Do I fight with my spouse? You bet I do.
I used to freak out, quietly, in my own mind, when Ken and I would disagree over parenting. It was more important to me that we were united than right, so with every minor disagreement, I’d settle for a compromise. He’d “win,” and I’d rest easy knowing we agreed. Knowing we were united in our agreement.
But we didn’t agree. I was still freaking out, quietly, in my own mind.
Once, while I am pregnant, we disagree. I’m brushing my teeth and he’s mentioning Chinese lessons, and it might be wise to start her early, maybe twice a week, perhaps immersion learning?
I start to floss. I freak out, not quietly, not in my own mind.
I ask if he’s a Tiger Dad, if he’ll push her too hard, if he’ll over-schedule her, steal her innocence, leave her with a trail of stressed out nerves and attempted perfectionism.
A tiger what? he says.
(I have stopped reading the Internet/parenting books/psychology forums since this conversation.)
She is born.
When she is a year old, she goes to our friend’s house to play twice a week and they color and draw and build towers and Bee hosts fake tea parties for panda bears, only our friend says xiongmao instead of panda and soon, Bee learns how to do the same.
This is what I was worrying over? This was the source of the great teeth-brushing dispute?
And then there is last week, Bee’s tears over a fallen cookie.
He: Be brave.
Me: It’s OK to be sad!
He: It’s no big deal.
Me: It’s OK to be sad!
He: IT’S A COOKIE!
Me: IT’S OK TO BE SAD!
It took me a moment to realize Bee had already left the room to play, had already processed her feelings long before the grown-ups in the room could sort them out.
We laugh. Our baggage is so very different, but we’re always quick to recognize each other’s tattered duffels on the airport carousel.
Chinese lessons and cookies are hardly worth fighting over, but they’re good practice for when the stakes are higher. They’re nice little cracks that illuminate our differences, that help us learn to fight better, to learn to disagree well.
Our new philosophy: You do you.
Ken doesn’t want to raise a girl who cries over cookies. I don’t want to raise a girl who stuffs her emotions. Neither of us want to raise an a-hole.
All are great goals.
He’s working toward the first; I’m working toward the second. We’re both working toward the third.
What “united” means: Joined together for a common purpose. Merged, integrated.
What “united” does not mean: Joining together for a common result. Merging minds to wholly agree with one another. Integrating the weird, baggage-laden philosophies of your partner. Expecting your partner to integrate the weird, baggage-laden philosophies of yourself.
Bee is lucky enough to have two parents, and I want her to see two parents. I want her to hear two people who are honest about their two very different minds, but who are equally honest about their one heart.
Their common purpose.
Merged hearts, integrated souls, united by teeth-brushing disputes.