Partner vs Spouse

When I lived in Costa Rica, the first place I stayed was an eco village. I loved the sense of community I felt there when we visited and I thought it would be the best place to start as newcomers to the country and culture. I noticed when I met new people they would say, “You’ll have to come to my home some time and meet my partner”. At first I wondered if everyone in the village was gay.

The word choice here is no accident. It’s a cultural difference I love.

First, let’s acknowledge the use of the word “home”. Very few people said, “house” unless they were referring to the structure. For example, when we were touring houses to rent or stay in, people would talk about the walls, the windows, the doors of the house. But, when referring to an event or gathering, it was happening in the “home”. I love this because a house is worthless without people inside it to make it a home. We, as Americans, put too much importance on the house we live in and how its decorated, but really, the focus should be on how you make the people inside it feel.

Second, the fact that people would invite me, a total stranger, and my two wild jungle babies into their home without first learning what I do (assessing my status), and what my hobbies are (assessing common ground) was shocking. In this culture, people were valued for their character, not what they wore, how much money they make, or where they like to hang out. And, it was generally assumed that you were a good person because if you weren’t a good person, they’d know about you. Criminals in Costa Rica are gossiped about and chased out of town. It’s highly disrespected to hurt others and the system works.

Third, the term “partner”. Now, I don’t remember meeting any gay couples, but everyone referred to their spouse as a partner. Some of them were legally married, some common law, and some lived together and shared children together. What all of these couples had in common was their view of this other person as a partner, and they actually were PARTNERS.

Some of my readers may feel they have a partner in their life, regardless of the cultural title assigned that person (friend, boyfriend, lover, husband) and this post may not apply to you, but I also know many friends of mine don’t feel they have a partner in their spouse and after several conversations we agree that part of the problem is the cultural view of the institution of marriage and the defined gender roles commonly associated with husband and wife.

I’m not bitter about marriage, and I have no judgement on anyone who chooses to get married or chooses to stay single. I celebrate and respect love in all forms. I have people in my life that I love and I tell them I love them; however, if I am fortunate enough to fall IN LOVE again, it will be with someone I feel will be my partner.

After much self-reflection I realized when I got married, my spouse seemed to develop a sense of ownership over me almost instantly. This feeling caused a heap of unhealthy habits on his part that led to our eventual demise. I won’t go into details, because it doesn’t deserve much more of my energy, but the expectations of me as a “wife” and  his views of me as a woman prevented him from viewing me as a partner and treating me as such. That’s not how marriage was designed to be, but unfortunately it is that way in many homes.

Here’s how a partner is different. 

  • A partner hears you and validates your feelings and needs
  • A partner laughs with you, not at you
  • A partner assists you with caring for the house AND the home
  • A partner stands up for you & never inflicts harm
  • A partner cares for you when you’re sick & protects your health
  • A partner shares your dreams and visions…even if they think they’re silly
  • A partner cares for children with you; the good, the bad, the ugly are shared
  • A partner challenges you to be better, but accepts you for all that you are
  • A partner supports you living the life you want and enjoys the ride with you.

When I find this person my promise to them will be that I will never hold them back from living the life they want. I will never ask them to “settle down” or compromise their dreams for me. Their journey is their own. I may like to be a part of it and I’d like them to be a part of mine, but I believe, I can love you and you can love me and we can share a life together but there are no rules for what that life looks like. I do not need a title to know I’m loved, nor do I need a lifelong legal commitment. The hope is to find someone I love being with more than anyone else and that they feel the same. Each day we wake up wanting to spend more time together and take each day as it comes enjoying evey beautiful moment.

This time around, I’m not accepting anything less than a partner to love.

Raising Boys as Knights: A Letter to my Husband

Dear husband,

I married you because I fell in love with your heart. I recognized that you were a good man; something that is VERY hard to find. I knew you’d love me the way my father loves my mother and I saw the definition of manhood in you. I wanted to marry a man. I hope together we can raise our boys to be men.

