Today my wife, JoAnn, and I are celebrating the thirty-eighth anniversary of our marriage. I’m not bragging… frankly, I’m amazed.

Everyone asks, “What’s the secret?”  I’ll attempt to explain in a moment.

JoPoolNow that we have grown children I can only imagine what our parents were thinking when we moved in together at age nineteen. I’m sure they were relieved that we had similar backgrounds. After all, we’d known each other since first grade and had “gone steady” when we were twelve, but our families didn’t mingle very well, let alone plan on being stuck together for the rest of their lives.

What did we know? We were just kids.

When we’re young, the concept of making a life-long commitment is fairly abstract. The idea of being with someone for forty years is incomprehensible – like we’d have to be really old for that to happen (which, by the way, is another thing we never consider when we’re young).

BlogLite21Optimism and ignorance may well be life’s greatest intoxicants.

As cohabitants for forty-three years, husband and wife for thirty eight, JoAnn and I remain amazed daily by the life we have built, and the lives we have created. We could not have ever imagined this – starting with our own capacity to remain as in love today as we were those many years ago. Waking up each day, sharing a bed and a bathroom, walking the same worn carpeting and doing little favors for each other, is as gratifying now as in any period before. Everyone asks us how we do it, and here’s what I know:

We assume that we love each other. This means we believe that neither of us would ever do anything to deliberately hurt the other. As a result, when one of us acts insensitively, we redirect the ego part of our hurt to a more forgiving place and seek to understand. Over the years, the discussions following these hurts have taught us how to make fewer of these mistakes. Some examples of these lessons include:

  • Be and speak positively about your relationship. – not even jesting about the “ball and chain” or “idiot husband” is acceptable. Words we say often shape our thoughts. Bad mouthing your spouse is the equivalent of bad mouthing yourself. Logically, if you characterize the person you married as a moron, then you are a moron for marrying them.
  • Communicate.  Raising children and having jobs is time consuming. Many people complain that they don’t have opportunities to talk. The irony is that most things become easier when you have a teammate – and that’s how we have looked at each other from the beginning. In the thick of it, we’d start the day with a conversation (while I showered) and end the day with a bath (while she bubbled). There is no substitute for listening.
  • Compliment each other. After many years I think we have a tendency to become immune to the gifts we receive daily and, instead, focus on what’s missing or what’s wrong. Spend a moment each day counting your blessings and share them with your spouse. You chose each other for a number of reasons. Revisit those in your mind. If you think those are changing… bring them up (see Communicate).
  • Be confident and give space. I play softball. I make last minute plans to jam with a band. I go to lunch with female friends. None of these threaten my relationship because my wife is confident in her self, and our marriage. When we first starting dating she said to me “You can sleep with anyone you’d like to… just understand that if you choose to do so, then I can too, ‘cause it’s only fair…right?” I consider myself to be really “fair,” so that was a direct hit. The same is true in reverse. We operate daily in a world of trust and mutual respect. If I didn’t respect her, why would I have married her?
  • Surprise each other once in a while. Whether she just wakes up singing the theme to “Gilligan’s Island,” makes a plan to visit a museum, or just phones me to talk about the sunset, our life (and relationship) stays fresh because we remain interesting to each other. I think JoAnn is a little more “interesting” than I am… which is why I love to watch her navigate the world, and I truly appreciate her ability to make gardens beautiful and warm our home, even though she has a recurring inability to solve computer problems.
  • One last thing…Remember to send flowers on Valentine’s Day (because the “every day is Valentine’s Day” explanation is generally not considered legit).

JoAnn and I have an expression. We often say “You’re the only one.” What we mean by that is “You’re the only one (I can stand being with for any length of time).” From the very beginning we have both felt that we won first prize, that we were lucky to find each other and that we’d be real idiots to screw it up.

REGJEGLagunaOf course, we have children whom we love very much. But that’s not what this thirty-eight year marriage is about. Our children fill our lives, control our moods, challenge us, and keep us entertained, but the reality is that the person sitting next to me, in good times and bad, in the audience, the car, or on the way to the hospital, is always going to be my beloved best friend.

She’s the only one.

wishfulthinkingfingerscrossedFor many children, this time of year is about getting gifts far more than giving them. This is completely understandable, as these holidays are for many parents an opportunity to show children that we love them and we want them to be happy. But it’s also important to teach our kids that giving presents can be as gratifying as getting them.

