2 Cor 12v9

Saturday, 22 October 2016

Why I Show(ed) Up Every Sunday

I wanted to write a post to encourage parents with small children about church (as in, the Sunday meeting part of it). Getting your family there every week can be fairly nightmarish at this stage, and I know lots of people that really felt like it wasn't worth it while their kids were tiny, so they stopped going, with the hope things would be easier in the future. As someone who has grown up in church and is now bringing up kids in church, I thought I'd share my perspective on it, in the hope it might be helpful to someone.

My memories of church with more than one small person are not so great. Sunday mornings began with the struggle of getting multiple people all out of the house as near to ‘on-time’ as was possible, in clean half-smart clothes, leaving a trail of devastation in our wake, followed by doing anything – ANYTHING – to keep small writhing bodies from creating the least distraction possible while in the first part of the service. I would miss almost all of what was going on because 90% of my attention was on keeping them distracted from each other, whispering in their ears (turn by turn) about what they should be doing now and what can wait till later, and the burning sensations in my muscles as I vowed to keep standing up during the songs with one or more children in my arms so they could see what engagement in worship looked like. Then I would spend the majority of services in the crèche because during that season we were only in churches that didn’t have enough spare people to volunteer on the parents behalf, and as my family seemed to take up more than their fair share of the numbers, it only seemed right that I carried the responsibility myself. At the end of the service, depending on the physical layout of the building, I rarely got to finish a conversation or a hot drink as I tried to keep track of what all the children were doing. It became easier just to stay tuned into them rather than risk offending people by my distracted, eye-wandering conversations that I couldn’t keep track of.

As the kids got older, it didn’t get much easier. Whichever church we were a part of, I felt like we were THAT family – the ones who probably made it harder for everyone else. I had one child who struggled with language and needed to be kinaestheticly engaged at all times, and whatever I managed to find for him to fiddle with that would keep him fixed in one place and able to listen was inevitably coveted by all the other children around him, leading to more problems. I had one that was prone to emotional meltdowns and so if something had thrown him off that morning, no amount of distractions or warnings would prevent him from letting the world know how he felt. And I had another one who lived in his own created world, and needed a lot less coercion but would often let that alternative existence spill over in the form of random arm movements or noises at inappropriate times. As fast as I could deal with one issue, another one would be brewing. When I tried my best to lead Kids Church, my kids (probably because they were so used to the sound of my voice) were the ones I had to spend most time pulling back into whatever activity we were supposed to be doing. I remember one time as I was telling a story to the whole group, one of my kids would not stop contorting himself all over the floor. I eventually left the rest of the kids in the hands of the other helpers and marched him out of the room asking him what the heck he thought he was doing, and he answered wide-eyed, as if my continual requests for him to sit up on the mats like everyone else were totally ludicrous and said “I was doing my exercises! Exercise is really good for you!”

I remember crying in the corridor, exhausted with reason, begging him just to do. what. he. was. asked. to. do. I just couldn’t work out how come the other kids seemed to just get it when mine didn’t. I knew I was doing all the right things – giving clear instructions, following through on consequences, explaining the motivations behind certain behaviours – it was just all really really tough.

In order for me and my children to be at church every week, I have had to stretch myself really far, pour energy and creativity into finding many ways to keep them engaged, ignore the voices in my head that tell me people are judging my parenting skills and finding me lacking, and sacrifice plenty of time, dignity and sleep to make it work.

And this is why I have done it.

Church is God’s Plan A for our lives. He created us to be in community. He gave us gifts and personalities that are meant to be shared with one another in order to have healthy and meaningful lives. It is our purpose and our mission – to be part of His body. We cannot be the person we were created to be on our own, but when we plant ourselves into this family of God, we learn what our part is and how to do it well, and we lean on others who have skills and provisions that we need.

Church is the hope of the world. It is THE vehicle God has set in motion for other people to discover who He is. People don’t learn about the love of God in isolation – they understand it fully by seeing it in practice, and that has to be between people. When people find God, they become part of His family, and that is who we are. We can only be part of it if we show up and join in and interact with one another. Without being part of church, we can’t live out about half of what is talked about in the New Testament, as most of it is given as instructions on how to BE church.