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“A real man accepts responsibility, rejects passivity, leads courageously, and expects the greater reward,” Robert Lewis. Lewis used the Bible as the guidebook for raising boys into men when he wrote the book, Raising a Modern Day Knight. A knight was a man of integrity, virtue, respect, courage, and strength. I want to raise my boys with these traits in mind and choose my words and actions carefully as a parent knowing that raising boys into men is no small feat.

During WWII, when the men were off fighting the war, women stepped in to fill vacant positions. For the first time in history they had moved out of the home and into the “field”. When the men returned, many of the women decided they didn’t want to go back to the kitchen, so to speak. At this time, we saw a shift in power from men to women and it didn’t stop there. Have you taken a good look around lately? Pay attention to sitcoms, commercials, magazines…where have all the men gone? Men today are so often portrayed as idiots, worthless blobs, or neanderthals. What role models to little boys have today other than power hungry politicians, pot-smoking youtube phenomenons, rappers that belittle others…

Our belief systems about men are faulty as well. A man who expresses his feelings is considered weak. A man who is well mannered, enjoys art, culture, or fashion is automatically thought to be gay. Men drink whiskey, not wine. Ugh! I want more for our sons.

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As a father, it will never matter what you say; it will always matter what you do. I can tell them how a good man lives his life and try my best to raise them to be that way, but they will ALWAYS look to you as their example.

The way you talk to me is the way they will talk to me. If you talk back to me, argue with me, or belittle me (even joking around), they will think this is acceptable. And, not only towards me, but to other women.

They will only keep their rooms clean, their laundry done, and the toilet seat down if this is the way you live as well.

If you make jokes or comments that are demeaning to others, they will grow up without respect for those different, or less fortunate than they. 

The foods you choose to eat will be what they think men eat. They will want to grow up tall and strong like you and will nurture their bodies the same way you do.

When you work hard to reach a goal, share the feelings of that success with them. How else will they learn that it takes working hard to achieve success?

I hope you’ll model for them how to control your temper, express your feelings, and cope effectively with life’s disappointments so that they too will behave that way.

If they expect you to pick them up on time and you don’t, they will learn it’s okay to be late as long as you have a good excuse.

Issuing a consequence without following through sends the message that a man’s word means nothing.

If you demonstrate the way you accept responsibility, reject passivity, lead courageously, and expect the greater reward, they too will become those kind of men. 

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          Husband, I believe in my heart that God gave us two sons trusting that we could raise them to be good men. If we keep God at the center of our marriage and raise our sons to live like Christ, I know we will experience so much joy raising them and such pride in who they become.

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think” – Romans 12: 2 (reject passivity)

“Be on your guard, stand firm in the faith, be men of courage, be strong” -I Corinthians 16:13 (accept responsibility)

“But as for me and my family we will serve the Lord” -Joshua 24:15 (lead courageously)

“Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done” -Revelation 22:12 (expects the greater reward)

I think our boys will be born some time this week, if not tomorrow, so I’m feeling very reflective and sentimental, but I hope as parents we will always take time to reflect on who they are becoming and how our actions may be affecting them.

I love you, 

Baby Mama

I Never Wanted to be a Mom

Growing up, being a mom was never on my radar. I was an only child so I didn’t have much experience with young children. I never babysat as a teenager, because I didn’t have the patience to play with kids and babies just weren’t my thing.

When I was five and in kindergarten, I knew exactly what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wanted to be a teacher. As I got older, even though I never wanted to have kids of my own, I knew that I wanted to shape the lives of other people’s children. I could teach them reading, writing, and arithmetic and then send them back home to their parents at the end of the day! Just kidding!

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Being a teacher is hands down the best job I could have ever dreamed of doing. Over the last 9 years, I’ve had the privilege of molding, inspiring, and loving over 300 third graders. It is certainly not the easiest job in the world, but it is always rewarding and never dull.

I met Frank in 2011 and knew pretty much right away that I wanted to marry him. The down side? He had two children from his previous marriage. What?! I never wanted to be a mom and certainly NOT a step-mom! Well, God’s plans are always better than the ones I created for myself! Malcolm and Addison are the BEST! They are witty, fun, and have the biggest hearts! Of course there are challenging times, but it has been such an honor watching these amazing kids grow up over the last several years.

