I’ve been thinking about my marriage all week. Tonight, Brad and I are celebrating our 25+ years* by going to a Brian Regan show–yay us! After seven months of heaviness, I can’t wait to laugh. Anyway, thinking about our wedding and life together, I started remembering all the gifts we’ve been given. So, so many amazing gifts….but in all my reflecting, one gift takes center stage.
We use it everyday and have since we walked out the church doors to a new life. It’s the best gift a couple can receive. It’s not the settings of china or the gold-rimmed cake plate or the odd juicer or even the Chicago Cutlery cutting board. It’s not our faith or loving upbringing or the examples of long, healthy marriages–although those are, indeed, gifts. It wasn’t piled among the other presents and it didn’t come wrapped in a pretty package.
The best wedding gift Brad and I received came from my parents: the gift of autonomy. My dad took my hand and put it in Brad’s then stepped back. We said “I do.” and my parents chose, from that moment on, to see us as an independent, autonomous unit. They let us go. So many couples have to fight for independence from the their parents. And ours**, out of love, humility and sacrifice, gave it willingly and freely.
Only 21 when we married, I was filled with all the innocent sweetness and simultaneous arrogance that accompanies a young, bright, college girl. I grew up surrounded by love and grace and faith. I’m the youngest. I wasn’t a brat, but I was definitely indulged. I had life by a string. Sacrifice–and certainly self-sacrifice– were not realities to me. Too young to truly understand what a lifetime of giving up yourself for the sake of your spouse entailed, I stood at the altar and offered my heart and life to another. And thank God , my parents let me go and didn’t try to keep any sort of hold on me. Thank God they saw the wisdom and were given the strength to let me grow up in the arms of another. The two people who knew me the best and loved me the most unselfishly let me go–releasing me to a new, independent life with Brad. They let us live and love and make decisions on our own even when, I’m sure, they worried. They did not impose their own dreams and desires on us but let us forge our own. They didn’t, even subtly, try to sway where we should live, what we should do, how we should spend our money, or how our faith should look. They never assumed we would spend holidays with them or live near them. They didn’t try to dictate or rule any part of our lives. They truly, completely released us.
I shudder to think what would have happened if my parents would have not stepped back when I was so young…What if dad would have set himself up as Brad’s adversary instead of ally? Or if my mom would have continued to baby me and let me have my own way? Or what if she would have let me complain about my in-laws or husband? Or if they would have insisted on giving their opinion and input into our life decisions whether we sought it or not? Or what if they would have pressured us to spend holidays and vacations with them? I’m pretty sure my life and certainly my marriage wouldn’t be the same. But they didn’t. They–my mom especially–constantly pointed me to two relationships: God and Brad. She didn’t allow me to disrespect Brad or talk negatively about my in-laws. I learned within the first year of marriage that my mom was Brad’s biggest ally and complaining to her about anything would get me nowhere***. I’m sure she worried at times. I’m sure she wanted to step in. I have no doubt she had opinions and that she hurt for me at times. I know, because I’m now a mom, that she probably did want to side with me. But she chose God’s plan of parenting (let your kids “leave and cleave”) over her own natural inclinations to hold on. And she prayed. Over the last 25 years, she and dad prayed everyday for us. Every. Single. Day. What a beautiful gift.
Out of fear, many parents hold on. They’re afraid to let go not only because of the mistakes their kids may make but also because, I believe, they fear if they let go, their kids will distance themselves and the relationship will be weakened But I think the opposite is true. My parents release of me actually had the polar effect. We wanted to be with them because they didn’t demand it. We sought their opinion because they weren’t constantly offering (or pushing) it. My mom’s unselfish backing of my mom-in-law made me love both women more–not my mom less. Their gift of autonomy endeared them to both Brad and I. It didn’t drive us away from my parents, but pulled us closer in the healthiest way.
I hope when my own children stand at the altar and profess the beautiful vows “Til death we do part” I will, in grace and faith and maturity, put their hands together then step back with the same purpose and love that my parents did for me. And I’m sure on that day, I will realize the amount of sacrifice and determination it takes to truly let your children go.
*August 6, 1988
** His parents let us go as a couple as well–truly, they gave us the same gift. But, since I was writing from my perspective, I wrote about my folks.
***Brad took offense at this and thought I was suggesting he was a jerk. He, of course, was not difficult or hard to live with at all–but any married woman knows that women complain about their husbands and in-laws to their girl-friends, sisters and moms (and anyone else who will listen) even if there’s not much to complain about.