There were some Sundays as a young parent that I felt like church was going to be the death of me, but the long game is this: it gives me life. I received encouragement when I felt like giving up. I was able to lean on other people’s gifts – worship, hospitality, humour – to make me feel alive again between the drudge of every day life. I was able to be with other parents and learn from them and realise I also had wisdom and encouragement to give. It gave me a focus when my responsibilities made me want to pull a duvet over my head and stay there. I stuck relentlessly to what I’d committed to – turning up on a Sunday morning, getting to connect group on a week day night, leaving the kids in my husband’s hands one evening a week so I could go and do youth group and feel human again. It gave my chaotic weeks structure, and gave me opportunities to be not just in one role (that of mum) but also that of friend, organiser, leader, listener, learner, and many more. It stopped me from losing myself.

For the children, I can see it bringing more each year as it goes. It begins with a sense of community, that there is a wider family that they belong to. They have learnt to trust other adults, and how to adapt to people who act and sound different to the ones in their family. So far, it’s been a pretty safe place to learn boundaries – how to respect people’s differences, and how to verbalise if they feel uncomfortable in different situations. They have developed friendships of many different age ranges. They have got to see behind the scenes of the blessings and the disciplines that come from serving. They have learnt the rhythm of when to listen and receive, and when to bring their own ideas and contributions to the bigger picture. In our most difficult months they have had homes opened to them for fun and distraction in the middle of tragedy, observed meals and presents that have been brought to our door from people who they’ve never met but are part of the wider family they belong to, and they have sensed wave after wave of prayer and support reminding them they are not alone.

And I can now see (although it may have taken me many years to get to this point), how much our whole family blesses the rest of church by us all being there. People who currently have no family often love being in the hubbub of busy activity. My kids can light up their world for a month with one hug, or picture, or a breathless story of something that happened in their week. When we arrive early and stay late, sometimes my kids decide to put down their books and help me instead, by moving chairs or hoovering or even cleaning toilets, and they get the joy of knowing they are part of making all this happen. Some of my kids are old enough to help on the media team, in the worship band and with hospitality.

A short while ago we had a week where somebody needed some major help at the end of the service. A group of us spent a long time in one room dealing with the situation and the usual post-service tasks were all abandoned. After a long intense time I came out to check how all my children were doing. One of them was waiting patiently on the other side of the door with a cup of tea and a cake for me because he noticed I’d missed the refreshments at the end of the meeting. Another one had started stacking the chairs away because he saw one of the adults doing it who was less familiar with that job, and he was directing where they should go. Another had been on media that morning and was busy packing away wires and the sound desk without being asked. And when we brought extra kids home that afternoon so their parents could find solutions to what was happening, my youngest looked after them and distracted them so well that they barely noticed anything had gone wrong that day.

When I think of weeks like that, I am so overjoyed that my capacity to bless other people was multiplied that week by my family. For too long, I felt like me coming to church distracted, tired and unable to serve on a team because my hands were full with children, was somehow subtracting from the life of church (I now know that wasn’t even true at the time, and just my lack of sleep and Fear Of What People Thought whispering to my guilt organ). It made me realise that the big picture, long term game plan really does come to pass.

And even more than blessing other people – my kids are learning all the time what it means to take their place in the world. For years my children have been able to experience the power of unconditional love, seeing that whether they turn up and do something or nothing (or even bring great disruption!), they are loved and welcomed and accepted. So now if they choose to help out in any way, they know it’s not because they have to, but because they are able to. When you can see your service and presence in the life of other people making a difference, you get a sense of purpose and significance. You realise that you have the power to change the atmosphere wherever you are, and that who you are matters. Church for me in my teens was a place to discover so much about myself – what I was good at, how to help people, how to overcome my fears – who I am and what I was placed on this earth to do.

