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Thirty years ago today, my parents both took the day off work and exchanged their wedding vows at the Little Church of La Villita, with only a photographer to witness the occasion.
Almost nine months ago, Dan and I exchanged our own wedding vows at the Little Church of La Villita, with only our parents, siblings, and a photographer in attendance.
To celebrate my parents’ 30th wedding anniversary, their Pearl Anniversary, here are 30 lessons they have taught me or modeled for me about marriage.
1) Marry someone who loves you AND respects you. My parents are deeply in love with each other, but they also greatly respect each other. I prioritized finding a man like that, and thanks be to God, I did!
2) Marry someone who is of comparable intelligence. Actually, my mom always told me to marry someone smarter than I am. She said that was one of the best decisions she ever made. I loved growing up in an intelligent household with parents who valued learning and education, with parents whose skill sets complemented each other. Dan isn’t smarter than I am, but our intellectual strengths are different, just like my parents.
3) A big church wedding doesn’t guarantee a lasting marriage [Tweet this]. My parents both did the big weddings with the fancy white dress and the ugly 70s tuxedos. Those marriages didn’t last. Their intimate wedding began a marriage that has lasted 30 years, and it’s still going strong.
4) When you know, you know. My parents met in April 1984. They started dating in July. Daddy proposed in October. They eloped in December. Their whirlwind courtship is often the stuff of cautionary tales, but for them, it worked.
5) God blesses both husbands and wives with spiritual gifts. These gifts are unique to the individuals and to the couple, not strictly separated by traditional gender roles. I wouldn’t be the Christian feminist I am without the example my parents set for me. My mom is the most devout Christian I know. My parents are equally responsible for teaching me about God. My parents are both as involved with their church as possible, even while they both disagree with church’s stance on the ordination of women.
6) Say “I love you” every day. My parents tell each other “I love you” throughout the day. They always told my brothers and me “I love you” every day too.
7) Sometimes you need to take a leap of faith with your spouse. My parents lived in Greenville, SC when Harry and I were born. Just 7 months later, we moved to southern California, where we lived for 6 1/2 years. Eventually my dad wanted to move back to his hometown of Greenwood, SC. He quit a well-paying job, my parents packed up our things, and we took a month-long road trip from California to South Carolina.
Once in Greenwood, we lived with my grandmother and uncle for six weeks while my parents found a house and my dad found a job. My parents have now lived in that house for 20 years, and my dad has been practicing law independently for over 15 years.
8) Fight fair, and not in front of the kids. From my perspective, my parents only ever had mild disagreements that they easily talked through. But knowing how much my mom didn’t want to leave California (at first), I’m sure there were fights I never saw. I’m just as sure that my parents did their best to argue without being hurtful.
9) Apologize to your spouse when you mess up. My parents are pretty awesome, but they’re not perfect. Sometimes one of them will sin against the other and then need to apologize. We are all sinners, and it’s easy to hurt the ones we love the most. My parents taught me the importance of admitting your mistakes and apologizing.
10) Forgive your spouse for messing up. Just like you will sin against your spouse, your spouse will sin against you. My parents always accept each others apologies and offer genuine forgiveness.
11) Both spouses should know all vital family and household details. When my brothers and I were young, Mom stayed at home with us. Daddy worked full-time, and he handled the bills. At one point, Mom told him that she wanted to learn everything about our household finances. For several months, she took over the bills, until she was satisfied that she could handle it easily and by herself.
On the flip side, my mom primarily took me to my pediatric gastroenterologist. Still, she always updated my dad with all the details after my appointments, and he took me to at least one appointment every year. No one wants to think of catastrophic events, but both of my parents were always prepared in case something happened to the other.
12) Spend quality time together. One of the benefits of living in Greenwood was the availability of Grandmama and Uncle Marshall to baby-sit. Every Friday, they picked us up around 5pm and took us out for pizza. Then we went to the mall arcade, and sometimes we visited other shops in the mall, including my favorite, Waldenbooks. We usually got home around 8pm, giving my parents a good three hours to reconnect each week.
13) It’s okay to need alone time. My parents love spending time together, but they also enjoy their own activities. It’s quite common for my mom to be upstairs in their bedroom reading while my dad is downstairs reading the paper and watching a sports game.
14) Support each others career aspirations. My mom chose to be a SAHM, but she also channeled her creativity and talents into home-based businesses, volunteer work, and self-development. She rose through the ranks of Toastmasters, and she worked as a professional speaker. My dad supported her in everything she did.
In turn, my mom supported my dad’s decision to open his own law practice with another attorney. When he was especially busy, or between secretaries, my mom helped out at the law office.
15) Parenting is a team sport. Mom might have stayed home with us, but Daddy was very involved in the daily responsibilities of raising us. He attended our special birthday lunches at school every year. Whenever possible, he chaperoned our field trips. Saturday mornings were spent snuggling in the king size bed and watching cartoons while Mom enjoyed some brief kid-free time. Mom cooked dinner most nights, and Daddy cleaned up. We spent more time with Mom, and she did a LOT as a SAHM for us, but I never felt deprived of my dad’s time or attention.
16) Share affection with your spouse in front of your kids. At 27, I still loudly exclaim, “EW GROSS!” when my parents kiss because I’m immature. And I was genuinely grossed out as a kid when they kissed. But their obvious affection for each other always reassured me of their love for each other.
17) Kid-free vacations are okay. For years, my parents would go to Myrtle Beach for a weekend every spring. They would leave early Friday afternoon, and come back after dinner Sunday night. We had several different baby-sitters over the years: my great-aunt, our neighbor and friend, and our unofficial godparents from church. A few times, I even got my childhood best friend to invite me over for a weekend-long sleepover. Yeah, we missed our parents while they were gone, but it was good for them to have a few days away, just the two of them.
