Jason Wright: Don’t judge my family, I won’t judge yours
A few weeks ago, I was blessed to spend the afternoon with an elderly couple that’s been married more years than I’ve been alive. Their rich love and sweet respect for one another is palpable. It fills their home like the smell of fresh chocolate chip cookies that never cool.
I savored the delicious time with my new friends.
In reverential tones, as if hunched over and whispering from the front pew of church, they revealed that over more than half a century together, they’ve never had a significant argument. Their children cannot remember a single memory of mother raising her voice or dad losing his head.
It’s not that they agree on every word in the fine print of life, they simply compromise quickly and communicate extraordinarily well. If the word “unified” had its own poster, this couple would be on it – holding wrinkled, tired hands and looking toward heaven.
As the time ticked by, something changed. My mood and mind began to wander from their seasoned voices to the ones inside my head. When I said goodbye and they tearfully thanked me for the visit, I wanted to get home as quickly as possible and log onto the “free stuff” category on Craigslist.
It was time to give away my “World’s Best Dad and Husband” mug.
I drove off reflecting on other married couples I’ve known who’d get along swimmingly with elderly pals: former coworkers, church leaders and neighbors.
Easy now, don’t compare yourself, I thought.
And then I did anyway.
I remembered this ancient happy marriage tip: never go to bed angry, frustrated or upset. This is the same advice Adam and Eve must have gotten, but that doesn’t make it any easier. My wife and I try our best, but we haven’t been perfect.
I can picture the day a childhood friend recoiled when he heard me counting “1-2-3” because one of my daughters was taking too much time making the (w)right choice. She was not impressed, and neither was my kid.
As if it were yesterday, I remember a houseguest appearing around a corner to catch me snapping at one of my sons for making a mess that required a backhoe to clean up. The friend looked at me like I’d shot a unicorn named Nancy and mounted her head above my fireplace.
I considered all the dear friends we’ve known at church whose children look like they were clipped out of a religious fashion magazine. The girls have matching daisy dresses, the boys have perfect ties with pressed socks and none of them would ever lean over during the service and ask, “How much longer?”
Meanwhile, my wife and I have spent years praying all my kids have shoes on. And pants.
What are we doing wrong?
Sometimes my wife and I disagree. Even though our love is a little bit stronger every day and we operate on the same frequency more often than we did five, 10 or 20 years ago, we still have moments when we look across the room at one another and wonder what planet the other one calls home.
And the kids? They’re not exactly filling out any nomination forms for parents of the year. Sometimes we’re not as patient as we should be, sometimes we say things we regret, and sometimes we go to bed wondering if we’re raising them right or just raising them.
More than once, I’ve turned to my wife at night and said, “We should be more careful. I think their warranty is expired.”
When other parents are quietly reasoning with their kids at Walmart on why they can’t have five packages of marshmallow Peeps, I’m buying seven with plans to eat six and put one in the microwave.
When other parents are gently disciplining their children for throwing a tantrum at Target, I might be threatening to make them walk home in the rain carrying the groceries.
Did I mention we’re not perfect?
By the time I’d pulled back into my own driveway after my visit, I realized just how much I appreciate all they’ve accomplished. I don’t begrudge their remarkable success, I admire it.
And those fashion-mag families from church? I respect them, too. They shouldn’t be judged any more than I should. They’re doing so much so well, and they likely have backstage struggles I don’t see on Sundays.
Perhaps what I really discovered is that I don’t have all the answers – or according to my kids – any of them. I just know we’re doing the best we can.
I hope they know that, too.
So while my wife and I might not have the same ride as our friends, hopefully we’ll still arrive at the same destination.
And we’ll still be holding hands.
I don’t know, maybe I’ll keep the mug anyway. Just in case.
Jason F. Wright is a New York Times best-selling author of 10 books, including “Christmas Jars,” “The Wednesday Letters” and “The 13th Day of Christmas.” He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or http://www.jasonfwright.com.