Right now, in a one-parent family, I am more aware of my inadequacy than ever before. I am so limited in how much of the world I can show to my kids, and how many areas of life I am inexperienced in. But that’s totally fine. I am surrounded by a family who are able to contribute the bits that I can’t. My job is not to do it all, but to lay a solid foundation that can be built on. When my children are sick of hearing my voice, they can go and listen to other people (who are often telling them exactly the same thing) who use different phrases and personal stories that click with the kids on another level. If my kids want to branch out and try new things they have other people that can help with that. If they don’t feel listened to, there’s more than one adult they trust that they can open up to. When I can’t figure out at all what makes a teenage boy tick, I can talk to people who used to be teenage boys and get insight that make me realise things I hadn’t considered before.

When I think of all this, and I look back on those difficult, seemingly pointless Sunday morning struggles that I could’ve avoided by just staying at home, I feel like God is telling me that He remembers them all too. I wonder if He watched every one of them while they were unfolding and kept whispering “Go on girl. Dig deeper, keep going. I promise you, it will be worth it.” I feel now that every one of those weeks was setting a foundation for my family that I had no idea would be so valuable right now. If I had to go back and do it all again, I would do exactly the same thing, bruised shins, tears of frustration and all.


One last thing that might be helpful to somebody.

I didn’t want my children’s experience of church to be based on outward behaviour to impress other people. I did my best to avoid using “what will people think?” as a motive for how they should behave, and I also tried to avoid physical punishment. I wonder if it might have been easier in the short term if I did, but I wanted their view of church to be positive in the long run. I was also aware, however, that my kids behaviour shouldn’t dominate whatever was happening in the service. I know some people find it really difficult to engage if there’s loads of noise and movement going on and I wanted to keep all that to a minimum.

So the little mantra I eventually came up with for our family was this (and we repeat it every week in the car as we arrive):

What are we going to church to do?

To celebrate God.

And what will we not do?

Distract anyone else from celebrating God.

And that’s it. We have conversations around that, to explain why and how we celebrate God, and that we can celebrate God any time anywhere but it’s particularly special on a Sunday because we’re all taking time out to come and do it together. And they know that “celebrating God” is a choice – they can choose whether they do that or not, and I don’t force them to look like they’re doing it if they’re not. But things like talking, messing around, changing seats, chucking things around, etc, mean people will end up concentrating on them and not what they came for – celebrating God. So if that stuff carries on, there will be a consequence.

After many years of wondering whether I should be harsher/softer/less paranoid/more in control, that’s the conclusion I’ve come to, and I’m waiting to see what their eventual decision about church and God will be. For now, church as a family is what we all do and I’m enjoying doing it all together. I’m praying that they will continue to choose it in the future when the decision is no longer mine, and hopefully they will come to love and appreciate it as much as I do.

Monday, 9 May 2016


Today my Great Auntie Margaret died.

She was in her 80s so she had a good run. She survived two husbands, one who died fifty years ago and the other died much more recently. Last time I spoke to her in depth (not long after her second husband died) she was telling me how different it was, making decisions beyond caring for him, and it struck her that she liked driving her car to a certain place to go for walks, and that other people might like to do that too, so she decided to invite other people to go for trips out with her on these walks. I love that there she was in her 80s, thinking of new ways to connect with more people and to bless them. It really inspired me. I hadn’t realised she’d been ill, so when your last memory of someone is of them still being up and about and involved with life, it’s a shock to hear they’ve just passed away.

That was the first thought that struck me today.

The second thing was that here was a lady who had prayed for me my whole life. My great-grandma had seven children and lost one daughter and her husband in her early thirties, so she raised those five boys and one girl into adulthood, and when they got married and had children of their own, she prayed for them by name every day. Then when those children had children, she prayed for them all too. She made a list so she wouldn’t forget anyone. So when Grandma Parkinson, as she was known, passed away, her own children took up that mantle and used that list to keep praying for every person in the family. Auntie Margaret was one of those constant prayers – the surviving daughter. The aunts and uncles would gather regularly to pray for my parents’ generation, my generation and the children we went on to have too.