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Bringing those 2 into my life was God’s way of preparing me for another adventure He wanted me to embark on. In April 2014, after many, many months of praying for guidance, we decided to have Frank’s vasectomy reversed. We figured if God wanted us to have a baby, He would give us one. We didn’t expect Him to be quite so fast, because we got pregnant less than 2 months later! Frank jokes that he wishes we had a little bit more time to “practice!”

I was going to be a mom whether I thought I was going to be good at it or not! I’m not going to lie, I was terrified. I loved being pregnant, but it couldn’t last forever and I was going to be responsible for another human being, one who needed and relied on me for everything 24/7! Was I cut out for this new job?!

Ever since Bruce was born I’ve embraced my new role as Mommy and I love it. Just like being a step mom, being a bio mom comes with a ton of challenges and up hill battles, but holy cow, when Bruce smiles at me I melt…

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Recently, God has been giving us “flashing billboards” and laying it on our hearts that instead of being a third grade teacher to a new set of 22 8 and 9 year olds, I need to stay home with our son. He was telling me to leave my teaching career and fully commit to a different job that I’m still not sure I am any good at! Talk about a leap of faith!

This week I resigned my contract with LISD through tears and with shaking hands. As I say goodbye to my past and the only job I have ever wanted to do, I am excited to jump wholeheartedly into my new role as stay at home mom. Will there be trials and challenges? Absolutely! But, God has blessed me with the most amazing little boy and I am so thankful to have the opportunity to teach, inspire, and love on him everyday!

I never wanted to be a mom, but God’s plans are the best plans and He knows me better than I know myself. He trusts me to be Bruce’s mommy while he is here on Earth and I promise to be the best mom I can be! I am thrilled to be on this new journey! 

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How Dad Can Help with the New Baby

I am extremely lucky! My husband has been “all hands on deck” since the minute Caden was born (and my entire pregnancy too). He asks questions, listens to my research findings over and over again, and finds things he can to do help while I was busy doing something else. I don’t know how I would have survived the newborn stage without him…I have a new respect for moms doing it alone (you ROCK!). Those first few weeks are hard for dads because they’re left thinking, “What CAN I do?”. Babies NEED and want their mamas so dad is left feeling like he can’t do too much.

Here are some perfect ways for Daddy to get involved from the get-go:

LET DAD IN THE DELIVERY ROOM

The majority of people do plan on having dad in the delivery room for the birth of their child. However, I have, on occasion, heard women say they DON’T want their husband/partner in the delivery room with them and my jaw drops! I totally understand if you don’t want him see your lady-bits in that “situation”…Nate wasn’t allowed anywhere near the area, I made him stay by my head the whole time! But, please don’t rob them of the moment their son or daughter first comes into the world! Nate never ever cries, but when Caden was born and looked right up at him and mad eye-contact with his daddy for the first time…the dam broke! It would have been so selfish of me to have that moment all to myself…let him enjoy the birth of the miracle you both created!IMG_7552

TAKE TIME OFF

I know this isn’t possible for everyone, but if you can, take advantage of paternity leave! Nate took off work to be with us for a month after Caden was born…a whole month! I cannot even being to explain how helpful this was! We really got to work as a team and went through the learning experience together. We both got to know Caden’s cues and we developed a “routine” together. Even when I was the most frustrated, I knew he was there to help in any way I needed. Whether it was so I could shower or nap, or when I just needed him to vacuum when I felt like I was going to go crazy because the house seemed so messy! As a first time dad, being there with us built up his confidence too. Newborns change daily and I’m glad he got to be there to witness the changes and the milestones with me!

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SKIN TO SKIN TIME

You always hear about how important it is for baby to get skin-to-skin time with mom after they’re born, but don’t forget about dad!! Your newborn will learn that daddy is a safe place too, deepening your relationship from the beginning. When mom is napping after the exhaustion that is childbirth, dads should take that as an opportunity for some skin-to-skin contact with their little one instead of laying him/her in a bassinet. Your baby will immediately feel calm and comforted. Baby will grow up happy and healthy when receiving regular affection from both parents!