I believe that generosity is inherited. If we parents show our children how to care about others, they too will want to help out. Take time to put meaning in the holiday. Tell some stories of your most wonderful experiences, watch a family movie, be grateful, and consider these three simple suggestions to help get the message across:

1. Make them part of the giving process.

Ask your kids what they think their dad or mom might like for the Holiday. Ask them about their siblings. Make the gift purchase your private conspiracy. (Besides, our kids are usually better informed than we are). Let them see how excited you are about also being able to give. Take them shopping and make them part of the decision-making. Use the opportunity to teach them about budgeting by giving them an idea of what things cost. Teach them to budget, save, coupon-clip.

2. Create a family ritual and slow things down.

The holidays come and go quickly.  To slow the process down, take some time to savor each experience — like trimming the tree, lighting the candles, and decorating the house. Remember, until those gifts are opened we parents have enough leverage to insist on certain behaviors from our children.

Here’s a suggestion that came from our very organized daughter. Instead of letting everyone just open their gifts in a paper-tearing frenzy, have everyone (including mom and dad), gather their unopened gifts in front of them.  Once the gifts are gathered, go around the group, having each person open one gift at a time. This gives children the opportunity to share in the pleasure of seeing how excited others get, and it’s also a way to prolong the fun for everyone. It takes a little discipline, but sharing the pleasure of the Holiday makes it that much more of a unifying experience.

3. Do something for others.

Whether you simply ask your children to help you decide on an online donation, hand them money to put into a Salvation Army kettle, or work serving holiday meals to the less fortunate, it is always good for children to see their parents being generous.

vectorstock_6496697‘Tis the time for all of us to promote “Peace on Earth and Goodwill Toward Men” (and everyone else). This holiday season, teach your child how to be a loving and generous person.

That’s a gift that will pay off for the rest of their life (and yours).

Happy Holidays!

Richard

SantaMenorahSmallPeople have asked me how to address intercultural diversity and Christmas-related issues with their children. I’ll start with the message of goodwill toward others and work back from there.

I’m Jewish, but this December I will be happy to say “Merry Christmas” to as many people as possible. Some of them may reply with a Happy Hanukah, or Sweet Kwanzaa, or whatever else anyone wants to celebrate during this Holiday Season. But everyone will do so with a smile – and that’s what this time of year is about.

When people refer to a “War on Christmas,” I’m always amused. On one hand, who would ever want to declare war on such a wonderful sentiment as “good will toward men?” On the other hand, why does recognizing multiple holidays minimize the beauty of Christmas?

Our country was founded on an idealistic assumption of “inclusion.” It’s not easy. Our egos and fears often get in the way. But we are a land built by (and of) immigrants and we are all the better for it. We have many different people celebrating a wide variety of winter solstice related holidays.

coexistChildren are naturally curious about other people and their customs – especially at Christmas, when generosity is in the air. My uncle, who was Jewish, married a non-Jewish woman and we went to their house annually on Christmas Day. They came to our house to celebrate Hanukah. I was very young and it all seemed pretty normal to me. There was no animosity at either gathering, just food, laughs, and generosity. People explained that Christmas was about the birth of the baby Jesus, and I was happy to join the party.

I love Christmas. I know the words to the carols, I’ve sung “The Messiah,” I enjoy pine, peppermint, and crackling fires. My parents didn’t celebrate Christmas in our home, but they appreciated it and allowed it to co-exist with Hanukah. As a result, my children learned the same sentiment. My mother used to say “Christmas is like a fine piece of jewelry. You can admire it, but you’ll never own it.” On Christmas day, my brilliant wife used to leave a small gift from Santa on the floor of each of our children’s rooms about which I would say, “You must have really been good this year – you’re Jewish and Santa gave you a gift! That worked for all of us.

These holidays are about sensitivity and coexistence. Sometimes putting up with other people is not easy, especially when they wear different clothes, eat different foods, and celebrate different holidays. But ‘tis the season that is defined by generosity – both material and emotional – and what better time to teach our children what tolerance really means?

HappyHoswKwanzaaChristmas is bigger than a coffee cup, blue office decorations, or even the words “Happy Holidays.” So let’s just remember what this season is really about, and make a point of teaching that to our children.

We all know that there can be no “War on Christmas,” because love conquers all.

Wishing you PEACE ON EARTH and GOODWILL TOWARD EVERYONE.