Sometimes I wonder how it was that God seems to have had His hand over me from such an early age. Why I just got to know Him early on, without complications, and why following Him mattered to me more than any other motivation that I could’ve chosen. I honestly think that those prayers made that difference in my life. I’ve still been free to make choices about everything. Just because my name was on that list doesn’t mean I didn’t have a choice about what I did with my life. For all of us on that list (and we are now a huge family!) we have been free to do our own thing. Yet a very very high proportion of us have gone on to want to choose to follow God and give our lives over to the mission of the church. I don’t know if anyone’s done the maths but it is staggeringly high for the amount of us there are (I think my dad is one of twenty-three cousins, so I’ve lost track of the numbers after that…).

The third thing that really struck me, and has been the hardest thing to deal with today, is that she’s my grandma’s best friend. As well as being sisters-in-law, their husbands were best friends, and those two husbands died within a month of each other. Auntie Margaret lost her youngest brother and her husband in just a few weeks. That was fifty years ago, and that’s a long time to journey alongside one another through so much. My grandma has six children (also five boys and a girl – it was eerie how history repeated itself there) and Margaret has one son. My grandma never remarried and Margaret started again with somebody new. They lived close to one another all this time and as well as praying together, they did many other activities together too. It has been an amazing blessing for me in my confusing journey to look at these two women and see how despite their tragedies, they kept making good decisions, with no excuses, that impacted the next generations that came after them. I feel like they have treaded the ground with such dignity, good humour and determination to serve others, that they have set out a path that is worthy of following.

Sometimes I feel like I have an unfair advantage when I come from such an amazing heritage. It’s been easier for me to stick on the straight and narrow path when I’ve had such great role models around me than for other people who have come from dysfunctional and unstable families. Part of the reason we moved away from family to go and plant a church in another town was to try and bring that sense of stability and grounding to people who hadn’t had a chance to experience it through their own family life.

At the same time, we are all free to make our own decisions. If we come from stability, we can choose to carry that on, or disregard it and do our own thing. If we come from dysfunction, we can choose to find a new way to live and begin to carve out a new road in the hope that future generations will join us on it. I’d love to be able to go further back through history and find out who it was in my family line that started making those decisions to put God first and to make church central to the family. I’d love to show them all the people in my generation and thank them for the decisions they made, and how they have impacted us so many years later. I’d also love to think that in a hundred years’ time, my every day, hum-drum, plodding down this road of making right decisions even though I don’t feel like it, fairly boring household management and teaching my kids the same thing over and over again, church-focused life (even when people at church may hurt or disappoint me), will still be impacting people several generations on from me who I never got to meet.

And my fourth thought, after feeling pretty emotional over all those other thoughts today as I was doing my housework, was that early this morning that beautiful faithful lady got to see Jesus. There is nothing else for her to contend with now. No sucky, horrible, rubbish deaths of the people she knows, no living on without people she loved, no watching this crazy world self-imploding in on itself, no more pain, and no more questions. For her now, everything will make sense, and everything will be perfect, because she gets to be with Him. As much as I hate death, and the pain left behind from it here, I want that for her much more.

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

House Rules

As soon as you have children old enough to do things by themselves, you need rules. The intention of course, is always to keep rules to a minimum, but in practice, because children are not born with common sense, you have to add a whole bunch of more complex rules on top of the basic rules because of the way children and adults interpret things differently.

I had hoped that as the children got older, the rules would become less, but as I’ve asked them to help me out more, I’ve discovered that there is more than a dozen ways of misinterpreting basic instructions. There is a method in their madness. The more complex you can make an exercise, the less likely it is that you will be asked to repeat the exercise. And when there is an able-bodied adult in the house who is willing to repeat herself infinitely, and actually seems to care about the stuff you are supposed to be doing but don’t really care about, the slim chance that she will give up on her goal of getting you to do the stuff is enough to make you keep trying the “Oh, I’m sorry, I had no idea that’s what you meant” method until one day she may give in (it hasn’t happened yet, but there is still hope).