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CHANGING DIAPERS

Y’all, I literally did not change a SINGLE diaper while we were in the hospital. That’s right, I was spared from dealing with the tarry, black, goo that works it’s way out of sweet baby’s body. Nate, who had never changed a diaper before in his life, jumped right in and took this job seriously. While I relaxed in the hospital bed, Nate changed every single diaper, and handed Caden to me for snuggles when he was done. Once we got home, he didn’t stop. He was a diaper-changing machine. I was especially cautious when dealing with Caden’s circumcision so I was so thankful Nate took charge! He could see that I was exhausted from nursing around the clock so he would take Caden, without me having to ask (ah, that’s the best), whenever it was diaper duty time.

BOTTLES

Whether you’re feeding your newborn formula or breastmilk, Dad can definitely be involved in the feedings! We introduced the bottle when Caden was three weeks old. We waited until he had the hang of nursing so we wouldn’t confuse him…we didn’t want to wait TOO long so he wouldn’t deny the bottle all together. The first time Caden took the bottle, I left the room and let Daddy and Caden have their time together. He never had any issues switching from bottle to breast and it was AMAZING! I finally had a little freedom and could get out of the house for more than a couple hours knowing he would be fine and fed! I like that Caden knows that Daddy can give him what he needs too; not just mama! I also think that helped Nate form another type of bond with Caden…he finally felt like he could DO something!

BATH TIME

Bath time is a perfect opportunity for daddies to bond with their babies. I know my little newborn was super squirmy at bath time and HATED being cold during the sponge bath days. It broke my heart to hear those new-baby cries and I was so scared he was going to wiggle right out of my hands. Nate would hold Caden steady while we sponged him off and worked as a team to get it done as fast as possible. Even now, Caden is 7 months old and Nate runs the bath time show. Caden loves to play in the tub for as long as we’ll let him. Nate supervises while I take a shower, wash bottles/pump parts and get things ready for the next day. I head up when bath time is over for our bedtime routine (nurse, books, goodnight songs, bed)! I would be sad to miss bath time EVERY night, but Nate works 2-3 nights a week so I get my bath time fix with Caden on those nights. 🙂

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Side note: If you have an Emler Swim School nearby, they offer a Bathtime Babies Class starting when your baby is two months old and it is FREE!! We started going as soon as we could and alternate every other week getting in the pool with Caden. This is another super fun way for dad to have some special time with baby!

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BOOKS BEFORE BED

When Nate is home, he is the bedtime story reader! I read to Caden as often as I can…I LOVE books…but I love hearing Nate read to him and seeing Caden staring and listening so intently to his voice. After I finish nursing, Nate comes up to pick up where we left off in whatever chapter book we’re reading at the time (babies don’t just need picture books!). I think it’s important for Caden to see us both sharing our love for reading with him. When Nate’s at work, I choose different books. Our chapter book is for us to read together as a family!

LET HIM DO HIS THANG

My last bit of “advice” would be to let him do stuff his way. He may rock baby a different way than you would, sing a different night-time lullaby, hold the bottle at a different angle, or swaddle him in some crazy way but IT’S OKAY!! I am totally guilty of trying to “correct” or give my hubby “helpful pointers” at times. I’ve tried to get better about this! If you are always giving him reminders or pointing out things he’s doing “wrong”, it is just going to leave him feeling less-than-confident about his daddy abilities! Trust him to take care of your little one and remember to tell him he’s doing an amazing job EVERY day…not just on Father’s Day! 🙂

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How did you involve your husband with care?

Marriage is Effing Tough

I’ve been with my husband for over a decade now; however, we’ve only been married three years. I can tell you the hardest part of our relationship was the seven years prior to tying the knot. There’s something about finalizing your commitment to one another that changes the way you look at each other, speak to each other, and support one another.

mrs and mrs cloudy vail

I’m not going to lie to you and tell you I have a perfect marriage. I do NOT. In fact, the only people I know who have the “perfect” marriage are the people whose marriage I know nothing about because the truth is, marriage is hard, it sucks at times, and it will never (I repeat never) be perfect. However, I have learned some things from my decade with my husband, married friends, my parent’s 38 year marriage, my great-grandparent’s 75 year marriage, and my work with couples as a counselor that I will draw from for my own relationship and that I’m happy to share with you today.