18) Not all married couples will have kids, and that’s okay [Tweet this]. When you live in South Carolina, and you’re very involved in a Christian community, it can feel like the sole purpose of marriage is to pop out babies. That sort of expectation can be really stressful, whether a person doesn’t feel called to parenthood or suffers from infertility. While my parents obviously love having three kids, and while I hope to have my own Mini Me running around one day, I don’t feel pressured to have kids.
I remember very clearly how I felt when my dad once casually mentioned to me that not everyone is meant to be a parent, and there was nothing wrong with that. I was just a teenager, and clearly years away from being in a position to even think about parenthood, but it was like a weight was lifted from my shoulders that I didn’t even know was there.
19) Not everyone gets married, and that’s okay too. Again, there’s a pretty clear expectation in southern Christian circles that you grow up, get married, and pop out babies. Considering I didn’t even have a boyfriend until I was 24, I definitely secretly felt like a freak who would be single forever. Again, I remember my dad just casually telling me that some people never get married, and they live perfectly happy and fulfilling lives.
As an adult, it seems obvious that my self-worth isn’t tied to my marital status, but as an angsty teenager, I thought perpetual singledom would be a reflection on me as a person.
20) You can’t fix your spouse’s bad habits… Daddy is very neat. Mom is a bit cluttered.
21) But you can learn to ignore your spouse’s bad habits… Mom cares more about her cluttered areas than Daddy does. When she starts to stress about them, he reassures her, and he helps her tidy them.
22) And eventually, your spouse may or may not pick up on your good habits. Mom has cleaned up and out a lot of areas in our house the last few years. The end of the kitchen table, the notoriously cluttered area, has stayed fairly clean the last several times I’ve visited.
23) Live within–or below–your means. This isn’t exclusive to marriage, but my parents modeled it in our household. They only replaced their cars when repairs became more expensive than the car’s value. We took two vacations most years, but they were affordable and within our family budget. My parents waited until a particularly successful year to make upgrades to the house that they had wanted since moving in.
Since Dan and I had been living below our income when he lost his job, we’ve been able to afford the temporary hit to our income these last few months.
24) Pay attention to the little things. My mom knows the kind of charcoal my dad prefers for the grill. She used to surprise him with the occasional pack of peanut M&Ms. While Mom might currently be sporting a very modern chemo-styled hairdo, previously, Daddy always noticed and complimented her on new haircuts.
25) You’re never too old for romance. Five years ago today, my parents obviously celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary. Mom was in the hospital recovering from knee surgery. She had originally hoped they could do a vow renewal, but that couldn’t happen because of her surgery. Like many families, we had tightened our belts during the recession. And yet Daddy still managed to surprise Mom with a beautiful sapphire and diamond necklace.
26) Marriage really is in sickness and in health [Tweet this]. Daddy is not the most outwardly emotional of people, and he continues to provide strength and comfort for my whole family while Mom battles cancer. But when we were in the hospital last May for her brain surgery, and she was allowed two visitors at a time, he was always one of them. As long as he was allowed to be there, he never left her side. I’ve always known how much my dad loves my mom, but I’ve never seen it as clearly as when he sat by her hospital bed, holding her hand.
27) Serve each other. While Mom continues her cancer treatments, Daddy has really stepped up to serve her. Not only does he fetch things for her when she asks, he helps her keep track of which pills she’s taken throughout the day, and he encourages her to keep eating healthily. She is not physically able to do as much for him right now, but throughout their marriage, they have both exhibited a servant’s heart to each other.
28) Laugh together. This might not be the most romantic of examples, but it’s a clear memory from childhood. Being good parents, Mom and Daddy always taught us to say “Excuse me” if we couldn’t help burping. Well, one night at dinner, either Jeremy or Harry belched loudly. My dad tried SO hard not to laugh, but he couldn’t help it. Once he started laughing, my mom joined in. And then Daddy was able to make himself burp, and the whole family was in hysterics for several minutes.
29) Talk to your spouse about your day. I remember every day, when Daddy came home from work, Mom would ask him about his day. He always let her know if work had been stressful, or if someone at the courthouse had asked about her, or if something funny had happened. When he was done talking about his day, he asked about hers.
Now that I have my own spouse, I love talking to Dan about my day, even the little things that happen.
30) Cherish every single wedding anniversary! I cannot believe my parents have been married for 30 years. While today is absolutely a huge milestone, worthy of whatever celebration my parents decide to have, I love how they recognize their anniversary every year. Today is also Mom’s 60th birthday (yes, they eloped on her 30th birthday).
When my parents first said “I do,” my mom asked my dad for an unofficial wedding vow. With a December birthday, she often received dual birthday-Christmas presents. She asked my dad to promise he would always give her three separate presents: anniversary, birthday, and Christmas.
On their first wedding anniversary, when they went to exchange gifts, Mom noticed Daddy only had one box for her. She asked him if he had remembered his promise; he assured her that he did. She asked him about the other presents; he said that was it. A little annoyed, Mom opened her present: sapphire and diamond earrings that matched her engagement ring. Needless to say, she was more than okay with just one present that year.
Joyeux anniversaire, Mom!
Joyeux anniversaire du mariage, Mom and Daddy!
Thank you for setting such a wonderful example of a loving and healthy relationship, one I hope to always emulate in my marriage to Dan.
Which of these lessons do you think is most important in a marriage? How did your parents model a healthy marriage? Let me know below!
P.S. Want more marriage advice? I recommend you read 6 Lessons I’ve Learned in My First 6 Months of Marriage. Interested in what else my parents have taught me? Read My Parents Made a Feminist out of Me and 13 Lessons My Mother Taught Me about Womanhood.