So the rules have become more and more complex, and if I were to actually write them out, the "Behave well at the table" rule, for example, would now look something like this:

“When you are sitting at the table, you must:

Keep your chin over your plate/bowl so that the food that misses your mouth doesn’t fall onto your shirt but instead back into the plate/bowl (and oh goodness if you use the wrong word in your haste to say this one, they stare at you as if you’re talking about something that’s not even in the house and you’ve lost your mind, never mind a slightly different shaped piece of tableware in front of them).

- Not touch anyone else. No poking, no cuddling, no arm wrestling, no leaning, no kicking: just a blanket ban on touching of any kind.

- Not speak with food in your mouth (unless you’re a parent, because you have no control over when your kid is going to do something spectacularly dangerous involving the water jug or a sharp implement and sometimes you’ve just got to yell through the mouthful you’ve just taken in order to avert disaster).

- Keep your mouth closed when you chew, or no one will want to marry you ever.

- Not make weird random noises. There’s a lot of us sat round the table and sometimes my head feels like it’s going to explode. I can cope with the conversation, because my maternal instinct is strong enough to want to listen to what you have to say, even if I would secretly rather be sat upstairs reading a book with my meal, but I can’t do all the extra noises too. It’s too much.

- Talk about real stuff. I get that in order for us to connect I have to show an interest in the stuff you like, but I want to hear about your friends, your feelings and the highlights of your day, not about the most recent level  you got to on Skylanders, or to hear the same three lines from SpongeBob repeated over and over again because you all think it’s funny. I’ll do you a deal. While you’re doing your jobs afterwards, I’ll listen to you rambling on about all that stuff, so long as you’re actually working while doing it. Only then is it worth it.

- Not ask if you can go and get yoghurts/fruit/ice pops as dessert, until everyone else has finished, so you don’t distract people who haven’t finished their meal yet. Everyone needs to be finished. Everyone. Please don’t make me repeat this to you every meal time.

- Keep your plate flat. You know this because whenever I see you tip your plate at the end of the meal, I ask you the same question: “What is your plate for?” and you tell me that it’s for keeping food on so the food doesn’t go on the table, then I ask you, “So what happens when you tip your plate up when there’s crumbs or bits of food on it (even if you can’t see the crumbs or bits of food because they’re really small)?” And you tell me they fall off the plate, onto the table, meaning you’ve just destroyed the purpose of having the plate in the first place, and you roll your eyes as if I’m really unreasonable for making you repeat this every time you do it.

That’s just mealtimes. On top of that, they have daily chores to do, one of which is to sort out the modern day blessing that is the dishwasher. The idea was simple. Show them what a neatly stacked dishwasher should look like. Tell them where all the stuff goes away in the cupboard. Now do it the way I do it. Voila.

Welcome to the additional rules of dishwasher duty:

You cannot put food in the dishwasher. A smear of gravy or the remnant of sweet and sour sauce, yes, but peas, rice, spaghetti, beans, porridge, breakfast cereal, and milk that has been left in your bedroom so long that it now feels like rubber and is stuck to the bottom of the cup – all these things need to be scraped into the bin. Not one time. Every time. Even if I’m not watching.

- If the person before you has ignored this rule and I was so bleary-eyed that I didn’t do a quality check before I switched the dishwasher on last night, and the filters have all gummed up with the above food items, and the plates and cups now all have heat-fixed smears of food baked onto them, do not put them away in the cupboards. Stop. Look at them. Are they clean? No. Then they need to be washed again, either by hand, or put back into the dishwasher so I can take apart the filter and clean it, and get all the food from the bottom of the dishwasher scraped out and into the bin, and we will try it again. I know you’re anxious to get your pocket money by fulfilling the job on your list today, but that actually is not the goal of emptying the dishwasher. The real goal is so that we have clean, usable crockery in the cupboard when we need them.

- You cannot use the same towel to mop up a spill of juice and to dry the clean dishes. I have even made a stack of old towels for you to use for spillages, and new ones for drying clean things. Please please use the clever system.

