change our expectations of marriage. Maybe couples need to adjust their expectations to our new realities — that marriages don’t always last a lifetime (and that’s OK), that love isn’t the best reason to say “I do,” that monogamy shouldn’t be assumed — just as a parent of a child with bipolar or OCD must adjust his or her expectations, and find new ways to measure “success.”
That, of course, is what Susan Pease Gadoua and I are talking about in The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Cynics, Commitaphobes and Connubial DIYers (which has a publisher, Seal Press, and will be out in the fall of 2014!)
So, instead of worrying about how few of us are marrying or how much later (which seems to be in the news every other day), we should we focusing on helping those who choose to marry (it ain’t for everyone, folks!) marry smarter so those marriages will be happier, healthier and more fulfilling according to their expectations.
What do you think?
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