1. Most marital problems are related to SEX, MONEY, and FOOD

SEX: Sometimes sexual problems are literally problems in the bedroom, mismatched libidos, or lack of ability to communicate your needs to each other, but sometimes its even stronger. Perhaps one person has a history of sexual abuse, therefore there can be hot buttons and emotional issues tied up in sex. Sometimes the level of attraction to your spouse decreases or it can be as simple as gender differences. As my husband’s grandmother always told me, “Men are from Mars, women are from Venus”.

MONEY: Too much money can cause just as much dysfunction as having too little. Do you share an account or have separate accounts? Either way, when communication about money and finances is lacking, problems will arise. My husband and I have separate accounts because we never wanted to fight about money; however, that’s the one thing we fight about. Find what works for you, but never stop the conversations about finances. I grew up in a home where my father worked, and his before him, and his grandfather before him and the man led the household. The man was responsible for securing the family’s future financially (insurance, mortgage, retirement, savings, etc.) That being said, my husband did not grow up with a strong male leader. I can’t blame him for that. We have to continue communicating our expectations, but I also can’t force him to see his role the way I do. I may have to step in and be the one to set up those things for the family.

FOOD: These food related issues may be a difference in appetite, tastes, culture, or rituals and manners around the table. My family had dinner together every night, around our kitchen table, and we prayed before every meal. This is what I want for our family, too, although that doesn’t always happen. My husband travels, my stepson has football games late, and I sometimes work in the evenings. I’ve had to accept that a meal together at the table once or twice a week is definitely better than never.

Once we can pinpoint where the issue originated, we can better communicate about it with one another and address it.

Chelsea Vail, husband Cloudy

2. SPEAK UP

Your spouse cannot read your mind. You have to communicate ALL the time. I had a pretty intensive surgery awhile back that my regular caregiver (aka mom) wasn’t able to attend so I asked my husband to come with me instead. Caregiving does NOT come natural to him so I told him I needed him to be loving and calm and be okay with the roller-coaster of emotions I was likely to ride. Apparently, I also needed to tell him not to film me coming out of anesthesia, not to laugh at me when I got the “anesthesia blues”, and that he would be expected to stay with me for the next 24-48 hours ’round the clock. I thought those things were a given, but I was wrong. While I had a balloon catheter in my uterus, bleeding down my leg he asked if I was okay enough for him to go hog hunting! Again, men are from Mars, women are from Venus. Where we may be natural caregivers who know to open doors, make soup, fluff the bed, and walk the sick to the restroom; they are not. Never underestimate what feelings need to to be said.

3. SEPARATE OFTEN

It’s beneficial and healthy to separate from your spouse every now and then and to have a life outside the home. Yes, your marriage comes first; however, it’s important to remember you’re also an individual. Take time to meet your girlfriends for a playdate, a lunch, a happy hour, or a glass of wine after the kids go to bed. Your relationships with your family and friends are crucial to maintaining your identity and sense of self. Afterall, he fell in love with YOU…keep being YOU.

Vegas with my BFF

Vegas with my BFF

4. KNOW YOUR LIFESTYLE

I’m a paleo, organic, clean eater 85-90% of the time, but my husband would rather eat wolf brand chili and a bag of fritos with a Dr. Pepper for dinner. I LOVE to workout, but the gym is my husband’s idea of hell. I like to go out to funky places with friends, but he prefers to grill out at home. I’m a world traveler always seeking adventure, but he likes to “relax” on vacation. Some people may see this as incompatible, but we make it work. We don’t try to change one another, but instead we’ve learned to appreciate these differences. That 15% of the time I don’t eat clean is when I’m vegging out in front of the TV with him eating an entire pizza! While he’s living it up doing yardwork I’ll use that time to go for a run. I know he hates going out so I go out with my single friends Friday or Saturday and agree to grill out with him on Sunday. It’s all about being true to yourself and not trying to change each other either.