- If something came from a drawer and now won’t fit back into that drawer, here is the secret: you may have to spend a few seconds moving things in the drawer so the thing will fit. I know it seems like an absolute pain when you’d rather just open the drawer and throw the thing in, but it’s a bigger pain when Mum gets you back out of bed an hour later to rearrange the drawer for the thing, I promise.

- Glass things can break.

- Porcelain things can break.

-You are not a ninja. The knives go straight back into the knife block, via no other room, every time.

- You cannot read and stack the dishwasher effectively at the same time. You’re speaking to an expert. If there was a way, I would’ve found it. Put the book down and save it for later.

- Being in the same room as the dishwasher, hovering around the dishwasher, thinking about the stuff in the dishwasher while practicing karate moves or re-enacting movie scenes, or looking at the dirty plates on the side while sighing and wishing you were doing something else, is not actually doing the dishwasher. There is a reason your job is taking you so long and is wasting so much of your time. It’s because you’re not actually doing anything. You need to touch the stuff for it to move. It is at the mercy of your hands.

If those two tasks alone make you feel overwhelmed by the task of parenting, there is good news. I recently hit upon a new method of communication (as the ‘use good table manners’ and ‘empty and reload the dishwasher’ type lists we used to have on our wall have long since been considered redundant). I warned them that I would not keep repeating myself while they looked at me curiously as if they had never heard the instruction before in their life. If something needed repeating, from now on, it was they who would need to repeat it. 

I introduced them to good old fashioned lines. I made them sit at the table and write out the same phrase ten, twenty or thirty times (depending on the severity of the misconduct). And they hated it. They protested deeply. They moaned and complained and finally got an insight into what it feels like to be a parent.

And since then, things have got decidedly better. Not perfect by any means (the occasional bedtime hauling still needs to happen and I’ve managed to get early requests for dessert quashed by a glare now instead of the line of questioning), but much better.

And two days ago I caught a child washing up pans in the sink without having been asked to do it. Just because they saw there was a need and they decided to do it.

Ladies and gentlemen, there is hope.

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

A Marriage Appreciation Post

I’m unsure about posting this as it’s going to sound like a great big pity party. I’ve started writing similar posts before and I end up deleting them for that reason.

But two things have struck me recently. One was listening back to a seminar I was doing a few weeks ago, where I shared my story. I was struck at how, when I talked about my loss, it might have come over as pretty matter of fact (though I know things generally sound different on a recording than they do when you’re actually there). I think it was partly because I wanted to move on to the points I was making, and also because I’m used to telling the story by now, but I don’t ever want to give out the impression that I am blasé about what has happened, or that losing your spouse is something that you can get over within a year or so.

The other thing is how easy it is to take those closest to you for granted. I know I take my kids for granted every day, and inwardly complain about the responsibility I have to carry. And I know that I did the same with my husband. As an introvert married to an extrovert, I definitely wished far too often that I could have more space and less conversation and I know I missed loads of opportunities to appreciate him as I was busy looking for “me-time”. I could have done with more reminders at the time of how amazing marriage actually is, and that’s what the purpose of this post is.

This post is not for everyone. It’s not for people who are single – it will depress you. It’s not a judgement on those who had to end a marriage for reasons I’ve never had to deal with. It’s for people who are married and have kids still at home, and who are busy under the weight of family life and sometimes lose perspective on what a blessing marriage really is. So if you’re not in that category, you might not want to read this. If you are, I hope it helps you to get a little more appreciation than you had before.

I want you to really appreciate it if you have someone in your life who was there right from the beginning of your babies’ life. From the conception (always the fun bit), through whatever crazy symptoms were endured through the pregnancies, through to the birth. No matter how much you clash over parenting this life you’ve been given, the fact is that if you were both there right from the beginning, the reason you fight is because you both care as much as each other about this little life. You carried it together, saw it into the world together, and were terrified together as you brought it home and wondered what on earth you were going to do to with it to get it to flourish. If you’ve been through tough times, from hospital admissions to fevers to close calls with running into traffic, you have someone who remembers (even if you have to remind them!) the rollercoaster of emotions you’ve been on together. This person has invested as much time and emotion into this kid as you have, and so you can trust their motives when it comes to making life decisions together, even if you’re wanting different outcomes. They have seen what you’ve seen, and walked the path with you (if you’ve been communicating with them well) and will help you see and remember things about your kid that you may forget in times of busyness or change.

