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Lucky In Love (or Being Irrationally Crazy About Someone)

Years and years ago, when I was in elementary school, someone told me that I'd never find an actual four-leaf clover. Me being me (maybe a tad bit stubborn, ahem), I decided to prove them wrong. I spent every single weekday combing the vast clover fields around me. Day after day, week after week, I did nothing but look for four-leaf clovers. (Yeah, I was totally that kid.) By the end of summer I'd concluded my experiment.


I found well over 100.


Are four-leaf clovers lucky? I have no idea. But given the tremendous blessings in my life, it sure makes me wonder. At the top of that list is my family--the twins and my husband. This week is our 19th wedding anniversary. Annual events like this tend to trigger reflection for me, and as I ponder 19 years of marriage (23 years as a couple) one word keeps coming to my mind: healing. This relationship is the most healing, healthy thing I have ever experienced. It has literally changed who I am and how I interact with the world. 





I talk a lot about unconditional love and how critical it is in parenting. In order for kids to thrive, they need to feel seen. Loved. As psychologist Urie Bronbrenner put it, "Every child needs at least one adult to be irrationally crazy about him or her." That feeling of total acceptance, of shining the light of love into even the darkest corners, is how you avoid those invasive tendrils of shame getting a hold of you. It's how you build resilience, knowing that even when things go sideways you'll still be okay. (Sometimes "okay" might be defined a little differently, but you know you'll get back to center.) It's a special kind of toughness, one that we may not often hear about as it's built on a foundation of love, acceptance, and abundance rather than a lack of those things.


In my experience, a lot of folks didn't really get that level of unconditional love. And it wasn't because their parents didn't love them, or didn't want to do what was best for them. It's way more complex than that. It's tied together with their parents' early experiences (and their parents', and their grandparents', on and on), as well as what we knew when.


The concept of "parenting" as its own thing hasn't been around that long, let alone the idea that you can parent a child consciously, with scientific guidance. But in the last 40 years or so, what we've known about how brains and bodies grow and develop has exploded along with new technology and advanced imaging techniques. (With fMRIs we can peek inside the brain to see what's happening when we think about different stuff--seriously, how cool is that? Anyway, I digress. Back to the point.)


Our parents did the best they could with what they had, the same as us. We just have a lot more information and a ton more technology (for better or worse). But I've discovered those early experiences are not the only way to gain that sense of acceptance and resilience.


This is what I've learned after spending two decades with another human who has stuck by my side even when I was at my absolute worst: loving, healthy relationships are healing factors no matter when they enter our life.

 

When we first started dating, in all honesty, I was kind of a hot mess. I was a bundle of anxiety, utterly lacking in true confidence but tremendously good at bravado. Over twenty years later I have matured and grown in ways I didn't even know were possible. I've learned that I am lovable. And beautiful. That asking for what I want and need are both okay to do, and that if a boundary is set around something it isn't because I'm "bad," but rather because healthy relationships have healthy boundaries that both parties reinforce. I've learned to see myself with compassion and kindness, because my partner has helped me practice giving and receiving both of those things on a daily basis for years.


Because I've experienced this healing relationship, I find it much easier to be authentic and accepting of my children. I'm, like, really good at this unconditional love thing! Sure, sometimes I mess up. But I also know how to make up, how to own my mistakes, and how to communicate in a way that lets them know that when I yell it isn't because they're "bad." (When I praise it isn't because they're "good," either, but that's another post.) They know that they are human beings, walking examples of contradictory behavior as they stumble through these early years. And while they do that, they know they are loved not based on what they do but simply who they are. 


I have faith that because of this baseline, they'll continue to grow into their potential. They'll have what they need to be resilient and hearty, to own their mistakes and repair with others. They'll have seen, throughout their lives, an example of a healthy and loving relationship and have that as their internal model.


This year, I'm reflecting on the gift my husband has given me every day for over 20 years. Four leaf clovers or not, I know just how lucky I am to have that. I know just how hard I'm willing to work to keep that. And I look forward to at least another 20 years where we can practice, over and over, the art of loving another person. (FWIW, a romantic partnership is absolutely not the only way to experience this, something I will talk about in an upcoming post!)


Happy anniversary, John.

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