5. GO TO BED ANGRY

Many well meaning people will tell you the age old phrase, “Never go to bed angry”, but this is exactly the opposite of what you should do. Nothing good will result if you keep arguing all night until something is resolved when you’re really heated. Sometimes it takes someone saying, “I’m too angry to talk about this anymore” and walking AWAY. Go to bed, take a walk, go turn on AFV and stay in your room, but space and time are necessary to be productive. The next morning, or a few hours later , you can bring it up with a clearer mind and ability to be kind and patient with one another. If it’s a super hot-button topic that you’re both avoiding because you know it could get ugly, set an appointment. Agree to go for coffee at a specific time and place to discuss it.

6. GET NAKED

It’s harder to keep this one up once you have kids, but find time to be naked. Clean the house naked while the kids are at grandma’s, pay your bills naked from the bedroom, or have those stressful conversations while showering together in the morning. It’s really hard to fight or be pissy with someone when you’re both naked.

Chelsea and Cloudy Vail

7. LAUGH

My husband is HILARIOUS! It’s not hard to laugh when I’m with him, but from time to time we all take ourselves too seriously. We watch funny movies, play pranks on each other, tease each other, and laugh all the time! We even made a soundtrack of songs to dance to on the way to the fertility doctor for our first IUI where they whip and spin the sperm prior to insertion. Songs that made the list included “Whip my Hair”, “Right Round”, and “Whip it!”. Just Laugh! Laugh during sex, laugh when you fail, laugh when you’re scared…we manage to find the humor in most situations and it keeps us sublimely happy!

How do you keep your marriage strong?

Chelsea, aka “That Girl”, is a Licensed Professional Counselor-Intern at The Burke Center under the supervision of Karen Burke, LPC-S. If you or your spouse are interested in couple’s counseling or individual counseling, please reach her at 512-507-0227 or email chelseavail@wholeheartaustin.com

How to Maintain Your Sense of Self

As we get older we add more hats to our head. Growing up you might have just been daughter, friend, sister, but now you may be daughter, friend, sister, aunt, wife, career chick, mom, stepmom, chaufer, chef, launderer, maid, etc. So, moms, I ask you, how do you maintain your sense of self as a woman?

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This is something I began struggling with when I got married. I instantly felt an enormous pressure to be this whole other person…a wife. Even though my husband and I had been together for nearly eight years something had changed. I could no longer think only of myself.

Chelsea Vail, Cloudy Vail, Caiden Vail

Then, I started going through infertility treatments and became so self-involved that I forgot about my husband and everyone else. In a way, you have to be self-involved to be successful because everything you do, eat, and drink plays a factor in your fertility.

But, the question remains- How do you maintain your sense of self?

First, ask yourself these questions:

  • Who are the most important people in my life?
  • What gives me joy?
  • When do I feel the most energized?
  • What makes me feel good about myself?
  • How do I want people to describe me?
  • Where do I want to be in 5 years? 10 years?
  • Who do I want to be in 5 years? 10 years?

Think carefully about the answers to these questions and WRITE them down. If you want to go the extra mile, create a collage of images that answer these questions.

Then, create an action plan related to these answers. For example, sending a card to the people you care about or clling them and setting a date to catch up. Schedule a time to do the things that give you joy every day, week or month, depending on how reasonable that would be. Make an effort to do the things that energize you more. Research people you admire and find out how they go to where they are and decide what you can change about your life to become who you want to be again.

Me with my role model, Carrie Contey, PhD

Me with my role model, Carrie Contey, PhD

Every Sunday night I look at my calendar for the week and I schedule:

  • Time to shop for, and prepare clean, energizing meals
  • Time for a run around the lake, zumba, and hot yoga
  • An evening date or happy hour with a girlfriend or group of friends
  • A meal or two with just my husband
  • An afternoon by the pool reading and relaxing

Bonus: if I can fit in a glass of wine or a bubble bath, I’ll add that, too!

This is often easier said than done, but there was a time when I allowed my want for a baby to become the only focus in my life and I don’t want to do that again. When all your energy is focused outside yourself its easy to lose yourself. As a mother, it’s easy for you to focus only on your to-do list, potty training, appointments, bills, what’s for dinner, etc. But, it’s not good for you or your child for you to lose who you are.

How do you maintain your sense of self?

Making time to enjoy the beauty of nature with Cloudy

Making time to enjoy the beauty of nature with Cloudy