I want you to appreciate the sense of team that comes from being permanently attached to another person. As frightening as that attachment may sometimes feel, there is also a reassurance of togetherness and identity. Even if you carry the weight of every day decisions, you have someone you can bounce some of them off on. When you’re not sure, you have someone (if you’ve been communicating well) who knows you, your history, what emotional triggers you struggle with, your financial situation, the likely responses of your friends and family – all the things flying round your mind in those moments when you have to decide on things, big or small, that are going to affect you. Even if you don’t need to consult with them much because your life runs like clockwork and you’ve divvied up the responsibilities to a tee, you still have that person.

I want you to appreciate the value of arguing (yep, I said that). To have someone who loves you and accepts you enough that you know you can let your guard down and blow your top with, and still be understood – that is a privilege. It might only happen once a year - and if it’s happening once a day then something’s wrong - but if you can blow off steam and be brutally honest about the negative thought patterns occupying your headspace, then this is a good thing. Once you’ve voiced that stuff and seen what it looks like outside of your head, your perspective on it can change drastically. Even better, if that other person knows you inside out (if you’ve been communicating well), they can also help you make sense of it. Of course, there may be an initial period of accusation and upset, where more stuff is thrown back at you because of what you said, but if you keep going long enough, with resolution, closeness and understanding being the goal, you can actually become closer and freer as a result of the argument. Unfortunately, this isn’t true when it comes to your kids – blowing your top and using brutal honesty usually has the opposite affect on your parent/child relationship. When it comes to your kids, reactions need to be thought out, carefully worded and not driven by negative emotion. That’s why parenting is so much better with two – you can filter through one another, applying wisdom and grace that kids just haven’t got yet.

I want you to appreciate what each of you do for one another. You may have a dynamic where one of you is away for most of the time. We went through a few seasons where one of us was away in hospital while the other was at home, or when Richard was working two jobs and coming home to a wreck of a house that needed emergency jobs doing for several hours every night. Sometimes it feels all you’re doing is passing a baton to one another. Praise God that you have someone to pass the baton to. Those seasons shouldn’t make up your whole life, but when they’re there, you both know what you’re working for. You’re holding up your side of the partnership to look after the kids or earn the money or do the housework or invest in the project. They may not appreciate every little thing, but if you can get past the who’s-more-tired-than-who debate, then you have someone who is able to occasionally say “Wow, you sorted out the car! Great!” or “Thanks for ironing that shirt,” or “Could you pick this up for me on the way home from work? Thanks!” It’s difficult for kids to see beyond just clothes in the drawer or food on the table to recognise and appreciate the work that goes into making a household run. Their simple chores can look like child slave labour to them because they don’t see the stuff being done while they’re at school or in bed, or wondering why you don’t have time to play their game or take them shopping.

I want you to appreciate that sometimes, even if it’s only on a Sunday morning or when you’re going on holiday, there are two of you to watch what’s going on in the house as people get ready. So that if you’re calling down the stairs that it’s ten minutes to go, you have someone else there to verify that you did actually say it. And someone who can count the chorus of “okay!”s that come from the various rooms so that the one kid who’s still wandering round with one shoe and jam around their face when it’s time to go out of the door wouldn’t get missed when you’ve asked them all to get by the door with everything they need. And maybe they might be passing by the kitchen at the right time when the light’s been left on and someone’s spilled milk on the side after you thought you’d left the place clean ready for your week’s holiday away. Then as you go, you have someone to repeat your mental list out loud to, so that the whirlwind inside your head of things to remember has someone else to check it off too (even if secretly they are smiling and nodding while thinking of their own mental list).

I want you to appreciate that no matter how often you argue about physical intimacy, and wish they wanted you more, or that you could sink into bed without feeling guilty about not wanting to do it after a long day, that there is someone there who does want you, even if it’s not the exact way you would like them to express it.

I want you to appreciate that even if you don’t go out very often on your own, that when you do, you don’t have to always leave the house “babysitter-ready”. You can leave at whatever stage of chore time or bedtime you want, knowing they already know the routine of the house and what needs to be done (even if that comes in the form of a list on the wall), without judging the state you’ve abandoned the house in. And if you’re out during the day and coming home at bedtime, that you’re not having to pick up the kids from someone else’s house on the way and starting the whole bed time routine at the time you want to be arriving home and finally relaxing.

I want you to appreciate someone who might wash up or hoover or clear the table not because they’re motivated by pocket money but just because they see there’s a need. They might pick something off the floor instead of stepping over twelve times and they might make you a (decent) cup of tea unprompted. And when you ask them to do something extra they won’t look at you blankly and say “But it’s not my turn!”

I want you to appreciate that when you see those same traits in your spouse that drive you crazy exhibited in your child, you have someone right there who you can say to, "I don't get it!" and they can explain why your child is thinking the way they do. You can even turn the kid over to them for a couple of minutes or hours and say "They're all yours!" while they work that thing out together. And when you have a kid who has the same personality traits as you (shock horror!) and you find yourself locking horns because neither one of you is going to back down and you're in a negative spiral of conflict, you have someone who can step in once in a while. Just their presence can diffuse the situation. You have back up on your authority, and your child has someone who can perhaps say the same thing to them you've been saying, but using different words or techniques to get through to them. Your authority has greater weight because you're not alone, your child finds it easier to accept it because they feel like they've been heard and understood, and you've had time to cool off. Everybody wins.

I want you to appreciate there is someone out there who sees all your flaws. That's right. When you're married, you can't hide behind a shield of reputation. Someone has seen you at all parts of the day, through illness, tiredness and frustration. Sometimes they can predict before you can when you're about to crash and burn. They can point out that the issue you think everyone else has may actually be more to do with your perspective than their behaviour. They can help you (if you've been communicating well) to walk through those worst aspects of your personality and the character traits that have been dragging you down for years and bring them into the light. They may not do this well. They may point out flaws without having the ability to do anything about them, or bring emotions to the surface that you didn't know were there because their behaviour drives you crazy. But no longer can you deny those flaws. Once they're out there, you are able to do something about them. Your spouse may be the key to revealing them, but a friend, or working through resources, or therapy, or time with God may be the key to dealing through them. What your spouse is giving you is true self-awareness, which leads to authentic character, which means your marriage is making you more into the person you are supposed to be.

I want you to appreciate that if you’re feeling down and overwhelmed, even if they may not say the right thing, or totally get what’s going on in your head, you have someone to lean on. That you can squeeze a hand or have a wordless hug and shed some tears without wondering if you’re placing an emotional burden on them that may damage them, because they’re an adult too, and they get that sometimes being an adult is a very scary thing, and really none of us are 100% sure of what we’re actually doing. And appreciate that on a bad day, that’s what your kids see – a loving supportive unit that makes them feel secure and that they can draw from that unit too without fear of it breaking.

And I want you to appreciate that you have someone to share life’s victories with. When a sick friend gets better, when a debt is paid, when someone joins your church, when your is kid is in a show or does something so kind and loving that your heart wants to burst with pride, when someone compliments you, when an idea has paid off, when you see something hilarious – you get to pick up your phone and send a text, or beam at each other over the top of your kid’s head, to double your joy.

This is marriage – it is awesome. Don’t get tired of it because your spouse isn’t living up to the ideal you’ve set for them. Don’t fall into the trap of looking round and picking attributes of other people and comparing them to your partner. Don’t forget what it was like before you had them in your life and all the situations you’ve come through together. Don’t make your own happiness the focus of your decisions – work on building each other up so that you become the best versions of each other. Don’t forget that even when it feels like you have one more person to think about and give out to when you feel exhausted, you also have one more person who is thinking about you, and multiplying what you give back to you, and to the rest of the family too.